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There is quite a lot of nice stuff just laying around, useful and valuable items that their owners are not actually making good use of. I'm currently saving the world in sub-standard equipment, so I was thinking of just taking what really should have been mine in the first place.

What are the consequences of stealing stuff in Skyrim? Are there only consequences if I'm seen stealing anything, or do I get something like "bad karma" even if nobody ever sees me take anything?

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Guilty conscious. – Arkive Nov 11 '11 at 6:48
@Arkive the word you want is 'conscience', not 'conscious.' Unless you really mean 'guilty awake'. This has been a message from your friendly, local, Gaming.SE Pedant. Have a nice day! – LessPop_MoreFizz Nov 11 '11 at 11:33
Yes, you are correct. Too much Skyrim, not enough sleep. – Arkive Nov 11 '11 at 16:32
Not so much a consequence, but you can't sell stolen stuff back to the person you stole it from :( :P – Mr Smooth Nov 12 '11 at 3:18
I accidentally stole in Riverwood, and the game won't let me talk to the guy I need to talk to in order to advance because he, and everybody else, is attacking me. What can I do? – user14386 Nov 15 '11 at 9:57
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Generally, when nobody's looking, you're safe: on the other hand, stealing—and getting caught—will place a bounty on your head for half the item's value.

There aren't any permanent consequences for stealing in front of witnesses, but they will eventually report you to the authorities, which will start the bounty and alert the guards.

There is a small chance that you rob from someone who can tell when you stole something from them, even if nobody's around. The consequence of doing that is a set of hired thugs sent after you. This seems to only happen once: if you defeat the thugs, you're safe until the next high-value theft.

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So you have to be caught for it to cause problems? – Ivo Flipse Nov 13 '11 at 7:08
Do notice that 'if there are no witnesses' can also mean 'if there are no witnesses... left'. If you can kill witnesses fast enough, the bounty will be revoked. – Konerak Nov 13 '11 at 14:08
@Konerak: Good point and it should also be noted that a horse of an enemy is considered a witness. – Lucas McCoy Dec 10 '11 at 8:34

I've recently had a run in with some hired bandits who had a contract on them. Apparently, someone I stole stuff from hired them to attack me and try to kill me as revenge. I'm pretty sure no one saw me stealing, but I guess they figured it out somehow.

So there are some consequences.

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This is important -- you need not get caught for there to be consequences. That said, I've stolen 30k+ and only had one set of "hired thugs" come after me so far. – agf Nov 16 '11 at 0:44
I had this happen as well; one of the thugs had a note on him that suggested to me who figured out I stole from him. – Josh Petrie Nov 16 '11 at 18:16
This is proof that some people of Skyrim are time-travellers who brought CCTV-equipment back with them. How else can they know that you stole from them? DNA-evidence? – Lars Ebert Jul 11 '14 at 10:07

If you really intentionally do a lot of bad to a city, and they see it all, you will...

  1. ...get a bounty, high enough so you can't really pay it anytime soon.

  2. ...will be followed / found in the nearby areas of the city, if you use the wait system you are suddenly surrounded by an angry group of guards and persons that have passed by. Some of these might have been hired to do, these type usually travel farther than the average person.

  3. ...upon paying/losing the bounty or going to jail; when you return to your city, they will be funny and will be for example searching for a thief with your name but the opposite gender of your character, and they will be complaining about the security/guards of the city not finding the thief.

    This last thing, are only scripted dialogs and have no further effect on your standing.

If you aren't detected while stealing, or your chances are lucky, they won't even know you stole things.

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