Skyrim Roleplay Enhancement Modding Guide for Special Edition (SAE) v8.0.0
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First and foremost: This guide is in the process of being updated for Anniversary Edition, with the complete Upgrade.
SkyRem (Skyrim Roleplay Enhancement Modding) is an effort to give back to the community, or at least contribute in some way, both through mods and this guide. The concept is simple: Enhance the Skyrim experience by incorporating elements of strategic gameplay that works seamlessly with the base game. This guide is a result of countless hours playing, adding, removing, tweaking, reading and combing the Nexus.
Every mod considered for the guide is done so based on the mods ability to enhance at least one of the following areas without being a detriment to the others:
While not intended to be a difficulty or beautification guide by design, both are incorporated simply by the nature of the gameplay focus and modifications as well as an entire section dedicated to audio and visuals.
The guide is arranged as follows: Sections (Home Page, I, II, III, IV, V) >> Steps (1, 2, 3...) >> Parts (A, B, C...)
- Home Page: Introduction, guide info, and some basic "how to's" and troubleshooting.
- Section I: Primarily focuses on Stability - Fresh install, tools and INIs, cleaning masters, and Base game mods including Interface, Fixes, and Animation mods.
- Section II: Mechanics and Content - Environment, Creatures, Quests, and Character mods.
- Section III: More Mechanics and Content - Locations, Gameplay, Equipment, and Immersion mods.
- Section IV: Aesthetics - Audio and Visual mods not covered in previous Sections. Mostly optional mods that can be added/removed based on preference and system capabilities.
- Section V: Late Loaders, Patching, and in-game setup, such as recommended MCM settings, and tips on how to start.
- Changelog: Check here for changes made during version updates.
This guide provides:
- A stable and semi-performance friendly setup. Performance can be improved by omitting or substituting optional (Green) mods.
- Installation directions and instructions for using various modding tools and techniques.
- Patches to make mods included work together (via Nexus).
- Support via Discord and regular updates.
This guide does not include:
- Dead Mods: Mods that need updating or mods with excessive (or unanswered) bug reports/comments without simple solutions.
- CBBE: What little body modification is included is UNP based.
- Player Homes: The vanilla options and those provided by Quest mods are sufficient. Feel free to use more, but support is not available on these.
- Lore Unfriendly Mods: Mods that stray too far form the Lore of TES, or mods that just do not fit the concept described above.
As stated above, the guide is arranged as follows: Section >> Step >> Part
These three levels are used to organize the guide into increasingly smaller and more specific groups of information and mods. In addition to this three tier approach, mods are further distinguished (by outline color) as follows:
Red: Required - either key to the concept of SkyRem, or needed by the provided patches as a Master. Blue: Recommended - build on the concept of SkyRem, but not required for the aforementioned reasons. Green: Optional - contribute to the appearance or minor changes of the game (not baked into saves, add/remove at will). Yellow: Testing - currently in the guide primarily for testing purposes.
Each mod card utilizes this template:
Check each mod's tags prior to beginning installation of that mod. Tags are used to highlight information or additional requirements about a mod. More info on these can be found in the How-To section. These tags follow the color scheme below.
- SkyRem Nexus page. : This mod is required to utilize the indicated patch provided on the
- : This mod requires use of modding tools, patches, and/or in-game MCMs to perform as intended by the guide.
- : This mod requires additional steps for proper installation.
- : This mod is new or has been updated since the last version update.
A few notes on installing mods:
- Unless otherwise noted, download mods via the [MOD MANAGER DOWNLOAD] button on the Nexus.
- Unless otherwise noted, select [Merge] when prompted if installing multiple files for a single mod. If [Merge] is not intended, it will be indicated in the Note line.
- In general, [MAIN] and [UPDATE] files should be merged, while most [OPT] and [MISC] files should be installed as separate mods.
- Once installed, activate each mod, one at a time, in the order of the guide. This is critical for the desired result, as well as for the patches to work correctly.
The format for the Guide version is X.Y.Z:
- Z indicates minor changes: note fixes, mods moved to different section or reordered, non-intrusive and minor mod version updates. Update and continue current game.
- Y indicates moderate changes: updates of plugins and/or their patches, FOMOD changes, mods added or removed, major mod version updates. Best to update before a new game.
