The massive world of Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim features 18 separate skills of various levels of importance. They are leveled through use. The idea is to reward you for skills you use often in the game -- practice makes perfect and all that. This allows you to create a very unique character based on what you actually do as opposed to what you'd like to do. If you play the game honestly, you should organically end up with a character that reflects your playstyle. So, if you sneak around a lot, you'll get better at not being seen. With a game this complex, though, the opportunity to boost skills artificially is just too tempting for some players to ignore.
Back in the days of pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons, when a player took advantage of loopholes in the massive rule-set to create artificially powerful characters, they were called "Munchkins" and drew the ire of DMs and other players alike. They didn't exactly cheat, but they did take advantage. So it is with Skyrim skill exploits. You can can stay within the letter of the Skyrim law but ignore its spirit, and artificially level most of the game's 18 skills, without any kind of hacking. I don't know if the techniques detailed below are technically cheating, but it's a one-player game, so knock yourself out, and level up your skills artificially with the guide below.
One thing before you start: Over-leveling single skills can really skew the Skyrim's monsters' auto-generated difficulty levels, potentially leading to some very difficult, unbalanced encounters, so be aware.
With this in mind, please enjoy the following guide to legitimately and illegitimately boosting your Skyrim skills.
- One Handed, Two-Handed, Sneak : You can start "cheating" your one-handed, two-handed and sneak skills almost immediately upon entering the world of Skyrim. Once you've escaped the initial dragon attack, your guide (Hadvar or Ralof) will stop along the path when you run into a bear. The dude can't be killed, so feel free to wail away on him with your dagger, sword, axe or mace. He'll complain, but won't be hurt, and you can feel free to boost that score as high as you'd like. You can also stealth out behind him and attack to level your "Sneak" skill too. I probably don't have to tell you how cheap this tactic is, but it works.
- Light armor, Heavy Armor and Block: As far as I know, there's no real way to "cheat" these skills, so you'll have to level them the way the game intends--either through combat, paying trainers or finding training books. When leveling these defensive skills, keep in mind: The amount you move the leveling needle depends on how much damage you take during a hit, not how many times you are hit. So letting yourself be bitten by a mudcrab 8 million times isn't a good way to level up. Instead, it's best to let yourself get pummeled by high level monsters who have high damage outputs. So, get your armor number up as far as possible, then go bother a giant. Make sure you're prepared for some massive blows, though... you don't want to get one-shotted. Alternatively, you can not worry about it. Who wants to get better at getting hit? As for Block, you can tape down the block button and walk away from the controller, no really.
- Sneak: Sneak is fairly easy to level in semi-legitimate ways. My suggestion: Find a crowded urban area, crouch down and skulk around. Skyrim seems to reward you with skill experience every time you are successfully not spotted, so the more people not seeing you, the faster your sneak is leveled, even if the people not seeing you are friends. If you want to get shady, sneak behind a stationary barmaid, walk backwards into the wall, and keep leveling "sneak" until you get bored. Alternatively, you can sneak near the bear at the very beginning of the game.
- Alteration, Restoration: Here's a cool little exploit that takes advantage of Skyrim's dual-spell-wielding mechanic. Set the spell Equilibrium on one hand (you can pick it up from the mage in Whiterun) and a healing spell on the other hand. Equilibrium converts Health to Magicka. Healing converts Magicka to Health. Both skills get leveled up. It doesn't come out exactly even, so you may have to rest occasionally, or mess around with gear that gives Magicka or Health boosts, but the idea is the same.
- Smithing: This is another Skyrim skill that doesn't seem to have a boosting exploit, so you'll have to do the legwork to get this one up to par. The fastest way to get this skill up is to take advantage of the many animals that attack you in Skyrim. Skin 'em. Make the skin into leather and leather straps. Make that into leather armor. Sell. Repeat. The same for iron or steel. Find bars, make daggers.
