Dragon riding is a new gameplay mechanic added by the Dragonborn expansion. In order to ride a dragon, you must acquire all three words of the Bend Will shout and use it on a dragon. The dragon will then land and allow you to climb onto its back and ride it. You cannot directly control the dragon while riding, but can give it certain instructions.
You can lock on to a single enemy which causes the dragon to attack that target. The dragon will then use a standard aerial attack pattern and can be assisted by you via shouts and spells. Area of effect spells or summons cannot be used while riding a dragon. The use of weapons (such as bows and melee weapons) are mostly limited as well.
To fast travel to different areas, simply select the location on your map as you normally would. In terms of in-game time, fast traveling on a dragon is almost immediate. Once given the command to land, the dragon will return to ground level where you can dismount. The dragon will then either aid you in combat, attack you or simply leave. You cannot fast travel on a dragon to a different worldspace. This means you cannot travel to and from walled cities, or between Solstheim and Skyrim.
The third word of the Bend Will shout is unlocked in the final quest of the Dragonborn core questline, which is also when you mount your first dragon.
There is a help section added in the menu after you mount your first dragon.
It's impossible to directly control the dragon while riding, but they will follow the following commands:
- Lock Target: Lock onto any potential targets on sight, hostile or non-hostile. If you give this order while a target is already locked, you can unlock from the previous target.
- Switch Target: Switch target from all locked ones and decide which one to attack. Health bar of the target will be shown on your screen. You can order your dragon to do so even in combat. Any targets on sight can be chosen in this way, regardless of whether they have been found before.
- Attack: Attack the chosen target. Your dragon will keep attacking the target with its own means until the target dies. You can cancel the attack by switching to another target.
- Land: Find a potential area to land and dismount your dragon. You can order your dragon to do so even in combat. If you give this order again before landing successfully, the previous landing command will be canceled and you can fly with your dragon back to the sky.
Detailed key set information can be found here.
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During combat, you are allowed to give your dragon commands. If you have given it an attack command and locked onto a target, it will attack until it has succeeded or is called off. It might take some time for the dragon to actually kill the target, as it will continuously circle until in the correct position to attack. If the target moves too fast or finds cover, the dragon may be unable to attack; in this case, it will fall back and continue to circle until the target is vulnerable. If there are several enemies around, the dragon will first dispatch its primary target, then select another automatically.
If the dragon you're riding takes too much damage during combat, it can be killed; if this happens you will plummet to the earth and most likely die. And should your dragon be struck by the Unrelenting Force shout, you may get knocked off, which may also result in your death.
While riding a dragon, you can only use certain spells, and shouts. You are limited to mainly destructive, restorative, and combat boosting spells while mounted. You only need to pay attention to the effective range of your spells and other factors such as the landscape. The dragon has a fast movement speed, so you must remember that it may be hard to actually hit the enemies.
The following is a list of spells and dragon shouts which may be cast from the back of a dragon:
- Other spells can be equipped while riding a dragon for the first time after loading a save, however, they cannot be used and the game will remind you "You cannot cast that type of spell while riding a dragon."
 Dragon Speech
When mounted, dragons will give various responses to your commands.
- Bend Will is used
- " . I am at your command."
- "Hail, . Shall we fly together?"
- "How can I serve you, thuri?"
- General Response
- "As you command."
- "Yes, thuri."
- Attack Command
- " ."
- "At once. ."
- No targets available
- " . There is no prey here."
- "I sense nothing nearby."
- " , the land below us is empty of prey."
- " . That is impossible."
- Land Command
- "As you command. .
- "I will look for a spot to land."
- "Yes, Thuri. . I will land at once."
- Landing Command Canceled
- " . Better to fly."
- Dragon Dismounted
- "I must leave you now."
- "I have served you for long enough. ."
- " . You cannot command me forever."
- " . My service to you is over."
One achievement is related to dragon riding:
- Sahloknir and Durnehviir are unaffected by the Bend Will shout, and therefore cannot be ridden.
- Dragon taming is only allowed in the worldspaces of Skyrim, Solstheim, and Apocrypha. Because of this, Alduin, Vulthuryol, and the skeletal dragon encountered in Labyrinthian cannot be ridden.
- The Throat of the World is listed as a bad location for dragon taming and so Paarthurnax cannot be ridden. Odahviing can be tamed and ridden there though.
- Your horse will follow you if you fast travel on a dragon to a different location.
- If a hostile dragon is encountered, the tamed dragon will proceed to fight it and will continue to climb higher into the sky until one of the dragons is reduced to 30% health and flies down to crash land.
- When riding a dragon, if the dragon flies through a mountain, you may disappear and the game may crash.
- Sometimes after dismounting a dragon you will permanently be stuck with the camera view the same as if your were still riding the dragon. Reload a save before riding the dragon to fix this.
- When you mount a dragon you may stay still while the dragon flies off without you.
- The "Dragonborn.bsa" file edits the "skeleton.nif" file for dragons. Deleting any extra "skeleton.nif" file for dragons which may exist may resolve the issue. If this won't help or you don't have any "skeleton.nif" in your meshes/actors/dragon path try to remove some of .bsa from your skyrim/data path from other mods related with dragons (like FDR - Burning Skyes (100% conflict was detected)).
- When climbing onto the dragon, you may appear to climb into the dragon, rendering it unflyable.
- Getting off and then getting back on the dragon may resolve this.
- While in flight, your dragon and everything around you may slow down to a near walking speed.
- If a dragon you are riding flies outside the world boundaries you will get stuck in mid air, but still be able to do all the things you can normally do while riding a dragon. Reloading a previous save will fix this.
- When you mount a dragon after taming it, your character may stand with arms and legs wide upon the dragon where your character is supposed to sit.
- When mounting a dragon from an elevated level, you may mount 'empty space' above the dragon and rapidly rise upwards for a few moments, usually resulting in a fatal fall shortly after.
- If using Bend Will on a dragon and he is killed while speaking to you, he will begin to turn to ash and give you a soul, but still be alive and rideable.
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