Every Hold in Skyrim has its own Guard. These guards protect the capital cities of each hold, and any other settlements within.
All hold guards wear very similar armor sets; differences are just the color of the sash and material of the undershirt used, either scaled or quilted. They also wear the same type of helmet, however the colors vary depending on the hold. Hold guards also carry a round wooden shield which varies in color and typically displays the symbol of the hold across the front.
Hold guards can be permanently replaced by either Imperial or Stormcloak soldiers during the Civil War, depending on which side the Dragonborn joins. They will perform the same duties and have the same dialogue (although they may also have additional faction-based dialogue) as regular guards. The victorious faction will keep their guards. However, those that are not loyal will be replaced.
The guards are led by a captain and local Imperial Legate or Stormcloak Commander who reports to the local Jarl. Their duty is to uphold peace and order throughout the city and the hold, as well as ensuring justice is upheld in the event of a crime. Additionally, they are the last line of defense of their city in the event of assault or invasion. Only Stormcloak controlled Holds have female guards.
Hold Guards level with the Dragonborn until around level 50. This means that at level 50+, the Hold Guards are rather powerful, and have no problem fighting even a dragon. Notably, Hold Guards continue to level up to match the Dragonborn's level, while regular characters (including Followers) are locked at the level in which they are first spawned.
They wear a purple cloth version of the guard armor. The armor is a scaled vest with a bronze chainmail shirt underneath. In addition, they also wear fur boots.
The guards also carry a round, lavender, wooden shield with a painted motif of two crossed swords.
Ivarstead and Shor's Stone are a part of The Rift, but their guards are slightly different and are named "Ivarstead Guard". The Armor, Helmet and Shield will still be considered as Riften Armor however.
During the course of the civil war, the Imperial Legion may occupy Riften and replace these guards.
They wear a red cloth version of the guard armor. The armor is a scaled vest with a chainmail shirt underneath. Also it should be noted that Haafingar Hold Guards' helmets are dark brown on the crown, rather than the bronze color that is on every other "guard" helmet in the game. In addition, as Solitude is the Capital of Skyrim and under Imperial Legion control, the guards also wear Imperial bracers and Imperial boots.
The guards also carry a round, red, wooden shield with a painted motif of a wolf.
The guards around Castle Dour are Imperial soldiers and wear full Imperial Armor, though they are still named Solitude Guard.
During the course of the civil war, the Stormcloaks may occupy Solitude and replace these guards.
These guards are possibly the most well known hold guards in Skyrim and the first/closest to often be found in the game, they patrol Whiterun Hold and Whiterun. Commander Caius serves as commander of the Whiterun Guard.
They wear a yellow cloth version of the guard armor. The armor is a scaled vest with a chainmail shirt underneath. In addition, they also wear fur boots, but most guards wear no gauntlets.
The guards also carry a round, yellow, wooden shield with a painted motif of a horse's head.
During the course of the civil war, the Stormcloaks may occupy Whiterun and replace these guards. Commander Caius will also be removed from his post and replaced with Sinmir. The detachment of guards that was sent to Riverwood during Dragon Rising will remain.
Eastmarch Hold Guard
These guards patrol Eastmarch and Windhelm. They are Stormcloak soldiers and share their speech options.
They wear a blue cloth Stormcloak uniform. The armor is a quilted vest with a chainmail shirt underneath. In addition, they also wear Fur Gauntlets and Fur Boots.
The guards also carry a round, blue, wooden shield with a painted motif of a bear's head.
During the course of the civil war, the Imperial Legion may occupy Windhelm and replace these guards.
Only two guards patrol the city of Winterhold at any one time, while a third is in the Jarl's Longhouse. Only one additional Winterhold Hold guard can be found elsewhere in the hold at the Whistling Mine, located to the south-east of Winterhold proper. This guard is the holder of the only known Winterhold guard shield.
They wear a white cloth version of the guard armor. The armor is a scaled vest with a chainmail shirt underneath. In addition, they also wear Fur Boots.
During the course of the civil war, the Imperial Legion may occupy Winterhold and replace these guards.
