Updated: May 27, 2020
Let me get one thing out of the way: This may not work for everyone as each computer is different. Hardware and software have this wonderful ability to react differently depending on numerous different things. However, they do share similar characteristics, so what’s here will probably work for you too.
Kristan’s “Rig” at the time this post was first published in February 2019: A Run of the Mill Dell Laptop. No, I’m not kidding. I don’t own a gaming computer at all. My laptop is more meant for writing and business, not gaming (at all!). What games I have are older and even then can’t run on maximum graphics without serious stuttering and lagging issues.
Kristan's "Rig" now as of May 2020: Acer Nitro 5 - Much has changed in two years! The post is still written from the view of the older computer.
Games on this computer:
Skyrim (original, although with all DLC’s, not SE or VR)
EVE Online (and, so long as they’re in “potato”, I can multi-box… to a point. Don’t expect fleets)
Sims 3 (everything up to and including the Into the Future expansion)
Civilization: Beyond Earth
Elder Scrolls Online (** and it doesn’t run very well. I have to run everything on minimum and even then it tends to not load things completely)
Guild Wars 2 (** also tends to be rather moody on my machine)
… And that’s it.
Not for lack of hard drive space, because I have oodles, but because the laptop’s graphics card and RAM limits what I can play so there really isn’t much point in having anything else but that.
Now, if you asked me what I have for work and for writing, that’d be a different story, but I digress.
What You Absolutely NEED to Mod Even the Basics
A valid, non-pirated, copy of Skyrim with all of its DLC’s and official patches. If you don’t have an actual copy of Skyrim… there’s not much point in continuing. Go back and buy it. Given that it’s kind of… old… it’s shouldn’t cost that much to buy it legally. Do yourself the favour (because pirates copies are notoriously unstable anyway) and go get the legal version. While the legal version isn’t the most stable bean on the planet, it is miles ahead of even the best-cracked version in stability. You might find that most of your crashing issues will vanish into the ethers once you have that.
A Mod Manager of some sort. I use Vortex, which is free and included on Nexus Mods.
And then you need the unofficial patches, which can be found on Nexus Mods. They are affectionately referred to as USLEEP. Get the right one by selecting the file and choosing your mod manager to download the right one.
SKSE. Your mods will not run without this. Go find it via google (it has it’s own GitHub, which can be found on Google) or download the most recent one through Steam (found in “tools”). Without it, you’ll be stuck with only half of what the Steam Workshop will give you and most of those are notoriously unstable, and that’s not what you want.
LOOT. This is a tool, which will run through Vortex or even on its own, which will organize your load order into an optimal load order to greatly minimize crashing and mod clashes.
XP32 Maximum Skeleton Extended (XPMSE) on Nexus Mods and most (if not all) mods depend on it. Most of the mods I will be touching on in other blog posts will involve extended skeletons which adds more structure for the mods to latch onto to give your character, and NPC’s, the ability to move naturally as well as other interesting body changes.
FNIS. Download through Nexus. You should only need the basic one. The creature one is for some over the top and questionable mods from the Mod Lab That Shall Not Be Named (MLTSNBN) aka Lovers Lab, which is a storehouse of mods that will make OldRim… er… well, do not go there if you are underage. Let’s just leave it at that. FNIS is a plugin that makes the extended skeleton move, depending on the animations you have installed from other mods. Everything from just natural falling over when you shoot an enemy instead of the stuff instant rigor mortis to well… some other interesting things. Either way, it’s critical.
A BodySlide – I prefer UUNP to CBBE. Things actually line up correctly and there is less “clipping”, as well as far more choice when it comes to modded armours, items, animations, and actual character skin.
HDT Physics – You’ll see why the minute it starts working. Body parts, those left loose enough, will move and jiggle as they do in real life. Capes and clothing will flutter in the breeze. Hair will move. The grass will blow in the wind and, if you have it, leaves may even fall naturally. The world suddenly is alive.
TES5EDIT – You may not have to actually use it, but having it properly installed grants the assets some mods need to run smoothly.
SkyUI – the really cruddy UI of the game is changed to something far more organized. The nice part about it is that you can change it around to make it more ‘vanilla’ (ie: original/as Skyrim came) to something like out of EVE Online.
NetImmerse Override: Another skeleton override, but one that is a plug in to the previous as well as others. Acts like a translator for other mods. Also is critical for the following… and XPMSE will not run without it either.
The Joy of Perspective: If you look down, you will see your feet and other body parts on your character just like you would in real life. Makes the first person less like a floaty head.
Papyrus Utility: Another critical utility mod that extends the capabilities of the core code into something that can do more.
Optional: A reshader like ReShadeMe. Tends to bog down my system a bit, but on better computers will probably make all the difference. I say optional because, if you have the computer and monitor, you likely won’t even need it… and if you go for the mods that change how Skyrim looks, such as the mods that make Skyrim’s sky different or even the lighting in another mod, then the ReshadeMe and that mod will clash and then your game will crash. Consider with caution.
For all of these, the first place you should be looking is on Nexus Mods, or through their direct GitHubs… NOT Steam Workshop or through Steam unless you absolutely cannot find any of these anywhere else. If that’s the case, then that’s the only exception.
Can you get along without these? Maybe, but they form the basic core of modding the more advanced and useful, as well as stable, mods so having these tools ready to go works to your advantage. In fact, they are useful enough that even without doing anything else you’ll notice some massive differences in your game in comparison to vanilla Skyrim.
Now that you have these setup, and confirmed as working together and stable, you can move on into shopping the Nexus for mods. I suggest sniffing through each one carefully before downloading as installing and removing them, or shuffling them around too much, will eventually render Skyrim unstable no matter how many times you revalidate the system file or use the various tools to make it stable… or, at least, that’s how my machine tends to get moody with shuffling the deck too many times.
With these in place, you’re ready to start looking at either my blog post on mods that bring the most immersion to the game or to start exploring the mods on your own.