With the imminent and glorious return of mushroom towers to the Elder Scrolls,
it’s time for the most badass faction in the series. Move over Volkihar, move aside
Dark Brotherhood, get lost Thalmor; these are the true masters of malicious, dark
sorcery: House Telvanni.
Fingers Crossed for a Cephalopod Helm in Dragonborn.
Isolationist Dark Elf mages, House Telvanni was one of the five Great Houses of
Morrowind, and one of three open to the player in Elder Scrolls III. The members
of Telvanni were highly ambitious and eccentric wizards who let nothing get in the
way of their scholarly pursuits and accumulation of power. Gigantic egoists, high
ranking members of the House had little to no concern for anyone but themselves
and anything outside of their narrow range of interest. Their self-centeredness
even extended into the structure of the guild itself, as the official charter explicitly
recommends murdering fellow members as a means of advancement. It’s no
surprise their slogan read “wisdom confers power and power confers right.”
One of the top ranking members of the House, you’ve spent the last couple hundred
years traveling through various Oblivion realms conducting esoteric research (“I’d
try to explain it, but you wouldn’t understand a word”). Returning to Morrowind,
you are somewhat surprised to find the complete destruction of your homeland in
your absence. You don’t really care about the rest of your kin, but the obliteration
of your mushroom tower and all your pretty enchanted loot, your carefully guarded
artifacts, not to mention your slave concubines; well, that has royally pissed you off.
In a rage you fly off to Skyrim, intent on reaccumulating a prodigious collection of
lore and powerful enchanted gear, annoyed at your loss and very confused by the
complete lack of spellmaking altars and levitation potions.
Stone: Mage (Ritual)
Major Skills: Enchanting, Destruction, Illusion, Conjuration
Minor Skills: Alteration, Restoration, Alchemy
Weapons: Aetherial Staff, Staff of Magnus, Skull of Corruption
Armor: Archmage Robes, Enchanted Daedric Gauntlets and Boots
Quests: College of Winterhold, Discerning the Transmundane, Shalidor’s Insights,
Arniel’s Endeavor, Lost to the Ages, A Return to your Roots, Distant Memories,
I’ve spent a lot of time making mage builds in Skyrim, and I wanted to make the
Telvanni feel unique in comparison to other mages. Thinking about what a Telvanni
wizard would do in Skyrim, two things seemed obvious to me: hoard powerful
artifacts and create powerful enchanted items. There are a number of “loopholes”
in the magic system of Skyrim that result in extremely powerful effects: zero-cost
enchantments, the restoration loop, and necromage/vampire interaction. I had
typically shied away from these mechanisms, afraid that doing so would break the
game. But then I realized that that was exactly what a Telvanni Lord would do: he
would spend all of his time obsessively studying various magical properties and
their synergetic effects in order to maximize his power over the arcane. Thus the
crux of the build was born: the use of Enchanting, Alchemy, and the Necromage
perk to reduce spell cost of three schools of magic to (near) zero.
The benefits of Enchanting induced spell cost reduction in combat are obvious, but
in constructing this build I noticed another significant benefit: perk preservation.
Mage builds are very perk heavy and this build can free up a total of 12 perks
through spell cost reduction.
The three schools that should be focused on are Destruction, Illusion, and
Conjuration. The power of these schools is obvious and they fit the character well,
but the design and layout of these perk trees also really opens things up, allowing us
to forgo spending any perks in Apprentice through Master. We can then use these
free perk points to invest deeply in all our magic schools as well as perk out another
non-mage skill of our choice (Alchemy for instance).
Spell cost reduction in Alteration is unnecessary as many of the best Alteration
perks require reduction perks as prerequisites anyway. Most Restoration spells are
fairly cheap to cast and Novice Healing is extremely economical. Furthermore, once
this build gets rolling you will find yourself rarely taking damage and self-created
potions serve well for emergency healing.
Level 50 Perks:
Enchanter 5/5, Insightful Enchanter, Corpus Enchanter, Extra Effect
The heart and soul of this build. Enchanting perks should be taken early and often
in order to allow us to cast our spells. The Telvanni literally uses enchanted apparel
as a conduit to power his spellcasting.
