by: M.S. Smith
; edited by: Aaron R.
; updated: 4/18/2012
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Skyrim has made many changes to how skills work in comparison to older Elder Scrolls games, but leveling is still similar. You use a skill, it goes up, and that contributes to your level. In this guide we’ll delve deeper into that equation, and find ways to exploit it.
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The Basics of Leveling in Skyrim
Skyrim has a much more refined character creation process than previous Elder Scrolls games. Character attributes, like strength for example, are gone entirely. Now all that matters is your character’s skills.
Skills level up automatically as you use them. If you go around swinging a big axe, your two-handed skill will go up. If you cast a lot of healing spells, your restoration skill will go up. Each of these skill-ups contributes to your experience, which will eventually increase your level.
Not all skills will contribute to your level equally. Those that are of low-level will contribute much less than those of high level. If you’re level 15, you may see very little increase towards level 16 if you increase your skill in Smithing from 20 to 21. But if you increase your skill in Conjuration from 55 to 56, you’ll see a decent jump towards your next character level.
Skills themselves level at a linear rate, which is to say that it takes an equal amount of effort to level from 20 to 21 as it does to level from 90 to 91. This actually factors in to some ways to game the system, as we’ll see later in this article.
The level soft cap is 50. You can still level up after this but the amount of experience required becomes much higher. The theoretical maximum, reached by obtaining skill level 100 in all skills, is level 81. So far this has only been achieved by cheating. Since level 50 is the soft cap, I recommend planning your perk expenditures on the assumption that level 50 will be the maximum level you reach.
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How to Legitimately Improve Skills
The main way to improve skills without gaming the system is to just use them as you would normally. Pick a combination of skills that will serve you well and then use them. Eventually, you skill will increase.
Note that the term “use" is actually a bit vague, and the developers have worked to close some loopholes in Skyrim. For example, spells generally only contribute to a skill increase if they have an effect. Healing yourself while you are already at full health does not result in a skill increase, conjured creatures don’t increase your skill unless they engage in combat, etc.
Besides using them, you can also increase skills by reading books or visiting skill trainers. Books are scattered all across the land, and some will provide skill increases – so be sure to read whatever you see (expensive books are usually skill books). Skill trainers will provide you with increases in exchange for cash, but they can be expensive. A trainer can only improve your skill 5 times per level.
Oh, and don’t forget the standing stones (you run into a set right after you complete the tutorial, provided you head to Riverwood as advised). These allow you to improve all skills in one group (magic, thievery or combat) 20% more quickly.
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Gaming the System: Crafting
If you simply want to increase your level quickly, crafting can be an easy way to do this. Remember, increases in skill level are linear, no matter what you’re doing. This means you can easily skill up a crafting skill by sitting around and making the cheapest, most basic recipe, all the way up to skill level 100 if you’d like.
You will probably need to have some gold already to make use of this exploit, since you will need a lot of crafting materials, which can become expensive due to the volume you need even if they are individually cheap.
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Gaming the System: Skill Use
Although the developers did try to close some loopholes, they couldn’t close them all. There are several ways to increase skill levels in the game by using them.
Sneak can be increased simply by sneaking near an opponent constantly, without actually striking them. It doesn’t hurt to just walk around dungeons in constant sneak mode, because besides being able to perform sneak attacks, you’ll gain a lot of extra skill levels in sneak.
It’s still possible to improve armor skills by letting relatively easy opponents beat on you while healing yourself. Of course, this also improves your restoration skill. Since armor no longer degrades through use, you can do this often without incurring additional costs from repairs.
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Gaming the System: Trainers
Trainers are often prohibitive because of their cost. However, if you have the Pickpocket skill, you can steal back the gold that you paid. You can steal gold back easily up to level 30 without spending perks in Pickpocket. If you go full-blown pickpocketing, you can do this up to about level 76. That may not be worthwhile, however, because of all the perks you need to spend – if your character isn’t actually a thief, it’s a bit of a waste.
You’ll also find some trainers that will become followers after you complete certain quests. It’s possible to trade back the gold you spend training with them. This is much more effective, but you also will not be able to do this with many trainers in the game.
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It’s certainly possible to game the leveling system so that you become very high in level early in the game. However, this can have some negative consequences because of Skyrim’s dynamic level scaling. As you become tougher, so do some enemies, up to a certain point. If you level yourself in a strange way – let’s say you use the crafting method – you may not be able to stand up to the leveled opponents in combat.
As such, you should be careful and save with a permanent (not quick) save before proceeding with any attempt to game the system, just in case the results are not what you expected.