Foreword: I put A LOT of time and effort into this post, it does help me when you like it and follow me. If you do need help with mods you can message me and I will try to answer your question. Also, if you have any suggestions about format, confusing language, or other grammatical things feel free to message me about those too.
*If you are having problems with what you think is a mod causing bugs first, use BOSS. Second, identify possible mods causing the problem. Third, either change the load order or deactivate the mod(s) one by one until you find the problem. I have never seen a bug that I haven’t been able to fix (and I have almost 140 mods at this point working together all at once), so, don’t come to me and say so-and-so mod is messing up my game. More than likely you just need to troubleshoot. This guide will routinely be updated as I see fit.
Tips and Tricks
*This is the most important section to read. Modding Skyrim (and any Bethesda game really) is a rollercoaster of trial and error. You learn little tricks to deal with problems that arise. First, always keep a save game inside a building (these are called interior cells). If you have problems loading up your most recent save (the game just freezes on the loading screen, you can tell if it’s going to load by a couple of jumps in the loading screen animation) load this save and it will generally work. If your game crashes before getting to the main loading screen you probably have a mod incompatibility, check BOSS to see if it says anything (it could also mean that you need a patch for DLC for a mod). If your game crashes during a loading screen it’s probably a load order issue, check for the obvious then consult mod instructions if you can’t figure it out on your own. In general, read all mod descriptions (especially compatibility sections) before you install mods. Pay attention to the order in which mod descriptions tell you to overwrite other mods, this is especially important with graphical mods (especially textures). When adding DLC patches to mods or patches in general (including compatibility ones) do not overwrite the original mod (click No when it asks you this). Also, try not to uninstall and install mods (this is more okay but it can cause crashing issues) in the middle of playthroughs (specifically ones that use scripts, it will tell you if it doesn’t use scripts – these are fairly limited, most mods use scripts). If you’re using a ton of mods try to play in fullscreen, you’ll get better performance.
Skyrim Nexus – This is your new Bible. SAY IT WITH ME: we’re ain’t gonna to use that noob Steam shit (for the most part).
Skyrim Script Extender aka SKSE – This is tool for allowing extended scripts in Skyrim, whatever that means idk. You just need it, don’t fight it. Make sure this is always up-to-date.
Better Oblivion Sorting Tool aka BOSS – This tool will help to sort your mods into the correct load order automatically. It will also let you know if you have any wrong versions or conflicting mods.
Unofficial Skyrim Patch – Fixes tons of bugs. Links are included for DLCs.
Autosave Manager – I’m including this in this section because honestly Skyrim’s autosave system sucks, especially for modders, because it’s very easy to get stuck with an autosave and a quicksave you can’t load. This eliminates that problem and just in general adds a lot of convenience and peace of mind instead of worrying about having to save all the time. Bunch of different configurations that you can look through. Requires SkyUI because of the MCM menu.
coming soon… For a less detailed version than what will eventually be here refer here.
*From here on, I will put the order you should install and overwrite your graphics mods in.
Official High Resolution Pack – Use this as your base for HD textures.
Unofficial High Resolution Patch
Better Dynamic Snow – Replaces the default snow textures, pictures speak for themselves.
Static Mesh Improvement Mod aka SMIM – Arguably one of the best improvements you can make graphically. Improves the blocky vanilla meshes (the borders around objects). Includes instructions on approximate load order to use in conjunction with other visual mods, If you’re just using the mods I’m mentioning the order in this list is the order in which you should install these.
Skyrim HD – 2k resolution textures, significantly better than the Official HD Texture Pack (which you can also use and overwrite using this mod). There are multiple texture quality packs available for all types of computers.
W.A.T.E.R – Total overhaul for all things water. Waves, flow, different effects for different types of water, etc.
Ultimate HD Fire Effects – Adds high res textures and meshes to fire. Be careful when using some ENBs as they will drastically alter the color of fire.
Enhanced Blood Textures – Awesome mod that adds HD blood textures and a MCM config menu for enabling wounds, blood on weapon, screen blood, and blood pools.
Enhanced Night Skyrim – Beautifies Skyrim’s night sky. Bunch of different presets, I’m partial to the color galaxy.