Novice, Dual Casting, Animage, Kindred Mage, Hypnotic Gaze, Aspect of Terror,
Rage, Master of the Mind
The Telvanni is a master at manipulating the feeble minds of those around him. In
order to mentally dominate every man, beast, skeleton, and machine he encounters
most perks are taken as they are needed to increase the efficacy of his spells. Quiet
Casting is unnecessary as he has little patience for sneaking around.
Novice, Necromancy, Dark Souls, Summoner, Atromancy, Elemental Potency, Twin
Ah yes, the Telvanni loves his Conjuration. He prefers to wield his influence from
a distance, and indirectly. Let summoned underlings get their hands dirty, he has
better things to do. He is a connoisseur of conjuration and understands the benefits
of all summons, be they the bodies of his enemies or servants from the planes of
Oblivion and the Soul Cairn, and he wants all of his minions performing at peak
Novice, Augmented Flames 2/2, Augmented Shock 2/2, Disintegrate, Dual Casting,
The Telvanni Wizard also enjoys eviscerating his opponents in a moment’s notice.
Fire and Lightning possess the right amount of flair and allow him to easily dispatch
all enemy types. Impact is taken because he will absolutely not abide anyone getting
close enough to him to sully his robes.
Novice, Apprentice, Adept, Expert, Master, Dual Casting, Stability, Atronach
Paralysis is just too much fun and the Atronach perk lets the Telvanni laugh
off lowly hedge mages. Dual Casting, Stability and Expert Alteration allow the
Archwizard to cast Dragonhide and shrug off irritating bandits that attempt to
distract him from his research.
Novice, Regeneration, Necromage
Restoration was never one of House Telvanni’s favored schools. The magelord is
only interested in this “weak” school because he has heard rumors of its powerful
salutary effects on vampires. He will of course set out to contract sanguinaire
vampiris deliberately in order to test this theory.
Alchemist 5/5, Physician, Benefactor
Alchemy has always been a magic skill for the Telvanni. He has no idea why the
ignorant Nords seem to think otherwise. This skill boosts his enchanting and
spell cost reduction and also fulfills his intellectual curiosity as he traverses the
land studying the many plants and insects of Skyrim and their magical properties;
effects highly useful to him such as fortify/restore/regenerate magicka, invisibility,
paralysis, restore health, resist fire, weakness to elements, and fortify magic school.
For combat, control the battlefield with your Illusion spells and then summon
demons and dead bodies to join the fray. Once all the attention has been shifted
away from you feel free to casually toss around Destruction spells at your leisure.
Alchemy opens up a lot of great effects for the build. In particular I find the skill
is underrated in Mage builds despite being traditionally a Magic skill. Stock up
on Restore Magicka potions, especially early/midgame when your cost reduction
isn’t very strong yet. Powerful effects like Invisibility and Paralysis are available
straight out of Helgen, provided you know where to look. Potions that fortify your
spell schools squeeze out even more productivity from your spells, with Fortify
Destruction an invaluable effect as it is the only manner in which you can increase
the potency of Destruction spells once the augmentation perks are taken. Weakness
to Fire/Shock poisons are also invaluable and stack nicely with Fortify Destruction
potions. Carry around a dagger for poison application only. You are a proud and
haughty wizard and have little use for weapons or close range combat.
Shouts should be collected as they are another extension of your wizard’s magical
prowess. The most useful are Unrelenting Force and Ice Form as they serve as
excellent crowd control and keep enemies from getting too close. The irony of a
racist, xenophobic Dark Elf wizard as the ancient Nord hero is not lost on you, so
take great joy in arrogantly displaying your Thu’um to every Nord you come across.
Make completing the College of Winterhold a top priority, not only for the crucial
Archmage Robes at the end of the questline, but also the nice rewards for mages
along the way. House Telvanni may have had a mortal feud with the Mage’s Guild in
Cyrodiil, but the College has no affiliation with the disbanded guild, and where else
would a Dunmer wizard study in Skyrim?
Early game can be a little rough for this build as you are forced to use primarily
Novice spells since higher level spells will be prohibitively expensive. This is where
Magical Staves come in! I feel like few players really appreciate their usefulness,
and for the Telvanni Mage low on magic and an in a bind they are invaluable They
grant us access to powerful spell effects and no Telvanni Mage Lord is ever seen
very far from their treasured staves. The Staff of Jyrik Gaulderson is a reward for
the first College quest, a Staff of Paralysis can be found in Snapleg Cave, and The
Skull of Corruption following an early visit to Dawnstar (and stealing people’s
dreams to power an evil staff seems right up your alley).
