Knowing what the best Skyrim factions and guilds to join are, or the benefits they offer isn't easy in a such a huge game. The groups you join in Skyrim can completely change and shape your adventure, as long as you can find them or meet their entry requirements. Obviously, though, if you're going to jump through hoops, it would be nice to know what's at stake. So we’ve got all the info on all the Skyrim factions and guilds to help you out - including locations, when you need to do to join, and the benefits of membership. So read up and decide if it's worth spending your time to pass their initiation tests.
LIGHT SPOILER WARNING: In order to give you an idea of whether or not each faction is worth joining, we’ve listed the rewards for completing each faction’s main questline. These rewards may contain very light spoilers, depending on how much you read into them. Also note that you can be a member of all factions simultaneously without any conflict, with the exception being the Imperials and Stormcloaks where you will have to pick a side.
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The Companions have set up shop in Jorrvaskr, the large hall found in the eastern part of Whiterun.
How to join
The Companions will probably be the first faction you discover. On your way to Whiterun you’ll encounter a few warriors fighting a giant. If you speak to one of these warriors after the fight, they’ll tell you about the Companions and suggest you speak to Kodlak Whitemane in Whiterun. Once you do that, you’ll be given the “Take Up Arms” quest. Engage Vilkas in a training exercise behind Jorrvaskr, making sure to use a physical weapon (or a bound weapon), because Vilkas won’t accept magic. Finish up this quest and the Achievement/Trophy will pop, signifying your initiation.
Once you’ve joined the Companions, you’ll have access to trainers who can help you level up in most of the warrior skills (archery, one-handed, two-handed, smithing, heavy armor, and block) in exchange for gold. You’ll also find some decent warrior-related equipment as you complete the main and side quests. Another important benefit is the eventual introduction to werewolves, and access to a sub-faction of the Companions called “The Circle” (see section below for details). As a member, you’ll gain the power to turn into a werewolf yourself.
By joining this faction you’ll earn the “Take Up Arms” Achievement/Trophy.
You’ll get a fairly powerful two-handed axe called Wuuthrad during the final main quest, provided you remember to grab it after you put in the hands of the statue. The damage output will scale up depending on the level and skill you are at when you obtain it. This axe is especially powerful against elves and can be enchanted. Finishing the main questline will also allow you to marry several of the Companions, if you wish.
The Underforge, a secret cave accessible through a secret entrance in the rocks near Jarrvaskr. You cannot enter the Underforge before taking on the quest involving it.
You’ll be able to transform into a werewolf once per day using a power listed as “Beastform.” In werewolf form you have more health, more stamina, more speed, greater strength, and can roar to make enemies flee. In exchange, you cannot loot, use spells, use items, or talk to anyone. You’ll also be attacked or feared by anyone who sees you (beware of silver), but any crimes you commit will not count against you once you’ve changed back. However, be careful not to be seen while transforming, as that does count as a serious crime. You can stay in wolf form for at least two and a half minutes - longer if you feed on corpses. Finally, once you join the circle you no longer get any benefit from being well rested.
By joining this faction you’ll earn the “Blood Oath” Achievement/Trophy.
How to join
The Circle is a sub-faction of the Companions. Once you’ve joined the Companions, continue through the main questline until you get to “The Silver Hand.” During this quest you will transform into a werewolf if you choose to do so. After your night on the town as a beast, talk to Aela and the achievement/trophy will pop.
The ability to transform into a kick-ass werewolf once per day. What more could you want?
The College of Winterhold
You can access the college from Winterhold, which can be found at the northeastern corner of Skyrim. You’ll eventually come across this location during the main storyline, but mage builds looking to level up quickly will want to make the journey early on in the game.
How to join
At the north end of Winterhold, there are some stone steps leading to the college. A Dunmer named Faralda will be there at first to greet you and block your path. Talk to her and tell her you want to join the college. She’ll then ask you to perform a magic spell to prove your worth. If at this point you don’t have any spells, she’ll sell you one for 30 gold. You can even convince her to accept you based on your shout. Once you’ve done what she asks, you’ll have access to the college and the Achievement/Trophy will pop.
