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Character Build: The Clever Man

Tags: #Race:Nord  #Character Build Barbarian  #Character Build Blacksmith  #Character Build Necromancer  #Rank:Legendary  #Hall of Fame Build 
  • Member
    March 14, 2014

    Because if Skyrim is about anything, it's about roleplaying as a grim, Nordic badass who Shouts down his enemies, impales them on his greatsword, and then raises them from the dead to do his bidding.


    Many today have forgotten that the Nords had their own deep tradition of magic and lore. The Clever Men were counsellors, witch-warriors, and communers with the forces of the otherworld. In the old days of Ysgramor and the First Era, Clever Men could be found alongside kings and chieftains, offering their wisdom and their considerable skill with magic and the Voice to their mighty lords. Many in these latter days may think of Nords as little more than thuggish warriors. The Clever Man taps the ancient power of his forefathers and proves them wrong.


    The Clever Man is a roleplay-heavy build, aiming (once again, as in my previous builds) to soak up the Nordic lore of Skyrim and TES. A Nord who is as happy carving up his foes with 4 feet of steel as he is tricking the secret knowledge out of old Herma Mora himself, or investing the metals of the earth with the cold energies of the sky, the Clever Man is a build for anyone who wants to step back into the old ways of the Nords - to revive, as Tsun says, “their forefathers' respect for the Clever Craft.”

    And impaling Briarhearts is always good fun, too.


    Race: Nord


    Stone: The Ritual


    Attributes: Since the Clever Man is a hybrid who casts spells and gets in the thick of combat while wielding big, heavy weapons, you'll want a roughly even distribution of stats. 1:1:1 for Magicka:Health:Stamina works in the early levels, but once those approach 200, you may want to start increasing Magicka so you can cast the Master-level Dead Thrall sooner.


    Major Skills: Conjuration, Two-Handed, Smithing


    Minor Skills: Enchanting, Restoration


    Passive (unperked) Skills: Light Armor, Speech, Block


    Conjuration may seem an untraditional choice for a Nord magic-user. Most might say Destruction's line of ice magic would be more fitting. But the old Nord magic seems to me likely to have been less flashy, less direct – more intimate. Consider that, during their wars with the Chimer, Nords “worked unknown magic upon the tombs of the fallen warriors to give them protection in death” - resulting, according to some theories, in the creation of Stalhrim. (Source: Consider also the Draugr, whose origin likely traces back to old magic usually associated with the Dragon Cult (Source: Some kind of necromancy seems very likely to have been practiced among the ancient Nords – and it's the perfect skill for a vaguely sinister character of unknown power and motives.


    I never really explored the necromancy side of Conjuration until I started playing this character. Suffice it to say, this skill is what allows the Clever Man to wade into battle without fear of being overwhelmed – and to capture the souls of his victims to weave his enchantments into leather and steel.


    Two-Handed is the signature Nord attack-oriented skill. I happen to prefer greatswords (since Felldir the Old, the Tongue you meet at the end of the main quest, wields one – plus the kill cams are easily the best), but a battle axe has a certain aesthetic appeal as well. A Stalhrim greatsword is one of the finest-looking weapons in the game, and the cold will cling to it like mist above a frozen lake.

    The perfect weapon when facing Solstheim's Dunmer - and settling some old grudges.


    In traditional societies, a blacksmith is often assumed to have some magical powers – after all, he holds the secret of blending the inert matter of the earth into a light and deadly weapon capable of killing at a stroke. Nords have always been associated with talent in smithing, and the Clever Man will eventually master this art, crafting weapons from the enchanted ice that binds the dead.


    Enchanting is a perfect complement to Smithing – a patient art, it requires exploration and diligence to master, as well as the clamoring souls of defeated foes to bind magic to metal. At the pinnacle of his art, a Clever Man can craft a sword to freeze the blood of his foes.


    A master of death and binding, the Clever Man is also keenly familiar with the tenuous energies of life. Restoration closes his wounds in the midst of battle, returns vigor to his old but hale limbs, and commands the undead at need.

    Life in one hand, death in the other...



