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Character Build: The Poison Widow

Tags: #Vargr Build  #Character Build Assassin  #Character Build Alchemist  #Character Build Villain  #Rank:Recognized  #MM 2016 Winner 
  • June 15, 2016

    The Poison Widow is a member of the dark brotherhood whose field of expertise, as you may have guessed, is poisons, toxins, and venoms.  This build focuses on Alchemy to solve all of its problems and avoids any kind of combat or magical skill, instead focusing solely on those skills governed by the Thief stone.

    The Dark Brotherhood recruits from many walks of life; granted all of its members share a certain temperament, but each approaches their calling in a way that best suits them, be it a silent blade in the dark, a magical conflagration, or a screaming battleax.  In this way each initiate is unique and subsequently some are better suited to certain contracts than others, every lock has its key so to speak and the Dark Brotherhood embraces this diversity. 

    The Poison Widow is not a combatant by any stretch of the imagination, nor is she skilled at destructive or distractive forms of magic.  Instead she has devoted herself to the discipline of Alchemy, and uses it to both slay her opponents and protect her own life.  Some situations are better resolved by the discrete prick of a poisoned needle, or the addition of some imaginative spices to a cup of wine.  The Poison Widow excels at these more subtle kinds of murder. 

    Race:  Khajiit, Bosmer, and Dunmer all make good choices since they have boosts to the two primary skills of Alchemy and Sneak.  Personally I prefer a Bosmer waif, but any race can be used since this build doesn’t rely on any of the race specific powers. 

    Stone:  The Serpent stone makes the most sense for a poison centric build, and mimics the Poison Widow’s signature poison.  However, it’s squirreled away in a corner of the map that we never have reason to visit, so if you aren’t up for the trek you can always settle for the Thief Stone even though our chosen skills already level rather quickly. 

    Major Skills:  Alchemy, Pickpocket, and Sneak 

    Minor Skills:  Archery and Speech 

    Un-perked (but heavily used) Skills:  Lock-picking and One-Handed 

    Stat Placement:  M:0 H:1 S:4  I wanted to keep the build squishy making us need to be stealthy and spend most of our time avoiding unnecessary conflict.  This meant a greater investment in Stamina which was useful for Eagle Eye, sprinting, burst damage, and stun locking opponents when all else failed. 

    Weapons:  Daggers of all types.  I had a vast collection of different daggers by the end of my play-thru.  All of which will be prodigiously augmented by various poisons.  For the bow I stuck with the longbow that you get escaping from Helgen and limited myself to only using iron arrows. 

    Apparel:  There is no specific set that this build utilized; the widow assumes different identities in order to get close to her target without raising suspicion.  I tried to look the part I was playing for each situation, meaning if I was pretending to be a hunter wandering the road then I wore all fur armor.  If my role was a wandering alchemist then I went with the green clothes and cowl combo. 

    Gear:  Potions and Poisons.  Any items with a fortify alchemy enchantment. 

    Shouts:  None, the Poison Widow is not dragonborn. 

    AlchemyThe focus of this build, Alchemy is both the primary offensive and defensive skill.  The use of poisons and potions will see us dominate every situation.  Key perks to aim for are concentrated poison so we can easily stack poisons in combat and green thumb making our little farm much more productive.

    Pickpocket:  A fantastic support skill for any alchemist, the key perks of poisoner and extra pockets are well worth their investment.  Poisoner allows us to remove targets with a “needle prick” applying our poison and walking away.  Carrying all those ingredients and poisons can get very cumbersome, extra pockets goes a long way in making sure we are well stocked at all times.

    Sneak:  Just to make sure we stay out of trouble.  Take all of the stealth perks and everything on the left branch.  I avoided the right branch of this skill; I didn’t want to become a blade in the dark assassin I wanted to let my poisons do the heavy lifting. 

    Archery:  Perked purely for Eagle Eye so we can be sure that our poison arrow hits the mark.  Furthermore, the eagle eye perk is great just for scouting areas and marking the location and movement of sentries, acting as a kind of binoculars. 

    Speech:  Three perks and you can sell your potions to anyone with a pulse.  Like eagle eye, the merchant perk is taken more for convenience; it just makes things a little easier when you can sell anything to anyone.  The two right hand perks bribery and persuasion represent the widow’s ability to coerce others into looking the other way, or to simply dupe them into thinking she is but a harmless girl. 

