Skyrim: How to be a master thief

Skyrim thief guide

It may not be the most heroic class in Skyrim, but playing as a thief is arguably one of the most fun (and profitable) experiences you can have in the game.

We show you the best weapons, armour and accessories for thieves, what skills to level up, how to make loads of money and sneak like the best of them in our Skyrim thief guide. Note: Spoilers.

Choose a sneaky character

At the start of the game pick a race that lends itself well to stealing and being light on your feet. The Khajit or Wood Elf are both wise choices. For more information on racial perks read our Skyrim skills and race guide.

You'll want to focus on the Sneak, Lockpicking and Pickpocket skill trees, as well as the Light Armour, Archery and One-Handed trees depending on how you want your character to feel. Speech and Alchemy can also be useful to have.

Get a skill boost

Near the start of the game you'll come across three skill stones. Make sure you select the Thief Stone and you'll level up your thievery skills 20% faster than usual.


How to sneak in Skyrim

Learn to Sneak

Click the left analog stick in to make your character sneak. In this mode, it's harder for you to be spotted by enemies, and you'll get attack bonuses for firing an arrow or swinging your weapon at someone.

Get into the habit of sneaking around new areas if you're not sure if there are enemies. If the sneak line in the centre of the screen starts to widen into the shape of an eye, someone is suspicious you're around. Move behind an object or into the shadow and wait for 'hidden' to appear again. Get really good at this and you'll even be able to sneak up on sleeping dragons (see above).

Join the Thieves Guild

This one goes without saying. Head to Riften and go into the Bee and the Barb inn. Talk to Brynjolf to start the quest line. You can get to Riften by heading to the far South East or bottom-right of the map. You can also pay a horse and cart rider to take you there.

Even if you don't want to be a thief it's well worth joining the guild. You'll get some of the best equipment in the game and make loads of money along the way. Make sure you talk to Delvin and Vex to complete extra side missions for more loot and money.

Make invisibility potions

At an alchemy table mix Chaurus Eggs with Ice Wraith Teeth to make your own invisibility potions. Make around ten of these, highlight them in your inventory and press Y (or Triangle on the PS3) to favourite them. While playing in normal time, press up or down on the D-pad to quickly access your favourites and select Invisibility Potion to use one. These are handy for when you want to sneak past an enemy or two in a difficult-to-sneak area.

You can find loads of Charus Eggs deep in Raldbthar which is in between Lake Yorgrim and the White River. You can find Ice Wraiths in particularly cold areas such as Ancients Ascent.

Get married

You might think getting married as a thief is a bad idea, but it's not if you want to make some extra money. Read our Skyrim: How to get married guide and head to Shor's Stone in The Rift. You'll want to marry Sylgja. Upon moving in with her, she'll open a shop and earn 100g for you every day. You can also sell stuff to her to make more money.

We bought the house in Riften so we were close to the Thieves Guild. You can buy this by becoming Thane of Riften. Just help out characters in Riften with mini-quests and you'll eventually be asked to visit the Jarl, who lets you purchase the property.

Get the right garb

Skyrim thief

You'll want equipment that gives a boost to things like sneak attacks, sneaking, pickpocketing, one-handed, lockpicking and archery.

Joining the Thieves Guild is a good start. After a mission or two you'll get the Thieves Guild armour which gives you a boost to sneaking, picking pockets, lockpicking and bartering. Joining the Dark Brotherhood is worth it too if you like to kill as you sneak. To start this quest, talk to inkeepers in Riften to start the Innocence Lost quest. Alternatively, head to Windhelm and break into the house of Aventus Aretino.

Know how to kill

Thieving is the most important thing, but killing quickly and quietly is also essential for any master thief. The Dark Brotherhood's fingerless gloves will double your single-handed sneak attacks. Combine this with the Assassin's Blade technique in the Sneak skill tree and your stealth backstabs will now do 30x normal damage (this requires a Sneak skill of 50 to unlock). Also, make sure you pick up Deadly Aim in the same skill tree (40 Sneak skill required) to do 3x normal damage when sneaking with a bow. And always aim for the head.

Find a decent bow

For a great starting bow, go back to the Bee and the Barb in Riften and take on the drinking challenge from the guy at the bar. Make sure you save the game first before talking to him. Complete that hilarious questline (A Night to Remember) and towards the end you'll have to go through a portal. Look left before entering and you'll find a treasure chest. There's an Elven Bow inside, which not only looks the part, but packs a mean punch too.

Find a decent dagger

You can find and steal a great starting dagger in the College of Winterhold. It's an Elven Dagger and can be found in the grand mage's room. You can also buy a dagger and enchant it yourself.

Mehrune's Razor is also a particularly special dagger. You can get this by completing the Pieces of the Past quest which can be picked up by visiting the museum in Dawnstar.

Think like a thief

Get out of the mindset that stealing is bad. Ignore the red text when you hover over an item that's not yours. Treat every object you want as an item that's ripe for the taking. As long as you're hidden, it's yours.