    The Build


    Level 38 Perk Spread


    Two-Handed: Barbarian (5/5), Champion's Stance, Devastating Blow, Great Critical Charge, Sweep, Warmaster


    Conjuration: Novice-Master Conjuration, Dual Casting, Necromancy, Dark Souls, Twin Souls


    Smithing: Steel-Ebony Smithing, Arcane Blacksmith


    Enchanting: Enchanter (4/5), Fire Enchanter, Frost Enchanter


    Restoration: Novice-Adept Restoration, Recovery (2/2), Regeneration, Respite


    Focus on Conjuration and Two-Handed perks initially; Restoration and Enchanting can wait until later. You will often find yourself hoarding multiple perks points until your skill rises high enough for you to invest them appropriately – but resist the temptation to put points into Light Armor or Block, unless you feel like a longer game. It's more rewarding to spend 4 or 5 points at a time in perks you really need, rather than waiting to gain a level only to have to decide where to invest a single precious point.




    Weapons: Icestaff (Stalhrim greatsword, enchanted with frost damage), Bloodskaal Blade


    Attire: Rags of Binding (Fur Armor, enchanted with Fortify Conjuration), Scaled Boots and Gauntlets (enchanted with Fortify Two-Handed and Resist Fire, respectively), Adept Hood, Witchward Necklace (Resist Magic), Ring of the Serpent (Regenerate Magicka)

    Note that the only ranged capability available to the Clever Man is his Shouts and eventually the Bloodskaal Blade. Occasionally he may have access to an undead archer NPC. This isn't as great a liability as might be thought, however. The Clever Man will occasionally have to Shout circling dragons down out of the sky (a task made faster with the Talos shrine blessing), but once they land they are fodder for his sword. Icestaff (named after the legendary Hrormir's weapon; see the Song of Hrormir: is useful against even most frost-resistant foes thanks to its tempering, but the Bloodskaal Blade is a good option in Dwemer ruins or against frost dragons.


    Wearing lowly fur armor adds to the aesthetic of a strange, unkempt wandering mage, and keeps the gameplay challenging at higher levels. Your weapons may be the finest in Skyrim, but a fairly low health pool and low armor rating will require you to live up to the build's name and use a combination of shouts and magic to defeat your enemies.


    Shouts: Frost Breath, Soul Tear, Storm Call, Drain Vitality, Unrelenting Force


    Frost Breath was my main shout, for lore purposes and general utility, though I'd replace it with Unrelenting Force against some enemies like Draugr. The damage over time is nice, and the stagger is helpful in making an opening for a power attack. Once you attain Dragonborn Frost, that shout gets even better. Soul Tear fits excellently with the roleplay, allowing you to quickly raise an ally in the middle of a fight. Drain Vitality is notable for its stagger as well as the advertised stuff, and Storm Call is good when assaulting an exterior (though it's not as great against dragons as I would have thought). Aura Whisper and Marked for Death are honorable mentions as well.




    The Clever Man is an ambiguous figure, aiding his king or chief and respected by his people, but feared as well. He has a well-deserved sinister reputation, and his dealings with the dead and the Daedra reinforce the sense that he operates not entirely on the mortal plane.

    Perhaps surprisingly, I recommend that the Clever Man not pursue the Main Quest to its conclusion. Why? Alduin occupies a central place in the ancient Nordic pantheon. His role as eater-of-time is crucial, if grim. As such, the wise among the Nords not only fear, but respect Alduin. Even the pacifist Greybeards regard his coming as foreordained, not something to be striven against. The Clever Man is not out to save the world, but to witness its ending in a stoic manner. I went as far as learning Fus Ro Dah from the Greybeards, then dropped the questline before I met Delphine again.


    My first choice for major questlines would be the Stormcloaks. Here, the Clever Man can come into his own, by aiding Ulfric's quest to become the High King by sword-right and by the power of the Voice.


    Dawnguard offers some advantages in the form of the Drain Vitality, Summon Durnehviir, and Soul Tear shouts. Volkihar vampires represent an ancient knowledge, and the Soul Cairn would be deeply interesting to the Clever Man. I joined on the side of the Dawnguard, but took every opportunity to ditch Serana.


