Always seen as the dark arts of Elder Scrolls games, Thief skills are, in fact, surprisingly applicable to most playthroughs in Skryim, and maxing your Lockpicking, Pickpocket, Sneak and Speech skills - or at least quickly levelling them to a certain perk you have your eye on, like Extra Pockets, can be massivley helpful.
Here, we'll be talking you through the best ways to max your Thief skills in Skyrim as quickly and efficiently as possible - but we also strongly recommend you take a look at our Skyrim power-levelling hub page and our Crafting skills guide in particular, for some extremely helpful tips for speeding up the process.
The fastest way to max level Lockpicking and Pickpocketing
How to reach level 100 Lockpicking
Lockpicking and Pickpocket are two skills which often go hand-in-hand - probably because, to gain access to locked doors, there's normally a choice available to the player: lockpick the lock, or pickpocket the key.
- Lockpicking experience is granted for two things: succesfully opening locks, whereby experience is levelled according to the difficulty of the lock, or by breaking lockpicks, which gives a smaller, flat amount of experience regardless of the lock difficulty.
- To level Lockpicking then, you can either head to a location which has a large number of difficult locks to open, such as the Dwemer Museum in Markarth, or you can simply find a lock where the starting position won't open it, buy a huge amount of lockpicks, and get breaking.
- Breaking huge numbers of lockpicks is, we believe, the slightly faster option overall. You can buy lickpicks from Thieves Guild members and fences, or alternatively you can in fact use the Skeleton Key, awarded from a latter quest in the Thieves Guild storyline - which we explain how to start in our Faction quests guide - which is unbreakable, but still awards experience for 'failed' attempts to pick a lock.
How to reach level 100 Pickpocket
Pickpocket is one of the harder skills to power-level, but it's also one of the fastest to level up in terms of the experience you gain from each attempt... if you get it right.
- The amount of experience gained from pickpocketing and item is based on that item's value, rather than anything like weight or percentage chance of success.
- Bearing that in mind, the most efficient items to steal are gems and jewelry, as they're high in value but low in weight - which means a higher chance to steal, as weight determines difficulty.
- One mini-exploit for levelling Pickpocket is to repeatedly steal the Strange Amulet from Calixto Corrium, during the quest Blood on the Ice, as you can immediaely re-sell the amulet to Calixto for 500 gold - which is also one of several great ways to earn gold in Skyrim.
- Another slightly cheesy way to level Pickpocket is to use the age-old exploit of purchasing Pickpocket training from a trainer, and then stealing your money back. This levels the skill in two ways at once, but will slow down significantly at higher levels.
The fastest way to max level Sneak and Speech
How to reach level 100 Sneak
Sneak is another tricky one to level up without an exploit, but fortunately there are a few things to bear in mind which can make it a little easier for you.
- Sneak experience is awarded for being undetected in sneak mode, and for landing sneak attacks. Sneak attacks grant the most XP, based on the damage dealt, whilst sneaking near hostile enemies or NPCs with items they own nearby will level you faster than sneaking near a friendly or neutral NPC.
- The fastest way to level, then, is to fully land a sneak power attack combo on a durable NPC like Shadowmere.
- You can also level your Sneak to 100 during the game's tutorial section - although this will leave you drastically under-levelled for combat against your enemies - by walking into a wall near the bear in the tutorial cave. The good ol' fashioned rubber band trick, or a weight on your W key, can let you do this while AFK if you really want to.
- Goldenglow Estate's external area, which is full of guards - providing you don't kill them during the Thieves Guild quest - is a great area to sneak around amidst multiple holstile enemies. Forts occupied by bandits or the Thalmor are another option.
Want more help with Skyrim? Find out how to join every guild and faction, how to earn Gold fast, learning about XP and levelling to 100, max Crafting skills, max Warrior skills, max Thief skills and max Mage skills, how to get married, where to buy a house, how to start Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn DLC expansions. If you're on PC, we have a list of console commands and cheats, and you can learn about the remastered version and how to install mods with our Skyrim guide. Finally, with Switch owners, we have Skyrim amiibo support explained to help unlock special Zelda-themed items.
How to reach level 100 Speech
Finally, yet another difficult to grind skill, Speech. Formerly Speechcraft, Speech is based on your verbal interactions with NPCs. Fortunately again, we've managed to gather a few tricks for levelling it up with relative ease.
- Speech is levelled by buying and selling items, and successfully using the Persuade, Indimidate, and Bribe dialogue options.
- Buying and selling items levels Speech according to the item's value, and will only every grant you experience for one item per transaction - meaning you should always sell items one at a time if you want to raise your Speech level.
- One method is to buy training from trainer-merchants, who also buy and sell goods, and who will then have far higher gold reserves for buying your more expensive items.
- If you have a large amount of gold saved up, you can sell and re-buy your most expensive items, which, bearing the markups in mind, will leave the merchant with a massively increased stash of gold for puchasing. Then, you can sell huge amounts of items - remembering to do so one at a time - to level up your Speech. This complements your Enchanting skill levelling particualrly well, as with that method you'll have huge numbers of enchanted items to sell, too.
- Finally, there is a Speech exploit involving a dialogue loop with a shop-keeping in Riften. Head to the Black-Briar Meadery just north of the town and talk to Ungrien. Select the "Tell me about Maven Black-Briar" dialogue option, and after heading through all the chit-chat the "Come on, get the truth off your chest. (Persuade)" option, which will soon take you back to the start of the conversation and round in an infinite loop. This is, probably, the fastest way to level the skill, although technically an exploit rather than an intentional mechanic.