There are mage robes in the game that give bonuses that are very useful to mages, like magicka regeneration. But currently I'm running around in armor, as a robe doesn't really protect me much if a bunch of undead are hitting me.

I'm thinking of developing my character into some kind of battlemage, so I'm wondering if it makes sense to stay with armor while casting spells.

Are there any penalties to casting magic when wearing light or heavy armor? If there are any, are they different for heavy and light armor?

10 Answers 10


There are no penalties as such.

You just won't get the bonuses, which I guess you can class as a penalty.

With that said though, you get the bonus of extra armour, so it's more of a trade-off.

  • 11
    Even the starting mage robes offer +50% magicka regeneration, so it's kinda a big deal. Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 7:36
  • @RavenDreamer True that. I'm guessing the higher level ones will offer damage etc though, as you'll most likely have many potions later on.
    – Mr Smooth
    Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 7:51
  • expert robes offer something like 20% reduced [school] magicka cost and 100% magicka regen Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 16:33
  • 13
    With sufficiently high enchanting skills you can more than negate that drawback by making your armor give you a higher reduction and a similarly high magicka regen. So if (and when) you get there, (ligh) armor becomes the clear winner. Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 12:36
  • 1
    Also, magicka regen in battle is inherantly slow. Even a +300% regen is near useless - that's why they give you such a seemingly high regen in a newbie robe. Just disenchant one of the regen/cost reduction robes and enchant some jewelry, and wear armor. Best of both worlds.
    – bigjeff5
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 18:51

There's no penalty for using armor. Also if you disenchant a necromancy robe or something at an enchantment table you can then apply it to whatever armor type you like.

There is a small catch with the enchantment route. You will find that you can only apply magic school enchantments to your chestpiece, and even with Black or Grand soulgems, the magic regen is capped at 10%. Unless you get enchanting perks!

  • You can indeed apply it, but might not achieve the same level (disenchanting a 50% magicka regeneration and crafting a new one can result in a 1% magicka regeneration, depending on your skill and the soul gem). Also, I'm not sure if you can enchant an item with multiple enchantments - in game items can combine multiple different enchantments.
    – Konerak
    Commented Nov 13, 2011 at 14:23
  • 4
    @Konerak: As you level your Enchanting and take perks from that tree your enchantments become comparable to and later even better then the stock ones on most items. Notably at level 100 Enchanting you can place two enchantments on one item. Also keep in mind that higher level gems/souls provide for better bonuses as well.
    – Vragis
    Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 23:03
  • There's also the fun fact that some (dis)enchantments already give two buffs. For instance you can have an enchantment of Destruction Magic & Magicka Regeneration.
    – Ancarius
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 8:29
  • You can buff the "Fortify school" part of a "Fortify school and magic regen" enchant with higher skill, perks and potions(other things too if you have the Dragonborn DLC), but you will NEVER get better than 10% regen on that combination enchant. A separate magic regen enchant, though... I can get those up to 88%.
    – Jtenorj3
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 17:41

Yes. There are disadvantages.

When you take damage while wearing heavy or light armor you will level those skills up, which will increase your overall level, which with the scaling difficulty will make enemies harder to defeat.

When wearing 0 armor you can take advantage of the Alteration Tree which has a perk called Mage Armor. Mage Armor at level 1 will double the armor provided when casting Stoneflesh. Stoneflesh gives the caster 60 armor for 60 seconds, 120 with Mage Armor level 1.

You will have your armor, but it will not be physical.

  • Just wearing armor pieces on the four slots gives you 100 hidden armor. For the purpose of armor rating, it is better to wear armor when using stoneflesh than it is to not, even with the perk. 100+60+armorfromitems vs 120. Even with a robe and helmet it's 60+60+armorfromitems. If you need a robe and hood though, that alteration perk starts to pull ahead.
    – Amy B
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 2:59
  • Maybe your numbers for hidden armor rating are based on older misconceptions. It's a 25 point hidden bonus for each piece, not 40 for the main armor and 20 for the others. Higher level spells can be better than lower level armor(say ebony flesh 100 times 3 with 3/3 mage armor). Costs a lot of magicka, though(more if you dual cast for greater duration). It's not hard to hit the cap in any armor in the game if you max crafting skills(may need some armor perks for your armor). Mage armor spells can help cap your resistance without the alteration perks if you are close to cap(say in hide armor).
    – Jtenorj3
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 17:47

First, some facts:

  1. You cannot enchant items that are already enchanted.

  2. There is a damage reduction cap at around ~80%. This is reached with an armor value of approximately 580. Thus getting higher amounts is just for prolling ;). Getting alteration with no armor is almost as good as wearing legendary forged armor (light or heavy is unimportant - check e) ). Just keep the alteration based defense spells up to date (oak -> stone -> iron (??) etc.)