Joining the college will give you access to full range of trainers in all the different types of magic. This is extremely beneficial once you have the gold to afford it. These trainers also sell spell books, either right off the bat or after certain faction-related quests. The main and side quests associated with the college will take you to areas where you can find some spell books and skill books, and the loot found is often mage-centric apparel or staffs.
By joining this faction you’ll earn the “Gatekeeper” Achievement/Trophy.
The reward for completing the main questline is the key to the Arch-Mage’s headquarters and the valuable Arch-Mage’s Robes. These robes increase your magicka by 50 points, reduce the cost of all spells by 15%, and boosts your magicka regeneration rate by 100%. This combined with the Morokei mask (which you can get during the Staff of Magnus quests and which also boosts your magicka regeneration rate by 100%) makes the rest of the game significantly easier for magic users. Finally, you’ll receive a permanent 10% discount when dealing with any vendors inside the college.
The Dark Brotherhood
The entrance to the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary is a black door in the southwest corner of Skyrim, just west of Falkreath. Unless you’ve completed the steps below, however, you won’t be able to open it.
Unlike some of the other factions, joining the Dark Brotherhood won’t give you access to many trainers. You’ll only be able to level up your Light Armor with Nazir and your Alchemy with Babette. However, immediately upon joining you’ll be given the fantastic Shrouded Armor set:
Shrouded Armor: 32 defense, increases poison resistance by 50%
Shrouded Boots: 9 defense, silences your movements
Shrouded Cowl: 14 defense, 20% boost to bow damage
Shrouded Gloves: 9 defense, doubles backstab damage
Carrying out the assassinations quietly will naturally increase many of your skills, though it requires you to have some skill already. Also, the Dark Brotherhood quests are usually just plain fun.
By joining this faction you’ll earn the “With Friends Like These” Achievement/Trophy.
How to join
There are several ways to get started with the Dark Brotherhood using only information heard from NPCs. You can speak to any innkeeper or bartender and ask for rumors or gossip. You can find Maul in Riften and persuade/intimidate/bribe him for info. You can go directly to Windhelm (your goal) and look for Idesa Sadri on the streets. The objective is to hear about a young boy named Aventus Aretino.
Alternatively, you can circumvent all of that by simply heading directly to the Aretino residence in Windhelm. Pick the lock on the front door, enter the house, and find Aventus upstairs. He’ll give you the “Innocence Lost” quest. After you’ve completed it, find a bed to sleep in, and you’ll be awoken by a member of the Dark Brotherhood.
After you’ve completed her task, exit the shack and head towards the sanctuary, which will now be marked on the southwest corner of your map. Approach the Black Door found at that location and answer it’s riddle with “Silence, my brother.” Once inside, speak to Astrid. After doing so, an Achievement/Trophy should pop, signifying your entry into the Dark Brotherhood.
Note: If all else fails, the Dark Brotherhood will seek you out after you’ve killed enough innocent people.
At the end of the second to last main quest, you can obtain (legitimately) The Blade of Woe, a powerful dagger that absorbs 10 points of health with each hit. The damage output will scale up depending on the level and skill you are at when you obtain it. You’ll also net 20,000 gold for finishing the main questline, which is nothing to scoff at, especially early on in the game.
The Thieves Guild
The Ragged Flagon tavern located under Riften, a city in the southeastern corner of Skyrim. Look for a gate underneath the central plaza of the city to find the entrance to the Ratway, which leads to the tavern.
Once you’ve joined the Thieves Guild, you’ll have access to trainers who can help you level up in most of the thiefy skills (pickpocket, lockpicking, sneak, and archery) in exchange for gold. You’ll also obtain several weapons and armors throughout the quests that buff thief skills like sneaking, lockpicking etc. If you have a stealth build, you should seek out the Thieves Guild as soon as possible to claim these rewards, which make the rest of the game much easier.
By joining this faction you’ll earn the “Taking Care of Business” Achievement/Trophy.
