FNV General Mod Use Advice

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If you are new to using "mods" with games on the PC, or just want some tips on how to quickly get using mods with "Fallout New Vegas" (or FNV as it is known) with the least amount of hassle, this is the place to start. This article broadly covers things you should know, and points you to more in-depth articles on particular subjects.


A "mod" is a package (archive) of related files that make some change to the vanilla game (as delivered by the publisher). Within a "mod" package are a number of "asset files" which add to or replace the existing vanilla assets (meshes, textures, sounds, animations, XML files, etc.), and one or more "plugin files" that tell the game about the existence and use of the new assets and where they are placed in the game. The "plugin" files are the only ones that appear in the "load order", which determines the sequence in which the game engine loads them into the game from the "top" (lowest numbered) to the "bottom" (highest numbered) position in the sequence. "Plugin" files have one of two possible file extensions: ESM and ESP. There is generally only one ESM file, but there may be any number of ESP files (including none). The ESM files are loaded first, and are considered "masters" to the ESP files that depend upon them. You should find all of your ESM files at the top of your "load order".

"Modding" refers to both the process of playing the game with mods installed, and to creating such mods. More properly we should distinguish between "mod users" and "mod creators", but most people rely upon the context in which the term is used rather than explicitly stating which is meant.

"Post Processing" is used in the video and film industry to improve the quality of images once they have been processed. In real-time 3D games, they are applied to the rendered effects to supplement the game engine.

According to Wikipedia:

Instead of rendering 3D objects directly to the display, the scene is first rendered to a buffer in the memory of the video card. Pixel shaders and optionally Vertex shaders are then used to apply post-processing filters to the image buffer before displaying it to the screen. Some post-processing effects also require multiple-passes, gamma inputs, vertex manpulation and depth buffer access. Post-processing allows effects to be used that require awareness of the entire image (since normally each 3D object is rendered in isolation).

There is a whole host of effects that can be produced. See the sub-topic Post processing shaders if this interests you.

First Timer Advice

First rule of playing with mods is: install and TEST one mod at a time. This is the only way you are going to know if you have made a mistake in installation or if the mod is going to conflict with others.

In turn that means you need to prioritize what is most important to you. You don't want something that is "nice to have" dictating that you can't use something you consider essential. This takes time, but if you don't force this discipline upon yourself, you are going to spend a lot of frustration and even more time ripping your game apart trying to figure out why it crashes or won't work right. There are no shortcuts. A guide by somebody else is not guaranteed to work on your system because they don't have the exact same setup as you; nor do they necessarily consider the same things as "important".

Second rule is: "pretty" does not beat out "playable". Improved graphics come at a cost, usually in terms of "frames per second" (FPS). Add your graphics overhauls after you have a stable game built that runs fast enough to keep you happy. Nobody has a system new enough or fast enough to play with every mod they might want. The game engine is too old to accommodate that. It was written for single processor 32-bit systems. All your multi-core processors are going to be ignored. So there WILL be limits.

There is an excellent set of advice for those new to modding "Fallout: New Vegas" (FNV) Fallout New Vegas Beginners Guide to modding thread ("sticky" at the top) which covers the essential tools you will need, such as LOOT for sorting your "load order". I also recommend the S.T.E.P. Project "Fear and Loathing]" guide for FNV (linked below under the Mod Managers sub-topic). While oriented around using "Mod Organizer" (MO), it can be used with other mod managers as well, with appropriate changes for their peculiarities.

In general, make sure all your ESM files are loaded first, with the game ESM (FalloutNV.ESM) as the very first file and those of the DLC next in the order they were released for the PC.

  • FalloutNV.ESM - (Oct 2010)
  • DeadMoney - (Feb 2011)
  • HonestHearts - (May 2011)
  • OldWorldBlues - (Jul 2011)
  • LonesomeRoad - (Sep 2011)
  • GunRunnersArsenal - (Sep 2011)

and then the "pre-order packs" of exclusive equipment to make the earlier stages of the game easier; later combined and released as the "Courier's Stash" pack (Sep 2011):

  • ClassicPack
  • MercenaryPack
  • TribalPack
  • CaravanPack

These are all included in the "Ultimate Edition" of FNV.

Mod EMS files should follow.

Like most automated tools, LOOT is not 100% accurate; yet it is infinitely better at determining a correct load order for a large number of mods than anything other than manually examining each mod in an editor like 'xEdit' and building such an order by hand (each time you add or remove a mod). LOOT works by examining the file header of each plugin and working out all the records each modifies, and determines the relationships between those mods. For the beginning mod user, it is essential to resolve most fatal mod conflict problems. LOOT does provide the "metadata" mechanism that allows you to customize it's sorting to preserve such adjustments as you determine necessary. Read it's documentation to exploit all of it's capabilities.

