When it comes to random encounters, running into a raging dragon is not the first thing that comes to mind. Most people would be wary of wild wolves, the occasional ice troll, groups of bandits laying in ambush, or even the lone necromancer performing bizarre rituals in some unmarked shrine. That is perfectly normal, anyone who has played a previous version of Elder Scrolls or is simply familiar with the concept of medieval RPGs would expect the same thing; but once you have passed a certain point in the journey of the dragonborn, coming across, and fighting, dragons becomes a little more commonplace –whether you like it or not.
How it all Starts
One of the first quests in the game will lead you to Dragons Reach castle in Whiterun, and there you will asked to fight Milmulnir during the quest: Dragon Rising. Once you trigger this quest, you will want to continue fighting off the dragon (if you do not, it is possible that doing some of the Jarl’s other quests will get bugged).
Now, the good news: you can avoid the dragons entirely. Well, sure, it would also mean avoiding the main story of the game –but with Skyrim’s vast gameplay system, huge number of quests and side-stories to follow, you can have more than 60 hours of unique gameplay without triggering the main story, which also means avoiding the dragons. The drawback here is that you will not have access to dragon shouts until you actually fight Milmurnir.
Your choice begins as early as the events of Before the Storm, which is the second main quest event of the game (right after you break out of the execution grounds). If you wish to forgo the dragons, simply skip out of finishing the events of Before the Storm. Otherwise, you can proceed with the quests and go to Whiterun to fight your first dragon.
Fighting Milmurnir at the Western Watchtower will give you a quick taste of what it would be like to fight a dragon –and mostly, it is not fun for melee based characters. This fight is made incredibly easy by the fact that there are several Whiterun soldiers that will be providing you with cover fire from their bows. If you also use a bow or prefer to use magic, then this becomes a whole lot easier.
The dragon will occasionally drop down to the ground –and will likely chew on some of the soldiers. While this may seem like a special event; it is not. Dragons have the ability to literally grab a player right off the floor –it will take plenty of health and defense to withstand such an attack. Anyway, right after you finish this quest, you can expect to encounter dragons all over Skyrim.
Where to Find Dragons
If the first fight at the Western Watchtower has left you with a craving for more, it is actually possible to go on a dragon hunt, and all you need is a bit of patience.
The game has been designed to provide players with randomized dragon encounters throughout the game. So if you want to, just keep resting, waiting or fast travelling to various outdoor locations. Once you hear that ever familiar screech in the air, it is time to look up and find your dragon. Mind you, if the dragon is flying a little too far, he will not appear on the compass but he will be visible in the sky.
If you want to be more specific about looking for dragons, you can also seek out the various dragon lairs –visiting one for the first or second time is certain to provide you with a dragon encounter provided that you finished the events of Dragon Rising. However, we recommend a bit of caution when hunting for dragons in the lairs. It is possible that some quests become difficult or impossible to finish because the dragon in a specific lair has already been killed. Dragons will respawn in lairs during your second or third visits, but there are times when you will have to let several months of in-game time to pass before a new dragon becomes available. It is safer to attack lairs just once, then only come back once you have finished the associated quest for it (fortunately, some lairs have not quests attached).
Also, once you have access to dragon shouts, you may occasionally receive letters from strangers giving your directions to "sources of power", if it leads to an outside location (instead of a cave), then you are likely being given directions to a dragon lair –this is helpful if you do not have the lairs marked on your map.
Here is a quick list of all the known lairs:
Ancient’s Ascent – mountains south of Falkreath, accessible by climbing past the entrance of Bloodlet throne or passing through the Bonechill Passage. Provides "Animal Allegiance" shout.
Autumnwatch Tower – travel south of Ivarstead. Provides "Marked for Death" shout.
Bonestrewn Crest – go south of Windhelm. Provides "Frost Breath" shout.
Dragontooth Crater – climb mountains northwest of Karthwasten. Provides "Elemental Fury" shout.
Eldersblood Peak – through the North Cold Rock Pass (start from Morthal and follow the river). Provides "Disarm" shout.
Lost Tongue Overlook – go south of Riften. Provides "Dismay" shout.
Mount Anthor – south of Saarthal and past the Shrine of Azura. Provides "Ice Form" shout.
Northwind Summit – northwest of Shor’s Stone. Provides "Aura Whisper" shout.
Shearpoint – far east from Windhelm (high on the mountains across the valley). Provides all three levels of the "Throw Voice" shout.
Getting a Dragon’s Attention
When encountering a dragon at a lair, it is often perched atop a high post –which lets you take a quick and powerful sneak attack with a bow or spell. But when you come across a dragon in the wild, it could only be one of two scenarios: first the dragon’s attention is turned towards other creatures or NPCs. Second, the dragon is currently not engaged in combat and is simply flying around.