    Lock-picking and One-Handed:  I have never perked Lock-picking and I doubt I ever will.  I find that even master locks can be picked through process of elimination and a handful of picks and see no reason to invest in this skill.  The One-Handed skill will level a bit with this build since you need to hit people with a weapon in order to apply your poisons; however the widow relies on the strength of her toxins not the strength of her strikes.  These two skills will see some use and will naturally level however they are never trained and no perks are ever taken.

    We all know the usefulness of the Alchemy skill as a support to other playstyles.  This build however decides to focus on alchemy at the expense of other skills.  Through the use of poisons and potions we will have the upper hand in every encounter, so long as we are well stocked.  In the end our greatest obstacle is carrying capacity, choosing the right potions to bring will mean the difference between victory and defeat.  This was the real impetus to adding Pickpocket as a minor skill, I really wanted extra pockets! 

    As far as gear goes keep your eye out for any fortify alchemy or fortify carry weight items, both will be golden.  Other than that there aren’t any set pieces of gear to get, in fact the roleplay of this build encourages frequent changes in armor and clothing to match the current activity.  These came to be the different aliases that the widow uses; you wouldn’t want the common rabble knowing you’re a member of the Thieves’ Guild or the Dark Brotherhood for that matter.

    So you wish to summon the Dark Brotherhood? You wish to see someone dead? Pray, child. Pray, and let the Night Mother hear your plea.  You must perform that most profane of rituals - the Black Sacrament.  Create an effigy of the intended victim, assembled from actual body parts, including a heart, skull, bones and flesh. Encircle that effigy with candles.  The ritual itself must then commence. Proceed to stab the effigy repeatedly with a dagger rubbed with the petals of a Nightshade plant, while whispering this plea: 

    "Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear." 

    Then wait, child, for the Dread Father Sithis rewards the patient. You will be visited by a representative of the Dark Brotherhood. So begins a contract bound in blood.

    -A Kiss, Sweet Mother

    The Widow’s primary concern is furthering the will of Sithis and the Night Mother.  She will undertake any task the Night Mother assigns her, and will only perform assassinations in accordance with the tenants of the Dark Brotherhood.  What I mean by this is that someone has to perform the Black Sacrament for the widow to perform the assassination.  She does not kill for vengeance or even for money; she kills only for Sithis and the Night Mother.  This means that you will not kill Commander Maro after Death Incarnate, nor will you kill Motierre on behalf of Emperor Titus Mede II.  This first is personal vengeance which is not the Widow’s style.  As to the second, if Titus had performed the Sacrament and requested you kill Motierre then the Widow would have complied, however the emperor did not do this. 

    To facilitate this role-play experience it is safe to assume that any contract received from Astrid or Nazir are legitimate (someone somewhere has performed the Black Sacrament) and obviously any contracts given by the Night Mother are legitimate.  In addition to these assassination targets I have included some role-play contracts that the Widow will take on.  Below I list not only the target but also the person who performed the Black Sacrament.  These are all marriage candidates, and one of them should be married as soon as you are able, choose the one that appeals to you the most. 

    Ainethach is the owner of the two mines found in Karthwasten and is an early marriage candidate.  After the failure of Atar to get Ainethach to sell his mine Thonar Silver-Blood made a request to the Night Mother for Ainethach’s removal. 

    Benor is another early marriage candidate who can be found in Morthal.  He has been plotting the removal of Igrod with his friend Gorm.  However, Gorm has gotten cold feet and no longer wants to go through with their plans; he turns to the Night Mother for aid. 

    Romlyn Dreth works at the Black-Briar Meadery in Riften and can be married very early in a play-thru.  He’s currently selling some of the mead under the table at significant discount and pocketing the revenue.  The Black-Briar’s are not to be trifled with, and the Night Mother must be obeyed. 

    Muiri is an apprentice apothecary at the Hag’s Cure in Markarth and a favorite marriage candidate for this build.  Hers is a tragic tale of whirlwind romances and dark dealings, her actions have earned her the enmity of the Shatter-Shield clan, both with and without merit.  Her tale will come to an abrupt end when Tova Shatter-Shield performs the Black Sacrament before taking her own life in grief. 

