Most locations in the game are respawning. This happens, depending on the location, at scheduled times. When a game location respawns, its enemies and loot are usually reset. This allows revisiting previously visited locations, which will have their contents reset. Specifically:
- New versions are generated of creatures and NPCs whose corpses were left in the location if they are flagged as respawnable (some are not, usually those who have proper names), though they may not behave the same way as before (e.g., scripted conversations will usually not fire again).
- The contents of any respawning containers, such as sacks and chests, are reset. Any items previously stored in the respawned container are permanently deleted from the game. Often, however, there will be some containers in an area that are marked not to respawn. In these cases, the containers will always be safe for storage, even if the remainder of the area is unsafe. Common safe containers include coffins, cupboards, tables, wardrobes, and those labeled specifically as "Sack". See the containers page for more specifics.
- New copies are generated for most items sitting out in the open (ingredients, books, clutter, etc.). If the previous copy is still in the game location, it is removed.
- Plants are reset, allowing new ingredients to be harvested.
- All activators are reset. Certain doors will re-lock, and any "quick exit" doors that were "barred from the other side" will be re-barred. However, already opened dragon claw puzzle doors will not re-lock, and any keys you may have picked up the first time will still work.
The level of the location is set at the first visit, based on your current level. This means that the level of the enemies and the loot will be the same when you return to that location. When an area is too difficult to complete at the current level, you can try again when you're better able to handle it.
There are three different schedules that can be used for respawning a game location:
- Never. Some dungeons are flagged as "Never Resets", which means that no matter how long you wait the contents are never altered. All containers in such locations are safe for long-term storage. This setting only applies to interior areas; any exterior areas associated with a never-respawning dungeon will respawn after 10 days. Examples of the areas that don't respawn are the houses that you can buy.
- 10 days (240 hours) of in-game time. This is the default time period used before a dungeon or any other game location respawns.
- 30 days (720 hours) of in-game time. This is the time period used if a dungeon has been cleared.
For any area to respawn, you must not enter the area during the specified time period. Each time you enter the area, the respawn clock is reset. Conversely, you can intentionally re-enter an area frequently to prevent storage containers from resetting (although you run the risk of losing everything if you forget to return in time).
Merchant Chests respawn every two days (48 hours) of in-game time, independent of whether the store or cell containing the chest has respawned.
Ore veins (all types) sometimes do not respawn normally. See Mining (Bugs) and elsewhere on that article and its talk page.
- Some quests (more with USSEP), scripts, and one console command may "force" an interior cell to respawn disregarding any schedule it may have. Such "forced" respawn, unlike scheduled ones, wipes any player-dropped items (and other references created during playtime) from the cell.
- Respawned NPCs will be (most of the time) generated in their original cell, even if their respawning is triggered by another cell (where their corpse was left.)
- It is possible to bring (corpses of killed) "respawnable" NPCs from a respawning cell to a non-respawning cell, an they will never respawn.
- It is possible to bring (corpses of killed) "respawnable" NPCs from a non-respawning cell to a respawning cell, and have them respawn.
- Cell Reset on the Creation Kit wiki.
- Harvested plants and other flora objects do not carry "I have respawned and ready to be harvested again" state between reloadings of the cell, so after a cell respawns, they will be harvestable only until the player goes away; upon next visit, even if departure was just going into another interior cell and right back (or saving-loading the game), the plants will be in "harvested" state.