Improving the Magic User Experience (and Survival) in Skyrim
Last Update: 4:40:22 14 February 2021 (UTC)
The idea of a Magic-related STEP Pack was initially suggested by MontyMM in this post, and the Old School Adventuring pack thread also has some useful discussion of magic-related mods as do some of the SkyRe related posts in the STEP forums. The mods in the magic pack could include mods of the overall magic system including enchantment and alchemy. The magic, enchantment, and alchemy segments of the pack would likely be fairly independent. This pack would be intended to provide a set of mods that makes playing a character that is primarily a magic user feasible but still quite challenging. The pack would likely include some of the mods listed below plus other mods suggested by STEP forum users. There might also be an alternate pack for characters that are not primarily magic users but still make extensive use of magic.
The goal is to have an initial magick pack ready for a future version of STEP; there hasn't much agreement on the best mods to use so it is difficult to create such a pack. Some recommendations from Kelmych are included at the end of this guide.
Skyrim Magic and Enhancement Issues
Kelmych has played as a magic user in all the Elder Scrolls games since Arena (TES1). The combat magic system in all the TES games has been too underpowered to play a character that uses magic as the primary skill vs. using it at the beginning of a battle with the bulk of the fight using archery or melee. Conjuration is about the only area where the Skyrim magic system is almost always helpful. The key problems have been:
- mage-specific armor, typically robes, even with with buff spells is ineffective against enemy melee and archer NPCs and the buff spells last only a very short time. The buffing spells need to last longer than a battle, and they should use a constant magicka drain vs. one time use of magicka. There should be mods that fix this but there aren't any;
- few if any spells that can prevent enemy NPCs from closing to melee range (e.g., short distance teleport spells and spells that push enemies away similar to the effect of a shout);
- running out of Magicka long before enemy NPCs are significantly wounded, incapacitated, or killed;
- buffing spells generally don't provide any enough advantage to battlemage characters to make up for any significant investment in magic perks and magicka;
- use of a magic spell alerts NPCs and creatures, which makes sense when the magic affects an NPC or creature (vs. the player), but it also seems to let them know the near-exact location of the magic user rather than just an approximate direction, which to me isn't reasonable.
Some of the magic-related mods provide at least partial solutions for some of the vanilla issues:
- lack of a good set of spells that distract, confuse or redirect enemy attention (e.g., D&D includes spells like Blur, spells that creates multiple copies of the player and various invisibility spells) with enemies of comparable level to the character; the vanilla Skyrim spells are underpowered and in addition are often limited to use with low level enemies);
- lack of some good area effect spells. In D&D computer rpg games mage survival depends on getting the Fireball spell as soon as possible, but vanilla TES doesn't have similar spells. Moreover, there are still no effective area spells that can be cast at a specific center point (vs. an object or a direction) and affect multiple NPCs. The area spells in magic mods all have this same problem;
- potions provide their full effect immediately and combat is halted while potions are consumed, so that potions are overpowered since they can be consumed too frequently and without losing any time during combat.
Skyrim made some changes that affect these, but introduced some problems of it's own:
- staggering (based on the destruction magic impact perk) and shouts help significantly to keep individual enemies out of melee range, but vanilla stagger is a little overpowered and shout effect duration is short compared with the time to recharge the shout;
- spells and potions can be used in combination to gets short duration raises in the enchanter, restoration, and alchemy skill levels to ridiculously high levels, allowing the creation of extremely overpowered armor, weapons, and potions; this improves the value of the Enchantment magic skill but it unfortunately becomes way overpowered;
- NPC mages have seemingly unlimited magicka and sometimes seemingly insane magicka regeneration rates. Shock spells are supposed to reduce enemy magicka reserves but I'm still waiting for the first time I've seen an enemy mage run out of magicka even when hit by many shock spells; and
- if the exploit of multiple potion/spell combinations to allow overpowered enchanting is eliminated, enchanting isn't especially useful; and
- poisons are supposed to cause various effects on enemies, but as discussed in the Alchemy question - poison effects? thread some of the effects don't seem to work correctly.
