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Character Build: The Black Marsh Vanguard

Tags: #Character Build Barbarian  #Character Build Scout  #Character Build Alchemist  #Race:Argonian  #Rank:Legendary  #Hall of Fame Build 
  • Member
    July 8, 2013

    Amongst the fetid swamps and hostile wildlife in Argonia, victory doesn't go to the one with the sharpest sword, the shiniest armor, or even the one most skilled with such tools - it goes to the one who can best turn the environment to his or her advantage. This is what the Vanguards of Black Marsh have mastered. They forgo the trappings and codes of conduct of more traditional warriors in favor of underhanded, unorthodox, and highly effective tactics. A Black Marsh Vanguard may be outnumbered but is never outmatched. He may be expected but can never be planned for. He may not be the strongest or the toughest but he is without a doubt the deadliest. And for reasons unknown, one has made his way to Skyrim...

    The Black Marsh Vanguard

    The Black Marsh Vanguard is my attempt to create a master of unconventional warfare in Skyrim while using a race I had never used before, the Argonian. The Vanguard starts the battle on his own terms, whether by a poisoned arrow that turns his foes against each other or by a thundering charge into the enemy's midst from a hundred yards away. A combination of light armor, Argonians' racial Waterbreathing, an impressive Stamina, and Whirlwind Sprint ensures the Vanguard stays mobile at all times. This mobility is used to great effect: luring enemies into traps, taking the high ground, or just buying time/cover to ply healing magic. In addition to said healing magic, Vanguards are also able to passively regenerate their health at a near-freakish level thanks to The Lady Stone, their natural link to the Hist, and items plundered from those foolish enough to cross them previously. To a well-trained Vanguard, a few moments' pause in combat can be as rejuvenating as a good night's sleep. And in addition to their extensive poisoning expertise, Black Marsh Vanguards learn a select variety of spells to take advantage of their environment and surprise their enemies even more. Because if there's one thing you can count on the Vanguard to do, it's the thing you'll never see coming. Welcome to the jungle.


    • Fast-paced, tactical combat
    • An emphasis on planning and tactics
      rather than high-end equipment,
      spells, or perks
    • Extensive poison use
    • Peerless mobility through use of only
      one main shout in combat
    • Big returns on minimal investments in
      Magicka and a small but highly useful
      array of spells and shouts.

    *Note on play-testing and mods*

    This build is presented in the context of vanilla Skyrim. However, this was play-tested on PC, with a lot of mods that change just about everything in the game. I tried to make sure there are no inconsistencies with the unmodded game in the build, but if I overlooked something, please let me know.

    The Build

    Race: Argonian


    • The Lady: Health and Stamina regeneration are key traits of the build.
    • The Serpent: An extra poison in your arsenal, and a ranged one at that. A good choice, especially if you like greater powers or if choosing a stone called "The Lady" makes you feel somehow effeminate.

    Stats: 1/1/1 until Magicka reaches 130 (or however much you need to cast Whirlwind cloak w/ 50 Destruction skill and the Adept perk - by my calculation it's 125). After that, 1/1.

    Primary Skills:

    • Alchemy, your most important skill. Poisons are one of your main advantages against enemies who are stronger or more numerous. You'll be going through toxins like Charlie Sheen goes through wheelbarrows of cocaine.

    • Sneak, for scouting an area and positioning yourself. The Vanguard focuses more on stealthy movement that on sneak attacks, though he's certainly not above them.

    • Two-Handed, your main combat skill. These weapons give you a range advantage over opponents. A skilled Vanguard can deliver a powerful attack to all foes in front of him at once, poisoning multiple foes simultaneously.

    • Restoration, for when regeneration just doesn't cut it. In pauses in the battle, the Vanguard combines Dual Casting, Regeneration, and Respite with the lowly healing spell to fully recharge his batteries in seconds. This skill is also used for the Poison Rune spell - I recommend seeking out Restoration training (to 50) as soon as possible.


    Secondary Skills:

    • Destruction, for setting and activating traps using Flames and Fire Rune. Whirlwind Cloak is also a fantastic spell for the Vanguard, and since this skill isn't used too often, I also recommend getting Destruction trained to 50 as well for the corresponding perk.

    • Archery, for ranged threats. Different Vanguards prefer to fight at different ranges but Eagle Eye is always useful both for scouting and for instances where a long shot is required.

    • Block, for, um, blocking! This build is, at its three-chambered Argonian heart, a warrior build. Crossing blades with a foe is inevitable, and a a few points here mean increased survival and improved combat options.

