Here are some tools that you can (and in most cases, should) use during your modding experience. The first section is on Wabbajack, the second is on mod managers, and the final section is on miscellaneous tools – green are basic, red are more advanced. (That’s just, like, my opinion, man.)
For you newbies: check out the Beginner’s Page for more information (be warned, I tend to be rather Paarthurnax-like in my wordiness)
Wabbajack – an automated modlist installer. This is generally for someone that doesn’t want to spend the time learning/curating their own list, that doesn’t have the time to do any of that, or for someone that wants to easily test out some variations in playstyles. I personally have tried half a dozen of these for Skyrim Special Edition and the experience was fast and easy, but remember that you can’t have your sweetroll and eat it too. If you are okay with using someone else’s list (or if you are comfortable with tearing apart the merges/patches/etc to rebuild if you make changes), then this could be a great option for you. If you want to learn the process and want a much more customizable modlist, this is probably not the option for you. I suggest everyone try it at least once so you can get an idea of what it is all about. For a lighter option, I would suggest The Phoenix Flavour or Keizaal. For heavier options, you could try Aldrnari or Living Skyrim. There are many other options that I haven’t tried (as well as options for Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim LE, and Skyrim VR). You can see which mods are included in a particular modlist by either looking at the manifest in the Wabbajack program or the archive search on the gallery page (some modlists include a spreadsheet with their readme, as well).
REMEMBER: creators of these lists do NOT offer support for any changes you make to the original list (unless specified); you should always read through the instructions and follow the Discord for more information.
DO NOT USE! NO LONGER SUPPORTED
Mod Organizer 2 – a mod manager option that has a slightly higher learning curve than Vortex, but has a lot of additional features. Neither one is better, but they are different.
(Not a mod manager, but a requirement if you use Mod Organizer 2) Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable – this is a dll file that is used by many programs.
For anyone curious, I used Vortex when I first started modding, but quickly switched to Mod Organizer 2, which I definitely prefer. I will try and provide tutorials/support for both, but I want to be clear that my experience with MO2 greatly surpasses that with Vortex.
7-Zip – is a tool used to extract file archives (it is not specific to Skyrim modding and there are other options); you will mostly use this during the installation/setup for other tools.
LOOT – Load Order Optimization Tool is a tool used to, well, optimize your load order. This is incredibly helpful as well in determining if a plugin should be cleaned, needs a patch to make it compatible with another plugin, or just is straight up incompatible with another plugin. This is an ever-evolving thing, so it is not gospel. It does not replace reading mod descriptions, or having to make manual changes to load order based on other factors.
xEdit – (often called TES5Edit or SSEEdit) is a tool used for many many things, including, but not limited to: cleaning plugins, conflict resolution and patch creation, applying scripts, modifying plugins, and the list goes on. Seriously, learn how to use this in it’s most basic form and you will be further down the road to a more stable game.
BethINI – (pronounced as “Bethany”; a combination of Bethesda + INI) can optimize your INI files to improve performance and quality. There are some basic options and you can customize it beyond that if you are comfortable/knowledgable/like to walk on the wild side. (If you don’t want to stick with the preset options, but you aren’t sure where to start with other ideas, may I suggest you take a gander at the wonderful Lexy’s LOTD Appendix where she shows exactly what she suggests for INI configuration, among other helpful information. She also has a section on BethINI. Seriously this guide is one of the best resources even if you don’t want her exact modlist.)
Creation Kit – There are about a million and one things you can do with the Creation Kit, but if you are a beginner, the easiest and maybe even only thing you will potentially need it for is converting plugins from Form 43 to 44. The more you want to know and do, the more videos/tutorials you should watch/read (I’ve provided some below. And there is always the option to simply play around (just make sure you don’t save changes to anything that you haven’t backed up!) The download/installation is a little different from most tools because you actually have to first download and install the Bethesda Launcher and then you have to download/install the Creation Kit from there.
DynDOLOD – is a set of simple tools to create a Skyrim mod based on your load order which adds distant LOD for objects and trees to Skyrim. You know how you look out from the Throat of the World or Azura’s Shrine and things look….not great…and you KNOW that you added a town over there but it is nowhere to be seen from this distance? This fixes that; the “dynamic” part of the name comes from the fact that YOUR view (objects and trees) will change based on YOUR load order.
