There's a lot that you can do in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Sure, you can do the predictable thing and be a gay cat-man that shouts at dragons to death. But you can also take on even the most mundane of tasks. Want to make pies for twenty hours? There's an oven right over there, get baking. How about living an honest life as a blacksmith? Well, by golly, you can do it!
One thing that becomes infinitely useful and essential (depending on your class) is crafting. That is, turning one thing into another. Think of it in terms of Minecraft—take your raw materials and make something awesome.
Below, I've outlined the three major aspects of crafting in Skyrim: Alchemy, Enchanting, and Smithing. There are other aspects to crafting, such as chopping wood or cooking a nice stew, but that's mainly reserved for straight role playing of your character. The outlined aspects actually give your character an advantage in the harsh and sometimes hostile world of Skyrim.
Alchemy is the art of brewing potions. Simple enough, right? Well, you have to have a pretty large knowledge of ingredients before you can even think of getting your brew on. The quickest way of expanding your ingredients knowledge is to sample everything you can. From the cabbages you steal from caverns, to the toes of giants that nearly killed you, you have to ingest some pretty wild stuff. And each time you sample something, the knowledge of what that ingredient does is ingrained in your character's head.
Okay, so you've sampled sixteen giant's toes and the wings of a beautiful butterfly. What's next? You need to find an alchemy laboratory. You'll find these in abundance across your travels, so it's really hard to pinpoint exactly where one is. Just know they're everywhere, from caves to homes to castles.
When you arrive at an alchemy laboratory, based on what ingredients you've sampled on your travels, you'll see some preset recipes ready to go for you. For me, I saw Invisibility, Resist Fire, Resist Poison and Weakness to Magic potions I could brew. Honestly, alchemy is the easiest craft to take up, and there's no reason why any character shouldn't learn at least a few health potions.
Like being ridiculously cool? Then Enchanting is for you! In most RPGs, enchanting means that you give some weapon/armor/item magical properties through casting magic onto it. Not in The Elder Scrolls series. What has to be done is far cooler.
In Skyrim and all of the Elder Scrolls games, you have to trap the soul of someone in a Soul Gem, then combine that gem with the weapon you wish to enchant. Kind of amazing, right?
First, your character has to learn the magical effect you wish to enchant your item with. Examples of this are Light, Damage Health, Restore Magicka, etc. The only way to do this is to Disenchant the object. What that means is that you destroy the object and consume its magical effect. You can do this at any enchanting table across Skyrim.
After you've disenchanted the object of your choosing, you need to get a trapped soul gem. What this entails is you casting the spell "Soul Trap" on any living thing in the game. But it's never that simple, isn't it? No, you have to cast the spell, and then kill the creature or person while the soul gem is in your inventory. Each creature or person's soul will automatically try and fill the smallest empty soul gem in the player's inventory. And remember campers: there are no partial captures for souls. You either get it all or the soul is gone.
Alright, so you know what you want to do to the item, and you've got a soul gem all filled up and ready to go, what's the next step? Enchanting! Finally! Head back to an enchanting table and choose the item you wish to enchant, along with your filled soul gem, and voilà—you've just made an enchanted item!
Thought enchanting was a long process? Welcome to smithing. This is the process of making weapons and armor from scratch, as well as improving what weapons and armor you already have. But of course, there's a long process to actually making your first set of armor.
First, you need to gather up the pelts of animals you've hunted and bring them to a tanning rack. This allows you to cure the pelt into leather or leather strips. You'll probably need both for whatever armor you're making.
Now, you need some raw materials for the type of armor you're making. If you're making Iron Armor, you'll need Iron Ore. Steel Armor requires Steel Ore, and so on and so forth. But how do you gather Iron Ore? With a pickaxe, of course! Taking a cue from Minecraft, you'll need to mine your raw materials to get ore. Here comes the fun part—to make ingots of your chosen mineral, you have to smelt it at, where else, a smelter. There are plenty of them throughout the game, with blacksmiths in every major town packing everything you'll need to complete a set of armor.
Okay, so you've got your ingots and leather, but you can't just wear that! Here's where your friend the forge comes in to play. This is where you combine your leather and ingots to create weapons and armor. Basically, walk up to the forge and start combining your items to create your chosen forged items. It's a long process, but it's satisfying when you finally walk off with armor that you created.
But that's not all you can do at the blacksmith's! Head over to the grindstone to sharpen and improve your weapons by using ingots of the same material (steel ingots to improve a steel sword, etc.) And if your armor needs a tune up, the workbench has you covered. Treat it like the grindstone: use ingots of the same material that the armor you're improving is made of. Also, you'll need leather, depending on the condition your armor is in when you start to improve it.
That's it, really. Now you know the basics behind smithing, you're able to brew a potion, and can enchant your favorite bow. What's next? Well, that's up for you to decide. Explore your options, try everything in the world once, and be open to what your character can do.