When you're breaking and entering, scout the place out first in the daytime. Find out where the beds and chairs are, as the owner could be sitting there when you return. Go back at night (after 8pm) and plunder. Make sure you stay sneaking and always close doors behind you. You can often steal items in the day, as long as no-one else can see you.

Make a mint

Sell stolen goods to fence characters. These include:

  • Tonilia in the Thieves' Guild, Riften
  • Mallus Maccius in Honningbrew Meadery, South-East of Whiterun (after the Dampened Spirits quest)
  • Gulum-Ei in The Winking Skeever, Solitude (after the Scoundrel's Folly quest)
  • Enthir in Winterhold (after the Hard Answers quest)
  • Complete the extra Thieves' Guild quests with Vex and Delvin to unlock more

Avoid getting  arrested when you have stolen goods. You'll have to spend time escaping and searching the prison for the Evidence Chest with all your stuff in. Get skilled at spotting valuable items and you'll have that 40G achievement for reaching 100,000 gold in no time.

You can also unlock a perk at Speech level 70 which lets you invest in stores so merchants can buy up to thousands of gold in goods off you each day.

Steal anything (almost)

To take advantage of a hilarious and cheeky exploit, view our How to steal almost anything in Skyrim video guide.

Pay off guards

Even if you get caught, if you're in the Thieves Guild or have the 'Bribery' perk in the Speech skill tree, you'll be able to pay around 100g to pay a guard to forget the crime.

Make your own gear

Find items that have decent enchantments on them, such as Necklace of Deft Hands (+15% pickpocketing) or Ring of Minor Archery (+15% Archery). Use an Enchantment table to disenchant them and learn how to make your own items.

Taking a standard Dwarven Dagger and adding +10 Fire Damage to it is also handy for assassinating someone. We named that particular blade Phoenix. Why not make your own?

Learn to lockpick

Even if you don't have any lockpick skills, you can still unlock Expert and Master locks. It's just harder. Make sure you have a large amount of lockpicks on you (we always carry at least 80), start on the far left hand side and work your way around clockwise. When picking a lock, tap the right stick every few notches to see if the lock turns.

Once you've found the sweet spot, hold the right stick very lightly. If the pick snaps, move the next lockpick a notch or two to the right or left of where you had it positioned before. Eventually you'll find that perfect point and the lock will open. Even if you break lockpicks, your lockpicking skill will still improve.

Know your Shadowmarks

In the main central room in the Thieves Guild, search the tables for a book on Shadowmarks, written by fellow thief Delvin Mallory. It's worth keeping this in your inventory.

The book lists all the Shadowmarks - small etchings outside houses and next to doors which indicate whether the place is good to plunder or a dangerous area. The Shadowmarks are as follows:

  • The Guild - indicates a safe Thieves Guild haven
  • Safe - a house or area which is safe to search
  • Danger - someone inside this building will be hostile
  • Escape Route - if you get put in prison, look for this mark. It will indicate an escape route
  • Protected - this building is protected by the Thieves Guild. Don't steal goods from it
  • Fence - someone will buy stolen goods from you here
  • Thieves Cache - loot this to find some extra goodies planted by the Thieves Guild
  • Loot - there's some decent stuff worth stealing here
  • Empty - there's nothing to see here, move along

Thanks to The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages.

Discover sneaky shouts

Killing dragons and finding shout stones aren't without their benefits for a thief.

The following are useful:

  • Aura Whisper - detects life around you (find this from inside a dragon's lair, Northwind Summit, The Rift, and inside Volunruud in The Reach. You can find another during The Silence Has Been Broken Dark  Brotherhood quest).
  • Throw Voice - tricks your enemies into thinking you're somewhere else (get this from Shearpoint, The Pale)
  • Whirlwind - lets you escape quickly by running fast (obtained from The Way of the Voice main questline)

Find The Shadow Stone

After a while, once your thief skills are high enough, you might want to change your 20%+ levelling up bonus for the ability to turn invisible for 60 seconds once per day.

You can get this by activating The Shadow Stone, which can be found south of Riften. You'll have to kill a necromancer to gain access to it (or just activate it and run for the hills).

The Nightingales: Fact or Fiction?

Warning: Spoilers.

Progress through the Thieves Guild questline and you'll eventually hear about these.

By the end of the questline, you'll have the awesome Nightingale Armour, bow, sword and a skeleton key which is an unbreakable lockpick. Choose to complete the last quest (Darkness Returns), and you'll exchange the skeleton key for access to one of three awesome perks. It's worth it, as if you level your lockpicking up far enough you won't need the skeleton key.

If you don't like a perk, you can always change to another one by returning to the Twilight Sepulcher. You can only do this once a day.

The perks - which you can also use just once a day - are:

  • Agent of Stealth - This lets you turn invisible (not necessary if you have The Shadow Stone, unless you want two stealth perks for every 24 in-game hours)
  • Agent of Subterfuge - Makes enemies fight among themselves (this is a lot better than it sounds and our choice of Nightingale skills)
  • Agent of Strife - Lets you draw health from an enemy

What are your top tips and tricks for thievery in Skyrim? Let us know in the comments box below.

