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Character Build: Atmoran Totems - The Owl

Tags: #Race:Nord  #Character Build Elementalist  #Character Build Mage  #Character Build Enchanter  #Rank:Exemplar 
  • Member
    June 15, 2015

    In Skyrim, the totems of the old Atmoran gods can still be found – the symbols scratched into a stone protruding like a jagged tooth from a grassy field, or carved outside the entrance to a forgotten tomb. The symbols speak, it is said, to those who would listen.

    Some men and women are said to partake of the spirits of the stones. Even if they know nothing of the symbols or their origin, their companions mark how their strength rivals that of the bear, how their cunning is that of the fox, how their restlessness is that of the hawk. Such individuals body forth the totems in their minds and their hearts, their learning and their fighting, their being and their dying.


    This is the fifth installment in a series of nine character builds, each keyed to a particular totem. (See here for the first build, The Hawk, as well as an introduction to the project. Other builds so far include The WolfThe Snake and The Moth.) The race for each build presented in this series is assumed to be Nord, as those with the blood of the North are the most likely to bear the aspect of a totem. But just as the Dragonborn can be a member of any race, so too the call of the totems can be answered by any race of man, or beast, or even elf.


    The Owl

    The Owl is the keeper of the night's secrets. Likely a precursor of Jhunal, ancient Nordic god of hermetic orders, the Owl concerns himself with secrets of both a magical and a mundane nature. No lock is a barrier to the Owl's keen vision, and all the secret bindings of Magicka to matter are known to him.

    The Cyrodiilic Julianos – austere god of magic – is far removed from the Atmoran Owl. The owl is a predator in addition to an emblem of secret knowledge, silently gliding through the dark pine tree tops and sowing fear with its haunting call. As a follower of the Owl, all the scurrying souls of Mundus are your tools - your prey.

    Primary Skills: Enchanting, Lockpicking

    Complementary Skills: Destruction, Alteration, Conjuration, Illusion, Restoration

    Attributes: 1:1:0 M:H:S. Heavy reliance on Enchanting means Magicka is not needed as much as for other pure mages, allowing plenty of investment in Health.

    Stone: Mage, then Shadow. Invisibility is one of the few spell effects that cannot be replicated by Enchanting, but it's not needed so frequently as to make full investment in Illusion worthwhile. The Shadow allows those of the Owl to cloak themselves in stealth once a day – perhaps to get in position to cast a Master-level scroll, or to bypass a threat.

    Shouts: Slow Time. This iconic Shout is ideal for a wizard, representing his control over time itself. It allows rapid-fire casting by hand or staff, granting dominance over even the most powerful foes.

    Mask: Morokei (“Glorious”). The only dragon priest who speaks, Morokei is a suitable opponent for the Owl. The priest's open dominance over others is a contrast with the Owl's quieter aloofness. The regeneration effect of the eponymous mask is useful in longer fights, given the character's smaller Magicka pool.



    Gear: Archmage's Robes; The Gauldur Amulet; Predator's Grace; Spellbreaker; Aetherial Shield; assorted cost-reduction gear; scrolls; staves; enchanted daggers (soul trap, fear, turn undead, banish, fire/frost/shock damage, absorb health/magicka); Oghma Infinium; The Black Star.


    Most of this equipment is self-explanatory: those of the Owl will seek enchantments and items that allow them to replicate the effects of spells that others must cast from their own Magicka reserves. So the Gauldur Amulet efficiently increases all three attributes; the Archmage's Robes reduce casting cost across all schools and increase regeneration; Predator's Grace – found in Hag's End, near one of the Slow Time words – removes the need to cast Muffle.

    Scrolls cover most other contingencies, and self-enchanted daggers allow the character to be as versatile as your imagination allows. I found a dagger with a simple Fear enchantment very useful for those saber cat ambushes, and always brought a dagger of Turn Undead in Nordic ruins. Daggers of elemental damage were more of a last-ditch option, but are light to carry and fast to wield, especially under the effects of Slow Time – and of course, they (as well as staves and scrolls) benefit from the Augmented element perks in Destruction.

    For a discussion of staff use and the two shields, see the Gameplay section below.