  3. Magicka regeneration is possible on 3 items. This means with 100 enchantment and all necessary perks you will have 3x 62% increase Magicka regeneration. With the head of Morokai (light armor) you will have 2x 62% + 1x 100%. With this and a certain basic pool of Magicka you can cast without reg-pauses.

  4. Lots of nice items are any kind of light or heavy armor e.g. Morokais. Thus, for players who like to have some certain defense it's a basic decision of using the multiplying perk of the alteration tree or go for armor including smithing since your goal is to reach (2).

    I consider the next one exploiting if you don't play on expert or master (I do with my mage and still don't need it):

  5. You can increase your enchantment abilities via alchemy (reasonable amounts of more than 40% easily achievable). With enchantment on 100 plus alchemy you can enchant 4 items with fortified smithing and alchemy (4x +25% basically + x% by potion), create another potion and repeat. Finally on the enchanted item you will have an extremely high smithing and alchemy skill (and by a potion also enchantment skill).

    I achieved a Daedric one-handed sword with an attack dmg of ~270 (without enchantments) and a heavy armor value without shield of 540 (heavy dragon armor without shield) even without the process I explained above. Game got boring afterwards even on master level (one hit of draugh death-lords with a single-wielded one-handed sword), so I don't recommend this at all. With Daedra armor (without shield) and fortified heavy armor I got close to 700. Due to (2) this is absolutely unnecessary and as such I didn't tried more.

Based on these facts you have to choose either an alteration based way with not necessarily support of enchantment and alchemy, or armor and definitively smithing + enchantment. In both cases you will (almost) reach the dmg-reduction cap.

PS. I am using v. and have with all 3 chars (lvl 47-60) never found an disenchantable (!!) item that reduces the Magicka costs. Thus I don't rely on the info above and would use Magicka reg.

  • 3
    There are plenty of disenchantable items that reduce magicka costs, but its usually for a particular school. A novice robe of destruction, for instance, will lower destruction spells AND provide 10% magicka regen (check the clothing shop in Solitude). Also keep in mind you can boost magicka regen via potions as well. They last 300 seconds, which is quite long.
    – l I
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 17:40

There are no drawbacks to using armor instead of cloth, except the weight penalty. If you get the appropriate perks, those armors don't weigh anything while worn anyway. You could use alteration to buff yourself with mage armors, but I'm pretty sure full, improved daedric, is at least as good as any mage armor spells.

If you max your enchanting, you can hit 100% reduction in spell cost, meaning all spells of your school choice cost zero mana. This negates any need for the +mana regen or extra mana only available in cloth. Further, at 100 enchanting, you can get the perk to put two enchants on one item, meaning you can either have zero mana cost for two schools (destruction + alteration, for me), or you can buff your light/heavy armor skill, health, magic resist, etc. with that extra slot. Either way, I think using real armor plus maxed enchanting is far and away the way to go, at high level.

Of course, I'm using Forsworn armor, boots, and gloves, combined with a circlet, because I think it's dead sexy. On the default difficulty, it's not a problem either way.


I am currently wearing a full set of heavy armor as a mage (who is unfortunately a redguard, i had intended to be a warrior, but magic was just too much fun). My enchanting is 75 and i have enchanted a necklace, ring, helm, and armor to have 20% destruction spell reduction. I am destroying everything I cross, wearing a full set of heavy armor. Once enchanting is 100 you can enchant necklase, ring, armor and helm to 25% spell reduction, effectively making any spell cost nothing. The bad thing is is that heavy armor makes you slower to move, and drains stamania very fast, but once you have 100 skill in heavy armor it won't matter cause you can get the perk that makes it weigh nothing. Also, as the previous person said, once you get the final perk in the enchanting tree, you can have two schools of magic that cost nothing. Looking back though, I would use light armor instead.

  • If you still play and update to patch 1.9, you can make heavy armor legendary to get perk points back and use light armor instead.
    – Jtenorj3
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 17:50

Depends, as a mage you really do not need to wear Heavy or even Leather armors because of your Alteration perks.

Generally you should aim for getting the Arch-Mages robe and put around 5-6 perks into Alteration school, which will increase the defence of your alteration buffs x3-4 times, if you aren't wearing anything else except for robes, those spells will give you same armor or even greater armor than if you were actually wearing really good heavy armor and you can still retain your bonuses from the robe, tiara, and ring.

