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An Argument for 'Marked for Death'

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  • Member
    November 1, 2013

    Are you tired of making a new character and having to spend hour after hour bent over crafting tables just to be able to play the game?

    A few weeks ago I posted a topic about a favourite shout of mine and the discussion afterward got me interested in playing around with 'Marked for Death' (I'll refer to it as 'MD' for short), something I had never really done.  Since Skyrim was released I have always thought of MD as that silly shout that is all glitched and broken, making everything in the game a 1-hit joke and turning Lydia into a squishy noob when I 'accidentally' hit her with it.  While there are certainly some problems with this shout (respawning enemies) the past week has made me learn to not only appreciate this shout but has actually made me think of Skyrim differently. 

    This week I started a new character with the goal of using MD as my main shout.  I was skeptical of how useful it would be since I had previously only ever used it on an assassin character, and thus had always thought of it as a shout where you tag the enemy then sit in the shadows skulking for a minute until I could run up and 1-shot him.  Much like how I mentioned how I fundamentally misunderstood 'Drain Vitality' I now see that the problem wasn't that MD was a crappy shout...I was thinking about it in the wrong way. 

    For a long time I viewed shouts as something that you added to an already existing character, I could be using a twohanded warrior and he just happened to have all of these shouts at his disposal and they were nothing more than a different type of 'magic', a specific spell for a specific situation; If I am sneaking around I can use 'Aura Whisper' to see enemies and if I want to get Lydia OUT OF MY GOD DAMN WAY!!@! then I have 'Unrelenting Force'.  What I have started realising is that certain shouts are not just used for situational reasons but can also be used to wholely define your character, I combined 'Drain Vitality' with Alchemy (or enchanting) to control the battlefield through manipulating the Stamina/Magicka of my enemies.  It is in a similar manner to this that I began using MD.  This discussion will focus on what 'Marked for Death' does, how it can be used and I'll briefly touch on a few issues with this shout.  This will not be for everyone but hopefully a few of you will find this interesting.

    *Note 1: All numbers quoted are based on Adept difficulty unless specified otherwise.

    *Note 2: MD can hit multiple enemies and has a rather large range

    MARKED FOR DEATH (All effects last for 60 seconds)(AR = Armour Rating)

    • 1 word: Drains 1 health and 25 AR per second (20s recharge)
    • 2 words: Drains 2 health and 50 AR per second (30s recharge)
    • 3 words: Drains 3 health and 75 AR per second (40s recharge)

    *Note 3: Not tested on Undead with necromage or while under the effect of Dragon Aspect but from past experience both should work.

    MD contains two components, a damage health and a damage armour (who saw that coming!).  The damage health is affected by the difficulty slider (minimum 1 damage/s) however the 'DamageResist' is not; the lone caveat is both are affected by Magic Resistance, if an enemy has 25% magic resist then the effects of MD will be lessened by 25%.  Many of you probably know about the quirk MD has where it drains your targets armour and will go into the negative once it reaches zero.  Contrary to popular belief this is not a bug or a glitch, the shout was actually designed to work this way (there is a bug that is associated to this, but that will be discussed later).  For those that aren't aware I'll briefly mention what this does and means.

    In Skyrim your character has an 'Armour Rating' (technically it has an 'armor rating' but screw you Americans and your spelling!) and when your character has a displayed AR of 567 you will be capped in 'damageresist'.  If you don't know already your character will have a hidden armour rating of up to 100 (Let's not get into that whole can of worms right now) for a total AR of 667 which gives you 80% physical damage mitigation; this gives each point of AR a 0.12% damage reduction.  These numbers aren't important, all you need to know is that there is an equation running in the background.  I'm not going to include any math in this discussion so I'll just be listing a few numbers that should make it easy to understand.  I hope.  Still Reading?  Nerd.

    To understand MD as a shout you only need to understand that it does not lower your opponent's armour by 75 points (3 words) but rather it lowers it 75 points per second for the duration of the shout.  What does this mean?  Let me describe a test scenario using 3 words of MD.

    SUBJECT: Faendal

    RACE: Woodelf

    OCCUPATION: Mill employee and possible stalker

    Faendal started with an AR of 0.0 and 1000 health.  After 60 seconds elapsed he had 820 health and an AR of -4500.  Just as a positive AR reduces physical damage, a negative AR increases the damage taken.  In this case Faendal's -4500 AR increases the amount of physical damage he takes by an additional 540%, if I attack him with a weapon that does 100 damage he will take a total of 640 damage per hit (Not including the health he lost from the drain health effect).  The per word breakdown over the full 60 seconds is as follows:

    • 1 word: -1500 AR, increases damage by an additional 180% (3% per/s)
    • 2 words: -3000 AR, increases damage by an additional 360% (6% per/s)
    • 3 words: -4500 AR, increases damage by an additional 540% (9% per/s)

