Character Class Guide: Building a Mage
Introduction & Quick Thanks
If you have any suggestions or disagreements about content found in this guide, please either send me a PM or leave a comment in the relevant section.
Thank you to the fine community at The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages, which is a ridiculously complete wiki for all things Elder Scrolls. I had no idea why my Oblivion characters were so weak until I found that site. A good portion of this work was created from the ideas that I found on that site.They have pages on everything, including character creation, quest hints, enchantment ideas, and links to mods for the PC version.
Initial Character Creation
Starting off in the jails of the Imperial City, you immediately have to decide what your character is going to be. With so many different options available, it's not an easy task to figure out how to make a decent mage. The following sections should help give you an idea on how to tackle the different aspects of your character that will increase your magic power at an early stage.
If you're playing an unmodified version of Oblivion, there is one big thing to know about Endurance and leveling up.Your maximum health goes up each level by one tenth of your Endurance, rounded down.If you have 45 Endurance at level two, your health will go up by 4 points when you level up.If you increase your Endurance to 50 when you reach level 3, you will then get an additional 5 hit points.However, the health gains you get from incresing Endurance are not applied retroactively.This is unlike every other derived attribute, like total magicka, carrying weight, or total fatigue.By avoiding Endurance, you will become increasingly fragile compared to your enemies as you level up.
This creates a conundrum for the mage.After all, mages are supposed to be physically weak. Their power is in their mastery of the mystical arts, not in brawling.But given the amount of close-quarters combat in Oblivion, you can be forgiven if you want to make an extremely hardy mage.
- Females are better mages initially, but males will catch up.
The general rule of picking a gender is that females tend to start with higher Intelligence or Willpower.This makes them a bit better suited to be mages in the early levels.Males will eventually catch up, though, because you will focus on increasing Intelligence and Willpower early on.
Picking a gender is a personal decision of how you want to play the game, so the choice is yours.
- Altmer and Bretons (and Argonians, to a lesser extent) are the best choices for mages
Each race has particular attributes that they naturally excel at.There are three races that are better suited to playing a mage.Like gender, you may decide that you want a different character, and that's fine, but it will just take you longer to maximize your effectiveness as a mage.
- +10 Intelligence
- +10 Alteration, Destruction, Mysticism
- +5 Alchemy, Conjuration, Illusion
- +100 Magicka
- 75% Disease Resistance
- Slightly faster movement speed (due to height)
- 25% Weakness to Frost, Fire, and Shock
- -10 Strength
- -10 Speed (Male) or -10 Strength (Female)
Altmer are an interesting choice as mages.Their bonuses to Intelligence, as well as magically-aligned skills, will give you an advantage in the early going.The +100 magicka is amazing to have, being the equivalent of having +50 to Intelligence.The weakness to fire, frost, and shock is a very large drawback, especially in the early going when you won't have many defenses against those spells.
Their natural speed advantage is a lesser known perk, but it will help with hit-and-run tactics.
- +10 Intelligence (Female)
- +5 Alchemy, Illusion, Mysticism
- +10 Athletics and Security
- 100% Immune to Poison
- 75% Resistant to Disease
- Water Breathing
- -10 Endurance and Personality
Argonians aren't necessarily the strongest choice as mages, as only the females benefit with their Intelligence boost, and their magically-aligned skills gain only modestly.However, they don't have the large weakness to magic that the Altmer do, either.
The Argonian's immunities and water breathing are more conveniences than necessities.Poison wears off, there are plenty of temples and cure disease potions in Cyrodiil, and a constant effect water breathing amulet will likely be the first piece of enchanted equipment that you can find or make.
- +10 Intelligence and Willpower
- +10 Conjuration, Mysticism, Restoration
- +5 Alchemy, Alteration, Illusion
- +50 Magicka
- +50% Resistant to Magic
- 50% Shield for 60 Seconds (Once per day, 0 Magicka Cost)
- -10 Endurance, Agility
- -10 Speed (Male) or -10 Strength (Female)
The Bretons are built for magic and are a very strong choice.They have 50 less magicka than the Altmer, but make up for that by being resistant to magic instead of weak to it.The Altmer do have an advantage with their higher Endurance, as well.Assuming you'd increase Endurance by five points every level no matter what, a Breton would end up with 31 less hit points.The Breton's Shield power is very nice to have in the early going, though once you can create enchanted equipment, you'll likely not need it.
