winged twilight

Dirty Saves: Causes and Cures

by DinkumThinkum
  1. Introduction
  2. About Dirty Saves
  3. NPCs and Inventory
  4. What Gets Saved?
One very common type of complaint is unexplained changes in their mod as they're working on it: doors disappearing, two or more copies of NPCs, changes that show up in the Construction Set but not when they test the mod in the game, etc. The following is my standard reply to many of those posts.

Most likely, what you have is a dirty save game. To fix it, go back to a saved game made before you first installed the mod, and do all your testing from there. Note: the mod should be fine; the problem is the dirty save.

Rule #1: Before you load your mod to test it, make a separate saved game without the mod installed. Then use that saved game to do all your testing.

Rule #2: Don't save your game while testing a mod. Only save the game once the mod is finished and you're sure you aren't going to make any more changes.

Rule #3: Once a mod is part of your saved games, don't edit it. Note: If you're going to be doing much modding, it's probably safest to create a special saved game that you use just for testing mods. Load that saved game when you want to test a mod, and remember not to save it with any test mods enabled.

Back to Top About Dirty Saves

A dirty save is what you get when you edit (or update) a mod after it's already included in your saved game. The saved game contains data that doesn't match the data in the new version of the .esp file, so the save is now 'dirty'. You can wind up with duplicated items, disappearing items, containers that lose their contents, and various other problems.
Editing a mod after it's included in your saved game is probably the biggest cause of major foul-ups for inexperienced modders, and it's probably the single most common cause of problems that people post about here.

When you're editing an area that's already part of the game, it's safest to only add new objects, rather than editing anything that's already in the game. Editing NPCs, containers, etc. that are already in the game is a good way to cause problems with saved games, to cause conflicts with other mods, and to possibly break something that's important to the game.
If you do want to edit an existing NPC or another object that's part of the original game, do your testing with a character that has never been anywhere near the area you're modifying: not in the same cell or in any adjacent cells (if you're modifying something in an exterior cell).

Back to Top NPCs and Inventory

If you've already interacted with that NPC, or possibly just been in the same cell, their inventory is stored in your saved game. The data in an .esm or .esp file just sets the initial condition of the NPC (and everything else in the game) when you start a new game. When you load up your game: first it reads in the data from the .esm files, then from the .esp files, and then it updates that based on what's in your saved game. So if you've interacted with the NPC already, the NPC's data from your save will over ride the data in the .esm and .esp files.

You can change the clothing on NPCs your character hasn't seen in the game yet, or create new NPCs to wear the clothes. If you're trying to give a merchant new items to sell, you can put them in a container (in the same cell) that the merchant owns. Use a new container (with a new ID) you've added to the game yourself, and set their ownership to the merchant.

Important: When changing ownership (or other reference data) for an object, close the properties sheet by clicking the 'close' button (the small 'X' in the upper-right corner). NEVER click on the 'Save' button for any object that you didn't give a unique ID to.  Clicking the 'Save' button will change every copy of that object in the game, not just the one reference you're working with.

Back to Top What Gets Saved?

Not all data about an NPC or other object is stored in your save game files. For example, the head and hair data isn't saved. That's why the various mods that change NPC heads/hair can change the look of NPCs even after you've dealt with them.NPC inventory, the contents of containers, and a lot of other data is saved in your save game when you interact with that object, so changing it in a mod won't have any affect once you've dealt with that object.

I don't have any kind of complete list of what data actually gets saved in save files, just some speculation. As a rule of thumb, I would guess that data that can only be changed by loading a mod, but not during the normal course of playing the game, probably won't be saved. For example, NPC head and hair normally can only be changed by using a mod; there's no way to change them while in the game. So there wouldn't be much point in saving that information in the save game files.

On the other hand, the inventory affects what an NPC can sell and what you get as loot when they're dead, and that can change during the normal course of playing the game. So inventory data certainly has to be saved. And scripts can move almost any object in the game world around, add new items to the game world or remove existing objects, etc. So a lot of data about what objects are in the game world also has to be saved.

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