List of the Races of Skyrim
Guide to Racial Bonus Stats and Special Abilities
This guide serves to list and provide strategies for the various races in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. You'll see what each race looks like, their starting skill bonuses, special abilities, and racial passives. I'll suggest how each might be used, and note my favorite passive bonuses to give you some help choosing a race.
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 Lockpicking, +5 Alteration, Restoration, Light Armor, Pickpocket, and Sneak
Racial Perks: +50% Resist Disease, Waterbreathing, better Unarmed damage
Special Abilities - Histskin: Health regenerates 10x faster for 60 seconds. Usable once per day.
Strategies for Playing as an Argonian: Argonians are suited to thief-type play, being better at lockpicking from the start. It's a skill that normally takes a bit longer to level, so this is a welcome bonus. Otherwise, their bonuses are a bit spread out. They're not a great race to play unless you'll lean heaviliy on those thief skills, but in that case will need to decide between this Race or Khajiit. Both have a bonus to unarmed damage, though Khajiit are better at this and have a more focused set of bonus skills. Water-breathing has limited usefulness in Skyrim. Diseases can be a nuisance, so picking Argonian may lead to some more care-free play. You're less likely to become a vampire or get an annoying disease that lowers your carrying capacity or skills.
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 Conjuration, +5 Alteration, Illusion, Restoration, Alchemy, and Speech
Racial Perks: +25% Resist Magic
Special Abilities - Dragonskin: 50% chance to absorb all damage and gain the full Magicka cost of any hostile spells that hit your character for 60 seconds, usable once per day.
Strategies for Playing as a Breton: Bretons can get the highest Magic Resistance in Skyrim. This powerful resist affects all spell damage of any element, and combines with elemental resistances to absorb more damage. Breton make natural summoners, and their conjured allies can help tank for them while they sling spells. This is a good all-around caster, but the Magic Resistance and bonus to Speech and Alchemy makes the Breton Race capable in any role. The best offense is a good defense, as they say.
Race: Dark Elf
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 Destruction, +5 Alteration, Illusion, Alchemy, Light Armor, and Sneak
Racial Perks: +50% Resist Fire
Special Abilities - Ancestor's Wrath: Any enemies in melee range will take 8 points of fire damage each second for 60 seconds. Usable once per day.
Strategies for Playing as a Dark Elf: Dark elves make excellent casters, and get the most useful resistance type aside from generic Magic Resistance. Ancestor's Wrath counts as a fire shield spell, and does not stack with other shield spells. Use this while running around melee opponents and casting short-range destruction spells for maximum effect. Melee opponents will have a hard time hitting you this way, and take damage from your spells and the shield every moment you're around. This is an active and effective offense early in the game.
Race: High Elf
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 Illusion, +5 Alteration, Conjuration, Destruction, Enchanting, and Restoration
Racial Perks: +50 Maximum Magicka
Special Abilities - Highborn: Magicka regenerates 25x faster for 60 seconds. Usable once per day.
Strategies for Playing as a High Elf: Any playstyle that will lean heavily on magic will benefit from being a High Elf. The +50 Magicka bonus is huge, offering 5 levels worth of reward in one racial bonus. Combine that with Highborn, used right before you initiate combat, and you'll have a load of Magicka at your disposal to dish major damage to your enemies. This is incredibly helpful when facing a dragon or a room full of angry monsters. A good all-around choice unless you're making a pure warrior.
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 Restoration, +5 Block, Heavy Armor, One-handed Weapons, Destruction, and Enchanting
Racial Perks: The Imperial Luck passive ability, which gives extra gold any time you find some
Special Abilities - Voice of the Emperor: Calms all nearby humanoids for 60 seconds, once per day
Strategies for Playing as an Imperial: The Imperial race caters to any playstyle. Getting a bonus to restoration will help either a caster or fighter to heal themselves and allies. Their racial perk is an interesting one. Any time you find gold coins in a treasure chest or as loot on a dead creature's corpse, you'll find anywhere from 2-10 more coins, meaning the minimum gold you'll find from most sources is increased. This is a big percent bonus early in the game, though it weakens later on when the gold piles' average size increases. Voice of the Emperor affects humanoids of any kind, and allows you to stop combat for 60 seconds even against high level opponents.
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 Sneak, +5 Archery, One-handed Weapons, Alchemy, Lockpicking, and Pickpocket
Racial Perks: Claws, which do extra damage (+12) in unarmed combat. This effect does stack with Heavy Armor's Fists of Steel, adding the bracer's armor rating to the punch.