    • Light Armor, because you're going to get hit sometime. I love the aesthetic of Hide Armor with this character, but it's probably the weakest set in the game - a few perks here bump up its defense. If you find yourself simply never getting hit or if Oakflesh/regeneration/Restoration keep you safe enough, this skill can be passed over.

    Perk Spread: 20 & 37

    I know it's not a very round number, but after Level 37 I feel this build has everything it needs to succeed. From here, it can evolve in any number of ways. If you find your damage (even with poisons) lacking, pick up some more advanced 2-H perks, or take up Smithing. If you want more defensive potential, Smithing also helps as do more Light Armor perks or the high-skill Avoid Death perk in Restoration. Or, you could give the Vanguard more of a "saboteur" feel with Pickpocket for Poisoned and weaken your foes before as well as during the battle. As with many other aspects of this build, it's up to you!

    Spells: Whirlwind Cloak, Poison Rune, Healing, Flames, Fire Rune, Oakflesh, Detect Life


    • Whirlwind Sprint: This is the shout for this character, and the key to its mobility. Strategically, it allows for rapidly closing the distance to an enemy, or a quick retreat to a more tenable position. Use it to navigate traps with your enemies in pursuit. It's also a handy panic button when you see a pissed-off Orc rushing you with a warhammer made from Argonian skulls. You should have a very good reason for equipping any other shout.

    • Dragon Aspect: Extra defense and Shout cooldown reduction. What's not to like?

    • Become Ethereal: At least one word is handy for surviving a trap or jumping from a great height, whether it's to retreat from overwhelming odds, grab a stealth kill, or just make a dramatic entrance.

    • Aura Whisper: Helpful for scouting.

    • Fire Breath: Hardly essential. But a damaging shout like this one can save your life (and end another's) in a pinch, and four out of five dentists agree that few things are more badass than a fire-breathing lizard with a giant weapon.

    ...and this is what happened to the fifth dentist.


    • Weapons: Iron/Orcish Greatsword or Battleaxe, Forsworn Bow, cheap/abundant arrows (iron, Ancient Nord, etc.)

    • Armor: Hide Armor/Boots, Leather Bracers

    • Jewelry/Effects: Amulet of Talos, for CD reduction on Whirlwind Sprint. After that, Health/Stamina Regeneration, Muffle, or Health/Stamina Fortification are all nice, in that order.

    Mostly low-quality equipment for a few reasons. First, it makes sense that a warrior from the swamps of Argonia wouldn't be experienced with shiny, expensive materials like glass or elven. At the same time, I enjoyed the challenge of using low-end weapons and armor. Last and most importantly, it just so happens that what I feel is a perfect look for a deadly swamp-trained guerilla warrior can be achieved with such unassuming equipment.

    Strides-On-Wind cracks some heads on his way to the Badass Convention, of which he is Chairman for Life.


    Poisons: Use them. I'm not a big fan of giving recipes for this build for a few reasons. In other playthroughs I've found that having them reduces my creativity and takes away the discovery aspect of poisonmaking. Since I tend to only use the recipes I know, it reduces the quantity I do make, which is detrimental to this build in particular. Also, different Vanguards have different poison priorities: some want to incapacitate their foes, others want to drive them insane (personally, I've found that the Slow effect synergizes well with this build's great mobility). It's up to you which poisons you want to focus on, or maybe you prefer not to specialize at all. Whatever your preference, make a lot of them, and use them like you're a deadly lizard-man swamp warrior. Because, you know, you are.

    Potions: The Vanguard has most of the healing he needs from passive regeneration and Restoration magic. You *do* have most of the associated perks so brew as many potions as you want, but don't sacrifice your poisoning potential for it. I only craft two different kinds of potions purposefully, and since I like the Vanguard more as only a master of poisons rather than all Alchemy, I don't feel my previous recipe reasoning applies here. The recipes aren't that original anyway.

    • The Dragonslayer: Fortify Two-Handed & Resist Fire
      (Fly Amanita + Dragon's Tongue).
      As the name suggests, helpful for dealing with
      dragons once they've landed.
    • The Shadowscale: Invisibility & Regenerate Health
      (Vampire Dust + Luna Moth Wing)
      I only use this potion when I'm underwater, either to sneak by enemies while swimming or to regenerate Health even faster while enemies can't touch this, so to speak. This self-imposed restriction keeps me from abusing Invisibility, and reinforces the Argonians' swimming prowess.

