Stealing involves the use of stealth and is the art of taking someone else's objects for one's own, preferably without detection or bloodshed.
Since the dawn of civilization on Nirn, thievery has been an attractive business to people seeking to become rich quickly. These people see thievery as a lucrative opportunity.
Notably, the Daedric Prince Nocturnal is the patron of thieves. She has been known to grant (or withhold) luck to or from thieves at her discretion. With her influence, a novice could suddenly be able to pick an impossible lock, or a master pickpocket's target could turn around at the worst possible time.
Eventually over the course of Tamriel's history, thievery became such a widespread profession that Thieves guilds have spread throughout Tamriel's provinces, including Morrowind, Cyrodiil, and Skyrim. These guilds usually consist of fences, guild contacts, and several thieves serving under a Guildmaster. The members are usually given jobs to do by senior members of the guild, or, at times, by the Guildmaster themselves. Though the guild and its members often have a somewhat negative reputation among other citizens, particularly guards and nobility, the guild members often greatly respect each other, usually teaching each other the various skills they have acquired over their thieving careers.
A person's effectiveness in stealing is generally governed by their skill in sneaking, and, in Morrowind and Oblivion, their Agility skill as well. Depending on the job that is to be done, additional skills may be required, such as Lockpicking or Pickpocketing. For instance, burglary jobs require the thief to be skilled enough in lockpicking to pick the lock of the target's home, while fishing jobs require the thief to be skilled in pickpocketing in order to remain undetected.
If someone is witnessed stealing an item or pickpocketing another person, a bounty may be placed on them and all armed witnesses will become hostile. Otherwise, the victim may just comment on the theft, usually confronting the thief and asking for or taking the item back, or possibly notifying the local guard. If there are any guards present, they may try to apprehend the thief. If the thief does not contest the arrest, either choosing to pay off their bounty or serve an appropriate jail sentence, the guard will confiscate all stolen items that the thief is carrying, regardless if the items were involved in the crime in question or not.
All stolen items are marked with a red hand icon . In Skyrim, it is marked with "Stolen," in the items menu and its name is in red text when withdrawn from a container. Most merchants do not buy stolen goods, but fences and certain merchants (such as Manheim Maulhand) will, as well as merchants invested in by using the investor and fence perks.
Mixing stolen and normal items
If an item is in inventory that was not stolen (such as arrows, potions, etc.) and one of the same items is stolen, it appears that all of the items in inventory of that type are stolen. This occurs because stolen and normal items are generally stacked together, and stolen items are listed first. This prevents any of those items from being sold to a merchant, even though there are one or more that were not stolen.
This can be resolved by selling all the stolen items to a fence. Since the stolen items will be sold first, once they are all sold, then the "Stolen" flag will disappear. Also, each of the stolen items can be stored in a container―as soon as the stolen flag disappears, the rest can be sold anywhere.
Removing the stolen item flag
Permanently removing the stolen flag can be done several ways:
- Placing any stolen item in an empty container, then commanding a follower to search it, should cause the stolen tag to disappear. However, this does not work with patched versions.
- In the Silver-Blood Inn, in the room the Dragonborn can rent, there are several sacks and large sacks on the left side of the room. Put the stolen goods in the large sack on the right laying on the ground, then ask a follower to take all items inside the large sack. Take the items back from the follower, and they will not be stolen.confirmation needed
- Trading stolen items to a follower and then dismissing them from service, then going back to their home and re-recruiting them will clear all items in their inventory of stolen tags. Again, this does not work in patched versions of the game.
- If a follower is ordered to take an item, it will not appear in their inventory as stolen. However, if they are seen doing it, the Dragonborn will receive a bounty. This is a useful way to launder goods after stealing them, by going somewhere private, dropping any stolen goods, having a follower pick them up, and then taking them back. This does not work in patched versions of the game.
- When the item is sold to a fence, the flag is removed and the item can be bought back. However, the merchant will sell the item for a higher price than they bought it for, so this can become quite expensive. This also is not guaranteed to succeed.
- Because taking an item from a body does not count as stealing, returning a stolen item to the dead body of the owner, and then looting it back, should remove the flag. However, the owner's body must be available before using this method, limiting the cases in which it can be used. This also does not work in patched versions of the game.
- Note: This method does not always work in houses where multiple characters live, because of how the interior area ownership is handled. Merchants have their items flagged as owned by "someone else" (most likely the character or characters accompanying them) to prevent them from being sold by the merchant, while multiple-resident housing has unclear ownership.
- Similarly, since items looted off bodies are not stolen, it is possible to reverse-pickpocket stolen items into a character's inventory, kill said character, then take the item back. This removes the stolen flag. Dark Brotherhood quests are conducive to this method, as they offer several non-hostile targets who are easily pickpocketed. Again, this does not work in patched versions of the game.
- By using a Sigil Stone or an Altar of Enchanting, the stolen item can be enchanted and it will become an entirely new item, clear of the stolen flag. This only works on armor, clothing, jewelry, and weapons. It is important to note that this method does not work in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
- Anything crafted from stolen items (via alchemy, smithing, smelting, etc.) will not be considered stolen.
- Note: Items that are merely improved will not have their stolen flag removed. However, using stolen material to repair a non-stolen weapon will not result in the weapon acquiring the stolen flag.
- If an item is stolen, and then dropped in public (i.e. Whiterun), any witness may pick up the item and return it to the Dragonborn. Items "returned" in this way will not be marked as stolen. The act of stealing must be unwitnessed for this to work, however.
- Having the Wax Key perk (requires Lockpicking level 50) makes copies of keys which are not classed as stolen.
- Books found laying around marked with a red "Open book" (or "Read" in Skyrim) are directly read rather than placed into the inventory. Since the item is not actually taken into possession, this does not count as theft. Intentionally taking the book after opening it, however, does.
- spell tomes, as the tomes are consumed on use. Note: if a book is inside a container, it can still be read safely by holding the Shift key before activating it. This will not work on
- In Skyrim, an NPC's line of sight will be broken by any object placed between them and the Dragonborn. By placing a pot, basket, or any similar object over a character's head, they will be effectively blinded, allowing easy theft of objects around them.
- A stolen horse will still be considered "owned" if dismounted from, and will start walking away. Re-mounting a stolen horse within sight of an NPC will be recognized as normal theft.
- If arrested, any stolen items carried can be found in the "evidence" chest in prisons.