There are many illegal activities available to the criminally-minded in Oblivion. If you are caught doing something illegal, however, you are liable to be punished, both by the law (the City Guards) and by any guilds or other factions you have joined. Nevertheless, NPCs will often commit crimes such as stealing or pickpocketing.
If the icon for an action is red, it indicates that performing the associated action is considered to be a crime. For example, a red hand means that picking up the item would be stealing. If you are witnessed performing this action, you will receive a bounty. In addition, the disposition of the witnesses is likely to decrease. Successfully sneaking while committing a crime will prevent you from being detected.
Even if you're not caught, your journal keeps track of all your criminal activities.
The penalties for various criminal activities are summarized in the following table. These values are all determined by settings that could in theory be adjusted by mods (see TESCSWiki).
|Theft||0.5** multiplied by ItemValue||-0.5 multiplied by ItemValue|
* These disposition modifiers are only applied if the witness liked the victim of the crime; if the witness is also the victim, these modifiers are all doubled.
**Bounties always round up when the value is a decimal, and if the value is zero, it will always be at least one septim.
There are a few specific incidents, such as during quests, where these normal bounties do not apply or where different bounties may be assigned.
Picking up an item (or taking an item from a container) when the icon is red is considered stealing. See the Burglary page for tips on thievery. The stolen item will be permanently marked in your inventory with a red icon; see below for details.
- Being caught picking the lock of an owned container results in a 5 gold bounty, even if nothing was taken and even if you didn't move any of the tumblers.
- Anything someone has in their inventory becomes public property after their death, and can be taken without penalty.
- Grabbing an item with a red icon is considered a crime.
Actions not considered stealing:
- Viewing the contents of an owned container - as long as it was not locked when you first activated it
- Reading a book or handbill without taking it
- Taking an item out of an owned container that you placed in there earlier, so long as the item itself is not stolen.
- Looting the corpse of a dead NPC, because the items in their inventory are now public property. However, the items they owned that aren't in their corpse, such as in their house, are still owned by them.
Some items will never be marked in red, but will still be added to your Stolen Item count in your journal. This appears to occur particularly in cases where later in the game (after completing a related quest) you will legitimately be able to take the item. Also, money is never marked as stolen in your inventory. You will still get a bounty if you're caught stealing (and each individual gold piece is counted as a Stolen Item) but it will not be removed from your inventory upon being arrested.
 Required Stealing
Some quests will actually require that you steal — even for the "good" guilds (i.e., the Fighters and Mages Guilds). If you want to play a character that does not ever steal, you may be unable to complete several quest lines. Besides the Thieves Guild quests, the quests that require you to steal are:
- Main Quest:
- Fighters Guild:
- Mages Guild:
- Cheydinhal Recommendation: must steal at least one of the special Black Soul Gems from Falcar's room. However, you do not need to steal the second one. Fixed by the UOP.
- Daedric Quests:
- Master Training:
 Conditional Stealing
Some quests have optional methods of completing them; thus stealing is not actually required, but one of many methods that can complete the quest:
- Mages Guild:
- Bravil Recommendation- While it is entirely possible to steal Ardaline's Mage's Staff from Soris Arenim, Kud-Ei suggests that you persuade him using some Beguile scrolls into letting you have the staff.
- Bruma Recommendation: expected to steal Jeanne's Manual of Spellcraft. Can be avoided if you search for J'skar on your own.
- Chorrol Recommendation- When you give the book to Teekeus, Earana will ask you to steal it back. You can deny this request and end the quest. Also, if you give the book to Earana first, you will be required to steal it to complete the quest.
- Dark Brotherhood:
- Other Quests:
- Corruption and Conscience: one method of completing the quest requires you to steal a Suspicious Letter.
While sneaking, instead of having the ability to talk to an NPC, the icon changes to a red hand, and you have the option to pickpocket them. This will open their inventory window showing you everything the NPC is carrying (with the exception of any items the NPC has currently equipped). Viewing this window is considered pickpocketing, and can be detected by the NPC, however unlikely. The chance of being detected is determined by the total weight of the items stolen and your sneak level. Gold, although weightless, has a relatively high chance of being detected.
All NPCs, including Dremora, can be pickpocketed. Creatures, on the other hand, can never be pickpocketed.
