Home  >  Games  >  The Elder Scrolls Online  >  Gameplay & Strategy Guides

ESO: How to Become a Master Thief

“Stop! You violated the law.” If you’ve ever tried thieving in Elder Scrolls Online, you’re probably tired of hearing this phrase. You’ve come to the right place — we’re here to help you make more money thieving and avoid getting caught while doing it. Becoming a master thief in ESO is no easy task, but we’ve put together some tips to help you earn more dirty money (and maybe some achievements while you’re at it).

Disclaimer: This isn’t a guide on how to get the “Master Thief” title from completing “A Cutpurse Above.” We do mention thief-specific achievements in the table below, though.

Let’s dive right in!

How to Steal in ESO

ESO Pickpocket
Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

There are two major ways to steal in ESO — stealing objects by looting or opening containers, or pickpocketing unsuspecting victims. You can luck out and find some valuable crafting recipes and motifs in containers, so don’t skip out on looting. Remember, opening a container doesn’t become stealing until you actually take the item!

Pickpocketing requires a lot of finesse and patience. Be ready to stake out targets for the perfect moment to strike. You’ll need to observe the patterns of nearby NPCs to make sure you aren’t caught with your hand down someone’s pocket! Remember that pickpocketing doesn’t show you an inventory screen — you just take the first item out of their pocket. Interacting with NPCs this way is always considered stealing.

Legerdemain Skill

Legerdemain Skill
Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

Stealing from chests and fencing your ill-begotten finds levels up your Legerdemain skill line. This is found in the World skill section. The passives in this line are all beneficial, but will take 20 points total to unlock. At max level, these passives boost your chances of stealing and significantly increase the money you can make.

  • Improved Hiding reduces the cost of sneak by 40%.
  • Light Fingers increases the chance of successfully pickpocketing by 50%, and should be leveled with priority.
  • Trafficker increases the number of stolen items you can fence by 180%, which also allows you to increase your Legerdemain skill more quickly.
  • Locksmith improves the chance of forcing a lock open by 70%. Remember that you don’t get experience for opening chests by forcing the lock.
  • Kickback reduces the cost of bounties you willingly pay by 40%. 

Race, Class, and Armor Type for Master Thief

Is it a stereotype to make your Master Thief a Khajiit Nightblade? Yes. Does it make stealing much easier? Also yes. I personally love Khajiit characters, and a Khajiit Nightblade was actually my first and current main character.

Nightblades are also the perfect candidate for thievery with their Shadow Cloak, which makes you invisible for three seconds. Invisibility last longer, but any NPCs actively attacking may cast spells to knock you out of invisibility. Shadow Cloak costs magicka, and will allow you to get away even if your stamina has been drained by sneaking or running a lot.

Khajiit Skills
Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

Khajiit have a passive called Cutpurse that increases your chance to successfully pickpocket by 5%. It also increases your progress with the Medium Armor skill line by 15%. This is important because medium armor offers passives that reduce the cost of sneak by 5% per piece. Improved Sneak reduces sneak cost by 7% per piece, bringing you to a grand total of 84% reduction.

Medium armor also reduces the size of your detection area, making it the ideal armor to wear while thieving. If you have Improved Sneak, your detection area will reduce in size by 5% for each piece worn, to a total of 35%.

Useful Items/Armor for Thieves

Like we mentioned before, invisibility potions are great when you want to avoid prying eyes. Simply pop one until you can get to a thieves’ den and fence your stolen goods.

Counterfeit Pardon Edicts are very handy when you rack up a large bounty and don’t feel like paying it off. Blue Counterfeit Pardon Edicts are more readily available and reduce your bounty by 500, but purple Leniency Edicts reduce your bounty by up to 2000. The golden Grand Amnesty Edict reduces your bounty by up to 100K, but can only be obtained by completing the Thieves Guild quest “Prison Break.”

Sneaking- Useful Items/Armor for Thieves
Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

Armor Combinations

As far as useful armor goes, here’s the set I use for thieving. It’s a bit overkill, but it makes me practically invisible even when directly on top of someone.