SkyFalls and SkyMills – animates distant waterfalls and mills.
aMidianBorn Book of Silence – I wasn’t sure where to put this but since all it does is retexture vanilla armor, weapons, and uniques it makes sense to put it here. Cabal is arguably one of the best armor retexturers out there, I consider this an essential mod for each of my playthroughs.
*These next mods are optional. Personally I use S.D.O. but these will hurt your framerate significantly if you don’t have a beastly rig especially if you’re using HD textures, ENB (with DOF), or Flora Overhaul (more on that later). Also, use EITHER Skyrim Distance Overhaul OR Enhanced Distant Terrain, not both.
Skyrim Distance Overhaul – Increase LOD (level of detail) of distant objects.
Enhanced Distant Terrain – Increases the noise to make distant terrain look better.
Enhanced Distant Terrain 2 – ” “
Belt-Fastened Quivers – Since there’s several mods on this list that use cloaks and backpacks, I use this mod to minimize clipping with my sneak thieves. Also, changes some animations related to bows and quivers.
SkyUI – I consider this mod to be essential for playing on PC. First, this is required for any mod that uses a Mod Configuration Menu (MCM for short). Lots of newer, and more complicated, mods are going to use this feature. SkyUI is an infinitely better menu for navigation on PC. It includes more categories and allows you to sort by multiple categories and includes a search function as well as optional color coding. It also includes active magical effects pop-ups on the side of the screen. One of the newer features of SkyUI is the new favorites menu. This is a much improved version of the default favorites menu that includes categories to switch between and the ability to set hotkeys for item sets. I personally use categorized favorites menu instead but this isn’t a bad alternative.
Categorized Favorites Menu – Easily another one of my favorite UI mods. This completely revamps your favorites menu into a fullscreen, categorized list. Modders can make custom configuration files to make this menu compatible with other mods (mostly weapon, armor, and magic mods) – you can also do this yourself by editing the cfg file but this is time consuming and difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. I will include the compatibility patch below that I use that works with many major weapon, armor, and magic mods including almost all of the ones I use. When installing compatibility patches for this mod overwrite the mod when prompted. *Note: If you use CFM with SkyUI you will now get an error when you open up your favorites menu. This is because CFM interferes with the new SkyUI favorites menu. You can disable this error message in the SkyUI MCM menu and it will not effect your gameplay at all.
HoleyGrail’s Customized Categorized Favorites Menu – This is the compatibility patch I use. It features 10 presets (I just use the default one) and works with tons of different mods. Overwrite the base CFM with this one.
A Quality World Map – High resolution version of the default world map with optional presets including displaying all roads (the one I use).
Warbug’s 3D Paper Map – Looking for a more immersive map? Look no further. Great alternative to A Quality World Map.
RaceMenu – Completely overhauls the character customization menu based on the SkyUI style.
Main Font Replacement – A few different font presets. Personally I use Morpheus (picture below).
Detailed Mine Map Markers – small mod that adds the name of the material you can mine in parentheses behind the name of the mine on your map i.e. Stormcloak Mine (Iron).
Improved Skill Books – Similar idea, adds the skill that’s upgraded to skill books in parentheses behind the title i.e. The Nightengales (Archery)
Glowing Ore Veins – This is just a convenience mod that I personally use. Sometimes in vanilla Skyrim ore veins are difficult to see; this mod basically makes them glow a bit.
*The order in which the following mods are in is the order I recommend you install and overwrite them in.
Xenius Character Enhancement – Use this as your base for faces.
Better Females by Bella – Must have if you’re at all interested in making females not look like shit. Includes several different presets for makeup.
LiFE – Pretty much the same thing as the previous mod but with a slightly more natural look. Adds some lip colors, eyes, and warpaint too.
High Res Face Maps for Men – Pretty much the male version of Better Females by Bella
Apachii Skyhair – Adds tons of new hairstyles, there’s a couple of optional files included in downloads. Here’s a few examples:
Beards – Retextures existing beards and adds some that were present in Skyrim files but not in the game.
Natural Eyes – adds new eye colors.
Extended Slider Colors – adds a bunch of new colors to the character creation process, a few different presets.
Calientes Female Body mod Big Bottom Edition – The most popular female body mesh. Features a few different presets, very high quality mod.
