Loot is found almost everywhere. It can be obtained during quests, pickpocketing NPCs, stealing, clearing dungeons, killing creatures, located in containers, as rewards for completing miscellaneous objectives, and from many other sources. Loot can come in the form of gold, weapons, apparel, soul gems, mineral ore or Ingots, and many other items.
The best way to find loot is by clearing a difficult dungeon or camp. The best and most rewarding loot is generally found in the most dangerous or well-hidden places. If an area is occupied by several difficult enemies, it is more than likely a great place to find loot afterwards.
There are other methods of acquiring loot, of course. Stealing, for example, whether by pickpocketing, breaking into someone's house through lockpicking or by walking in during daylight hours, can be very effective if certain arrangements are made.
Looting, or the process of gathering loot, can be difficult for someone not knowledgeable about how to loot effectively. This is especially true because what one's purposes and methods in looting should be in order to reap the greatest benefits possible from the practice is not always obvious and varies depending upon the player's most favored skills, the stage in the game they are at, whether or not the player has certain spells or abilities at their disposal, their money supply, the method of acquiring loot used and several other factors. However, certain looting practices are always good policy.
Good Looting Policy
- Strip your inventory of as many non-vital items as possible before doing anything that might involve large amounts of loot by depositing the items in containers in your home and/or selling them to merchants. Having items you don't use in your inventory when looting only reduces the amount of new loot you can acquire without encumbering yourself.
- Take items that have no weight, such as lockpicks, arrows, and gold. Even if you don't use certain items with no weight, it costs nothing to you to carry them except for a slightly more cluttered inventory (a minor problem that can be circumvented by the use of the favorites menu), and should they be valuable enough, you may be able to sell them to merchants for a little bit of extra money and experience in the Speech skill.
- Know your objective in looting. A low-level player fresh off his or her daring escape from Helgen or the Imperial City prison may find himself or herself low on gold and might want to loot for profit. A higher-level player to whom money is no longer an object may be more concerned with gathering crafting materials or trophies.
- Keep in mind what looting-relevant abilities and resources are at your disposal. If you have the Alteration spell Transmute, iron and silver ore are more valuable to you because besides the extra value gold jewelry has over silver jewelry and iron weaponry and armor, you can get Alteration experience from casting the spell. Because gold jewelry generally has higher value than silver jewelry or iron hardware, you'll likely get more Speech experience as well. If you have the shout Whirlwind Sprint, are a werewolf and haven't used up your transformation(s) for the day, and/or have a horse, you have options for quick transportation even when encumbered.
- Look for nearby crafting facilities that might allow you to remove some of your items, thus reducing the total weight of your items while training your skills. Alchemy Lab or Arcane Enchanters may enable you to use up ingredients or soul gems and/or enchanted items while reducing the weight of your haul and training your Alchemy and Enchanting skills, respectively.
- Keep in mind the ramifications of your method of looting. If stealing, you are at risk of losing the loot if you are caught by a guard and want to pay your bounty, and getting the items sold may be a pain unless certain arrangements are made.
- Think about your carrying capacity. Since the Elder Scrolls games' inventory systems operate off of a weight-carrying-capacity system rather than an x-number-of-item-slots system, a successful looting trip requires that you make the greatest use of your carrying capacity possible.
Knowing Your Objective
Knowing what it is you need from looting is very important. Doing so gives your looting purpose and direction. A looter who knows what he or she wants will most likely get it.
Looting for Profit
Profit is perhaps the most common reason for looting. Low-level characters in need of money should prioritize profit in their looting efforts. In order to make the most money possible, the player needs to establish a good value-to-weight ratio. This will ensure that the player carries home the greatest amount of money possible. Light armor, skill books, spell tomes, precious gems, jewelry, gear made with high-quality materials and/or the materials themselves, enchanted gear, alchemical ingredients, potions and poisons, and soul gems are examples of items with excellent value-to-weight ratios.
- Establish a baseline value-to-weight ratio. As you go through a dungeon, you should "feel out" a baseline value-to-weight ratio, based on the value and amount of loot you find in the dungeon and your carrying capacity. Items below the baseline are not worth taking, but items at or above the baseline are.
- Think ahead when trying to maximize value-to-weight ratio. Items that may not be worth very much when you find them may be worth more later if you craft with them or enchant them. Iron ore is worth very little, but if Transmuted into gold, made into jewelry along with precious gems, and enchanted, it becomes far more valuable. Also, the price a merchant is willing to pay for an item decreases if the merchant already has several of that item, so take this into consideration when selecting which loot to bring back and which to leave behind.
- Make sure you have a way to sell your loot. Occassionally, if looting for profit when your character is at a medium or high level, you may come across pieces of loot too valuable for most merchants to purchase from you at full price. Solutions to this problem are described in detail in the Looting Resources section farther down. You may also simply acquire such a valuable haul of loot that you have difficulty getting it all sold to merchants. To help with this, visit merchants who only buy and sell certain types of items first and sell what you can to them, moving on to fences in order to sell off stolen goods and anything else they can afford to buy from you, and finally use general goods merchants as your catch-alls. If the merchants still don't have the money to buy all your goods, check their stocks to see if they have anything you want to buy, buy it, then sell until they run out of money again. The remainder of your loot can be stored in containers in your houses until an opportunity to sell it presents itself.
