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Character Build: The Vancian Wizard

Tags: #Character Build Elementalist  #Character Build Illusionist  #Character Build Vampire  #Race:Dunmer  #Rank:Legendary 
  • Member
    March 1, 2015

    The tomes which held Turjan’s sorcery lay on the long table of black steel or were thrust helter-skelter into shelves. These were volumes compiled by many wizards of the past, untidy folios collected by the Sage, leather-bound librams setting forth the syllables of a hundred powerful spells, so cogent that Turjan’s brain could know but four at a time.

    Turjan found a musty portfolio, turned the heavy pages to the spell the Sage had shown him, the Call to the Violent Cloud. He stared down at the characters and they burned with an urgent power, pressing off the page as if frantic to leave the dark solitude of the book.

    Turjan closed the book, forcing the spell back into oblivion. He robed himself with a short cape, tucked a blade into his belt, fitted the amulet holding Laccodel’s Rune to his wrist. Then he sat down and from a journal chose the spells he would take with him. What dangers he might meet he could not know, so he selected three spells of general application: the Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandal’s Mantle of Stealth, and the Spell of the Slow Hour.”

    -Turjan of Miir, Jack Vance

    The Vancian Wizard

    That's right ladies and gentlemen, Vancian magic has made its way into Skyrim! And who better to explain it than Jack Vance himself?

    To reiterate, Vancian magic is the concept of memorizing a finite number of spells beforehand and, when cast, the spell fades from your mind. Vancian Wizards must study their tomes again to learn their spells before every use. In Skyrim, we're going to simulate this type of magic through Greater Powers. DLCs included, there were just enough powers to form our own spellbook of sorts.

    With such an interesting mechanic to work with I really wanted a unique approach to magic this time around and took inspiration from older fantasy novels. The wizards of Tamriel take magic for granted for it flows in all things, radiating throughout Nirn. In olde fantasy, magic was scarce indeed and obtaining it was difficult, dangerous, and even corrupting at times. However, the spells were much more powerful and typically worth the adventure. Wizards spent their entire lives dedicated to spells that manipulate magic and often died in pursuit of a few more. It is in this spirit that the Vancian Wizard will brave dangerous tombs and otherworldly planes for spells of legend.

    The Basics

    Race: Dunmer Vampire Lord

    Stone: Ritual & Tower

    Stat Ratio: 1 / 0 / 0

    Skills: Alteration, Illusion, Destruction, Enchanting, Speech, Sneak

    Equipment: Staff of Fireballs, Aetherial Crown, Ring of Erudite, Blade of Sacrifice, Ahzidal's Ring of Necromancy, Ebony Mail, Ring of the Beast, the Black Star

    Quests: Dawnguard, Dragon Rising, Unearthed, Lost to the Ages, Alteration Ritual Spell, The Black Star, Boethiah's Calling, Wind and Sand, Destroy the Dark Brotherhood, Black Books

    The race isn't optional because Dunmer are the only race with an offensive racial power that works against almost anything. With an emphasis on Greater Powers we have to optimize our choices. On the same note, the Ritual and Tower Stones add two more powers to our arsenal. What kind of wizard doesn't perform Rituals and live in Towers anyway? Store the Tower Stone in the Aetherial Crown; we aren't Mannimarco.

    I think what I love most about this build is the fact that it throws the leveling system out the window. The Vancian wizard isn't raising a skill so he can purchase higher level spells and their respective perks. Instead, the most powerful spells are won through adventuring, battling, won through blood, sweat, and tears, and with sheer intelligence. There are just a few perks every starting wizard should take but soon after the character has no need of perks. Halfway through the build it will begin leveling exponentially and we gain a lot of freedom with perk placement despite not really needing them. Think of perks as subtle supplements rather than crucial abilities.

    Three of our Greater Powers are locked away in the souless eternity that is vampirism. I mentioned that this olde and powerful magic was corrupting, yes? The Vancian Wizard doesn't even fathom the negative aspects of the disease, instead leaping into the abyss to attain new powers and perks as soon as possible. There is a Vampire Lord power we'll need eventually but even vanilla vampirism will grant you the vampiric powers we seek until that time comes.

