The Beginner’s Basic Modding Guide to Skyrim on PC
Hey y’all! Kendrix here with hopefully something helpful!
I remember when I got my first PC and tried modding Skyrim. There were so many mods out there and I honestly had no clue where to begin. This talk of “load order” and “organizers”, “archives” and “files”, really made me nervous and overwhelmed. It’s a daunting experience at first, but I promise it’s much easier than it appears and the results are well worth the hassle.
Today, I’m going to walk you through step-by-step on how to get your Skyrim ready to mod, show you how to use utilities such as Mod Organizer and BethINI, and even give a short modlist that will improve your visuals and gameplay without being extremely heavy on performance.
Full Disclaimer: Everything that is included in this guide I learned from talking to people around the Forge, in our Discord server, or picked up by following The Phoenix Flavour Guide. I highly recommend giving the Guide a look over as it goes more in depth and includes more steps to further improve your gaming experience.
I am in no way a “master” when it comes to modding, so please use caution when using this guide. I am not responsible for any issues that arise while you are modding your game.
Base Game Install and Set-up:
Before you even start modding, there are a few steps you need to take to make sure your game is set up properly. If there are issues with the base “vanilla” game, you will run into problems with even the simplest of mods that could cause crashes or failure to launch. We’ll begin by making sure Steam and Skyrim are both ready to go.
For this particular modding guide, we are going to be using “Skyrim: Special Edition” downloaded through Steam. It is highly recommended you install Steam outside of your “Program Files (x??)” folders. To do this:
- Open your File Explorer
- Navigate to your Hard Drive (for me, Windows (C:)) and open it
- Right-click anywhere. Select “New”, Select “Folder”, Name Folder “Steam”
- Download Steam and run the executable. When it gives you the option to choose where to install, select the new folder you just created.
All of the games you download through Steam will be found in this folder, including Skyrim SE.
The "Steam" folder has been created outside of the "Program Files (x86)" folder.
Once you have Steam installed correctly, installing Skyrim is as simple as finding it in your library and downloading. If you’ve already followed these steps, you can verify you have all the necessary files and prevent the game from updating in Steam:
- Find Skyrim in your Library
- Right-click the game. Select Properties.
- In the new pop-up, select Updates. Change “Automatic Updates” to “Only update this game when I launch it.” You will not launch Skyrim through Steam regularly, so it should not update.
- Select Local Files. Click “Verify Integrity of Game Files”. This will make sure all the necessary files are in your game.
- Close out of the pop-up.
Now, you’re going to “Play” Skyrim. Upon clicking, you’ll be greeted with a box that will tell you the game is checking your hardware to configure it’s settings. When it is finished, navigate to options to make sure the information is correct. Click “Ok”. Click “Exit”.
Changing the settings to "Only update this game when I launch it" prevents Skyrim from updating and reduces the need to keep all the mods up to date as well.
Now that the base game is in working order, we can start assembling our modding “tools”. Setting up and understanding these tools is the longest part of the modding process, but rest assured, they will save you a lot of trouble, heartache, and FPS in the future.
Archive and Editing Tools:
Because modding Skyrim requires opening archives and editing files, it is a good idea to have appropriate software downloaded in advance. I personally use WinRar and Notepad++ for their respective purposes, as they have a friendly interface for those that are new to modding. In either application, simply go to the appropriate websites, download the programs, allow them to install, and give them a quick run to ensure they’re working properly. You’ll be needing them soon!
Mod Organizer 2:
In order to keep the mods you use properly organized and sorted, we’re going to download Mod Organizer 2. There are a few other mod organizers out there (Vortex, NMM, etc.) but I personally have found MO2 to be the simplest and easiest to understand. Just like with Steam, you’re going to want to create a new folder on your hard drive outside of Program Files (x??), but name this one Mod Organizer 2:
- Go to the Nexus page and download the Mod Organizer 2 (Archive/Standalone Version).
- Navigate to your Downloads folder and right-click your MO2 archive.
- Select “Extract files…” In the pop-up window, navigate to your hard drive and then your new “Mod Organizer 2” folder. Select “Ok”.
