Making your NPC mods compatible

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If you are like me, you've downloaded a bunch of mods that add to the NPCs in the game. Then you play and find out that what the mod showed you on their page isn't what you see in the game. Unjustly, many fault the mod author (and over 90% of the time it is unjustly deserved).

However, justly or not, you are left with mods that conflict. It ruins your enjoyment of Fallout3. Needlessly so in the majority of cases. This article will help you overcoming that frustration and free you to enjoy the game and the custom mod content.

Must-have Utilities

To address these issues, you'll need two must-have Fallout3 utilities, Timeslip's Fallout Mod Manager (FOMM) and ElminsterAU's FO3Edit. You'll also want Miax's great FO3Edit Guide - Web-enized to learn how to use FO3Edit to its full potential to find and resolve mod conflicts -- in this case, NPC conflicts.

Why NPC Mods Conflict

NPC conflicts arise not only from downloading specific NPC mods, but from NPC overhaul mods and mods that make changes to the Wastelands (such as Azar's Arefu Expanded, BadPenney's Return to Shady Sands or Tooth's eULOGYPLUSem). All of these work to create conflicts in your load order, no matter how you arrange them in FOMM.

They conflict because they all try to make changes to the same things -- in this case NPCs. Mods, by nature, override the default game. When two (or more) overrides (mods) bump heads, you have a conflict. When Fallout3 loads, it goes through the load order (that you set in FOMM) and the last one in the list is the override or conflict "winner." Sometimes this can be ignored safely, as long as the last-loaded mod doesn't override something critical. But, in the case of NPCs, it isn't only a matter of criticality, it is also a matter of cosmetics, equipment or some NPC-specific additional functionality (setting their Essential flag or adding a companion script, for example).

Initially Resolving Conflicts

This article presumes you already created a merge patch with FO3Edit following the procedures in Miax's guide. If you don't have one, follow the instructions in the Conflict Resolution chapter.

You have two choices when creating your patch plug-in: Most people just run a conflict detection filter in FO3Edit (as described in the guide) and then use the automated Create Merge Patch function to generate the merge patch. It's a great time saver, but in most cases only gets about 90%-ish of the conflicts resolved. When it gets to Items (armor, weapons, etc.), its built-in conflict algorithm tries to satisfy all the different mods -- which is not always a good thing. It also doesn't allow for a modular approach, which is my preference for merge patches, which uses the more lengthy manual process. The more mods you have, the more I recommend this practice. Using this approach, I end up with a merge patch for armor, for weapons, etc. That way, when I add (or remove) a mod, I only need to address certain merge patches and not have to redo one gigantic merge. The end result is that my initial merge patch creation took longer, but subsequently redoing them when I add (or delete) a mod takes far less time.

But I've gotten a bit sidetracked, haven't I? A necessary detour, I think -- many have never used FO3Edit and/or learned how to use it to resolve mod conflicts. (This is evident from the numerous posts I answer on the Nexus Fallout3 Forum pertaining to load orders and mod conflicts.)

Fixing Your NPCs

Back to the matter at hand -- fixing the conflicted NPCs. Whether you take the modular or collective patch approach, the goal is to fix the NPC conflicts. As I said, I like a modular approach and the steps below will reflect that. If you opt to add it to your overall merge patch, adjust the steps accordingly.

In this example, I use Earache42's Ling's Pretty Things (LPT) (a general NPC cosmetic overhaul), but the procedure is equally applicable to Project Beauty or other general NPC overhaul. Using the steps below, you can even have more than one general NPC overhaul mod, but for simplicity's sake, I'll use LPT as the example, along with mentioning a few mods that raised conflicts when creating my npcMerge111009.esp patch.

Fixing NPCs Step-by-Step

First, a general rule-of-thumb or two. It is a best-practice to read the author's installation notes (in this case Earache42's, as well as the NPC-specific mods). Most authors give you a general indication and some are very specific about load orders and conflicts/incompatiblities. As a general rule, arrange the order from general to specific. In my case, I have world-expanding mods (Arefu Expanded, Shady Sands, etc.) load somewhat near the top. Further down, I have my NPC-altering mods immediately after armor/clothing and weapon mods.

So let's say you have LPT, sinisterchipmunk's Saving Nova and SourGrapes' Bittercup Companion - upgraded#1. I load LPT first, followed by the NPC-specific mods, in my load order.

#1 There are a lot of Bittercup mods, each adding or changing some of the others. This makes Bittercup highly customizable, but also creates more likelihood that Bittercup will be conflicted.

  1. Using FOMM, adjust your load order, using the general rules above -- but adhering to any author-specific recommendations.

  2. With your load order now saved in FOMM (by adjusting and then closing FOMM), start FO3Edit. Once it loads, expand Fallout3.esm by clicking the + next to it in the left panel tree view, then go to the Non-Player Character section. Right-click the Non-Player Character main section and from the context menu, select "Deep copy as override into...". Select the "new file" option from the list by checking its box and clicking OK. You'll be prompted to name the file -- give it a meaningful name, something like npcMerge111109 tells you both what it does and when it was created. Do not add the .esp extension. Now would be a good time to press Ctrl-S to save your new patch plug-in.