The Atronach Forge in the Midden underneath the College of Winterhold should also
be an early destination. Summoning staves can be made with mundane materials
Staff of Flame Atronach: Broom, Fire Salts, Corundum Ingot, Greater (or higher)
Staff of Frost Atronach: Broom, Frost Salts, Refined Moonstone, Greater (or higher)
Staff of Storm Atronach: Broom, Void Salts, Orichalcum Ingot, Greater (or higher)
In fact, the Atronach Forge should be your prime handout spot for most of your
playthrough. It’s the perfect place for a Telvanni to set up a lab and experiment with
the items that can be summoned from Oblivion: staves, scrolls, spell tomes, black
soul gems, daedra hearts, and of course Daedric Gauntlets and Boots to enchant and
wear with your robes, Divayth Fyr style.
In addition to the College questline, make sure to complete any quest that involves
the search for and acquisition of mysterious and lost knowledge, particularly if
it is of a darker nature. College sidequests like Arniel’s Endeavor and Shalidor’s
Insights. Hermaeus Mora’s quest is perfect and literally screams Telvanni In fact,
all of the Daedric quests should be completed. Many of the Telvanni wizards liked
to decorate their towers with Daedric artifacts and you should be no exception. If
you’ve never gotten the Oblivion Walker achievement, now is the time.
For players with Dawnguard, Lost to the Ages is also an exceptional quest for
this character. Searching for lost Dwemer cities by parsing through old research
notes, solving dangerous riddles in the quest for a secret and ancient material of
incomprehensible magical power? Yes please. For your reward, be sure to pick up
the Aetherial Staff. Now you can add Dwarven automatons to your list of summons.
Perfect too since your House Telvanni Stronghold in Morrowind had Dwemer
Centurions guarding the entrance
You will obviously want to do the Distant Memories quest as it illuminates the fatal
fall of your House. Feel free to be massively disappointed by the “final” heir to
House Telvanni, Brand Shei, and I rather enjoyed tormenting him with Fear spells
as punishment for his pitiful lack of magical prowess and horrible representation of
Brelyna Maryon is the only acceptable follower, as it seems she is also a de facto
member of the dismantled House Telvanni. Feel free to treat her as your lowly
research aide and instruct her to carry your books, fetch your potions, and serve as
a meat shield distraction while you cast Invisibility. Since most Telvanni love their
solitude, she may be better off serving as your Steward back home where she can
guard your prodigious book collection, potion stockpile, and hoard of useful dead
Never forget that you have an ego the size of Vvardenfell and make sure this shines
through in all of your roleplaying choices. Other characters don’t exist to you unless
they can serve some purpose: a body to thrall, a soul to extract. If anybody does
try to talk to you, be as terse and rude as possible. Tell the Companions that their
existence is a waste of time, point out to the aspiring mage that his ineptitude is
painfully obvious to you etc. All radiant quests should be promptly denied unless it
promises some unique benefit to you.
The Telvanni were staunch defenders of the Dunmer right to own slaves, so by all
means treat Khajiit and Argonians as second-class citizens and unworthy of your
presence. In fact, once you have brushed up on the lore since your absence, all
Argonians are your mortal enemies. Soul trap and murder them and then thrall
their naked bodies and parade them through the streets to show that you mean
Many of the Telvanni possess eccentric behaviors and you should choose a quirk
for your character, such as an obsession with a certain useless clutter like bowls,
cabbage, or linen wraps. Be sure to act rashly and display an enormous and
unpredictable temper at the most trivial events.
With the new DLC only hours away we are likely in store for some juicy additions
to a Telvanni build. Mushroom towers are already confirmed in the trailer as
well as Hermaeus Mora’s realm. The Apocrypha, described as an endless library
of “forbidden” knowledge haunted by ghosts sounds like a Telvanni’s favorite place
to explore and acquire new knowledge and powers. New spells are likely also in
store, most likely including more summons. Who knows, we might get really lucky
and be able to join some version of House Telvanni, loot unique Telvanni equipment,
or even build our very own mushroom tower! I will continue to update the build as
I play through Dragonborn in the next couple of days and will also be added special
moves in the near future.