Starting Out With Mods 1.1
Updated March 30, 2008
Objective. This guide is intended to help you become a competent and informed mod user with a minimum of fuss and bother. Some folk find it quite easy, while others of us struggle for awhile until we get it right. Everyone starts out as a novice. If you recognize that you need to learn a few things in order for this to work well and then get organized and put some personal effort into it, you will not be a novice for long. There are some eight to ten thousand plugins out there, maybe more. That equates to hundreds of hours of game time, an enormous extension to the diversion and enjoyment that Morrowind can offer you.
Other Approaches. Are there other ways to go about this? For sure there are, and many of them are probably less pedantic and deliberate than this one. Thing is this approach is likely to work for folk who find it all a bit confusing at the start. And I would like to have a fishystick for every new Morrowind player who knows absolutely what they are doing, sees no reason not to batch-load eighty mods, cannot be bothered with the basics or learning to use the utilities, and is back three days later telling us all about their re-install. And looking for the same mods all over again.
Sine qua non. There are some things to do before you start to add mods to Morrowind. Some will simply help you decide what mods to select, some will make it much easier to get started with mod use and others are simply essential. The amount of time and care put into preparation will significantly influence the ease or difficulty experienced in starting out with mods.
Computer Knowledge. A reasonably competent basic level of knowledge and skill in using your computer is an essential prerequisite. There is simply no point in beginning to install mods unless you can navigate around your system, create and open folders, search, copy, drag and drop, delete, copy and the like, and have a working knowledge of terms like filepath, default, desktop, shortcut, file naming and so on. All is not lost: most operating systems come bundled with tutorials and Help functions that will see the novice past this hurdle or there are many sources of on-line materials like - Geekgirl.win.guides and MS Windows Tutorials by FunctionX.
Game Installation . To start out, install Morrowind on its default filepath: C:\Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Morrowind. It is possible to install it many other ways but this one keeps it as simple and error free as possible and makes it easy to talk through specific examples of mod installation or trouble-shooting.
System Requirements. Make sure that you have at least the minimum hardware and software necessary to run Morrowind and preferably more: check the box. You can run a modded Morrowind with pretty close to the minimum requirements and lots of folk do so but you will need to be quite selective about which mods you install. Do not expect to run the latest and biggest high-resolution texture and sound mods on your toaster. And be aware that folk have commented that their high-speed 'bought for Oblivion system' labours harder running a heavily modded Morrowind game. For more information and advice on how best or inexpensively to improve your aging system, check out the Elder Scrolls (ES) Morrowind - Hardware and Software Issues Forum (registration required). It is worth a tour, particularly the pinned threads at the top like Known Issues and Resolutions, even if you are running the very latest system.
Protect and Optimize Your System. While you are there, make sure you have the essential software and knowledge to protect your system on-line. Get the most recent The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Tweak Guide from Tweaktown and optimize your system before you start to add mods. You will also want to be able to minimize your system requirements by shutting down unwanted programmes, using an application like EndItAll 2 or a batch file like Improved Game Performance hosted by Yacoby.
Game of the Year Edition. Get the GOTY if you possibly can: it is now very modestly priced. Not only do you get two quite decent expansions to the game but it also provides access to many great mods made to fit them and, even more importantly, most mods now being made require one or both expansions because of the additional scripting and other resources that they include.
Start a Character. If you have not already done so, get out the game manual, figure out how it all works, create a character and go stumble around the unmodded Morrowind world a bit. Join a Faction, explore Vvardenfell, die a few times and work yourself up to about Level 5. Think of this as a learning experience, a basis for comparison, and do not get too attached to this character; probably the second or third time though Character Generation (CharGen) you will figure out how to do it better. Think about what you would really most like to change about the game. Make a couple of Savegames - one immediately after you come out of the Census Office and another about Level 5. They will come in handy when you want to test mod installations later on.