    Ysolda is a citizen of Whiterun who’s looking to make a name for herself as a merchant and is an early marriage candidate.  Her aspirations have led her down a dark path of illegal drug dealing where she has made some unknown enemies in the Skooma trade.  These shady figures have called upon the Night Mother to remove their competition. 

    Uthgerd the Unbroken is another early marriage candidate who can be found in Whiterun.  She came here seeking to join the Companions but a tragic accident during her proving has caused them to reject her.  Apparently the whelp she killed has family who isn’t as honorable as the Companions themselves. 

    None of the above contracts will be completed until after the Widow becomes the Listener.  After all you need to be able to hear the Night Mother before you can obey her commands.  Therefore the above contracts can only be completed after the Whisper in the Dark part of the Dark Brotherhood questline.  However, save the one you married for last, your spouse should be slain after Death Incarnate; your ties to the rest of the world must be severed before you can take on the mantle of leadership.  You aren’t called the Poison Widow for nothing. 

    The Poison Widow follows a loose progression through its play-thru.  Below I’ve outlined the quests you should undertake in order.  Side-quests are not excluded and can be taken as diversions but the below quests should be done in this order for the experience of playing this character. 

    The Spider 

    I call the early part of this build the Spider.  This is before the character joins the Dark Brotherhood and is when we will spend most of our time leveling the major skills through Thieves Guild side quests.  If your chosen spouse is available for marriage then that should be a priority, even before joining the Thieves Guild though both can be done simultaneously since the wedding and the guild are in the same city.  

    • The Bonds of Matrimony, if your chosen spouse is available for marriage this early in the game, then go complete whatever is required to win their hand in marriage and marry them.

    • Thieves Guild side quests, I just focused on side quests for the guild, which are great thematic ways to level Pickpocket and Sneak.  You can go further down the questline if you like just don’t complete it and don’t become Guild Master, this isn’t your place in the world. 

    The Spider grows Fangs 

    While in Windhelm on a job for the Thieves Guild the Spider hears about a child who is trying to contact the Dark Brotherhood.  Out of curiosity she investigates and learns that the target is Grelod the Kind.  Something changes in her then and she decides that if the Brotherhood won’t answer this child’s pleas then she will see to Grelod’s death herself. 

    • Dark Brotherhood, up to The Silence has Been Broken, if you haven’t married someone yet then go do so before completing this stage of the Dark Brotherhood questline.

    • Civil War, after learning Motierre’s plan, it’s time to join the Legion and end the war, Skyrim must be brought to heel before the Emperor will visit the province.

    • Dark Brotherhood, up to Death Incarnate.  After the events of this stage in the questline it will be time to earn the title Poison Widow.

    • Assassinate your spouse.  The Black Sacrament has been performed and the Nightmother answers.  You are tasked with slaying your spouse and solidifying your place as the leader of the Dark Brotherhood. 

    Your skills should be fairly complete by now, with a character level in the mid to late 30’s.   It is finally time to finish what you started when you first met Motierre so long ago, assassinate the emperor, and reestablishing the Brotherhood as an entity to be respected and feared. 

    Wortcraft is, in fact, amateur Alchemy.  Eating an ingredient requires grinding it against the teeth, which occasionally releases its simplest essence and results in a fleeting effect on the eater.  Wortcraft never has as strong a result as a potion created using the proper tools.

    -excerpt from Fundaments of Alchemy by Alyandon Mathierry

    Wortcraft contains some very useful raw ingredients whose primary effect can be used instead of a potion.  It also includes some substances that cannot be improved upon but are nonetheless useful.  Below is a list of some of the raw ingredients that the widow makes regular use of. 

    Hawk Feathers:  Primary effect, Cure Disease.  The Widow has discovered that most diseases in Skyrim can be cured by simply eating the down of the native hawks.  It is speculated that the birds developed this resistance from the regular hunting and eating of the local disease ridden skeever’s. 

    Vampire Dust:  Primary effect, Invisibility for 4 seconds.  While actually acquiring this substance is fraught with danger, the Widow has come across plenty of samples in her travels.  Smearing the dust on ones forehead renders the subject invisible for a brief period of time, just long enough to make a quick escape. 

