Approach Stealing Like a Professional Thief in Skyrim


Do you like to steal stuff in Skyrim? For some players, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Skyrim and its predecessors in the Elder Scrolls series has always been the ability to steal indiscriminately from the many people and buildings in the lands of Tamriel, and not just loot dungeons full of bad guys and monsters.


But it’s never been straightforward of course, there’s always been an element of skill and strategy required in Elder Scrolls burglary, as surely as there is in its combat situations. This has never been truer than in Skyrim, with its intricate new lock-picking system from the Fallout series, and its Radiant AI that creates diligent NPCs who look at you or even follow you if they find you suspicious.


You could just be extremely methodical and work your way through the map staling from every NPC and building in Skyrim, but that will start to fell laborious and it isn’t the most fun or the most efficient way of doing it. To be the most successful thief you can be in Skyrim, such is the game’s realism that you can actually employ the same tactics that real life professional thieves use to be able to repeatedly steal valuable items from secure environments while avoiding capture and imprisonment.


Here are some guidelines that will explain how to approach stealing in the game of Skyrim like a professional thief. This won’t include any glitches that you can exploit, or even any techniques to fast level certain skills by performing repetitive acts under certain conditions. This is because thievery in Skyrim is a lot more entertaining and rewarding if you go about it like a real thief and not a video game character. If you really want to challenge yourself, you can avoid using saved game reloads if and when you get caught stealing so that you will actually be effected by failing in your heists if you don’t carry them out properly.


Rule 1 – know your trade)

The Sneak and Lockpicking skills are the essential tools of the thief (Pickpocket is handy for some things, but the other two are the priority). They’ll get better the more you use them, and you can hire trainers teach you to be better at them (more on that below) as well as use items and potions to enhance them (more on that in rule 4). When you start the game and you first escape from Helgen, you’ll come across some Guardian stones, of which you should receive the blessing of the Thief stone for a boost to the rate at which you develop all stealth related skills in the game.

If you really don’t care which race you play in Skyrim, or actually like this race, then play as a Khajit for the reasons that they have a starting bonus to Sneak and Lockpick and they possess the racial power known as Night Eye, which allows them to see in the dark for sixty seconds at a time – great for nighttime raids.


Rule 2 – know the right people)

Real world professional thieves all have contacts in criminal underworlds. People they can procure equipment from, sell stolen goods to, or even learn how to do certain stuff from. You should ‘get in’ with the Thieves Guild of the city of Riften. There you will make acquaintances from whom you can buy required items, fences to whom you can sell stolen items, and trainers who can help you advance your Lockpicking, Sneak and Pickpoket skills should you wish it.


Rule 3 – plan your heists)

The best targets for a thief, in the real world and in Skyrim, are buildings, not people. Buildings are where people keep their valuable items or money that they don’t carry around with them. In Skyrim, you should start out by robbing stores, and later, when your stealth skills are much higher, more prominent buildings such as manor houses and Jarl’s palaces.

Your heists should ALWAYS be carried out at night, NEVER in the day, without exception. True that the occupants of houses will usually be out in the day and at home at night, but a) all the NPCs exhibit their own independent behavior and might return unexpectedly during the daytime for some reason, b) they’ll be asleep after a certain time at night and c) you’re mostly going to be robbing stores at first, and their owners are always present during the day to serve customers.

Criminals use an expression, “case the joint”. Any competent thief will always survey a building and its occupants to some extent before robbing it. Pick one of the main cities in Skyrim, and walk about it during the day as an honest bystander. Visit all of the stores and take note of what items they keep on display around the customer area, the locations of any visible chests and other containers, how many owners or staff live and work there, and whereabouts in the building those people live and sleep when not working in relation to where the display items are kept. Choose the buildings that you think you can successfuly rob and prepare to return there later when the owners are alseep.


