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I am thinking of setting up a "craft-based" character is Skyrim - with the challenge to use Smithing/Enchanting/Alchemy and Speech to build up wealth while avoiding the normal kill, loot, and sell approach.

From experience, it's hard to make/sell things without losing a lot of money in the process. For example, a leather strip (3 gold) and an iron ingot (7 gold) can be smithed into an iron dagger (10 gold) - which is a grand profit of no gold.

Even using enchanting/soul gems and "high value" enchantments like "Fortify Sneak" doesn't deliver a good return. Although, since previous characters have been combat/magic/sneak-focused, I haven't put a lot into "Speech" perks.

Is there an effective/profitable approach to a "crafting" style of gameplay or do the in-game economics make it pretty much impossible?

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If your speech skill is low, you can get your own resources by mining (good places to mine), hunting, chopping wood, gathering flowers, et cetera; although leveling up your speechcraft will make buying resources and selling products profitable, and it's fairly easy to do.

Buying cheaper alchemy ingredients can also be a good way to turn a profit.

  • After a bit of experimentation with an existing character I think the Speech skill is key (and I've been a bit dense). There's a number of ways of increasing Speech which my craft based character should invest in early on. Including an amulet of Dibella, the Masque of Clavicus Vile or Volsung: elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Speech – BaronGrivet May 12 '13 at 20:33
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Alchemy is the most profitable crafting type.

If you can manage to gather about 500 gold buy out all of the local alchemist of their ingredients, except for expensive stuff like fire salts. Then just mash ingredients together to discover properties and sample ingredients. Some great combinations of cheap ingredients can make expensive potions. Put together chaurus eggs and Luna moth wings to make invisibility potions. Deathbell and River Betty can make an expensive slow poison. Add random ingredients to your 2 ingredient potions to discover more properties.

Walking around the countryside can help you find lots of ingredients, so remember to harvest any ingredients you see when you are walking around. Swimming in rivers can help you find fish.

To get good prices from shopkeepers, items like masque of calculus vile and the thieves guild hood can get you better prices.

Once you get the hang of making expensive potions travel to all the holds and sell your potions to all the different alchemists, if the alchemist runs out of money, either go to another, or wait 48 hours and they will restock their money and ingredients.

If you manage to get to 50 speech skill, there is a perk that will allow you to sell anything to any merchant, carry around your expensive potions and sell them to any merchant you come by to make lots of money.

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Start by creating 4 items (bracers, helmet, necklace, ring) that can be enchanted with "fortify alchemy". Go and create two or three "fortify enchanting" potions. Use the potion at the enchanting table and put "fortify alchemy" on the 4 items. Put on the 4 items. Then go back to the alchemy table and re-make the enchanting potion. The potion should be more powerful now. Repeat the process until you are at high levels of percentages (22-25%) on the enchanted items. Once the items are high enough, create potions like fortify health, invisibility, etc... Basically anything with wheat and a Giant's toe.

The only cost is a few leather strips and iron ingots for the equipment (silver ingots for the necklace/ring), and soul gems (which can be farmed in Blackreach or dwemer dungeons), and the wheat (which is rather abundant) and giant's toes are on giants (naturally). It takes time, but it is really not very expensive.

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grab everything, enchant it using a petty soul gem and sell only problem is soul trapping and enchantments

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It's been pointed out that Alchemy is highly lucrative. This is 100% true.

You can also make quite a bit of money from enchanting. Once your speech skill is not terrible, you can actually buy leather strips, iron ingots, and charged petty or lesser soul gems and make a profit off smithing and enchanting iron daggers and then selling them.

This requires a good enchantment, of course. Banish and Turn Undead are good ones that I'm often able to buy from a merchant. It's a bit pricey to get that first item, but the investment pays off.

I don't have the exact numbers on hand for the speech level at which a profit is possible, or the level at which those enchantments show up, but it's something I do consistently on basically every playthrough.

Other quick tips:

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