Fallout New Vegas Best Starting Guide: Stats (SPECIAL), Skills & Traits

Last Updated on January 2, 2024 by Samuel Franklin

Craft your ideal Mojave Wasteland experience with the best starting stats (SPECIAL), skills and traits for your specific Courier build. With thousands of potential combinations across these character creation options it’s common for new and veteran players to fall into a suboptimal builds that are both ineffective and not enjoyable to play.

With this guide as your compass across The Wasteland I draw on my countless Fallout New Vegas playthroughs for specific build recommendations while also growing your knowledge of game mechanics to enable you to create customised builds for every playstyle. From deadly gunslinger, brutal melee warrior to a sniper form the shadows this best starting guide will ensure you obtain important SPECIAL perks to maximise your build effectiveness alongside skill and trait considerations that are effective from the moment you light up your Pip-Boy.

This SPECIAL guide includes a table of my personal recommended Fallout New Vegas best starting stats, skills and traits for specific builds that is ideal for quick reference when creating a character and a deeper dive into each of these starting character options for players that want to understand the methodology of these critical decisions for their own build purposes.

Table of Contents:
Fallout New Vegas Best Starting Builds
Best Starting Stats (SPECIAL)
Strength Overview
Perception Overview
Endurance Overview
Charisma Overview
Intelligence Overview
Agility Overview
Luck Overview
Best Starting Skills
Best Starting Traits

Fallout New Vegas Best Starting Builds

This overview section provides template builds for the common playstyles to quickly reference when starting a fresh Fallout New Vegas adventure and includes both your initial starting SPECIAL and implants required. They are designed based on the following general build recommendations:

  • Obtain enough starting SPECIAL after implants to reach strong perks for your playstyle
  • Place extra starting SPECIAL in Intelligence (increased skill point gain) and Luck (increased critical chance)
  • Select starting skills linked to your weapon type, one method to access locked areas (lockpick or science) and one utility (repair, medicine or sneak)
  • Choose starting traits that increase damage (Built to Destroy) and provide utility (Good Natured or Small Frame)
Build Playstyle Starting SPECIAL Implants Starting Skills Starting Traits
Guns (All rounder short to medium ranged weapons) S5 P5 E5 C1 I10 A6 L8 Strength
Perception
Endurance
Agility
Luck or DT
Guns

Lockpick or Science

Repair

Built to Destroy

Good Natured

Melee (unarmed or melee with critical hit focus) S7 P5 E7 C1 I5 A6 L9 Strength
Perception
Endurance
Intelligence
Agility
Luck
DT
Melee or Unarmed

Lockpick or Science

Medicine or Survival

Built to Destroy
Sniper (Long range stealth with V.A.T.S and non V.A.T.S) S5 P5 E4 C1 I9 A7 L9 Strength
Perception
Agility
Luck
Guns

Lockpick or Science

Sneak

Built to Destroy

Small Frame

Best Starting Stats (SPECIAL)

Fallout New Vegas starting SPECIAL (S.P.E.C.I.A.L.) is a permanent decision with 40 points that players assign across character strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck. Beyond these initial 40 points there are some limited methods across the base game and New Vegas DLCs to boost SPECIAL stats further:

  • Implants obtained from the New Vegas medical clinic (limited by your endurance stat)
  • Selecting the Intense Training perk
  • Completing the Lonesome Road DLC
  • Four Eyes or Small Frame trait
  • Starting and finishing the Old World Blues DLC

fallout-new-vegas-special-stats

Unlike other games in the Fallout franchise there is no Bobblehead mechanic with the implants system serving a similar role as there is an implant for each SPECIAL along with a damage threshold boost and a regenerate health option. The maximum number of implants for a character is equal to your endurance stat (not including the endurance implant) and players must not already be level 10 in a particular SPECIAL to add the respective SPECIAL implant.

The recommended numbers shown below in this detailed SPECIAL guide are referring to ending SPECIAL recommendations AFTER IMPLANTS and so players should consider this in determining their starting endurance. Note that these recommendations are focused on notable perk requirements and do not take into account the NPC conversations impacted by particular SPECIAL stats given these are fairly minimal in frequency and impact.

fallout-new-vegas-special-strength

Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Strength

Strength primarily boosts carry weight and melee damage (including the associated skill). It is also used to determine minimum strength requirements to use weapons without a penalty to your accuracy.

Strength is an obvious investment for melee builds for the additional raw damage and unlocking the appropriate strength based perks to buff your melee weapon damage. The carry weight is also useful for players that like to hoard items as the difference from level 1 to level 10 strength is 90 carry weight. For characters using ranged weapons most weapons require a strength of 6 to use effectively although some like the anti-material rifle that requires 8. There is also perk (weapon handling) to factor in that reduces strength requirements for all weapons by 2.