Rule 4 – prepare your person and inventory)

Real world thieves, even very good ones, cannot perform a heist without the proper equipment in today’s world of security systems, and nor can thieves in Skyrim with its cities full of locked buildings and locked containers within them. You will need some lockpicks, as stores and houses are almost always locked at night. Always carry a lot of them; more than you expect to need. You never know if you’re going to run into a very challenging lock and will break many picks before you manage to defeat it.

If you have any apparel items that provide a boost to your Sneak or Lockpick skills, then definitely wear them. You should also definitely bring with you any potions you have that will confer a temporary bonus to those skills, even if it’s just by a small amount, as that small amount might just be all the extra help you need to open a particularly difficult lock.

Make sure you aren’t carrying many heavy items in your inventory, as you don’t always know how much the items you’re going to loot will weigh, and you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re carrying so much that you can’t move fast.


Rule 5 – don’t get careless, don’t get greedy, don’t get caught)

When you’re satisfied you’ve chosen one or more targets and properly prepared yourself, it’s time to go work. If it isn’t already past 1:00am at night, use the ‘wait’ feature to wait until it is. As you move toward your next targeted building, you should be able to avoid attention from any patrolling city guards by walking past them at a reasonable distance. By this I mean don’t pass close enough for any conversation, or they might turn to regard you and then observe you for a while afterwards.

When you reach your target, look around to make sure that NO ONE is in the area around you. It doesn’t matter if they’ve got their back turned and aren’t looking at you, because they can turn around in an instant. If there’s anyone moving around nearby, just stand at a distance away from them and wait until they’ve moved away. As soon as you’re sure it’s all clear, quickly enter crouch/sneak mode and approach the door to the building. You should try to pick it as quickly as you can before someone approaches your location again. If you try to pick it about five times in a row and fail, stop, lift your head up, and have another look around to make sure the coast is clear before continuing.

When you unlock the door and empty the building, everything should be dark and the occupants should be asleep. Remain in sneak mode until you leave the building. Move quickly to the locations of the display items and container chests, which you should remember from your earlier casing of these premises, taking any of the valuable display items and looting the chests. A store’s strongbox chests will often have locks of a harder difficulty than on their front door, so you might have to spend a while on them, but if you’ve come at a sensible time you have plenty of time before the occupant wakes up.

If you want to you can make your way into the living area of the store and pilfer the containers in there as well. The occupant will be asleep in a bed very close to you, but sneak mode should allow you to move around their private chambers without waking them. However, DO NOT attempt to pickpocket them while they are sleeping unless you have an extremely high Pickpocket skill, as in 90 or above. True this is the best time to do it, but it is still extremely risky and if you get caught and the guards are summoned, you lose all the valuables you’ve collected so far along with some of the gold you already had and get dragged off to jail. You’ve already had a good night’s looting; don’t blow it by being greedy.

As soon as you’re done, make your way to the exit and leave the house. Take yourself out of Sneak mode immediately once you’re back outside. Now you’re free to make your way to wherever you want to go next, but you shouldn’t go and rob another building if it’s any later than 4:00am.


Rule 6 – stay on the move)

When you’ve ‘hit’ all of the stores (and wealthy houses, if you’re good enough) in a particular city or town, move onto another one. You’ll soon build up a great amount of stolen wealth as you steal your way across Skyrim. Remember that after each job, or each few jobs, depending on how much weight your loot takes up in your inventory, you should return to Riften and sell your stolen wares to your contacts in the Thieves Guild.


Thanks for reading. If you have any thievery related advice you want to share with your fellow gamers , then as always, feel free to comment.


24 Responses

  1. Brian says:

    One little trick I found was the merchant (trader) in the first town you get to after escaping the keep. The building has two floors. The upstairs lock is easily picked (the downstairs is tougher). Once you gain entry in the upstairs, you can take everything in the store (and even sell it back!). As an added bonus, I don’t think this town has guards…at least not ones that patrol.

  2. Dylan says:

    I was wondering if you knew any shops with stuff worth anything? I can’t seem to find any worth actually robbing.

