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 Lexy’s LOTD Unofficial (not actually supported anymore, but I believe you can still download it) 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.
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).