Crime and Punishment

Lawbreakers Beware (or Rejoice)! There are plenty of opportunities in Oblivion to get on the wrong side of the law. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon how you are playing your character.


Like Morrowind, Oblivion has several different kinds of crimes that you can commit, plus a couple of new ones. I've listed them in (more or less) their order of severity:

Theft: taking something that isn't yours. Unlike Morrowind, Oblivion lets you know when you're stealing. If you see a red icon, it's theft. If you are picking up something, then it will be a red hand icon. If it's a red container icon, then taking anything from that container is considered theft. Looking into a container with a red icon won't cause problems, but picking a lock to take a peek will if you're caught doing it. Be cautious when dealing with NPCs while in "Sneak" mode. If you try to initiate a conversation while sneaking, you'll actually enter "Pickpocket" mode. This is generally not a problem if your Sneak skill is high and you exit rather than trying to take something, but always exercise caution to avoid the problem entirely.

When you are caught stealing, you will immediately incur a bounty that's equal to about half of the value of the item you are stealing. For example, if you steal an apple or a loaf of bread, you'll incur a 1 gold piece bounty. Opening a locked container carries a fine/bounty of 5 gold pieces. Pickpocketing is 25 gold pieces.

Stolen items are marked in your inventory with a red hand and can only be sold to Thieves Guild fences (if you're in the Guild) or to merchants with a very low Responsibility attribute. You can get rid of the "stolen" status by selling them to a fence (fences buy almost anything), mixing them into a potion (ingredients), or by enchanting them (weapons and wearable items). If it's already enchanted, you're kind of stuck. If you have something that you'd like to keep, sell it to a fence and buy it back again. You'll pay more to buy it than you got for selling it, but the "stolen" tag will be removed. If you aren't in the Thieves Guild, then you'll need to either sell stolen stuff to the owner of the Inn of Ill Omen (who will buy almost anything) or to Shady Sam (just outside the Imperial City, but he only buys potions and junk).

For many questlines, you are going to have to retrieve things. Sometimes it will be considered theft and sometimes not. The "Independent Thievery" quest for the Thieves Guild is nothing but stealing stuff and fencing it. In other cases it might not be so obvious. For example, in completing the final quest for the Fighters Guild, you have to pick up two pieces of pipe. Those two pipes are stolen items. To complete Sheogorath's Daedric Quest, you have to steal a piece of cheese; the "Bruma Recommendation" quest offers you an easy solution if you'll steal a book; and so forth. While no one is going to strenuously object to your taking these objects (unless you're caught) and since all of them are removed from your inventory in the process of completing those quests, you'd never know that you had stolen anything unless you checked your Journal. Nevertheless, if you're a straight law-and-order type, you'll want to avoid these quests.

Trespassing: going where you aren't supposed to go. You'll do this if you activate a door that has a red door icon. The fine/bounty associated with this is generally 5 gold pieces (40 gold pieces if you're trespassing in a castle's private quarters). You'll know that you're trespassing if an NPC tells you to get out or that you're not supposed to be there (in the private quarters, they won't tell you - the guards just try to arrest you). Although you generally have a small window of opportunity to take care of any legitimate business that you might have, it's best to get out when you're told to do so.

Like theft, most questlines involve at least a little trespassing. In the "Vahtacen's Secret" quest for the Mage's Guild, for example, you're told to go up to the Council Chamber to talk to Irlav Jarol, the quest-giver. If you noticed, the teleporter has a red door icon because you technically don't have permission to go there (yet). So take care of whatever business you have and get out quickly. This can sometimes work to your advantage when you really do need to trespass. For example, in the "Untaxing the Poor" quest for the Thieves Guild, you can "legitimately" retrieve the quest object by getting to the top of the guard tower, doing what you need to do and getting back down to the bottom floor very quickly.

Assault: hitting a friendly NPC, casting hostile magic on a non-hostile NPC or sneak-attacking any NPC. You'll incur a bounty only if there is someone to observe the assault, and call the guards and if there is a guard nearby that can be alerted. No nearby guard means no bounty. Otherwise, you'd only know by checking the "Assaults" counter in your Journal. Striking pets, horses and farm animals also counts as assault if the owner observes it (that includes your own horse if you haven't patched). In many cases, attacking the summoned Daedra or undead of a friendly NPC can also be treated as assault. Fighting back when the guards try to arrest you is also assault. Resisting arrest just puts the guards into attack mode and doesn't actually have a bounry or find associated with it. I guess the devs thought that having guards pounding on your skull was enough.

The bounty/fine for Assault is 40 gold pieces.