  3. Dylan says:

    Also, find the invisibility spell somewhere, so if you’re afraid of being caught you can use it.

    • Con says:

      Muffle spell is handy or boots with that attribute.

      • Look for boots of muffle,thy come up in shops or in dungeons.take them to an enchanter,convert them to spellform.This way you can enchant those thieves guild boots or any others u may be wearing.use black soulgems or grand soul gems for greater affect.It also helps to have a high enchantment value.and don’t forget about that bribery skill,usefull if you do get caught.

  4. Dylan says:

    Plus using the perk quick hands allows you to pick locks without being seen

  5. masoko says:

    Great thank you for sharing about Thieve’s Guild mark of a circle – I haven’t spotted these signs till now.

  6. ??? says:

    Most of the keeps are good looting. Especially the jarls quarters!

  7. Kymmy says:

    There is a book in Skyrim called ShadowMarks. Written by our very own Delvin Mallory (You’ll know him if you frequent the Thieves Guild, the bald one, yeah :) and in it is detailed all of the marks that can be found usually the are at the bottom right hand of a door as your character faces it. This book is one that merits being carried until you know the symbols off by heart as there are signs for houses under the Guild’s protection and signs for which houses are good to steal from and signs for houses that are a huge waste of time and resources. If you knew this the disregard it. If you didn’t know then you are already welcome :D

  8. lucus says:

    apothecary shops are always filled with loot that is worth alot and wieghs very little

  9. lucus says:

    also the wax key perk for lockpicking really helps if you want to hit a place multiple times cuz it gives you the key to anything you lockpick. (well ALMOST everything)

  10. gamer99 says:

    If you get far enough in the thieves guild missions you’ll gain the skeleton key: an unbreakable lockpick

  11. Matthew says:

    When you are lockpicking turn the lock until you here a big click not the small ones the higher the lock level the slower you have turn it for a master it could take a while but it saves you a lot of lockpicks and getting agervated that they keep breaking hope this helps. :D

  12. Marc says:

    Something i do starting off every game is I go to Whiterun. I then go to all of the places of business, there is strong box in each place of business(this goes for all towns, any place of business will have a strong box)i hit every business every strong box in each city. When imm done in Whiterun i just go to the stables and take the carriage to whatever city i wanna hit next. Keep this process going until you hit every city. Its a quick and easy way to get money eaarly on… The only downside ive noticed is that the strong boxes dont regenerate its contents after a certain period of time

  13. TsPxkLoWn says:

    I figured out that the guy at the whiterun stables has a ring that gives a boost for sneak use that then go to Delphine who works for the blades and she has the same ring get the ring from her and disenchant it so u can enchant some light armor (leather) with sneak and if u find a thing that enhances pick pocketing then use that and disenchant to use on some leather also so then your sneak and pickpocket are decent amounts about 40% increase

    Xbox gamer tag: TsP x kLoWn

  14. Ezio says:

    If you are particularity dedicated to theft like me you will invest in perks to make lock picking not a crime and hold on to the skeleton key instead of completing the quest for it. I have made so much with the skeleton key it is by far the most useful item in the game.

  15. razor says:

    I always get caught trying to escape from whiterun jail its hard any suggestions

    • You will likely get tossed in the first cell the one across from the door as you come in.Look around notice a grate on the floor,their in all the cells,this particular one shold have a lockpick skill of easy.Pick it and drop through the floor,it helps to have a high sneak skill as well.Hope this helps.BlessedBe James

  16. Artyom says:

    First heist was on Riverwood. Kinda low loot (Even lower if your speech is low and you can’t get a good price),2 residents, 30 sneak,37 lockpick. It felt so good!

    Out of curiosity,are there any mods for skyrim that offer the game some,shall I say,more interesting varieties of places to heist? A jewelry store wouldn’t hurt. Or a weapons shop full of ebony weapons,while we’re at it…

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