Character builds are customized skills and equipment of the player character. Mount&Blade allows a high level of customization, but the many options and combinations can confuse new players. This article provides some guidelines on how to determine what equipment and skills you should pick for your character and companions.
During the game, your heroes will face a variety of combat situations. They will face infantry and cavalry on open terrain, fight in mountains to the detriment of cavalry, and get stuck in close quarters combat during sieges. On top of that, players need to protect themselves from melee and ranged attacks, and should have some way to fight on both distances as well. This is less vital for companions, but the main character will need a ranged weapon, if only to deal with those pesky horse archers you can't catch and enemies stuck in inaccessible places during a siege.
While regular troops can afford the luxury to specialize on some roles, your characters waste much of their potential if they don't contribute to all of them. And you need to do this with a very limited amount of equipment slots and without bogging your characters down with too much heavy gear, so you will have to compromise at some point.
Since most combat skills deal with using a specific type of equipment (or a combination thereof), and equipment slots are usually what limits your options most; you can afford to have a "field setup" and a "siege setup" for your main character, but carrying and switching secondary equipment for all your companions will quickly get tedious. The natural way to look at character builds is to decide on equipment first and then pick the skills to use it. These are the options you'll have, and the requirements in skills, attributes and equipment slots you need to make them effective.
Having a horse and knowing how to use it well will give you a huge bonus in battles on open terrain. The added mobility will make it harder for enemies to hit you, allow you to escape from dangerous situations and help out where you are most needed. The additional height is not only a substantial advantage in melee, as enemies can only get at your feet while you can bash on their heads, but also gives you a better overview of the battlefield for commanding your troops (leading cavalry well while dismounted is especially hard). It does not come for free though, you will need to invest skill points in riding, points in horse archery if you want to use ranged weapons, and have some alternative plan to hold your own when dismounted (during sieges, in mountains, or should your horse get killed).
Probably the easiest choice to use. The heavier mounts can take lots of punishment when slugging it out in melee and do additional damage in a charge. They are, however, also the most expensive and have the highest skill requirements (4 points). Best choice is the Charger or the Sarranian War Horse, but the Steppe Charger or Warhorse are viable alternatives if short on cash (or if you happen to loot one after battle).
There are only two horses in this category; the Hunter and the Sumpter Horse. The Hunter is reasonably fast and maneuverable, while still being able to take more than enough damage so long as you keep out of tightly packed infantry and don't charge headlong into spears. If you put a few more points into riding, it is even fast enough to catch up with horse archers most of the time. It is also a good substitute for the heavier horses if you don't have the skill and money for them. Sumpters have the lowest stats for movement, but reasonable health. Sumpters are actually cart horses which explains their poor stats.
While lighter horses do technically have the lowest skill requirements (usually 2), chances are you picked them for their speed and/or maneuverability, so you'll want a high riding skill anyway to get the most out of them. The Courser is the fastest horse in the game, and the Sarranid Horse is the most maneuverable. The Desert Horse, Steppe Horse and Saddle Horse are inferior options for cash-strapped characters, with the latter also only requiring one point in riding.
You may also decide to fight dismounted which will save you money and skill points on the horse, but you will lack the extra mobility. Unless you want to have your enemies run circles around you, you'll need to put a few skill points in athletics (which is also based on agility). Also, encumberance is much more of a concern when dismounted, so you might have to compromise more with weapons and armor. Even if you don't intend to fight from horseback, it may still be advisable to ride a horse, at least for scouting, issuing the initial orders and getting around quickly on the battlefield.
However, dismounted warriors can potentially get more kills as they have no penalties for standing still. A footman can fight their way out of a tight spot, but cavalry need large open spaces. Horses are slower up hills, and some steep hills can't even be climbed by a horsemen. A footman is also much more useful in sieges as they are conditioned.
Armor can massively increase the survivability of your characters (especially the highest levels), so you should make the least compromises in this area. Luckily, you won't have to most of the time.
Since armor will slow you down much less when mounted, you should aim for the best armor in heavy cavalry builds: Plate Armor, Iron Greaves/Plate Boots, Plate Gauntlets and a Winged Great Helmet, which requires 10 STR. You can get by with 9 STR if you drop the Great Helmet, and with 8 STR if you settle for Mail Boots and a Coat of Plates or one of the Elite Armors (Khergit, Sarranid, or Vaegir) which will also let you keep some of your mobility on foot. In any case, you are well advised to invest heavily in athletics unless you don't care about being slowed down to a crawl when dismounted.