Notable perks with strength requirements (base game and DLC) include:

  • Strong back (5 STR) – 50 additional carry weight
  • Stonewall (6 STR) – Damage threshold boost against melee or unarmed attacks
  • Super Slam! (6 STR) – Knockdown chance on your melee or unarmed attacks
  • Heavyweight (7 STR) [Dead Money] – Weight of all weapons over 10 is cut in half
  • Burden to Bear (7 STR) [Lonesome Road] – 50 additional carry weight

Recommended strength level (after implants):

  • 4 to 6 for ranged weapon builds based on your weapon strength requirements (factor in the -2 strength requirement weapon handling perk)
  • 6 for unarmed builds and melee builds 

fallout-new-vegas-special-perception

Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Perception

Perception boosts the skills of lockpick, explosives and energy weapons. It also influences the distance your character detects enemies which only has a minor gameplay impact.

Perception is useful for a character that intends to fight from long range, leverage critical hits or utilise sneaking given it makes several perks available that can significantly boost your damage in these situations while for other player builds perception represents an opportunity to place these SPECIAL points elsewhere.

Notable perks with perception requirements (base game and DLC) include:

  • Sniper (6 PER) – Increases headshot chance in V.A.T.S.
  • Light Step (6 PER) – Footsteps don’t trigger floor traps
  • Hobbler (7 PER) [Dead Money] – Increases leg shot chance in V.A.T.S.
  • Better Criticals (6 PER) – Increases critical damage by 50% (critical attacks are automatic when in sneak mode)

Recommended perception level (after implants):

  • 1 for characters who do not intend to utilise long ranged weapons, critical or sneaking
  • 6 for builds that focus on stealth or critical attacks for damage

fallout-new-vegas-special-endurance

Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Endurance

Endurance modifies your health, resistances to poison and radiation, healing rate and boosts the survival and unarmed skills. Importantly it also drives the number of implants the player can apply to their character that makes it one of the hardest SPECIAL decisions in Fallout New Vegas.

Characters that expect to take significant damage from their build playstyle or are attempting hardcore mode will benefit from higher endurance in particular.

Notable perks with endurance requirements (base game and DLC) include:

  • Strong back (5 END) – 50 additional carry weight
  • Toughness (5 END) – Gives players 3 damage threshold
  • Old World Gourmet (6 END) – Improves health bonus from food
  • Lead Belly (6 END) – 50% less radiation when consuming irradiated drinks and food
  • Stonewall (6 END) – Damage threshold boost against melee or unarmed attacks
  • Long Haul (6 END) – Fast travel available while being over encumbered by weight
  • Atomic! (6 END) [Old World Blues] – Character buffs to run speed, attack speed, strength and damage resistance when your radiation level is above 0. Players will also regeneration Action Points while irradiated.
  • Rad Absorption (7 END) – Radiation decreases over time
  • Burden to Bear (7 END) [Lonesome Road] – 50 additional carry weight
  • Implant GRX (8 END) [Old World Blues] – Offers players an alternative to Turbo that is non-addictive with limited daily uses that refresh
  • Irradiated Beauty (8 END) [Lonesome Road] – Sleeping removes all radiation (flat 100 in hardcore mode)

Recommended endurance level (after implants):

  • 6 for most character builds, particularly where you expect to take significant amounts of damage while playing (e.g. melee, unarmed or short ranged guns)
  • 7 to 8 for players attempting to complete Fallout New Vegas hardcore mode

fallout-new-vegas-special-charisma

Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Charisma

Charisma provides a boost to your companion armour and damage at 5% per Charisma level while also giving your barter and speech skills a boost.

While it can be a fun idea to maximise this to create a deadly companion they are already quite strong at a base level and limited more by their AI in combat effectiveness. Similarly the boosts to barter and speech don’t have a dramatic gameplay impact in the early game and can be obtained without the investment in charisma through skill point investment from each level up instead. This leaves charisma to be one of the weakest SPECIAL stats of Fallout New Vegas and one that you can move points away from for other priorities.

Notable perks with charisma requirements (base game and DLC) include:

  • Ferocious Loyalty (6 CHR) – When your character health falls below 50% your companion gains damage resistance

Recommended charisma level (after implants):

  • 1 for the vast majority of Fallout New Vegas builds

fallout-new-vegas-special-intelligence

Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Intelligence

Intelligence boosts the number of skill points gained when you level up which can have a large impact on your character’s growth as you adventure through the Mojave Wasteland and your final character power level that make it the best SPECIAL stat to acquire.

