From Riften to Solitude, Skyrim is rife with opportunities to make new friends and forge connections. Assassin's guilds, armies, institutes of learning — the game has them all. As players make their way through the world, they must decide which factions will be most useful and best suit the character they're roleplaying.
Some of these factions and guilds provide the Dragonborn with huge advantages, and have compelling storylines that immerse the player in the world. Others, meanwhile, feel bland and boring — or have core philosophies that just don't sit right. Here's a list of every faction the player can join, ranked from worst to best.
Updated June 23, 2021 by Demaris Oxman: Despite being a decade old, players still flock to the world of Skyrim. And, just the same as when it first released, the game's factions remain part of what draws players to the game. Each of these helps build the world, making it feel more real. Furthermore, each faction's vetting process is unique — some accept anyone with open arms, while others are more exclusive. With that in mind, this updated ranking of Skyrim's guilds includes steps on how to join each one.
11 The Bards' College
Skyrim's Bards' College storyline (if it can even be called a storyline) feels like wasted potential. A few errand quests here and there, a brief festival event, and that's it. There's none of the wild romp that players expected from this guild.
Even though the player is technically considered a bard after joining this faction, they gain no new skills to demonstrate this. Bard Dragonborns can't play instruments, nor sing to a tavern. An entertainment-based Power would have been a great reward for the main Bards' College quest; alas, none exists.
How To Join
- Speak to Viarmo at the Bard's College in Solitude, and undertake his quest to find King Olaf's verse.
- Help Viarmo "reconstruct" the missing parts of the verse, and accompany him to present it to Elisif. The choices in reconstructing the verse will not affect the outcome.
- Attend the Burning of King Olaf festival event.
10 The Blades
Delphine and Esbern have noble goals, but they're shortsighted and militant. Furthermore, fully joining the Blades requires killing Paarthunax, the wise, kind old dragon who leads the Greybeards. After "Season Unending," Delphine will refuse any service to the Dragonborn until this deed is done.
Though she provides helpful guidance in the first few main quests, Delphine's self-righteous attitude starts to grate on many players—especially when she demands Paarthunax's death. Considering the Blades don't do too much for the player anyway, most don't consider this a worthy sacrifice.
How To Join
- Follow the main questline through Season Unending. These quests will take the Dragonborn to Sky Haven Temple, where Delphine will introduce the Blades.
- After the quest "Season Unending," Delphine will ask the player to kill Paarthunax.
- Kill Paarthunax and report back to Delphine.
9 The Greybeards
Even though killing Paarthunax leaves a bad taste in some players' mouths, the Greybeards aren't much better even if he's left alive. They're the opposite extreme from the Blades, refusing to take action even when they could save lives.
Remaining loyal to the Greybeards allows the Dragonborn to visit Paarthunax and meditate on Words of Power, making their shouts more powerful. However, they're not a very interesting bunch. They don't have quests or side stories associated with them like other factions do, making these old monks a bit dull.
How To Join
- Follow the main questline, in which the Greybeards naturally play a role.
- Complete the main questline without killing Paarthunax.
8 The Stormcloaks
Though the Stormcloaks are fighting to preserve their way of life, they also have a nasty tendency towards racist nationalism. Some Stormcloak supporters simply want the freedom to worship Talos in peace. Others, however, want to see all non-Nords violently driven from their land.
Joining the Stormcloak army may be an important roleplaying choice for some. However, the quests tend to be a bit dull compared to other factions: Go to a location, kill several enemies, repeat. It's a good way to level up combat skills, but narratively underwhelming, which ranks them low among the game's factions.
How To Join
- Speak to Ulfric Stormcloak in Windhelm about joining the Stormcloak Army.
- Complete the test of strength by traveling to the island near the Serpent Stone in Winterhold, and slaying an ice wraith.
- Complete the quest "The Jagged Crown," and deliver the item to Ulfric.
7 The Imperial Legion
There's really no good side to pick in the Civil War. Though they claim to want unity, the Imperial Legion fights to stamp out religious freedom and Nordic traditions. As with the Stormcloak rebellion, some players may join the Legion as a roleplaying choice, but find themselves bored with the story.
The Legion doesn't seem to realize that they're nothing more than Thalmor puppets. Furthermore, just like fighting for the other side, the storyline isn't particularly engaging. The quests are more or less the same between the two sides.
How To Join
- Similar to the Stormcloak army, speak with General Tullius in Castle Dour in Solitude.
- Accept his quest and clear Fort Hraggstad of bandits.
- Complete "The Jagged Crown," delivering the spoils to Tullius.
6 The Companions
The Companions guild is a good way to build combat skills as a low-level player, with more narrative interest than the Civil War. However, at higher levels, the large number of radiant quests become tedious and dull.