UNP DIMONIZED female body mod – The second most popular female body replacer, a bit slimmer. *Use EITHER this or CBBE
Killer Keos Skimpy CBBE Armor Replacer – Remeshes vanilla armor for CBBE body. True to its name it’s pretty skimpy so be aware.
Calientes Vanilla armor replacer for CBBE – Remeshes some of the vanilla armors for CBBE. I overwrite Killer Keos with this for the few outfits it changes (a bit more conservative).
Live Another Life: Alternate Start – I’ve played the vanilla opening so many times I just get really sick of it. This mod lets you start the game with a variety of backstories and locations. Great for immersion.
Realistic Lighting Overhaul – Easily one of my favorite visual mods. This will completely alter the way you play Skyrim. It makes dungeons and nights MUCH more immersive and makes torches and lanterns much more useful. I recommend using the default preset for the best experience with the other mods I recommend. In conjunction with RLO, use Lanterns of Skyrim which adds a bunch of new light sources around Skyrim. Very handy for how dark it gets at night with RLO. Be aware that not only do you need to download the main files but you also need to download a preset (RLO one if you’re going to use RLO otherwise I recommend Climates of Tamriel). Also, check out Chesko’s Wearable Lanterns – this mod lets you purchase several different types of lanterns that you can carry around (in your hand or clipped to your belt). Comes with a purchasable configuration book; if you’re using RLO you should increase the brightness of the lantern to the recommended setting.
Climates of Tamriel: Lighting/Weather/Audio – I don’t really use this for lighting but the other two parts of this mod are great. Adds a crap-ton of weather effects and has an optional module for ambient audio effects which are great for immersion. I recommend using the default vanilla setting for lighting and using RLO, obviously you can experiment with it if you want to.
Skyrim Flora Overhaul – Adds tons of new grass and tree types. I use the summer edition for greener textures. If you take a major performance hit while using this check the FAQ for ways to tweak your .ini to make it run better. Below is a comparison of regular SFO and the summer edition.
Ultimate Follower Overhaul – adds a ton of extra utility to the follower system making them actually useful. There’s a ton of features, read the features section of the mod description for more information. This for sure should be one of your go-to mods. Also increases your follower limit and allows them to ride horses.
Convenient Horses – Another big overhaul this time for horses. Bunch of features here including mounted combat for followers, horse armor, horse calling, horse inventory storage, AI behaviors, etc. Also, allows you to change the default horse speed. I use a 50% increase, personally.
The Dance of Death – This is a killmove overhaul. There’s a bunch of configurable options in the MCM menu; the jist is you can set the chance that a killmove triggers, decapitation chance, whether killmoves are restricted to the last enemy in a group, what perspective you want to view killmoves from and whether you want them to be restricted to certain perks (I disable this option).
Frostfall – This survival immersion mod is definitely one of the biggest overhauls to Skyrim you’re going to find. Not only will it completely change how you experience the game but it also does so in an extremely user-friendly way that allows you to discover all its features from directly inside the game using very useful in-game tutorials. I’m not going to be able to adequately explain every facet of this mod here but I will try to gloss over the main features. Ultimately, I recommend doing as the author suggests and just try it out for a little bit. Essentially, this mod adds a new ‘exposure’ element to the game that you have to take precautions to prevent. Exposure in turn affects your stats. Basically, the longer you spend outside the more resistant you will become to exposure but things like frost resistance, clothing, and whether you’re near fire will also affect it. Frostfall adds a new power called Survival Skills in which you can use camping equipment and craft items to help decrease exposure. These are essentially the basics, for a more detailed look at what the mod does check here. Gopher’s (news writer for Nexus) testimonial:
Wet and Cold – Additionally here’s another immersion mod that works well with several other mods I recommend. Basic functions include dripping when wet, NPCs will wear hoods if it’s raining or snowing, steam coming from breath, rain blur (if you look up while it’s raining), blizzard blur, and a function to make NPCs go home in bad weather. Several of these functions may be turned off initially but you can enable them via a MCM menu. Compatibility includes Frostfall, Winter is Coming, and Cloaks of Skyrim. Also has a Dragonborn Ashes add-on.