Intelligence is a staple of most character builds with 10 intelligence from character creation or 9 intelligence with an early intelligence implant common options given a large portion of power in Fallout New Vegas comes from skills. Each point of intelligence provides 0.5 skill points per level with 49 level ups (DLC included) available that results in a 24 skill point difference intelligence point. Maximum intelligence is not necessary to complete a focused character build though with average intelligence values such as 5 still suitable when combined with skill books. High intelligence builds are attractive though as it allows you to essentially be a master of everything by the time you reach your chosen Fallout New Vegas ending.

Notable perks with intelligence requirements (base game and DLC) include:

  • Swift Learner (4 INT) – Bonus 10% experience gained
  • Comprehension (4 INT) – Gain an additional skill point when reading skill books
  • Educated (4 INT) – Receive 2 extra skill points per level up
  • Entomologist (4 INT) – 50% bonus damage to mutated insects
  • Pack Rat (5 INT) – Carry weight for items that weigh two or less is cut in half (includes ammunition in hardcore mode)
  • Lessons Learned (6 INT) [Lonesome Road] – Gain +1% experience rate per character level

Recommended intelligence level (after implants):

  • 10 for most character builds to optimise your skill point gains to turn you into a deadly master of all Courier
  • At least 5 for players looking for an alternative to running high intelligence builds in Fallout New Vegas for variety, difficulty or role playing reasons

fallout-new-vegas-special-agility

Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Agility

Agility offers a range of gun focused boosts with bonuses to Action Points (V.A.T.S.), weapon equip/holster speed and reload speed. Points invested in agility also modify the gun and sneak skills which gives characters focusing on these skills an early head start.

If you prefer to use V.A.T.S. for the bulk of combat you’ll also want to consider a healthy investment in agility given it can translate to an additional attack or several (weapon dependent) in this combat pause mode and it gives you access to key action point themed perks. The added utility of gun reload is also a quality of life improvement to save time in firefights and makes lower magazine weapons stronger overall. The Gauss rifle reload time for example goes from a ~4 second reload at level 1 agility to a ~1.5 second reload at level 10 which is a substantial reduction.

Notable perks with agility requirements (base game and DLC) include:

  • Rapid Reload (5 AGI) – Boosts reload speed by 25% for weapons
  • Quick Draw (5 AGI) – Equip and holster weapons 50% faster
  • Light Touch (6 AGI) [Dead Money] – Gain 5% critical chance while reducing enemy critical chance when wearing light armour
  • Silent Running (6 AGI) – While in sneak you can run without a penalty to your sneak success
  • Sniper (6 AGI) – Increases headshot chance in V.A.T.S.
  • Light Step (6 AGI) – Footsteps don’t trigger floor traps
  • Action Girl/Boy (6 AGI) – Bonus action points per rank (2 ranks with 15 points each)
  • Slayer (7 AGI) – Increases attack speed of your melee and unarmed attacks
  • Nerves of Steel (7 AGI) – Boosts the regeneration speed of action points
  • Tunnel Runner (8 AGI) [Lonesome Road] – Improved movement speed while sneaking with light or no armour

Recommended agility level (after implants):

  • 5 for most gun based builds (6 if you plan to wear light armour in your equipment build)
  • 7 for any build or playstyle that is reliant on the use of V.A.T.S.
  • 7 for melee or unarmed builds
  • 8 for stealth based builds

fallout-new-vegas-special-luck

Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Luck

Luck gives players a small modifier to all skills and boosts your critical chance with each level adding +1% although the usefulness of this will be dependant on your choice of weapons and obtaining other important critical perks such as Better Criticals. Note that once luck is at least level 7 you will also have a reliable method to earn Caps by visiting the locations at The Strip as your odds in the venues there are improved by this SPECIAL stat.

Luck investment is ideal for someone who wishes to have a consistent method to acquire caps or use a critical focused build given the limited sources of critical chance they want to maximise.

Notable perks with luck requirements (base game and DLC) include:

  • Fortune Finder (5 LUK) – Improves chances of finding bottle caps in containers (and Sierra Madre chips in Dead Money)
  • Scrounger (5 LUK) – Find more ammo in containers
  • Better Criticals (6 LUK) – Increases critical damage by 50% (criticals are automatic when in sneak mode)

Recommended luck level (after implants):

  • 10 for builds that prioritise stealth or critical attacks
  • 7 or more for players that want to earn their caps from The Strip

fallout-new-vegas-starting-skills

Fallout New Vegas Skills Overview & Best Starting Skills

When creating your Fallout New Vegas character (after SPECIAL selection) players will undergo an interview by Doc Mitchell to determine three game skills to be boosted by 15 skill points. While this is based on your responses they can be changed by the player to any of the available options after the interview is conducted. These 45 potential skill points represent a significant amount of power in your early adventure allowing you to approximately double the starting value of selected skills given your previous SPECIAL choices only provide a slight boost to these skills.

