This compilation of mods is part of a larger Modlist. If this is the first time seeing the Ai Cave Modlist please check out the landing page first!
Initial Steps are Critical
Before beginning to overhaul our game with mods, it’s important to have a solid baseline foundation to build upon. We do this by making sure that our game’s installation is free of any files that aren’t vanilla, unsubscribing from any unsafe mod managing systems like Bethesda.net (There is no Steam Workshop for SSE, otherwise that would be included here too) and uninstalling any prior mod managers we may have been using. For this Modlist, we will be using Mod Organizer 2 as our one and only mod manager as it’s simply the BEST for large scale load orders. We also will not be mixing mod managers since it is a bad, bad practice.
Because I, and most other people, have Skyrim on Steam–we will be using that as our DRM platform for this Modlist. Keep in mind that DRM specific steps still need to be taken on any other game service you may be using.
Deleting Bethesda.net Mods
In the main menu of Skyrim, hit the mods button. When everything loads, make sure that any mods you have under the “My Library” category are deleted. This should be the second category from the top.
To do this, click on each mod in the list and hit “Delete”. Then select “Yes” in the “are you sure?” prompt.
After you’ve deleted all your Bethesda.net mods, you should no longer have a “My Library” category and at this point you’re done.
Uninstall Other Mod Managers
If you were modding your Skyrim Special Edition game with another mod manager before starting this modlist, you need to make certain that it will never modify your game’s data folder by adding new files. If you are using this other mod manager for other games as well you should take SSE off the list of managed games. An alternative to this, and one that I would recommend for the vast majority of you, is to simply uninstall any other mod managers you were using. This includes Vortex, Nexus Mod Manager, Wrye Bash or anything else. If you have MO2 you should also uninstall it so we can reinstall it in a (most likely) different location. Because this process is different for each manager, I leave this task to you. In most cases, you will just have to track down the applications files or simply use the control panel uninstall window if it is supported.
Some of you may be wondering why you can’t use two mod managers together. Technically you can but mixing mod managers is a very bad practice as it’s a good way to mix up your mods and create hidden conflicts. Besides, it’s much simpler to stick to one anyway. For this Modlist, we will be using Mod Organizer 2 exclusively as it is the most powerful and versatile mod manager out there. Because it is specifically designed for use with Creation Engine games, it has many robust features that make troubleshooting potential conflicts easy! I also firmly believe that anyone who understands the fundamentals of modding, will be able to use MO2 without much trouble.
All the information that you need to reinstall Skyrim Special Edition to its default vanilla files, can be found in the above link. One thing that I was not aware of at the time of filming the video is that Steam does not allow you to create a separate steam library file on the same drive as your Steam installation. If you are installing SSE to your C drive because you don’t have another SSD available, you will have to uninstall and reinstall Steam in its entirety to move it out of Program Files. You can install it to the root C as “Steam” or inside a “DRMs” folder. I have the latter. In any case, you should really do your best to have a separate Sata SSD available for your modded games. They are really cheap these days. Also make sure to enable filename extensions as I point out in this video, seeing those is really handy when modding.
Installing Mod Organizer 2
Watch: Mod Organizer 2 Installation
Like I’ve already stated, we will be using Mod Organizer 2 as our mod manager because of its power and feature set. Basically all the information that you will need can be found in the above video. One thing that I did fail to mention was that you should run the “Skyrim Launcher” from MO2 using the upper right dropdown and play the game so you can get to the main menu at least once. This will generate the INI files needed for your profile. If you want to skip the explanation of how mods work in the Creation Engine (which I DON’T recommend for most of you), skip ahead to 6:53. You can also ignore the installation of USSEP at 11:53 if you would like as we’ll be installing it later anyway.
Installing File Editing Tools
Now we need to take care of the installation of a few basic tools that we’ll be needing to edit and manipulate files throughout this Modlist. These are 7-Zip, FFdec, and BethINI. I’ll explain what each of these do as we go through them. The overarching idea behind the grouping of these application is that they all only edit or manipulate a single file. They cannot load multiple and do not require access to the game’s Data folder.