Enchantment has an inherent tradeoff between allowing users to create very strong enchantments on worn and wielded objects, potentially reducing the value of quests for powerful unique artifacts, and having unique game artifacts that are more powerful than any items improved with enchantment spells. There needs to be a good reason to invest perk points and effort in enchantment in addition to just providing small increases in an object's value. Enchantment needs to be able to complement the unique artifacts so players receive improvements from both unique artifacts and a limited set of player-enchanted items.
Some specific Skyrim enchantment issues are:
- prior to Skyrim, TES enchantment spells didn't actually add much protection to armor/clothing relative to the protection from major unique quest artifacts;
- in order to emphasize enchantment skills, in Skyrim most vanilla unique artifacts are relatively underpowered;
- gaining skill points in enchantment is difficult since there aren't a lot of enchanted items in loot that can be disenchanted to get increases in skill points;
- for low and medium level characters there are relatively few empty soul gems in loot and soul gems are somewhat expensive, so it's difficult to get increases in enchantment skill by enchanting objects; and
- pure vanilla Skyrim allows game-breaking object enchantments by using combinations of potions and Fortify spells to raise the smithing and enchantment skill level; note that several of the mods listed below remove the ability to stack enhancements to the point where this is possible.
There are only a small set of unique artifacts types (weapons, head/foot/hand armor, amulet, rings), so to be useful enchantment needs to be capable of providing reasonably powerful enchantments with unique additional benefits to object types (e.g., capes) that aren't available as unique game artifacts. These enchantments don't need to be quite as powerful as the unique quest artifacts, but they do need to offer some advantages that are much better than normal buffing spells.
The best solution IMO would be to allow:
- unique items to provide significant benefits, including fairly powerful artifacts added by mods such as the Artifacts Rebalance option in Mighty Magick Skyrim
- items created using Enhancement should either be stackably with unique items or, preferably, wearable in different body slots than those typically used by unique items. The latter makes the most sense to me and is probably much easier to implement.
The only use for soul gems is to allow creating or refilling enchanted items. I feel that Soul Trap should probably be part of enchanting school; this has always seemed more logical to me than the other magic schools it has been part of in TES games. There aren't many opportunities to raise the enchantment skill, as mentioned above, and this change would also provide more opportunities to increase the enchanting skill. Since the conjuration spells are used fairly often the skill increases more rapidly than enchantment, so the downside to making this change is that the skill level when using Soul Trap will generally be lower.
There are four categories of magic-related mods. This doesn't include mods that make major changes in all areas to gameplay such as the mods that completely change the perk system.
- mods that change all or part of one or more skill perk trees,
- mods that don't change perks (or don't make any major chages to perks) but change vanilla spells or effects (typically these also add new spells or effects),
- mods that only add new spells or effects (these mods are typically compatible with other magic mods), and
- mods that provide various utilities or capabilities that support using magic (these mods are typically compatible with all the magic-related mods).
Some mods that change parts of a skill tree or effects and costs of the vanilla spells, enchantments, and potions can be made compatible, but this isn't always easy.
This is a partial list of relevant mods that I'm aware of. Many of these are in Skyrim Gems which includes a short discussion of individual mod capabilities.
The five magic spell overhaulsin the first two categories below have somewhat similar approaches to improving the vanilla spells and spell progression with skill level (and thus overlap), so it's likely one of these needs to be chosen as the primary overhaul since using more than one will cause significant compatibility problems. Some features from the other overhauls in the third subsection can be added to augment the primary overhaul mod, especially since some of these include a few very useful spells spread across all the magic schools.
Magic Spell Mods changing the Vanilla spells but not the magic perk trees
These three are listed with the more powerful mods listed first
- Mighty Magick: fixes stagger overpower issue without entirely eliminating the use of the impact perk, moves some spells across magic schools to fix the magic school part of the enchanting/alchemy overpower issue, changes light-creating spells to on/off, provides large set of small changes to vanilla spell cost and power progression with caster level, adds large set of purchasable new spells across all spell caster skill categories. The mod is modular by Skyrim spell category with an integrated plugins,
- Balanced Magic: (Kryptopyr's recommendation) provides a large set of small changes to vanilla spell cost and power progression with caster level, and adds a few new spells.
- Better Magic: provides a large set of small changes to spells and spell progression (e.g., stagger happens only 1/3 of the time) to better balance and improve magic use.