  • 5 pieces of Night Mother’s Embrace (from Deshaan). The five-piece bonus reduces your detection radius by 2m, and your sneak cost by 25%.
  • 4 pieces of Vesture of Darloc Brae (from Northern Elsweyr). The four-piece bonus reduces your detection radius by 2m, and your sneak cost by 10%.
  • 3 pieces of Night Terror (from Stormhaven). The three-piece bonus reduces your detection radius by 2m, and your sneak cost by 27%.

Other useful sets that affect your sneaking movement speed include Night’s Silence (crafted), Shadow Dancer’s Raiment (from Greenshade), and Darkstride (from Rivenspire). 


Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

Another great choice for a thief character is the Vampirism curse. While Vampirism skills are primarily magicka-based, they come with some truly amazing passives that can help you sneak around and steal much more efficiently.

The Dark Stalker passive allows you to ignore the movement speed penalty of sneaking, and decreases the time it takes to enter sneak by 50%. That means less getting caught by guards right as you enter sneak! You can also get into position for stealing/pickpocketing more quickly.

Unnatural Movement does require you to be a stage 4 vampire, but it reduces the cost of sprint by 50%. If you continuously sprint for three seconds, you’ll become invisible as long as you continue sprinting. 

Useful DLC Content for Thieves

The Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood DLC are both excellent choices to expand on your criminal ways. These both cost 2000 crowns in the crown store, but are well worth the cost. Especially if you can snag them on sale (which happens pretty frequently!). ESO+ gives you this content for free, but keep in mind that it’s a monthly subscription service.

Each has a lot of merit for thieves. Once you run through the content and level up these world skill lines, you’ll unlock a lot of useful passives that make thieving easier and more lucrative!

Thieves Guild

eso Thieves Guild skills
Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

The Thieves Guild DLC gives you access to Hew’s Bane, which allows you to join the Thieves Guild and complete its quest line. Each member of the guild has a unique story, and it’s a lot of fun communicating with each of them.

Stealing is, of course, a large part of the content, but the Abah’s Landing is a difficult city to thieve in. Because the area is rife with thieves, Abah’s Landing guards have sensors that pull you out of stealth. This adds a lot of difficulty to missions, and makes stealing more challenging but rewarding. 

Abah's Watch Guards Full
Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

Thieves Guild Passives

You’ll automatically get access to the passive Finders Keepers, which allows you to find thieves’ troves all throughout Tamriel. Looting them counts as stealing, so make sure you’re stealthed! Here are the other passives you’ll pick up:

  • Swiftly Forgotten decreases your bounty by 115 after three minutes, and Heat is decreased by 64 after three seconds. Heat is the measure of how guards will react towards you, ranging from doing nothing, to shaking you down, to outright killing you for your high crimes.
  • Haggling makes stolen items sold to fences worth 10% more.
  • Clemency allows you to invoke a speech option with a guard to make them walk away. It also prevents other guards from accosting you for a minute during your getaway. You can only use this once per day, so don’t rely on it!
  • Timely Escape gives you the chance to see a “Footpad” when you have a bounty and are in combat in a city with a Refuge. This Footpad transports you to the nearest Refuge, giving you a chance to sell your stolen goods and pay off your bounty down below.
  • Veil of Shadows decreases the detection range of witness and guards by 10%, but the range in which guards will accost you is not affected. 

Dark Brotherhood

Dark Brotherhood Skills
Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

The Dark Brotherhood DLC gives you access to the Gold Coast, which allows you to join the Dark Brotherhood. The main quest line is full of murder and espionage, and there are a lot of great memorable characters involved. Don’t be surprised if you find most of the NPCs in the area lying in the streets. They respawn pretty quickly, so you might get to enjoy seeing an NPC standing over their own dead body.

You’ll gain the Blade of Woe as you open up the Dark Brotherhood skill line, allowing you to get instant kills on most of Tamriel’s unsuspecting humanoid NPCs and enemies. Blade of Woe sadly doesn’t work on any “difficult targets,” meaning you won’t be able to one-shot that humanoid boss. Here are the other passives you’ll pick up:

  • Scales of Pitiless Justice reduce your bounty and Heat resulting from witnessed murder/assault by 50%.
  • Padomaic Sprint grants you major expedition for 12s after you kill someone with the Blade of Woe.
  • Shadowy Supplier is a friendly NPC who will provide you with beneficial items every day (Gold Coast set items, potions/alchemy ingredients, counterfeit pardon edicts, furnishings, etc.). You can find them in any Refuge, Brotherhood Sanctuary, or Thieves Den.