For those who wish to use a manual sorting process, see the wiki article Load order and you for one such approach.

Note in particular the advice in the thread at the beginning of this section to install one mod at a time and test it thoroughly before the next mod. This, and that you install your Steam games to some folder OTHER than the default of "C:\Program Files", are pretty much universal for a solid, stable game.

If you have already installed Steam to "C:\Program Files", read the Installing Games on Windows Vista+ article which has a link to the official Steam guide to moving already installed Steam games. (Yes, you will need to "re-install" them so the Windows registry entries are correct, but you can still use your "saved game files".) As painful as this may sound, this one step will solve most "strange" problems not related to a mod conflict, and you will no longer need to run your games as an administrator. It is never easier to do than now, and you don't need to move all your Steam games at once.

Mod Managers

While a "mod manager" is not required it does make organizing your modded game much more manageable if you have more than a dozen files. This is especially true when trying to keep the "install order" (which deals with overwriting files of the same name) separate from the "load order" (which relates to the order in which the game reads in mod plugins). There are several choices such as:

  • Nexus Mod Manager (NMM),
  • Fallout Mod Manager (FOMM),
  • Fallout Mod Manager - Forked a newer "variation" (different version) of FOMM,
  • Mod Organizer (MO),
  • Wrye Flash is the FNV version of "Wrye Bash" and creates the "Bashed Patch" mentioned. WF/WB is a "swiss army knife" sort of tool, but if you follow the Wrye Bash Pictorial Guide you can get functional with it quite quickly. The most essential parts are the "Mods" tab for your "load order" and "bashed patch", and if you intend to use it as your mod manager: the "Installers" tab (known as BAIN) for managing your installed mod packages.

Neither version of FOMM seems to be updated any more but both are usable, and the other managers are still actively supported. NMM is still technically in "beta" status but is fully functional. MO is part of the S.T.E.P. project and they have their own install guide for FNV Fear & Loathing in New Vegas (FalloutNV) here which walks through the complete process very well. (It's the one I used quite successfully when I started FNV, even though I used WF instead of MO.)

The subject of "ArchiveInvalidation" in mod managers always comes up when discussing "texture replacements". The topic is described in the TESTG Troubleshooting section. (When you have questions about "meshes" and "textures" and their replacements, this site is a good starting point to understanding the subject.) The basics of turning "ArchiveInvalidation" on and off are described in the the wiki article Fallout NV Mod Conflict Troubleshooting "Checklist" section.

Smaller Plugin Cap

Be aware that there is a limit to the number of mod plugins (ESM and ESP files) you can have active at the same time. ("Active" meaning the file is present in the game "Data" folder with an ESM/ESP file extension, and "activated" in the game for loading. Merely being present in the "Data" folder, even if not "activated", counts against the plugin limit.) This is common for Gamebryo engine games, but the cap is much smaller for FNV than players of other Bethesda games are used to. The patched game has a hard-coded warning when you exceed 139, but in practice this cap is anywhere between 130-140 depending upon your system. "Strange things" happen when you exceed this cap, such as textures looking weird (missing, or solid or "wrong" surface colors) and the game crashes. Again, installing and testing one mod at a time, especially as you near or exceed 130 active mods, is the best way to tell where this limit is for your situation.

There are ways to get around this limitation: by "merging" plugins, and by placing only the "activated" plugin in the "Data" folder (which some Mod Managers do) for instance. See the wiki article Merged Plugin Guidelines for Personal Use for a description of the "merging" process.

DLC expansions

There are two types of "downloadable content" (DLC) available for FNV: four expansion addons to the game world, and "item packs". There are four "pre-order item packs" originally only available through certain retailers for pre-ordering the game, which contain custom items available to the starting character. Later the "pre-order packs" were made available combined in the "Courier's Stash" package. The fifth expansion "Gun Runners Arsenal" (GRA) is also an "item pack" with primarily additional unique weapons, weapon mods, and new powerful ammunition types and ammo recipes; along with some additional Steam "Achievements and trophies". All five expansions and the "Courier's Stash" packs are bundled in the "Ultimate Edition" of the game.

The "pre-order packs" and GRA have no impact upon the main plot line. The other four expansions provide additional background motivational material on some of the characters in the main plot, as well as additional world spaces, unique weapons and chems, and new challenges to explore. You can safely ignore them without harming the main plot progression if you wish.