Start small, "less is more". A lot of mods together can be hard to manage and it is not apparent at first. The most common mistake made by many folk is to load up far, far too many mods all at once at the beginning. As well, mods can clutter up the game if you are also new to Morrowind. They can make it hard to see what is really relevant to the Main and Faction Quests and what the original Morrowind game experience is truly like. Similarly, do not expect all this to be second nature after one quick read through. A lot of detailed supporting material has been provided here for future use. It is not intended for instant digestion and mastery. Concentrate on the essentials and soak up the rest with practice and further experience.
Start with three or four mods. They should be added to the game and tested one-at-a-time. After you have it running smoothly and have played for a day or so, then consider adding more, one at a time. One-mod-at-a-time cannot be stressed enough - sure it is slower but it works, you are in control and you can test for errors along the way and know absolutely where they came from most of the time. Either resolve the problems or remove the mod before you move on to installing the next one.
Installing mods. You need to be able to install mods cleanly, correctly and efficiently and be in control of the process, knowing what is going on so you can catch and correct minor problems that come up. It is usually much more difficult and frustrating to unscramble bad installs than it is to do it right in the first place. Installing mods correctly is the single most important thing you need to learn and that is really what this whole business is all about. There are some very good Installation Guides or Tutorials in the following link. It is worth reading them all, then printing out the one that is most comfortable for you and using it as a step-by-step guide for the installation of your first half-dozen mods. Installation Tutorials - read these guides carefully before you download a single mod.
ReadMe Files. Read and thoroughly understand the ReadMe file included with the plugin - both before you attempt to install it and as you test the mod in-game. Almost all mods come with a ReadMe file included: you should not load one that does not, certainly at the beginning of your experience with mods. The quality of ReadMe files is variable. Nonetheless, you will want to hold on to them. Printing them out does not work very well as it quickly becomes unmanageable. Some people keep a separate ReadMe folder, either on their desktop or in the Data Files directory. The best system I have found is to rename them the same as the .esm or .esp file to which they apply [i.e. bandit.txt and bandit.esp] and leave a copy sitting in my Data Files folder alongside its .esp or .esm file counterpart.
Backups. There are a couple of backups to make now before you add any mods: make backup copies of your Morrowind.ini file and of the original Textures folder, named "RealMorrowind.ini" and "RealTextures" or the like and save them somewhere safely outside the installation, in My Documents perhaps. Always backup your game by making an extra save in a clean slot before you add a new mod, each and every time and name it so it is clear what mod you are testing. It is too late if you save after you have found out you do not want the plugin.
Organizing Mod Files. Although there is no requirement to do so, some folk find it very convenient to rename their mod files and organize them accordingly. This is described at How Do I Organise my Mods? Some utilities like Wrye Mash can help with this, as we will see in a minute. ReadMe files need to be kept organized and available as already indicated. Your downloaded zip/rar/ace/7zip etc files will be intact after you have unpacked and installed the contents. Get these organized too, at the very least in a Morrowind Mods folder on your desktop. It comes in very handy when you need to re-install a mod, find a missing ReadMe or email a copy to a friend, and it will happen.
Texture Packs. A texture pack is a collection of image files that overwrite the default textures with the game. Texture packs vary from high resolution versions of the original textures to completely different colour schemes. Before you install any texture packs you need to figure out how you will be able to get back to where you were . Some texture packs are costly to game performance, some just get old, and some add a great deal of game enjoyment for a lot of players - but people's preferences and opinions vary widely about texture packs and also change over time, or when the next shiny version comes out. Make sure you can change back.
Extenders. Morrowind Enhanced (MWE), Morrowind Script Extender (MWSE) and Morrowind Graphics Extender (MWGE) are powerful, third party applications that make it possible to do many things that simply cannot be done in the un-extended game and they can often be used together. There are now many mods that take advantage of their features and it is likely that the future of Morrowind lies in further exploitation of these applications. Suffice to say that they do not run well together on all systems and should probably be avoided for the first while, until the user develops some confidence and skill at managing twenty or so regular mods.
Construction Set. Stay out of the TES Construction Set for awhile. Trust me on this one. If you have a few new error messages or a couple of "big yellow boxes" introduced into your game, it can usually be corrected by re-doing the install properly or getting some helpful advice. If you cannot get the install right and then go tinkering in the CS to fix it, you are most often only going to make things worse and usually much worse.
