It's my second char, after a pure mage. It's supposed to be a one-handed/archer sneak attacker with Light Armor.

The build so far:

Race: Breton (for magic defense)

Level: ~18 (below 20, cant check right now)

Archery: 53, Overdraw 3

Sneak: 48, Stealth 3, Backstab, Deadly Aim

One-Handed: ~25-30, Armsman 2

The rest of the perks are in Alchemy and Speech for making money, to pay for level-up trainings. First I leveled Archery with Faendal to 50, then I got Alchemy to 50 for money and poisons. Next I want to get Athis as follower for free One-Handed training. I always prefer combat perks as they become available over money-making perks.

Equipment: Imperial/Elven Light Armor, Dwarven Bow/Arrows, no Enchantments so far.

Now the problem is, some enemies go down with 1, at most 2 sneak attack arrows. But there are many regular mobs (not to mention bosses) who have so insanely much health and/or armor, they can easily eat 10 sneak arrows, making for a very slow and tedious game. Additionally, one little mistake and it's reload time, since I cannot really stand against such opponents in open combat, even if they are already half-dead.

Coming from my level 40+ destruction mage who can obliterate most anything with one or two dual-casts at the second-highest difficulty level (first char) and who is practically immune to magic, I am very disappointed so far. I even had to turn down the difficulty to normal, with little effect.

So, what am I doing wrong, or is a sneak attacker always that weak around this level? What area do I have to improve most to one-shot most targets? Or do I have to start over with a new race and build?

  • Get a tanky companion, after the sneak attacks hit and the boss is comming for you. Your companion will attack while you just start shooting at the target?
    – Lyrion
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:21
  • Can I retreat back into stealth while my follower is tanking?
    – Hackworth
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:32
  • Hmmm, haven't tried that but i think, it is mostly once seen you need to run far away... and i wouldn't suggest that tho :/ . Basicly what you should go for in a sneaky archer build is 1-2 hits that do major damage killing mostly all, except the strong enemies and bosses. And then just finish using either some normal attacks or via melee.
    – Lyrion
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:37
  • No you can't enter sneak again. However, if you send your companion to attack, you will not be spotted because of that. But if you shoot and subsequently are spotted, they will know where you are and you are not hidden anymore.
    – Flater
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 13:45

7 Answers 7


Unfortunately, sneaky one shots are people using daggers (I use war axes from time to time as well) for the most part, not bows.

However, assuming the confirmed knowledge that you will never be able to drop all your targets in one hit has not stopped you from wanting to pursue an archer here are some pointers to consider.

  • Sneak attacks are your openers.
  • Just like an assassin doing a backstab, picking your initial location to start an engagement is key.
  • Being able to slow your target is going to give you that much more time to deal with them. Consider the poisons that Eriuzo mentioned but more so, consider enchanting your bow with the highest charge lowest duration Frost you can get. With fast draw and good aim (which will get better the more you use it), you should be constantly pelting your target.
  • Also consider the Paralyze enchantment in similar use to the frost above, you might want to fiddle with charges vs duration a bit more with this one however.
  • Still go max sneak perks, as you will want to often be at range the entire time and being able to drop into a sneak to break targeting will be very helpful.
  • Remember that Mobility is going to be very key for you, do not neglect stamina!
  • If you find running around and shooting too tedious and just want to stare them down with your bow, remember you can block/bash with your bow.. Consider getting some of those perks to make your shoves matter more.
  • Just as the mages' Impact perk is important for staggering, so too is the archery 50/50 stagger perk.
  • Seek out +Bow gear as soon as you can, every little bit helps. (There is some in the Dark Brotherhood and its fairly short to get to, unlike the horse which seemed to take forever to get the second time around :))
  • Consider high perked pick pocketing.. The best arrows in the game are fairly annoying to come by. Some of the ways to generate these arrows better are to go to places where people practice archery and steal all their arrows, especially their active one, and then give them a single Daedric arrow.. They will then shoot out an infinite number of these that you can simply pick up off the target. Note that I am still torn about this as this is -a lot- of perk points just to get arrows... Id almost say go to the fletcher, buy the arrows, save the game, kill the fletcher, reload the game and start the loop over as a more 'acceptable' way to overcome this.