- The Apprentice and Atronach give you the best benefits, but carry drawbacks
- The Lady and The Mage are safer, but less beneficial, choices
In Oblivion, there's no such thing as being born under a bad sign.That being said, there are a few that are better suited to mages than others.
- +100 Magicka
- 100% Weakness to Magic
The Apprentice has a very large risk-to-reward profile, as enemy spells, enchanted weapons, and poisons will deal twice as much damage as they normally would.If you are playing as an Altmer, you will have a huge 200 magicka bonus at level 1, but you'll be destroyed by your 125% weakness to fire, frost and shock.This can spell disaster when facing off against the numerous magic-wielding enemies of Cyrodiil.Bretons fare a bit better as an Apprentice, as they net a 50% weakness to magic, but still have 150 extra magicka .
- +150 Magicka
- 50% Spell Absorption
- Do Not Regenerate Magicka
The Atronach provides one of the most unique ways to play Oblivion as a mage.The 150 point magicka boost is the largest that you can have, and the spell absorption ability will convert 50% of all spells cast at you into magicka.Of course, the curse is that you will need to absorb spells or use items to regenerate magicka.
The Atronach's handicap is felt most at the beginning of the game, when you will have few potions or enchantments to help restore your magicka.If you choose this birthsign, you'll want to plunder the Welkynd stones from the Ayleid ruins, and either find or makeenchanted equipment and spells that will get your spell absorption up to 100%.Keep in mind that you can absorb the spell attached to an enchanted weapon, but you will take damage from the weapon strike itself.
Another factor to keep in mind is your race.The Breton's take less magic damage by default, meaning they won't regenerate as much magicka when they absorb it.The Altmer, on the other hand, will receive a significant boost due to their weakness to fire, frost, and shock damage.
- +10 Willpower and Endurance
The Willpower bonus is nice to have at the beginning of the game, but it's a fleeting bonus.You are at the maximum magicka regeneration rate whenever your Willpower hits 100; The Lady just helps you get there faster.The Endurance bonus is nice, though, as you will receive one more hit point per level from it.You might consider taking a Birthsign that provides a bonus to your total magicka pool, as they will have a larger impact on your mage in the long run.
That's it.This is a very conservative choice that provides a decent bonus and zero drawbacks.
- Always, always, always create a custom class
As with all other character guides, an effective mage will want to pick a custom class.When building a custom classes, you will choose two favored attributes, a specialization, and ten major skills.
- Intelligence and Willpower (or Endurance)
There are two attributes that relate directly to magic, Intelligence and Willpower.The faster these level up, the more magicka you'll have to play with.For a mage, these two attributes are vital and should be taken as favored attributes, especially Intelligence.The Leveling Up section explains why.However, if you've chosen the Atronach as your birthsign, then do not choose Willpower, as it will provide you no benefit.
Ok, you still might be worried about Endurance.As a mage, you'll be wanting to keep your distance, debuff your enemies, and use your wits to survive combat.Mages don't wade into combat and go toe-to-toe with their enemies.You're not supposed to take a lot of damage as a mage, so high Endurance shouldn't be necessary for your character.While you're at your most vulnerable in the early going, before you have a lot of spells at your disposal, you should take that time to figure out how to take out your enemies with minimal damage to yourself.If you still can't live without taking Endurance, then substitute it for Willpower.
A quick note on Luck, because many people feel that they need to level it up.Luck improves all skills by 1 point for every 5 points that it's above 50.So, a character with a Blade skill of 47 and a Luck of 65 would actually strike as if he had a Blade skill of 50.However, he will not get the perk for having a Blade skill of 50, which is a sideways power attack.If you apply the same concept to the magic skills, the benefit that you receive from having a higher luck is that your spells will cost less to cast (as your magic skills increase, casting those types of spells cost less), but it will allow you to learn higher level spells.Having 100 Luck increases your skills by 10 points, however by the time that you get your Luck anywhere close to 100, your magic skills should be very high as well.The formula that determines how much magicka a spell costs tops out when the skill is at 100.So, in the long run, the higher Luck score won't help you at all.