    Equipment is largely up to the player; the only item that is constantly worn is the Ring of Erudite unless we've swapped it for another ring to achieve a certain ability. The Aetherial Crown can always be toggled on when you need to magick a lock but feel free to wear it at all times if it suits you. The Ebony Mail is used specifically for its effect; I don't think full-on ebony armor says “wizard”. I stuck with Adept Robes of Destruction and the Apprentice Hood with Penitus Oculatus Boots and Bracers. Tis' a sleek look for a venturing wizard but I recommend you wear whatever inspires you most. There aren't any particular enchantments that really help the build and no amount of AR is going to help 100 Health so get creative!

    Magic of Olde

    Discovering spells is the life and love of a Vancian Wizard. A limited number of spells places more value in the few powerful ones you keep in your spellbook. You learn to love particular powers and never take them for granted because you only get one use per day. With this list, you've a spell or two for any occasion but must choose wisely at all times. Here's a list of all 13 Greater Powers we'll be working with and my personal spellbook follows:

    Ancestor's Wrath | Ritual Stone | Tower Stone | Vampire's Seduction | Vampire's Servant | Embrace of Shadows | Mora's Agony | Secret of Arcana | Conjure Werebear | North Wind | Bones of the Earth | Sun Flare | Dragon Aspect

    Repeating Curse

    Fear + Mora's Agony

    The enemy is doomed to repeat the last action they took until the magic dispels or death takes it's toll.

    The Repeating Curse is one of my favorites of all the Wizard's spells. By sending an enemy running and casting Mora's Agony to block their path the enemy will repeatedly walk into a poisonous barrier leaving them vulnerable to other, more fatal spells. Unfortunately, this doesn't work as well outdoors since enemies will try to find other routes of escape. Instead, don't use the Fear effect in open areas and just use Mora's Agony normally. It's much easier to cut off an opponent's escape route in caves and forts.

    Plague Winds

    Ahzidal's Ring of Necromancy + Ritual Stone + Cyclone + Staff of Fireballs

    When the plague winds tear through, not even the chill of the Motherland can keep still the white walkers. Beware the third herald.

    With the Ring of Necromancy equipped raise all bodies in range. Cast Cyclone at the foe to send them flying. Allow your undead to assault the prone victim, grouping together before unleashing a fireball and, subsequently, a rain of undead body parts.

    Brevusa's Scapegoat

    Vampire Servant + Ash Shell

    An illusory charm makes foes attack a dead ally creating enough distraction for the wizard to go on the offensive or make a rather hasty retreat.

    The Vampire's Servant spell only raises weak undead so it loses its value in the late game. Hitting your undead with an Ash Shell spell creates a wonderfully invincible diversion.


    Burning Wraith Form

    Ancestor's Wrath + Ebony Mail + Drain Vitality + Mist Form

    Using this spell, a wizard can transmogrify into a wicked wraith ravaging anything that it comes in contact with.

    Equip the Ebony Mail, ignite Ancestor's Wrath and shout level 3 Drain Vitality at your adversaries. Finish by activating Mist Form and enjoy the hot mess. After 15 seconds, Mist Form must be reactivated to keep the spell going. The full spell deals 1,080 damage on Adept.



    Bloodmoon Mantra

    Fear + Conjure Werebear

    An oath to Hircine grants the ability to invoke a Great Hunt between the afflicted and one of Hircine's blessed werebears. The Daedric Prince does not accept failure.

    Due to the sheer strength of the werebear this spell has the most damage potential. The Fear effect keeps the enemy from attacking the caster or the werebear. The beast's knockdown attacks keep the foe from escaping. Invoking the Bloodmoon Mantra spells certain doom for any prey, I assure you. Do not take a Daedric Prince's blessing for granted.



    Muffle + Candlelight + Ebony Mail + Embrace of Shadows + Sun Flare

    As a seemingly whimsical ball of gaseous light, a sly wizard can lure enemies into a group before igniting the horizon with hellfire.

    Sun Flare does significantly more damage up close and this spell is optimized for that reason. Cast the Muffle and Candlelight spells and Equip the Ebony Mail. Make your presence known before activating Embrace of Shadows so the Ebony Mail puts off the poison cloak. Now drift up to enemies letting your cloak draw their attention and herd them into a tight formation. Finish with the almighty Sun Flare! With Augemented Flames perks it can reach ~425 damage on Adept. This damage can be doubled by using a Scroll of Firestorm before Sun Flare.