- Navigate to your “Mod Organizer 2” folder. Run “ModOrganizer.exe”.
- When the pop-up appears, select “Portable”.
- You will then be asked which game you are setting up MO2 for. It should be able to detect SSE, but if not, you will have to point it to the game. This can be done by directing it to your hard drive> “Steam”> “steamapps”> “common”> “Skyrim Special Edition”> “SkyrimSE.exe”.
- Agree when it asks you to associate NXM links. If you’d like to take the tutorial you can, however this guide should be able to walk you through the most important features. Otherwise, decline the tutorial.
Use WinRAR to extract the Mod Organizer 2 files into the Mod Organizer 2 folder. Note: the folder is outside Program Files (x86).
With MO2 now installed, we’ll set it up to be able to download mods from Nexus, install those mods in an organized manner, and show us the most relevant information when it comes to those mods.
First, you’re going to navigate to your MO2 folder (File Explorer> Hard drive > “Mod Organizer 2”) and right-click anywhere. Create a new folder and title it “Tools”. This is where we are going to store some of the utility programs we need for Skyrim- but we’ll get to that in just a moment. Create another new folder and title it “Archives”. This is where we are going to tell MO2 to download our mods so we can keep better track of them:
- Switch back over to MO2.
- Under the Tools tab, select Settings. In the new pop-up, navigate to “Workarounds”. Check the box labeled “Enable parsing of Archives (Experimental Feature)” if it isn’t checked already.
- Navigate to “Paths”. Across from the “Downloads” area, select the three dots. You will now set the path to download mods into our new “Archives” folder by selecting your proper hard drive, “Mod Organizer 2”, and then “Archives”. Click “Select Folder”. Click “Ok”.
Make sure the paths are correct to keep your mods in order and prevent crashes!
Next, we’re going to enable the Nexus connection so that we can download mods directly through MO2. If you haven’t made an account on Nexus yet, you’ll have to make one, which is quick and easy. Navigate to their “Games” tab, find Skyrim Special Edition, and you’ll be able to see any mods available for your game! Now to enable downloads to MO2:
- Switch back over to MO2.
- Under the Tools tab, select Settings. Navigate to “Nexus”. Click “Connect to Nexus”. Your preferred browser will then open, sending you to a Nexus page where you will have to “Authorize” Nexus and MO2 to communicate. After authorizing, close out of the browser and restart MO2.
- Verify your connection to Nexus once MO2 opens by clicking the “Visit Nexus” World icon near the top left of the program. This should take you to the Nexus page and you should be logged in.
Finally, we’ll set up the MO2 interface to be more appealing and include the information we need.
- The View Tab: Select “Toolbars”. From here you can customize what toolbars appear and how they appear. Disable “Status Bar”, as we won’t be needing it. I prefer “Large Icons” and “Icons and Text” options, but you can personalize to your own tastes.
- “Profiles”: Creating profiles allows you to customize each specific playthrough to certain mods without having to uninstall or disable mods for others.
- Start by selecting “Profiles” (the icon that looks like a license). In the pop-up, you will see one profile labeled “Default”. You may choose to “Rename” the profile (I chose “Basic”).
- I use this profile to “Copy” all my other files as it contains all the basic mods needed for any playthrough.
- Alternatively “Create” will make a new profile from scratch, containing all your existing mods, however you will have to enable the ones you want.
- For any profile, I make sure to have “Use profile-specific Save Games” checked and “Use profile-specific Game INI Files” unchecked.
- You can switch between profiles by using the drop-down box above the Mod Bar labeled “Profiles”.
Mod Bar Information: The largest area of the screen is where your mods and game files are stored. We can adjust this area to show us the most relevant information when it comes to our mods. Right-click the bar (where it says “Mod Name”) and make sure “Mod Name”, “Flags”, “Content”, “Source Game”, “Version”, and “Priority” are the only ones checked. You can adjust the size of each category by grabbing their dividers and resizing as needed.Separators: To keep mods in proper load order, we’re going to create separators to label each particular type of mod. Separators themselves do not affect load order or change the game in any way, but having them in the proper order before installing mods will make sure the game loads properly.