7-Zip is an archive extracting software that allows us to unpackage mods that we need to install manually. It also allows to create our own archives that we can add to the MO2 downloads list and compress files. Archives exist because they compress the files stored inside them into a single file that is smaller and better suited to being sent over the web. During a regular mod install, MO2 unpackages mods for us so we don’t have to worry about them. Unfortunately some mods like SKSE64 cannot be installed this way so 7-Zip is needed. If you’re wondering, 7-Zip will not allow us to open BSA archives. Those are proprietary from Bethesda and require a different tool.
Watch: 7-Zip Installation
I cover 7-Zip installation in my SKSE64 video so you can watch it there. The link above will take you to the part of the video where it begins. You only need to watch until the 4:00 minute mark where this section ends as we’ll be installing SKSE64 later.
FFdec (Free Flash Decompiler)
The Free Flash Decompiler is the applications that we will be using to open .swf files. These files contain the information necessary for the game’s various menus to function. This includes everything from the main menu to the item menu and even the cursor. For the most part, we will only be using this program to change the interface elements to be 60 FPS.
Head over to the FFdec Github and download the ZIP archive (second one from the top).
Move the downloaded archive into your Modding Tools folder and extract it the same way you did xEdit. Then rename the folder “FFdec” and delete the archive. Keep in mind that this is only used to open and edit .swf files and therefore does not need to be launched from MO2.
BethINI is a tool that we’ll be using to optimize our skyrim.ini and skyrimprefs.ini. If you don’t know, these are the files where many of the Skyrim game and engine settings are stored. Unfortunately Bethesda kinda threw in the values for these haphazardly so in order to improve performance, graphics and stability, we will be using BethINI to set these to values optimized by the Modding Community.
Installing SDK Tools
Software Development Kit, or SDK for short, is an acronym used to refer to applications that allow you to design or modify elements within a game Engine. In this Modlist, “SDK Tools” refers to applications that need the Data folder files to run properly. The reason these are separated out is because we have to take special care of executables that need Data folder files as we are using MO2. I’ll talk about that shortly, for now just install the next two applications.
The Creation Kit is the official SDK for the Creation Engine. Every Bethesda game to date has it own version of the Creation Kit so we will have to download the version for the Special Edition from the Bethesda.net launcher… which unfortunately means we have to install the Bethesda.net launcher. It sucks, I know. On Oldrim, the Creation Kit could be simply installed from Steam but this is not the case with SSE. Anyway head over to Bethesda.net, click the menu in the top left corner of the site and scroll down to hit the download link below.
Install their launcher, like you would any other DRM, to the location of your choice. Once you finish the download, open up the Launcher and log in (yes, you’ll have to create a log in too…). When you’re finally in, hit the “>>” button in the top left to access all the applications, hit “Creation Kit: Skyrim” and then install it. When the download and installation finishes, you can close out of the launcher. The Creation Kit will have automatically been installed to your SSE Game Folder and from here you can simply add them to the MO2 executable drop down list.
xEdit is an application that allows us to view, edit and manipulate records inside Creation Engine plugin files themselves. Also known as SSEEdit, this basic yet feature rich editor is an absolute necessity for both mod users and mod authors. As users, our we will mainly be using xEdit to clean dirty edits from official DLC and any other mods that haven’t already been cleaned. If a few extraneous cases, we will also be editing record values manually, either to forward necessary changes from other mods or to make them better suited to our Modlist.
To install xEdit, simply head over to the SSEEdit Nexus page and manually download the main file. Then using using 7-Zip, extract the archive in your Modding Tools folder. If you don’t know how to do that, simply right click the archive after it’s in your tools folder and go to “7-Zip > Extact to ‘SSEEdit 4_…'”. You can then rename the folder to just “SSEEdit” and delete the archive. Note that when you add xEdit to your list of executables in the next step, you will need to add both SSEEdit.exe and SSEEditQuickQutoClean.exe.
