Creating your character is the first decision that you must make when playing Skyrim. Although you are presented with a wide variety of options for altering your character's appearance, the only decision that affects subsequent game play is your chosen race. Your character's capabilities are more strongly affected by how you choose to play the game (and by choices made when you level up) than by your initial character creation.
The factors that you must decide upon are:
- Your Race
- Your Sex
- Your character's sex has no effect on skills or abilities. However, NPCs will address you differently, and may treat you differently, depending upon your sex (the Allure perk in Speech skill allows you to get 10% better prices with the opposite sex). Also, there is a quest that provides you with the added bonus of dealing more damage to the opposite sex. As there are more male shopkeepers and enemies, female characters garner a greater benefit from these effects. For certain races, your height is dependent on your sex. As movement speed is a function of height, it is indirectly affected by sex. Neither sex will stop you from any spouse choices.
- Your Appearance
- While largely governed by your choices of gender and race, you can also fine-tune most aspects of your character's physical appearance. These choices have no effect on gameplay.
Full details on the characteristics of each race are provided on their individual pages; a table summarizing skills and special abilities is provided on the Race summary page.
There are ten playable races to choose from:
- Altmer: Highly magic-oriented, the High Elves have an innate extra 50 magicka, a daily rapid magicka regeneration ability, and starting bonuses to a variety of magic types.
- Argonian: A versatile race, they receive many bonuses that are useful for thieves yet also get boosts to Alteration and Restoration; their rapid-healing daily ability is also better suited to combat than stealth. Their waterbreathing ability is also useful in a few circumstances.
- Bosmer: The Wood Elves' starting skill bonuses are perfect for thief-archers and as such they're a popular choice for the archetype. Resistance to poison and disease may not be exciting, but they have their uses. Their daily ability to command any animal comes in handy early in the game.
- Breton: Bretons start with bonuses to many magic skills, and they have an innate 25% Magic Resistance, widely regarded as one of the most broadly useful passive abilities. Their Dragonskin ability also allows them to absorb magicka from spells once per day. Combine that with the Breton's Magic Resistance and you have a well-suited anti-mage. Bretons are usually a popular choice for players who want to level up quickly in Conjuration, Restoration, Destruction, and Illusion.
- Dunmer: The Dark Elves receive several magic boosts, including +10 Destruction, and their innate 50% Resist Fire gives them a good starting point for achieving maximum resistances. Characters who wish to play as a vampire may find their resistance to fire useful for combating a vampire's natural weakness to fire.
- Imperial: Imperials get boosts to several combat skills that fit sword-and-shield fighters or spellswords. Interestingly, they don't get a bonus to Speech in spite of their in-game description.
- Khajiit: A good alternative to Bosmer for thief/assassin builds, with very similar starting bonuses. They can use Night Eye at will and do extra unarmed damage. They can use weapons, but to most low level Creatures, using their claws can be equal to or stronger than using weapons.
- Nord: Natives of Skyrim, they are acclimated to the harsh climate. Skyrim's natives are a good choice for a warrior build, especially for those who want to use two-handed weapons. Just like the Dunmer's fire resistance, their innate 50% Resist Frost is valuable at every stage of the game.
- Orc: Another solid pick for a melee character, they're well-suited to "tanking" in a sword-and-shield role wearing heavy armor. They start off with a good skill package and the extremely useful Berserker Rage ability, but completely lack any kind of innate resistances.
- Redguard: Redguards have the best starting One-handed skill of any race, plus a daily rapid stamina regen ability; this makes them naturally good at sword and shield, dual-wielding, or spellsword styles. They are also 50% resistant to poison.
- When initially choosing a race, think about what type of class or classes you want to emulate foremost. If, for example, you want to steal and sneak attack your enemies without being detected, you should consider Khajiit for their initial stealth bonus and night vision powers. Or you could choose to be an Argonian, for their initial ability to pick locks better than any other race. Alternatively, if you would prefer to fight your enemies head on, a Nord, Orc, or Redguard may be preferable, due to their initial boosts to combat stats and natural resistances. Likewise, mage classes would find being a Breton or Altmer to be most beneficial, given their innate magical bonuses. If you want to be an archer or other marksman, you should choose the Bosmer.
- Unlike Oblivion, starting skills only matter in early gameplay (due to no 'Willpower' type attributes).
