Can I become leader of the Thieves' Guild without finishing the main chain and is there any benefits from being the leader anyway?
I completed the quest where you get the Skeleton Key and I don’t really want to continue the chain until I’ve done a lot of the other stuff in the game, since the key is so useful. Brynjolf said before that I would become leader of the guild after everything was over.
Can I become the leader anyway without finishing the Nightingales quest chain? Are there any bonuses for being the leader?
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No, you cannot be named Guildmaster until you resolve your unfinished business with Nocturnal.
Benefits of being named Guild Master include a tribute chest full of (respawning!) loot, the Guild Master armor (an improved version of the Thieves Guild armor you were issued on joining, and a perk giving +25% Armor Rating when wearing a full set of Guild Armor.