The community has generally recommended that you play the four world expansion DLCs in this order. Note that it is not strictly in release date order. Some feel strict release order sequence is the development team's design:

  • Honest Hearts (Happy Trails Expedition - accessed via the Northern Passage). Target: level unspecified. (Suggested before Level 10, and after the "Volare!" quest from the Nellis Airbase "Boomers" faction, which is unrelated but does get you a "rebreather" and is a way of judging how ready you are).
  • Old WorldBlues (Midnight Sci-Fi Feature! - accessed via the Mojave Drive-In). Target: level 15+. Recommended before level 20 and Dead Money. (Suggested before the "Brotherhood of Steel" (BoS) quests as well.)
  • Dead Money (Sierra Madre Grand Opening! - accessed via the Abandoned BoS Bunker). Target: level 20+. (Suggested before level 20, just after BoS quests.)
  • Lonesome Road (The Reunion - accessed via the Canyon Wreckage). Target: level 25+. (Suggested last, before the 2nd Battle of Hoover Dam climax of the main plot. Be prepared for lots of Deathclaws and SentryBots).

All the DLC worldspaces (except for Dead Money) can be returned to upon completion of their quest. In addition, only Lonesome Road can be left at any time before you complete it's main questline. Companions are not allowed to enter any of the DLC expansions. They must be dismissed ("part ways") or will be dismissed for you prior to the actual activation of the specific add-on quest. Some companions can be acquired during the DLC quests, but will not be able to leave that worldspace at the end of the questline.

If you don't want to play with some of the DLC, you may find that simply not activating them is not enough; they still load anyway. This is due to the presence of a "<DLCName>.nam" file for each. These force the game (and the Construction Set "G.E.C.K.") to load them automatically. You will need to move those ".nam" files out of the "Data" folder, or rename them with a different extension before you can successfully deactivate the DLC.

Game won't launch

Or get past the "loading screens" to the game's Main Menu.

See the wiki article Fallout NV Troubleshooting Guide for tips on getting the basic vanilla game to launch. If you can't manage that, you have a major problem and most likely need to re-install the game outside of the "C:\Program Files" tree as suggested in the First Timer Advice sub-topic in this article.

If the vanilla game (no active mods) launched without problem, most likely you have a Missing Masters problem.

Missing Masters

See the Missing Masters wiki article for detailed instructions on identifying and resolving this issue.

Mod Conflict Troubleshooting

When you run into problems (which you will inevitably) there is the wiki article Fallout NV Mod Conflict Troubleshooting. It will help you narrow down the most commonly asked questions so you can get more directed help faster. It also contains links to all sorts of essential tools and stability mods, as well as some specific problems and solutions.

Modding a game takes time if you want the mods to work well together and be stable. Rushing the process will invariably lead to problems. Take the time to read and learn about the many new things that are involved, and you will have a much more enjoyable game when you are finished with the preliminaries.

Post processing shaders

Within the Bethesda gaming community the primary two graphic enhancements other than texture replacements used are: the ENB Series and the SweetFX Suite of shaders (though others exist). They are "post processing" effects to enhance the graphic feel of the game as the cost of some processing power and "frames per second"(FPS). Their installation can make changes to the INI files in your "User" account folder.

I would suggest you skip them for the time being, until you get a stable game going. If your average FPS is below 30, any post process shader is going to be a massive hit according to this Steam Community thread. Only if you are then still interested, the following may be helpful.

They are two different approaches to the same issue and can be used together if your system can handle the load. (Though likely you will have to learn the meaning of the configuration settings to deal with potential conflicts between them, they are considered generally complementary. Those settings, however, are very specific for technical effects and will require educating yourself.)

The "ENB Series" is developed by Boris Vorontsov and consists of a version for a specific game, and is available in either a "wrapper" or "injector" format depending upon which your system and game needs to work. (Some people can get the preferred "wrapper" version to work with FNV, while others are forced to the "injector" version.) The site for downloading the driver series is ENBDEV.

The "SweetFX" is a "shader suite" that uses an "injector" called "ReShade". Reshade and SweetFX are described in the article How To: Anti-Aliasing/Shader Injection (SweetFX, GeDoSaTo, GEMFX, and ReShade) along with a couple of others. Download SweetFX Suite (including ReShade) here.

And then there are various "presets" for both available for download from the Nexus, which are specific configurations developed by the authors and users to produce specific graphic atmospheres. These are a matter of personal preference.

Refer to the wiki article Fallout NV Mod Conflict Troubleshooting sub-topic "Issue: ENB is not working" for general ENB installation instructions.

HUD-UI-Menu Issues

Most of us sooner or later end up installing a mod that makes some change to the "Heads Up Display" (HUD), "User Interface" (UI), or some of the game's Menus. See the HUD-UI-Menu Issues wiki article before you do so, and avoid potential problems.


Nexus wiki articles referred to by this article:

Nexus wiki articles that refer to this article:

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