 Tagged Items
Stolen items in your inventory will be marked with a red hand. As long as this tag is present, the item is considered stolen. Any stolen items in your possession will be confiscated and retained by the guards if you are arrested. Furthermore, most merchants will not buy stolen items. Only merchants whose responsibility is less than 30 will buy your stolen stock, specifically:
- Thieves Guild fences (only available if you join the Thieves guild)
- Only items sold to Thieves Guild fences count towards the Independent Thievery quest.
- One of the Dark Brotherhood Murderers (after completing the Dark Brotherhood questline)
- Manheim Maulhand at the Inn of Ill Omen
- Fences added by the Thieves Den official add-on.
If you wish to keep a tagged item, but want to remove the tag, options include:
- Sell the item and buy it back from one of the above listed merchants, effectively "laundering" the item (although you will always lose money in the transaction unless you have 100 Mercantile). This does not work on zero value items, as the option to "give away" the item means it will not re-appear in the merchant's inventory.
- Enchant the item.
- A potion made from stolen ingredients is not tagged as a stolen potion.
If you go through a door with a red icon, you are trespassing. (Note that not all locked doors have red icons.) In most cases, you will first be told that you are not supposed to be in that area, and then be told to leave. You have thirty seconds after entering such an area to complete your business and then leave. NPCs will typically be swift to ask you to leave, but it does not count as a crime until thirty seconds after entering, whereupon NPCs may attack you, and guards will be dispatched to arrest you.
However, there are a few "high security" areas, so to speak, where being in them for even a split second counts as trespassing. Most of these are in places of castles that are not open to the public (e.g. the count's private quarters).
NPCs can become very confused by trespassing. If you actually have a legitimate reason to be in the area (i.e., a quest has sent you there to talk to someone), the NPCs can alternate between being friendly (giving the normal quest dialogue) and being hostile. For example, one moment an NPC might tell you "Stay right there" and the next moment say "You must leave at once".
- The front door of the house for sale in Bravil will always have a red icon even after having been purchased, however entering the house never counts as a crime.
- This bug is fixed by the Unofficial Oblivion Patch.
- The Trespasses counter in your journal never changes from zero, no matter how many times you are caught trespassing or in what circumstances.
- This bug is fixed by the Unofficial Oblivion Patch.
Assault results when you initiate combat with an NPC, whether by directly attacking them, or using a spell with a negative effect on them (including, for example, Absorb Attribute). Attacks by your summoned, commanded, or reanimated allies also count as assault. Sneak attacks are particularly likely to be counted as an assault, as long as the NPC is not hostile at the moment of your attack. For example, if you sneak up to a bandit undetected and attack him, it will be an assault; attacking the same bandit if he first detects you and turns hostile is not an assault. Therefore, if you are role-playing a lawful character and wish to not have any criminal record, you may have to avoid taking advantage of sneak attacks.
Witnesses to assaults, unlike theft or trespassing, will run to a guard to alert him of your actions. Also, the person you attack will cry out, alerting everyone around, even if you are sneaking. Because of this, sneaking doesn't help in your escape. If your attack is witnessed by any NPCs with a responsibility of 90 or higher (most notably, any guards), you will receive a bounty of 40 gold. Conversely, you will not receive a bounty if no high responsibility NPCs observe it (for example, attacking a Necromancer in a cave before they attack you will not result in a bounty). If you don't receive a bounty, you will probably only be aware of your 'assault' if you check your journal.
If an NPC initiates combat with you, it is not considered assault to fight back. Guards will, if they witness any assault, defend the person being assaulted. This means that if you're being assaulted, guards will come to defend you. If you assault someone, guards will first attempt to arrest you, then defend your victim.
Guards themselves can hit you as many times as they want, but if you fight back, you receive an assault bounty. Most guards will not attack you without provocation, but if they are frenzied into fighting, you will have this problem.
Accidentally striking an allied NPC is also considered an assault. Unless you have installed the version 1.2 patch, this includes striking your horse. Pay attention to the dialogue for warnings when you strike an ally. Friendly NPCs will usually yell "I'm on your side!" the first time you hit them, "That's TWICE you hit me!" the second, then "Hit me once more, and I'll kill you!" the third. After the fourth hit, an ally is likely to turn hostile towards you. If their disposition is still high enough, yielding should suffice to stop them.
