Modding Skyrim Special Edition with Vortex

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This guide will walk newcomers to modding through the steps necessary to find, download, and install our mod manager Vortex as well as the following mods for Skyrim Special Edition:  

These mods were selected to give you a good modding foundation and in order to convey some basic knowledge regarding Skyrim modding.

Note: you may choose to install other/more mods than the ones listed above, but please note that this guide is focused on describing the exact process for those exact mods.

Installing our Mod Manager Vortex from the website

  • Go to NexusMods.com and click the “Install Vortex” button near the top right corner.

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  • Click “Download the latest version now”.

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  • In the file section, download the file at the top described as “One-click installer” for Vortex (Manual Download). This is the preferred and recommended way of installing Vortex.

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  • Once the download is finished, open the *.exe file to run the installation. Note: some misconfigured anti virus programs might rename the *.exe to something else, in that case, rename the downloaded file to *.exe and open it to run the installation.
  • Vortex will install on C: (note that this is just Vortex and the files it requires to function which amount to around 70 MB). You may choose within Vortex later on where you want to download your mods to.

Vortex Initial Setup

Once Vortex is installed, there are a few steps to be taken in order to set it up to manage and download mods for Skyrim Special Edition. There are also some things that you might (optionally) want to customise to your liking.

 

Starting up Vortex

Once installed, start up Vortex via the shortcut on your Desktop. Upon initialising, Vortex will automatically associate itself with Nexus Mods download links and inform you of that via a notification in the top right corner:

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This is necessary so Vortex can be used to download mods straight from Nexus Mods via the corresponding “Download: Vortex” button on a given mod page.

As Vortex does this automatically upon startup, no action on your end is required.

 

Link your Nexus Mods account to Vortex (required)

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Open Vortex and click the red icon in the top right corner.

In the next dialogue window that comes up, click “Log In On Website” to open a new page in your browser:

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If no new page is loaded in your browser, copy and paste the link displayed by Vortex into your browser’s address bar:

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Click the "Authorise" button to allow Vortex to sign in.

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Congratulations! You have now successfully linked your Nexus Mods account to Vortex.

 

Note: if authorising via the website fails, you can try to log in manually. To do so, click on the hyperlink that reads “Not working? Try manual login.”

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Follow the instructions on screen to copy and paste your API key from your API access page (https://www.nexusmods.com/users/myaccount?tab=api+access):

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Once you hit “Save” you should have successfully linked your account with Vortex and your Nexus Mods profile should display your avatar.

Search for, discover, and manage a game (required)

Vortex is capable of managing mods for dozens of different games. That being said, Vortex does not just automatically take over mod management for a particular game - in case you would rather manage it yourself or with another tool. Therefore, in order to use Vortex the first thing we want to do after installation is to tell it to actively manage Skyrim Special Edition.

To do that, navigate to the “Games” section from the side menu.There you will see three different tabs:

  • Managed - Games currently handled by Vortex.
  • Discovered - Games Vortex has found on your hard drive.
  • Supported - All games Vortex supports that are neither discovered nor managed (yet).

If your installed game does not appear in the “Discovered” tab, you can have Vortex attempt to find it by running either a quick scan (from the toolbar) or a detailed scan (from the button at the bottom right of the Vortex window). A detailed scan may take several minutes to complete, so, please, be patient while Vortex is searching for the game.

Once your game appears in the “Discovered” tab, put your mouse over the game tile and click “Manage”. Vortex will automatically switch to that game mode and a tile representing Skyrim Special Edition will appear in the top left.
 

Change your Download Folder and/or Mod Staging Folder (optional)

Download Folder

While Vortex will always install the files it needs in order to work to your C drive, you are free to choose the location where you want your downloaded mods (i.e. the file archives) to be stored.

To change the default download location which is “C:\Users\YourUsername\AppData\Roaming\Vortex\downloads” go to your Settings > Download:

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You can specify any folder on your drive. Make sure to confirm your selection by clicking “Apply”.

Mod Staging folder

This is the folder where Vortex stages your mods i.e. unpacks them to. Due to how the Bethesda games work (including Skyrim and Skyrim Special Edition), the Mod Staging Folder must be on the same partition as the game.

The default location for the Mod Staging Folder is “C:\Users\YourUsername\AppData\Roaming\Vortex\skyrimse\mods”. To change it, go to Settings > Mods and change the folder to an (empty) folder of your choice that is located on the same partition as the game.

You can change both your Download Folder as well as your Mod Staging Folder at a later point in time and even when you have already downloaded and installed mods. Depending on the amount of mods you have downloaded and/or installed, it will take a while for Vortex to move your folder(s). Please make sure that enough disk space is available and remain patient, as your mods will be copied over.
 

