All Joinable Factions, Ranked From Worst To Best

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 December 23, 2023, by Demaris Oxman: Despite being over a decade old, players still flock to the world of Skyrim. And, just as when it first released, the game’s factions remain an aspect that draws players to it. Each of these helps build the world, making it feel more real. Some offer massive benefits to players who choose to join, while others are more about the flavor they add to the setting. As players decide who they want their character to be — an assassin, a scholar, an altruistic hero — joining a group who shares their ideals can be an essential roleplaying choice.

Some guilds are more interesting than others, some have more gameplay relevance, and an unfortunate few have neither. However, whether for practicality or simply roleplaying, a player may have a reason to join any one of them. With that in mind, this updated ranking of Skyrim’s guilds includes all the reasons players might (or might not) consider joining up, as well as the steps the Dragonborn must take to be accepted into the fold.

11 The Bards’ College

An Interesting Concept with Wasted Potential

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.


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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

Players can join the Bards’ College by completing the quest Tending the Flames.” First, speak to Viarmo at the Bard’s College in Solitude, and accept his request to find King Olaf’s verse. Return to Viarmo and help him “reconstruct” the missing parts of the verse, and accompany him to present it to Elisif. The choices that the player makes in reconstructing the verse will not affect the outcome. Finally, attend the Burning of King Olaf festival event to become a member of the College.

Benefits of Joining

Another reason for the Bards’ College’s low ranking is the lack of interesting perks they offer. Giraud Gemane offers Master-level Speech training, but that’s about it.

10 The Blades

Stubborn and Self-Righteous, with Limited Gameplay Relevance

Blades recruits at Sky Haven Temple

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 the quest “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 Season Unending, Delphine will ask the player to kill Paarthunax. Complete this task, and report back to Delphine.

Benefits of Joining

As a member of the Blades, players get access to all the gear and items in Sky Haven Temple, including the unique sword Dragonbane. However, unlike the higher-ranking factions on this list, there are no unique skill trainers or followers associated with them.

9 The Greybeards

High-Minded Scholars Who Refuse to Act

Skyrim Arngeir Greybeards

Even though killing Paarthunax leaves a bad taste in some players’ mouths, the Greybeards aren’t much more useful 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

Complete “The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller” as part of the main questline, and the Greybeards will accept the Dragonborn into their fold. After that, simply complete the main questline without killing Paarthunax. As long as the old dragon remains alive, players will be welcome at High Hrothgar.

Benefits of Joining

With Paarthunaxe alive, the player can meditate on certain Words of Power, making their shouts more powerful. However, there are only three options, affecting the Unrelenting Force, Become Ethereal, and Fire Breath shouts. What’s more, the Dragonborn doesn’t gain access to any special items, trainers, or unique services, as with some other guilds.

8 The Stormcloaks

Conflicting Ideals and Repetitive Quests

Stormcloak soldiers in Skyrim

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.


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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. He will ask them to complete a test of strength by traveling to the island near the Serpent Stone in Winterhold, and slaying an ice wraith. Once this is finished, complete the ensuing quest “The Jagged Crown,” and deliver the item to Ulfric.

Benefits of Joining

There aren’t really any benefits to joining the Stormcloak army, aside from getting to participate in the quests themselves. There are no faction-specific trainers, and players don’t get treated any differently for their involvement in the war.

7 The Imperial Legion

Different Conflicting Ideals, and More Repetitive Quests

Imperial Legion soldiers in the Castle Dour courtyard

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

Speak with Legate Rikke in Castle Dour in Solitude. After asking to join the army, accept Rikke’s quest and clear Fort Hraggstad of bandits. Finally, complete “The Jagged Crown,” delivering the spoils to Tullius.

Benefits of Joining

As with the Stormcloaks, there are no real benefits to joining the Imperial Legion. The player doesn’t get any special treatment, nor unlock access to any skill trainers or services.

6 The Companions

Fight as a Werewolf Through a Slightly Rushed Storyline

Elder Scrolls 10 Nord Facts 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. This initiates the quest “Take Up Arms.” For their first task, Kodlak will tell the player to train outside with Vilkas. Vilkas 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. After completing 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. Upon completion, return to Jorrvaskr for the initiation ceremony.

Benefits of Joining

The most obvious perk of joining the Companions is the Beast Form ability, gained after being transformed into a werewolf. In this form, players can maul their enemies to death and feast on kills to increase their strength. The player also gains access to seven followers: Aela, Athis, Farkas, Njada, Ria, Torvar, and Vilkas, all of whom are capable warriors as well as potential marriage candidates.

