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Character Build: Atmoran Totems - The Whale

Tags: #Race:Nord  #Character Build Barbarian  #Character Build Blacksmith  #Character Build Mage Armor  #Rank:Exemplar 
  • Member
    June 19, 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 sixth 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 SnakeThe Moth, and The Owl.) 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 Whale


    The Whale trawls the deep places of the world. His motives and allegiances are known to few. Mighty in the attack and stalwart in defense, the Whale is a titanic opponent.

    The Whale is often linked to Tsun, the great guardian of the whalebone bridge who died defending Shor from “foreign gods” according to “Varieties of Faith”. In Cyrodiil, Tsun is associated with Zenithar, god of commerce and industry – perhaps suggesting that the great warrior figure became a symbol of overcoming adversity through hard work. (Loremaster Phil has an excellent in-character article on the possible links between the Nordic and Imperial figure.)

    Individuals with an affinity for the Whale prefer massive weapons and devastating Shouts. They are strong against physical and mental attack, and at the Master level of Alteration, they may even cause the roots of the earth itself to quake (Mass Paralysis). Despite their imposing physical qualities, such individuals are often friendly and open, and fiercely loyal to their friends.


    Primary Skills: Two Handed, Alteration 

    Complementary Skills: Smithing, Light Armor

    Attributes: 3:3:1 M:H:S

    Stone: Warrior, then Atronach. The Atronach deepens the well of Magicka and inures the hide against elemental attack.

    Shouts: Unrelenting Force, Ice Form. These Shouts suit the Whale's powerful presence and his ability to sweep aside lesser foes with ease. Tsun, guardian of the Whalebone Bridge in Sovngarde, himself uses Unrelenting Force to test souls who attempt to enter Shor's hall.

    Mask: Volsung (“Air Horror”). As the Whale dares the depths of the sea, so Volsung haunts the heights of Skyrim. The attributes of this mask are an ideal fit. Waterbreathing is an obvious connection to the Whale, and the bonuses to carry weight and barter are reminiscent of Tsun/Zenithar's association with toil.

    Gear: Fur Armor (kilt only); Stalhrim Gauntlets and Boots (or any found gear with Fortify Two Handed); Circlet of Alteration; amulet and ring to fortify Two Handed; Stalhrim Warhammer

    The armor used here resembles that of Tsun in Sovngarde. It also keeps the character relatively light on his feet – important, since little blocking is done.

    One often-unnoticed aspect of Stalhrim is that it grants an increased stagger magnitude (according to UESP). Warhammers are the most stagger-likely weapons in the game, and a Stalhrim Warhammer pushes that further, to keep foes stumbling harder.

    Quests: MQ to 3rd word of Fus Ro Dah, Under Saarthal, Rise in the East, A New Source of Stalhrim; visit Solstheim, Blackreach, and Dwemer ruins in general.

    Characters linked to the Whale totem are often drawn to the sea – to mighty elemental forces against which they may test their resolve. Quests like Rise in the East (East Empire Company quest in Windhelm) would fit. Solstheim is a distant, sea-ringed land full of travails and opportunity to set things to rights, making it a worthy place for such a character to visit. And the deeps of Blackreach – and Dwemer ruins in general – call to the soul of the Whale-aligned.

    Exploration of Skyrim's coasts and the icy seas will lead naturally to Septimus Signus's outpost, granting early access to Blackreach. It also leads to the sea-ringed College of Winterhold – a curious choice for a barbarian, but required for the Master-level Alteration spells, and for one of the words of Ice Form. Thankfully, Saarthal is easy pickings for a casual adventurer (those mages always need muscle for their excavations).

    Thinning out a mob of bandits with Ice Form

    Level 30 Perks

    Two Handed – Barbarian (5/5), Champion's Stance, Devastating Blow, Skullcrusher (3/3), Sweep

    Alteration – Novice-Master, Dualcasting, Magic Resistance (3/3), Stability, Atronach

    Smithing – Steel-Ebony

    Light Armor – Agile Defender (3/5)


    Two Handed weaponry is most fitting for an individual drawing inspiration from the mighty Whale. The blunt force of his warhammers can stun any foe. The only relevant perk not taken here is Great Critical Charge: the Whale is not known for lightning speed, but when it arrives it can hit with incredible force.

    Alteration – combined with the Atronach stone – allows this character to shrug off magical and physical damage. The primary use here is the flesh spells, but Detect Life is good for leveling, Waterbreathing is very thematic – and the prize is the Master-level Mass Paralysis, symbolizing the Whale's tremendous strength and ability to make the earth itself shudder.