Duel – Don’t particularly like the combat in Skyrim? This popular overhaul makes Skyrim combat much more satisfying (especially for melee combat) by increasing damage slightly, making NPC AI better – including making NPCs use group tactics when attacking you, making blocking more effective (and NPCs will block more), features timed blocking, shorter staggers, etc. This is the main combat overhaul that I use but I recommend you try this out for yourself and decide if you like it.
*This next mod is an alternative to Duel
Ultimate Combat – TK has made several fairly popular combat mods, this particular one brings most of those together into one mod. This mod does most of the same stuff that Duel does but adds in a couple new mechanics such as dodging. As before, this is one of those mods that you really have to try out for yourself before deciding whether you want to keep using it.
Balanced Magic – The most popular magic rebalance. Main features include scaling magic power to your skill level, increased magicka regen in combat, increased power and reduced cost for dual casting, spell costs don’t decrease as you skill increases, etc. Read the mod description for the rest of the changes.
*The nice thing about these next couple AI mods is they’re script-free so you can install and uninstall them as you like. They both should be compatible with the combat overhauls above.
Enhanced Enemy AI – This mod should make NPCs much more realistic, allowing them to use all the resources at their disposal including any magic they know (including wards and special powers) and potions. I used to use an older mod called ASIS that used to do something similar but I have since switched to this. *I know that this is on an outside website but don’t worry, the guy is reputable. He was unfortunately banned from the Nexus for unrelated reasons to his mods. In order to install this, download the archive from the website and manually add it to Nexus Mod Manager.
Enemy AI Overhaul – The main purpose of this mod is to add some special abilities to a couple different enemy types including vampires, drauger, forsworn, falmer, and dragon priests. Usable with Enhanced Enemy AI.
*The next few mods will focus on dragons
Deadly Dragons – Allows you to customize how powerful dragons are, and includes some stronger variations of vanilla dragons (optional lore pack gets rid of these). Has an option for “Assault Battles” which allows dragons to spawn and attack you at specific time intervals (this is what I use it for). Also, has an optional module for adjusting the difficulty of regular mobs.
Dragon Combat Overhaul – Good luck deciphering the mod description page. A couple of features of this mod:
– unpredictable injuries (no more 35% health can’t takeoff anymore bs)
– realistic physics (dragons landing and taking off have force and will knock you down unless you block)
– new attacks and effects (tail slams, dragons will shout more, screen blurring, etc.)
– better death animations (dragons can also rag doll in mid flight)
– better AI (dragons will also team up)
Enhanced Mighty Dragons – Same guy that did Enhanced Enemy AI. This mod adds a ton of new dragon types to the game. Seriously. There’s a lot of them. Read the web page for the full breakdown. *do not install this before the first dragon fight, it will be hard as shit. You’re welcome ahead of time.
Monster Mod: Reborn – A new upload of monster mod (the previous author was banned from the Nexus). Adds a ton of new creatures to Skyrim. I went on the safe side and use the lore-friendly version.
Organized Bandits in Skyrim (OBIS) – categorizes bandits into gangs that gives them special abilities, weaknesses, and outfits. This does not add new spawns of bandits, it just organizes the bandits already in the game.
Better Vampires – This is a pretty sweeping overhaul of vampires in Skyrim. If you’ve ever played a vampire in an Elder Scrolls game you know that usually it has more weaknesses than benefits. This totally changes that, the majority of features in this mod are modular too, meaning that you can turn them on and off or change how they work. Some of my favorite things about playing with this mod: you have the ability to change vampirism so that you’re stronger right after feeding rather than the longer you go without feeding, you progress in power as you feed more, you have the ability to feed off corpses or you can harvest blood potions (which heal magicka, stamina, and health and act as if you’ve fed) from sleeping victims. Overall this is just a couple features of this mod, read the description for more details. Totally works with Dawnguard as well if you were wondering that.
*I’ll be honest, I don’t play magic users that often in Skyrim so my recommendations for these next few mods are going to be based on a limited amount of experience and testimonials from people I trust.
Forgotten Magic Redone – I’ve used this magic mod a bit. Basically you get a set of spells that you use and as you use them they level up and as they level up you get talent points to spend on modifiers that make them stronger. You can only level up each spell 5 times (out of a total of 10 optional talents for each spell) and this is done through a MCM menu.
