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An Argument for 'Unarmed Combat'

  • Member
    November 19, 2013

    This discussion was influenced by NoSnake's 'Master Monk' character build, I strongly urge any fan of unarmed combat to check it out if you haven't already. 

    In Oblivion I spent the majority of my time playing as a Monk class.  Sadly Bethesda removed the Hand-to-Hand skill in Skyrim and since then Unarmed combat has been largely considered a gimmick at best.  I had not spent much time (until recently) really looking into unarmed simply because I was like the majority, I wrote off the idea as not feasable on higher difficulty levels and went about my way finding a new favourite style to play.  Recently a few people have introduced to me the concept of stacking gauntlets via a rather interesting glitch (details in NoSnake's build) while others have tried making unarmed viable by abusing the Fortify Restoration nonsense.  While both methods accomplish the goal, they do so by using aspects of the game that I personally don't want to use which left me back at square one.  It was at this point I set about trying to disect Unarmed combat and find a way to make it not only viable on Master difficulty...but outright overpowered!

    For those that have been keeping up with my previous discussions some of this information will be familiar as it appears in various forms in other discussions. When it is appropriate, I'll be providing links back to those particular discussions so people that aren't familiar can read about these various aspects in greater detail.  This discussion will rely on the reader knowing specific information found on these other threads and while I understand this can be somewhat annoying, it will allow us the benefit of skipping a lot of the numbers and calculations and just state information matter of factly.  

    The goal of this discussion is to provide a 'one-stop' repository for Unarmed damage.  This will not be a short discussion as there are a lot of things that need to be included but I'm going to attempt to compartmentalize the information into chunks that deal with one specific thing at a time, hopefully this will make it much easier to navigate.  Two things that I will *NOT* be discussing are 'Fortify Restoration' and 'Equipment Stacking'.  The goal of this discussion is to make an argument for Unarmed combat that does not include these two bugs/glitches.  I do not mean to suggest they are wrong to use I simply want to argue they are not necessary to make an unarmed character viable on Master+ difficulty.

    This argument will be broken into seven primary sections followed by an eighth section discussing Necromage, they are as follows:

    1. Base unarmed Damage
    2. Fortify Unarmed enchantment
    3. Fists of Steel
    4. Ring of the Beast
    5. Fortify Marksman
    6. Marked for Death
    7. Dragon Aspect
    8. Necromage

    At the end of this discussion there will be a Conclusion where I will sum up some of the potential damage numbers so if you are only interested in that aspect please skip to the end.  For those of you with time to kill and looking to indulge your inner nerd...all aboard the James express!

    NOTE #1: All numbers cited are based on Adept difficulty


    This is very straight forward but needs to be established.  All races have a base unarmed damage rating which is as follows:

    • +10 - Khajiit
    • +10 - Argonian
    • +04 - Man
    • +04 - Mer

    In addition to this base damage, Khajiit recieve an additional spell called 'Claws' which provides an additional base damage of +12 (it states +15 but this is incorrect).  As we can see Khajiit start the game with a total of +22 base unarmed damage while Argonians have 10 and all others have 4.  For the purpose of this discussion I will be using a Khajiit as my example. 

    NOTE #2: We can modify the base damage of a Khajiit further but this will be discussed in the 'Necromage' section


    There exists only one example of the 'Fortify Unarmed' enchantment and it can be found in the Ratway (Riften) on the NPC 'Gian the Fist'.  The gloves are called 'Gloves of the Pugilist', are light armour fur gauntlets, and have a +10 unarmed enchantment.  The enchantment has a base strength of +5 so if you disenchant them you can enchant an item for +5 unarmed using no perks and a Grand Soulgem; the enchantment can be placed on a glove/gauntlet and a ring.