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70 Responses

  1. I keep trying to get biten by a blooded vampire but it never works!!!!!!
  2. ?????
    U no u can get lvl 100 archery and lvl up real fast by helping fenral or whatever his name is in river wood then he follows u then ask him 2 trade with u after u ask him 2 teach u about archery then u just take his money and its not even pickpocketing tada
  3. Daniel
    If you really want to be a level whore, I suggest using the Ogma Infinium cheat. Seriously... No. Seriously.
  4. [...] The Thief and Elder Scroll games are the obvious game series that spring to mind, while Dishonored is a recent example worth mentioning, even if only a few levels really captured the essence of professional stealing. Check out the following guide: How to be a master thief in Skyrim. [...]
  5. Rachel, you can download the Dawnguard DLC add-on to enjoy a Vampire-specific storyline and turn into one yourself.
  6. LB
    Generally playing as a Theif is slightly harder early game, but EXTREMELY rewarding later on, when you can sneak past and backstab almost anything in the game. The hard part is early on, when your low sneak skill makes it hard to go undetected by enemies. Alchemy is also not to be underestimated, when maxed out, you can make poisons that can do a bit over 1000 damage, letting you one-shot anything that detects you.
  7. LB
    Also, if your're the type of theif that branches out, make Illusion a priority, not just for invisibility, but for spells like Frenzy, an invaluable spell when facing a large group. Just let them all destroy each other than pick off the left overs.
  8. bleh
    A good way to get your sneak up is to go to high hrothgar and sneak behind the greybeards and attack them. Went from 20 sneak to 100 sneak in about 20 minutes
  9. Perrie
    Thinking like a thief is a must ; If you're only just starting out thieving, breaking into houses such as the blacksmith in Riften works. (The blacksmith has a safe with a few jewels in it.) Also, if you're looking in major cities for some goodies to steal, head to a civilian's home, and look for them outside during daylight. Also check if they don't have kids / married partner, but if so, make sure the whole household is outside. Then go unnoticed breaking into their home, and bag up anything you like. -- "That's how I roll. I just see anything I like and it becomes mine before I can even say what it is."
  10. none of yo buissnuess
    in whiterun go to the gard above the gate and hols
  11. none of yo buissnuess
    in whiterun go to the gard above the gate and hold the thum stick down. he only moves at night once. then stand there to level up your sneak. (best way to level it up)
  12. Chris (bosmer)
    An eleven bow can also be found in a display case at the castle thingy (where the jarl is)
  13. Who Knows
    if you have the DLC Dragonborn you can go to Solstheim and help Captain Veleth, his dead comrade has a elven bow and elven sword
  14. Who Knows
    also you could hire Teldryn Sero at the Retching Netch he has a elven sword and dagger
  15. Anonymous
    I'm just saying they updated it so that you can get whirlwind sprint on a Dragon's Wall
  16. who is this now?
    um..... to get 100 speech go to riften then black briors meadory (mind me if you know this already I haven't play'd skyrim for like 6 months....wait no 4) and talk to the guy at the bar pay him if your speech is below 24 once you get 24 persuade him until level 100 (this can be awfully boring so just keep pressing a and watch youtube like I do XD console with a laptop)
  17. who is this now?
    and I have play'd the skyrim over 20 times with over 20 characters....yeah I was addicted to skyrim XD HEY IT'S ME YOUR MOTHER
  18. who is this now?
    .....oh hell no XD in both thief/assassin I berserked everyone in all missions XD (except the ones that required sneakiness) and also to get your one handed up just bash the *beep* out of the companions lol I drop them and they don't attack me which is pretty hilarious (I have only tried this on aela the huntress and vilkas)
  19. um.....
    oh sheet I used the wrong name soz I used who is this now's name!! OMG that companion thing is mine I just figured it out today :D I got bored /dawnguard/werewolf+bashing companions+awesomeness=I AM GOD OF AKATOSH'S DAD'S DAD'S get the idea "You did not just put a dagger up his ass"
  20. um.....
  21. Ghosh tabun good advise
  22. Key the Thief
    Headshots do not affect damage unless you use Locational Damage mod. Other than that, a very useful and helpful guide for beginners. :) Not very practical for veteran players, though. If anyone has any questions, that aren't answered in this guide or comments, then KIK me at RiotFiction and I can answer them.
  23. […] Skyrim: how to be a master thief | leet games blog | bethesda […]
  24. jmango
    SPOILER! when u join the dark brother hood u get armour gloves boots and a hat that increases your archery by 20% after a few contracts a jester will come about the dark mother (he,s crazy!)he eventually loses it and goes crazy so he injures 2 men and ur asked to kill him any way when u kill him you search him and take his cloths which make u 35% sneakier more stronger during sneak attacks
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