Unarmed combat in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is fighting without weapons or spells. Most of the time this is used in brawling. Unlike other games, where Hand-to-Hand combat was a class skill, Skyrim eradicated this idea in favor of a simpler Hand mechanic.
The base damage of unarmed combat for non-beast races (men and mer) is 4. Khajiit and Argonians, as Betmer, have a base unarmed damage of 10. Unarmed damage does not increase with any skill, and using unarmed attacks will not level any skill. Recieving damage from an unarmed attack, however, can level armor-based skills such as Light Armor, Heavy Armor, and Block.
Perks within certain skill trees offer boosts to unarmed combat.
Unarmed attacks while sneaking (if the damage is enough to kill with the sneaking multiplier) results in an exclusive choke-out finishing move with two variations as of patch 1.5.
- The Backstab perk in the Sneak skill tree does not affect unarmed damage.
Fists of Steel is a perk from the Heavy Armor Perk Tree which requires a Heavy Armor skill of 30 and at least one rank of Juggernaut. It adds the base armor rating of worn gauntlets to unarmed damage.
Despite not leveling the skill, unarmed fighting may benefit from some of the perks of the One-Handed skill tree, specifically those pertaining to dual-wielding--Dual Flurry and Dual Savagery.[source?]
Certain items enhance the damage done by unarmed attacks.
The Gloves of the Pugilist are unique set of gloves which bear the only Fortify Unarmed enchantment in Skyrim. They can be looted off of Gian the Fist in the Ratway Vaults. They can be disenchanted, and the enchantment can be placed on gloves, gauntlets, and rings for additional damage.
One of the Khajiit racial abilities gives Khajiit 12 additional damage in unarmed combat. (Note that while the Khajiit ability states they get 15 additional damage, examination of the game's code has revealed the actual number used to be 12. Which number is intended to be correct is unknown.) This is does not include the 6 additional damage they have over men and mer, meaning a Khajiit starts with a base unarmed damage of 22.
Viability as a dedicated playstyle
While generally under-powered compared to other methods of dealing damage, mostly due to the lack of an applicable skill and skill tree, unarmed can be a viable playstyle in Skyrim on default difficulty. While no single unarmed buff is enough to make unarmed viable past early game, when combined, they can easily make it possible to thrive into mid-game. It is worth noting that, because unarmed combat has no dedicated skill, if no weapons are ever used, the player will stop leveling earlier than other playstyles, meaning it may not be necessary for unarmed to keep up in later levels, since a dedicated unarmed character might never reach them.
- Walking up to a guard with your fists raised may cause them to say: "You dare walk up to me, fists raised? Are you looking for a beating?" as well as "Sheath those claws, Khajit" if you chose Khajit as your race.
- Having fists raised in Sneak mode in third-person prevents the use of the Sneak Roll perk.