    Fists of Steel is a perk found in the Heavy Armour skill tree (level 30 required).  When you take this perk the BASE armour rating of any heavy armour gauntlets you wear will be added to your unarmed damage.  To clarify we will look at a pair of Daedric gauntlets:

    • Daedric Gauntlets BASE AR of 18
    • With 'Fists of Steel' perk your unarmed damage is increased by 18

    It should (hopefully) be common knowledge by now that this perk only adds the BASE AR to your damage rating and is not affected by smithing/enchanting.  Unfortunately a few people made some entertaining videos when Skyrim was still new that claimed that you gained any smithing upgrades as unarmed damage as well and, while the videos were entertaining, this incorrect knowledge is still cited almost 2 years later. 

    NOTE #3: We can modify Fists of Steel but this will be discussed in the 'Necromage' section.

    NOTE #4: I really like Pie


    The 'Ring of the Beast' is a quest reward from the 'Rings of Blood Magic' quest, you can start this quest by joining the Volkihar clan with the Dawnguard expansion.  The enchantment of the ring is as follows:

    • Fortify Health 100 pts
    • Fortify Unarmed 20 pts

    This is the highest amount of Unarmed damage available for the ring slot (plus it comes with +100 health) so it is a very powerful tool for anyone interested in unarmed combat.  The enchantment is still applied when not in Vampire Lord form.

    NOTE #5: We can modify the Ring of the Beast but this will be discussed in the 'Necromage' section


    For detailed information please refer to my discussion on Bash Damage

    For anyone that hasn't read my discussion on Bash Damage, a lot of the important information can be found in detail in the 'Fortify Marksman' section.  This is a topic that is too complex to really go into detail here so I'm going to continue under the assumption you've read about how 'Marksman' works in Skyrim.  For the short version all you need to know is that 'Fortify Marksman' potions boost all physical damage you deal, regardless of the source.  Marksman enchantments do not work in the same way, it only applies to potions (can be either pre-made or potions you create with Alchemy skill).

    The base strength of a Fortify Marksman potion you can make (with 100 skill and all perks) is +60% damage, this can be increased by using equipment that has the 'Fortify Alchemy' enchantment.  The strongest pre-made potion is the 'Elixer of True Shot' which gives you a boost of 50%.

    I will be discussing this in more detail in the 'Necromage' section.


    For detailed information please refer to my discussion on Marked for Death

    Oh Glorious MFD, how I love thee!

    Marked for Death is a shout that I had long underestimated and misunderstood.  I can literally write page after page on this shout so if anyone is interested in how the shout works and what it does it would be best to read my discussion thread devoted specifically to it.  For the purposes of this discussion all we need to know is MFD does the following:

    Marked for death damages an enemies 'Damageresist' Actor Value which makes them take increased physical damage.  The total effect it has after the duration is complete is as follows:

    • 1 Word(s):  Enemy takes 180% additional damage (damage increases 3% per second)
    • 2 Word(s):  Enemy takes 360% additional damage (damage increases 6% per second)
    • 3 Word(s):  Enemy takes 540% additional damage (damage increases 9% per second)

    Basically you can use MFD in two methods, waiting the entire 60 seconds for the max effect or using it as a per second buff to the physical damage you do.  Unarmed combat is considered physical damage and as such it benefits tremendously by the use of this shout. 


    Before I talk about this shout I need to first clarify something.  With unarmed combat you have three types of possible attacks:

    1. Standard attack
    2. Power attack
    3. Triple attack

    As is standard for all forms of combat the Power attack is a straight forward 2x multiplier to your standard attack.  If you are a Khajiit that does 22 damage with a standard punch, your (single punch) power attack will do 44 damage.  Where unarmed combat differs from dual wielding is that a dual wield power attack gets an extra modifier (which is increased with perks in the one handed skill tree) while a 'dual wield' unarmed power attack is simply three standard attacks...not three power attacks.  For clarity, if you have an unarmed base damage of 22 you will do the following damage (corresponding with the above list):

    1. 22 damage
    2. 44 damage
    3. 66 damage

    I've read a large number of claims that the perks in the one handed tree affect unarmed but this is incorrect.  So how does this relate to the Dragon Aspect shout?