    Quests: College of Winterhold, Shalidor's Insights, Dragonborn (Black Book quests in particular), The Black Star, Discerning the Transmundane, The Only Cure, Lost Legends, Lost to the Ages.


    The College of Winterhold has obvious benefits for a pure mage. The rewards are in some cases better than anything you can enchant yourself, and access to many spell-merchants allows easy purchase of soul gems (losses can be made good by selling your enchanted jewelry and clothing). The position of Archmage is the ultimate goal for followers of the solitary, high-minded Owl.

    Those drawn to the Owl are most likely of all the totems to have dealings with Herma Mora, the old man of the wood since before Ysgramor's day and the keeper of secrets. In Atmora, Herma Mora's haunts were the ancient dark forests, in which he set snares for men. But the Owl hunts from the tree-heights, and the crawling things of the forest fear his silent flight.

    The Oghma Infinium is a prize worthy of an obsessed knowledge-seeker. Even more importantly, the Black Books rumored to be found in Solstheim allow entry to Apocrypha itself – and some excellent powers and abilities. Notable Black Book powers include Mora's Boon (healing in a pinch), Secret of Arcana (allowing rapid casting of those high-tier Destruction spells), Black Market (for making shadowy deals), Scholar's Insight (save some skill books!), and Seeker of Sorcery (for pushing those Enchantments and spells further). In addition, Apocrypha is the best place to go hunting for those reclusive tomes of high-level spells.



    Level 36 Perks

    Enchanting – All perks

    Lockpicking – Novice-Expert, Golden Touch, Treasure Hunter, Locksmith

    Destruction – Novice-Apprentice, Rune Master, Augmented Flames (2/2), Augmented Frost (2/2), Augmented Shock (2/2), Intense Flames, Deep Freeze

    Alteration – Novice-Adept, Stability

    Conjuration – Used primarily for Soul Trap; no perks taken.

    Illusion – Used only for Muffle in the early levels; no perks taken (but see below).

    Restoration – Used for healing only; no perks taken.


    Enchanting allows a studious character to make preparations that cover any contingency. It's a classic case of “work smarter, not harder.” Why fill up a Magicka pool and invest in cost-reduction perks when it's possible to cast many spells from staves and scrolls and apply many spell effects with a swipe of an enchanted dagger or the donning of an enchanted ring? For those who follow the Owl, Enchanting offers near total mastery over all magical schools.

    Lockpicking fits well with Enchanting: many locked chests contain soul gems – or at least gold, that can be used to replenish one's stock of soul gems. Golden Touch makes a noticeable difference in the gold found in most chests, and Treasure Hunter increases the chances of finding magical items to disenchant (or sell). Wizards – especially enchanters – need lots of gold, and characters who rely on magical gear can always use more of it. Although perks like Locksmith may seem “useless”, they really save the player time. Would you rather spend 20 minutes per play session fiddling with the lock interface, or melting faces and trapping souls?

    Destruction gets a heavy investment mostly to augment enchanted staves, scrolls, and weapons. Dualcasting isn't needed or desirable in a build with relatively low Magicka (and in a build that makes constant use of staves), and the role of Impact as a delayer and distance-maker is covered by Slow Time. The “special effect” perks, Intense Flames and Deep Freeze, are very useful (and underestimated) crowd-control measures. With a little practice, it's easy to determine how much damage a foe must take before the effect (fear or paralysis) kicks in. Note that these effects do not work with staves – you have to cast the fire or frost spell yourself. Partly for that reason, Flames and Frostbite always occupied a position in my favorites (and hotkeys). The Rune spells are great for levelling the Destruction skill, and as essentially passive, “free” sources of damage when cast in preparation for battle.

    Alteration plays two major roles: the armor spells in this school cannot be replicated by any enchantments (and thanks to a good Health investment, this character can afford to take some hits, making such armor beneficial). Secondly, the Stability perk extends the duration of the Owl's signature Shout, Slow Time. Magic Resistance perks are not strictly needed (enchanted apparel fills that role), but they and the Atronach perk may be good investments for a higher-level character.

    Conjuration is used primarily for Soul Trap, although spell tomes gathered along the way may be put to good use even without any perk investment in the school. A ring or other piece of apparel enchanted with Fortify Conjuration will ease the summoning of any daedra you need to accompany your adventures (at least, until you find the relevant staff).

