Justice in Elder Scrolls Online covers the numerous crimes you can commit, and the consequences for doing so if caught by the guards. The Justice System is present in every zone except Cyrodiil and Coldharbour.
Crimes are divided into Petty and Major offences. Petty crimes increase your bounty by a modest amount, while major crimes significantly increase your bounty.
- Petty Crimes
- Theft: Stealing owned items, including items from owned containers; this is identified by the Steal or Steal from prompt. Locked Safeboxes provide a high-value reward if successfully pilfered, but run the risk of a double-bounty for the lockpicking and the theft.
- Pickpocketing: While sneaking, stealing items directly from NPCs; this is identified by the Pickpocket prompt, which also shows the odds of success. NPCs can be Easy, Medium or Hard. Note that it is not possible to merely look at an NPCs inventory.
- Lockpicking: Attempting to pick an owned lock will land you with a bounty if spotted; this is identified by the Unlock prompt, which also shows the difficulty of the lock. Owned locks are typically only found on safeboxes and houses.
- Breaking and entering: Breaking and entering into locked buildings. If the door is unlocked, the prompt changes to Trespass, but this is an action that will not give you a bounty. Entering the area will simply earn you a rebuke from any witnessing civilians. The exception to that are the Restricted Areas.
- Trespassing in Restricted Areas: Some areas in Abah’s Landing and the Gold Coast (see below) will confer a bounty directly for trespassing.
- Killing Livestock: Slaying domesticated animals, such as pigs, cows, goats and guar. Note that it is not possible to kill pets.
- Aiding a criminal: Healing a criminal being pursued by a guard will land you with a bounty. It is advisable to refrain from using healing spells in major cities as the chances of accidentally doing this exponentially increase.
- Major Crimes
- Assault: Starting a fight with a non-hostile NPC. These NPCs are indicated with a white glow.
- Murder: Slaying an innocent citizen.
- Evasion: Fleeing from a guard who has arrested you.
If you are witnessed committing a crime, a bounty will be placed on your head, and you will incur heat from the Tamriel Guard. Your Bounty indicates your debt to society, while your Heat affects how actively the guards pursue you. The cost of your bounty is dependent on the severity of your crime and your character’s level. Committing a number of crimes in quick succession significantly raises your heat.
The Bounty Meter records your crimes on four levels of infamy:
- Upstanding: You have no bounty, and the Guard is not seeking you. The Bounty Meter is not displayed at this level.
- Disreputable: You have committed a petty crime, and the Guard is aware of your bounty. Guards who see you will attempt to arrest you.
- Notorious: The Guard is aware of your bounty and actively seeking to arrest you. Certain citizens will refuse to speak to you.†
- Fugitive: The Guard will attempt to kill you on sight. Committing a major crime immediately makes you a fugitive if you are witnessed.
Certain owned properties are considered “restricted areas”. While inside these areas, your Heat will be permanently maxed out, and any citizen who detects you will immediately report you for trespassing, increasing your bounty. Guards who detect you in a restricted area will attempt to kill you on sight.
The Tamriel Guard will attempt to catch you if you have a bounty. If you are arrested, you will have two options available (three with the Thieves Guild DLC):
- Pay: If you have the funds, you will be able to pay off your bounty. The guards will confiscate all your stolen items, and your infamy will be cleared.
- Clemency: With the Clemency passive from the Thieves Guild DLC, a guard will let you go once per day without taking any money or items, but leaving your bounty intact. However, you only have one minute before any guards try to arrest you again and will need to leave the area as quick as possible.
- Flee: If you do not have the funds, or you wish to try and escape the guards, you may choose to flee. You will be labelled as a fugitive, your bounty will increase, and guards will attempt to kill you on sight. To successfully evade them, you will need to escape the area.
If you are a fugitive, the guards will immediately attempt to kill you and will not arrest you first. Guards are invulnerable and cannot be killed, so the only way to escape them is to flee the area. If the guards manage to kill you, they will confiscate all your stolen items and deduct the value of your bounty from the gold you are carrying. If you do not have enough gold to clear your bounty, they will take all the gold you are carrying and deduct it from your bounty total. Guards cannot take gold that is stored in the Bank.
Refuges, Fences and Contraband
Outlaws Refuges can be found in most major cities. Each one has two entrances, meaning they usually can be accessed from the city and outside the city. Even if there is no exit outside the city walls, one of the exits always leads to an area where the guards do not patrol.
Every refuge contains a fence who will buy or launder your stolen items. This contraband cannot be sold to vendors, traded to other players, or stored in the bank, so visiting a Fence is the only way to receive benefits from your crime (except for consumables or crafting materials, which can be used immediately). Fences will launder your stolen items for a fee equal to their value, allowing you to keep the item for future use. Any laundered item will lose its state of being “stolen”, and can then be used, sold, and traded like any other item.
In addition to buying and laundering contraband, Fences are able to clear your bounty. This costs the same as it does when paying a guard, but you are able to keep your stolen items. It is also the only way to pay off your bounty while you are a fugitive.
The Legerdemain skill line is unlocked for anyone who performs a petty crime. This skill line improves your abilities in sneaking, pickpocketing, lockpicking, and trafficking contraband. To advance in this skill line, you need to successfully fence goods, pickpocket NPCs, and pick locks.
The Thieves Guild skill line is unlocked by joining the faction, which is only possible for those with access to the Thieves Guild DLC pack. This skill line improves your ability to escape from guards and increases the value of items sold at fences. To advance in this skill line, you need to improve your reputation with the Thieves Guild by performing guild tasks.
The Dark Brotherhood skill line is unlocked by joining the guild, which is only possible for those with access to the Dark Brotherhood DLC pack. This skill line reduces bounties received if you are witnessed murdering someone, and can sometimes prevent you being witnessed. To advance in this skill line you must complete Brotherhood quests.