    Part of the enchantment from using 2 or more words of 'Dragon Aspect' is a 25% buff to the damage of all power attacks.  This can be absolutely ridiculous for dual wielding (with relevant perks) but it is still important for any serious unarmed build; the shout also boosts your armour rating by +100.  The 25% boost to power attack damage is a straight modifier so all of your unarmed damage will be boosted (including enchantments and any other boosts).


    Oh boy.  Most of the above information has been straight forward but that will end here, this is going to be the part of this discussion where things are going to start getting complicated and I'll be using a lot of examples.  Hopefully I don't make a mess of this section.

    The synergy of the 'Necromage' perk and a vampire character has been known (and widely used) for a long time now so I'm going to assume you already understand how it works.  For the rest of this discussion we will be assuming the character is a vampire and has taken this perk.  What follows is how Necromage can be used to boost unarmed damage.

    Base Unarmed Damage 

    This is only relevant with a Khajiit character.  The 'Claws' ability that all Khajiit's get (that gives you +12 damage) is actually a spell that is being constantly applied to your character.  While normally this is not important, we can actually use Necromage to take advantage of this. 

    When you transform into either a Werewolf or a VampireLord your character actually changes their race ID, and when you revert form you once again change the race ID of your character; In this example we are using a Khajiit that is a Vampire Lord.  When you 'Revert Form' from the Vampire Lord back into a Khajiit you are actually transforming back into 'khajiitracevampire' which then reapplies your racial particular your 'Claws' power. 

    With the Necromage perk activated, the next time you transform into a Vampirelord then revert back your Claws spell is recast on you and is boosted by 25%.  The new unarmed damage value for your claws will be +15, finally the damn description is accurate!

    Fortify Unarmed enchantment 

    As you are likely aware, Necromage boosts all worn enchantments by 25% if you are flagged as undead.  This is a straight forward boost of 25% to any 'Fortify Unarmed' enchantments you are wearing.

    Fists of Steel 

    If Necromage is taken before Fists of Steel, the unarmed damage that is added will be boosted by 25%.  While the armour rating of your gauntlets will not be boosted, behind the scenes the number is being boosted in the unarmed damage equation.  If you take Fists before Necromage nothing will be changed.

    Considering 70 Restoration is typically achieved after 30 Heavy Armour, you may want to wait to take the Fists perk or else you'll have to wait until you reach 100 HA and 'Legendary' the skill.  When it's all said and done the highest gauntlet damage Fists will be giving you is 18 (Daedric Gauntlets) so we're only talking about 4.5 additional damage upfront.  An argument can be made for trying for this extra damage because it will later be boosted by other modifiers and that extra damage can end up being a good amount.  This is a judgement call on whether it's worth it.

    Ring of the Beast 

    As with the standard enchantment, the Ring's enchantments are also boosted by 25%.  The total enchantment for this ring will be:

    • Fortify Health 125 pts
    • Fortify Unarmed 25 pts

    Fortify Marksman 

    If you are new to the insanity that is Necromage Vampire crafting then all you need to know is all potions you drink have their magnitude boosted by 25% and their duration is increased by 50%.  This begins to get ridiculous when you start doing the Enchanting-Alchemy loop as the fortify alchemy enchantments are boosted which in turn allows you to make stronger enchanting potions which allows you to make stronger enchantments which allows...ah, you get the picture.

    If you don't use any Fortify Alchemy enchantments your base marksman potions will be boosted from 60% to 75%.  For those that use Enchanting the standard marksman potions you make will be 130% and after the whole enchanting loop nonsense is completed you will be making potions that are 153% which is boosted to 191% when you drink them. 

    This is an area where you're going to need to decide a boost amount you are comfortable with and just run with it, maximizing the strength of your Marksman potions using necromage will actually make your unarmed character into a Chuck Norris-esque Slapchop machine of DOOM!  For my playthrough I capped my marksman potions to ~100%.