- Lockpicking: There is no way to cheat this skill up that I've found, although Skyrim does provide lots of locked cases and doors to level up your skill. There is also the Skeleton Key, an unbreakable lockpick, gained through completing Thieves Guild quests. Once you have that, it's a matter of just finding enough locks to pick. Skyrim's museums are good choices, as the display cases are locked. Try the Dwemer Museum for many, many cases. Personally, I wouldn't spend valuable perk points in th lockpicking tree. Once you get the skeleton key, making lock-picking easier doesn't make much sense.
- Enchanting: Here's a great way to max out enchanting and make money in the process. (Disclosure: I saw it on Gamefaqs.com) 1) Get a ton of cheap weapons. Loot all corpses for dagger, pick them up from vendors, etc. 2) Got to Whiterun and buy every filled soul gem from the wizard. 3) Use his enchanting table to add the "Banish" spell to all your cheap weapons. 4) Sell them back to the Whiterun wizard. 5) When he runs out of money, wait a couple days, then do the whole thing again. Before long, your enchanting and wallet should be fat.
- Alchemy: Here's another awesome tip from Gamefaqs.com. Finding ingredients for potions can be time consuming, so Go to Whiterun, where two enchanting shops are across the street from each other. Buy out every ingredient. Make potions. Sell potions back to shopkeepers -- you should make a good profit here. Wait a few days for the stores to re-stock, then repeat. Alchemy and cash at once! If you want to be really devious, break into Alchemy shops and steal the raw ingredients you need.
- Speech: The easiest way to level speech is through transactions with vendors. Your speech skill is boosted for each individual item sold, so never sell more than one of anything at a time. The best items to sell: Daggers. Go to a blacksmith. Buy the ingredients to make daggers. Craft as many as you can. Then, sell them back one at a time. If you really want to level as many skills as possible, enchant each dagger as well. Money, speech, blacksmithing and enchanting are all leveled up at once!
- Pickpocket: The best way to level this one is to just steal a lot. Keep in mind: The heavier and more valuable an item is, the easier it is to get caught boosting it. Here's another trick: Find the pickpocket trainers--Ahkari Dawnstar in Windhelm (Journeyman), Silda the Unseen in Windhelm (Expert), and Vipir the Fleet of the Thieves Guild (Master) -- and buy some training. Then, immediately use your new pickpocketing skill to steal your own money back. Then, train again. There is truly no honor among thieves.
- Archery: Before you say "Hire the companion who teaches archery, pay him and get your gold back!" this won't work any more, as of the 12/01 patch. But here's another sneaky archery exploit: If you complete the Dark Brotherhood quests, you will be rewarded with a fine horse from hell, Windmere. Windmere has a lot of health, and it regenerates very, very quickly, so you can lay into him with as many arrows as you'd like. Your loyal steed won't even attack you back. This is a terrible thing to do to your horse, but a great way to level your archery.
- Illusion: Buy the spell "Muffle" from basically any magic vendor. Then, cast it a lot. That's really all you need to do for this one. It works with Clairvoyance as well, but that spell uses a lot more Magicka.
- Conjuration: Get hold of the spell "Soul Trap." Then, kill something. Doesn't matter what. A mudcrab will work. Then, stand over its corpse and case this spell as many times as you can. Wait an hour for the Magicka to refill, and do it again. Easy peasy.
- Destruction: This is a super-double-cheesed out way to max out Destruction, via this Youtube video. It works like this: Early in the "Companions" quest line, you're tasked with fighting a Companion using weapons and not magic. Ignore this request, and load up a destruction spell on each hand. Blast him with magic. He won't pull out a weapon, but still counts as a "hostile," so your skill raises without danger.
- Restoration: Here's a trick you should never try in real life: Find a fire trap in a dungeon. There are a lot of them. Ready a healing spell. Then, stand on the pressure plate and allow the flames to overtake you. Heal yourself as the flames take your health. The only danger is in running out of magicka and accidentally burning to death.
I hope you enjoyed this guide, and I can't help but some (all?) of these various exploits get patched in the future... but until then, go to town, you Munchkins.