Because possible enchantments on your weapon can play a pretty big part of how your character does what it does, consider doing the quest for Azura's star and turning it into the Black Star. Right now it can accept any soul and if you are taking out a bandit camp you can recharge every weapon fairly quickly with a grand soul they give you.

EDIT: Technically, there is a way within the game rules to make a bow powerful enough to one shot anything... but it is rather game breaking if you abuse the loop too much. Through Alchemy and Enchanting you can boost your smithing skill in an infinite loop. People have made weapons and armor with stats so high that it flips the internal value into the negatives (so, higher than 2.1 billion).

The technique to do this is commonly called the Restoration Loop

  • Thanks for the hints. I misworded my question - I only want to use sneak bow until my one-handed and sneak skill are high enough to switch to daggers for the main work.
    – Hackworth
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 21:17
  • 1
    Oh, in that case swap as soon as you get the sneaking perk that makes backstabs do 15x damage with daggers :) By then you should have enough in that tree to do that very effectively.
    – James
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 0:35

Based on my now-40 sneak archer:

  • Like mentioned above, get a follower. Even Lydia is fine (as long as the enemies are not falmers). Just release 1 or 2 sneak hit, then let your follower tank the enemy while you finish it.
  • Since you level the alchemy (I don't), try using some poisons. Preferably paralyze poisons, or just damage health poisons.
  • Upgrade your bow at workbench. In Skyrim, apparently all non magic warriors need to invest into smithing to some extent (and maybe enchanting too). And smithing and enchanting can be leveled easily and simultaneously.

With these you should get easier time, but still I didn't one-shot most enemies below 20 though.. probably 2 sneak shot and 3-5 regular shots ?


I have made an interesting sneak attack build with... an orc.

Once a day, i can do double damage on an attack. This is added in the end of all other multipliers, making me rather certain to be able to kill my target in the first blow.

I can easily kill two-three guards or so before the double damage runs out.

This changes the game view a bit, since I rest a lot to regain my double damage feat. But this in bonus means that I'm always well rested, and learn my skills faster.

Its a special build, but it makes you able to save your feat for a final challenge, and the double damage also covers regular combat.

Plus, my orc is oh so pretty... cough

  • I thought about Orc too, but if anything, it helps with 1 or 2 enemies per day at most - not the consistency I'm looking for. And I'm not going to sleep/rest for 24 hours after every room I clear in a dungeon. Since starting skill bonuses don't matter in Skyrim, the racial ability is all that matters, and for that, I find Bretons the best.
    – Hackworth
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:01
  • I can understand that :] I only rest once per dungeon, using my power twice...
    – Nils Munch
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:03
  • Also made a silly silly sneak attack Imperial... when caught, I just use magic or the emperors voice to calm people again, and the I start stabbing shortly after... Silly build, but actually works.
    – Nils Munch
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:03

they can easily eat 10 sneak arrows. What area do I have to improve most to one-shot most targets?

You can work on base damage

10 Dwarven Bow 
14 Dwarven Arrow

12 Elven Bow
16 Elven Arrow
 5 Smithing Upgrade (Exquisite)
35 = 24 * 145% -> 7 shots to kill what used to take 10 shots

You can work on multiplicative damage modifiers: archery skill, archery perks (overdraw and critical shot), potions of fortify archery, archery enchant on armor (don't forget ring and neck!), orc racial bonus (hah).

You can work on additive damage modifiers: damage enchant on weapon, poison.

Go forth and one-shot giants.


The best way to walk around undetected is to go invisible and maybe muffle. I once as a pure mage with a bounty of 10,000 in markarth walked around with the invisibility spell and sprinted in circles around guards, then I shot 7 more with bound bow one shot kill.


since your build focuses primarily on sneaking in and killing the person quietly I would strongly advise becoming a vampire lord it gives 25% more sneak and gives you the option to become more tanky if your discovered I would also suggest getting the Quiet Casting perk any magic or shouts you do will be silent. also definitely check out ESO he's a you tuber who makes guides for builds just like yours check out the link I posted it will show help you tons


nightingale armor set with daggers

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