- X indicates major changes: larger overhauls of the guide or sections of the guide, extensive updates/additions/removals. New game required.
The worst outcome: Complete a guide and load up only to find a game-breaking issue. Testing is strongly recommended [required].
- There are Step Checks throughout the guide. Be sure to review all the information in these before moving to the next step.
- In the event something goes wrong (CTDs, ILRs), work backwards starting in the last Step completed by deactivating a few mods at a time and retesting.
- If a mod is found to have issues, double check the mod's card for proper installation. Sometimes, a simple reinstall is all that is needed.
- Expect some issues or inconsistencies along the way with the Step checks. Sometimes these issues are not addressed until a later Step.
Upon completing a full guide install as of v8.0.0:
- Total Mods (Left Pane of MO2): 828 (Previous version: 807) - Total Plugins (Right Pane of MO2): 1340 (Previous version: 832) - Total ESMs: 37 (Previous version: 25) - Total ESPs: 157 (Previous version: 169) - Total ESMs + ESPs: 194 (Previous version: 194) - Total ESLs: 1146 (Previous version: 638)
- Approximate HD Space: 190GB)
GUIDE FEATURES [WIP]
Below is a review of the major changes made by this guide. Before committing, read this section in its entirety to make sure this is the desired experience. SkyRem is not for everybody - it is geared toward those looking for a more realistic, immersive, roleplay experience with an extended play-through. This is not intended for quick play-throughs. After completing the guide, refer here for unexpected behaviors to check whether they are intended.
- SkyRem is not designed to increase difficulty of play. However, by the nature of many of the mods used it offers a more challenging experience. - Combat needs more strategy. Adventuring requires more planning. NPCs act and react more realistically. Character development is more critical and dynamic. - SkyRem works with any difficulty, but the vanilla difficulty settings primarily impact damage dealt and received with little/no effect on functions altered by mods. - Hack-and-slash tactics will rarely work. Questing without food, water, tent, tools, etc. can lead to a quick demise or inability to perform some tasks. - Making choices regarding Attributes, Abilities, and Perks without giving thought to the character build may result in a character fated for failure.
- Experience to Level is minimally impacted by increasing the 18 Skills. Level experience is primarily gained by adventuring, completing quests, and defeating enemies. - Skill leveling is capped by character Level. Skills cannot be leveled to 100 at low character levels. If a skill is no longer advancing, level up. - Leveling will provide less H/M/S points than vanilla. A smaller bonus is applied at level-up based on level-up selection, but the majority is governed by attributes. - The previous applies to carry weight as well. CW increase at level up is dependent on attributes. - As with Vanilla, one perk point is gained each level, but an additional perk is gained every 15 levels (2 perks at levels 15, 30, etc). This is done for balance.
- Deleveled: Any non-unique item can be found anywhere at anytime - Loot is based on Rarity and Abundance, not on character level. - There is a higher chance of receiving better stuff based on the difficulty of the challenge, such as a boss vs a non-boss enemy. - The ability to use a weapon properly is governed by its Skill (One Handed, Two Handed, Archery). Finding a high level weapon early on may not provide an advantage. - The ability to use Armor properly is governed by its Skill (Block, Heavy/Light Armor). As with weapons, high level armor may not provide an advantage at low levels. - If unskilled, weapons will deal less damage and can be dropped or cause stagger on impact. Armor may not provide as much protection.
- Advancing within a faction takes time and effort. Harbinger, Arch-mage, Guild Master, etc. takes longer than 3 days. - Skills play a role in advancing within a faction. If unskilled in combat, advancing with the Companions may be more difficult if not impossible.
- Combat is more realistic in how damage is dealt and how NPCs behave. - Different enemies have natural resistances to different attacks, both physical and magical. If something is not working, try something else. - Animals behave more realistically. Many can simply be avoided and will not become aggressive unless provoked. - Bosses are tougher. Sometimes much tougher requiring more strategy (or assistance). - Encounter Zones - Do not expect being 10 levels higher than the minimum will result in a quick run through, even if it was last time.
