Fallout 3: Basic Leveling Guide

SPOILER ALERT: This guide covers some of the early quests, but doesn't reveal any critical story elements. Proceed with caution!

Whether you're unaccustomed to this crazy RPG business of stat-chi-ma-call-its and skill dongles, you're a bit rusty after years without a new Fallout to play, or you just want to design the most badassiest character ever, this guide will gently push you and your character in the right direction. You don't need a full walkthrough, just someone to put you in the right direction. That's why I suffered through hours and hours of low-level mudsuckery to determine exactly how to make sure you're not flailing around at level 10 with a master lockpicker who can't kill a regular sized ant, never mind a giant one (though honestly, it would be pretty difficult to make a completely useless character).

Since games like Fallout 3 tend to strongly divide players on strategy, if you vehemently disagree with any of my advice, feel free to let it be known in the comments.

Above: The magestic Wasteland

Quick Tips

• You always want to start with a high intelligence, as this affects the number of skill points you’ll receive when you level up.
• Don’t begin with any of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats set to 10 – there is a +1 Bobblehead for every stat, you just have to find it.
• If you’re super serious about your stats, set your Intelligence to 9 (which saves one point for another stat), and as soon as you think you can make it, run to Rivet City and grab the Intelligence Bobblehead.
• If you don’t intend to use melee weapons or practice hand-to-hand combat, you don’t have to worry much about your Strength stat. The only other thing it affects is how much you can carry, but it isn’t tough to find a follower to carry your stuff for you.
• Always take the Educated (gives you three extra skill points when you level up) and Comprehension (gives you 2, instead of 1, skill points when you read a book) perks.
• You will thank yourself for not ignoring medicine and repair.
• Always choose a primary combat method and bring that skill up to 50 quickly – I recommend Small Guns, but Energy Weapons, Melee, and Unarmed also work.
• Get either science or lockpicking up to 25 quickly, it will make your life easier. Lockpick is especially useful for finding ammo and scoring some quick experience.
• I know it’s sort of cheating, but once Speech is up to a respectable level (25ish), you don’t have to worry about it too much. If you save just before attempting to persuade someone, you can reload and retry it as many times as you like.

S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Breakdown

Your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats affect certain attributes (such as your hit points) as well as various skills.

At 1, a S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat affects its associated skills by two points. This effect is increased by two for each subsequent stat number.  For example, a Perception of 1 adds two skill points to the Energy Weapons skill, a Perception of 2 adds four, a Perception of 3 adds six, and so on. The only exception to this rule is the Luck stat, which increases all of your skills a little bit. If your luck is 1 or 2, it increases all skills by one, 2 or 3 and it increases all skills by two, 4 or 5 and it increases all skills by three, and so on.

Affects how much you can carry, how much damage you deal in hand-to-hand combat, and your Melee Weapons skill.

Affects how early threat markers will appear on your compass, the Energy Weapons skill, the Lockpick skill, and the Explosives skill.

Affects the number of HP you start with, the Big Guns skill, and the Unarmed skill. The HP breakdown is as follows:

1: 120HP
2: 140HP
3: 160HP
4: 180HP
5: 200HP
6: 220HP
7: 240HP
8: 260HP
9: 280HP
10: 300HP

Affects people’s disposition toward you, and your Barter and Speech skills.

Affects the number of skill points you receive when you level, and the Medicine, Repair, and Science skills. An Intelligence of 1 offers 11 skill points per level. This number increases by 1 for each level of Intelligence, so an Intelligence of two gives you 12 skill points per level, an Intelligence of 3 gives you 13 skill points, and so on up to 10, which gives you 20 skill points per level.

Affects your total number of Action Points (used by V.A.T.S.) and the Small Guns and Sneak skills. At 1 Agility, you are allotted 67 Action Points, and this number increases by 2 for each subsequent Agility level, for a maximum of 85 Action Points at 10 Agility.

Luck increases all skills slightly, and increases your chance of a critical hit. The critical hit chance begins at 1% with 1 Luck, and increases by one for each level of Luck, for a maximum of 10% at 10 Luck.

On the next page: Level 1!


  • AerialUchiha - December 9, 2014 7:03 a.m.

    I'm aware that this is now a 5 year old guide, but is there a version that also includes Strategies for the Broken Steel add on? With that you get more leeway with the skill points due to the added 10 levels, and intense training isn't needed due to the 'almost perfect' perk
  • DWall - March 13, 2011 1:23 a.m.

    i did exactly what he was talkin bout and it works great. i dont use energy weapons at all. i love the game though. just wish it was longer lol.
  • lostabyss - December 7, 2010 6:54 a.m.

    i made an account just to say this. if you want to play the game just to have some fun, i would highly reccomend unarmed and bloody mess. I made my first character unarmed, lockpick, and medicine, focusing on str, and end of course. It just never gets old to make somebody explode after a few punches. With the right spec, you basically need to make a badass tank that does some nice damage. The companion often makes a nice distraction, but when i had clover she died too often. So unarmed is just as viable an option as any other weapon class. And if i remember correctly, i think muties took me 2 punches, and brutes took roughly 5 at level 12ish.
  • rockduda - November 20, 2010 10:16 p.m.

    opps not put but but
  • rockduda - November 20, 2010 10:14 p.m.

    im level 10 it was not easy put it is more more harder to level up i am thinking of using gliches to level up but i dont wont to what should i do p.s i am not in it to play just to have fun :)
  • dav1337 - June 11, 2010 6:52 a.m.