A good compromise for light cavalry or heavy infantry is Heraldic Mail, which is considerably lighter than the plate armors, only needs 7 STR and still offers good protection. Cavalry should go for the version with Surcoat and the heaviest boots they can wear, while infantry is better off with the Tabard version and can skimp a little on the boots. You should still go for the best helmets and gauntlets you can use though, as they are relatively light and add a good bit of protection.
One of the best light armors in the game is the Brigandine, which still offers good protection, lets you keep most of your mobility and has no Strength requirements. Money should be the only reason to settle for less, unless you really know what you're doing. It is best complemented with Khergit Leather Boots, Leather Gloves (Hardened, if possible), a Nordic Warlord or Huscarl's Helmet (STR 7), a Bascinet (STR 8), or a Khergit Guard/Cavalry Helmet (no requirement). When strapped for cash, a Mail Shirt is quite nice for cavalry, and a Byrnie or Haubergeon, which are frequently dropped by Sea Raiders, are a solid choice for infantry.
When it comes to weapons, there are a lot of different variations and combinations. You need to consider your choice carefully to get the most out of your four weapon slots in the situations you are likely to face. The options that get you the most for your slots are:
One Handed (+ Lance) + Shield + Throwing
This is probably the most defensive option, and thus combines well with medium or light armor. All weapons profit from using a shield, the lance allows you to deal massive damage when mounted and has enough range for cavalry duels, while the one handed weapon (especially a short one-handed axe) is a great choice in densely packed melee. Infantry can swap the lance for a different melee weapon (for more range, more damage and/or taking prisoners) or a second stack of throwing weapons. The best shield for infantry is generally the Huscarl's Round Shield, while cavalry is better off with Kite or Heater Shields. Smaller shields should only be considered if you expect them to take a lot of abuse in melee and/or plan to invest heavily in your shield skill (otherwise, they will leave you vulnerable to missiles).
Two Handed (+ Lance) + Bow + Arrows
This is the natural choice for horse archers and best combined with heavy armor because it lacks the protection of a shield. You can switch out the lance for a (preferably two-handed) polearm, a Great Hammer, a second stack of arrows, a short weapon for close quarters battle, or even a shield to strap to your back (Board Shields and Heater Shields are great for this). Hafted Blades are also worth considering as they are the only polearms that can be used to swing from horseback, and have a quite impressive range.
One Handed + Shield + Bow + Arrows
Infantry archers generally fare better with this build, as the shield offers some protection in melee and allows one to go for lighter armor. Since your bow prevents you from using the shield in ranged combat, a small, quick shield (like the Cavalry Shields) is probably the best choice. It also works for horse archers, but they need a longer one-handed weapon, which is a slight disadvantage during sieges. However, if your character has the money, it is wise to invest in a Balanced Bastard Sword, as this weapon is one handed and two handed, which means you can still hold your own if rushed by a heavier infantry unit.
One Handed + Shield + Crossbow + Bolts
This is pretty much the one and only build for infantry crossbowmen. It works in the early game and without any investment in combat skills, which makes it a good choice for companions in support roles. The shield should be as large as possible to provide protection while reloading (it does not need to be particularly strong, though). Mounted crossbowmen are an especially poor choice in the late game because they are limited to Light Crossbows (unless they dismount to reload) and don't have a skill to boost their damage. It should also only be considered for companions in support roles (the horse helps them keep out of trouble).
One Handed + Cavalry Shield + Spear + Infantry Shield
This is the most offensive option as it allows you to disrupt the enemy archers and infantry and deal horrendous damage, or snipe enemy knights before the charge command while keeping you alive even if you get surrounded. This build requires quite a bit of investment and levels for full use. It requires heavy armor and a heavy horse. For the spear, the cheaper version is the balanced light spear, and the best is the balanced long awlpike. While it cannot be couched like a lance, the spear benefits greatly from speed damage bonuses, making it easy to take out even heavy troops with one blow as long as there is some speed bonus. Its range makes it an adequate tool for dueling with enemy cavalry, though it is best used against enemy archers. The infantry shield (like a Heavy Board Shield) and the armor absorb any fire from the back 180° (with a 5 in shield), giving you much greater survivability against enemy crossbows and thrown weapons on the field and in sieges. The one handed Heavy Morningstar is best if dismounted, as it allows use of Shield, breaks through blocks, and deals decent damage. Add a 5 in riding to outrace enemy heavy Cavalry, and a 5 in Athletics to have a decent retreating move speed in the armor, and it becomes very difficult to kill you, even if you are dismounted or attacking in a siege. This usually nets you 20 to 50% of all enemies killed as your EXP, but carries a risk of a lucky shot taking you out if you are not paying attention to all the enemies in the front 180°. The build assumes a high power attack skill as well.