    Ondusi's Unhinging

    Tower Stone

    This eponymous spell is part of a collection of sorcery that made Ondusi the legendary thief that he was. Ondusi's unhinging spell magically masters all but the finest of locks in Tamriel.

    This little gem is a favorite of mine and comes in handy for disarming traps or opening high-level chests in the hopes of finding soul gems or scrolls and staves of magnificent power. Store this ability in the Aetherial Crown for such occasions. No, it cannot be abused and wasn't meant to be. Shame on you!


    Perfected Hex of Sacrifice

    Marked for Death + Soul Trap + Vampire's Seduction + Blade of Sacrifice

    Once spoken, these incantations will turn the most unlikely of sacrifices into a delightful offering. The target waits patiently while a ritual is performed and sealed with their lifeblood in exchange for their soul.

    Shout three words of Marked for Death and follow up with Soul Trap and Vampire's Seduction. This power is boosted greatly by Champion of the Night and the respective Illusion perks. Once affected, the sacrifice will wait patiently while you create a personalized circle of slaughter. I like to form a pentagram of skulls before sinking the blade of sacrifice into the belly of the victim.


    Mythal of Legend

    Secret of Arcana + Whirlwind Cloak + Mass Paralysis + Bones of the Earth + Ring of the Beast + Scroll of Guardian Circle

    A mythal: a type of spell with an area of effect, created by chaining multiple spells together to form a protective barrier of sorts. Mythals often require multiple mages to maintain several enduring effects but the Vancian wizard has discovered limitless power buried deep with the sorcerer, Ahzidal.

    Secret of Arcana grants the ability to chain a slew of spells together creating our temporary mythal. These spells in particular grant impeccable AR, extra health, regeneration, and enemy debuffs that can withstand any assault. Casting Whirlwind Cloak beats back any enemies in range when cast so the mythal is viable mid-combat.


    Spell of Soul Sundering

    Dragon Aspect + Equilibrium + North Wind

    A wizard, when in dire straits, can sacrifice his own lifeblood to temporarily divide his soul in two. This invoked shade will challenge all that dare to destroy their corporeal half.

    Three words of Dragon Aspect will allow the caster to summon an ancient dragonborn to fight by their side once they have lost more than half their health. However, the player must take damage from an external source in order to summon this great spirit. Achieve this by shouting all three words, casting Equilibrium until you're below the 50% threshold, and casting North Wind. Our vampiric resistance to frost is added to Dragon Aspect's 25% frost resistance and 30% magic resistance allowing us to survive the assault and bring forth a being of great power!


    New Custom Spells

    The best part of this build is the magical customization with your Greater Powers. Here are a few more spells that members have customized for their Vancian wizards:

    Metamagic & At-Will Spells

    As a huge mage fan, one thing I miss from Morrowind and Oblivion is the ability to create my own spells. With this new take on magic I was able to recreate that fulfilling experience with some new flavor. As you can see, I've added several normal spells, shouts, and other effects into my Vancian spells. The Greater Powers alone are pretty powerful but by adding other effects they become the legendary spells heard of in tales of high fantasy. Make sure to never use a regular spell outright unless it augments one of the basic Greater Powers.

    With the amount of Magicka and Magicka Regeneration this wizard boasts there are tons of combinations at your disposal even without the respective cost reduction perks. I stuck to the ten spells I created and loved every one of them each time they saved my life. I kept all of these combinations in my favorites list which became pretty jam-packed. Check out this helpful thread on ways to efficiently manage a bulky Quick Menu!

    At-will spells are sorcery that can be used on command with no need for preparation; this is the one exception to casting normal spells. There are two spells that the wizard can use at any time so long as Magicka permits: Flames and Muffle. A trick as simple as conjuring flames to start campfires or muting your footsteps is elementary to a wizard and can be performed without preparation. Flames is simply used to save your staff a few charges. You don't need to hurl a fireball at every skeever that comes hopping down the bunny trail.