Adding Executables to MO2
Because MO2 uses a virtual file system or VFS to create your Skyrim data folder each time your run the game, MO2 must also generate the data folder for SDK Tools and certain other applications. As a general rule, if an application looks at the files in your Data folder through the process of running, the executable will need to be run through MO2. For this reason, we will need to add the Creation Kit, xEdit and later SKSE to our upper right list of executables as seen below. Not that certain applications will be added automatically. 🙂
To do this, simply hit “<Edit…>” in the executables list and then hit the blue plus icon in the top left of the “Modify Executables” window as seen below. For each application (Creation Kit, SSEEdit and SSEEditQuickAutoClean), name it something appropriate. In the “Binary” field, hit the “…” button and find the executable file (.exe extension) in its installation path. You can optionally also put that installation path in “Start in” but technically that isn’t required. I would also select “Use Application’s Icon for shortcuts” to give each executable a distinct look in your list.
Now you can run the selected application the executables list by hitting the run button. This is how all applications that need access to the Skyrim Special Edition data folder should be ran.
Creating a Profile
As you follow along with the modules in our Modlist, you’ll want to have a way of keeping things organized. The first thing that you should do is rename the “default” profile to “Ai Cave Modlist”. You can do this by hitting the profile drop down in the top left and selecting “<Manage…>”. From there, make sure default is highlighted and hit “Rename”. Type the new name into the window that appears. Consult the images bellow for more info.
This will be the main profile you use as you mod your game. You can also create profiles for specific modules if you want but this isn’t necessary. If ever you do some testing with mods or troubleshoot a problem simply copy this profile by hitting “Copy” on the “<Manage…>” menu with the Ai Cave Modlist profile selected. This will allow you disable and enable mods freely on your duplicate profile without touching your main modlist.
Cleaning the DLC Plugins
Unfortunately, one of the things that Bethesda did not do was remove the dirty edits from their official DLC and Update plugins… That means we will have to do it ourselves. Dirty edits are essentially meaningless records or record changes that are not needed for plugin functionality. These are usually accidentally created during development in the Creation Kit and should be removed to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
Watch: Official DLC Cleaning
Watch: Dawnguard Cleaning
Everything you need to clean the main DLC files can be found in the above videos. You can ignore the parts about LOOT as we will not be using it in this Modlist. Unfortunately, Dawnguard is a little bit rough on the algorithm and needs some extra attention, hence the second video. Overall the process is extremely simple.
Getting the Correct Game Version
Watch: Reverting Skyrim Versions
Just because we cleanly reinstalled the base game earlier doesn’t mean that we have the right version to start modding. This is because Bethesda updates Skyrim with Creation Club content every so often and this leads to the breakage of many SKSE plugin mods with DLL files. For this reason, The Best Modlist for Skyrim will always stay on the version of Skyrim that is most compatible with mods.
Halting Automatic Steam Updates
First, let’s make sure that Skyrim Special Edition will never update without our permission. Open up Steam, find Special Edition, right click it and select “Properties…”. In the “UPDATES” tab, make sure “Only update this game when I launch it” is selected in the Automatic updates drop down list. Keep in mind that this only prevents updates if we launch Skyrim from SKSE in MO2 (we’ll talk about MO2 in just a moment and SKSE first thing in the Essentials Module), if you launch the game from Steam it will still update and you will need to use the below process to revert the game again if you do not have a backup.
Which Version of SSE do I Need?
The currently supported version of Skyrim you’ll need to follow BMS can be seen below and on the landing page. If the “Latest Skyrim Version” seen below is red, you will need to revert.
Supported Skyrim Version: 1.5.80
Latest Skyrim Version: 1.5.97
Reverting Special Edition to a Prior Version
Because Bethesda only adds content to the Creation Club in their updates, the only thing that you will need to revert the game back is the old version’s exe file (9 times out of 10 times at least). Please let me know on my Discord’s #discussion channel if you do not find this to be the case with any new version.