Skills and Attributes
Now that you've decided on your gear, you'll have likely candidates for combat skills. But not all are equally important:
- Ironflesh allows you to take a little more damage and is generally a poor choice compared to skills that allow you to end fights quicker (Power Strike/Draw/Throw) or avoid taking damage (Shield, Athletics).
- Power Strike gives a solid bonus to melee damage and is a good choice for all but specialized ranged and support builds. Try to keep it as high as your STR allows.
- Power Throw adds some damage to throwing weapons and is required for the better ones. Get it as high as you need for your preferred weapon (2-4 points). Any more is probably wasted as good throwing weapons have very little ammo and massive damage already.
- Power Draw adds damage to bows, is necessary for the stronger ones and gives you more time to aim. Absolutely vital for archers, so it should be at least two points and up to four points higher than what your preferred bow requires; raise STR if necessary.
- Weapon Master makes you learn proficiencies faster, allows you to raise them further and reduces the points you need to spend on them. Get 3-4 points as soon as possible, then only if you have points to spare or a low weapon proficiency you still want to train.
- Shield makes blocking faster and automatically draws missiles towards the center of your shield. It helps you compensate the poor speed of large shields in melee and the poor coverage of small shields against missiles. If you are ok with slower blocking, you can take a large shield like the Huscarl's Round Shield and put in more points until you find the speed acceptable. If you like having a quick, tough shield in melee, take a smaller, more sturdy one (Horseman's Shields or Steel Shield) and put in points until missiles no longer hit you when blocking. If you don't use a shield or only have one strapped to your back, ignore this skill.
- Athletics increases your mobility when dismounted. How many points you should put in is generally a matter of taste. If you feel your character is taking too many hits because you can't dodge quickly enough and don't want to switch to lighter armor/weapons, increase the skill. If you (or your companions) can't keep up with your troops, increase it. Otherwise, ignore. It also influences map speed when you don't have a horse, but the effect is minimal.
- Riding increases speed when mounted and allows you to use better mounts. Unless speed is absolutely vital for your build, and a Champion Courser isn't fast enough already, only raise it as high as you need for your favorite horse. Higher speed also increases couched lance damage, but Power Strike gives you more bang for your points. It also increases map speed a little, but the effect is minimal compared to the troops in your party or Pathfinding, so it's generally not worth it.
- Horse Archery reduces the penalty for shooting or throwing while riding. It does nothing while your horse stands still. Faster horses have a higher penalty and need a higher skill. Minimal skill investment for accurate shots is 3, and the accuracy doesn't increase much past 5. For characters not built around mounted skirmishing but still wanting to partake in tournaments, it's recommended to put a single point.
This list shows that you rarely need combat skills above 4 in the early and mid-game and can usually get by with 3 or less if you don't want to specialize on combat. This means you should try to get STR and AGI to 9 for any character you expect to fight at all, and up to 12 if you want them to be useful in combat. More is still better, but it makes less of a difference. At that point, you can afford to raise INT and/or CHA put more points in support skills.
You should make sure that between you and your companions, every party skill you want to use is covered. There are also some skills you need to learn personally if you want to use them (namely Inventory Management, Persuasion, Prisoner Management and Leadership) and Trainer which stacks from multiple characters. Additionally, skill levels your leader has in party skills give a bonus to your companions' skills. This means that ideally your main character should:
- Max out Trainer, since they are likely the highest level character in the party
- Max out Leadership, since it is extremely powerful (lower wages, larger party, better morale)
- Raise Inventory Management and Prisoner Management until you're comfortable with the capacity
- Put two points in every important party skill for the +1 bonus (more is probably not worth it)
- Raise Persuasion if you want to engage in diplomacy, intrigue or found your own kingdom
Even doing this and maintaining somewhat decent combat skills is hard enough already, so you should delegate as many party skills to companions as you possibly can. One companion can completely ignore combat and keep up to six INT-based skills or three other skills at maximum, or multiple characters can take a smaller hit to their combat skills and specialize (three INT-based skills or Trade plus Looting is easily affordable). The companion choices in the game suggest to split these roles into a medic (First Aid, Surgery, Wound Treatment), a scout (Pathfinding, Spotting, Tracking), and a tactician (Trainer, Tactics, Engineer). This works well, but splitting these skills among four characters and having every one of them learn Trainer is also worth considering, as it lets you train new recruits incredibly fast. First Aid and Surgery are best learned by the same companion, who should be kept out of combat as much as possible (if they get knocked out, the skills wont help you for the rest of the fight), or learned by two characters for more redundancy. Teaching First Aid to your main character is almost a complete waste as its most important use is to restore your health if you get knocked out between two rounds of a battle or siege. All others can be mixed and matched freely.