After reading a lot of posts on my favorite mods, I've decided to do this write-up. This doesn't teach how to mod, but how to use mods correctly so they work for you. It's taken hours of reading and playing with programs to make my heavily modded skyrim stable, so I'm attempted to break that learning curve for others here.
The MOST important thing to know about mods - "90% of the Skyrim problems can be solved through reading, 90% of the Skyrim problems are caused by not reading!" --Groovtama
The SECOND most important thing to know is - Google and Youtube are your best friends. Doing research, and watching videos on the mods you use will yield good advice most times.
First off, if you are reading this, I assume you have Nexus Mod Manager (NMM). I can't say enough good things about this manager.
I use it to install and uninstall all my mods that aren't downloaded from the steam workshop. Mods downloaded from nexus install ultra easy.
Mods downloaded from non-nexus websites are also super easy to install. Just make sure your file is in zip format and open NMM, in the upper left hand corner, select "add mod from file" and select it.
To update your mods, click "Check for new mod versions." This doesn't automatically update anything. It will just show you if a newer version number is available. Updating will require you to visit the mod's nexus page to download the new file(s). Be careful with updating mods though. Make sure to read all the information the modder provides on the mod to make sure you don't go screwing up your saves.
NMM will not keep track of version numbers of non-nexus mods, fyi. Updating those will require to check the site you got the mod from yourself. I recommend adding those sites as favorites to your browser.
I do not recommend manually installing mods unless you really know what you are doing.
If you can download a mod from nexus instead of steam workshop, then do it. Steam's workshop has made updates a pain. Uninstalling a mod from the workshop means you have to unsubscribe them.
I have found that unsubscribed mods still leave files behind, so overall, avoid mods from the workshop if it can be helped. I'm not saying to avoid the workshop totally, as I do personally use quite a few mods from there.
MOD LOAD ORDER
I recommend LOOT to figure out the load order for the most part. BOSS is the ancestor to LOOT. BOSS will only recognize and order like 2/3 of your mods. LOOT will do them all. Google it and download it.
Once you have it, run it and select "Sort Plugins". Once it completes, go to the details page. Scroll down and look through everything, as it'll alert you to dirty mods, or other useful information. NOTE - Just because LOOT reported it as dirty and needing cleaning, doesn't mean it needs it. Read the information on the mod from the mod page. Often times, the modder will explain why LOOT says it's dirty, and it's usually because a chunk of boring skyrim got deleted so the mod could replace it with a castle or something, heh.
CLEANING FILES AND USING TES5EDIT
TES5EDIT is another essential program. I personally have only used it to clean my master files, as shown here www.youtube.com/watch?v=fw3g_N1jcZQ
I haven't ran into many mods that needed any cleaning, and I suspect that is due to modders cleaning their files before uploading, or just not requiring it to begin with.
You can also create patches between mods quickly and painlessly. There are videos on youtube for that as well.
TES5EDIT is also a good way to make sure your heavily modded skyrim can even run. Open it, select every mod you use, and see if it loads. If it doesn't load, it'll report the error and point you to the offending mod causing the trouble. If it does load, apply your filter for cleaning, and just look over all the conflicts. Whats awesome about TES5EDIT is that you can also easily edit multiple mods at a time without using the creation kit. I recommend only editing mods if you REALLY know what you are doing.
The first thing I asked myself before downloading this was, "Why do I need this?" To be honest, I've only skimmed the surface of this program's usefulness.
First, use this to create a bashed patch. It basically creates a compatibility patch-mod for all your installed mods. It'll correct all sorts of item lists that get constantly tweaked with by lots of mods. This will bring about a lot of internal stability compared to those that don't have this. Wrye bash will also take in a couple mods and incorporate it into the bashed patch. Meaning, it'll free up a couple mod spaces and still use all your mods. A great way to squeeze in a few more mods if you've hit the 255 limit.
Wrye Bash also allows you to manually check and uncheck mods off your load order instead of doing it through steam, and you can also view a mod's master dependencies easily. Sometimes the reason why a mod isn't working is due to you missing the required master file.
You can also use wrye bash to create esm's from esp's. I recommend "copy to esm" and then deleting the original esp over using "esmify self". You only have to worry about this if you are involved in making your own mods and have a need to do so.
Even more can be done with it than what I've described. As stated before, this one is still new to me, but considered a must.
I was skeptical about doing this at first, but I find it's an absolute must! I run HD everything in skyrim, and even though my machine can handle it, in extreme circumstances, I'll experience issues. Rather than turn my graphics options down, I came across this option. Use the Ordenador program from www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/12801/
I personally run the program on medium setting, and I select "resize patterns" - (16x16). You'll be amazed at how much this program does to spare your video card's vram. It'll take awhile to run if it has a lot of files to do. DO NOT LET IT MESS WITH YOUR BSA's!!! You should only have to mess with options on the first tab presented as explained above.
