“Skyrim belongs to the nords!” shout the Stormcloak loyalists during Elder Scrolls V‘s Civil War questline. Whether you’re one of Ulfric’s boys or an Imperial Legionnaire strapped into banded armor and wielding a blood-stained sword, it’s largely true: Skyrim is a game that was made ‘for the nords,’ the bulky, fair-haired Viking types of the frigid north lands. An iron hatchet in one hand and a battered shield in the other, hurling shouts of an ancient tongue to the dragons prowling the starry skyline.
It’s a majestic image to be sure, but how does the game feel if you don’t want to role-play as a rough and tough fighter? Bethesda Softworks designed a full-on RPG system that’s got skill trees steeped in magic, thievery, alchemy, enchanting, and even speechcraft. Yet if you try playing as that roguish pickpocket who smooth-talks the townspeople for reduced prices, it means you’re not allocating your hard-earned perk points into things like swordplay, marksmanship, spell weaving, or smithing – you know, the skills that will keep you alive. We like the thief trees in Skyrim, but they’re not terribly helpful when you’re face to face with a Dragon Priest.
Elder Scrolls V has extensive quest lines for thieves, assassins, fighters, mages, and even for werewolves and vampires. There’s a Bard College, too, but if you haven’t heard of it we aren’t terribly surprised. The Bard College in Skyrim is in the posh city of Solitude tucked away in the far northwest of the province. Hike up to the famed Blue Palace and you’ll soon see it on the left. Joining up with the college will give you… four quests. Count ’em. Four:
You crawl through a dungeon to retrieve an old edda, return to the city to argue a reinstatement of the Burning of King Olaf Festival (haha ‘burning man.’ Bards are a bunch o’ hippies in Skyrim), then you get three quests from different bards in the school. Each bard asks you to retrieve a specific instrument from random dungeons, and it all feels like the radiant (repeating) quests you’d take up after completing say, the Thieves’ Guild or Dark Brotherhood quest lines. The difference here is that the radiant quests aren’t really earned; you’ve only done one quest to earn them!!
The Bard quest line is a sad side note.
For the skeptics who argue that Skyrim isn’t a very friendly environment for a minstrel, you’re absolutely right … maybe. But keep in mind that we still got thief trees. They’re not much against an angry dragon either! Speechcraft is counted among the thief abilities, and it’s arguably the worst tree in the game.
It’s disappointing, too, since there’s a ton that Bethesda could have done with it. Lucky for us, the modding community has seen fit to address these concerns. With just six free mods you can play as a bard in Skyrim. Not only that, she’s capable of holding her own in a fight and approaching scenarios from a completely different angle than other builds. Looking for a brand new approach for your next Skyrim playthrough? See what the bard can do (the mods you’ll need are listed below the features):
Actually play instruments
Mind-blowing right? Skyrim’s always had instruments littered around the world, and if you’re anything like us the fact that they’re just tertiary “junk” is very disappointing. This time around you’ll be able to play the instruments you pick up or purchase. See that lute lying in a dusty crypt? But some sheet music from Viarmo at the Bard College and you can perform it at will on that same lute. You can play any lute, drum, or flute you pick up.
As for what the music sounds like, you’re in for a treat; Pevey’s Become a Bard mod gives you a ton of music to choose from, all sold by Viarmo at the Bard College. Open a book after you’ve bought it from him, and you’ll instantly know all the songs within it. There are songs based on different regions in Tamriel like Black Marsh, High Rock, or Cyrodiil, along with others, like YouTube singer Malukah. All the music you have access to is either from the Elder Scrolls games, or are original compositions performed or recorded by the modding community. They’re extremely lore-friendly and they sound gorgeous.
Speechcraft is intertwined with shouts
Finally!! We’ve been playing as the almighty Dragonborn since 2011, a character whose defining ability is to Shout. While there were many different Shouts you could accrue and upgrade throughout the game, there was never any way to actually level up your Shout skill in general.
With EnaiSiaion’s Ordinator mod installed, Shouting will at last level up your Speechcraft tree! Put in perk points and you’ll be able to achieve some very powerful buffs to your Shouting ability, such as reduced cool-downs, restoring health and stamina upon Shouting, and even blending Shouts together.
Sew chaos among your enemies
Everybody underestimates the lowly bard when it comes to combat. With an arsenal of sneaky spells courtesy of the Apocalypse and Lost Grimoire mods you’ll quickly prove to the next bandit camp that tries to mug you that they’ve bitten off way more than they could chew. Use sleight of hand to pull an opponent’s weapon right out of his hand, only to replace his with a wooden sword. Use sneezing powder to force an opponent to stumble right when they’re about to power attack. Infiltrate the ranks of a Forsworn camp by donning their attire. There are so many clever uses for the spells in these two mods that it would take too long to even list them.