    Smithing up to Ebony allows creation of a Stalhrim Warhammer, a massive block of what is essentially enchanted ice. The road isn't too long, thanks to the abundance of Dwarven ruins this character will be exploring.

    Light Armor's speed (relative to Heavy Armor) gives some compensation for the slow weaponry, and better reflects the type of gear worn by Tsun in Sovngarde. A few base perks here work well with Alteration's spells, and help in the event of a surprise attack when the arrows fly before you can cast Ebonyflesh.

    Mass Paralysis:  the earth itself shudders under the power of the Whale-aligned

    Gameplay notes: The Whale totem offers a delightfully straightforward approach, augmented by one of the most useful magic schools in Skyrim. Open a battle by casting the highest level flesh spell available, then lay about you with your warhammer. Power attack to stagger, and then follow up with quicker strikes.

    Against hard-hitting opponents (such as bears or stubborn bandit chiefs), ragdolling them against a nearby wall with Fus Ro Dah can keep them incapacitated but still close enough for you to get in those few free hits. But while ragdolling is great, sometimes you just want to 'Fus' an enemy for a light stagger, to interrupt a power attack or create an opening.

    Ice Form is early crowd-control. While Frost Breath can be seen as the superior choice thanks to Dragonborn Frost, Ice Form does its job right from the start – no muss, no fuss, no need to visit Solstheim and get halfway through a separate questline. The cooldown on Ice Form is long, but used correctly, it will end the battle anyway. Use it to face down foes on your terms, and don't forget to let the ice do its damage-over-time before you start cracking it open and bludgeoning the enemies trapped inside.

    High-level mages can be difficult opponents, since their wards eat your Shouts. Thankfully, investment in the Magic Resistance perks, along with the Atronach Stone (and perk), means you can often afford to approach head-on, muscling your way through their magic. Once you're within striking range, no ward can save them. Power attack or bash to interrupt their casting, and then follow up with a hit or two to finish them off.

    Mass Paralysis is the end-game prize for a character who follows the Whale. Thanks to the Stability perk, this spell keeps foes absolutely grounded. It's a good option against crowds of dangerous mages (who won't be power attacking and interrupting your casting), or against anyone you've already Fus Ro Dah'd into submission.

    Playing a huge barbarian who breaks apart Dwarven metal-men with a massive hammer is always good fun. Combining unstoppable power with excellent defenses, a follower of the Whale can confidently face any threat Skyrim has to offer. 


    The Atmoran Totem builds:

    The Hawk

    The Wolf

    The Snake

    The Moth

    The Owl

    ...and more to come.






  • Member
    June 19, 2015
    Bad jk
  • June 19, 2015

    I was wondering which way you will take with this Totem and you haven´t failed me, Paul. Barbarian with big hammer, almost naked...this is true Nord! Great job as always.

  • Member
    June 19, 2015

    Thanks! I

  • Member
    June 21, 2015

    I love every single one of your builds, and this one is no different. The best one in the totem series so far, in my opinion.

  • Member
    June 21, 2015

    Much appreciated!

  • Member
    June 24, 2015

    Just two questions though:

    - What's your healing strategy? Found/bought healing potion? Unperked alchemy/restoration? Waiting in between fights?
    - Do you block with this character?

  • Member
    June 24, 2015

    Found/bought healing potions. 

    It didn't make it into the build, but I did grab a couple of Haggling perks with this character eventually.  I figured it fit the Tsun/Zenithar theme, since the Zenithar blessing is a bonus to bartering.  (I also wore an Amulet of Zenithar in the early levels, and around towns when I remembered.)

    So spending a bit of time in the marketplace was part of the character, yeah.  I'd snap up any healing potions I could find for sale, and keep those that I found in the world.  That was plenty, really - and with the crowd control of Unrelenting Force and Ice Form, I could almost always make room/time to heal. 

    I can't remember if I ever used the basic Healing spell, but that could work in a pinch, too:  paralyze or Ice Form an enemy, then heal up. 

    As for blocking, I probably did a little bit, but not enough to warrant perking it.  The warhammer kept people staggered pretty well, and there's a nice rhythm to 2-handed combat (plus all the CC options via Shouts & paralyze).  However, Block would make a good skill to work up if you wanted to take the character to higher levels. 

  • Member
    June 24, 2015

    Lovely build. Did you meditate on fus for the stagger benefit? 

  • Member
    June 24, 2015

    That's a brilliant idea - which slipped my mind!  I basically ditched the main quest after I got Dah (never really a fan of it (ahem, Delphine), and a few other builds in the series needed to pursue it further, so I didn't want to get burned out).  

    So no, I never got to the meditation part.  But that would be a great addition, no question.  Thanks for mentioning it!