    To put it into context, with 3 words the damage taken rises 9% per second so a sword that does 50 damage will effectively gain 4.5 damage each second to it's base rating.  For absolute clarity, the 50 damage sword will do the following damage (Assuming you start attacking immediately following usage of MD):

    • Swing #1: 50
    • Swing #2: 54.5
    • Swing #3: 59
    • Swing #4: 63.5
    • Swing #5: 68

    *Note 4: Skyrim does not round damage down (as many cite) it actually does track decimals

    After 5 seconds of MD the damage you are dealing has gone from 50 per swing to 68, and will contiue to grow every second the shout is active.  It seems so obvious to me now, but it is this exact revelation that made me realize the true power of MD; This is not a shout to use on someone and sit around for 60 seconds Tweating my Facebooks (or whatever the hell it is you kids do these days).  On the contrary, the true power of MD is realized when you stop thinking of it as draining your enemy and start thinking of it as buffing you.  In my mind MD was a shout that made an enemy a 1-shot kill after 60 seconds which was completely useless to an assassin that could 1-shot most NPC's already with his dagger and 30x backstab.

    I was able to grab the first word before my character was level 10 (DB Sanctuary) and the 2nd word before lvl 15 (Autumnwatch), the 3rd word was a bit more of an effort but with my Sanguine Rose it wasn't too difficult.  All said I had all 3 words before my character was level 20 and I began my journey around Skyrim while only using MD.  The first incarnation I started training some smithing so I could upgrade my bow/dagger and, as per usual for me, was power leveling alchemy for poisons and buffing potions...I  still wasn't understanding how to use MD.  As had been my previous experience I began to absolutely dominate even the strongest enemies and I was quickly annoyed; it was at this point I re-rolled the same character but said "screw it", threw caution to the wind and dropped all crafting.  This is where I was going when I mentioned earlier that this is not a situation shout, it's a character defining one.

    When I began thinking of MD less as a passive 'use and wait' shout and more as an active power that slowly begins to buff my weapon I finally came to know the true glory that is MD; if there was a shout that made the base strength of your weapons increase by 5% every second...who here wouldn't use that all the time?  Make no mistake this is a shout that, if used correctly, can completely REPLACE ALL CRAFTING and/or allow you to use the myriad of weapons that have been tossed into the garbage heap because they can't be tempered.  I was still a few days away from discovering what would become my new all-time favourite weapon/shout combo, but more on that in a bit.  And so it began, my journey with a 'no crafting' dual wielder on master difficulty...I didn't think I'd get far.

    To understand how it works let's look at the vanilla Scimitar which is what I used for a while:

    *Note 5: It is not pronounced Skimitar.  Stop that.

    The scimitar has a base damage rating of 11.  With 100 skill in onehanded that is boosted to 16.5 and with 5/5 Armsman the final damage rating is 33.  Normally this is not enough DPS for master difficulty so I was skeptical but my worries were laid to rest quite early on.  With 3 words of MD my scimitar was gaining 3 damage per second to it's damage output, 10 seconds after hitting an enemy with the shout I'm already doing over 60 damage per swing.  It should be apparent by now where I'm going with this.

    Having such success using a basic sword (two, actually) I decided to give a few of the Daedric artifacts a go.  I've always ignored the artifact weapons because they don't have an associated perk so can't be tempered much, when you rely on crafting skills to create your DPS this is often a non-starter.  Dawnbreaker and the mace of Molag Bal were the first I tried and they were nothing short of spectacular, the Mace hit like a Mack truck!  The Mace has a massive base damage of 16 so with 100 skill and perks it hits for a whopping 48 damage and with MD it gains ~4 damage per second, after the first 10 seconds it's starting to hit close to 90 damage per swing while also damaging stamina/magicka.  Shit died that day.

    The only issue I was having was healing since I had dropped Alchemy completely and I almost never play mages so when I rely on Restoration I tend to die a lot.  My foray into daedric artifacts and my issues with healing led me to my final destination, it was time to finally unlock the true power of the MD + EbonyBlade combo.

    Who hasn't played with the Ebony blade?  What's the single biggest issue with it that stops most people from using it? (Now that they fixed that idiotic 1-hand bug).  It can't be tempered.  Sure, many people have pushed the damage of the blade by using enchanting and alchemy to fortify twohanded but this is an awkward solution.  The ebony blade is the personification of simplicity, a sword that swings extremely fast and constantly heals why does it have to be the case that the only way to really make it viable for most characters is to spend hours and hours doing boring crafting?!  'Marked for Death' is the elegant solution I was looking for.