- It can be difficult to level up certain thieving skills if your race does not have a bonus. Sneaking and Pickpocketing will fail very often early on, and failed attempts do not gain experience. Lockpicking will still gain experience on failed attempts, but the amount is minimal.
- Most other skills such as magic or weaponry always succeed in earning experience when used against a valid target, and thus always give a skill experience, whether they start at 15 or 25.
- Note also that race affects many other small factors in dialogue throughout the game.
Many aspects of your character's appearance can be customized, although they do not affect skills in any way as they are purely cosmetic:
- Weight: increasing the weight slider increases your character's muscles
- Skin color
- Eye color
- Hair color and style
- War paint and/or tattoos (fur patterns for Khajiit)
- Dirt presence
- Beard (for male characters)
- Jewelry such as earrings (for specific races)
- Feathers/Horns (Argonians only)
Aside from the initial character creation, the only way to change your appearance is by becoming a vampire (automatic) or completing the quest Surgery (only available after the Dawnguard add-on is installed). The quest cannot be completed by vampires, and neither race nor gender can be changed.
Skyrim does not have classes. Race and sex selection are the only pregame choices of the player that affect gameplay. As previous installments of The Elder Scrolls have used classes as sets of skills, that term is somewhat still in use for a set of favored skills. When choosing a race, you're also choosing a set of skills that your character has initial bonuses to, and most likely, you're choosing this race because you've already chosen what play style you're going for. Skills go with these play styles, they are 'chosen' by simply using them, which is how they level up. Stats and perks conversely are chosen each time you level up. You can hurt yourself only by leveling up the wrong combinations of skills, gaining too high a level for your power too quickly.
The skills you use should work well together and complement your play style. An example of skills that work well together are Sneak and Pickpocket, since sneak helps you become undetected easier, and being undetected is very useful when picking pockets, because if you're successful you get the items you stole with no penalty. An example of skills that don't work well together are Heavy Armor and Light Armor, since carrying two sets of armor takes up a lot of your carry weight, wearing a combination of light and heavy armor takes away the benefits of certain perks, and you waste perks investing in both. The best thing to do when leveling up and deciding which skills to specialize in is just use common sense and think about how all your skills will interact.
An important decision to make when planning a character is how much stealth you want to use in combat, or if you even want to use it at all. Stealth means using the Sneak skill heavily and often relying on it to survive, since stealthy characters ideally focus on being nimble over being durable. Additionally a stealthy character shouldn't use two-handed weapons, as they make more noise which can cause you to be detected quickly, rarely use magic while sneaking until you get the Quiet Casting perk, and not have a follower, as they will generally not sneak well and will often rush blindly into enemies.
Another important decision is how much magic to use. A strictly magic-based character won't use any kind of armor or weapons and will rely on magic alone to survive. However you can mix magic with stealth or combat, for example a stealthy character can use Illusion spells to become invisible or make his enemies attack each other while he escapes. Additionally a warrior character can use Restoration to heal himself and increase his overall durability, or use Destruction to augment his damage-dealing capabilities. However a stealth/magic or combat/magic hybrid will have to sacrifice other attributes and perks to be able to use magic effectively in conjunction with other skills, so plan ahead carefully.
It should also be noted that, by the end of the game, each character given the same skill levels will have similar proficiency with gameplay. Some race-related abilities (such as frost resistance or extra health/magicka) could aid in certain situations, but given enchanting and skill perks that remove negative associations with the skill (such as Heavy Armor's Conditioning), by end-game situations many races can be played similarly.
- Birthsigns do not exist in Skyrim; instead, the player may choose to pick one of several Standing Stones, which can be changed at any point during the game.
- Unlike in Oblivion and Morrowind, you will not get a second chance to edit your character at the end of the tutorial, though the Dawnguard add-on adds a quest which allows you to change your appearance.
- The console command
showracemenuwill invoke the original "Who are you?" screen. PC users who take advantage of this are advised to find a location with good lighting to get the colors right. You also need to re-enter (or change) your name and can even theoretically change your race. Use the latter with caution as there may be unintended side effects; sometimes skin tone seems to revert after loading.
- If you only change your appearance, you will lose your active effects such as those from your racial power, item enchantments, potions, and blessings. However, if you change your sex or race, they will not be lost.
- If you're a Khajiit and open the
showracemenu, it will go to the first preset and you will lose the settings you had for your character.
- The console command
- To plan your perks more simply, you can use the IGN skills builder.