    Frostbite Venom:  Causes 5 points of damage to Health and Stamina for 4 seconds.  While a more potent toxin can be created by a skilled alchemist, this venom is still very useful to the untrained or poorly funded assassin.  Harvested from the common Frostbite Spider this venom is often more readily available than a refined poison of the same lethality. 

    Ice Wraith Essence:  Resist 20% of frost damage for 60 seconds.  The unique arcane energy of the Ice Wraith can be gathered and used to ward off the effects of frost magic.  Having this essence on hand is very useful considering the common practice of frost magic in the province of Skyrim especially against magic wielding undead which are immune to the Widows more conventional methods. 

    Soul Husk:  Resist 10% of magic for 10 seconds.  This strange fungus is not native to Skyrim; in fact it’s not native to Nirn.  It can only be found in the realm called the Soul Cairn.  Eating a small sample will grant the subject some resistance to the arcane for a brief period of time.

    Alchemy is the primary skill of the Poison Widow.   It is both her main offensive ability and her main defensive ability.  With alchemy the Widow will be able to dominate any situation.  Below is a list of signature concoctions, most of which can be grown in player built gardens and greenhouses.  The value’s listed below assume an Alchemy skill of 100 with all of the above listed perks. 

    Widow’s Kiss:   A most cruel and sadistic poison.  The Widow’s Kiss paralyzes its victim, not just voluntary motor functions but also the involuntary functions of the heart and lungs.  The victim literally dies of suffocation while having a heart attack.

    Ingredients:  Canis Root, Imp Stool, Mora Tapinella

    Target is paralyzed for 15 seconds.  Causes 15 points of poison damage for 10 seconds. 

    Blood Lust:  Another cunning mixture.  The widow uses this poison to get others to do her dirty work for her.  Best applied through pickpocket in heavily patrolled cities, the target flies into a wild rage and is subsequently put down by the hold guards.

    Ingredients:  Blisterwort, Fly Amantia

    Creatures and people up to level 12 will attack anything nearby for 10 seconds. 

    Draugrbane:  Effectively a poison that works against the undead.  This concoction is only used when fighting enemies that are otherwise immune to poison.  Thanks to a bug, Fortify Marksmen works on all weapons not just bows.

    Ingredients:  Juniper Berries, Canis Root, Namira’s Rot

    Health regenerates 75% faster for 300 seconds.  Bows do 60% more damage for 60 seconds. 

    Omni-Aegis:  This potion is effectively a resist magic potion.  However it uses the greater magnitude of elemental defense to create a potion that protects the user to a greater degree than any magic resistance potion ever could.

    Ingredients:  Hawk Beak, Snowberries, Dragon’s Tongue

    Resist 45% of Fire damage for 60 Seconds.  Resist 45% of Frost damage for 60 Seconds.  Resist 45% of Shock damage for 60 Seconds. 

    Mara’s Tears:  This is probably the first useful potion many alchemists learn, a simple potion of healing.  The ingredients are common and can be found in abundance while the effect is useful both entering and during combat. 

    Ingredients:  Blue Mountain Flower, Wheat

    Health is increased by 60 points for 60 seconds.  Restore 94 points of Health.

    Below I’ve listed some other quests that further the progression of the character but aren’t directly tied to any of the primary quests she undertakes.  All of them would be of great interest to this character.  They can be completed at any time during a play-thru. 

    • Rare Gifts (Song of the Alchemists):  Find a book for the apothecary in Morthal.  Reward +1 Alchemy.

    • Dungeon Delving (Ring of Pure Mixtures):  Find this ring for the apothecary in Dawnstar, then steal it back for your own use.  Reward +1 Alchemy.

    • Dungeon Delving (Noster’s Helmet):  Retrieve this helmet for Noster Eagle-Eye in Solitude.  Reward +1 Sneak.

    • Some Light Theft (Staff of Arcane Authority): Steal a magic staff for the steward of Winterhold.  Reward +1 Speech.

    • Some Light Theft (Double-Distilled Skooma):  Steal some skooma for a dock worker in Windhelm.  Reward +1 Sneak.

    • Shearpoint is the location of an ancient dragon cult tomb.  The one laid to rest here was purportedly a skilled alchemist.  Reward Krosis.

