Unarmed Combat in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is fighting without weapons or spells. This style of fighting is mainly used in brawling but unarmed characters can be created. Unlike other games, where Hand-to-Hand combat was a class skill, Skyrim lacks a skill tree (though there are Perks) for Unarmed Combat.
Skyrim lacks a skill tree for Unarmed Combat, but there are two Perks from other trees that enhance your damage output.
This perk from the Vampire Lord skill-tree adds 20 points of poison damage towards unarmed combat. Being poison damage, this can be boosted with Weakness to Poison (though that requires the use of a weapon, as hands/claws cannot be poisoned).
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.
Ring of the Beast (Dawnguard DLC)Edit
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 15 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 25. 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 you choose, 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 via Farkas . Levelling 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 (only useful in combat against Undead). 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 guantlets 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 Bounty.
- 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.
- 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.