- Crafting (and other activities) require the proper tools. This includes chopping wood, mining ore, forging, tempering, even cooking. - Crafting perks are designed to be more useful and increasingly remove the "grindy" aspect. - If unable to perform a task due to lack of a tool, the right one can either be bound or bought from an appropriate NPC. - No potion spamming - so use them wisely. Time to recover from potion use is required before another potion will be effective.
- Characters can develop and be enhanced in many ways and in many combinations. - Things to consider for developing a character: Standing Stones, Deity, Attributes, Shouts, Perks, Class, Race (including Werewolf, Vampire, or Lich). - Once Attributes are set and accepted, they are done. Attributes will grow and improve based on the skills developed, but this takes time. - The Reflect power allows for selecting a background for characters, and provides an immediate boost to a single skill. - Devout followers use the Pray power daily to increase favor with the appropriate deity. - There are limits in that a single character will not be able to master every skill and class. Choose wisely.
- Sleeping, eating, and drinking are required to be fully effective, and avoid dying from exhaustion, hunger, or thirst. - Consider the quest before starting - will a tent, food, water, tools be needed? Craft, buy, find, or steal what is needed before setting out.
The Adventure Begins
- Start a new game and immediately WAIT. It takes a few minutes for all mods to initialize. - Once the messages stop, save and restart to make sure there are no immediate issues with loading. - Set up the MCMs (Section V) and save again. Restart to again make sure there are no immediate issues with loading based on MCM selections. - Develop a character before running out to tackle the Main Quest. Jumping right in will be difficult. - Do small jobs to gain septims for supplies (food, water, tent, tools). Utilize trainers. Practice on dummies and targets. Hone primary skills early. - Explore and mingle with the locals, helping out where possible. Completing some simple quests and discovering locations will help raise character levels early on.
Mods tagged with Clean need to be ran through xEdit's Auto Quick Clean function.
- In MO2, launch SSEEdit QuickAutoClean in the executables drop-down box. - In the mod list that opens, check the mod to be cleaned and click [OK]. - SSEEdit will run for a few moments. Once the completed message appears, [Close] SSEEdit. - In the final pop-up, make sure the mod cleaned is selected so it will save.
Sort Load Order
It is recommended to sort the load order and test the setup following each step. LOOT will do the majority of sorting automatically, and any manual adjustments needed will be noted in the Section V LOOT notes. Note that LOOT will identify plugins that need to be cleaned and keep a tally by the Dirty Plugins header near the top. If this number is anything other than 0, scroll through the mods in the right pane and find which mod(s) require(s) cleaning and take the necessary steps. Also research any Errors noted. The Warnings can be ignored as they pertain to compatibility which is largely addressed later in the guide.
To sort Load Order:
- In MO2, launch LOOT in the executables drop-down box. - In the window that opens, click the [Sort Plugins] button in the upper right (three lines). - Click [Apply] in the tool bar where the Sort Plugins button was. The Apply only appears if LOOT determines changes need to be made. - Exit LOOT.
Mods tagged with BSA contain at least one BSA (Bethesda Archive files) that needs to be unpacked. A BSA contains various assets that need to be extracted from the archive in order to work as intended by the guide. There are several options to extract a BSA file.
Allow MO2 to extract BSAs during install: - Open the Configure settings and workarounds (wrench and driver icon) and go to the [Plugins] tab. - In the upper-left window, click [BSA Extractor]. - In the window directly to the right, update [enabled] to [true]. With this set to true, any mod installed that contains a BSA will provide a prompt whether to extract it or not. If a mod is tagged with BSA, select [Yes]. If not, select [No]. The downside to this method is having to remember to turn this on and off, or having to answer the prompt every time a mod is installed containing a BSA, the majority of which do not need to be extracted. Recommendation: keep it enabled and sacrifice the time of one additional click over the other options.
Extract BSA within MO2: - Click the [Archives] tab in the right pane. - Locate the BSA to extract. Right-click it and select [Extract]. - Navigate to the desired location to extract the BSA (extract to the mods folder). - Delete the BSA. This option does not require turning a setting on/off or have pop-ups with each install, but the navigating to the mods folder can be even slower, and has the additional step of deleting/hiding the BSA afterwards.
Utilize external BSA extractor: This will not be covered as they are obsolete with the above two options, but they are out there. Their respective pages provide all the information needed to install and utilize the tool.