They wear full Imperial light armor, and are the only guards who wear a completely different type of armor then the rest of the guards. They also carry an Imperial shield, which is standard for all Imperial soldiers.
They only appear if the Dragonborn sided with the Empire during the civil war.
These guards patrol Holds and Hold capitals that were previously allied to the Empire. They are Stormcloak soldiers and share their speech options.
They wear a blue cloth Stormcloak uniform. The armor is a quilted vest with a chainmail shirt underneath. In addition, they also wear Fur Gauntlets and Fur Boots.
They also carry a round, blue, wooden shield with a painted motif of a bear's head. This was, and is only prevalent in Eastmarch, as the guards posted at other holds does not usually carry shields, preferring two-handed weaponry instead.
They only appear as guards outside of Eastmarch if the Dragonborn sided with the Stormcloaks during the civil war.
Bounties in each hold are treated separately. For example, the Dragonborn can obtain a bounty in Whiterun, and Riften will not recognize it.
Normally all guards can be bribed if the Dragonborn is a member of the Thieves Guild with the exception of the guards of Markarth after the completion of The Forsworn Conspiracy and No One Escapes Cidhna Mine. These guards will not accept bribes and the Dragonborn has no choice but to fight. There is the option to go to jail, and after selecting that option the guard will have dialogue. Cancel out the conversation and the guard will ignore the Dragonborn.
It is possible to kill guards without gaining a bounty, as long as one is sneaking. Slain guards will respawn three days after their death. They can also be killed if they are hit by an unrelenting force shout and pushed off a cliff, or sometimes even down the stairs. The Dragonborn does not get a bounty unless he/she has shouted at quite a few guards beforehand.
Click for a full list of Guard dialogue
"I used to be an adventurer like you. Then I took an arrow in the knee...."
"The guards have been talking about you."
"Go fiddling with any locks around here and we're going to have a real big problem."
"Let me guess, someone stole your sweetroll."
"Gotta keep my eyes open. Damn dragons could swoop down at any time."
"My cousin is out fighting dragons, and what do I get? Guard duty."
"I can handle the occasional drunk or bandit. I don't know about dragons."
"Disrespect the law, and you disrespect me."
"Watch the skies, traveler."
"They say Ulfric Stormcloak murdered the High King... with his voice! Shouted him apart!"
"I'd be a lot warmer and a lot happier with a bellyful of mead."
"Got me thinking... maybe I'm the Dragonborn! And I just don't know it yet!"
"I have to wonder, what does the Dragonborn do once he's been summoned by the Greybeards? Can the Thu'um be taught, like any skill?"
"Seen those warriors from Hammerfell? They've got curved swords. Curved. Swords."
"I mostly deal with petty thievery and drunken brawls. Been too long since we've had a good bandit raid."
"What is it?"
"What is it? Dragons?"
"Fancy yourself an alchemist, hmm?...never could get the hang of that."
A Dragon slaying is witnessed by a guard; "By the gods, I don't know what to say."
When armed with magic near a guard; "Go cast your fancy magic somewhere else."
When armed with fire-based magic or enchanted weapons near a guard; "Take care with those flames!" or "Careful with that fire!"
Charging a magic spell or shouting near a guard; "Woah, woah, woah, watch the magic!"
Approaching a guard with raised fists; "You come up to me, fists raised? You looking for a beating?"
Speaking to Stormcloak Guard; " The Imperials think us all lawless beasts. I'm proof of their ignorance.""The Imperials think we need their laws. Pfft."
Speaking to Guard while not sleeping for long time; "You look tired, friend. The <Inn name> has beds for rent."
With Dawnguard installed; "They say that if a vampire so much as scratches you, you'll turn into one. That better not be true."
If approached with any weapon drawn; "Guard might get nervous, a man/woman approaches with his/her weapon drawn."
If first approached outside of Solitude; "You're just in time to say hello to Roggvir."
If the Dragonborn is naked; "Gonna get cold tonight. Might want to at least cover your delicates."
If approached during nighttime; "Bit late to be wanderin' around, isn't it?"