- I recommend downloading “The Phoenix Flavour- MO2 Separator Pack” from the Miscellaneous Files. Navigate to your Downloads, right-click the archive and select “Extract files…”
- In the pop-up window, navigate to your hard drive, “Mod Organizer 2”, and select the “mods” folder. Select “Ok” and close.
- Navigate back to the MO2 program and press F5 to refresh. The new separators should be installed. Drag your 3 DLCs below “00 OFFICIAL MASTER FILES” and you’re set!
- Alternatively, you can create your own separators by right-clicking the DLCs, selecting “All Mods”, and selecting “Create Separator”. If using this method, it is still recommended you have similar separators, as they will help you know in which order to place the mods.
With a large number of mods installed, the MO2 Separators make keeping track of them much easier.
SKSE (Skyrim Script Extender)
You will find when scrolling through the mods available on Nexus that a large bulk of them require an “off-site” mod called “SKSE”. Skyrim Script Extender works by expanding in-game scripts, allowing mods to communicate and change the certain aspects of the game. Not every mod requires SKSE but, since a large number does, we will install and use it to run the game.
SKSE is easy to install, but it cannot be installed with MO2. You have to place the files directly into your Skyrim folder, but don’t worry. I have you covered.
- Go to the SKSE website and download the “Current SE Build”.
- Remember making the “Tools” folder in MO2? We’re going to put it to use! Open File Explorer> hard drive> “Mod Organizer 2”> “Tools”. Create a new folder inside of “Tools” named “SKSE Version x.x.xx”, where “x” is the current build number.
- Navigate to your Downloads and find your SKSE download. Right-click and select “Extract files…” Set the path to the new SKSE folder you just created. Select “Ok”.
- In your “SKSE Version x.x.xx” folder, you should now see some new files. You are going to select “skse64_skyrim version number.dll”, “skse64_steam_loader.dll”, and “skse64_loader.exe” from the new files and copy them.
- Navigate to your Skyrim folder (File Explorer> hard drive> “Steam”> “steamapps”> “common”> “Skyrim Special Edition”) and paste the three files into the folder.
- Navigate back to your “SKSE Version x.x.xx” folder. Copy the “Data” folder. Move back into the “Mod Organizer 2” folder and open “mods” folder.
- Paste the “Data” folder into “mods” and rename it “SKSE Data Version x.x.xx”, replacing the “x” with the current build number.
- Run Mod Organizer 2 again. The new mod “SKSE Data Version x.x.xx” should have appeared. If not, press F5 to refresh. Drag the new mod below your last separator and enable it.
The SKSE files have been dropped directly into the Skyrim folder.
SKSE INI Files
- Go to SKSE64 INI Pre-Download for Lazy Users on Nexus. Download the SKSE64 INI PRE DOWNLOAD v1.2 file through the Mod Manager Download.
- Switch over to MO2 and note in the “Downloads” tab on the right side of the screen that the file has been downloaded. Double-click to install it. There’s no need to change the name in the window that pops up, so just click “Ok”.
- Place the new mod below your “SKSE Data Version x.x.xx” mod. Make sure they are both enabled.
- Close out of MO2 completely.
In order for the mods requiring SKSE to work correctly, every time you run Skyrim you much run it through the SKSE Launcher. Luckily, MO2 allows you to run the executable directly through the Organizer’s interface. On the right side of the screen, select the drop-down arrow beside “Run”. If MO2 has already recognized your SKSE you will see an executable. You may skip down to Step 4. If it doesn’t recognize it, follow these steps:
- Select the “Executables” icon (the gears at the top left of MO2).
- In the pop-up, click the “+” button to “Add an Executable”. Select “Add from File”.
- Navigate to you SKSE Launcher (hard drive> “Steam”> “steamapps”> “common”> “Skyrim Special Edition”> “skse64_loader.exe”). Back in the pop-up, select “Apply”. Select “Ok”.
- Select the Executable drop-down arrow and find SKSE. Click it and “Run” the game.
- After a few moments, the game should run like normal and bring you to the main menu. Once there, open your console by pressing the tilde (`) key on your keyboard.