Attacking creatures is not normally considered an assault, although there are some exceptions:
- Attacking a Summon of a friendly NPC
- Attacking an NPC's owned animal (Pet, horse, livestock, etc.)
This applies to your own summoned creatures, and, unless they attack an NPC, it is not considered assault to attack them.
A good rule of thumb is: the only way to never assault anyone is to wait for them to attack you first (for example, using Frenzy). Unless absolutely necessary, let the guards do their jobs.
If you initiate combat then kill the NPC, it is murder. Whether or not your actions are reported, the murder is always recorded in your journal (on the Accomplishments page). If witnessed, you will gain one infamy point, and receive a 1000 gold bounty, which will cause guards to arrest you on sight. If you kill a guard, regardless of whether you were unseen or resisting arrest, you will receive a murder bounty.
An act is considered to be a murder if:
- The dead NPC was not hostile towards the player.
- The NPC's health dropped to zero because of:
- Physical damage (including sneak attack bonuses) from the player's weapon, or
- Damage from the player's spell/scroll/staff.
Cases that are not considered to be murder include:
- If the NPC's health drops to zero because of the Poison or enchantment on a weapon. (Only if the NPC is not in combat when it happens.)
- If your actions indirectly cause the NPC's health to drop to zero, for example, if the NPC is pushed off a cliff, pushed into lava, walks into a trap, drowns, or eats a Poisoned Apple.
If you have committed any murders, even undetected ones, an internal flag (
IsPCAMurderer) is turned on. This has two effects:
- The Dark Brotherhood questline is initiated, as indicated by a message on the screen stating that "Your killing has been observed by forces unknown."
- Imperial Legion members will randomly greet you with: "You. I've seen your kind before. You've got blood on your hands. Keep your blade sheathed, you murdering bastard, or I'll put you down myself."
For detected murders there are several additional consequences:
- 1000 gold is added to your bounty
- The Disposition of any witnesses is decreased by 50 points
- Murder victims that respawn keep their previous disposition, typically zero if you killed them face-to-face, meaning that you may be attacked apparently at random by NPCs you killed earlier.
- Your Infamy is increased by 1 point (because of the 1000 gold bounty). One implication is that the disposition of many NPCs, even those who did not witness the crime, will be decreased.
Other than the Dark Brotherhood initiation quest, there are no quests in the game (including the Shivering Isles expansion) that require you to commit murder. Even the rest of the Dark Brotherhood quests do not require you to murder (although you may lose contract bonuses if a death is not a murder). In any situation where an NPC must be killed, you can avoid murder by ensuring that the NPC attacks you first (for example, using Frenzy spells).
 Murder and Assault
Although quite similar, murder and assault are quite distinct in this game, and you will commit these crimes independently of each other. If you attack an NPC and kill him with one shot, it will only count as a murder and not an assault, so you will only get a 1000 gold bounty if caught. If you attack an NPC, but you don't kill him in one shot, and then his death occurs from a source other than your shot (e.g. a damage over time enchantment or poison, your ally, or by running into a trap), then you will have only committed assault, and not murder (resulting in a bounty of 40 gold). However, if you attack the NPC, he doesn't die in one shot, and then, you continue to attack him until he dies, but by your own weapon or spell, then you will have committed both assault and murder, resulting in a cumulative bounty of 1040 gold if the crimes are reported.
 Increased Fines
As you will discover in the Corruption and Conscience quest, some Cheydinhal Guards are corrupt. Until that quest is complete, those guards will give you a fine 50% higher than normal; 1500 for a murder, 60 for assault, and so on. After the quest, the fines return to normal.
When you commit a crime in sight of a guard or townsperson, a price will be added to your current bounty, and a guard will immediately try to arrest you. You are unable to fast travel while the guards are looking for you.
 Alternatives to Punishment
Other than getting arrested, you have two options for how to get rid of your bounty:
- As a member of the Thieves Guild, you can get your doyen to bribe the local guards and dismiss your bounty. This will cost you half of the amount of your bounty.
- If you have increased the Disposition of the arresting guard to be greater than 90 and your total bounty is less than 1000, the guard will say "Looks like you are in some trouble. Since we are friends, don't worry. I'll look the other way and take care of that fine for you." Your bounty will be removed and he lets you go free.