- Take the magic specialization.
I probably didn't need to tell you that.The magic specialization gives you +5 to its related skills, which are Destruction, Alteration, Restoration, Alchemy, Illusion, Mysticism, and Conjuration.This small bump will give you a bit of a leg up in the early going, when a mage is most fragile.
- Choose one major skill from each Attribute alignment
- Choose major skills that are easy to control the use of
The game's default character classes look custom designed to give your mage the biggest leg up when taking on the dangers of Cyrodiil.However, looks can be deceiving.The key to surviving in Oblivion is "efficient leveling," meaning you want to control the skills that you level up, in order to get the maximum attribute bonus at each level.Efficient leveling is described later in this guide.
There are seven attributes that have related skills.For your major skills, you want to choose skills that you can easily control and easily level.You also should spread your major skills over the different attributes, in order to better control the three attributes that you will want to focus on while leveling.The following skills are the quickest to level up and easy to control.They actually follow the same template that many other character guides recommend, except for heavy armor.
Hand-to-Hand is the best of the three Strength-aligned skills for many reasons.First, each strike gives you a bit more experience than daggers or maces.Second, if you're not carrying a torch or shield, then you can swing much faster than any weapon.Third, each swing fatigues you less than any weapon.
If you're roleplaying as a mage, daggers fit very well with the character.Maces do as well, to a point, especially if you're a cleric or priest-type character.You don't usually see mages swinging away with their fists.
I'm sorry to say it, but there's no really easy way to level up Blade and Blunt, other than to equip that item and whack away at enemies with them.You might have to spend a bit of money at the trainers to level these up.The Fighter's Guild in Anvil has trainers in all three Strength-based skills.
If you want to cheat, you can safely whack away at Peryite's followers at his shrine.They're all completely paralyzed and cannot die.You can hit them as much as you like without any penalties and you'll level up the Strength-aligned skills.
During your time in Tamriel, you'll constantly find alchemic ingredients with which to create potions.As soon as you join the Mages Guild, which you should do right away, you'll have access to a full set of alchemy equipment.Alchemy can be leveled up in a matter of seconds by creating potions from your ingredients.You can then turn around and sell those potions off for a good bit of gold.
Leveling Your Minor Skills
Once you have access to the Arcane University, you can make your own spells.For Conjuration, pick a 1 second Bound item spell and cast it over and over again.For Mysticism, you'll have to pay to level it up until it reaches Level 25, as there are no Novice-level Mysticism spells.Once you do, cast a 1 second Detect Life spell over and over again.
Agility's three skills are Marksman, Acrobatics, and Sneak.At first glance, Acrobatics looks like a good choice for the major skill; all you have to do is to keep from jumping until you want to level up.However, it quickly becomes apparent that getting around without jumping is a real pain.
Sneak is extremely useful, so it may be difficult to choose this as a major skill.However, it works well because you cannot sneak without consciously choosing to do so.It also levels up extremely quickly when you're stalking someone without their being aware.
Leveling Your Minor Skills
Marksman is another skill that will require time and effort to level.Grab a bow, some arrows, and get to huntin'.Security is not terribly difficult, but it will take some time and lockpicks.Pick all of the tumblers in a chests but one, then quit out and start over.Once you are able to get the Skeleton Key, you can spam the auto-open button and level up that way, though you will eventually pick the lock.
Endurance: Heavy Armor
Here is where this guide steers you down a different path than many others.Most guides will tell you to take Armorer as your major skill, but there's a problem with this as it relates to mages.First, Armorer takes awhile to level up.Second, most guides assume that you'll wear heavy armor and not want it to level up as a major skill.As a mage, you'll be sticking to robes and clothing, not armor.
Both Light and Heavy Armor level up fairly quickly.When you're ready to level up using this skill, bring a spare suit of heavy armor with you (helmet, gauntlets, shield, cuirass, greaves, and boots), put it on, and stand in front of a weak enemy, like a rat.As the little nibbler tears into you, you'll find that your skill rating goes up pretty quickly.