Also you don't really need to use enchantment to create your armors because you can't put up extra enchants on robes that already have options on them (although I am not sure if you still can't when you have level 100 enchanting, as it provides the ability to put 2 enchants on a piece of equipment)

Although if you want to go the heavy armor path and enchant them with mana regen, then you will have to heavily level up enchant (to lv100) and put a lot of perks into the tree, about 10 perks or something like that, but you will not be able to benefit from Alteration perks much tho and even if you have a fully upgraded perk tree for Enchantment, I'm still not sure if you will be able to actually achieve full benefits that an Archmage or any other Major magic school robe provides.

EDIT: This answer said you won't benefit from levelling up light/heavy armor masteries, which I can't agree to. The only mean of levelling in this game is pretty much spamming skills, the more spells you have levelled up - the greater your general level will be and more perks you will have available.

Having those levelled up a bit will only benefit your general level.

  • The best mage armor(besides master level dragonhide) is ebony. Even with mage armor 3/3, it is only 300 armor rating(36% damage reduction). Dragonhide hits the cap of 80% damage reduction or 667 armor rating but only lasts 30 seconds(45 with Stability). Every piece of real armor has a 25 point hidden bonus(so plus 100 for a full set), and it isn't hard at all to hit the cap at 567 displayed armor rating(or 592 without a helmet).
    – Jtenorj3
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 17:55

Each item has only a limited set of enchantments which will take and they are often weaker than quest rewards even after levelling up enchanting a lot. The arch mage robe is so good you cant help but wear it. Heavy armor generally can't take mana regen enchantments however light armor can but they are no where near as good as the arch mage robe and the mask from the last quest. The cloth sucks for defence but frost atros and Lydia should be more than sufficient to keep monsters at a distance (that's what they are for). Unrelenting force shout will also help a lot as will the destro upgrade that cause staggers. As an aside I did once find steel armor in a dungeon with the mana regen and destro 17% enchantment however I haven't seen such armor since.

  • The arch mage robe is quite good. It's worth going through the whole Mage questline for, along with the other items you'll get from it. I don't think enchanted items could beat it either, IIRC it has more than two bonuses, which is more than you can enchant. Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 21:42
  • @PerishableDave: unfortuantely the arch mage robe counts as both armor and a helmet. So it would have to provide enough bonuses for both, which it doesn't for me (if you use all the schools of magic in roughly amounts, then it might be worth a lot more, of course). Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 12:37
  • @JoachimSauer I am not sure this is true, my mage currently has the arch mage robe as well as the dragon priest mask Morokei equiped
    – Gary.S
    Commented Nov 25, 2011 at 4:07
  • @Gary.S: I'll have to test that, but I distinctly remember it removing my lather helmet, maybe the mask counts as not-quite-a-helmet. Commented Nov 25, 2011 at 6:10
  • 2
    You can wear circlets and masks as your head slot with the arch mage's robe, just not actual hats/hoods/helmets.
    – Affe
    Commented Nov 25, 2011 at 6:29

If you level up enchanting to 100 and put the points in perks other than the weapon elemental damage, you can have high buffs on your heavy armor. To argue against all the alteration comments, it wont necessarily be as high or higher if you actually invest in the heavy armor, which, combined with the dual enchantments, would be very beneficial. Besides, the OP didn't say he was necessarily focusing in alteration.

It IS a trade-off, you can get the same or near as powerful enchants and much higher armor rating on top of the heavy armor perks. That being said, if you choose NOT to invest in heavy armor, then it is not worth it. Sure you have good armor but it wouldn't be as good as the mage armor in alteration, and if you're not going alteration then the defense is good, but I doubt that you will have much stamina on a mage and you are now suffering carrying that extra weight without the perk to make heavy armor weigh nothing and having little or no boost in carrying capacity.

This is why you wouldn't want to fill the enchantment perk tree, you can use the points that would go in the weapon enchantments and put them in heavy armor, after all you're a mage.

It is beneficial overall, in fact I recommend it if you are patient. I did it and I have a hell of a tankymage. With one of the end perks, attackers receive damage back on top of your cloaks. If you go destro, there's so many possibilities with the mage. It's all about what you want and what you will give up to get it.


If you level up your alteration, you get a perk that doubles the power of oakflesh, ironflesh, and stone flesh spells as long as you aren't wearing armor. So you kinda have to think if you're gonna be wearing armor that has an armor rating of 180 or higher. Plus there are a lot of cool robes out there, like the archmage robes that make magic so much easier to cast and use. It's kind of a trade off.

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