In the world of Skyrim, the average player can be found assassinating someone from a darkened corner or slaughtering a village of citizens. If it's not that, you'll probably find them creeping around closed shops or lifting items out of pockets. Eventually, the player will find convenience in paying their fine; and this creates their character's criminal record.
When I looked into the general stats of my newest character — an Orc named Gharsh — and saw she had gained no bounty in her first 20 levels, I had to stop in awe of my accomplishment.
Then it struck me (as I am a quiet, law-abiding citizen with a paranoia for getting into trouble) that throughout my few characters, I became frustrated when I realized that my reputation was very low and no one trusted me. My other two characters have managed to gain a bounty for some assaults and thievery and began to bribe guards not to care. I began to pay attention to what I was doing differently with my Orc than my previous characters.
First off, when it came to talking to people, persuasion was more than my friend — it was my lover. I found that when it came to brawling, intimidating, or persuading, the only time you keep within the NPC's good graces is by persuading what you want out of them. Think of it in real life as someone buttering you up with compliments and flattery. The person will still like you even though you got what you wanted. With that said, keeping a good reputation was very difficult as I had to resort to beserking some poor souls into giving me what I wanted. Certain NPCs would gain respect from you for being able to beat them. A few are even willing to follow you, but they aren't usually connected to a quest that can avoid violence.
When it came to stealing, I took three things before I reached level 20: iron ingots and weapons from Markarth's forge and Anise's letter. Both times resulted in me fighting a dragon and then hearing, "There you are! We're here to teach you a lesson."
So there I was, ferociously beating off thugs and a dragon, who took said thugs as allies and did not burn them, until finally the guards decided to save me (only after the flames touched them, of course). Needless to say, I crawled out of the battles wondering who I royally pissed off... until I saw the notes. These thugs will wait levels after you've stolen something, so you forget who you've offended and why. So I vowed not to steal.
Well, after my oath, I no longer had trouble with any Thugs. I moved on and began doing more menial tasks for random NPCs. I found that, as an Orc, measuring your reputation was very easy as the guards went from saying, "What are you doing, Orc?" to "You look tired, the (local inn) has rooms for rent."
Also, a lot of the NPCs around Skyrim gave me plenty of gifts, ranging from food to potions to weapons; and it was all very helpful, if not profitable.
Being allowed into their homes after completing their tasks is what I enjoyed more, though. I would see them to their house in the evening and help myself to whatever alcohol they had, as well as spare coin in drawers. I made sure to get in the good graces of every inn I came across just for the free wine.
Now, as a thief, it would simply be a matter of going into a home while the owner slept and taking whatever you wanted. But, you run the risk of the NPC waking up and bringing every guard to your attention.
Think about who you're stealing from. If they own a shop, they'll shadow you everywhere you go. And I know some people like to complain about the NPC getting stuck in the doorway. Example: the Argonian in Riften simply sweeps the floor while I go comfortably sleep in my room. I used to Fus Ro Dah him out of the way when I was a thief and just bribe my way out the door. I do not deny the perks Skyrim's criminal life has to offer.
It also is true certain items, basically only accessible through means of crime, would prove useful and worthwhile. However, think about every hero: it's hard to stay on the good side because it's so easy to show everyone your power. They were also tempted by weapons of mass destruction, but they worked to stop it instead of utilize it.
It may not help that many of these NPCs may not show the gratitude you want after risking your neck to retrieve their trinkets. It's the subtle ways sometimes that they'll thank you. Look around their houses and help yourself to more gold and/or potions.
I like to have NPCs greet me warmly... or as warmly as they can. I also like not having the alchemist stand over me whenever I decide to brew up some potions, or having the innkeeper watch me sleep.
Overall, my character's privacy is the greatest reward I've received in the game for being a good guy. I no longer have to Fus Ro Dah as much as I used to. It was a small surprise when I realized it was my shouting that offended them so much.
It's a grand adventure, being a law-abiding citizen in Skyrim. The gameplay changes a lot as stealing the things you needed is no longer an option, hence making you earn your belongings in a more legitimate way. There's a small sense of pride behind knowing your reward was properly received.
On a final note, I find my stories about Skyrim sound less sadistic; as I am no longer explaining how my character runs around shouting at people and bribing guards not to care.
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