  3. Go to the newly-created file and expand the NPC section. Start selecting each NPC in the list (you'll know which ones are conflicted (orange/red text on a red background) and which ones successfully overwrote (green text/yellow background), or didn't conflict at all (gray text/green background).

  4. Right-click on the View tab (right panel, if it isn't already selected click the View tab first) and select the option to hide Identical to Master records (all the gray on green stuff).

  5. In the View tab, you'll see your new file all the way to the right (FO3Edit displays the load order from left to right).

  6. Using drag 'n' drop, drag the applicable category heading (such as Items) or a specific record from the preferred file into your patch. There are a few things to watch out for when doing this --
    • Race and/or Gender. Some mods change the Race or Gender of the NPC. Override to your preference (but see Cosmetic Changes below).

    • Essential and Other Flags. The Essential flag is a matter of preference. When the NPC "dies," they go unconscious and will revive after some time. If the flag isn't set, they can (and often do) die permanently. If the NPC is vital to a quest, I recommend setting this flag if it got overridden. You'll find it in the ACBS - Configuration record. If it isn't visible, right-click and uncheck the hide identical option. Right-click your patch in that record and either select or de-select Essential from the list shown. Other flags should be modified with care. Feel free to experiment, you can always come back and modify them using FO3Edit. As a rule, I try very hard to get this record to green on yellow (indicating the overrides that were implemented have left no conflict).

    • Factions. Some mods set or change the NPCs faction. Make sure your patch reflects this, as not doing so can break a mod's functionality. RegentEagle's Owned!, for example, adds a faction so you can acquire the property and use the bed. Drag the faction record from Owned!.esp and drop it into your patch.

    • Items. Drag the equipment items from the primary mod -- in this case LPT -- as a group into your patch. This is particularly true of LPT, as the armor/clothing given is often modular in nature (slot-based armor pieces combined into a clothing set). Not changing the items list can result in some really weird in-game armor combinations. You can then add specific items from NPC-specific mods like custom weapons or non-armor items by dragging them into your patch.

    • Scripts #2, AI and Class. Scripts are a must! NPCs are often modified to also serve as companions and have NPC-specific custom scripts. Not ensuring that the proper script is in your patch will disable that functionality. Make sure to drag both the source and compiled versions into your patch. AI packages (like changing Bittercup's AIDT record's Confidence setting from Cowardly to Brave) will determine their in-game behavior -- so change it, unless you want a Bittercup companion who runs away every time there is trouble! Lastly, Class. Some mods (like Bittercup) assign the NPC a class other than the default. Copy it into your patch to preserve compatibility with the mod that set it. If you have Broken Steel installed, make sure that no mods overrode the level 30 cap!

    • Cosmetic Changes. This is a matter of personal preference. Which mod gives the NPC the look you want? This is a personal choice. You can even choose the Hair record from one mod and the Facegen record from another if you want. In LPT, make sure you drag the Head Parts Eyelashes record into your patch. If you changed the NPC's race, make sure to use that mod's Facegen data, etc. too. Otherwise you are likely to get some really bizarre results.

    • Leveled Lists. Some mod authors (like Earache42 with Ling's) do not intend for their custom content to be freely available as loot. Make sure that mod-specific items (weapons, armor, etc.) don't appear in a Leveled List. Check by expanding the various mods' record tree for Leveled Lists. If you find such a case, override it in your patch.

  1. Rinse, lather, repeat for the NPCs that are conflicted. Or even ones you want to customize further by modifying them in your patch. Note that many of the overrides you choose may very well turn the NPC orange on red in your patch (red on red you should avoid, as this indicates the possibility of a more severe conflict). As long as you haven't created a fatal conflict (these are script-related mainly), this is an intentional override on your part and you can ignore the FO3Edit conflict status colors.
  2. Save your patch. You should have been prompted by FO3Edit several times during your edits. Ctrl-S if you wish to continue working in FO3Edit or close FO3Edit and click OK when prompted to save your patch.
  3. Start FOMM and select your patch. If you use the modular patch approach like I do, you can leave it there at the end of the load list. If you also have a generic merge patch and chose to create an NPC-specific patch plug-in, move it to just before your generic merge patch, but make sure that the Non-Player Character section is removed from the generic merge patch.
  4. Close FOMM and run FO3Edit in Master Update mode.
  5. Enjoy your now conflict-free NPCs in Fallout3!

#2 In merge patches, ensure that any customized scripts are in the merge! If two mods have custom scripts, you'll have to combine the two (or more!) scripts in GECK. If you don't know scripting, you'll probably have to get rid of one of the mods. Script conflicts are often fatal to the game and result in crashing! (Perhaps some day I'll add an article on script-merging procedures -- but I'm still relatively new to doing that in GECK.)

In Closing

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you have found it to be helpful in resolving your NPC conflicts. The overall process above also works for other mod conflicts in FO3Edi. Follow Miax's great guide and master the art of Conflict Resolution!