How to join
Go to Riften, located in the southeast corner of Skyrim, and look for Brynjolf. Talk to him and start the “A Chance Agreement” quest. Complete this little quest (make sure to save throughout, since it involves sneaking and pickpocketing) then head through the Ratway under the city to reach the Ragged Flagon. Talk to Byrnjolf inside the tavern and complete “Taking Care of Business” to join the guild and pop the Achievement/Trophy.
When you become Guild Master, Brynjolf will give you the Amulet of Articulation, which grants you instant success at any persuasion attempt and increases speechcraft depending on the level you are at when you receive it. Tonila will give you the Guild Master’s Armor set:
Guild Master’s Armor: 38 defense, +50 carry weight
Guild Master’s Boots: 11 defense, increases pickpocket success by 35%
Guild Master’s Gloves: 11 defense, improves lockpicking by 35%
Guild Master’s Hood: 16 armor, improves prices by 20%
You’ll also have access to three different Nightingale roles at the very end of the main questline, which you can change as you please after each day. Here are the roles, each of which grants a special power:
Agent of Subterfuge: Casts frenzy on any single enemy regardless of their level
Agent of Strife: Absorbs 100 health from an enemy
Agent of Shadow: You can turn invisible for two minutes
Finally, as guildmaster, all fences that you’ve discovered (NPCs that will buy stolen goods from you) increase their buying allowance from 1000 gold per day to 4000.
Imperial Army and the Stormcloaks
The Imperials and the Stormcloaks are in the middle of a massive civil war, a fact you’ll discover almost immediately upon starting Skyrim. Choosing a side can be a tough decision, but rest assured you’ll earn the same Achievements regardless of which faction you join. There’s also no real item advantage to either side, so don’t worry about missing out on some incredible sword or jewelry. As a matter of fact, the weapons and armor you receive as quest rewards are usually leveled, which means their stats scale to match whatever your current level is at the moment of collection.
That just leaves story as the determining factor. Are you the type who loves decimating rebel scum? Or do you prefer toppling your rulers because you think you know better? If you’re dying to see both outcomes, create a save file just before you make a decision, then load and try joining the other side.
Once you’ve joined either faction you’ll earn the “Taking Sides” Achievement/Trophy.
You can join up by visiting the headquarters in Windhelm, found in eastern edge of Skyrim. After you complete the “Joining the Stormcloaks” mission, you’ll have the opportunity to recite an oath to Galmar. Doing so cements your decision to join the Stormcloaks, so if you’re having second thoughts, now is your chance to back out.
You can join up by visiting the headquarters in Solitude, found in the northwest corner of Skyrim. After you complete the first quest labeled “Joining the Legion,” you’ll have the chance to recite the Imperial oath to Tullius. Doing so cements your decision to join the Imperials, so if you’re having second thoughts, now is your chance to back out.
The Bard’s College is just east of Solitude, which can be found in the northwestern corner of Skyrim. This is a minor faction, but well worth your time. After completing the first quest called “Tending the Flames,” you will receive upon completion of each subsequent quest an instant +1 to six of your skills. For example, after completing “Finn’s Lute,” Finn will give you +1 in Light Armor, Sneak, Pickpocket, Lockpicking, Alchemy, and Speech. There are two additional quests that cover the remaining skills.
The Blades can be found in Sky Haven Temple. Unfortunately, you cannot reach this location until after you complete the main story quest called “Alduin’s Wall.” Once you meet Delphine, you can bring any follower to her and she’ll “recruit” them. These recruits will still be your followers, but they will now live in Sky Haven Temple and be able to equip the powerful Blades armor and weapons.
If you bring three followers for recruiting into the Blades, Esbern will start marking on your map the locations of dragons, one at a time. Once you’ve killed the dragon, return to Esbern and he’ll mark another. If he won’t give up the next one, wait at least three days and try again.
The Greybeards reside in High Hrothgar, found on the tallest mountain in Skyrim. You’ll eventually get here if you follow the main questline of the game, but if you want to go early, look for the massive set of stairs leading up the mountain that start in Ivarstead.
Provided you’ve completed the main story quest called “The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller,” you can talk to Arngeir and ask him to mark a location on your map of a single undiscovered Word Wall. You can repeat this after each discovery until all the walls have been found. If he won’t give up the next one, wait at least three days then try again.