    The Ebony Blade has a base damage of 11 which is pushed to 33 when it's all said and done (Same numbers as the Scimitar...see what I did there?).  With 3 words of MD the Blade gains ~3 damage per second so what I found was a sort of Health-DPS seesaw during each fight, the Blade kept me alive at the start of the fight when I wasn't dealing a lot of DPS (with the absorb health) and as I tanked my DPS started to grow until I overwhelmed my opponent.  10 seconds into a fight and I'm healing at a constant rate of 15 hp/s (15 on Master, 30 for Adept) while dishing out over 60 DPS...and growing!  For the first time I was able to finally use the Ebony Blade without having to spend a week picking flowers and soul trapping mudcrabs, just pick up a sword and start swinging!  Because power attacks actually slow this down I put all level ups into Health and nothing into Stamina...a powerhouse was born.


    'Marked for Death' has allowed me to play a twohanded badass, on master, with no crafting and no magic.  The application would be the same for any class that deals physical damage (Archer, dual wield, etc) and it opens the door to use a vast array of weapons that simply don't deal enough damage for higher difficulty playthroughs.  A brief list of weapons that MD allows you to use effectively:

    • Bound Weapons (dual wielding swords is amazing)
    • Wuuthrad (can't temper but does +20% damage to elves)
    • Silver weapons (not just for Sorceror's anymore!)
    • Honed Falmer (axe, sword, bow)
    • Headman's Axe
    • Dragonpriest Dagger (they just look so awesome)
    • Ebony Blade
    • Keening (Still need enchanting though)
    • Drainspell Bow
    • Drainheart Sword
    • Drainblood Axe
    • Unarmed

    Note 6: The Drain weapons (from Labyrinthian) have a total charge capacity of 25 magicka, you can use the 'Soul Siphon' perk in Enchanting to fully recharge them with each non-NPC kill

    An amazing potential use for MD is for an unarmed build.  I quickly made a Khajiit and gave him the 'Pugilist gloves' and the 'Ring of the beast' for a total of 52 damage (22 claws, 10 gloves, 20 ring).  With 3 words of MD you are gaining almost 5 damage every second, hitting for over 100 DPS after 10 seconds. 

    You read that correctly.  I was doing 50-100 DPS with unarmed (Adept) without having to smith/enchant nor take perks in the heavy armour tree.  No using bugs/glitches to stack unarmed damage.  I'm already planning on starting an actual Monk character tomorrow to really give this a go with Archery and unarmed!

    A few things still need to be discussed but they can be left for those that are still interested (I recommend reading it, but I'm a nerd).  To close this discussion I just want to reiterate how truly game changing 'Marked for Death' can be if you use it properly.  With just one shout you can completely eliminate all boring crafting (unless you want to still use them, just be warned it can get extremely overpowered), you can use weapons that might have been left behind by many and overall it has changed the way I think about not just using certain shouts but also some of the assumptions I've long held about playing on higher difficulties.  An alternate use could be using crafting to make good weapons and not put perks into combat skills allowing you to perk into skills you otherwise couldn't.  Before this week the idea of playing a melee or archer character on Master without using any crafting or tricks was a bit of a joke, using a basic sword was not viable.  For bonus marks I even gave a go to using telekinesis and a cabbage to assassinate someone. 

    For some of you this might all be nothing new, for the rest of you I can only submit my argument for giving 'Marked for Death' a try.

    For some interesting notes about MD and weapon types proceed to post #2, otherwise I thank you for your time and hope you all have a wonderful Halloween


    For anyone interested in using 'Marked for Death' there is a note that must be understood first.  The problem with this shout (and the probable source of dislike for the shout) is that the way in which it functions inheritantly means it has a problem.  Due to how the shout is created in the CreationKit any enemy/npc that is hit with the shout will not have their 'DamageResist' reset if they respawn or when the shout timer expires after 60 seconds.  For anyone that has hit their follower with MD you have certainly noticed they become comletely crippled, this is because their armour rating is reduced (as described above) and when the shout exprires it doesn't reset...they are permenantly nerfed.  On PC we have commands that can fix this problem but for those on consoles I'm afraid you are SoL. 

    This same issue applies to all respawning enemies/NPC's that maintain their ID code.  Obvious examples of this type of creature are dragons that are not random encounters (the ones guarding word walls for example), when they respawn they have the same character ID and because of this their previous 'DamageResist' rating is maintained...basically they respawn with their AR already crippled.  Many consider this a bug/glitch of the shout but it's actually a problem with them reusing their ID code, and this is something that simply can't be avoided.