Apocalypse Spell Package – Another high quality spell package.
Midas Magic Evolved – This is a repost of the popular Midas Magic mod, again this features a bunch (234) of custom made high quality spells. These are going to be less balanced than Apocalypse.
Thunderchild: Epic Shout Package – I’m not going to wholly recommend this mod as I haven’t used it yet but the premise sounds cool and it’s by the same guy that made Apocalypse.
True Dragonblood: Shout Cooldown Adjustments – This is a simple mod that adjusts shout cooldown timings to about what it is for dragons.
Artifact Balance Overhaul – Upgrades the daedric artifacts in the game to at least ebony-level quality, making them viable alternatives to end-game gear.
Acquisitive Soul Gems – Simple explanation: forces soul gems to capture the correct level souls. No more grand soul gems with petty souls or black soul gems with lesser souls. No more dropping soul gems to get rid of the crappy soul inside.
Lock Overhaul – This mod changes several features associated with lockpicking in Skyrim, the main bits being alternate ways to unlock objects (including spells and bashing locks) as well as the ability to set lock requirements that you must meet to even have the chance to open a lock. These two pillars of the mod are completely separate so say, for example, you have a lockpicking skill of 36 and you have expert level locks set to require a skill level of 50 BUT you also have a one-handed skill level of 56 and a bash requirement of 50 as well. You will be able to bash that lock open but not pick it. There’s a lot of ways to configure this to your liking so feel free to experiment with the included MCM menu.
Dragon Soul Relinquishment – Allows you to exchange unspent dragon souls for various boosts.
Default values follow:
Shout Recovery (max 50%, 1 soul = 2%)
Shout Power (max 400%, 1 soul = 8%)
Perk Points (max 100, 5 souls = 1 perk)
Unarmed Damage (max 100, 1 soul = 4 damage)
Carry Weight (max 500, 1 soul = 20 weight)
Attributes (max 500 per attribute, 1 soul = 10 health or magicka or stamina)
All of these are totally adjustable via the MCM menu. FYI you trade souls in via praying at an altar in High Hrothgar.
Upgraded Weapons and Armor for Enemies – Adds a probability that you will find upgraded weapons or armor on enemies. This will make them harder.
Sneak Tools – This is one of the more interesting gameplay mods. It adds several sneak-thiefery related enhancements to the game the main ones being a new set of arrows, new killmoves against unawares NPCs, and cowls to conceal your identity (like the Grey Fox mask from Oblivion). The killmoves include throat slitting, which you can activate when behind an unaware NPC and is an instant kill now; unarmed knock outs, in case you don’t want to kill your target; and instant kills (with new animations) on sleeping victims. The included arrows are rope, fire, water, oil, and noisemaker. Rope arrows all you to climb walls by activating them. Fire arrows are meant to be used in combination with oil arrows to set firey oily traps. Water arrows allow you to extinguish pretty much any light source in the game (at the moment unclear if this is compatible with mods that add lights like lanterns of skyrim, will test). Finally, noisemaker arrows allow you to attract enemy NPCs from quite a distance using small fireworks. These items are purchasable from a vendor added by the mod which you have to use a new power called Shadow’s Refuge. Honestly this is the only downside to this mod IMO, I would have liked to have them added to regular vendors instead. Here’s a video showing off the features of the mod:
*These next mods are all going to be related to archery. These are adjustments that I personally use to make sneaking and long range combat much more fun
ABT: Arrow and Bolt Tweaks – This is my favorite mod that alters archery in Skyrim (which is severely lacking IMO). Includes a bunch of options in particular the ability to change arrow and bolt speeds (I suggest +50% for arrows and +25% for bolts) as well as increasing the damage of arrows, changing how deep they stick in targets, changing the amount of arrows recovered, looted, and purchasable from vendors. Also includes instructions on how to remove magnetism (auto-aim) from arrows (a must if you want archery to take skill) and how to fix the reticle so it actually shoots where it’s placed. There’s tons of presets, guaranteed you’ll find something you like.
Real Arrow SFX – Just a different style of sounds for bows, listen to the samples if you’re interested.
Morrowindic Sneak Attack Sound – The critical hit sound in Skyrim is awful. The changes it from a drum sound to a much more satisfying squish.