    I don't think this build would level without the use of Muffle and there are some key perks in Illusion we need so use it often. With no stats in Health and 0 AR the Vancian Wizard will need time to plan out his engagements. The Muffle spell keeps us from blundering into groups of bandits or wild animals unprepared. Another thing to note, Mist Form is a great way to travel as a vampire in daylight. I was very adamant about not using regular spells unless they were supplemental to a Greater Power...except Mist Form. Try not to abuse it in battle but rather as a form of travel if you do at all. There is a simple trick to gain Mist Form in human form you can view here. Aside from this power, the Vampire Lord abilities will not be used.

    A Wizard's Best Friends

    The Vancian Wizard's mind can only hold so many spells; their staves, however, are brimming with power! The first goal of every Vancian Wizard will be to acquire their first stave which will carry them through the day and, perhaps, the next.

    There just so happens to be rumors of a Staff of Fireballs, left alone on a rather high peak in the mountains behind Solitude. It's said that it can be found by following an unmarked path to the right of the Thalmor Embassy, leading to a cave of snowy sabre cats. Scale the hill to the right of their cove and claim your first wizard's staff! This task places the Vancian Wizard on his path of desire. It's very reminiscent of the first task in Oblivion's Arcane University, aside from the messy, necromantic slaughter of course. Your first wizard staff is like a badge of honor, signaling your recognition in wizardry and the start of a magnificent adventure. Aside from the Staff of Fireballs I also nabbed a Staff of Soul Trapping early on which could eventually be replaced by the Soul Trap spell with as much magic as we'll have. I held on to the staff to keep myself from using basic spells but this could be another exception, it is but a minor thing.

    Since we have to memorize our spells after every use it's best to keep an actual spellbook on hand. I think Malyn Varen's Grimoire has the perfect look for our purposes. The Oghma Infinium has an arcane feel inside and out so it's another good choice since we'll be doing most of the quest anyway. Feel free to choose something less conspicuous like a journal if it suits you.

    Many wizards opt to hide their spellbooks from aspiring apprentices, thieves, and foes alike for it is their life's work. Obtaining the Secret Servant Lesser Power is perfect for safekeeping. What better place to hide your grimoire than the planes of Oblivion with your daedric servant? Summon your peon when your spells have faded from your mind and need refreshing, a daily occurrence for the Vancian Wizard.

    Of Wizardy and Sorcery

    Before every great wizard's ascension to archwizardy they must overcome great adversity, an event that forces them beyond their arcane threshold into a new realm of possibility and promise. The Vancian wizard is no exception; his adversity is named Ahzidal.

    Buried deep within Ahzidal's tomb are spells and artifacts of unimaginable power. Start this quest as soon as you have the funds and save your septims for this cause. Nothing can prepare you for the battles you must face in this tomb of nightmares but the magic calls to you, the one thing you cannot resist. Struggle past the hoards of draugr that await you and claim Ahzidal's artifacts. I sold all but one and poured the gold back into Ralis's cause, finally reaching the tomb of the mighty enchanter...

    In the greatest battle of wizardry versus sorcery I have ever experienced in Skyrim, you will have to overcome Ahzidal and his waves of souless undead. Our Dunmeri blood offers 50% resistance to fire which is reduced by that amount for vampirism if you're stage 4. That being said, with a wave of his hand Ahzidal can melt the very bone and sinew on our tender frames. Conversely, he is resistant to our stave and Flames spell though they can still damage him enough. This is the Vancian Wizard's chance to prove the worth of his spells, his life's work up to this point. Failure is not an option. I've never faced a challenge as difficult in Skyrim and I died several times trying. It was the equivalent of an end-of-game boss fight in difficulty and challenge. I cannot reveal how I defeated him personally because that is something every wizard must find for themselves. When you do defeat him it will be the most iconic thing you've ever done in Skyrim, I guarantee. And the reward for such triumph...

    When I first set out to bring Vancian magic into Skyrim I didn't even think about how I would level up. Neither staves nor Greater Powers offer experience, the majority of our offense and defense. Then it came to me, the ol' Secret of Arcana/Telekinesis trick demonstrated in one of Ben C's discussions. It only makes sense that after overcoming such a great foe such as Ahzidal that the wizard would attain a plethora of new abilities.