As you progress in level your starting skill decision is less impactful because the 15 skill points gained from tagging a skill makes up a smaller proportion of your overall total skill points available. For this reason your choice of starting skills is often weighted towards activities that are vital to early game progression in Fallout New Vegas and may not be directly tied to your intended final character build. Note that if you are playing the base game only (without DLCs) the value of these starting tagged skill points does go up given skill points are not as abundant without that additional level cap that DLC content provides.

The available starting skill options to tag in Fallout New Vegas are: Barter, Energy Weapons, Explosives, Guns, Lockpick, Medicine, Melee Weapons, Repair, Science, Sneak, Speech, Survival and Unarmed with the notable choices being:

  • Guns: One of the best default options for a starting skill given the prevalence of gun type weapons in the early portion of your Fallout New Vegas adventure. This skill will give you a strong initial start even if you don’t plan for guns to be part of your final character build and players should take at least one combat focused skill given how central combat is in the game. If you want to challenge yourself or roleplay as a character that only uses a single weapon type for the entire playthrough (such as melee weapons) then you should ensure you tag the respective skill instead.
  • Lockpick or Science: Taking one of these skills on character creation can help players reach the important cut offs that these skills demand for lock or terminal difficulty (25, 50, 75 and 100). Commonly players will encounter a locked door that you can lockpick alongside a terminal that can hack the door open so selecting both of these skills is unnecessary. Personally I would suggest lockpick given this is generally faster than hacking to complete and there are slightly more instances where only lockpicking is available near the starting game area.
  • Repair: Repairing gear is a staple of your Wasteland existence in Fallout New Vegas and important to ensure both your armour is able to protect you and that your weapons are effective against enemy encounters. Starting with a boost to repair from tagging the skill is a great quality of life option and also helps with your early game cap economy as your equipment will simply go further.
  • Survival: For players tempting fate in a hardcore mode playthrough of New Vegas boosting your Survival skill with one of your three initial skill tags can be a viable option given the boosts it provides can help you survive the harsh environment. Outside of this particular situation though you will be better served by the options noted above.

fallout-new-vegas-starting-traits

Fallout New Vegas Traits Overview & Best Starting Traits

Traits in Fallout New Vegas bring an additional layer to players ability to alter their gameplay and provide a trade off to consider if you choose to activate them. Unlike the other character customisation so far (SPECIAL and skills) players do not need to activate any traits and you are also capped to a maximum of two. The base game includes several trait options with the Old World Blues DLC adding several additional choices at the start of the game (although these additional traits are not particularly noteworthy). This DLC also provides players the ability to alter your selected traits once through the Sink Auto-Doc that is found when completing the add-on game content. The majority of traits are not particularly useful in New Vegas for a generalist playthrough although do unlock some potentially unique methods of altering the game. For most playthroughs you’ll want to limit your choices to the following which are considered to be the Fallout New Vegas best traits to select:

  • Built to Destroy: With critical chance being a fantastic source of damage and the sources of critical hit chance being few in New Vegas this is a trait that is hard to pass up for a vast majority of builds. The penalty is also not a significant drawback with additional repair a minor inconvenience overall and even becomes less relevant the further you advance in a playthrough and your available character resources grow.
  • Four Eyes: With glasses relatively easy to find and equip the penalty to perception from this trait is not as harsh as it might seem provided it doesn’t impact your perk choices and has the potential to be essentially a free point of perception for your playthrough.
  • Good Natured: Given players are gaining +5 in several useful skills while only losing -5 in overlapping combat skills (players are unlikely to need both gun and melee skills for example) this is net gain in skill points overall for the vast majority of character builds that should be strongly considered.
  • Small Frame: Providing the benefit of extra agility this can open up the potential for an easier SPECIAL build from the free point while the penalty of higher limb damage is generally not a serious issue with players able to stock up an abundance of healing items to counteract it or it may not even be a factor in certain playstyles (such as sniping).

Written by
Samuel Franklin
Samuel Franklin is the founder and lead editor of the Games Finder team and enjoys video games across all genres and platforms.

Sam enjoys the modern adventures in the Fallout franchise for their large open world settings of choice which blend RPG and FPS mechanics. He is a seasoned Wasteland wanderer where he often crafts karma driven heroes who cleanse the irradiated landscapes with traditional guns and Pip-Boy in hand. Whether it’s a highly modded rifle for use in V.A.T.S. or charging into the enemy with shotgun blasts Sam strives to not just survive the Wasteland but shape it for the better.

1 Comment

  1. Awesome guide, the only thing worth mentioning is the skilled trait should probably be mentioned considering it’s +5 to all skills but -10% exp; with an easy exploit it can become +10. The exp loss can be easily offset but isn’t that bad in the first place.

    Reply
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