Downloading and installing mods via Vortex

In the following, we will go over the necessary steps involved in order to get mods from the website downloaded, installed, and enabled via Vortex.

 

Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch

Navigate to the Skyrim Special Edition section on the website. If your search is sorted by endorsements (default), the “Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch” should appear as the first mod in the list for results.

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(Alternatively, you can type “Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch” in the search bar at the top right or use this link to get to the mod page directly: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/266)

Open up the mod page by clicking the mod tile. In the top right, you will see a download button labelled “Download: Vortex”. Clicking this button will trigger a download of the mod’s main file via Vortex, provided that Vortex is set up to handle download links (see above).
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Once the download has been started, it will appear in your download list for Skyrim Special Edition inside Vortex (side bar / navigation area > DOWNLOADS).

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As soon as the download is finished, Vortex will display a notification in the top right corner informing you of the download finishing and giving you the option to install the mod right away (clicking “Dismiss” will only dismiss the notification, the mod has still been downloaded successfully and you can still install it at a later point in time if you want to).

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Click on the button labelled “Install” to start the installation process for the Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch, which should only take a couple of seconds (this varies depending on how many files a mod installs, how big those files are etc.).

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Once the installation is complete, the mod is ready to be enabled. Vortex will now display another notification where you can choose to enable the installed mod by clicking the “Enable” button:

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Clicking the “Enable” button will do the following:

  1. It will set the mod’s status to “Enabled”
  2. If the setting “Deploy Mods when Enabled” is active (which is the case by default when Vortex is first installed) it will deploy the mod’s files to your game’s data folder (where the mod files loaded by the game need to be).
  3. If the enabled mod comes with a plugin (usually an esp file) it will enable the plugin from that mod as well.

Note: While many mods for Skyrim Special Edition (as well as other Bethesda games) come with a plugin, not every mod does. When we say “mod” it refers to the entirety of the modification including all the files it provides to achieve a game-altering effect. A “plugin” on the other hand is a particular file (esp, esm, or esl) that contains information and edits that the game can load (e.g. the position of a mod-added rock in the world). Oftentimes, mods such as retextures only come with texture files that replace existing textures in the game and do not require a plugin to function.
On the other hand, some mods consist of just a plugin file (simple patches or bugfixes that require no additional files), and no other files.

If you followed the steps outlined above, your plugin list in Vortex (Sidemenu / navigation area > Plugins) should now look like this: 
RTENOTITLECongratulations! You have just successfully installed your first mod.

Considerations:

If you have accidentally dismissed the notification that asks whether you want to install the just downloaded mod, you can still do so via the “Downloads” section: side menu / navigation area > Downloads > Install
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If you want to disable the mod, you need to navigate to your mod list (not plugin list) and disable the mod from there. This will “undeploy” (purge) all the mod’s files and remove them from your game’s mod folder. Note that you will not have to reinstall the mod if you decide later on that you still want to use it (you would simply have to reenable it).

Simply disabling the plugin rather than the mod, will only disable the esp, but the other files (if there are any, some mods consist of only a plugin file) will remain in your game’s mod folder potentially still affecting your game. Disabling plugins can be a quick way to troubleshoot issues in your load order, but it is not the advised way of uninstalling mods.


Sky UI (and SKSE64)

Sky UI is a mod that primarily overhauls the interface for Skyrim Special Edition, but more than that it is required for many other mods and adds a user-friendly mod menu (MCM - Mod Configuration Menu) to the game. It is, therefore, highly recommended. In order to install Sky UI, you will have to download and install SKSE64 (Skyrim Script Extender 64) the script extender for Skyrim Special Edition. These steps will walk you through downloading, installing, and setting up both Sky UI and SKSE64.

  1. Go to the Sky UI mod page on the website (https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/12604).
  2. In the top right, click the button that reads “Download: Vortex”
  3. Since Sky UI has a pre-requisite (SKSE64) it will open up another module informing you of the requirement: RTENOTITLE
  4. For now, let us focus on downloading Sky UI (we will download and install SKSE64 after that). Clicking the “Download” button in the module above will download Sky UI via Vortex.
  5. Once it is downloaded, click “Install” on the notification Vortex will bring up: 
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  6. The installation should only take a few seconds. Once it is done, enable the mod by clicking “Enable” in the following notification: RTENOTITLE

We have now successfully installed and enabled Sky UI. However, as we have not yet installed its requirement (SKSE64) yet, it will not function properly in the game.