    Dragon Aspect 

    Surprisingly Necromage doesn't boost this shout, aside from the duration.  After spending some time playing around with it this past week I really think I might need to make a whole discussion thread dedicated to this shout, it doesn't seem to work the way I thought it did (and some parts, not at all!).  This shout is part spell and part script so it's bes to just assume it boosts your power attacks by the base 25% and call it a day.  More testing is needed for this wonky shout.


    So let's just get to the numbers.  This is not the maximum possible unarmed damage you can achieve but it's certainly more than enough.  The example character is a Necromage Vampire Khajiit, I took Necromage before Fists so that boost is included here. 

    NOTE #6: I capped myself with +105% marksman potions.  Potions of 191% and higher are possible.

    • +10.0 Damage (Khajiit base)
    • +15.0 Damage (Claws boosted by Necromage)
    • +25.0 Damage (Ring of the Beast boosted by Necromage)
    • +22.5 Damage (Fists of Steel using Daedric gauntlets boosted by Necromage)
    • +19.0 Damage (Fortify Unarmed Enchantment placed on Gauntlets...more is possible)

    This gives us a base unarmed damage value of 91.5.  The damage value for the three types of attacks are as follows:

    1. 091.5 - Standard attack
    2. 183.0 - Single Power attack
    3. 274.5 - Triple attack

    To these numbers we now add our two main modifiers:

    • +025% (Dragon Aspect)
    • +105% (Fortify Marksman)

    Our new damage value for the three types of attacks are (Rounded to nearest whole):

    1. 188 - Standard attack
    2. 468 - Single Power attack
    3. 702 - Triple attack (Still considered a Power attack for the purpose of Dragon Aspect)

    NOTE #7:  If you use a 191% marksman potion and Dragon Aspect the damage for the triple attack will be ~998, I told you this gets stupidly OP!

    This is where we now run into our old friend Mr. MFD.  If we are using 3 words of Marked for Death then we can consider the following two factors for our damage: (choose one)

    • +540% damage after 60 seconds
    • +9% boost to damage per second

    With all of our modifiers in effect, and if we wait for the full effect of MFD, we can now see that our Unarmed Khajiit using 105% marksman potions will be punching noobs for approx. 1200 damage, a triple attack will be hitting for an insane 4,493 damage!  For the Min/Maxers out there you can expect to be doing almost 6,400 damage per triple attack with the 191% potions and full MFD.  Since it's not necessary to wait for the full effect of MFD we can just use the value of +9% per second to our damage (non compounding, for you true nerds!). 

    To put this into context, the strongest non-unique enemy in the game is the level 75 Legendary dragon that has a total of 4363 health.  With just using the basic setup (from above) and waiting for the full MFD effect, we can actually 1-hit kill the dragon using our triple attack!  You read that correctly, an unarmed character 1-hitting a Legendary dragon without using fortify restoration potions or gauntlet stacking!

    I realize this is getting long winded (even for me) so I'll wrap this discussion up for now.  I'm not entirely happy with the formatting of this post so I may change it up a bit tomorrow and if I do I'll probably be including a few more points of interest. 

    The goal of this discussion is to submit my argument for Unarmed Combat and how it is viable on Master difficulty without having to use the Resto Loop or gauntlet stacking.  These exploits have made unarmed combat viable in their own way but for those that don't want to use them then perhaps this can be an alternative.  For 2 years now the overwhelming majority of Skyrim players have argued that unarmed combat is not viable, hopefully I've made the case that it is downright overpowered!

    As always I thank everyone for reading this and welcome any comments and questions and I will try my best to respond.  This has been part of a subject that has taken me over 2 months to fully research and test so I'm quite happy to be done with it.