- You can increase the disposition of the guard trying to arrest you with a Charm spell.
 Getting Arrested
Unless your bounty is 500 gold or higher, guards won't try to arrest you until you get their attention by speaking to them. However, they will still arrest you if they catch you committing a crime in the act (e.g. if you assault someone, and they are at the scene, they will arrest you even though your bounty is far less than 500 gold). As long as you have a bounty, speaking to a guard will result in being arrested.
When you are arrested by a guard you have several options:
 Pay Your Bounty
- You will be transported outside the nearest town castle
- All stolen items in your possession will be seized and placed in the prison's Evidence Chest, where they will remain until you retrieve them.
 Go to Jail
Your jail sentence is equal to one day for every 100 gold in your bounty. Serving your sentence will:
- Get rid of your bounty.
- Cause all of your items to be removed from your inventory and placed in the evidence chest, except for one lockpick. The Skeleton Key will always be removed. You are given a set of Sack Cloth Shirt, Pants, and Sandals that you keep after you leave jail.
- Even after you serve your sentence and get back your items, your stolen items will remain in the evidence chest unless you go retrieve them.
To serve your sentence, simply sleep in the bed in your cell, and you'll sleep through your entire sentence. For each day you serve in jail, one of the skills from the following list will be decreased, to a maximum of ten skill decreases: Armorer, Athletics, Blade, Block, Blunt, Hand to Hand, Heavy Armor, Alchemy, Alteration (listed in order of decreasing likelihood). The selected skill will be permanently lowered by one point, supposedly because your unused skills become rusty while sitting in a jail cell. This reduction is not a Damage Skill effect that can be repaired by a Restore Skill spell (none are available anyway) or even by activating an altar in a chapel: it is truly permanent.
- It was intended that the entire set of skills be available above, and that if Sneak or Security were chosen, that they would increase by one point. However, due to a bug in the coding, only the listed skills will be decreased, and no others will be chosen at all.
- Jail can be exploited to allow your character to level up past your character's maximum level. Each time a major skill is decreased by serving jail time, you have an opportunity to train that skill again. If your major skills are decreased by ten points, you will be able to gain an additional level. You can keep getting sent to jail as many times as you want and continue to gain additional levels.
- Skills cannot be reduced to below 1 this way. If a skill that is already at 1 is chosen to be reduced, then nothing happens to that skill.
In jail, you have the option of trying to escape. If you open your cell door, Jailors and any other guards within in the jail will try to kill you on sight (They will not accept yields during an escape). To successfully escape, you need to make it outside (and presumably then to your Thieves Guild doyen to get rid of your bounty). There are several methods of escaping, some easier than others, but all resulting in a 50 gold increase of your bounty. A few examples are:
- Use your lockpick.
- Pickpocket the guard for his Jailor's Key. Even if you fail the pickpocket, the guard will open your cell and attack you. If you can defeat him, you can take his key and escape, although you will keep your bounty.
- Cast a custom "Open Very Hard Lock" spell on the cell door.
- Summon a creature within your cell and provoke it, causing the guard to enter and defend you, then sneak out behind him.
- Drop lockpicks in the cell ahead of time.
- Skingrad's prison, outside the cell, has a "Strange Candle" which you can activate and open a secret passage to the Skingrad Wine Cellar.
- Before going to jail, pickpocket the key off the Jailor. Then place the key in the jail cell you will go in, and the next time you get sent to jail you can simply open the door and escape. The key also opens the evidence chest, which you can loot on the way out
Once you have unlocked the cell door, there is no turning back. If the jailor passes by your cell while the door is unlocked, he will attack you on sight, even if the cell door remains closed.
Keep in mind that to get your items back, you'll have to loot the evidence chest on your way out, which is also locked. To avoid having all your items marked as stolen, you must retrieve them before leaving the jail. But, should you happen to accidentally leave before getting your Items back, you can simply go back to prison.
- Quest items - when you are sent to jail, these aren't actually taken from you, but hidden from you in your inventory, until you leave the jail. They can still be equipped if you had them hot-keyed prior to being sent to jail.
 Other Consequences of Jailtime
Being sent to jail is one way to initiate the Thieves Guild questline. After your first jail sentence, you will be approached by Myvryna Arano, who delivers an invitation for you to join the Thieves Guild.