As if that wasn’t enough, Become a Bard also allows you to use music during combat! Play a melody on your flute that enemies can’t help but dance to while your allies hack them to pieces with their axes and swords. Or play on a powerful enchanted drum that causes tremors and earthquakes with each beat. Watch as your would-be attackers roll helplessly down cliffs as their arrows misfire into nearby walls!
Low on cash? The bard needs not sully her hands with dirty mercenary work. Her tool is her song, and with it, she can open the hearts – and wallets – of tavern-goers all across the province. Simply walk into the Winking Skeever, the Bannered Mare, or the Bee and Barb and let the bartender know you’d like to perform.
You’ll receive a simple miscellaneous quest that tells you to perform at the local pub. Pick a song of your choice and after you’re done playing it go up to the bartender to receive your coin as well as a night of free room and board. The better you get at performing, the more cash you’ll earn by doing this. All your exploits are automatically documented in your Bard Journal that comes with Pevey’s mod.
You can also just perform right in the middle of the street! Once you’ve gotten the Performer perk from the Ordinator mod you can play your instrument any time you want. Any passersby will take heed and if they like your playing will clap their hands and possibly even reward you with small items they have in their pockets!
Perform for royalty, become a political spy
Once you’ve completed the Bard College quest line, you’ll receive a much more apt series of radiant quests. Perform at enough pubs and inns and eventually, a Courier will approach you with a note telling you to go visit Viarmo back at the Bard College. Speak with him and he’ll send you to perform for the Jarl of a random hold. These quests make you really feel like a wayward bard and a travelling wanderer who scrounges for coin and a good night’s sleep.
You’ll also find that there’s a political edge to these quests as well. Once you’ve performed for the chosen Jarl you’ll be aptly rewarded with something from their own armory, and then upon returning to Solitude Viarmo will inform you that you also gave him valuable information to help undermine the Thalmor takeover …
Perform your own music!
Possibly our favorite feature from Pevey’s Become a Bard mod, you may also purchase from Viarmo a ‘Custom Songbook.’ All the songs in it are blank. There’s an easy and user-friendly way to make those tracks songs from your own files! For free you can substitute and rename the extensions for mp3s you have in your own library and have your character perform them in Skyrim any time you like. Want your bard to bring a thrash metal concert to Riften? Now you can. Or compose your own music on a MIDI keyboard and have her play that for one of the most immersive experiences you’ll ever have.
The song lengths along with virtually every other setting about this mod, can all be toggled through the mod menu in-game.
Lead and support a team of followers
If you’re ready to play the coolest support class you’ve ever seen, we can’t recommend this build highly enough. With all the below mods installed you’ll be put at the helm of your own adventuring party of however many followers you wish. Feel like the legendary Dragonborn in a way you never have before – the party leader spearheading expeditions into dark dungeons and hunting dragons through mountain peaks. Take it to the next level by designing your own followers to join in your adventure with this easy guide.
With the spells and perks at your command, you can use all manner of spells to buff, enrage, aggro, defend, heal, and even teleport your party members around the battleground, giving you a huge amount of control and nearly turning Skyrim into a squad-based game.
The mods you’ll need:
Become a Bard: Pevey
This is the heart of the bard build – this mod will allow you to truly feel as though you’re role-playing the bard. Perform in taverns, collect coin and treasures, get free room and board for your work, and play dozens of songs.
Ordinator: Perks of Skyrim: EnaiSiaion
This is the perk overhaul that completely changes the way all Skyrim’s perk trees work. We care about the Speechcraft one. This will mean shouts are fully incorporated and upgraded through this tree, you can use music as a combat option (see above), you can encourage NPCs to accompany you on adventures, and have a wider variety of options when dealing with merchants.
Path of Sorcery – Magic Perk Overhaul: steelfeathers
While this mod adds some seriously cool features to every magic skill tree, what we’re really after is what it adds to the restoration tree. This means you can buff your allies like never before, playing a support role that actually feels awesome. Turn the tide of battle with creative AoE powers and strengthen your warrior followers to before unseen levels.
UFO – Ultimate Follower Overhaul: fLokii
This mod will allow you to have more followers and have better control over their actions. The traditional DnD bard is seldom without companions, and this mod helps to make you feel more like you’re part of a fellowship.
Apocalypse – Magic of Skyrim: EnaiSiaion
Apocalypse magic is good no matter what kind of build you’re going for, and the bard is no exception. This adds a ton more spells meaning you have much more freedom when it comes to building and designing your character’s magic capabilities.
Lost Grimoire of Skyrim: steelfeathers
When used in conjunction with Apocalypse, the Lost Grimoire mod means you’ll have a ton of spells to pick from. You’re basically guaranteed to find any spell you think your bard would reasonably have. The role-playing options are really staggering here.
If you’re craving a new filter to play Skyrim through, and want a vastly different take, the Bard build is top of our list of recommendations. If you’re looking for more mods that completely revamp the game, you can check out our other list right here.