Special Abilities - Night Eye: Improves night vision for 60 seconds, usable multiple times each day unlike other powers.
Strategies for Playing as a Khajiit: Khajiit are the master thieves of Skyrim. They have a heavy bonus to sneak, which facilitates both sneak attacks, slipping by your foes unnoticed and pickpocketing. The race is a master of Unarmed combat. They'll do 12 extra damage when wielding no weapon, which actually makes going weaponless more sensible than actually using one in the early game. Your reach will suffer, but the damage is comparatively huge. You can boost this further by going with the Fists of Steel perk from Heavy Armor, though that Khajiit is not nearly as stealthy it will be exceptional at brawling in Skyrim's Inns. Overall, you're better off using that amazing sneak skill with a dagger for a 15x sneak attack bonus.
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 Two-handed Weapons, +5 Block, One-handed Weapons, Smithing, Light Armor, and Speech
Racial Perks: +50% Frost Resistance
Special Abilities - Battle Cry: Makes all targets nearby flee for 30 seconds. Usable once per day, considered a hostile action to NPCs.
Strategies for Playing as a Nord: Nord can use their skills to make a very easy build to play, wielding a two-handed weapon they are skilled at blocking with, wearing light armor for mobility, smithing their own armor and selling at higher prices with the Speech skill. It's a really simple but effective build, that could swap out any of its components for something else. The passive Frost Resistance they get helps against many dragons and some of Skyrim's nastier monsters. Battle Cry can let you scare off enemies to regenerate stamina, scatter them and take them out separately or let you escape with your life. Overall, a good race for a Warrior but poor as a caster compared to other Races.
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 Heavy Armor, +5 Block, One-handed Weapons, Smithing, Two-handed Weapons, and Enchanting
Racial Perks: None!
Special Abilities - Berserker Rage: Deal double damage while taking half for 60 seconds. Usable once per day.
Strategies for Playing as an Orc: I consider Breton the best race for their Magic Resistance, which makes them great multitaskers, but Orcs are masters at being a big mean Warrior. Go with a two-hander or sword and shield, and you're set to make and enchant weapons a little better than other Races. Their racial ability is one you will use fairly often, though it does not affect spell damage offensively or defensively. Berserker Rage does archery and melee damage both dealt and received. Use this to get a dragon down fast, facing bosses of any kind, or when you need to clear a room full of melee opponents. It's the best racial special ability in Skyrim by far. Orcs start with access to all Orc Strongholds upon starting the game, while other Races must do a quest to gain entry. This gives you access to shopkeepers and trainers other Races have to work to be able to use.
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 One-handed Weapons, +5 Archery, Block, Smithing, Alteration, and Destruction
Racial Perks: +50% Poison Resistance
Special Abilities - Adrenaline Rush: Regenerate Stamina 10x faster for 60 seconds. Usable once per day.
Strategies for Playing as a Redguard: While Redguard start with a nice weapon bonus, they do not really shine at anything in particular. The Poison Resistance is weak and not as helpful as others, and while Adrenaline Rush is good you can easily use Stamina Potions to accomplish the same. I'd stay away from this Race.
Race: Wood Elf
Starting Skill Bonuses: +10 Archery, +5 Alchemy, Light Armor, Lockpicking, Pickpocket, and Sneak
Racial Perks: +50% Disease and Poison Resistance
Special Abilities - Command Animal: Forces an Animal to fight for you for 60 seconds. Usable once per day.
Strategies for Playing as a Wood Elf: Wood Elves are the best Archers in Skyrim, but mainly thanks to the starting bonus. A Khajiit can do just as well, given Sneak should be used with Archery. Their Disease and Poison resistance will come in handy in many many situations, as combined they're seen heavily in the game. Command Animal can affect even high level animals like Mammoths and cause them to turn on their allies. Remember to put down your buddy when the effect wears off.
Redguard is my personal opinion, as is most of this strategy guide. I'm a little bored by that race's bonus and feel there are better to be chosen for a warrior. When playing Skyrim, I would often use many skills and not be overly concerned about sticking to one character archetype (warrior, mage, thief). I never felt that race choice was too important to the success of my character, and I played the game on high difficulty which puts you in a position of conservation for survival. You can excel at anything with any race choice, but some bonuses are better than others. This list is meant to show more detail than Skyrim does when it comes time to pick a race and it does seem to accomplish that.
Your comment may make others think differently on the Redguard and realize they can make great warriors, so thanks for sharing your input.