How to get "Improved HD":
a lot of mods that have 2K diffuse textures, often times have only 1K normal maps. a lot of mods that use 4K diffuse textures, will have 2K normal maps.
I have found that an improved normal map will drastically improve the quality of what you see in-game. However, a lot of machines can't handle 4K textures very well.
The solution to this is simple. I download everything in 4K with the highest quality normals available. I will then run Ordenador on medium, resize patterns 16x16, and resize down if > than 2048.
You will end up with a 2K skyrim that's been optimized, and has 2K normals. You will save TONS of VRAM, increase performance and FPS drastically, and it will fool you into thinking it's not 4K.
I personally have taken this a step further. I will unpack the textures from any BSA's in my load order, and put them in a seperate folder. I turn that seperate folder into an installable file for NMM.
I then run Ordenador on the new file. Once optimized, I'll zip the file, and install with NMM. It shouldn't have to over-write anything. Your mods will use the textures you just installed instead of whats in the BSA's.
Now the mods that used those BSA's will have optimized textures. This can be very tricky to do, and only someone very experienced should attempt this.
FORE'S NEW IDLES IN SKYRIM
If a mod you downloaded says it requires FNIS, then download it. From my understanding, a lot of animation related mods depend on FNIS. What's important about this program is that you MUST run it after you've installed OR uninstalled any mods that require it. I can't stress this enough! After you run it, I also do a consistency check just to make sure there's nothing else to worry about.
This is my personal checklist of things to do before starting to play my modded skyrim...
After I've installed a bunch of mods for skyrim, I'll use NMM and my favs in my browser to make sure all my mods are up to do date and installed. Take notes on mods that have a specific load order to other mods.
I'll then use LOOT to set my load order. I'll make corrections to the load order based off my notes from earlier. So far, LOOT's load ordering has proved great to me.
After that, I use FNIS to update my animations. And then Ordenador to make sure all textures are optimized and compressed.
I'll use Wrye Bash next to rebuild my bashed patch (I recommend doing this is you've installed or uninstalled ANY mods since you last made your patch).
After all these steps, I'll load up everything in TES5EDIT to make sure it loads and can check for bold and/or underlined mods. If there are no issues, then I consider it safe to start playing Skyrim.
As a general rule of thumb, I do not download a mod and expect it to work with my save game. You are asking for problems by just adding mods to your game in progress. To avoid the issues so many others have, I heavily mod my skyrim, then do a play-through. I will not alter my mods in any way if I plan on continuing on from a save. If I'm not satisfied with my mods, I then uninstall the ones I no longer want, replace them with some new ones, then start a new game after following my "protocol". After years of playing morrowind, oblivion, and skyrim, I have never experienced a corrupt save in my life, so I must be doing something right.
WHY TAKE THIS ADVICE?
I'm running almost 500 mods on my skyrim (via merging), all HD, with lots of scripts and animations, on a 3 year old computer, and it all runs pretty stable. I also do not experience the majority of the issues my fellow nexus members seem to commonly have with mods. So, feel free to use this advice to your advantage, and I hope I saved you an hour or two trying to figure out how to make your skyrim playing experience more enjoyable.
DID I MISS SOMETHING?
Probably. I'm not a hot-shot modder, just a guy who has a lot of experience using skyrim mods. If I did miss something, then please feel free to add to this. I know I could personally use some more tutorials on how to use Wryre Bash to it's max.
For more good in-detail skyrim advice, I recommend looking up STEP for Skyrim. They have tons of great guides on tweaking specific files. http://wiki.step-project.com/Main_Page
RECOMMENDED MODS FOR STABILITY:
Unofficial Skyrim Legendary Edition Patch http://www.nexusmods...rim/mods/71214/
Skyrim Project Optimization http://www.nexusmods...rim/mods/32505/
MODS THAT ARE NOT RECOMMENDED:
As a downloader, you should take the time to endorse the mods that you like. That helps those mods to be found by other downloaders in their searches. This also helps mod authors advertise their mods.
An easy way to endorse a lot of mods quickly is to go to the top of the nexus page to the drop down menu "File". In there, you'll find "Download History". Or, you can use this link... Download History
From there, you can quickly give out endorsements very quickly and effortlessly. Some mod authors will give out kudos to downloaders who give endorsements, or leave nice/helpful comments.
To give out kudos, you'll need to go to the individual's profile page. This is easily done by clicking on their name from a comment or endorsement. Kudos are like "nexus credibility" in my opinion.
Having them shows that you participate positively on the nexus in the form of endorsements, comments, kudos, or even mods.
THANK YOU TO ALL WHO TOOK THE TIME TO READ THIS! THIS GUIDE IS A WIP.
Edited by Ruhadre, 04 February 2016 - 05:53 PM.