 Resist Arrest
Resisting arrest will instantly result in:
- The guard attacking you.
- Any other guards in the area joining in the attack.
After resisting arrest, NPCs with a high disposition towards you will fight the guards with you, and most likely die. It's a good idea not to resist arrest unless you know you can escape. Attacking a guard after resisting arrest does not count as an assault. However, the death of any guards will count as murder.
If you change your mind, yielding to a guard will give you the same arrest options as initially.
NPCs with low responsibility will resort to stealing when they need to eat, either by taking an owned item or pickpocketing. If caught stealing, the guards will attempt to arrest the NPC. However, NPCs do not have the option of being sent to jail: they can either pay their bounty or resist arrest. Generally, NPCs will not have enough money to pay the bounty, which means that getting caught results in the guards killing the NPC, even for a petty crime such as stealing a loaf of bread. An exception is when a guard has a script specifically to send the NPC to jail, such as the Thieves Guild quest The Elven Maiden.
If you want to (or need to) prevent an NPC from being killed by the guards, some options are:
- Place food near the NPC to make sure he/she has an easily available source of food at mealtimes.
- Steal any owned food that is in the area yourself so the NPC does not have any items to possibly steal. However, some NPCs in the area may regenerate food at mealtimes, so in some cases it is not possible to remove all food from the area.
- Bribe an NPC to supply them with enough money to pay any possible bounties. Typically, an NPC will need to have 50 gold to cover each crime committed.
- However, a scripting glitch prevents NPC bounties from ever being reset to zero, even when they pay the fine. Therefore, any NPC who is ever caught stealing will need an ongoing supply of gold.
- A similar glitch occurs with NPCs capable of respawning, such as Mage Apprentices, Mage Scholars, and Battlehorn Men-at-Arms, that causes their bounty to be restored as they respawn. This can result in guards always attacking them on sight, even if they never committed a crime since they came back to life. This can cause areas like the Arcane University (where Imperial Legion Battlemages are stationed) to be engulfed in combat every time the cell resets. However, the guards themselves don't seem to be affected by this glitch if they were to kill someone, even another guard, by accident.
 Crimes against Guilds
If you are a guild member and you are caught committing a crime against that guild, your guild membership will be suspended. To rejoin and resume your career in the guild, you must go to the guild leader (or their representative) to request forgiveness. Generally, you need to complete some sort of menial task as penance. The Thieves Guild is the only guild that allows you to be reinstated indefinitely; all other guilds will permanently expel you with no chance of rejoining after two or three offenses.
Note that only the player character can commit crimes against guilds. If you stand in front of a caster while he is practicing his spells, you could be hit by his spell, and it would give you the right to assault or kill him in the eyes of the guards, but if you retaliate, you will still face guild expulsion, but an NPC can hit you as many times as it wants, and unless there is a specific script or quest to expel a pre-determined guild member, he has no guild-based repercussions. This was formed out of necessity, since some characters are important to quests in the guild quest line, and the game can't afford to not have them in the guild.
See the relevant quest pages for more information:
- Fighters Guild: Expelled from the Fighters Guild
- Mages Guild: Mages Guild Suspension
- Thieves Guild: Pay a Blood Price
- Arena: Expulsion
- Dark Brotherhood: A Dark Exile
- Multiple unreported, zero-bounty crimes may cause instability in the game; to clear the list of unreported crimes, assault an NPC or take some other action that causes a reported crime, and pay the bounty.
- After paying a fine or serving a sentence, some NPCs may be found standing outside the prison or castle when you exit. They may be hostile and can be attacked by the guards or by each other. Affected NPCs can include:
- The surviving Fighters Guild members (Brag gro-Bharg, Elidor, and Rienna) from completion of the Desolate Mine quest.
- The surviving Bleak Mine Guards from Malacath's Daedric quest.
- Audens Avidius from the Imperial Corruption quest.
- The King of Miscarcand, from the Miscarcand quest.
- The conjurer from the Spell Tomes official add-on.
- Pinarus Inventius, from A Rat Problem the Fighters Guild quest.
- Maenlorn, from The Flowing Bowl and The Siren's Deception the Anvil quest.
- This bug is fixed by the Unofficial Oblivion Patch.