    The Poison Widow is not a combat character by any stretch of the imagination, and will make every effort to avoid direct conflict, choosing rather to flee and fight another day than trade blows with an enemy.  The Widow’s preferred method of murder is to reverse pickpocket the Widow’s Kiss poison applying them one at a time until the target is dead.  Alternatively, if there is a group of enemies she will fire an arrow poisoned with Blood Lust into one of the enemy warriors and let the resulting mayhem clear a path to her goal.  If she ever finds herself in a melee and is unable to extract herself she will result to dual wielding daggers poisoned with the Widow’s Kiss.  She will strike one enemy paralyzing them and immediately move on to the next until all of her opponents are paralyzed or are dead.  This methods work against most living enemies. 

    The Widow’s most dangerous foe is the undead due to their immunity to poison.  The draugr found in most barrows are barely aware as it is, and are usually easy to sneak past.  In the event that one needs to be destroyed the Widow will use a Draugrbane potion to boost her damage output and physical resistance.  It helps to bring a follower if you know you are going to face undead foes, letting them do most of the fighting for you.  Vampires are more problematic since they seek out the living and have a habit of showing up at the worst times.  If they attack while in or near a city she will let the hold guards do their job.  However, a dagger enchanted with turn undead is a useful blade to keep in your boot, just in case. 

    Finally, dragons are immune to paralysis but not to poison so the damaging effects of Widow’s Kiss are still applicable here.  However, the Widow’s first strategy is going to be retreat, if that fails then she will try to lure the dragon into combat with another group, like the hold guards of a city or a giant’s camp.  Once the dragon is distracted battling these other foes she will slip away.

    The Poison Widow has been a fun and challenging build to play and certainly isn’t one for the light hearted player.  The early game can be difficult when your primary skills of Sneak and Alchemy are still too low to have much effect on the play.  You will spend some time fleeing for your life when discovered, but that is part of the learning process.  It also makes finally eliminating a target without detection all the more rewarding.  The late game is a complete 180 with you easily dominating every conflict through the use of your powerful poisons and potions. 

    I hope you’ve all enjoyed this build, and thank you for reading. 


  • Member
    June 15, 2016
    First like! Awesome build as always vargr, I don't think I've seen any other black widow-esque builds on here :)
  • June 15, 2016

    Thanks Capricorn.  I'm still in the editing process since Ning keeps eating my progress I have to post builds in stages.

  • Member
    June 15, 2016
    It kept doing that with my Aspect Hunter, I got so mad I've been avoiding goin back and editing it XD
  • June 15, 2016
    So that's the build you've been talking about. Damn, it really looks like awesome build. I love that you decided to embrace the darker side of Alchemy with this DB path.

    As for the Stone, I think it would be worth mentioning Steed for its carrying capacity. That's what would I use most likely.

    Custom list if targets. Great, I really love those. And Wortcraft? Damn genius. Maybe adding Blue Mountain Flower for its Restore Health could be useful.

    You completely sold me here, Vargr. This really makes me want to start the Alchemy playtrough we were talking about. Also its good this is out, means I don't have to make a build for my playthrough. xD
  • June 15, 2016

    Nice build Vargr.  She soooo evil!  Like the idea of Wortcraft too. Sotek has it in his werewolf build.  She's like a Muiri or a Ingun Blackbriar taken to the next level. 

  • Member
    June 15, 2016

    I like. I always love a good alchemist assassin.

  • Member
    June 15, 2016
    I love this build I've been looking for a poison build for a long time
  • June 15, 2016

    I didn't even think of the Steed Stone, that's a fantastic idea, I always focus on it's Heavy Armor weight reduction for tank warrior characters and completely forgot about the boost to carry capacity.

    I tested some of the Restore Health/Stamina effects with Wortcraft but the magnitude is so small that they hardly seemed worth it.  Plus I always seem to have more Restore Health/Stamina potions than I know what to do with.

    You should, Alchemy is one of those skills that is both challenging and a bit daunting to get into but oh so rewarding once you start to figure things out.

  • June 15, 2016

    I knew I saw Wortcraft used before just couldn't remember what build.  Sotek you say....looks like I'm gonna have to hunt down a werewolf build. Awwooooooo!!!!