    obviously you people have never tried playing a melee or unarmed character, you dont just run up with your fists like lordkemo makes it sound. unarmed is extremely powerful if you are a sneaky character (same goes for melee). if you do it right its absolutely deadly. paralyzing palm is a good perk when sneaking and then you can put on your deathclaw gauntlet which increases your crit chance and cuts through ALL armor, so it hits a giant super mutant as hard as it would hit a molerat.. with the right perks, skills, and SPECIAL melee characters are on par with ranged if used right
  • pipboy658 - April 28, 2010 5:19 p.m.

    oh n i had 50,000, heres how u do it. any enclave people u kill, take their gun n sell it. if u have mothership zeta then get all alien atomizers coz they only weigh 2 n all drone cannons (drone cannons sell around 1,000 caps each)! other than thatt just look 4 valuaable guns.
  • pipboy658 - April 28, 2010 5:16 p.m.

    i might use this way, ive started this game again so many times but i stuck with one guy n he was AMAZING! he was lvl 30, i had around 15,000 bullets for my xaulong assault rifle, the special power armor from anchorige, the almost perfect perk n all bobble heads except the energy one from raven rock cause i missed it :(. i completed all side quests and main quest line. 1 of every gun (and special guns. i killed all behemoths. bought everything for my house n pre war theme lolz! i found every location on map (not explorer perk) coz i like wandering around, i use my alien disintergrator! oh n my biggest ever achievement i ever did was carry the dead alien from the crash site all the way to tenpenny tower to keep the homeless guy company! (it took me 4 hours) now thats dedication.
  • MyGameName - March 28, 2010 4:58 a.m.

    With the Broken Steel expansion, you can get 100% SPECIAL. Just hold off getting the SPECIAL bobble heads (except for INT) until Level 30 and take Nearly Perfect. It will pop you up to 9 on all of the SPECIAL stats except for any 10's. Thus only get Bobble heads when you have 9 in a stat. Also, drop the Luckey 8 ball before taking the perk/getting the bobble head. You'll lose the 1 point Luck Bonus.
  • lonelyassassin996 - February 19, 2010 2:41 p.m.

    good guide, found it very useful on my 2nd character, but u really do need high speech, mine's 100 and it just makes the game easier.
  • Dem776 - January 4, 2010 6:42 p.m.

    for anyone who has the game of the year edition doing the add-on quests is a good way to go up levels especially the mother-ship zeta mission, plus you get some really good guns, the operation anchorage is also good.
  • Slayer423 - December 22, 2009 6:21 p.m.

    i was on Google and their said if you beat the game with good karma you'll be able to keep playing like in the oblivion games?
  • WickedghosT - October 20, 2009 11:12 p.m.

    your guide is alright I just checked it out too see if caught anything I didn't but you did a good job. Everyone should really listen too putting int. up too 9 in special's and grab the rivit city bobble. I have 2 lvl 30's and a 28 im just messing with I wanted too make a ninja for fun. But nice tip on the speech tip and using your followers as pack mules,dogmeat can carry too. I use the save and restart too keep them alive sometimes,can't have them dying on me. But I love this game.. get the bobbles as soon as u can..
  • MrKwantos - December 10, 2008 4:29 p.m.

    My special setup at the beginning is this: S 6 P 6 E 6 C 1 I 9 A 6 L 6 First thing i did was running to Rivet city, claiming my Intelligence Bobblehead, so i got 10 Intelligence. Now you 'll recieve (up to level 20) a total number of 427 skill points. (19 + 20 + 20 + 16 x 23 = 427, 19 because your intel is 9 and there is no way you can get the Bobblehead before going to level 2) Now you got about 33 points for eacht stat. This will allow you to take every skill to level 50. Now you also have different tag skills and perks to boost it, so you can easily say, you could get 65 of each skill. besides, you also got the "Skill Bobbleheads", improving your stats to 75. Now you also have a huge amount of books (25 for every skill, except barter which has 24), so that would make your skill 100, without using Comprehension. I would would personally always pick Comprehension as a perk. It still gives you a nice boost at reading books. Finding 13 books is always better then 25. **Note** If you really want to max out your stats, just make sure you take the Educated perk at level 4 and the Comprehension perk at level 5.
  • Mr_Monkey - December 10, 2008 2:12 p.m. type this as the adress and download
  • Mr_Monkey - December 7, 2008 1:11 p.m.

    Level 20 is the maximum level. Unless you find the mod which lets you level up to level 30-40
  • gabe.caso - December 6, 2008 5:17 p.m.

    I seem to be stuck at level 20 and cant level up anymore . What am I doing wrong ?
  • grimknight75 - November 28, 2008 2:15 a.m.

    liberty prime VS fawkes prime wins one shot :(
  • jick6 - November 23, 2008 5:17 a.m.

    Umm one thing I might add (I'm on the 4th page right now) is that, well... The Caravans actually aren't that hard to rob. I robbed Lucky Harith AND that WolfGang guy at Level 2. (On Normal mode) The trick is to get a good melee weapon or explosive and hit their Caravan Guard with it right away, while their not suspicious of you. The caravan salesman is weaker than their guard anyway. Crow is particularly easy to rob. In my data, (maybe it was a glitch?), he didn't fight back. I don't think he has a weapon, but he tried to run. By that time I had Dogmeat and Clover though, so I didn't really have to chase him down.
  • Jackyboo - November 21, 2008 4:01 p.m.

    My first character was a goody goody with amazing gun skills but little else, as I failed to make him good at lockpicking or repairing. My second character is a proper bad-boy now, and can use 1 stimpak to heal what 3 stimpaks would heal on my previous character. Thanks for the guide, it's a shame you didnt put in how important medicine is though (a medicine skill of 75 and 10 stimpaks makes you practically invincible) but thanks for telling me the importance of repair and small guns. Thanks.

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