    By activating Secret of Arcana, using Telekinesis on an item, and fast traveling, our Alteration will skyrocket to 100. We gain access to any perk in the Alteration tree as well as several level ups bringing us closer to the level-locked Ebony Mail. What's more is with Patch 1.9 we can make Alteration Legendary, take all our perks back, and do it again as many times as we want! I only recommend doing it twice to boost up over level 30. Enemies become insanely difficult and kill cams run wild. I couldn't imagine anything higher. By taking the leap from Master Wizard to Archwizard a new level of enlightenment has dawned. With tons of perks we can invest in any skill desired so long as it fits your personal roleplay. Wizards are legendarily brilliant and can grasp any rudimentary concept such as haggling, bribing, persuasion, or even brutish arms and armor if the curious wizard fancies such things. I kept my perk spread fairly “pure mage” but with such a fun trick I encourage you all to be free with your perks, for once.

    Thought I'd still provide a perk spread though this build isn't really geared towards perk placement. This spread will take us to Level 31 and you'd be pretty hard-pressed to level any skill other than Alteration at that point. It is worth noting that the Telekinesis/Secret of Arcana trick can be used to achieve Level 80 and another epic fight with the Ebony Warrior. I've never been there myself but may add an attempt to the upcoming video for this build.

    The first perk you'll want to shoot for is Soul Squeezer. The Staff of Fireballs is our standard attack, so to speak, and this perk will really save the budding wizard a few Septims on soul gems. I leveled Enchanting quite a bit by disenchanting and recharging my staves, planning on enchanting some gear but nothing really stood out as helpful. It is an option though so I figured I'd mention it.

    Illusion is arguably the most important skill since there are a few supplemental Illusion spells and powers in our repetoire. Most importantly though, all related perks affect Vampire's Seduction and it's boosted by Champion of the Night. Even at level 30 I was able to calm Bandit Chiefs and perform the Perfected Hex of Sacrifice spell quite effectively! Illusion also grants Quiet Casting which is an all-time favorite of mine and extremely useful. Muffle will be the only effective way to level this skill though.

    Destruction is simply for Augmented Flames which boosts our staff's power. Training will be needed to hit 60 in Destruction. This skill and Speech are hardly necessary but with so many perks I just started throwing them places. The more soul gems and pricey scrolls I bought the more I considered perking Haggling, Allure, and even Merchant. Bribery and Persuasion are for the overly intelligent wizard roleplay. Knowing what drives the peons of Skyrim and how to disable them intellectually is quite rewarding in that aspect.

    Alteration will not level until we can defeat Ahzidal and grab Secret of Arcana. Don't forget to drink the redwater skooma in Redwater Den during the Bloodstone Chalice quest. By doping up and passing out we'll wake up next to a free tome of Telekinesis! Once this and Secret of Arcana are acquired we can take Alteration straight to 100 and perk some very helpful Magic Resistance and unlock the Master-level Alteration spells for the wizard's Mythal of Legend ability.

    The perks in Sneak were actually necessary to the build. With limited spells, minimal Health, and an impatient mindset, not every enemy need be engaged. With one perk in Stealth, Muffle, and Nightstalker's Footsteps the wizard can avoid unnecessary conflicts. Spells are precious and not to be wasted on the unworthy. The Backstab perk was taken for the Perfected Hex of Sacrifice and worked wonders on high-level opponents. Outside of that there were no stealth kills. I just really wanted to bring a ritualistic feeling to some of the spells and what's better than a ritualistic sacrifice for a black soul!? Epic!

    Final Notes

    By taking a new approach on magic this build incidentally became something entirely new. Never have I ignored perk and stat placement or level restrictions so adamantly while having so much fun in a greedy quest for power. It is the polar opposite of my Sorcerer and I couldn't be happier with it. I'm glad to have made such a unique and epicly flavorful build as my last.

    I want to thank Casey for the build's name, obviously inspired by his Vancian Thief. I also want to thank Ben C for that wonderful post on the Secret of Arcana. Likewise, his Fifth Wall build was the first to really embrace the entirety of Greater Powers so cheers to him again. Also, thanks to Warlocksg for the Mist Form demonstration video.

    A video will be up soon to demonstrate all the spells I've created but I also want to hear what you guys can come up with too. There are so many possibilities. If this manages to hit Legendary I'll add in Stairway to Heaven as autoplay. Thanks a lot everyone! Hope you've enjoyed.

    "A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to."