- Type “getskseversion” and press enter. If SKSE is installed and running properly, you will get a message that displays the current build number, release, and runtime.
- Press tilde again to close the console. “Quit” the game.
Running the "getskseversion" as a console command will produce a message that lets you know SKSE is properly installed and working.
Skyrim has two INI files that it uses to save the settings of your game. Everything from gameplay controls to visuals and audio are saved in those files, but- and most will agree- their configuration is quite messy. BethINI is a tool that is easy to use and understand that will change those settings for you as you tell it what you want to do.
- Go to the BethINI mod on Nexus, and download the BethINI Standalone Version.
- Navigate back into your “Tools” folder (File Explorer> hard drive> “Mod Organizer 2”> “Tools”) and create another folder inside named “BethINI”.
- Go to your “Downloads” and right-click on the BethINI archive. Select “Extract to…” Set the path to the new “BethINI” folder you created and click “Ok”.
Now that BethINI has been installed, we’re going to set up the new INI files through the program. Make sure that MO2 is shut down completely before trying to run BethINI. Running both at the same time causes some of the INI files to not work correctly.
- Run the BethINI executable directly from your “BethINI” folder.
- When prompted, tell BethINI that you are using Skyrim Special Edition by using the drop down menu.
- Two pop-ups will appear: “BethINI” and “Summary of Changes”. We will only be focusing on “BethINI”.
- “Setup” tab: Make sure each of the filepaths are correct. You Game Path should read hard drive> “Steam”> “steamapps”> “common”> “Skyrim Special Edition”. Your Mod Organizer should read hard drive> “Mod Organizer 2”. Your INI Path will vary since we haven’t enabled profile specific INI files.
- “Basic” tab: Since we already ran Skyrim through Steam, it should have already detected our settings. However, you want to double check that your resolution is correct.
- In the “Presets” section, we’re going to select “Medium” and check the box that reads “Recommended Tweaks”.
- In the “Display” section, the only boxes that should be checked are “Borderless” and “VSync”.
“Interface” tab: Enable “Dialogue Subtitles” and “General Subtitles” if you want them. Make sure “Mod Manager Menu” is disabled. “Detail” tab: Make sure all the boxes are checked in the “Water” section.
- In the “Shadows” section, move up your “Shadow Resolution” to 2048. “Exterior Draw Distance” should be set to 8000. Check the “Tree Shadows” box.
- Set “Decal Quantity” to “High”. Uncheck the “Anamorphic Lens Flare” box.
“View Distance” tab: Adjust the “Grass Fade” to over 15000.Go back to your “Basic” tab. Click “Save and Exit”. After a few seconds, BethINI will close itself.
Special Note: These are the basic settings I use when playing the game. I am able to maintain a decent FPS and the visuals look much better than vanilla. Feel free to mess around in BethINI as much as you want to get better looks or better FPS. Further, you can adjust quite a few of these settings in-game under the “Settings” menu.
The BethINI interface is easy to use and understand. Hovering the mouse over an option will let you know how changing it will effect the game.
Now that our base game is in working order and our modding tools are set up and ready to go, we can finally get into the fun part: actual modding! There are a ton of mods out there for pretty much every kind of modder: those that just want to improve the “vanilla” game; those that want a more immersive, realistic experience; those that want something fun, new, or downright silly. Regardless of what mods you install and why, there are some important things to consider such as how to install, where to place in the load order, and if the mod is compatible with others.
There are three main ways to download a mod: mod manager downloads, mods from an archive, and dropping mods directly into the modding folder.
Mod Manager Downloads:
When downloading a mod from the Nexus site, you have to navigate to the mod’s “Files” tab. There you will usually see two options. The first option is a “Mod Manager Download”. Selecting this will allow the mod to download directly into MO2 where you can view the status of the mod in the “Downloads” tab on the right side of the screen. From there, installation is as easy as double clicking, following any prompts it asks you to, and enabling the mod.
This is by far the fastest and easiest method, but it isn’t without some issues. For bigger mods, files occasionally get corrupted causing the mod to fail or the game to crash unexpectedly. Typically I install smaller mods- those under 150 MB- through MO2, but use our second method for all others.