Block is very easy to level.Simply grab a weapon (not a shield as that will level Light or Heavy Armor), find a rat, and hold the block button while it nibbles away.Armorer takes time to level up.Probably the easiest way to do so is to use a Disintegrate Armor or Weapon spell on your enemies, then take their armor from their corpses, fix it, and throw it away.
The other two Willpower-aligned skills, Destruction and Restoration, are necessities when fighting off wolves, bandits, and daedra.You won't want to have to limit their use because you're worried about accidentially leveling up.Those two skills also take a lot of time to level up, as Destruction spells have to actually hit something, which will then want to hit you back, and Restoration spells have to actually heal you.
Alteration, on the other hand, is extremely easy to level up in a matter of seconds.You begin the game with the Open Very Easy Lock spell.You can simply cast it at any door or chest over and over again to level up the skill.The door or chest doesn't have to be locked for that to work.
At the Arcane University, create a self-targeted 1 point damage spell and cast it on your self repeatedly.Then, create a 1 point healing spell and cast that at yourself.
Speed: Light Armor
As a mage, you should be sticking to robes and the like.What kind of mage wears armor?Besides, your spells are less effective when you wear armor.
Both Light and Heavy Armor level up fairly quickly.When you're ready to level up using this skill, bring a spare suit of light armor with you (helmet, gauntlets, shield, cuirass, greaves, and boots), put it on, and stand in front of a weak enemy, like a rat.As the little nibbler tears into you, you'll find that your skill rating goes up pretty quickly.
Athletics is the most annoying skill to level in the game.Your best bet is to go to a trainer.Alternatively, swim in the Niben Bay.Acrobatics is not quite as difficult.Find a set of steep stairs or a hillside, and repeatedly jump up and down it.Alternatively, find a low ledge and jump under it for awhile.
Personality is arguably the least important attribute, but nevertheless, it's very easy to level up all three related skills.However, Speechcraft requires mere seconds to level up.Find a person whose disposition to you is not maxed out.Choose Persuade, and simply randomly mash the A button and d-pad until your skill levels up.
You'll receive an Illusion spell from the Bravil Mage's Guild recommendation quest.You can simply cast it over and over again at a stationary NPC.Mechantile is easiest to level up by grabbing dozens of arrows, and selling them to a vendor one at a time.Each successful transaction increases your Merchantile.
So you've created your character, picked a class, and you're on your way to becoming a god-like master of magic.What now?Well, you need to level up and gain some power, that's what.
How Leveling Works
You level up when any combination of your major skills increase by 10 points.When you level up, you choose three attributes to increase.By increasing skills related to those attributes, you can add up to 5 points to the attributes that you choose.
For example, say you want to increase Intelligence, Endurance, and Willpower.If Speechcraft is a major skill, and you increase it by 10 points, you'd then be able to level up.When you do, you'd be able to pick Intelligence, Endurance, and Willpower, increasing each by 1 point.Let's say that Alteration was a major skill.If you increase that by 10 points, then you'd be able to increase Willpower by 5 points, and Intelligence and Endurance by 1 point each.
- Make sure you get +5 to the attribute you increase at level up.
The key to leveling up in Oblivion is to keep a close eye on the skills that you're increasing.You want to make sure that you can add 5 points to the attributes that you choose.So for the three attributes you increase, you need to make sure that you're increasing skills related to those attributes by 10 points.This is why you chose skills that are easy to control.Remember, though, that your attribute point multipliers are set once you get your tenth point in a major skill (that was not the case in Morrowind).So level up the minor skills first.
As a mage, you'll want to focus on Willpower and Intelligence first and foremost.So until those two attributes are at 100 points, you'll need to keep a close eye on your Alteration, Alchemy, Mysticism, Destruction, Restoration, and Conjuration skills.If you followed the advice above, Alteration and Alchemy are your two major skills.At each level, you'll want to increase your Alteration skill by 3 points, your Restoration by 3 points, and your Destruction by 4 points.You'll want to do the same thing with the Intelligence-related skills.You'll also be choosing a third attibute to focus on each level.There's no real wrong choice; Personality has Illusion magic as a related skill, Endurance will provide more health, Strength allows you to carry more loot, and Speed allows you to keep more distance from your foes.If you level up Alteration and Alchemy by a combination of 7 points, make sure that you level up the minor skills by 7 points first, before leveling up the major skill three times.