Ultimate Spinning Arrows – Archery killmoves look weird without this. ‘Nuff said.
Guess the Distance – Adds a lesser power that allows you to guess the distance to you target and displays information about their condition and the conditions between you and them. Works great with the Telescope mod.
*All the following armor and weapon mods will be focused on ONLY armors and weapons added to the leveled lists (stuff that randomly appears in the game world), however most of it is also craftable. This will greatly enhance your Skyrim experience by providing a HUGE (I do not use that world lightly) variety of equipment throughout the game world.
Immersive Armors – Easily the most popular armor mod. Easily an essential mod for any playthrough and you should keep track of any of hothtrooper44’s mods, he’s great at what he does. Includes support for UNP body type in optional files but not CBBE :(.
Immersive Weapons – Same basic premise as Immersive Armors just for weapons.
ARMONIZER – Adds a bunch of community made armors. Requires Dawnguard.
WEAPONIZER – Same idea as ARMONIZER for weapons. Requires Dawnguard.
Heavy Armory – adds a bunch of new weapons across a variety of materials.
Crossbows Basic Collection – adds more crossbow varieties across the various vanilla material types. Obviously requires Dawnguard.
Cloaks of Skyrim – Adds a ton of new cloaks to the game. Fully integrated into the world (including craftable) and compatible with both Frostfall and Wet and Cold. Includes some rare enchanted cloaks scattered around the game world.
Winter is Coming – Similar to Cloaks of Skyrim but more fur focused. Includes both cloaks and hoods similarly integrated into the game world, craftable, compatible with Frostfall, etc.
Enchanted Arrows and Bolts – This mod reintroduces a mechanic from previous games: enchanted arrows. I’ve been looking through several similar mods for a long time and this is the best, and most well-balanced (lots of mods that did something similar were unbalanced or required ingredients that were too easy or too hard to get; this mod strikes the perfect balance IMO) version that I could find. The only real downside to this mod is it introduces a new enchanting table (Kruziik Zun Enchanters). These are found in a few places around the game world and are the only way to create the new arrows and bolts. Requires Dawnguard.
Bandolier – Great immersion mod that adds a bunch of lore-friendly gear to help you increase your carry capacity. The combination of this and the backpacks from Frostfall guarantees that you’ll spend a lot more time out adventuring instead of going back to town to sell stuff all the time. This mod will occasionally have some minor clipping issues due to the variety of different armors you can get.
Bound Tools – Very simple mod that adds two spells for conjuring a bound pickaxe and bound woodcutter’s axe. Spell books are located on Farengar’s table in Dragonsreach.
Mining Extended – Another simple mod that gives you increased ore based on your smithing level. Also, allows you to hit the vein with a melee attack to mine ore which is much faster than using the default animation.
Detailed Mine Map Markers – Appends the type of material you can harvest from mines to the end of their names.
Melt Down Everything – Brand new mod that does what many before it have failed to do successfully. Many mods have attempted to allow you to melt down equipment and clutter into raw materials but this mod does it the best of the ones I’ve found. I’ve been looking for this for so long that it’s great to finally be able to use something that actually works. Includes a totally configurable MCM menu that allows you to change what you get from each thing you melt down (including leather), such as ore or ingots, as well as the amount you get per type of equipment. Also has options to allow or disallow you to melt down equiped armor or weapons and enchanted equipment. Great mod, makes smithing much more enjoyable.
Conjurable Chest and Crafting Furniture Spells – Gives you a bunch of spell books for summoning crafting stations for those on the go. Spell books are located on Farengar’s desk. Summon the chest, it contains the rest of the spell books.
Enchanting Freedom – Simple mod that allows you to put whatever enchantment you want on whatever piece of equipment like previous Elder Scrolls games allowed you to do.
EzE’s Artifact Disenchanting – As if the previous wasn’t enough, this allows you to disenchant artifacts. Includes links for DLC patches.
Things to do:
Essentials, ENBs, graphics, interface, overhauls, characters, gameplay (combat, AI, magic), crafting, homes, quests, misc., mod reviewers.
*I am still testing several mods right now including SPERG, Immersive Patrols, Civil War Overhaul, Ethereal Elven Overhual. I will probably add these once I’m satisfied that I like them enough.