    Illusion is used just for the Muffle effect in the early levels, before Predator's Grace makes the spell itself redundant. No perks are needed here, but a character going into the higher levels may perk up to Quiet Casting for an even stealthier approach, and take the other perks in the middle of the tree (Hypnotic Gaze, Aspect of Terror, Rage) to enhance the effects of Illusion scrolls.

    Like Alteration's armor spells, the healing spells of Restoration are not easily replicated by other means. Carry weight is at a premium in a build that makes no investment in Stamina, so toting lots of potions isn't ideal. Casting healing spells at need will work up the skill (slowly), but no perks are needed thanks again to Enchanting: just periodically enchant a ring of Fortify Restoration and pop it on when that extra healing is needed.


    Gameplay notes: The Owl totem is all about playing an aloof, detached master of what Tsun called “the Clever Craft”. This character assembles an array of items and powers and seeks the path of least effort – and of total control.

    Thanks to endless study of Enchanting and careful reflection, those who take after the Owl are able to wield the powers of all magical schools – provided they are well prepared. Students of the Owl equip themselves with potent gear to give them access to spells and rituals that would otherwise be beyond their abilities. A character planning an excursion to a Nordic ruin, for example, might bolster his resistance to frost with a pair of enchanted boots, bring a dagger of undead turning, and stock up on scrolls of Bane of the Undead. That same character exploring the halls of the Dwemer might wear apparel that grants him resistance to shock and bring a staff of fireball. When facing bandits, frost scrolls and staves will be the order of the day. The point is to experiment, to see just where your gear and planning can take you.

    I've made Enchanting-focused characters in the past, but I often limited myself too much, relying on staves and scrolls alone. With this build, I discovered that using spell and staff simultaneously is incredibly effective. For most of the game, I made great use of a lowly Staff of Firebolts. With both Augmented Flames perks, it deals 37 points of damage per hit. Pair it with a Firebolt spell in the off-hand, and you are doubling your damage output for half the Magicka cost!


    Staff-and-spell style also is the best way to make use of the Staff of Magnus. Since the staff actually recharges your Magicka while you use it, you can use your off-hand to cast spells indefinitely. It's especially helpful with those Adept or Expert-tier Destruction spells that seem to eat through your reserves so quickly. The staff gobbles soul gems, but this build's Enchanting focus means you're squeezing every bit of energy from those souls – and using the Black Star means you're just a few NPCs away from a recharge. Still, it's best to use this staff sparingly, for those high-level enemies that will require a constant stream of damage.

    Offensive staves are obviously ideal, but finding the higher-tier Destruction staves will take some exploration. Alternatively, seek out a Dragon Priest for an Adept or Expert-level staff. Other “utility” staves include a Staff of Paralysis (found at any level in Snapleg Cave) and eventually Miraak's Staff. Both options are ideal for crowd control, and pair well with a staff of Wall of Flames (or other element): disable your foe, and immolate them. A Staff of Revenants lent my Owl character some versatility for much of the playthrough as well, until I became Archmage and replaced it with the Staff of the Frost Atronach (which is more useful at higher levels).


    The two shields listed above give the character even more options in battle. Spellbreaker is an excellent prize for a seeker after great artifacts, given the shield's strong association with Shalidor, and it has an added benefit in this build, as it removes the need for Ward spells. Spellbreaker sees great use against dragons and spellcasters: keep a staff in the other hand and blast foes when they pause in their casting.

    The Aetherial Shield is ideal for a mage who finds himself cornered. A single quick bash is enough to send almost any foe running, which buys enough time to heal, regenerate Magicka, swap out a staff, prepare a Master-level spell scroll, summon aid – it's an amazing piece of gear, one I have overlooked for far too long. The Stamina cost of the bash is no issue, even with zero Stamina investment (apart from the 30-point bonus granted by the Gauldur Amulet), since this build doesn't use Stamina for anything apart from the very occasional sprint. And the entire quest leading up to the shield itself is one of the best in Skyrim, in my opinion: scouring Dwarven ruins for ancient, mysterious, enchanted material (and collecting loads of soul gems and treasures in the process) is a worthy endeavor for a student of the Owl.

    The Aetherial Shield allows this mage to keep even a Draugr Deathlord at bay.

