This guide provides an introduction to some recommended tools that will make your experience of using Skyrim mods more efficient and stable. Check out the r/SkyrimMods Beginner's Guide for a detailed walkthrough and breakdown of using each tool.
Create a Mod Management Directory
Creating a new folder, or "directory", to store your mods and mod utilities in allows the vanilla Skyrim folder to stay as clean as possible. While a few utilities, such as SKSE and Wrye Bash, need to be installed directly in the Skyrim game directory in order to function properly, the majority of your downloads can be kept in a separate location, from where your Mod Manager tool can efficiently manage them.
For best performance, your new Mod Management directory should be on the same hard drive as your Skyrim installation.
Download a Mod Manager
Mod Organizer 2 (MO2) is the preferred manager, and has increased functionality over other mod managers such as Nexus Mod Manager (NMM). Nexus Mod Manager is now deprecated and has been replaced by the proprietary Vortex manager. While Vortex is modern and supported by the Nexus, MO2 is generally considered superior, especially for power-users.
Your chosen mod manager should be downloaded and installed into your new mod management directory. MO2 comes with a tutorial that runs on first opening to guide you through the downloading of one mod; the Unofficial Patches are a good place to start, as you will likely want them anyway.
If you are using Mod Organizer 2, Skyrim and all modding tools must be started through the MO2 interface, otherwise the game will not load your mods.
Cleaning Master Files
Before installing Skyrim SE or LE mods, it is best to "clean" your game's master files. Doing this helps to prevent possibly game-breaking bugs and mod conflicts. While it is illegal to download or host cleaned master files, cleaning them yourself is relatively simple. Note: This guide assumes you are using MO2.
Setting up and Configuring TES5Edit
First download TES5Edit, then install to MO2 like you would SKSE or any other app that needs access to your game and mod files. Next, add "-quickautoclean" to your arguments and start TES5Edit through MO2.
Cleaning Your Plugins: After opening TES5Edit, you should be presented with a screen asking for you to select a plugin. You will be cleaning your "plugin.esm", "Heartfire.esm", "Dawnguard.esm, and "Dragonborn.esm" files. Select ONE of these plugins and press "Ok." Note: It is normal for the "plugin.esm" file's checkbox to have a filled in square after selecting a DLC, leave it alone.
TES5Edit will now automatically clean your plugin file. Once the console reads: "Quick Clean mode finished", exit out of TES5Edit and save if prompted. Perform this one at a time for all of your master plugin files.
You may notice LOOT says that "Dawnguard.esm" needs additional cleaning. This is due to some wild edits that you must manually delete. See alt3rn1ty's guide.
Saving Your "Cleaned" masters: After cleaning all of your plugin files, you will notice MO2 is warning you about files in your "overwrite" mod. If you do not plan on clearing the overwrite, then ignore this warning, as your cleaned masters are contained in it. If you are running multiple mod configs, you may wish to create a mod just for your newly cleaned masters.
To do so, right click in your mod list and select "Create Empty Mod". Now simply double-click on your overwrite and highlight and drag your .esm files from the "SSEEDIT Cache" to the empty mod. Now simply name it to something like "Cleaned Masters" and enable the mod. Now sort your load order with LOOT or drag the cleaned plugins to the top of your load order.
The Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE) is a tool used by many Skyrim mods that expands scripting capabilities and adds additional functionality to the game. It is quite likely that a mod you may be interested in will require it, and it is a recommended download anyway because of its memory patch which fixes Skyrim's memory allocation. .
SKSE can be downloaded for free from Steam, which should automatically install it to the correct location. The memory patch must then be initialized from an .ini file, located at steamapps/common/Skyrim/Data/SKSE/skse.ini. If this file does not yet exist, you will need to create it.
skse.ini should contain the following:
[General] EnableDiagnostics=1 ClearInvalidRegistrations=1 [Display] iTintTextureResolution=2048 [Memory] DefaultHeapInitialAllocMB=768 ScrapHeapSizeMB=256
Once SKSE is installed, the Skyrim client should be started through the SKSE loader, and not the Skyrim launcher. If you are using Mod Organizer, the SKSE loader should be started from within the MO interface. SKSE for Skyrim Special Edition and Skyrim VR, now known as "SKSE64", is only available at SKSE's website.
Load Order Optimization
Optimizing your mod load order is essential to ensure mods are loaded correctly with respect to their dependencies, and to ensure the correct mod takes priority in the event of a conflict. LOOT, the Load Order Optimization Tool, dynamically reads each mod's list of dependencies and will suggest a load order based on them. LOOT should be downloaded and installed into your mod management directory. If you are using Mod Organizer, LOOT should be added to the list of applications that MO launches; instructions for doing so can be found here.
Bashed Patches, created using Wrye Bash, ensure that items added to leveled lists by different mods do not conflict with each other by creating a single patch which includes all changes to the leveled list. Wrye Bash should be installed directly into the Skyrim game folder using the "standalone" option. Instructions for adding Wrye Bash to the Mod Organizer executables can be found here.
Creating a bashed patch is as simple as using the "Rebuild Patch" option on the "Bashed Patch, 0.esp" located at the bottom of the load order once Wrye Bash is launched. Check "Leveled Lists" (and uncheck everything else), then select "Build Patch".
- Be sure to rerun LOOT, and rebuild your Bashed Patch, each time you download new mods.
- If using SKSE mods, remember to launch Skyrim through SKSE; if using Mod Organizer, remember to launch SKSE/Skyrim, and all the tools, from the MO interface.
- Check out the r/SkyrimMods Beginner's Guide for more information, including an introduction to cleaning your master files and creating a merged patch using xEdit (Tes5Edit for Classic/Legendary, SSEEdit for Special Edition).