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I'd like to grind my sneak in Skyrim. Exactly how does the game decide when I level up in sneak? What are the precise conditions or logic the game uses in making this determination?

EDIT: I understand that sneaking around and not being noticed will help me level up. I'm looking for exactly what the algorithm the game uses to decide when to give me experience is. For example, how close do I have to be to someone? Do I level up faster if I'm closer? Does being partially noticed help or hurt?

I want to know because right now, leveling up my sneak feels magic. It's always a surprise to me when it happens, and I don't like that. If I could understand why I level up when I do, I think sneaking would be more satisfying.

  • A great sneak exploit is to go to the Aretino residence in Windhelm and sneak into the corner in the same room that Aventus is doing the Black Sacrament in. A bit of elastic band on the controller, or some tack for the keys on your keyboard and then you can leave it overnight and you'll have 100 in the morning. I use this on my 'fun' save, where I tend to just try and have a bit of a laugh, run up a bounty etc. – Dan Hanly Aug 26 '14 at 15:42
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"[H]ow close do I have to be to someone?"
~45 feet.

"Do I level up faster if I'm closer?"
I don't think so.

"Does being partially noticed help or hurt?"
Help, I guess, because you gain Sneak XP while "being partially noticed", apparently even without having to move at that point, unlike if no one even suspects your presence.

Aside from sneaking while "being partially noticed", there are multiple ways to gain Sneak XP:

  • moving in a sneaking state within earshot of a non-friendly but not being (fully) detected,
  • sneak attacking,
  • getting training from a Sneak trainer,
  • reading certain skill books,
  • certain quest rewards, and
  • the "advSkill" console command
  • (, and also some anomaly at the beginning of the game).

Using a skill grants skill XP according to

Skill Use Mult * (base XP * skill specific multipliers) + Skill Use Offset

Sneak Skill Use Mult = 11.25
Sneak Skill Use Offset = 0
Sneak Skill Improve Mult = 0.5
Sneak Skill Improve Offset = 120
∴ 11.25 * (base XP * skill specific multipliers)

Sneak "Sources of XP/Notes":

  • 2.5 base XP for becoming hidden within ~45 feet.
  • 0.625 base XP per second hidden within ~45 feet.
  • 30 base XP for a melee sneak attack.
  • 2.5 base XP for a ranged sneak attack.
  • Additional multipliers may apply.

http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:Leveling#Skill_XP

Range, by my own testing:
Enemy unit: X -396.68, Y 4701.32, Z 471.82
Me within edge of range: X 967.24, Y 4678.92, Z 400.65
Considering how far one unit does not move me, I'd guess that the units are in inches. Considering how flat the ground seems to be and the difference between my z-pos near the enemy (384.5) and at the edge, there seems to be a difference between the enemy model's (Imperial Soldier) z-pos and mine (Imperial female with weapons drawn). Just calculating the X and Y axes, their range of perception is sqrt(1860779.5264) or 1364.10 units. If the units are inches, that's 113.675 feet.

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    This is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you. – Kevin Sep 7 '14 at 23:21
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    I assume that by "level up", you mean "gain XP"; I'm not explaining how much XP is needed for the next level. – NiteCyper Sep 8 '14 at 4:26
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Aside from trainers, quests and books, sneak is levelled in two ways.

First, sneaking close to someone will increase your sneak skill if they cannot see you. You can earn experience quite easily this way by sneaking into a wall near someone who is unlikely to turn around or detect you. Sleeping people are extremely good choices for this.

Second, sneak attacking people earns you sneak xp. You can get a lot of xp farming plot-critical characters such as the Greybeards this way.

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  • I've found that sneak experience is earned when there is a semi-alerted enemy searching for you (hasn't found you yet). I don't know if their movement stacks with yours (thus, in theory, earning double the amount of xp), but it would be a neat thing to experiment with. – slow_excellence Jul 15 '14 at 16:20
  • I noticed I got a lot of sneak xp when I did a lot of damage in a single strike vs a target from stealth. xp farming plot chars is a great idea, as is just going into sneak in town, toggle auto move, and going afk for a while. – l I Jul 15 '14 at 16:21
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    I can confirm that going into an inn, hiding in the corner and running into the wall will increase your sneak while you eat dinner and do other things. – Mike Jul 16 '14 at 19:54
  • I'm on the console version, so I don't know if I can auto move. Would just crouching in the corner work, even if more slowly? – Kevin Jul 18 '14 at 20:08
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If I'm not mistaken, simply crouching everywhere helps you gain experience for sneaking no matter what. Of course, sneak attacking will help you gain additional xp.

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