- Prioritize areas which you have some additional opportunity to profit from. Collecting on a bounty put out on a Bandit Chief or completing some other quest objective with a reward attached to it will increase your profit for the time you invest. Also, the money and rewards for quests and quest objectives are usually scripted, so they don't come from the inventory of the person who "gives" it to you and therefore don't hurt your ability to sell your loot, even if the rewards are "given" by merchants.
- Maximize your selling prices. Remember to wear any gear with Fortify Barter effects, like the Masque of Clavicus Vile or an Amulet of Zenithar, or Fortify Speech effects, like the Amulet of Articulation, drink potions that have these effects, get the The Gift of Charity by giving a beggar a gold coin, and/or get the Blessing of Zenithar from a Shrine of Zenithar before selling. At least one Skyrim merchant's prices are not affected by the player's Speech skill or perks, Fortify Barter or Fortify Speech effects, or any other factors that normally influence merchants' prices. Try to identify and avoid merchants like this in order to achieve maximum payout for your loot haul.
Looting for Crafting Materials
Looting for crafting materials is also very common. Sometimes you can't find that one alchemy ingredient you need in any merchant's stock, or you need a large supply of a particular smithing material to make yourself a reliable set of armor. Here are some tips when searching for crafting materials.
- Find out what regions or areas hold materials you want. For example, a player specializing in smithing heavy armor may want to know that completely emptying Gloombound Mine in Narzulbur will yield a grand total of 28 ingots'-worth of ebony, enough for a complete set of daedric or ebony armor, plus weapons, and the ore within the mine respawns after an in-game month has passed (being an Orc or blood-kin of the Orcs will grant free access to the settlement and allow the Dragonborn to take pre-mined ores within the mine without having to steal them).
- Learn where in the environment certain materials can be found. Pearl oysters and spiky grass, for example, can be found near the ocean, where the water meets the land, whereas nightshade and deathbell can be found near graveyards, cemetaries, or in soil near any place associated with death in the games' lore.
- Stay sharp and use your hearing as well as your vision while looting. Alchemical ingredients and mineral ore veins can be found on just about any surface in the environment and may fool the player by blending in with their surroundings if the player is not looking very closely. Various mushrooms, for example, can be found growing in small piles of dirt where floors and walls meet or attached to cave walls or tree trunks, and mosses can be found hanging from ceilings. An observant player may hear nirnroot, which makes a ringing noise when growing in the wild nearby, and follow the sound to the ingredient.
- If you're trying to train skills, remember what materials train the skills faster. Those looking to train alchemy, for example, may want to keep in mind that making potions with ingredients that have more "special" effects like Invisibility will train the skill faster than those with more "vanilla" effects like Restore Health. With this knowledge, the player may want to collect more Vampire Dust or Chaurus Eggs than Wheat or Blue Mountain Flowers.
- Remember that quests may open up opportunities to acquire more of the rarer crafting materials. Completing the quest Pieces of the Past, for example, will make it possible to use the Shrine of Mehrunes Dagon as a Daedra Heart farm, since two Dremora Lords will spawn there every in-game week after the completion of the quest.
- If you're trying to acquire Dwarven Metal Ingots, remember which of the items that can be smelted into them have the best ratio of ingots obtained to weight. Bent Dwemer Scrap Metal, for example, has an excellent ratio of 3 ingots produced to 2 units of weight before being smelted, whereas Large Decorative Dwemer Struts have a dismal ratio of 2 ingots to 15 units of weight.
Looting for Trophies or Unique Items
If you're looking for trophies or unique items to add to your trophy room for role-playing purposes, looking for them can be done while looting for other things. Here are some tips on how to get them.
- Prioritize dungeons or places for which you have started any associated quests. There are some exceptions, such as Borvir's Dagger, but quests and quest objectives can lead you to nearly all unique items and trophies, and some unique items can only be acquired through their associated quests.
- Go far into the questlines of major factions; this will lead to the most unique and valuable items. For example, going deep into the questline of the College of Winterhold will earn the Dragonborn Savos Aren's Amulet, the Staff of Magnus, the Dragon Priest Mask Morokei, and the Archmage's Robes. The questline also opens up Saarthal, where one of the Gauldur Brothers may be defeated and his fragment of the Gauldur Amulet recovered, thus starting or continuing the quest Forbidden Legends. The questline also opens up Labyrinthian, where the Last Dragonborn may find the only available spell tome for the Alteration spell Equilibrium, as well as a quest that culminates in acquiring a unique circlet called the Diadem of the Savant.
- Complete optional quest objectives. Optional quest objectives often open up opportunities to acquire unique items that couldn't be acquired otherwise. Completing the optional objective in the Dark Brotherhood quest Breaching Security, for example, will cause Gabriella to give you the item Olava's Token when you turn the quest in to her. Olava's Token can be brought to Olava the Feeble in Whiterun, who will initiate Locate the Assassin of Old, a quest that causes the body of an ancient Dark Brotherhood assassin to appear in Deepwood Redoubt inside a secret room, and puts a quest marker on his body. This allows the player to acquire a unique variant of the Shrouded Armor set on the assassin's corpse, called Ancient Shrouded Armor, which has stronger versions of the same enchantments that its contemporary cousin has.
- Expect the unexpected; some unique items appear at random, or are rewards for quests whose starts are random. The quest The Break of Dawn, for example, is started by obtaining Meridia's Beacon, which has a small chance to appear as random loot in any container the player opens, and completion of the quest causes Meridia to reward the player with the unique sword Dawnbreaker.