Murder: killing anyone who has not attacked you first when there are witnesses around to report it. Also, killing any guard whether there are witnesses around or not. The fine/bounty is 1000 gold pieces. There are a couple of instances where you can kill a non-evil NPC who has not attacked you and it won't count as murder. Necromancers, Conjurers, Bandits, Marauders, and the like are "bad guys" and kind of exempt from this. If you can take down the NPC in one hit, when they are unaware of you (so they can't call the guards) and with no witnesses noticing (so they won't call the guards) then it's not murder and you will not incur a bounty. "One Hit" means physical damage only; extra damage from enchantments and poisons doesn't count.

Note that except for joining the Dark Brotherhood, there are no quests that require you to murder anyone.

Oblivion introduces two new crimes: Jailbreak and Horse Stealing. Jailbreak is new because the other games had no way to get out of jail once you were there. You just served your time and that was that. Horse Stealing is new because Morrowind and Arena didn't have horses and Daggerfall treated them like any other store object. The fine for stealing a horse is 250. The fine for breaking out of jail is 50 gold in addition to the fine for your original crime(s). Your original fine doesn't clear until you have completed your sentence.

To commit Jailbreak, you must be arrested and unlock your cell door. If you don't unlock the door, it's not Jailbreak. So if you summon a creature, hit it until it turns hostile on you and the guards open the cell door to protect you, it's not jailbreak because you didn't unlock the cell door. Of course, unless you serve out your sentence or get one of the Thieves Guild Doyens to clear the bounty for you, you will still have your original fine/bounty. But that's a different problem.


If you are arrested by a guard, you have four choices: pay the fine, go to jail, resist arrest or suck up to the guard. If your bounty is less than 1000 gold pieces and you can get the guard's disposition up to more than 90, they'll look the other way, let you off the hook, the bounty disappears and you're free and clear. Since everything except Jailbreak involves lowering NPC disposition by 10 or more, that's going to be a little difficult unless you can charm him before he can initiate the arrest dialogue.

Pay The Fine: simply that. Whatever the amount of your fine will be deducted from your gold, you'll be transported to the nearest castle or Imperial Prison, any stolen items will be removed from your inventory and placed in the "Evidence Chest" at that location and that's that. You're free to go.

Go To Jail: if you don't have enough gold to pay the fine or if you don't want to pay the fine, you can choose to go to jail. Your sentence is about one day per 100 gold of the fine. All of your gear except one lockpick will be removed and placed in the "Evidence Chest" at the jail's location.

Once you're in the jail, activate the bed to serve your sentence. You'll wake up outside of the castle/prison with all of your gear (except stolen non-quest items; quest items are returned whether they're stolen or not) and be free to go. Note that each day in jail will change one of your skills, randomly chosen. If it's Security or Sneak, then those will increase by 1% each time they are chosen. If it's anything else, the skill will decrease by 1% each time it's chosen. Skills can be retrained/regained once you're out of jail by any of the normal methods of increasing them (training, skill books, quest rewards or use). So if you've hit your maximum level and want to keep leveling up, get arrested a lot of times, spend a lot of days in jail and keep your fingers crossed that one of your Major skills gets decreased by 10% or more.

To escape from jail, get the cell door open by some means (pick the lock, pickpocket a passing guard for the key, or get creative with summoned creatures). Once the cell door is open, you need to get out of the jail itself. This is relatively simple in cities like Skingrad that have a single guard with more than one way in/out of the jail and fairly difficult in others where there may be mutiple guards and only one way out. Note that since you have not served your sentence, you still have a bounty and do not have your gear, so plan accordingly. If you are in the Thieves Guild and can get to one of the Doyen, they can remove the bounty (assuming that you have the gold to pay the fine), but you'll still need to retrieve your gear.

If you are carrying any stolen quest objects, breaking out of jail is a good way to lose them because they won't be in the Evidence Chest. To get them back, you'll need to get arrested again and serve your sentence.

Resist Arrest: fight back when the guards try to arrest you. This is generally "not a good thing" since they are leveled NPCs and might be able to mop the floor with you. But if you can get away, you might be OK until you can find some other way to clear the fine. My best advice is to not resist arrest unless you are sure that you can get away (remember that you can't fast-travel). If you decide to change your mind about resisting, you can yield (hold "block" and initiate a conversation with one of the guards).

If you manage to get away, at least one guard will chase you and it's difficult to get away from them. But it can have some interesting side effects. Creatures, Daedra, and general bad guys would much rather beat on the guard than beat on you. You might be able to use them to close Oblivion Gates or clear ruins, caves and forts if you can get them to stop beating on you long enough to do it. I've never had a guard survive long enough to get to the Sigil Stone chamber, so I don't know whether they can find a way back or not.

As long as you're not the one that strikes the killing blow, there is no bounty that will attach to you, so use these guys as cannon-fodder if you can. There is an infinite supply, so don't worry about using them up. Of course that doesn't solve the problem of having a bounty in the first place, but it's always an option if you're willing to give it a try.