There are a million different ways you can play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. You are absolutely unlimited in the number of ways you can build out your character. So why not create a ninja that can send an arrow between the eyes of an unwary bandit king and be able to slink back into the darkness unseen? There are few more pleasurable experiences than lining up an enemy archer in your crosshairs and being able to drop them, then giggling as their buddies run around in circles looking for you.
So, how do you build a bow-wielding thief? If I had to do it again, here’s how I would do it through level 15:
Khajit for their bonus to sneaking.
Obviously, a critical part of the life of a thief is being unseen. When you surprise attack someone from being unseen, you start off doing two times the amount of damage you regularly do. That’s not bad, but in the beginning, you’ll find your arrows are merely annoying folks. It takes awhile before you’re able to start dropping fools with well placed arrows, and this is where it starts. Spend a lot of time wandering around crouched and you’ll be surprised how fast this skill levels up. Obviously, a good time to do this is wandering around towns and helping yourself to other people’s belongings. Remember, when your targeting cursor is a horizontal slit, it means your prey isn’t aware of your presence, and the eye will increase in size until they see you. Until it actually says “detected”, you can continue to hit your target for surprise attacks.
Sneaking checks are made up of a few number rolls against how heavy the armor it is you’re wearing, how fast your moving, the enemy’s line of sight, and of course, the actual number of your skill.
Get your skill to 40 as soon as possible so you can use your talent points for Stealth, Backstab, and then the coup de grace for this early build, Deadly Aim, which triples your sneak attacks with bows.
Going hand-in-hand with sneaking is archery. Why? Because thanks to the magic of sneak attacks, you can reach out and touch someone from long distances, getting damage bonuses based on your skill and remain hidden. Grab arrows from all downed archers and make sure you’re opening up all your attacks with bow shots. Pick off bunnies and take pot shots at deer and elk that are wandering around. Shoot at anything and everything, and you’ll level your skill up. If you don’t feel like doing it the natural way, you can train Archery in Whiterun at the Companions Headquarters (called Jorrvaskr) from Aela the Huntress. When shooting, make sure you’re aiming center of mass as the arrow will drop based on distance, and a bolt to the thigh is just as damaging as one to the chest.
Again, get your skill to 40 quickly so you can grab Overdraw, then Eagle Eye and Steady Hand. Eagle Eye and Steady Hand are a great duo, as it’s the equivalent of putting a sniper scope on your bow and then slowing down time %25 when zoomed in. This drains your stamina to hold your breath like this, so make sure you put some points into Stamina when you level as well.
Like it or not, you’re going to have to get into a few scrapes. Even at higher levels, your bow skills won’t be able to drop more than one or two enemies and they will get in your face. It will level up on its own as baddies beat on you, but make sure that you focus getting Light Armor to 30 for both Agile Defender and Custom Fit; the 25% bonus Custom Fit gives you will make your light armor as meaty as some of the heavier armors without all the weight and noise (which detracts from your ability to sneak).
Wait, what? Yes, enchanting is very useful for a rogue in training. You find a lot of randomly enchanted junk gear in your travels, and eventually, you’ll find a piece of gear with an enchantment you would like on a bow or your own armor. Just disenchant everything you find at Farengar Secret-Fire’s lab inside of Dragonreach Hall in Whiterun, and eventually, you’ll have a nice damage buff you can add to your bow, making you that much more lethal. Don’t sweat putting points into it, just be advised that it’s a viable option.
Ensure you head over to War Maiden’s in Whiterun and improve upon whatever piece of equipment you plan on enchanting before you actually enchant it; improving upon enchanted weapons and armor is a separate and high end enchanting skill.
Let’s talk about some great starting gear I’ve found in my journeys:
Leather Boots of Heavy Sneaking:
I wouldn’t exactly call this a starting area, but boy howdy, I almost jumped out of my seat when I found these boots at the very end of the mission to clear out Darkshade of trolls. The name of the quest is “Animal Extermination” and you get it from Aela the Huntress after joining up with the Companions of Whiterun. If you don’t want to bother with all that, simply walk east from Whiterun and follow the river until you see both the bandit claimed Valtheim Towers and Darkshade. The trolls inside are no joke, but your default flames spell does wonder on them. Just make sure you’ve got room to run around to dodge their lumbering swipes and you’ll have no problem. Kill the last troll inside the cave and search the last area for these boots, which increases your sneaking ability by 25%.
The first Dwarven Bow I found was inside the Lost Knife Hideout, ironically, just to the southwest of Darkshade. If you talk with the locals at Darkwater Crossing, they will give you a quest to clear the Hideout out of bandits. While you’re inside the cave, you’ll come into a large open room with a giant rock spire in the middle of the cavern. Two guards are patrolling around the area you’re interested in. Kill the two guards and search around the spire until you find the bow resting on a table. This is a great base 20 damage bow for you to enchant!
These are just a few ideas that will get you started. Good luck!