Stealing and Stabbing

Dark Brotherhood
Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

With the passives you gain from Legerdemain, Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood, stealing should be a cinch for you.

NPCs can only hold a max of three pickpocketable items on them. Once you’ve stolen from them, you won’t be able to do it again for a short period. Each time you pickpocket someone, the chance of getting caught goes up. Successful pickpocket odds will go down by 10% for each item you steal. Different NPCs have varying chances of catching you, so a drunkard will be easier to steal from than a noble.

When pickpocketing, you’ll get intervals where the person is less aware of you trying to pickpocket them. Wait for the interaction window to turn from white to green accompanied with a sort of drum and bell sound. The pickpocket chance will leap up by 20%, allowing you to steal much more easily.

After you steal twice, it’s often easier to use the Blade of Woe and loot the body than to pull off a third pickpocket. NPCs will respawn eventually and this visible reset will let you know when to rinse and repeat. If you’re against killing NPCs, you can certainly try your hand at the third pickpocket, but without the right thieving passives and proper gear, it’s likely to fail. 

Champion Points Useful for Thieves (In Green Crafting Tree)

  • Out of Sight reduces the radius you can be detected in while sneaking by 3 meters.
  • Infamous increases the price you sell stolen goods for by 25%. 
  • Cutpurse’s Art increases the chance of pickpocketing higher rarity loot.
  • Shadowstrike makes you invisible for 5s after stabbing someone with the Blade of Woe. 

Notable Achievements with Awesome Rewards on the Master Thief Journey

Notable Achievements with Awesome Rewards
Image: ZeniMax Online Studios & Bethesda Softworks via HGG / Angus Green

Here’s the table featuring the notable achievements and rewards that you can unlock while becoming a Master Thief in ESO.

TitleRewardHow to Achieve
A Cutpurse AboveTitle: Master Thief, Coin of Illusory Riches momentoSteal all of the legendary items on Kari’s Hit List and bring them back to the Thieves Den in Hew’s Bane.
Thieves Guild Skill MasterTitle: ScoundrelReach the max level of the Thieves Guild skill line.
Legerdemain Skill MasterTitle: LocksmithReach the max level of the Legerdemain skill line.
Black Market MogulContraband Violet Dye, Mountain of Loot furnishing, Faded Fence Banner furnishingEarn 1,000,000 gold by selling stolen goods to a fence. 
Safebox CrackerDecorative Safebox furnishingBreak into and loot the contents of 100 safeboxes.
Master BurglarReplica Key Blank furnishingSuccessfully pick the lock of 100 doors.
Felonious RecompenseShadowfoot Gray dye, Pile of Coins furnishing, Scales of Felonious Recompense furnishingPay a total of 100,000 gold to a fence or guards to clear your bounty.
Purse SnatcherPocket Change furnishing Succesffuly pickpocket 100 citizens of Tamriel.
Sneak Thief ExtraordinaireForest Footpad Green dye, Noble Pocket Lint furnishingSuccessfully pickpocket 1,000 citizens of Tamriel.

Join the High Ground

May you move as fast as the wind and your nefarious hands never be seen. If you have any other suggestions from one thief to another, let us know in the comment section below. For more information on all of your favorite games and the latest in all things ESO, follow us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter. 

Happy gaming!

The Elder Scrolls Online Navigation


Continue the Adventure!

Sign up for an account at High Ground Gaming, and access all these amazing perks:

  • Custom profile page
  • Save articles to favorites
  • Rate articles
  • Post comments & engage with the community
  • Access the HGG Discord
  • Enter giveaways
This is a pre-registration form. Fill in the following details to verify your email address first. You will be able to access the full registration form and register for an account after the verification.

Join the Discussion

Give feedback on the article, share additional tips & tricks, talk strategy with other members, and make your opinions known. High Ground Gaming is a place for all voices, and we'd love to hear yours!


Forgot Password?

Join Us