    This is simple due dilligence.  I rarely repeat dungeons on a character so for me this is not much of an issue and does not interfere with my playthrough but this may be a huge problem for other people.  It is also recommended not to use any followers that you care about (unless on PC) while using this shout as you will probably eventually hit them with the shout, you can always just reload your game but if you're like me you don't save every 5-10 minutes so this is a poor option at best.  I roleplayed this on a character that was rather evil by nature so if I happened to hit a follower I just killed them myself and got a new one.

    Be warned.

  • Member
    November 1, 2013

    POST #2

    How does MD combine with Warhammers and Maces?

    • Warhammer with Skullcrusher perks has no effect
    • Mace with Bonebreaker perks has no effect

    The above weapons, with 3/3 perks, ignore 75% of armour.  Unfortunately this does not continue into the negatives with MD, they ignore 75% of the positive 'DamageResist' and if it drops below 0.0 they have no more armour to ignore.  The long standing belief (as far as I can tell) is that these perks combine with MD for additional damage but according to both the CreationKit and hours...oh so many hours...of beating the piss out of Faendal the damage is static. 

    With -4500 AR Faendal was taking 326 damage per swing from my mace, when I took 3 perks of Bonebreaker he still took the same 326 damage, the same was true with warhammers.  This made me cry so I beat on Faendal until I smiled again.

    How does MD combine with Crossbows?

    • Standard Crossbow does damage as expected
    • Enhanced Crossbow (ignores 50% of armour) did less damage

    This one made me scratch my head for a while.  Turns out the crossbow doesn't just ignore 50% armour like hammers and maces do, it has it's own variable in the equation.  What this means is when the AR goes into the negative it multiplies the two negatives and actually adds damage back. 

    For example the dwarven crossbow I used was doing 108 damage.  With -4500 AR it was hitting for 691 damage (as expected) but when I switched to the enhanced version it was doing  ~400 damage. 

    Basic: 108 base + 583 from negative AR = 691 damage

    Enhanced: 108 base + 291.5 from negative AR = 400 damage

    Not to get all nitpickish but I've read a fair amount of character builds on this site where it was claimed that enhanced crossbows/maces/warhammers did extra damage with 'Marked for Death'...I hate to be the bearer of bad news.

    More tomorrow.

  • Member
    November 1, 2013

    Amazing dedication you have! These things are what I love about this site!

    I'm playing on legendary right now (dont ask why) and the damage-cut I get makes those marauders too damn durable. You definitely gave me great advice how to level the battleground.

    Also, your application to a viable monk class blew my mind.

  • Member
    November 1, 2013

    You're beginning to remind me of Nikolaj mate...

    I love MFD for all the reasons you've mentioned here, it really is a great shout (possibly the best in the game), I definitely value it far more when it's used naturally during battle to soften enemies up rather than the infamous 'curse and hide' that caused it to become so shunned during the early days...

    I just wish Bethesda had remembered to reset the counter on it.

  • Member
    November 1, 2013
    Great post James! Don't know why but I never used MFD as an assassin 0.0 If only tge game's difficulty slider wasn't so stupid! I see you have even more info in the comments :) Mason mentioned Nikolaj Poulsen, have you seen his Gameplay Mechanics post? He used links there that go to the fixed part of the page, maybe you can use them as well?
  • Member
    November 1, 2013

    This is awesome! I've never been a big fan of Marked for Death not because it's ineffective, but just because I have more fun shouts available. A good strategy I have found though is to hit the boss with all 3 words, then kill all his cronies, and by the time you're done with them you can normally take out the boss in a few shots.

    I think I'll make a new character using both Marked for Death and Drain Vitality, you've made them both sound like very good shouts :P

  • Member
    November 1, 2013
    Hahaha Note 5 is a pet peeve of mine. I always knew this shout was powerful but seeing the numbers is shocking! Actually, one of my favorite techniques is MFD and Ash Spells. Let MFD do it's thing while I take care of the small guys and 4 hit a Bandit Chief when he comes to! The Ash Spells negate the damage health effect but not the damage AR!
  • Member
    November 1, 2013

    I believe the Ethereal shield acts in the same way ( a recent build uses this if I recall).  When I hear people say 'Skimitar' I want to punch a goat.

  • Member
    November 1, 2013

    This is how I had previously used the shout, a character built normally can use the shout but doesn't need it, so it's value drops away and other more fun/useful shouts get used.  It was when I rebuilt a character that relied on 'Marked for Death' as a core aspect that it became such an awesome shout.

    Because I didn't need to put any perks into Smithing/Alchemy, which I always have in the past, I had a good 10-15 perks I could put into other skills such as Speech or Lockpicking.  I'm absolutely in love with the treasure hunter perk now!

  • Member
    November 1, 2013

    Aye, it's not pronounced 'skimitar', but it's not pronounced 'simitar' either...

    Both the 'c' and the 'r' are silent (or it's a 'soft c') ... so it's pronounced 'simita'