If in combat, all you need to do is make a few powerful attacks. Dragons tend to pay attention to those that hit the most and the hardest. You might end up having to fight random monsters on the field this way, so it might be better to attack the other creatures first. For NPCs, determine if they are friendly or hostile. If they are friendly, try to help them, out. If not, kill them first before focusing on the dragon. Do note that when dragons attack towns and other locations with friendly NPCs it is possible for the dragon to permanently kill some characters, so try to attract the dragon’s aggro as much as possible.
Getting the attention of a dragon flying around is a matter of distance. If you move closer to it, it is likely to spot you and engage you in battle. If you are too far, it is possible for the dragon to fly off. Just determine if attracting a dragon is worth your time –if you have to climb down a particularly tough hill to climb just because a dragon is ignoring your arrows, you might want to just pass up on it.
Skyborn Altar – climb the mountain south of Dawnstar. Provides "Frost Breath" shout.
It is important to note that these locations are accessible to players regardless if they triggered Dragon Rising or not. The difference is that dragons will not be around if you have not killed Milmulnir. Instead of dragons, you will be fighting a variety of creatures though none will be exceptionally powerful.
How to Fight – Dragon Behavior and Attacks
Dealing with dragons is not a particularly difficult task –provided that you know what to do. Otherwise, it is quite possible for a dragon to easily kill you in a chance encounter. So keep these following tips in mind if you ever find yourself facing these powerful beasts.
The first thing you should know is the behavior of dragons. These powerful creatures take to the skies a lot, and will make full use of the environment. Dragons have four main positions in combat –the first is when they are perched on a high location (on top of a Word of Power Shrine, on top of houses, buildings, small towers). While perched, dragons will use their elemental breath ability several times in the general direction that they are facing. Since they are perched in a specific manner, they are unable to turn much and this leaves their back completely exposed to projectile and magic attacks.
The second attack of the dragon comes while it is speeding towards a target. It will fly straight towards its target (often: you), and breathe a straight line of attack along its flight path. When a dragon is doing this, it is possible to get a couple of shots in, but for the most part, it is best to avoid. This phase is only used as a transition attack for between the other poses.
The next pose is when the dragon hovers over a single spot. Much like the perch, the dragon will attack with a few breath moves in this state, but since it is flying, it will be able to turn and face towards a specific target (again, often you). If you are lucky and the dragon’s attention is focused on another target, you will be able to sneak in a few long range attacks on the dragon’s back.
Lastly, dragons will land on the ground propped on its hind lends and using its wings to support it as it lurches forward. The dragon will be able to rotate on its heels, but it will not step forward or backward. In this state, it has several attacks: a breath attack, a tail swipe, a quick bite and a powerful grabbing bite. Melee players will want to take full advantage of this opportunity to land some massive blows (avoid casting fireball or raise dead spells as these will cause the dragon to fly up again). Most importantly, avoid the dragon’s head. While it is possible to withstand the tail swipe and the regular bite, the grabbing bite will likely kill lightly armored characters.
If a dragon is refusing to land on the ground (for melee fighters), it is likely that you are fighting in an area where the dragon has no place to land. Try to move to a wider area to encourage the dragon to land. And another tip for melee fighters, try to bring along a companion who is either a mage or a bow user –this will help when dealing with dragons if you are lacking any powerful long range attacks.
When a dragon takes flight with low health, it is possible to make it crash down on the ground with powerful long range attacks. It will literally crash downwards, leaving a large gigantic gash on the ground. When a dragon falls this way, it is almost dead and you can approach it without much danger.
Dragons spit fire or ice, depending on their type. Fire attacks may cause a burn status where you slowly lose a bit of health every second you stay on fire. Frost attacks are the same, except that the frozen status will whittle your health instead of burn. Also, it will drain your character of stamina and slow you down. Overall, frost attacks are far deadlier than fire attacks. For the most part, dragons can either have fire or frost breath attacks –you will just have to wait and them to attack before you can tell (the only exception is the frost dragon, which uses frost breath exclusively).
Encountering specific dragon types does not really affect your game all that much –what really happens is that the dragons you encounter increase in levels in proportion to your own character. You will start out encountering normal dragons –which are simply named as dragons. And as you increase levels, the dragons you meet will have additions to their name: blood, frost, elder, and ancient (in that order). Along with the altered names, these dragons also have different colored scales. Blood dragons are green, frost dragons are white, elder dragons are semi-golden, and the ancient dragons are dark colored with shades of red. In case you are wondering, the normal dragons are brown colored.
When dragons die, they provide the player with several items, and you can loot a dragon’s body as soon as it lights on fire (no need to wait for the fires to die out).
First, a dragon gives plenty of gold, at the lowest, 100. More often than not, the amount is anywhere between 200 to 500 gold depending on your character’s level. Equipment may also be found, though this usually begins at level 25 and onwards. Dragon bones and dragon scales are common loot. Dragons that attack towns will often have anywhere from a dozen or more steel arrows that come from the soldiers attacking it.