The player is able to acquire a variety of weapons and armor by buying from shops in towns, won through quests, collected from dead opponents, or made in forges. As with fists, weapons can be used with the attack button (PC: LMB) and holding the button before releasing will result in a power attack which deals more damage to an opponent. Single handed weapons deal less damage per strike but are faster and the other hand (left) can be used for a shield or other weapon. Weapons also have varying weight depending on the size and material, so may cause the player to become overburdened.
Enemies and companions' health bar shows at the top of the screen with a red line which shrinks when they are successfully attacked (damage to health). Enemies may go into a crouch when health is almost depleted or (human) may beg for mercy, though they regenerate health when left and will attack you further unless mods are used.
Alternating between attacking and using your shield to absorb an enemy's blows reduces damage to the player, the amount depending on their blocking skill.
A ranged weapon such as a bow (with arrows), crossbow, or magic staff (such as of ice spikes) can be used to attack enemies from a distance. This is especially effective where the enemy has a powerful melee attack and the player must stay out of range. Holding the attack button when using the bow causes it to be drawn back further meaning distance enemies can be attacked. Ranged weapons can only be used if the player has appropriate ammunition (such as arrows, bolts) in their inventory. Staffs consume power upon use and will need to be recharged using filled soul gems. Larger soul gems will power the weapon for longer. However, unlike unarmed spells the staffs do not consume the player's magic so can be used repeatedly. Some staffs require the player to hold then release the attack button to charge them up first.
If sneaking and not seen (eye closed), attacks have an added damage bonus and can be fatal in one shot on occasion. It is possible in some cases to stealth kill enemies without others becoming aware, or if they are alone.
Pressing R (PC) causes the player to bring out or put away their selected weapons. Alternatively, hold the attack button. Pressing R when a bow is drawn or spell is charged causes the attack to be cancelled. When weapons are out, walking and running are slower. It is possible to use weapons when riding a horse.
Both armed and unarmed attacks consume stamina which may cause the player character to pant (indicates low stamina). This can be regenerated by waiting or using stamina potions. Power attacks consume more stamina than regular attacks and certain weapons have a special attack that consumes a large amount of stamina.
A housecarl or companion (unless passive) will automatically attack enemies with weapons and magic they have unless told to wait elsewhere, horses will also attack enemies.
Shields can be used to absorb some of melee or ranged (arrow, bolts) attacks depending on shield rating and blocking skill level. However, these are ineffective against magic attacks. Wards can be used to protect the player from destruction magic. Alternative methods to dodge attacks can be hiding/dodging behind obstacles or moving out of range of the attack making targeting harder. Attacking an enemy from behind when they are attacking a companion is also effective and certain shouts (ice form) and powers will temporarily paralyze the opponent.
This perk from the Vampire Lord skill-tree adds 20 points of poison damage towards unarmed combat, while in Vampire Lord form.
Though it does not directly affect unarmed attacks, Necromage (Perk) can be useful for improving unarmed damage. If The Dragonborn is a Vampire and the Necromage perk is active, the bonus from Fists of Steel will be improved as will any Fortify Unarmed enchantments on equipment equipped after the perk is active.
Unarmed combat does not improve from One-handed perks like Armsman, but it does from Dual Flurry.confirmation needed
The Gloves of the Pugilist are a named pair of Fur Gauntlets in Skyrim. They can only be looted off of Gian the Fist in the Ratway, and are disenchantable. This is the only item that provides the Fortify Unarmed enchantment.
The Ring of the Beast adds 20 claw damage for vampires. This effect is not the same as Fortify Unarmed and may show up as Khajiit Claws, but stacks with the natural bonus of both Khajiit and Argonian claws. It is found during the quest "Rings of Blood Magic," as part of the vampire branch of the Dawnguard story quest. Being a quest-related unique item, it cannot be disenchanted.
Any character made in Skyrim has access to unarmed combat. Having no skill tree, the only difference from character to character is damage dealt. Men and Mer have a base damage of 4, while racial abilities give Khajiit characters 12 additional damage and Argonian characters 10 additional damage in unarmed combat. This does not include the 6 additional damage they hold in the code, giving Argonians a base damage of 20 and Khajiit a base of 22. Khajiit and Argonian become the races of choice given their damage bonus, which far exceeds the potential DPS (Damage-Per-Second) of most starting weapons. All characters also have access to the majority of power attacks and finishing moves with only a few being unique or restricted. Argonians, for example, have a bonus hit on sweeping attacks (sideways power attacks) from their tail.
Whatever race is chosen, there are three basic styles for unarmed combat:
- Brawler – Brawlers are exactly that. Both hands uncluttered, wailing away with power attacks. Brawler builds rely on their armor rating and high attack rate to survive in combat, as such it is recommended for a Brawler build to finish the Companion quest tree as quickly as possible to gain access to free training in Heavy Armor from Farkas. Leveling such a build will be slower without training, as the character lacks a main combat skill to gain levels from.
- Elemental Fist – The names vary widely from the ridiculous to the magnificent, but one thing remains the same. An open hand combined with Destruction in the other. Unarmed combat builds in Oblivion would pair well with Touch spells, however, as of Skyrim, the only 'Touch' spell is Healing Hands. Combining magic with unarmed combat gives the character ranged elemental damage, varying attack strategies greatly. AOE (Area Of Effect) spells can be hazardous to one's health if not treated carefully in this sort of build. Vampirism is especially beneficial to Elemental Fist builds as the Vampiric Drain counts as a Destruction spell.
- Smashing Board – Like a sword and board, but no sword. The use of a shield allows blocking and the use of the various shield-related abilities granted by the Block perk tree. Board characters are defensively-oriented, taking advantage of the shield bash feature added to Skyrim to stun or potentially disarm opponents in melee. As with Brawlers, early completion of the Companions' quest line benefits the character greatly by access to free training from Farkas and Njada Stonearm.
Many players will find it advantageous to float between the three styles depending on situation, as the lack of a primary weapon leaves several perks available to distribute. Those same available perks result in unarmed combat sometimes being a melee option for Archery builds as well as Bows being a secondary/ranged weapon to unarmed combat. Sneaking has its own unarmed critical kill, as a successful sneak attack from behind will yield a choke-out/neck snap animation if damage is sufficient to kill the target.
- Approaching a guard with fists raised may cause them to say: "You come up to me, fists raised? You looking for a beating?" as well as "Sheath those claws, Khajiit." if the Dragonborn is of that race.
- Using the Restoration potion loop glitch and the fortify unarmed enchantment, the Dragonborn may exceed the highest legitimate damage for unarmed, therefore making it a viable form of offense.
- One can also use the "Fists of Steel" perk with a glitch to make it more viable. Entering conversation with a follower at the same time as transforming into a Werewolf can allow one to wear as many heavy armor gauntlets as they wish, increasing unarmed damage with every pair of heavy gauntlets worn. This requires a good deal of timing, but can lead to a powerful and progressive unarmed combat build, viable even on Legendary difficulty.
- Unarmed attacks against citizens may not affect bounties.
- Some of the critical kills for unarmed combat are not true killing blows, suggesting that at one point not all cinematic attacks were intended to kill.
- Although in-game text says the Khajiit's unarmed damage is 15 points, it actually deals only 12 points.
- Having fists raised in Sneak mode in third-person prevents the use of the Silent Roll perk.
- Sometimes, while using a shield in the left hand, the shield will bash without blocking when attempting to power attack.
- Sometimes, with a spell equipped in the right hand and unarmed left, pulling the left trigger will cause the spell to cast from the left hand.