Mator Smash – is a tool that generates conflict resolution patches (I have no links for this yet, because I honestly have never really used this; if you use this and/or have tutorials/links, please let me know!)
Nemesis – allows the use of custom animation mods and is more flexible than FNIS in terms of customization/creation (The current options for custom animations are FNIS and Nemesis; make sure that the animation mod(s) you want to use are supported by whichever tool you use.) (I have read reports of people unfamiliar with github having difficulty locating the actual downloadable file, so for those that need this information: after you have clicked on the link above, click on the dropdown in the Green “Code” box and select “Download ZIP”.)
Nifskope -a program that allows you to open, view, and edit NIF files. (I have read reports of people unfamiliar with github having difficulty locating the actual downloadable file, so for those that need this information: after you have clicked on the link above, click on the dropdown in the Green “Code” box and select “Download ZIP”.)
Wrye Bash – this is not only another mod manager option, but can also do a number of other things, including creating a bashed patch, flagging ESPs as ESPFEs to save on plugin space, and more. I highly suggesting at least learning how/when to flag ESPs and how to create a bashed patch for leveled lists
zEdit – I love this tool, but I will say that it is not as easy to find tutorials for the laymen as some of the other options on this list, but once you figure out some of it (zMerge is really quite cool), it is well worth it. And I’ve compiled some I’ve found so that you don’t have to dig around! (I have read reports of people unfamiliar with github having difficulty locating the actual downloadable file, so for those that need this information: after you have clicked on the link above, click on the dropdown in the Green “Code” box and select “Download ZIP”.)
(NOTE: everything I link to in Lexy’s LOTD is for reference only! Her guide is meant to be used in its entirety and as such, picking/choosing is not supported. I think it is just a nice place to start getting an idea of how some of these tools can be used.)
Here are some great guides that I have come across. Some are actively updated and still supported; others are defunct, but all of them have information that I have found useful, or at the very least, you can see what mods other people use. If you want to use any of these, I cannot stress enough that you need to read EVERYTHING (and preferably prior to even starting). I have personally used the first three below and know they are actively supported and updated.
First off you need to know the three primary columns: FormID, EditorID, and Name. FormId is the actual basic ID of record, the numerical code the engine recognizes it as. Always an 8 digit number. The EditorID is a name meant for sorting/finding via editors or scripts. Name is generally the actual name of what it appears as in game (if it is interactable in game).
Every single record has a unique FormID which helps you find it. There are numerous databases and wikis for searching for base skyrim/dlc forms, but the formID is also determined by Load Order (meaning you don’t need unique form ids between plugins). That’s what the first two digits are: the place in the load order. Hence why Skyrim.esm FormIds are always 00xxxxxx.
You will also interact with two kinds of Form IDs: Base IDs and reference IDs. Base records are the “original” record in the back end, think the actual determining nature of an NPC or the base iron sword. A reference ID is the actual placed base object in the world – if you wanted to spawn a new iron sword, you use the base ID. If you want to move to an iron sword in someone’s house, you need the reference ID.
Now as for the types of records, here are the important ones you are most likely going to interact with:
Ingestible: Consumables, like food and potions
Ingredients: Alchemy ingredients, tho confusingly any kind of item can technically be used to make other items via constructible object recipes.
Armor Addon/Armor: how armor and clothes (and even NPC bodies in some cases) are created is via two types of records: The Armor Record is the actual piece that is worn by NPCs, while the Armor Addon is the record of first person/third person meshes for the armor, potential armor swaps, etc.
Book: Books and notes.
Cell: Interior locations. If you go in a building, you are in a cell.
Worldspace: I’ll put this here to put it near cell, this is exterior locations. Tamriel is the primary worldspace that you walk around in. Cities with loading screens have their own world spaces (Whiterun, Solitude, etc). Some other limited areas have their own worldspaces.
Constructible Object: Recipes. All types of recipes are here; what kind they are is determined by the BNAM – Workbench Keyword record of the entry (Tempering is at the Armor table or sharpening wheel, most crafting of metal armors is at the forge, etc).
Container: Boxes you can find in the world, like chests or other statics (like burnt corpses). one weird idiosyncrasy of Bethesda games is that merchant inventories are also stored in Chests, generally with an editor ID related to the store.
Dialog Topic/Branch: These are the building blocks of dialogue trees. While they can be edited in xEdit, it’s a bit confusing in how they are displayed.