Finally, the following trainers will offer their services to members of the Companions:

  • Aela the Huntress: Expert-level Archery
  • Athis: Expert-level One-Handed
  • Njada Stone-Arm: Expert-level Block
  • Eorlund Gray-Mane: Master-level Smithing
  • Farkas: Master-level Heavy Armor
  • Vilkas: Master-level Two-Handed

5 The Volkihar Clan

Aid the Sinister Vampire Clan’s Rise to Power

Dining Room in Castle Volkihar

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, who will ask the Dragonborn to retrieve a “vampire artifact” from Dimhollow Crypt. This begins the quest “Awakening.” This “artifact” turns out to be Serana, a member of the Volkihar clan. Upon returning Serana to her home at Castle Volkihar, accept Lord Harkon’s offer to transform the Dragonborn into a Vampire Lord.

Benefits of Joining

The main reason to join the Volkihar Clan is, essentially, to become a Vampire Lord. Players gain access to a slew of new abilities, and a whole new style of gameplay along with it. The Dragonborn can also use Death Hounds as followers, but none of the clan’s members are available to join the player on adventures. Finally, the player gains access to the following trainers:

  • Garan Marethi: Expert-level Destruction
  • Ronthil: Expert-level Speech
  • Fura Bloodmouth: Master-level Two-Handed

4 The College of Winterhold

Learn Magic and Uncover Buried Secrets

The College of Winterhold courtyard

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?


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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, to begin the quest “First Lessons.” 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. Cast it, and she will admit the player.

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.

Benefits of Joining

The College of Winterhold is home to a professor in each of the schools of magic. Each professor can train the Dragonborn in their respective school at the Master level, as well as sell that school’s spells. They also offer “Ritual Spell” quests for each of their respective schools, which are the only way that the Dragonborn can gain access to Master-level spells in a given school. These trainers include:

  • Collette Marence: Expert-level Restoration
  • Phinis Gestor: Expert-level Conjuration
  • Sergius Turrianus: Expert-level Enchanting
  • Drevis Neloren: Master-level Illusion
  • Faralda: Master-level Destruction
  • Tolfdir: Master-level Alteration

Finally, the Dragonborn gains access to three potential followers at the College. After completing each of their personal quests, fellow apprentices Brelyna Maryon, Onmund, and J’zargo will all be available to recruit as followers. Onmund and Brelyna are potential marriage candidates as well.

3 The Dawnguard

Fight Vampires Alongside Eccentric Companions

Fort Dawnguard lobby

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 follow the quest “Awakening” described above. This time, upon delivering Serana to Castle Volkihar, reject Lord Harkon’s offer of vampirism and return to Fort Dawnguard instead.

Benefits of Joining

Players gain access to armored trolls, which make fantastic followers — and the other members of the Dawnguard make great companions as well. Potential followers among them include Agmaer, Beleval, Celann, Durak, and Ingjard. The player can also master crossbows, and utilize several unique restoration spells that deal heavy damage to undead creatures. The Dawnguard also provides the Dragonborn with access to training via the following NPCs:

  • Isran: Master-level Heavy Armor
  • Gunmar: Master-level Smithing
  • Florentius Baenius: Master-level Restoration
  • Sorine Jurard: Master-level Archery

2 The Thieves’ Guild

Sneak Around, Get Rich, and Become a Nightingale

The Thieves' Guild in Skyrim

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.


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How To Join

Approach Brynjolf in the Riften marketplace to begin the quest “A Chance Arrangement.” 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, reverse-pickpocketing Brand-Shei.

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.

Benefits of Joining

By joining the Thieves’ Guild, players gain access to fences over the course of the questline — merchants who will buy their stolen goods. As the guild gains influence, these fences gain more and more gold, allowing the Dragonborn to sell them expensive items. The Guild is also home to the following skill trainers:

  • Niruin: Master-level Archery
  • Vex: Master-level Lockpicking
  • Vipir the Fleet: Master-level Pickpocket
  • Delvin Mallory: Master-level Sneak

1 The Dark Brotherhood

Engaging Quests, Plot Twists, and Fabulous Characters

The Dark Brotherhood From The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim

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 begins the quest “Innocence Lost.” It’s not difficult to complete, as Grelod can be killed in broad daylight without consequences. After returning to Aventus and collecting their reward, the next time they are in a city, the player will receive a letter from a courier saying simply, “We Know,” with a black handprint.

Go to sleep in a bed. Upon waking, the player will find themselves in an Abandoned Shack, beginning the quest “With Friends Like These.” Astrid asks the player to kill one of her prisoners. Kill one (or more) of them, and she will give the Dragonborn the location and password for the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary in Falkreath Hold. Head there to join the faction.

Benefits of Joining

The Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary is home to a Word Wall, giving the player one of the necessary Words of Power for the Marked for Death shout. It also gives them access to one of the best sets of Light Armor in the base game, the Ancient Shrouded Armor. Finally, joining the Brotherhood grants access to two trainers:

  • Nazir: Master-level Light Armor
  • Babette: Master-level Alchemy

After the main questline is completed and Nazir begins recruiting new members, the Dragonborn can recruit any of these Dark Brotherhood Initiates to be their follower.

elder scrolls 5 skyrim cover


November 11, 2011