 

 

 

Downloading and installing SKSE64

  1. Go back to your tab with the download module opened (or bring it up again by clicking the “Download: Vortex” button).
  2. Click on the highlighted bit that reads “SKSE64” to bring up http://skse.silverlock.org/ where SKSE64 is hosted: RTENOTITLE
  3. Click the hyperlink to download the 7z archive for the Current SE build: RTENOTITLE
  4. Open the 7z archive you have just downloaded with your preferred application (e.g. 7-zip). Therein, you will find a folder named e.g. “skse64_2_00_12”. Open this folder and extract its contents into your Skyrim Special Edition root folder (where the game’s exe is located) e.g. “C:Program Files (x86)/Steam/SteamApps/Common/SkyrimSpecialEdition” 
  5. You will know if you have extracted SKSE64 correctly if skse64_loader.exe ends up in your game’s root folder (the same folder SkyrimSE.exe is in).

The only thing left to do now is to set Vortex to run Skyrim Special Edition via the SKSE64 launcher, which is also required in order to use the features SKSE64 introduces (and which many mods, including Sky UI, rely on).

To do so, go to the Vortex Dashboard and click the refresh button () on the starter dashlet. If you followed the above steps and extracted SKSE64 to the correct folder, Vortex should be able to find SKSE64 and fill in the previously greyed out tool. Once that is done, click on the three dots next to the newly added tool and select “Make primary”:  

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Vortex will indicate a tool that has been set as primary by adding a little banner next to its icon on the starter dashlet.
Setting SKSE64 as primary will instruct Vortex to always run SKSE64 whenever you launch the game via Vortex from the play button in the top left corner:
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It is required to launch the game with this setting in order for SKSE64 to be active, which is a requirement for many mods including Sky UI, which is a 

If you have followed this guide correctly until now, your plugin list should now look like this:
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Note that SKSE64, while correctly installed, will not appear either in the plugins list nor the mod list. This is because we have installed SKSE64 manually by extracting its contents directly into the game folder, rather than using Vortex to do that. While it is possible to use Vortex to install SKKSE64 (or other script extenders) it requires a few extra steps and is only recommended for intermediate modders.

For a recap on how to install SKSE64 manually, as well as for instructions on how to install it via Vortex, please consult our wiki: Tool Setup: Script Extenders.

 

 

Immersive Armors and Immersive Weapons

Immersive Armors and Immersive Weapons are two mods that add plenty of lore-friendly armours and weapons to the base game in a seamless way.

Go to the page for Immersive Armors (https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/3479) and click the “Download: Vortex” button to trigger the download. Unlike the Unofficial Patch, Immersive Armors is a big mod (1 GB) so it might take a while to finish downloading.

You can monitor your download in the Downloads section within Vortex, or in the bottom left corner where your active downloads are displayed:

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Once the download is finished, click the install button on the notification that comes up - just like with the Unofficial Patch and Sky UI:

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Since this is a large mod, extracting the files might take a while, so, please, be patient as Vortex prepares the installation.

Immersive Armors comes with something that is often referred to as a “scripted installer” or “FOMOD”, which is, essentially, a little mod installation menu that allows you to pick and choose various options. How involved it is, how many steps there are, and how many options to pick from, depends on the mod itself. The “scripted installer” for Immersive Armors is fairly simple and will announce itself to you like this:
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As it says on the screen, if you are using the UNP body mod, tick the box next to “Install UNP Support”. Since, for the purpose of this guide, we are not using that body mod, simply click “Finish” in the bottom right without ticking the checkbox.

Once that is done, we are ready to enable the mod. To do so, click “enable” in the notification displayed by Vortex: 
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Other than Sky UI and the Unofficial Patch, however, Immersive Armors comes with multiple plugin files and Vortex will, therefore, now ask you whether you want to enable them all:

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Whether it is safe to enable all plugins on a given mod or not, cannot be answered in general. Some mods will provide several plugins in order to give players options. For example, a grass mod might come with a plugin for long grass, one for medium grass, and one for short grass. In that case, you will want to only pick one plugin to enable.

Other times, mods will include one plugin for the mod, and several other plugins as patches so the mod works well together with other mods. In those cases, you should only enable plugins corresponding to mods that you actually have in your load order.
Lastly - and this is the case with Immersive Armors’ plugins - some mods may come with multiple plugins where one plugin is the main plugin for the mod, and other plugins adding additional, optional features. Enabling all of those will not cause harm, but it is up to you to decide whether you want those additional features in your game.

As Vortex cannot make the decision for you, it is best to consult the mod author’s description to get an idea of what the additional plugins are intended to do.

As for Immersive Armors, if you navigate to your plugins view, you will find two different plugins (Hothtrooper44_ArmorCompilation.esp and Hothtrooper44_Armor_Ecksstra.esp) which are currently disabled (and, therefore, not sorted):
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It is safe to enable both of them by either selecting “Enable all” in the Vortex notification, or by toggling them to “Enabled” individually by clicking on their status button (grey button that reads “Disabled”).