Beast Form is an interesting power, and for some players, joining this guild is worth the werewolf transformation alone. Despite this, the questline leaves something to be desired. The story had potential for emotional impact, but it felt a bit rushed, making it one of the weaker subplots in the game.
How To Join
- Speak with Kodlak White-Mane in Jorrvaskr in Whiterun.
- Train outside with Vilkas. He will then ask the player to take a sword to Eorlund Gray-Mane, who in turn asks the Dragonborn to deliver a shield to Aela the Huntress. Complete these errand quests.
- The player will receive one more radiant quest, which can be anything from eliminating a dangerous animal to brawling with a random NPC.
- Return to Jorrvaskr for the initiation ceremony.
5 The Volkihar Clan
The Dawnguard DLC allows the player to pick sides in a war between mortals and vampires. If the Dragonborn sides with the latter faction, they join the Volkihar Clan, led by the abusive and overbearing Harkon.
Clan Volkihar's members are kind of one-note. They're all fairly bloodthirsty, believe they're above others, and are bored with the politics of Harkon's court (except those who want his throne). While playing through Dawnguard from a vampire's point of view is fascinating, the Volkihar Clan often feels stifling and creepy, leading to a slightly lower ranking.
How To Join
- Speak to Isran at Fort Dawnguard, and follow this questline until the player frees Serana from the crypt.
- Upon taking Serana to her home at Castle Volkihar, accept Lord Harkon's offer to transform the Dragonborn into a Vampire Lord.
4 The College of Winterhold
Most players wind up here in their hunt for an Elder Scroll, but get caught up in the story. With ancient artifacts, dragon priests, Thalmor spies, and a long-gone magical order, who could resist the intrigue?
Furthermore, the College is an incredible resource for mages. Not only is this guild home to powerful followers and trainers, it also possesses a multitude of tools. The Atronach Forge, the Arcaneum's library, and the items in the Arch-Mage's quarters turn the Dragonborn into an incomparable wizard.
How To Join
- Speak to Faralda, gatekeeper at the College. She will ask the Dragonborn to cast a spell of her choosing in order to prove their worth. If the player does not know the requested spell, Faralda will sell it for a low price.
- Alternatively, during the quest "Elder Knowledge," the player can reveal their identity as Dragonborn. Faralda will then ask them to demonstrate the Thu'um, upon which she will admit them to the College.
3 The Dawnguard
Though the Volkihar Clan's storied history may hold some macabre appeal, the Dawnguard has plenty of its own intrigue in its past. In its present iteration, Isran may be a little intense, but he's dedicated to protecting Skyrim and the whole of the world.
Furthermore, in addition to having powerful followers, this faction's members are some of the game's most delightful personalities. From Florentius' casual chats with Arkay, to Gunmar's brilliant idea to tame and outfit trolls, it's hard to grow bored among the Dawnguard.
How To Join
- Speak to Isran at Fort Dawnguard and ask to join his forces.
- Upon delivering Serana to Castle Volkihar, reject Lord Harkon's offer of vampirism.
2 The Thieves' Guild
For players who love to lurk in the shadows, there's no better faction than the Thieves' Guild. A code of honor among thieves governs these rogues, and the Dragonborn must use stealth and strength to rise through the ranks.
The questline surrounding the Guild is one of the most satisfying in the game. Betrayal, revenge, and redemption are its guiding themes, and its complex characters make for a powerful story. Its side quests remain interesting as well, as the player performs favors to build the Guild's influence throughout Skyrim.
How To Join
- Approach Brynjolf in the Riften marketplace. He will strike up a conversation, asking the player steal Madesi's silver ring from the strongbox beneath his stall, and place the ring in Brand-Shei's pocket.
- Upon agreeing, Brynjolf will begin a distraction. Use this time to complete his request.
- Whether the Dragonborn succeeds or fails, Brynjolf will tell the player to meet him in the Ragged Flagon in the Ratway. Players can make their way there to be accepted into the Guild.
1 The Dark Brotherhood
Despite questionable morals, this brethren of assassins has always been a favorite faction among Skyrim players. Each quest requires the Dragonborn to employ different strategies, keeping the game interesting. Its characters are lovably odd, from a 200-year-old vampire child to grumpy old Festus.
The story is also the least predictable of the game's subplots. Players experience multiple twists and finally reach a satisfying conclusion. Furthermore, of all guild questlines, the Dark Brotherhood has potentially the greatest impact on the world — and that's always rewarding in an RPG.
How To Join
- Speak to Aventus Aretino in Windhelm and accept his request to kill Grelod the Kind, mistress of the Honorhall Orphanage in Riften. This can be done in broad daylight without consequences.
- Go to sleep in a bed. Upon waking, the player will find themselves in an Abandoned Shack, where Astrid asks them to kill one of her prisoners.
- Kill any one (or all) of the prisoners. Astrid will then give the player the location and password to the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary in Falkreath Hold. Head there to join the faction.
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