Mods from an Archive:
As stated above, when downloading from Nexus you usually have two options. The “Manual Download” option allows you to download the files directly into you “Downloads” folder on the PC. This method has a few additional steps to get the mod registered in MO2, but it’s far less likely to become corrupted:
- Right click anywhere on your desktop. Select “New” and “Folder”. Name your new folder “Skyrim Manual Downloads”.
- Navigate to your “Downloads” and find the mod you’ve installed. Move the archive without extracting it into your “Skyrim Manual Downloads” folder.
- Run Mod Organizer 2. In the top left of the screen, select “Install Mod”, the Floppy Disk with a CD in front of it icon.
- In the pop-up, navigate to your “Skyrim Manual Downloads” folder and select the mod. Click “Open”.
- Follow any prompts as they appear on the screen. The mod should now appear at the bottom of your load order.
On Nexus, there are two options for downloading mods: "Mod Manager Download" and "Manual Download".
Dropping Mods into the Modding Folder:
Finally, there are some mods that you may not be able to upload as an archive and have to be dropped directly into your modding folder. When using this method of installing mods, you must be extremely careful how you go about it so as not to mess up the load order or existing mods.
- If you haven’t already, create a new folder on your desktop named “Skyrim Manual Downloads.”
- Navigate to your download folder and find the mod you want to manually drop into the modding folder. Right-click the file and select “Extract files…”
- Set the path to “Desktop”> “Skyrim Manual Downloads” and click “Ok”.
- Navigate to “Skyrim Manual Downloads” and you will see a new folder with the mod’s name. Copy that folder.
- Open your MO2 mods folder ( hard drive> “Mod Organizer 2” > “mods”) and paste the folder into there.
- Run MO2. The new mod should appear at the bottom of the load order. If not, press F5 to refresh.
The most important thing to remember when modding is to keep the mods in the right order. Load order is crucially important to modding as it makes sure mods are being correctly loaded to prevent incompatibilities and crashes while playing the game. There are load order tools out there- LOOT for example- but even they fail to catch all of the potential errors that could occur. If you sort the mods yourself using the separators suggested, the game will run with little to no problems.
- Master Files- The DLCs
- Essential Mods- Mods that you’ll use every playthrough
- Fixes- Fixes to bugs
- Tweaks- Minor changes to the game
- Interface- HUD, UI, and Map changes
- Graphics Baseline- Large Graphics Overhauls
- Weather- Alters the weather, clouds, or sky
- Lighting- Changes the lighting indoors, outdoors, or with fire/static light
- Visual FX- Adds minor FX to the player or area
- Trees & Plants- Changes the appearance of fauna in the game
- Landscape- Changes the environment such as rocks, water, ice, roads
- Vanilla Locations- Changes any vanilla locations drastically
- NPC Overhauls- Visual overhauls to NPCs
- Architecture- Changes to buildings
- Misc Structures- Changes to other structures such a statues, monuments
- Interiors- Changes to indoor locations
- Dungeons- Changes to dungeon locations
- Clutter- Changes to the appearance of random “clutter” items
- Food & Ingredients- Changes to consumable items
- Apparel & Weapons- Changes to the appearance of armor and weapons
- Unique Artefacts- Changes or additions to unique items
- Creatures- Changes to appearance of creatures
- Appearance- Changes to Personal Character
- Gameplay Overhauls- Any changes to gameplay
- Non-Player Characters- Interactive NPC overhauls
- Improved Vanilla Quests- Changes to vanilla quests
- Combat & Encounters- Changes or additions to combat and random encounters
- Balancing- Mods added to help balance or make up for another mod
- Miscellaneous- Anything not specified
- New Gear- Additional armor and weapons
- Content Addon- Any new DLC sized content
- New Music- Changes to music
- Sound Effects- Changes to sound
- Skeleton & Animations- Changes to animation or body structure
- Utilities- In game tools
- ENB Particle Lights- ENB related mods
- Final Patches- Any patches needed to fix compatibility issues
- Patcher Output- Late loaders
When creating your load order, remember that mods closer to the bottom will overwrite those above it. So if you have a mod that overhauls all plants and a mod that just changes the appearance of grass, the grass mod would need to load somewhere below the overhaul to have any visual effect on the game.