    The Method

    Argonians are renowned as masters of guerilla warfare, and Black Marsh Vanguards are masters of it even among Argonians. But true guerilla warfare isn't just backstabbing and sneaking. In fact, the real fun of this build starts once you've been discovered and enemies are coming for you. No two battlefields are exactly alike and no two Vanguards think exactly alike, but here is a rough outline of the Vanguard's deadly process.

    1. Scout the terrain and enemy positions using Eagle Eye, Detect Life (short bursts) or Aura Whisper, and of course Sneak mode. Look for easily defensible positions like tops of hills or choke points like narrow bridges, and how you can get to them easily (swimming, for example). These are good places to fight from, decreasing the advantage of numbers that your enemy surely has.

    2. Plan escape routes from these positions. Staying on the move keeps you from being overwhelmed. This could mean dropping down a story or two, diving into deep water (hellooooo, Waterbreathing), or Whirlwind Sprinting away to safer territory. If possible, move to another of the easily defended positions you found.

    Pretty much this. Except the fight's still going on...his enemies just don't know it.

    3. Place your own traps or take advantage of existing ones if you can. You'll have enemies chasing after you at some point (see Step 2), so if you can predict which route your foes can take, make them pay for their predictability. Poison Rune fits the tone of the build the best, but a Fire Rune on top of an oil puddle is pretty great, too. This build doesn't use Quiet casting so if you place a rune, either make sure it's out of earshot or that you're ready to fight once you place it.

    4. Attack. Once you know the battlefield, your options really branch out. It's not necessary, but you could begin with a sneaky backstab or shot to secure another defensible position for yourself. You could keep your distance from foes, firing poison arrows and leading them through traps/runes. You could Whirlwind Sprint around the field to eliminate specific foes (I like to go after archers since they're harder to steer into traps). You could also charge into the thick of things with your poisoned two-hander swinging, and retreat when you get swarmed to regenerate. My favorite thing about this build is that you can control which approach to use - and vary it multiple times in one battle - thanks to your mobility. This is also where poison variation comes in. In an attack, using Fear and Frenzy poisons would create a very different environment from the same attack in which Slow and Paralysis poisons were used. Experiment with different tactics and poison combinations; this keeps your experience, and the Vanguard himself, from becoming predictable.

    Tips & Reminders

    • Use your two-handed weapon's reach to keep opponents at bay, and sidestep to try to flank your opponents in melee.
    • Keep moving! The Vanguard does not excel at heroic last stands. Between Whirlwind Sprint, Waterbreathing, and a huge pile of Stamina, you should always have an escape plan if you spy a better fighting location or just need a break from combat.
    • Use those breaks in combat wisely. After you've relocated, heal if you need it, buff/lay runes if you can, and plan your next reposition.

    Vanguards even look badass when they're thinking.

    • Look to use your environment: take the high ground in melee, take cover from archers, and use choke points to effectively decrease your enemies' numbers. Try to trigger traps on your foes, or let them do it for you.

    • Alchemy is the one skill that stands above the others in this build, and more poison is always helpful - don't be stingy.
    • A poor man's surprise attack can be achieved by sprinting around a corner and waiting just around it for your enemy to follow. Watch your compass, and if you swing just before he rounds the corner, you might be able to get a free hit in since enemies don't  usually attack/block until they can see you.
    • Remember: your Magicka is limited, so use it to amplify your existing capabilities rather than as an offensive measure in itself. Use it to scout, prepare/trigger traps, buff, or heal - all of these are best accomplished either before combat or while enemies are pursuing you, not while you're actively fighting. Not only does this increase survivability, it keeps the flow of combat much smoother.

    Special Moves

    Black March Blitz: The Vanguard gathers all his
    Magicka and rushes forth, the force of his approach sending nearby enemies flying.
    This is helpful for entering melee against a group:
    I recommend Sprinting into the group if they're
    archers/mages and slightly past the group if they're
    close-range fighters, so those who don't fall can't
    start wailing on you immediately.
    Whirlwind Cloak + Whirlwind Sprint

    Venomous Arc: The Vanguard combines his
    weapons expertise with his mastery of toxins,
    poisoning all in front of him with a single brutal
    A good follow-up to the above move. Concentrated
    Poison allows the move to be repeated with the
    same poison. If you use a Frenzy poison, get out
    of Dodge and let your
    enemies fight each other
    to the last man...