One of the most common causes of CTDs - Meshes. This step needs to be done with any mod flagged CAO. Generally this is due to NIF files (mesh files) that need to be optimized to be used with SSE (particularly, but not exclusively, LE mods containing NIFs).
Optimize NIF Files: - Navigate to the Tools/Asset Optimizer folder. - Run Cathedral_Assets_Optimizer.EXE. - Ensure the [Profile] is set to SSE. - Click [Open Directory], navigate to the mods folder, and click [Select Folder]. - Unless otherwise explicitly stated, only use the [Necessary optimization] option checked under both [Meshes] and [Textures]. - Click [Run]. - When complete, simply close the window.
Port Mod [from LE]
Mods that are flagged Port need to have the plugin converted for SE.
Fix the Form Number (from 43 to 44): - In MO2, launch Creation Kit in the executables drop-down box. - Once open, select [File] and [Data] in the tool bar. - In the window that comes up, double-click the mod to convert, and click [Set as Active] and [OK]. - This may take a few moments to load. Ignore any errors that show in the additional window. - After the mod is loaded, re-save the file by going to ([File] and [Save]. - Make sure the Saving... Done! message appears in the bottom bar. If not, the plugin did not save in Form 44. - Exit CK.
If the mod contains a BSA file, it will likely need to be extracted (see BSA above) and the assets (meshes, textures) optimized (see CAO above).
Therefore, a Port tag may require: BSA any archives present >> CAO if meshes are included, and finally Port the plugin.
Some plugins can be merged with zMerge to condense the plugin count if needed. While this was used for smaller mods and patches previously, the guide (as of v6.0.0+) will no longer use this process in favor of compacting / flagging plugins as ESLs now that all the necessary tools are up-to-date and able to handle lite plugins (ESLs) and loads > 254 plugins.
In MO2: - In MO2, launch zEdit in the executables drop-down box. - On the opening screen, select [zMerge] in the first drop-down and click [Start Session]. - Click the [Create Merge] button. - In pop-up's [Details] tab, name the merge (the filename will update automatically). Leave the Merge Method as the default (Clobber). - Go to the [Plugins] tab, select all the plugins to be merged, and click [OK]. - Under the [Load Order] tab, check the [Use game load order] option. - Under the [Data] tab, make sure all options under the headers are selected, with the exceptions of [Bethesda Archives] and [General Assets]. - Select [OK]. - Find the box containing the created merge. In the upper-right area of that box, click [Build]. - When zEdit finishes running, exit. - In MO2, the new merged mod will be located at the bottom (a [Refresh] of the view may be required before it appears). - Once the merge is complete, placed in the load order, and activated, use the Merge Plugins Hide function in MO2 to deactivate the plugins included in the merge.
Flag Plugin As ESL
Mods flagged with ESL can be flagged as an ESL, thereby keeping it from counting towards the plugin limit. It is safe (and faster) to wait until the end and flag all plugins at one time. This does not have to be done as mods are installed (just do not forget to do so later).
- In MO2, launch SSEEdit in the executables drop-down box. - Select the plugin in the left pane. - Right click the field next to [Record Flags] in the right pane (do not click on Record Flags, but the field to the right of it). - Select [Edit], check the [ESL] box in the pop-up, then click [OK]. - Exit SSEEdit.
Find Plugins That Can Be Flagged ESL
While not technically something that is required for the guide, this is a good tool to use if nearing the plugin limit and trying to find plugins that can be safely flagged as ESL to reduce the count. Handy if adding to the guide.
- In MO2, ensure all plugins are activated in the Right Pane and launch SSEEdit in the executables drop-down box. - In the pop-up, hold [Shift] and click [OK]. - Once loaded, right click anywhere in the left pane and select [Apply Script]. - In the pop-up, find Find ESP plugins which could be turned into ESL in the Script drop-down box and click [OK]. - Review the output messages for any plugins that include Can be turned into ESL by adding ESL flag in TES4 header. - Use the How To >> Flag Plugin as ESL to flag all plugins with this message. - Exit SSEEdit.
Compact Forms and Flag ESL
Mods with a Compact tag will need to have their forms compacted and then flagged as ESL.