    - J. R. R. Tolkien

  • Member
    March 3, 2015
    That was my approach. I freely threw money into the Unearthed quest because money meant nothing to me. My eyes were on the prize. With the Thieves Guild, Brynjolf always makes me feel like a thug looking for coin. I told him to fuck off; my wizard was a dick lol.

    And honestly, Nightingale Subterfuge would have been way more effective. Especially in that twin dragon fight before getting Auriel's Bow. With Nightingale Strife you're only dealing a measly 50 damage on Master and the Health Absorption is moot because you can hardly take one hit. If you plan on getting hit twice you'd better rethink that game-plan haha :D
  • Member
    March 3, 2015
    I haven't tested it but I think the Ash Shell spell would ignite the familiar immediately. If not it would still time out after 5 seconds regardless. I don't think the ash spell would keep it alive for 30 seconds so it'd be a waste of Magicka. Then again, I haven't tested it so maybe. Ben C asked the same thing; I'll get back to you on this one.
  • Member
    March 3, 2015
    I felt bad leaving so many options open lol. We drill it into a newby's head to leave nothing up to the reader yet here I am saying "Wear whatever you want. Perk whatever you want. Use whatever spells you want, so long as you do it this way." Lol! I guess that's what happens when you look at Skyrim's leveling system from the side and discover the truth...CHIM!!!!¡¡¡ Excellent choice with Wabbajack, though it's inconsistencies WILL prove fatal ;) I want details to the nth degree on your Azhidal fight. I can tell you this much: it will be legendary!!
  • Member
    March 3, 2015

    When you put it like that, you totes gotta take this down man, No WIPs! Lol, I was more referring to adding in heavy enchanting, or collecting books, or swordplay etc. If newbs can sell a foundation as well as this before telling us do whatever then I'd have to +1

    I presume everything will prove fatal to this guy from time to time, so why break the trend lategame!? Wabbajack really does seem suited to Vancian magic though, and Im sure you'll agree after breaking into the Dying Earth and especially the end stories :D

    On one hand I totally want this to define an archaic magickal duel for me in Skyrim, and on the other I'm hoping that my little Riekling friends make one of their random appearances during that fight 

  • Member
    March 3, 2015
    They won't last. I raised every one of the dead bodies in his tomb with the Ritual Stone and Ahzidal slayed them methodically. I was extremely impressed and horrified peering from behind a pillar, mind racing for my next strategy.

    I honestly didn't even think about Wabbajack. It really would fit the build, adding more crazy abilities to this guy's repertoire. It'd definitely help out in those tough dragon fights. They're pretty intense with 100 Health.
    Btw, I think you can make other people mine for you. My wizard would've insisted on it haha.
    So...what are you wearing? ;)
  • Member
    March 3, 2015
    Fair point about the scamps being cinder for the lord of flame... Oh ho, when I say I'll be mining, I mean I'll gesture vaguely for my henchman to chip away in the dark while I chew on some glowing fungus xD Invoking higher powers means risking more than sanity in the Dying Earth. For a master wizard It means risking discomfort, exertion, and annoyance with your demons as they attempt trickery against you! I'm uh, wearing jammies xD Gandisi is going to slaughter a temple priest soon though. I imagine I'll wear Vaerminas robes endgame custom enchanted though. There are so many to pick up and reenchant if need be.
  • Member
    March 3, 2015
    Yeah, I considered those myself. I wish we could get some Mage robes with some layers to them, ya know. I want the "this could just be a giant blanket wrapped around me" look. I really like the Mythic Dawn Robes except for the KKK hood XD
  • Member
    March 3, 2015
    Being Dunmer, I am probably gonna get the whole Telvanni robes/ temple priest robes, and chitin/bonemold/daedric gloves/boots feel going mid-late game. I'm planning on taking enchanting further, to have a capable blade when cqc is needed. Also, conjuration seems likely for those reasons mentioned over PM... Gonna see how well some of those things work out while playing this guy post Archmage. If Ahzidal doesn't pull a Dark Souls and cast rage-quit on me IRL
  • Member
    March 3, 2015

    Oh my god I LOVE this build. I've never really gotten into the old fantasy which inspired this build, but this is fantastic!  If you're ever looking for more spells, you should look at White Haired Witch's Roleplaying Grimoire Spells