Intelligence or Willpower?
- If forced to choose between the two, increase Intelligence before Willpower
Most mages should focus on increasing both Intelligence and Willpower at the same time.But if you don't want to, here is the difference: Intelligence determines your total magicka, while Willpower affects how quickly you regenerate magicka.If you've chosen the Atronach as your birthsign, you can safely ignore Willpower completely, as you cannot regenerate magicka at all.
If there's an overriding reason why your character doesn't want to increase both together, it's important to know how magicka regeneration is determined.The actual number of magicka points that you regenerate is not only determined by Willpower, but by your total magicka pool as well.As you increase Intelligence, you get more magicka, so you also regenerate magicka more quickly.For this reason, you're better off increasing Intelligence before Willpower.
Outfitting Your Mage
In Oblivion, the clothing makes the mage.You'll be avoiding armor (right?) and sticking with robes and basic clothing, which obviously don't supply any protection.This makes your choice of enchantments all the more important.
Types of Clothing To Wear
- Hang onto the wrist irons.
- Robes and Outfits give you one less piece of enchantable equipment.
Mages wear robes; it's just what they do.Discussion over, right?Unfortunately, in Oblivion, this is actually a detriment to your character.You'll need to have as many enchanted pieces of clothing as you can wear.The most you can equip is eight pieces of clothing (hood, amulet, shirt, wrist irons, two rings, pants, and shoes).Robes and outfits count as a pant and shirt, giving you only seven pieces of clothing to wear.
Besides, robes are unflattering and boring; why not be a fancy mage with some gold-trimmed shoes, a burgandy blouse, and some tight leather pants?Or, if you want your enemies to underestimate you, throw on some sack cloth pants, sandals, and a huntsman vest.You too can become the beggar mage!
- Fortify Magicka, Elemental Shields, and Spell Absorption are all pretty good for clothing.
There are a few different ways to think about the enchantments that you might want to equip, and there aren't too many wrong ways to approach it.
If you're going to be on the offensive most of the time, then Fortify Magicka is a very good choice.Once you've leveled up a bit, you'll find Rings of Intelligence, which gives you up to +10 to Intelligence - or 20 extra points of magicka.If you have a soul gem with a Grand Soul, you can create a Fortify Magicka effect of 24 points.Also, when you close an Oblivion Gate, the Sigil Stones might have a Fortify Magicka effect.If you get one at Level 17, it will be +50 to magicka.If you can somehow get 7 of them, you'll have an extra 350 magicka to play with.
Another good choice is a Shock, Fire, or Frost Shield.A grand soul will give you a 9% shield.This not only gives you a resistance to the element, but it also acts as a Shield spell.This makes it more effective than a Shield enchantment alone.Transcendent Sigil Stones will give you a 25% elemental shield.Your total defense cannot go higher than 85%, but your elemental resistance can go to 100%.You might be tempted to take Resist Normal Weapons, but this will make you vulnerable to poisoned and enchanted weapons.I recommend stacking up Fire Shield, as you'll be fighting a lot of fireball casting enemies.
Spell Absorption is effective against weapon enchantments and enemy spellcasters.Each point of spell absorption gives you an extra percent chance to convert the spell's damage into magicka.Keep in mind that you will still take damage from the weapon strike of an enchanted weapon, even if you absorb the enchantment.
You should probably keep a water breathing and water walking amulet on you.They don't weigh much, and you never know when you'll need it.
Unique Items of Note
At level 2, you can undertake Azura's daedric quest.It is difficult, but it nets you Azura's Star, which is a reusable grand soul gem.Do not pass this up, as it will help you tremendously for enchanting and recharging your staves.
Namira's Ring is a good piece of equipment, and can be obtained at level 5.It reflects 12% damage every time you are struck, and will bounce 10% spells back at the caster.