If approached at around 12 am to 4 am; "Just a few more hours and I crawl under some furs..."
Alchemy is at a low level; "So you know alchemy? Maybe you could make me some mead."
Alchemy is at a high level; "Hey! You mix potions, right? Can you brew me an ale?"
Archery is at a low level; "Keep your arrows in their quiver, archer."
Archery is at a high level; "Favor the bow eh? I'm a sword man myself."
Conjuration is at a low level; "Hail summoner, conjure me up a warm bed, won't you?"
Destruction is at a low level; "So you can cast a few spells, am I supposed to be impressed?"
Destruction is at a high level; "Destruction magic's fine, just don't go burning down any buildings."
Enchanting is at a high level; "Don't suppose you'd enchant my sword? Dull old blade can barely cut butter."
Illusion is at a high level; "You're the one who casts those illusions. Impressive."
Light Armor is at a low level; "Lightly armored means light on your feet. Smart."
Lockpicking is at a high level; "Go fiddling with any locks around here, and we're going to have a real problem."
One-Handed is at a high level; "You're like me, eh? don't fancy those clunky Two-Handed weapons."
Note: Guards who wields two-handed weapons can also say this. This is especially true in holds occupied by the Stormcloaks, as Stormcloak guards does not usually carry shields.
Pickpocket is at a high level; "I find your hand in my pocket, I'm going to cut it off."
Restoration is at a high level; "I've got a lot of respect for the Restoration School. Skyrim could use more healers."
Speech is at a low level; "Don't think you can barter with me like I'm one of those damned shopkeepers."
Speech is at a high level; "Heard about you and your honeyed words."
Sneak is at a high level; "Hands to yourself, sneak thief."
Sneak is at a high level; "I know your kind, always sneaking about."
Two-Handed is at a high level; "The Gods gave you two hands, and you use them both for your weapon... I can respect that."
"I hope you're finding the city in proper order, thane."
"I trust the day's found you well, thane."
"How do you do, thane?"
Upon completing the Missing in Action quest; "I wonder what it's like for those Thalmor, now that they've been taken down a notch." "From what I hear, you're the one who gave those Thalmor a black eye. You really know how to pick your enemies."
After completing Unbound; "Helgen...destroyed by a dragon. Hard to believe isn't it?""They say Helgen got hit by a dragon. One of those horrors come here, we'll be ready."
Upon completing Dragon Rising; "You couldn't possibly be the Dragonborn of legend, could you?"
After completing The Way of The Voice; "Come to think of it, maybe I'm the Dragonborn. I just didn't know it yet."
After having first turned into Werewolf and returning; "Ugh, have you been tending your hounds? You smell like a wet dog."
After becoming Werewolf; "I find your wolfish grin... unsettling."
After becoming Werewolf; "Is that... fur? Coming out of your ears?"
After becoming Werewolf and talk to Whiterun Guard; "I'm telling you I heard it, howling. Those werewolf tales are true."
After joining Companions; "Now I remember... you're that new member of the companions. So you, what... fetch the mead?"
After joining Companions; "Hail, Companion."
After completing Dragon Rising; "If those Whiterun guards can take down a dragon, so can we."
Guards saying "Let me guess, someone stole your sweetroll" is a reference to several other Bethesda games where the theft of a sweetroll is treated as an ongoing joke.
All guards encountered during the quest No One Escapes Cidhna Mine cannot be bribed, persuaded or intimidated. The chosen option(s) will always fail no matter how high the Dragonborn's Speech skill level is and the only viable course of action is to engage in combat or give in to the arrest.
Sometimes if Guards see a dead body and the Dragonborn happens to be next to it, they will ask if they know about it. A bad choice of dialogue options can lead the Guards to throw the Dragonborn in jail if they refuse to co-operate.
Bretons are the only race that the guards won't make racial comments to.
Sometimes, if the Dragonborn eats consumable items in a barrel and a guard happens to be nearby, they will wonder why they are digging through it, but no bounty will be placed.
Guards are not fooled by the invisibility spell when attempting an arrest.