Magic Spell Mods affecting perk trees
- Empowered Magic: makes significant changes to the magic school perks, reduces the stagger overpower issue, provides large set of changes to vanilla spell cost and power progression with caster level; and
- TTRSO - TheThirdRace Skill Overhaul - Modular changes the perk trees by adding many new perks, and makes other changes to magic ; this is done in a modular manner so only a the desired areas of change are selected.
'Magic Spell Mods that include only new spells
The issue with using these is that each adds many spells, not all of which are especially useful or may be unbalanced (too weak or too strong). Finding a complementary set of these mods can be tedious. When selecting among the mods below it's desirable to have a set of mods that overall provide spells across all the magic schools so that the corresponding magic skills get regular level increases; combat spells, for example, shouldn't only be in the Destruction school.
- Apocalypse: adds a large set of new spells across multiple spell caster skill levels which can be purchased or, sometimes, be discovered;
- Elemental Destruction Magic adds some interesting sets of elemental (earth, water, and wind) magic spells that complement the spells from other mods;
-  Forgotten Magic Redone]: adds new spells (which level up as character progresses) learned by killing enemies with spells from this mod, but note that these added spells completely eliminate staggering from the impact perk (versus reducing the staggering effect);
- ACE Magic: adds magic "casting forms" somewhat similar to the "stances" above; and
- Phenderix Magic Evolved: adds very large set of new spells, some based on non-TES lore;
- Gifts of the Outsider - Dishonored in Skyrim: adds new spells to Skyrim based on the world of Dishonored.
- Colorful Magic: adds 277 new spells, primarily in Destruction.
- Midas Magic - Spells for Skyrim: adds large set of new spells across multiple spell caster skill levels including area spells and a "magic luggage" spell, with spell books created at a Midas forge using gold plus various other ingredients. This mod isn't as extensive as the version in TES4, but it still adds a few unique spells (admittedly most of the spells it adds seem underpowered) and some interesting gameplay to discover the spells;
Utilities that make it easier to play as a magic user
- SkyUI, in STEP:Core, provides a favorites menu that can be used to change equipment sets and spells on the right and left hands if these are used for spells;
- AH Hotkeys - Skyrim Hotkey Manager provides an MCM menu for setting hotkeys which allows automatic casting of sequences of spells, and equipping of spells, armor, weapons, and potion sets. It's hard to be a mage without a hotkey utility mod, especially since buffing mods have such a short time duration. Frequent casting of buffing spells also helps the spell casting levels to increase at a rate that allows offensive magic spells to become very useful well before the end of the game.
- Skyrim -Community- Uncapper : already in STEP but included here since the SKSE_Elys_Uncapper.ini configuration file needs to be configured to allow magic user characters to gain experience at a reasonable rate without extensive use of melee skills, and to increase the maximum level for all the spell skills (and perhaps other skills).
Mods that change aspects of Alchemy and using or creating potions
Note that this list doesn't include the large set of mods whose only use is changing potions from instant to having duration; this functionality is included in the larger scale mods listed here. The primary recommended alchemy mod is:
- Complete Alchemy and Cooking Overhaul, the most comprehensive and balanced of the alchemy and cooking mods.
Other alchemy mods are listed below for completeness, but since CACO was released it's hard to recommended using these vs. CACO and possibly mods that are compatible with CACO.
- Miko's Alchemy & Food Overhaul: newer mod that rebalances potion creation and potion/food effects, makes some small but interesting changes to the Alchemy perk tree, and is more minimalist and has some improvements compared to Phitts overhaul;
- Phitts Alchemy and Food Overhaul: older but still good mod that does some rebalancing of portion and food effects;
- Chemistry - An Alchemy Overhaul: changes alchemy to use cocktails of pre-mixed composite ingredients to create potions.
- Dynamic Potions: (typically compatible with other alchemy mods) provides an MCM menu which allows changing the duration, strength, and weight of potions, including the ability to use different values of these poarameters for different potion types;
- Ingredients of Tamriel: lore-friendly mod that adds all the ingredients from Morrowind and Oblivion not included in Skyrim, with ingredient effects translated to the nearest equivalents in Skyrim. Small quantities of any particular ingredient are randomly available in loot and at merchants;
- Radiant and Unique Potions, Poisons, and BOOZE (non-glow): a STEP mod that adds different potion bottles for different potion types (avoids grabbing the wrong potion), unlike vanilla Skyrim where all potion bottles are the same. Magic should be something special, and this mod also adds brighter colors to magical potions, although quite a few users feel the potion colors are too bright and thus too different than vanilla potion bottle colors.