The Scales of Pitiless Justice are obtained through the Dark Brotherhood questline, and increase your Intelligence by 2 points whenever you have them in your possession.If your Intelligence is at 100, it will increase it to 102, giving you 4 more MP, at no cost.
The Oghma Infinium can permanently raise your Intelligence by 10 points, though its Willpower increase is bugged and does not work.However, you cannot obtain it until level 20.You can use it to permanently increase your Intelligence above 100.
Spells You'll Need
- Soul Trap, Heal over Time, and Shock Damage are your go-to skills.
Unfortunately, Flare, Open Very Easy Lock, and Minor Respite are not going to last you very long; you'll need to get some more firepower.Your best bet is to find a good Shock Damage spell, as many enemies are not resistant to it.Keep in mind that it costs less magicka to cast a spell that does 5 damage over 2 seconds than it does to cast a spell that does 10 damage in 1 second.Druja, an Argonian at the Skingrad Mage's Guide, sells a weak shock spell.The same goes for healing; find a moderate point value over a longer period of time.
You're also going to want a basic soul trap spell once you acquire soul gems and/or Azura's Star, so that you can enchant and recharge equipment.Trayvond the Redguard sells one at the Cheydinhal Mage's Guild, though you'll need to have a Mysticism skill of 25 to cast it.
Other Decent Spells To Have
- Detect Life and Drain Health aren't bad to round out your spells.
Detect Life is pretty useful, if you cast it with a big enough radius where you'll see your enemies before they spot you.100 feet is a pretty good distance for this.You'll usually have an idea of where the enemies tend to be in caves and and the like, but Detect Life will let you know what type of enemies you're up against.Once you get used to the different silhouettes that you'll see over the course of the game, you'll know the difference between a rat, a bandit, and a minotaur.
Drain Health is another interesting spell.It takes away the enemies health for a certain period of time, after which they get their health back.However, they die if you can get them down to zero health before that time expires.A highly damaging Drain Health spell is pretty cheap to cast, especially if you make it "on touch."This turns it into a very good "finishing move" for just about any foe that you'll encounter.
Get Thee To The Arcane University
- Complete the Mage's Guild recommendation quests.
- Build a Mage's Staff of Paralysis
To get into the Arcane University, you'll need to complete a quest for the head of each Mages' Guild hall in Cyrodiil.These don't take too long and are all pretty easy.The biggest advantage to the Arcane University is that it gives you access to altars of enchanting and spellmaking.You need to know a spell effect before you can attach it to an item or make a spell.For instance, you have to have learned Soul Trap, and be able to cast it, before you can make a dagger with a Soul Trap enchantment.The power of the souls in your soul gem determine how powerful your enchantments are.In the early going, Grand Souls are hard to come by, so don't wait around for them.You're using easy-to-find clothing for your gear, so feel free to enchant away.However, you might want to hold off on using those wrist irons until you can get a powerful enchantment on it.
Shortly after gaining access to the University, you'll get a quest to build your very own mage's staff.There are plenty of options, but the Paralysis staff will make your life much easier, as Paralysis is a costly spell to cast on your own.Depending on your level, you can paralyze foes for up to 8 seconds.Paralysis doesn't work on everyone, like the undead and some daedra, but it can be a lifesaver when you're surrounded.
"Cheating" The System
If you have the Shivering Isles expansion, you will contract Felldew Addiction as part of a quest.At its worst, it will drop your Intelligence by 15 points.Assuming that you have 100 Intelligence when you do this, it will actually drop your Intelligence by 15 points, rather than just giving you a Damage Intelligence effect.This means that you can level up and increase Intelligence by another 15 points, for as long as you're addicted to Felldew.After completing the quest, your original Intelligence is restored, giving you a permanent 115 to your Intelligence.
If you complete the Knights of the Nine DLC, you will be able to gain a blessing of +5 to any attribute.For Intelligence, this gives you a +10 to magicka.The blessing stays until you pick another one.
By combining the knight's blessing, the Felldew Addiction "cheat," the Scales of Pitiless Justice, and the Oghma Inifinium, your character can have an Intelligence of 137 without even having any Fortify Intelligence enchantments.