The easiest way to do this is to have the “SkyrimSE.exe” file backed up prior but since some do not have that luxury, we will need to download it from Steam ourselves. To start, we will need three pieces of information: the Skyrim AppID, the Executible’s DepotID and ManefestID of the version we need. I will keep these up to date below but on the off chance something happens, I’m going to include instructions on how to get these. The AppID and DepotID are unlikely to change but it’s possible that the ManifestID could be different. It never hurts to double check.
To find the below information manually, follow these steps:
- Head to SteamDB
- Search “Skyrim” in the top Search Bar
- Click on the AppID of the one labeled “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition”
- Hit the “Depots” tab on the left
- Click the DepotID of the one labeled “Skyrim Special Edition exe”
- Hit the “Manifests” tab on the left
- Use the Manifest ID of the date that matches the Skyrim Update you were looking for. You can check against the dates on this page.
Downloading the Executible
Note: This process has been hit or miss for many people. This is how it worked for me but please let me know if you have any issues with this process on my Discord server in the #discussion channel.
To do this we will need to install a tool because Steam has made this process difficult for use recently. First, you will need to download the .NET Core Runtime. Hit the “Download .NET Core Runtime” button on the page and select the x64 version. Run the exe when it’s finished downloading and hit “Install”. Make sure to restart your PC if after successfully installing these before moving on.
Next, install the latest version of DepotDownloader. It’s the first zip file under “Assets”. In my time playing around with this application, I had the most success when this program was on my root C: drive. Move the archive there, right click it and under 7-Zip select Extract to “depotdownloader…”. You can then delete the archive. From here, rename the new folder to just “depotDownloader”.
Now we can actually install the SkyrimSE executable we need. Hit Windows + r on your keyboard and type “cmd” in the run menu to open up the windows command prompt. From here type “cd\”, hit enter and then type “cd depotDownloader”. Hit enter again. This puts us in the correct directory to run the application.
To start the download we can enter the following command and replace the uppercase IDs with their correct values and STEAMUSERNAME with your Steam account name:
“depotdownloader.bat -app APPID -depot DEPOTID -manifest MANIFESTID -username STEAMUSERNAME -dir c:\depotDownloader”
You will then be prompted to enter your Steam password. For me it wasn’t visually showing up but I could still type it in by memory and hit enter. Finally, it will ask you for the Steam Guard key that Steam has sent to your account’s email. After you type that in and hit enter you should find the “SkyrimSE.exe” in your depotDownloader Folder. From there simply move it to your Skyrim game folder and replace the existing one. I would also recommend backing it up for the future just in case by copying it in the same directory and renaming it “SkyrimSE_1.5.80.exe”. To use it later, simply rename it back to “SkyrimSE.exe”.
When we mod Skyrim, there are two places that we can edit keybindings: the vanilla “Controls” option in the System Menu and the MCM menu added by SkyUI–which we will install in a bit. I will have presets for SkyUI that you can install if you wish to potentially save you some time. If you’re a Journeyman that doesn’t want to mess around with keybindings, you can use the “Controls” I used when creating this list. If you’re someone that doesn’t want to use my keybindings, just remember that you will need to manually set them up to work after the completion of each module, both in the Mod Configuration Menu added by SkyUI and the System Menu.
Anyway, start by booting your game to the main menu (from MO2 of course), opening the console with the tilde (`/~) key and typing “coc riverwood”. That stands for “Center on Cell” and will teleport you to Riverwood. From there you can open your “Controls” and configure them to match what I have below.
Toggle Always Run:
Please note that when I play the game I do not use the Character Menu as it wastes time. I use the quick menus to get to where I need to be directly which is why the character menu is bound to “. Same goes for the Auto-Move which is ?. Quicksave and Quickload should not be used as the Essentials module has Skyrim Save System Overhaul which is a far better alternative. Because they need to be bound though, I made F9 and F10 the throwaway keys.
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