Draugr retain many of their former human skills and thus can greatly differ in their personalities, much like living humans. Some Draugr will charge in on intruders wielding their battleaxes, while others keep their distance and use bow and arrow, yet others are very proficient with magic and can sometimes even be seen summoning high-level Atronachs. Draugr can sometimes be heard talking in the Dragon Language, saying such phrases as Unslaad Krosis ("Eternal sorrow") or Daanik Ah Dov ("Doomed dragonhunter"). They are also known to have the ability to use the Thu'um.
The variety found in Skyrim dwell within ancient Nordic barrows and are usually associated with the Dragon Cult. In life, many were followers of a Dragon Priest (though others can be found guarding nobility or treasures). When the Priest died, his followers were made undead and buried with him. The followers would rise from their resting places in shifts to worship at the sarcophagus of the Priest, transferring their life force to him, and to defend their barrow against unwanted intruders. They would then return to their graves and regenerate their life force while sleeping. It's speculated that these undead followers would have been indistinguishable from the living when the barrows were new. Over time, the followers' bodies withered despite the ancient Nordic embalming techniques and they became the modern draugr of Skyrim. The local Nords mistakenly believe that the draugr were cursed with undeath for serving the dragons. Bernadette Bantien of the College of Winterhold did much research into the nature of the draugr.
The variety found on the island of Solstheim are different from their mainland brethren. They were once a tribe similar to the Skaal. Trapped and hungry on the island, they feasted on the flesh of their dead. The All-Maker saw this as a crime against nature, and cursed them to walk the land for eternity as undead, in search of more human flesh to consume. These draugr can often be found in the barrows of the island in search of flesh, and will fiercely attack and devour interlopers. An ingredient called gravetar can be extracted from defeated draugr, and can be used in alchemy. Draugr are occasionally slain as a rite of passage for male Skaal warriors.
Draugr Lord Aesliip was once a mage of the Skaal who was banished for delving into necromancy. Through necromantic rituals he turned himself into a draugr so that he could eternally protect the island from a group of Frost Atronachs who planned to take it for themselves. He retained the ability to communicate. He was confronted by the Nerevarine in 3E 427, although accounts vary as to how he met his end.
Draugr on Solstheim