Want to use an unarmed build in Skyrim Special Edition? Here's how to do it right.

Skyrim Special Edition Unarmed Build Being a Brawler

Want to use an unarmed build in Skyrim Special Edition? Here's how to do it right.

One melee build I’m gonna rock in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim Special Edition is an unarmed build. Even though it’s not as powerful as others, it’s quite satisfying to take on a bandit fort or fire-breathing dragon with nothing but your fists.

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The game isn’t really catered towards unarmed builds, though. Unless you turn the difficulty way down, there are a few things you pretty much have to do to make this build viable without mods.

Here are the key components.

Skyrim Unarmed Build Race: Khajit or Argonian

I’ll start by saying you don’t have to use these two races. I just recommend them for one reason – they have racial bonuses to unarmed damage. Khajit have a starting unarmed damage rating of 22, while Argonians are at 20.

Makes sense, right? They have freaking claws! Humans (i.e. every other race) do not.

In fact, these races actually do more damage unarmed than they do with most starting weapons.

Personally, my favorite race is Nord — which surprisingly can still work. Having the Battlecry racial power is nice if you get into a jam. It just means you will always do less damage, so you need to account for that with other things I talk about in this article. 

Skyrim Unarmed Build Armor – Heavy Armor

There are two reasons you need to use heavy armor for this build.

The first is that you need all of the protection you can get. You won’t be taking out many enemies in just 1-2 swings, so you’ll need as much armor as possible to protect yourself. Fights won’t be long exactly, but they’ll be long enough that you’ll definitely be taking damage.

Reason #2 is a certain perk in the Heavy Armor tree —  Fists of Steel. This skill adds your heavy armor glove rating to your damage. 


This is one of the best ways to add damage to your fists. And if you can get a nice set of Daedric or Dragon gloves, it is a very nice damage boost.

That leads to the next necessity…

Skyrim Unarmed Build Crafting: Blacksmithing

 To make Fists of Steel effective, you need the best gloves you can get your hands on. Even though you can find/create/buy some heavier armors without Blacksmithing, they get much rarer as you go for the high-end stuff.

Hence, the need to invest heavily in this skill tree.

You don’t necessarily have to go all the way to Dragonplate armor. You can still do pretty well with others, like Ebony (which I think looks the coolest). But if you want to maximize your character’s damage (and defense), you’ll need to go all the way to the top. 

Not only does investing in Blacksmithing help you create everything, but also lets you improve your armor much more. Even though improving armor/weapons is easy to forget about, it will make a huge difference over the long run.

But Blacksmithing isn’t the only craft to invest in.

Skyrim Special Edition Unarmed Build Crafting: Enchanting

If you want to roleplay, Enchanting may not make much sense. After all, a brawler probably HATES the idea of spending time at a crafting table. Instead, they’d rather be wandering around Skyrim punching people in the face.

But if you want to get the most out of a brawler build, you need to embrace your inner Enchanter nerd. Why? Because there’s an enchantment in the game that improves your unarmed damage. The problem is it can only be found in one place — and it’s on a set of light gloves. 

To get the gloves, go to Riften and into the sewers (called The Ratway.) As you navigate through, you’ll meet a guy called Gian the Fist. Kill him, loot the gloves, then go disenchant them.

From there, you can start putting the enchantment on everything you’d like. Not every piece of armor can use it, but just putting it on a few pieces should be more than enough.

Skyrim Special Edition Unarmed Build: Shouts

You’re the freaking Dragonborn. There’s no reason not to use shouts to help you dominate the battlefield. 

Even though you have lots of options, these make the most sense:

  • Unrelenting Force: Everyone’s favorite…and for good reason. If you get overwhelmed, this turns the tides by getting your enemies out of your face and helpless on the ground. You can also use this to escape a hairy fight by blowing your opponent(s) 20 feet away and then making a run for it. Or you can just use it to blast people off a cliff or fort wall, which is always fun.
  • Whirlwind Sprint: This is probably my favorite for warrior builds. It’s not as important when going against melee enemies, but it is useful if you need to run away. Where this shout really comes in handy is against mages and archers. Whirlwind gets you in their face very quickly, letting you pound on them before they even realize what happened.
  • Become Ethereal: Great for several things. When charging a ranged enemy, this can help you close the gap without taking damage. You can also use this to shrug off dragon breath if you’re out in the open and don’t have something to hide behind.
    • Also fun for jumping off cliffs! 

  • Elemental Fury – This is a fun one. It increases your attack speed by 100% once you have all three words, but even just one word increases speed by 50%. That’s a huge boost, letting you pound on your enemies with reckless abandon — just as a brawler should. 

Again, there are other good shouts to choose from, like Ice Form or Marked for Death. But these four are (in my opinion) the best.

Skyrim Unarmed Build Weapon Tree – One-Handed

The bad news is that most perks don’t really help you as an unarmed combatant.

The good news is there are two that do. Dual Flurry helps your dual-wielding attacks (including unarmed) fly much faster. The other, Dual Savagery, makes dual-wielding power attacks stronger.

While it’d be great if a perk like Armsman (which increases your damage) worked for unarmed, that doesn’t seem to be the case. But still — you can use the other skills referenced earlier to boost your damage to a sufficient level.

The Best Follower for an Unarmed Skyrim Build

The general thinking with followers is that you should have a companion who complements you and covers aspects of battle that you can’t. So because you’re a melee character, you may want to go with an archer or mage.

A few archers to consider are Jenassa in Whiterun or Faendel in Riverwood. If you prefer a caster, Marcurio in Riften is great.

…but there is something to be said about taking a melee follower with you. The main reason I say that is they will help draw fire away from you, whereas a ranged follower needs you to draw fire from them.

Since you are more important, it makes sense to have someone else helping you tank. This is especially true when going up against multiple enemies, where your melee follower can charge towards whichever ranged enemies are targeting you. 

Unarmed Build Combat Gameplay

No, I won’t go into details on how to roleplay here. Instead, this is just to give you a general idea of how fights will often work out.

  1. Assess the situation – What are you going up against? If there are ranged enemies, is there anything you can hide behind for cover? If you have multiple melee enemies charging you, can you get into a doorway so only one can reach you at a time?
  2. Beat down melee enemies – Those bandits, draugr, or whoever charges you goes down first. Again, try to fight them one at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed.
  3. Use a shout to close the gap between yourself and ranged – Once melee enemies are dead, use a shout like Become Ethereal or Whirlwind Sprint to get within melee range of your ranged enemies. This is especially important when going against mages — archers deal damage, but mages can seriously wreck you if you don’t have magic resistance.

When going up against dragons, consider having a bow or magic staff to attack while it flies overhead. You don’t have to, but getting in a little extra damage before it lands doesn’t hurt. 

The best shout to use (assuming you don’t have the one you find at the end of the main quest) is probably Become Ethereal. That way you can become invulnerable for a few seconds if you caught in a blast of fire or frost breath.


There you have it: the Brawler. Playing unarmed in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim Special Edition can be a very viable and fun playstyle. you just have to go a little out of your way to make it work well.

Have fun!

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I've probably put more hours into video games than my kid has been alive. Call of Duty, MOBAs and Skyrim are to blame!