    Sweep + Any Poison (+Concentrated Poison)

    Amphibious Assault: Emerge from the water to the midst of your foes in the blink of an eye.
    Not an incredibly special move, but handy for getting the drop on unsuspecting foes from the water. Locate some enemies near a shoreline. Draw your weapon and swim underwater. As you approach the shore but are still submerged, activate Whirlwind Sprint. As soon as your feet are on the shore, you'll fly forward, weapon in hand, before anyone can get up or draw weapons of their own. The perfect surprise attack.
    Racial Waterbreathing + Whirlwind Sprint

    They'll never know what hit them. Which is good - they probably wouldn't want to know anyway.

    Quests & Roleplay

    This build is more gameplay-focused than it is roleplay-focused: it doesn't really include or exclude any specific quests or choices. The following is a summary of my experience; I'm having a blast with it and encourage you to try any parts of it that sound appealing.

    • A reason for an Argonian fighter coming to Skyrim was the biggest character question I wrestled with. I eventually settled on the "wanted man" idea, in this case a fugitive from the An-Xileel rulers of Black Marsh. He came to Skyrim trying to escape their clutches and hates the An-Xileel so much that he will do anything to disrupt their plans for the region, even if it means doing the illogical thing and joining the Argonian-hating Stormcloaks. This also gave a little bit more RP purpose to wearing an Amulet of Talos and killing the Emperor.

    • As he is a wanted man, I keep him moving from town to town, sleeping in the wilderness. No house and 2.5 kids for this guy.
    • As he loves to fight, and also loves money, he became a full member of the Companions. I didn't go too far in the questline since an Argonian werewolf always seemed odd to me (some might disagree), and the whole thing has too much of a Nordic atmosphere for a talking lizard.
    • I normally have trouble playing a "bad" character but it came pretty easily for a guy that uses so many poisons. Rather than "evil incarnate", I went with a more casually violent, brutal mercenary-type character. His penchant for killing annoying civilians in broad daylight with a greatsword and the ensuing jail time came into conflict with his need to not stay in one place too long. Needless to say, this resulted in him breaking out of most of the prisons in Skyrim.

    What can I say...I just really hate Nazeem.

    • Eventually, the An-Xileel send Skyrim's Dark Brotherhood after the Vanguard. After hiding out in Solstheim for a while (and picking up Poison Rune and Whirlwind Cloak from an eccentric Telvanni wizard), he joins the Brotherhood himself to stop the attacks (besides, from what I gather Argonians generally revere Sithis anyway). He still carries out assassinations in thrilling Vanguard style when applicable though he's capable of being discrete when absolutely necessary.
    • Additionally, I traveled by water whenever possible because Waterbreathing is the bee's knees. It can also be a huge timesaver.

    Recommended quests/dungeons: The Way of the Voice, Bard's College, and Volskygge (for Whirlwind Sprint), Infiltration (free Detect Life tome), Angi's Archery quests (just for the hell of it).

    There you have it! Thanks for making it through this small novel of a build. I hope you try it out and find the gameplay as refreshing as I did. And of course, it's my first build so any input is doubly appreciated.

  • July 8, 2013

     This build, In my opinion, is presented beautifully! I have, of course, mainly skimmed it though, as I am sort of rushing. As much as I can tell this is a very good first build, I can't find any flaws in grammar yet, I'll have to give this a thorough look tomorrow when I have time! +1 For presentation, Screen Shots, Unique Title, and Diverse Gameplay. (At least from what I can tell from my quick overlook)

  • Member
    July 8, 2013

    Ha, I love your hidden link to the werecrocodile.

  • Member
    July 8, 2013
    I really like your presentation. The build seems a bit lengthy but I still enjoy it. Also, that comic about how Argonians escape, it's so true.
  • Member
    July 9, 2013

    LOVE IT! So gonna give it a try once if i get bored with my Orc. +1 from me.

  • Member
    July 9, 2013
    Great build man! Really good idea you got here. My one little fault (and this is a personal thing, more my fault than yours) is that it's pretty long. Less is more, as Ben C would say. Still, a truly fantastic build! +1
  • Jen
    July 9, 2013

    Well done. As others have said, presentation is great. Gives me an excuse to start another shady character.

  • July 9, 2013

    "You'll be going through toxins like Charlie Sheen goes through wheelbarrows of cocaine."

     That cracked me up.

  • Member
    July 9, 2013

    I love the guerrilla feel of this build, +1 from me!

  • Member
    July 9, 2013

    Damn It! i need to finish my paladin, playtest my build, play the spellguard, and now,play this build!

    Awesome First Build! I Will Play ! +1