    There are few things as satisfying in Skyrim as defeating a stubborn foe with minimal effort - and being rewarded with that loud “snap” as their soul is severed and added to the collection at your belt pouch. Maybe the soul of that master vampire will feed your hungry staff. Maybe it will live on as a prisoner within a magical ring you will craft. Whatever use you put to it, as a follower of the Owl totem you can revel in your superiority, perching high above the crawling masses and unlocking the secrets of the universe in your secluded tower.


    The Atmoran Totem builds:

    The Hawk

    The Wolf

    The Snake

    The Moth

    ...and more to come.





  • June 15, 2015
    Great build, just like all the others! But just out of curiosity, how does lockpicking fit with the owl? I understand that it's good for wizards and mage builds, but other than the fact that it's helpful, is there a reason for it?
  • Member
    June 15, 2015
    Great build Paul, all your Totem builds are so unique
  • Member
    June 15, 2015


    Lockpicking was one of those skills that was hard for me to fit in to the totems for a while.  (Recall that I've got 9 builds, each of which needs 2 *unique* primary skills.)  But once I determined that the Owl would get Enchanting as a primary, Lockpicking just somehow clicked.  It seemed to suit the character of a mysterious, secretive mage who was going to uncover *all* of the hidden stuff, dammit!  

    So in some ways, Lockpicking is here because it needed to be somewhere; in another way, I came to think of it as a really good fit. 

  • June 15, 2015
    Hmm, I like it! I think that fits in well when you explain it that way! +1 from me!
  • Member
    June 16, 2015
    I think this is my favorite so far
  • Member
    June 17, 2015
    This is probably the only nuke of yours in the series i have commented on mate. The owl is a wise and crafty creature. There have been many stories and legends on the owl... Your take is interesting. I can see the linkage of lock picking with craftiness and linkage to the clever craft. However, enchanting and dealings with a daedric prince seems to aid and pollute the purity of the clever craft. Reason being enchanting involves the souls of fallen trapped whilst daedric dealing corrupt the power.... Which is fine if thAt's what you're going for... Power is power regardless of source. But overall, a fine build, balanced and worth my like.
  • Member
    June 17, 2015

    I'm not familiar with the term 'nuke', but I get where you're coming from.  There were a few factors that played into my linkage of this character to Herma Mora and soul trapping:

    First, I needed each totem to have one primary way of dealing with enemies.  Since I wanted each pair of primary skills to be unique to each totem, I had to make some tough choices.  My list of "skills that can be used to deal with foes" looked like this: Archery, Destruction, 1-Handed, 2-Handed, Illusion, Conjuration, Sneak, Alchemy, Enchanting. 

    My next step was to assign skills to each totem, and of that list, Enchanting made most sense for the Owl.  That pretty much guaranteed he was going to be soul trapping.  

    Then I had to figure what other primary skill would make sense.  Lockpick seemed to fit, since both it and Enchanting are in some ways about using craft and skill to discover secrets (and potentially power).  

    So I had the image of a crafty, secretive, secret-obsessed kind of character.  Hermaeus Mora seemed perfectly suited to such a person - not as an *ally* per se, but as a dangerous source of information, power, secrets, etc.  I imagine that such a character would think he could rise above any corruption (whether that is actually the case or not is another question - but the Owl totem seems potentially arrogant to me, so it seems to fit).  

    Anyway, that was probably more than you wanted to know about my thought process :P  Interesting points though, and thanks for the like!

  • Member
    June 25, 2015

    Wow... tons of stuff going on in this build!

    The tie-in to Julianos is brilliant, and the skills all mesh together really well. I have to say that I've been surprised at how well you've been able to do that with each of your totem builds so far. When I heard that you were tackling them all, I was wondering if you were going to have to force some things to fit together, but you're already over half way, and its been so natural (even your choice of Lockpicking feels natural in this very mage-y character).

    Another fantastic totem! :D

  • Member
    June 25, 2015

    Much appreciated, Shin Jin (and a belated Happy Father's Day, too!)

    The pairing of Enchanting + Lockpicking was one of my chief concerns when it came to "selling" the build.  I have come to really like the concept, but I'm aware that it needs to be looked at a very particular way in order for people to get on board with it.  So it's good to hear that it seems to work!