    It was my original intent to save a lot of the information from my previous discussions for one massive Unarmed discussion.  When I first tried to write this it was just far too daunting a topic so I decided to break much of it up into seperate arguments/discussions over the past few weeks.  The downside is when some people read this they will already know much of this information, to those people I appologize for boring you half to death, but I thank you greatly for sticking with me. 

    I was going to make this into a character build but after multiple drafts I simply wasn't happy with it and no matter what I tried, the 'character' aspect always got in the way of the information.  I decided to focus on what I enjoy more so I'm presenting it as a discussion rather than a character, in the end sharing this information is more important to me than presenting a flashy character build.  If anyone is interested in making an unarmed character build based on this information I greatly look forward to it.

    I have quite a number of topics I want to discuss in the near future so it's on to bigger and better things for now! 

    Coming Soon to a discussion topic near you: "Get out your sunscreen!"

  • Member
    November 19, 2013

    I like a lot of the ideas / discussion here.

    On the other hand, this is also more evidence that Beth were drunk and not paying attention to what they were doing when they wrote the Necromage perk.

  • Member
    November 19, 2013
    Haha."Note #4: I really like Pie". Do you like punching pie? I like the idea of unarmed being viable WITHOUT gauntlet stacking.
  • Member
    November 19, 2013

    Additional Advice:

    1. Any melee character should make use of Vegetable Soup to chain power attacks.  For unarmed, the triple attack should be the only type of attack you do and it can be chained using soup for maximum damage
    2. If you use spells it's best to equip and cast them in your left hand (don't dual wield spells).  Using a hotkeyed torch you can tap your hotkey twice and it will equip the torch in your left hand then unequip it thus leaving you with two empty hands to kick ass with
  • Member
    November 19, 2013

    punch and pie!

    My goal was to submit an argument that unarmed is more than viable without using the common exploits.  I never expected to push the damage as far as I did, at the end of my playthrough I was literally 1-hitting dragons and giants.  The perception that unarmed is weak is so contrary to reality.

  • Member
    November 19, 2013

    To this day I don't know if they intended it to work this way or not.  With other bugs/glitches it's usually obvious but with Necromage I honestly don't know.  It's ridiculously overpowered, that's for damn sure.

  • Member
    November 19, 2013

    I think it's pretty clear that were either lazy or careless. "Make everything a spell" is an elegant solution, but not if you make something affect all spells. From the name and description of the perk, you would assume that it affects spells you cast. The fact that it affects the Khajit racial ability, but only once you've transformed to Vampire Lord form, demonstrates pretty clearly that they screwed up.

  • Member
    November 19, 2013

    So, without Necromage and potions it will be 10 + 12 + 20 + 18 + 19 = 79. Then we'll have

    79 - Standard attack
    158 - Single Power attack
    237 - Triple attack

    Adding Marked for Death after 60 seconds

    505,6 - Standard attack
    1011,2 - Single Power attack
    1516,8 - Triple attack

    On Legendary (1/4 of player damage)

    126,4 - Standard attack
    252,8 - Single Power attack
    379,2 - Triple attack

    So, without any exploits I can kill Legendary Dragon in 34 punchs on Legendary?! I can land a bunch of hits with Slow Time, especially with regular Fortify Alteration potions and Stability perk!

  • Member
    November 19, 2013

    I played on Legendary for a few days (around combat level 30ish) and found it slightly tedious but it's certainly doable once you get going.  If you are going to try Legendary I would strongly recommend using potions, you don't need necromage but the potions really make this combat style shine.

    Dragon Aspect was also a total game changer for my character

  • Member
    November 19, 2013

    Legendary is the most stupid difficulty setting I have ever seen. But if your hits are as strong, you can run on Master without any problems. I don't see why people call unarmed not viable on higher difficulties. Even without potions and Dragon Aspect you can kill highest level Bandit Marauders in two hits on Legendary. I'm thinking of a guy who sneaks behind enemies, uses Throw Voice to get them in a group, Marked For Death to soften them all up and then jumps right in the midst of them punching the shit out of everyone!