And that’s it! You have successfully installed Immersive Armors now. 

If you have followed the guide to this point properly, you should be able to see the Immersive Armors configurations menu ingame now. Start the game via the play button on the Skyrim SE tile in the top left. Load up a save or start a new game. 

In the top left, you should see a couple of  messages in relation to Immersive Armors:
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Your newly added MCM (Mod Configuration Menu, thanks to Sky UI) will pick up on the menu that Immersive Armors is adding to the game and Immersive armors will start configuring. Since Immersive Armors is a large mod, this will take a while, so, please, give it up to 60 seconds.
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Once Immersive Armors has finished configuring it will display one final message:
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If you bring up the menu (Escape) you will see that you now have a new section labelled “Mod Configuration”. This is where mods will display their mod specific configuration menu - if they have one (not every mod comes with an MCM).

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In your mod configuration menu, you should now see Immersive Armors where you will be able to e.g. toggle the availability of certain armours on or off - depending on your preferences.

With that done, go to the mod page for Immersive Weapons to download and install it in the same way: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/16788

Unlike Immersive Armors, Immersive Weapons does not come with a scripted installer or multiple plugins, so it installs similarly to e.g. the Unofficial Patch. Simply click “Install” when prompted by Vortex, and “Enable” after the installation.

Your plugin list should now look like this:
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A Quality World Map

Go to the page for A Quality World Map on the website: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/5804. While you can download the mod the same way you downloaded the others (via the Download: Vortex button in the top right) note that this will grab the main file which the author has set as the main Vortex file. The mod A Quality World Map, however, has several options for the world map, be it a paper version, or a version with flat roads.

In order to pick the version of the mod that you want, click on the “Files” tab on the mod page to show the various main files: 
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Once you have decided on the version you want, click the “Mod Manager Download” button on that file. This will ensure that Vortex downloads the right file for you.

Apart from that, the mod installs the same way the Unofficial Patch and Sky UI did - no extra steps needed. The plugin added by “A Quality World Map” will be named “IcePenguinWorldMap.esp”. 

Your plugin view should now look like this:
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Summary and Review

Congratulations! You have just installed and enabled your first five mods!

Hopefully, following this guide you are now equipped with the knowledge to add many more mods to your game - if you so desire.

Here is a quick recap summarising the various things we have covered in the guide:

Downloading mods

  • Most mods are downloaded via the “Download: Vortex” button in the top right corner on a given mod page.
  • If you want to pick and choose a main file (when a mod has more than one e.g. a blue and a red version of an armour) go to the “Files” tab and click the button that reads  “Mod manager download” on a given file to have Vortex download that file.
  • In Vortex all your downloads are displayed in the “Downloads” section. Active downloads are also displayed in the bottom left corner. You can return to the Downloads section any time to install downloaded mods from there.
  • Once downloaded, mods can be installed, and enabled.

Installing mods

  • The installation process for most mods is straightforward: click “Install” when prompted by Vortex and wait for the mod to be extracted. Once that is done, you can enable the mod by clicking “Enable”. This will deploy your mod(s) to the game folder (provided that “Deploy mods when Enabled” in your settings is active, which is the case by default).
  • Some mods have “scripted installers” i.e. a more or less involved (depending on the mod) installation menus with several options to pick and choose from. Simply select the options you want and proceed as normal.

Mods and plugins

  • Most, but not all mods contain one or several plugins (usually esp files). Some mods, typically texture replacers, only come with replacement textures and do not need a plugin file.
  • Sometimes mods come with several plugins and Vortex will ask you whether you want to enable all of them after installation. Whether this is a good idea depends on the mod and whether the provided plugins are mutually exclusive (several options where you only want to pick one), optional add-ons for the main plugin (in that case it would be safe to enable all of them depending on your preferences), or patches for other mods (in which case you only want to enable them if you are actually using those other mods).
  • Due to the above, it is very likely that the number of mods you have installed and enabled, and the number of plugins you have in your plugin list will be different. Note that there is a hard limit of 255 plugins (esp and esm files) dictated by the game engine, but there is technically no limit to the number of mods you can install. It is perfectly possible to have ~ 500 mods installed and enabled, while it is not possible to have more than 255 plugins in your plugin list.

Mod Configuration Menu

  • Installing the script extender (SKSE64) and Sky UI correctly, will add a Mod Configuration Menu (MCM) to the game.
  • Many, though not all, mods will come with a mod specific sub-menu within the MCM that will allow you to tweak certain aspects of a given mod. 
  • The game might take a while after loading a save file (between a few seconds and a few minutes, depending on your mod setup and the mod in question) to register a new mod sub-menu being added to the MCM.