- Harvest Overhaul: increases the number of ingredients harvested from plants and dead creatures.
Some mods that might be useful additions for some users are:
- Arods Alchemy Analyzer and Tomes: adds ingredient analyzers in a few locations in Skyrim which for a fee will provide information about the alchemical properties of an ingredient, and adds a few books each of which provide a small amount of information about ingredient effects;
- The Big Book of Alchemy v2: adds 3 books of recipes that can be found (rare item) or purchased from a few merchants (there are a few other mods which also provide books with alchemy ingredient effects and/or recipes).
Mods that change aspects of Enchanting and/or the capabilities of artifacts
- Artifact Rebalance (available on Mighty Magick page): increases the stats of almost all the major game artifacts. There are many mods that change the statistics of one or more artifacts; the one from Mighty Magick changes properties of a larger set of unique game objects than most of the other related mods.
- White Phial Realignment: allows the White Phial to provide any potion, consistent with lore, and to be refilled as often as once a day;
- Better White Phial Effect: changes the white phial effects to be a little more powerful but similar to vanilla effects;
- NPC Enchantments Fix (part of ASIS): Creates a SkyProc patch that allows NPCs and followers to make use of the enhancements on objects;
- EzEs -Artifact Disenchanting: allows removing enchantments from items;
- Enchantment Balance Overhaul: makes some small changes in the details of the enchantment perks and powers but doesn't significantly affect the power or type of enchantments that can be used.
- ACE Enchanting: makes some small changes to enchanting perks, eliminates ability to craft some potions that allow the enchantment overpower issue;
- Enchanting Awakened: makes major changes in the enchanting perk tree and Soul Trap spell. Characters concentrate on one of three different magic paths for creating enchantments and can make powerful enchantments in the chosen path but only small enchantments in other paths. Version 1 prevents player benefit from existing enchantments on artifacts unless they have the relevant enchantment perk (there are 3 such perks), and objects cannot be disenchanted without the relevant enchantment perk. It has unfortunately not been updated in a long tme.
Ancillary Mods to Enhance Magic
Mods that add new Magic College Quests and/or better Magic College Immersion
- Cutting Room Floor, already in STEP:Core, adds some magic college quests that were cut by Bethesda before they were completed.
- Immersive College of Winterhold adds some richness to the magic college.
- "Not So Fast - Mage Guild" adds two pauses in the mage guild quests for more realistic quest start levels.
- Unfortunately there aren't any other mods comparable to "The Choice is Yours" for thief characters and "ESF Companions" for the Companions guild that add some reasonable radiant or regular magic college quests. In addition, the vanilla game doesn't have any radiant quests for magic except for the quest to fetch items to be enchanted and a few radiant quests for master spellcasters (realizing, of course, that most radiant quests become repetitive very quickly and regular quests are much better).
Mods that change to look and/or capabilities of clothing/armor and equipment intended for use by mages
- Mage Outfit Texture Overhaul - Schools of Magic, part of STEP;
- EotW Mage Robes of Skyrim: vanilla robes are too drab with little variety, these lore friendly robes are much better and provide some reasonable diversity; and
- EcthelionOtW Mage Equipment Overhaul: lore friendly makeover of the textures for vanilla objects used by mages.
The mods whcih have been used by Kelmych's magick-using PC and are recommended are listed below.
- Mighty Magick, including Artifact Rebalance
- Complete Alchemy and Cooking Overhaul
- NPC Enchantments Fix (part of ASIS)
- Cutting Room Floor
- Immersive College of Winterhold
- Not So Fast - Mage Guild
- Mage Outfit Texture Overhaul - Schools of Magic
In addition, Elemental Destruction Magic sounds like a reasonable complementary addition. The White Phial mods and EzEs -Artifact Disenchanting have been tested a little and one or more of these seems reasonable.