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. This includes looting Thieves Troves, and also opening "Stolen Shipment" containers in your inventory where you can be witnessed. It also includes the act of looting a murdered citizen. Even if nobody witnessed you actually killing them, you can still earn a small bounty by looting their corpse.
- 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 (mostly in DLC and Chapter zones - 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.
Both your Bounty and your Heat are tracked by the Bounty Meter in the lower-right corner of the screen. Heat is displayed in red and represents the immediate threat from the guards. Heat decays quickly when you are not committing crimes. Bounty is displayed in white, and represents the ongoing effort of the guards to arrest you. Bounty decays slowly; a small portion of your bounty is discarded every three real-time minutes (including when offline). As with the bounty value itself, the rate at which your bounty decays is dependent on your level.
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 labeled 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.
Some stolen items can be equipped as armor, clothing, or weapons. Stolen armor will not be repaired by merchants, so you'll need to repair it yourself. If you are arrested or killed by the guards while equipped with any ill-gotten goods, they will confiscate them (which can lead to two achievements). Like other items, stolen equipment can also be laundered. In the case of non-armor clothing items, theft is actually one of the only ways to acquire it, though it has no benefit beyond aesthetics.
There are also furnishing items for your home which can be found by theft, some of which cannot be found in any other way. You will need to launder these items before you can actually display them in your home, however.
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, or even just by picking locks on treasure chests in the wilderness, which is not considered a 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 (both legal and illegal).
The Thieves Guild skill line is unlocked by joining the faction, or by finding and looting a Thieves Trove, 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.
- The ability to kill innocents can be turned off in the settings for players who don't want to participate in the Justice System. However, doing so prevents progress in the Dark Brotherhood DLC, and can interfere with various other activities as well.
- Looking at the contents of a owned (unlocked) container is not a crime. (i.e., pressing interact on a container marked Steal from, but not pressing the Steal all button). Only when the player loots the item will a bounty be applied, assuming there are witnesses. For this to happen, auto-looting of stolen items must be off in the settings, otherwise the player will immediately loot the item once interact is pressed.
- Note that even with auto-loot off, this will not prevent your character from immediately looting items lying around in the open (and possibly getting a bounty in the process). Items that are immediately picked up are marked with Steal as opposed to Steal from, and usually include weapons, drinks and armor.
- Upon the introduction of the Justice System, a planned 'Part Two' was scheduled for a future update. This update would have introduced a PvP Enforcer system, whereby players could hunt down and attack criminals with bounties while in a PvE zone. The system was ultimately scrapped.