With thousands of mods available on Nexus, keeping up with load order and mod compatibility is key to making sure your game runs smoothly.
Even with a perfect load order, there are times that the game will have visual issues, bugs, or even crash. The most common cause of these issues while modding is compatibility. Some mods will not work with others simply because they change the same files. These conflicts can cause any number of problems for your game, so it’s important to make sure the mods you download will work with one another. Most of the time, a quick read of the mod’s description will tell you if it has any known issues with other mods.
To help you get started with your modding journey, I’ve decided to give a quick modlist of some of my favorite, low-performance costing mods that have helped significantly improve my own personal immersion and gameplay. These mods are all available on Nexus and are compatible, so feel free to use them as you see fit!
- Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch
- Cutting Room Floor
- Alternate Start- Live Another Life
- More Informative Console
- Yes I’m Sure
- Open Cities Skyrim
- Run For Your Lives
- Modern Brawl Bug Fix
- Flora Respawn Fix
- Missing Encounter Zones Fixed
- No Animals Report Crimes
- Improved Disabled Race Scaling
- No More Standing Too Close
- NPCs Run and Walk at your Pace
- No Crime Teleport
- Static Mesh Improvement Mod
- A Quality World Map
- Sky UI
- Immersive HUD
- Cathedral Weathers and Seasons
- Skygazer Moons
- Ethereal Clouds
- Ethereal Cosmos
- Luminosity Lighting Overhaul
- Embers HD
Trees and Plants:
- Flora Overhaul- Trees Only
- Simply Bigger Trees
- HQ Tree Bark
- Northern Grass
- Majestic Mountains
- Blended Roads
- Realistic Ice and Snow
- Realistic Water Two
Locations and Structures:
- Distinct Interiors
- The Ruins
- Realistic Road Signs
- Rustic Furniture
- Rustic Soul Gems
- Rustic Windows
- Bellyache’s Animal and Creature Pack
- Bellyache’s New Dragon Species
- Rustic Daedra
- Rustic Spriggan
- Pride of Valhalla
- Hi Poly Male Body
- Northern Scars
- Improved Eyes Skyrim
- Vanilla Hair Replacer
- Hvergelmir’s Beards
- Hvergelmir’s Brows
- Seductive Lips
- Natural Teeth
A good combination of mods can transform your game without a severe drop in FPS.
- Imperious- Races of Skyrim
- Ordinator- Perks of Skyrim
- Andromeda- Unique Standing Stones of Skyrim
- Sacrosanct- Vampires of Skyrim
- Classic Classes and Birthsigns
Non Player Characters:
- Immersive Citizens
- RS Children Overhaul
- Immersive World Encounters
- Ars Metallica
- The Hunting Game
- Harvest Overhaul Redone
- Dragon Wall Wisdom
- Realistic Blood
- Improved Closefaced Helmets
- Realistic Armor and Weapons
- LeanWolf’s Better-Shaped Weapons
- Sounds of Skyrim Complete
- A Quality World Map- Luminosity Patch
- Cathedral Weathers MCM
- Andromeda - Classic Classes and Birthsigns Patch
- Open Cities Skyrim Patch
- RS Children Patch Compendium
A link to The Phoenix Flavour’s entire modlist can be found here.
If you stuck around and made it this far, congratulations! You’ve set up your Skyrim to mod like a Real Gamer™.
In all seriousness, I hope you found this mod super helpful as a new modder. There are tons of other things I could have covered- The Creation Kit and SSEEdit for examples- but I chose to just include the basics to get you modding safely as soon as possible. The Phoenix Flavour Modding Guide has done a fantastic job walking through these additional tools, so if you have any questions regarding how to use them or what they do, feel free to refer to that guide!
If you have any questions or would like to offer some critiques, let me know in the comments! As I stated before, I am in no way a “modding master” and most of the information I’ve provided to you has come from friends on the site/Discord, the modding guide, Google searches, or trial and error. I’m constantly learning how to do better when it comes to modding, so every little interaction helps! Thank you again for giving this a read!
As Always, Talos Guide You!