- In MO2, launch SSEEdit in the executables drop-down box. - Right click the plugin in the left pane and select [Compact FormIDs for ESL]. Select [Yes] if prompted with a warning. - Use the How To >> Flag Plugin as ESL to flag the plugin as ESL.
Add Plugin As A Master
As of v5 of the guide, there is one instance in which a plugin needs to be added as a master for another plugin - RDO-CRF+USSEP Patch needs to have Relationship Dialogue Overhaul.esp as a master in order for LOOT to sort the patch correctly.
- In MO2, with both plugins selected, launch SSEEdit in the executables drop-down box and click [Run]. - In the pop-up, hold [Shift] and click [OK]. - In the left pane, select the mod that needs a master added. [Right-Click] the mod and select [Add Masters]. - Tick the mod that needs to be added as a master, and click [OK]. - Exit SSEEdit, allowing the mod to be saved.
Change / Update A Master
On rare occasions, a master may need to be changed from one plugin to another. While not currently necessary as of v5, it has been needed in the past when the name of a plugin is changed and a patch requiring that plugin has not been updated to reflect the new name. This is currently the only process for which Wrye Bash is required with this guide.
- In MO2, launch Wrye Bash in the executables drop-down box and click [Run]. - In the left pane, select the mod for which a master needs to be changed/updated. - In the right pane, under the Masters: section, find the master plugin that needs to be changed/updated, [Right-Click] and select [Change to...]. - In the pop-up, navigate to the plugin and [Double-Click] the new plugin. - Close Wrye Bash.
Game Won't Start
If experiencing an issue with MO2 locking, loading the VFS, and instantly unlocking without a game start, it is most likely due to a Missing Master. Check the right pane for any errors (! in a red and white triangle). Roll the mouse over any mod(s) with this symbol and check if any plugins are listed under the Missing Masters section of the pop-up.
Splash Screen Loads, But No Menu
Some problems may manifest as an infinite menu - the game appears to launch, the splash screen is shown, but the menu never shows up. The most common reason this has occurred with the guide is an issue with merges - most prominently with the provided SkyRem Patch. This patch requires certain mods to "win" over others in the merges. First - identify the offending merge by using SSEEdit to Check for Errors on the appropriate patch. If errors appear, locate the merge causing the issue by using the first two characters of the FormID. Once identified, use zEdit to rebuild this merge, making sure the necessary plugins are present and in the correct order (use the Merged ... sections as a reference). It may also be beneficial to revisit Section I to ensure zEdit is setup correctly, and the Merge Mods section of this How To to check the zEdit options (such as the Use game load order option being set in each merge). While some of these issues may result in a stable game, just with inconsistencies based on the intended result, some can cause the game to not load properly if the patch is looking for a record that has an error due to the wrong mod in the merge winning over the one intended based on load order.
The most common reason for experiencing CTDs with the guide: Improperly porting LE mods and failing to optimize mesh files with CAO. During the Step Checks, if CTDs are experienced, the first step is to review the Part of the guide most recently completed for any CAO and Port tags to ensure these were completed correctly. This has fixed the vast majority of CTD issues reported. Mods most commonly reported for this:
- Extended UI
- Enhanced Skyrim Factions - The Companions Guild
- Thieves Guild Requirements
In short, Face Bugs occur when one mod changes the appearance of a NPC, then another mod changes another aspect of the same NPC and ends up overwriting the appearance changes. This is a very over-simplified explanation, but should suffice in helping resolve any face-bugs. If face-bugs are found, revisit Section III >> Step 8 >> Part A and check the Load Order to ensure the mods are in the correct order (left pane). Note that the Synthesis Patcher (Section V) can help in addressing face-bugs as well. Prior to reporting face-bugs, make sure these two steps have been completed properly.
LOOT - So many problems
Follow the guide - the messages, errors, warnings, and anything else LOOT throws out will be handled as the guide progresses. In many cases, these will not go away until Section V where much of the patching is completed. LOOT is a fantastic tool to help get the load order right - this is its main function and the primary reason it is included in the guide. Anything else seen by LOOT is based on mod author/user feedback. While great at pointing in the right direction for cleaning, incompatibilities, etc... all of this has been handled within the guide even if not explicitly stated.
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