    The College of Winterhold is a necessity for the Dead Thrall spell, but it also allows access to Saarthal, which would be almost holy ground to a Nord who respects the old ways. In those ruins are buried the Nords who fell in the terrible siege against the Elves. Attaining the rank of Archmage is fitting for a Clever Man who serves as the power behind Ulfric's throne.


    The Companions also provide a worthy questline. The Clever Man is familiar with the deceptive ways of the Daedra, and would be eager to free these spirit-descendants of Ysgramor from the snares of Hircine. And Wuuthrad is an excellent weapon, for lore and aesthetic, for this character.


    The Black Star offers a clear benefit for a soul-trapping, sinister enchanter - and is yet another way for him to meddle with the Daedra. (Thanks to Albino for the reminder!)


    Discerning the Transmundane is almost required as you progress through the Dawnguard quest, and making tricky deals with Herma-Mora is part and parcel of what being a Clever Man is about. In Nordic legends, Herma Mora was seen as a trickster figure who is often depicted as trying to ensnare Ysgramor. Let the demon say what he will – you will gladly seek out his forbidden knowledge and come away unscathed.


    In that vein, I undertook the Dragonborn questline not so much to defeat Miraak as for the chance to once again best Hermaeus Mora. Find all the Black Books and slip through the endless stacks of Apocrypha, emerging in the end with your hard-won knowledge. (Of special note here is the Dragonborn Frost ability, which turns your Frost Breath shout into the most useful crowd control available.) The Conjure Seeker spell allows you to bring some of the dark knowledge from Mora's realm into Tamriel (and grants you a lore-appropriate summon when there are no corpses around). All of Solstheim represents an opportunity to uncover the ancient lore of your forefathers and try your wits and will against strange creatures.

    And running around with a raised Lurker in tow is pretty badass, too.


    The Clever Man was some of the most fun I've had in Skyrim in a while, allowing me to explore some skills and character concepts in a different way, all the while staying true to some of the little-known lore of the ancient Nords. Powerful but vulnerable, effective but enigmatic, the Clever Man offers a nice change from the typical vision of the warrior Nord, blending sword-skill with secret knowledge and the power over life and death itself.



    Check out the following link for some of the few references to Clever Men in the TES universe (Kirkbridean goodness abounds!):

  • Member
    March 14, 2014

    This is the first build to jump out at me in a while, I think because it does a really good job at blending the RP and gameplay, where sometimes builds will instead force RP to justify gameplay. I'm just gonna throw out that I'm fine with the length, but that may just be because the builds I'm working on will be sort of long so I'm a little biased in your defense. Anyway, great work!

  • March 14, 2014

    Wow Paul, really great build you have here and tonnes of interesting lore behind it. You've made some awesome builds in the past and its cool to see you coming back and adding another to the collection. Easy like from me.

  • Member
    March 14, 2014

    I love all your builds man. I'm glad to see you still posting. Very well written, as usual. 

  • March 14, 2014
    A new Paul England build? Yes! Love it. +1.
  • Member
    March 14, 2014
    Its a good day when paul posts an awsome, lorefriendly, roleplay heavy, aesthetically pleasing build! Almost makes me wish I hadn't just started a new character a few days ago... Still might do this guy tomorrow :P Goddamn Helgen though...
  • Member
    March 14, 2014

    Wow, thanks for all the kind words everyone!  I've been working on this for a few weeks and finally got close enough today where I could write it all up and nab some screenshots. 

    It is a bit long compared to some builds here, but what can I say - I was on a roll.   I like to think that every Nord storyteller gets to rambling now and again.

  • March 14, 2014
    What a clever, and brilliant build this is.
  • Member
    March 14, 2014
    I can imagine this guy becoming shaman of Skaal village after Storn's death and marrying Morwen.
  • Member
    March 14, 2014

    Huh, that's an interesting thought...

    I played pretty distant from the Skaal with this guy, actually. The Skaal seem to be a very different type of Nord from what we see in Skyrim and hear about in the Atmoran/Skyrim lore. They seem fairly pacifistic, for one thing - but more importantly, they seem to view Shor (the Greedy Man) as a devil figure (assuming I'm interpreting that correctly).  The Skaal also apparently have held a harder line against necromancy in their history. 

    That said, it could work - they're certainly tribal, and more 'elemental' than the Nords you see in present-day Skyrim.