Object Effect: essentially enchantments. Applied to Weapons, Armor, etc. Can be used for other things as well.
Faction: more important than you’d think. Factions are used not to just set “teams” of npcs (like Imperials or Stormcloaks) but also what NPCs can do. These are attached to NPC records based on their jobs, positions, etc. There is genericized dialogue that is tied to NPC faction types for instance, or you might set a house to be owned by a family faction and assign all members to that faction so they all “own” the house.
Flora: Many things that you can harvest, like mushrooms or birds nests. ot everything though.
Tree: actual trees and plants, but also the rest of the harvestables like flowers. Not sure why its split from Flora.
Leveled Item: Leveled lists of items. This is a big one. This is where somewhat randomized lists are pulled for NPCs or containers. This is the biggest one for patching typically, as many mods add items (and need to be added to the same lists if you want them organically implemented). There are lots of weird rules to the records of these, like one leveled list chain can’t have more than 255 item calls or it crashes the game.
Leveled NPC: Leveled lists of npcs. Usually a dummy npc record is placed, and the leveled lists are used to somewhat randomize what you see. This can include showing different npcs at higher levels with different equipment for greater gameplay variety or just be for calling unique faces. This heavily utilizes NPC records and Template flags.
Magic effect: Effects for various things in game. These are things that are done instead of stat changes, like shooting fire
Misc Items: pretty much everything you find on the misc tab in game. items without a specific purpose, such as wearable armor or ingestible materials. Includes ingots.
Music Type/Track: These are the most intuitive of anything in the engine. Music types are playlists of music attached to various conditions. MUSCombat is the most important Music Type, as it’s used for 90% of combat music in the game. Ambient music types are typically either tied to a Region record, an actual worldspace cell or interior, or a Location record. When more than one music playlist is valid for any given circumstance, the one that plays is the one with the lowest number Priority (a line in each record). Combat is priority 2 and plays over almost all other music types when it is valid (during combat). Actual conditions can be set in greater detail for each individual track – e.g. you can set times of days songs can play etc. Sorry if this is too much info I love music modding.
Non-Player Character (Actor): Another big one. This is the base reference of all npcs: where faces are set, inventories established (or pointed to leveled lists), skills set, etc. One of the most important ones by far. When someone refers to an NPC baseID as opposed to a reference ID, this is what they are talking about.
Outfit: Outfits for npcs. Often point to leveled items.
Package: AI packages, determine what npcs do. These are placed in Non Player character records.
Quest: Quests, also used to fire scripted scenarios you wouldn’t think use quests. Most everything uses quests to implement scripts.
Race: NPC “types”, like an Ice Wolf or NordRace. Made more confusing as there are backend race types to allow you to bulk change certain kinds of NPCs – e.g. the Afflicted are in Lore Bretons, but they have their own race in so that they can have their attack data/skin and such standardized. In cases like this, NPC records can have an “Attack Race” defined which is what for lore/balance reasons like perks or enchantments they are considered as.
Relationship: Relationships between npcs, I think also for factions. Used to set what type of relationship people have (Master Apprentice, Father Son) but also their opinion rank with each other. An interesting tidbit on this is the Nexus version of 3dnpc (Interesting NPCs) has a Relationship record between Carlotta from Whiterun and the player character so that she’s automatically your max relationship value (4, Lover). Odd mistake.
Spells: Spells! This is what you “Learn” when you eat a spell book, but also covers also spell like things done in game.
Static: Things that don’t move that aren’t terrain. Most everything you look at in game that you don’t directly interact with is a static. Also weapons for some reason use a static record for their models instead of something like and Armor addon.
VoiceType: voice types for npcs! “Human” npcs in Skyrim largely use genericized voice types, as they all share dialogue for certain interactions for cleanliniess’ sake (Is someone there!??!). Dialogue lines are often conditioned based on voice type. Attached to npc records (if no voice type, no voice for npc :()
Weapon: Weapons! Refers to statics for parts of the model (1st person iirc), can have attached object effects.
Most everything else you won’t really mess with in xEdit. let me know if you have more questions on any of these. Most conflicts that need resolution are in:
Non Player Characters
Please remember to endorse any mods you download and like, and if you appreciate all the hard work that goes into creating a mod, consider giving kudos to the author on Nexus as well (the Give Kudos button can be found on the user’s page).