Guards are not fooled by non-guards wearing guard armor, regardless of reputation, skills, or armor faction.
Guards are not affected by either Calm, Fury, or Fear spells even if they are master-leveled. They are, however, affected by Courage spells, which can make a dragon fight easier.
During The Forsworn Conspiracy, a Reach Hold Guard may warn the Dragonborn to stop asking questions to the residents.
If the Dragonborn has a small bounty, a guard may say "Wait, I know you..." Instead of replying "You're making a mistake.", the conversation can be backed out of and he will not pursue the matter any further.
Guards will recognize the Dragonborn's race even if their face is concealed.
If a guard wearing the Hold Guard helmet (that conceals their face) is decapitated, their head will be invisible until the helmet is looted off of them.
The guards say "Guard might get nervous, a man approaches with his weapon drawn..." even if the Dragonborn is using their fists.
If you use shouts near a guard, they will come to you and ask you to stop, because you're "making people nervous". They won't do anything if you refuse.
Sometimes, the guard might say "Favor the bow eh? I'm a sword man myself.", even if you don't have a bow equipped and if you don't have high Archery skill.
Guards will sometimes say they favor one handed weapons over two handed even if they're carrying a two handed weapon.
The "Arrow in the knee" quote has become a popular internet meme.
If the Dragonborn drops a weapon infront of a Guard, they will say, "You shouldn't leave weapons lying around. Someone could get hurt. And if I see it again, that someone will be you. Do I make myself clear?" The Dragonborn can then respond with, "I'm sorry." or, "You have, but I don't care."
Click to see the list of bugs encountered
If all Solitude Guards are slain at once there is a possible bug where guards will not respawn.This also happens to the Imperial/Stormcloaks in Riverwood. If you have a large fine you want to pay, and there's no guards to arrest you, you could enter castle dour and find the commander.
There is a bug when the guards arrest the player, and the player says that he/she is the Thane of the Hold, the bounty will get cleared but the guards will still attack the player, without any choice but to fight, getting the player another bounty which makes the Thane dialogue useless.
360 PS3 There is a possible bug when getting caught and having to pay bounty in Solitude, the game might glitch and put you under the city. This can be avoided simply by walking to the exit doors.
360 There is a bug where if you pickpocket someone in the Whiterun hold, tell the guard you'd rather die than fight, and return to Whiterun and enter Breezehome, the guards will attack you once you come out and will not let you surrender. This can be fixed by running away from the city to Riverwood and sheathing your weapon in front of a guard.
In Whiterun everytime you enter the city the guard at the main gate may start attacking for an unknown reason. You just have to sheathe your weapon, or if you don't have a weapon out: take a weapon out then sheathe it.
In the Whiterun Dungeon, the guards may become invisible.
360 Currently, even if you have gone through the Purity questline, curing your own lycanthropy, guards will still make remarks as if you were a werewolf, such as, "Is that fur... coming out of your ears?"
Even after you've become the Harbinger, the guards still say that you're the "new member of the Companions."
In Winterhold, if guards are killed by enemies or by the Dragonborn, they won't respawn even if they were in the city.
If the player fast travels to Sarethi Farm there may be a chance that there will be a Riften guard fighting an Imperial soldier. The guard will still be there even if Riften was taken over by Imperials.
360 There is a rare bug in Solitude where five guards leave Castle Dour naked except for their sword. The guards begin to walk the streets, however once the player enters any building, they either equip clothing or vanish. This is the only known way to see a guard's face without killing them, with the exception of pickpocketing.
In Riften, a Riften Guard will spawn and start attacking the Imperial soldiers, if you took over the Rift with the Empire.
360 PS3 When you decapitate a guard, their head will stay on their body until you take their helmet off.
A Whiterun Guard may suddenly appear when you fast travel. He will stand then and say the normal Guard Dialogue. To fix this, carry on with your game as normal, as he will eventually disappear.
There is a rare bug in Whiterun where guards duplicate times two and walk side by side with their duplicates.
A Whiterun Guard may carry a torch and bow at the same time, but still fire the bow.