Mod Research. "All mods are not created equal." Nope, not even close - so do a little research, learn about the mod and check out a few recommendations before you install. As well as figuring out if it is going to suit your playing style you will also want to know whether it is likely to run well on your system and play reasonably nicely with other plugins that you consider to be 'must haves'. Research:
The Essentials. There is a small library or two of detailed knowledge about how the Morrowind game engine works, how it affects mod making and usage and what to do about it. As the source code was not released, more is slowly being discovered even now and many more libraries would be filled with the detailed discussions. The novice mod user should educate themselves by following mod usage discussions on the ES Mod Forums or elsewhere. Do not let the incredible amount of detail and conflicting views and levels of user experience baffle you. Everyone was once a novice and, if you concentrate of the basics and develop a good system for installing and managing mods, you will have a sound playable modded game in no time. There are a few basic things you need to know about how Morrowind works because they determine what we need to do to produce that successfully modded game we seek. This is the very basic, essential why you will need to do much of what you do with mod installation and management.
Morrowind.ini File. With Morrowind installed on the default path, you will find the Morrowind.ini file in this folder: C:\Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Morrowind. This is the file that configures your game to your system, keeps track of the mods you are running and permits a great deal of customization of your game. This is not something to be undertaken by the novice user. For now it is enough to know where the file is, what it does in general terms and that it is best not to be messing with it at this point, except as specifically outlined a little further down. There is much more detailed information about this important file here in Yacoby and Torch's .ini Tutorial. Note that this tutorial hosts backup copies of the Morrowind.ini should you ever need one.
Load Order. The order in which your mods load can be critical to them working properly and adjusting the load order can resolve many problems. Morrowind executes Master files (.esms) and plugins (.esps) in sequence, known as the "load order", and it is the last changes to a particular item or NPC or script that take effect. If a number of mods make changes to an object (includes NPCs and creatures) and we do nothing, only the changes made by the last mod are implemented and the others ignored. This is fundamental to an understanding of how mods operate and are managed.
Changing the load order and using the Merge Objects function provided by TESTool allows us to determine which mod's changes will have primacy, to maximize or at least optimize the different changes implemented and to reduce conflicts. By altering load order we determine which mod's changes will have primacy. By using the Merge Objects function available in TESTool we amalgamate the changes made to the same object by a number of mods. See also Yacoby's excellent Load Order Tutorial. This is not the time to get immersed in the details but you should read through it to familiarize yourself with the importance of load order and how it is managed. Also worth a read is abot's TESTool: quick grouping/ordering mods how-to
Levelled Lists. Levelled lists are the method by which the game engine is " instructed " to adjust the random loot and creatures that the adventurer encounters to the player's current level. If more than one mod changes levelled lists, the load order mechanism applies and the game engine uses only the changes from the last loaded mod and ignores the changes intended by mods earlier in the load order. Similar to the Merge Objects function, Merge Levelled Lists and changes to the load order can optimize the effects of the various mods acting on levelled lists and reduce conflicts. Skim this discussion for familiarization with how levelled lists work - Levelled List Tutorial. [Morrowind Leveled List Merger 1.14 - by Horatio, was the first utility to combine the levelled list data from all loaded mods into a single plugin. It made some errors in calculating a few probabilities and is not recommended for use. TESTool 1.3 corrected for this but in turn was found to append levelled lists rather than truly merging them, subsequently achieved by using aerlorn's Leveled List Resequencer 1.0 in conjunction with TESTool. This provides a workable solution but, more recently, Wrye Mash 0.65 provides a more effective levelled list merge function that is achieved without resorting to an additional utility.]
Dirty References. Due to some quirks in the way the construction set works, it's very common for mods to accidentally change standard game objects, which are otherwise identical to those in the original game. These are known as dirty references, and can cause unintended conflicts if not removed. It is possible to check for and clean dirty references from new mods using the Construction Set or a variety of cleaning tools.
GMSTs. Game Setting records or GMSTs provide information required by Morrowind. GMST contamination and the "evil" GMSTS from Tribunal and Bloodmoon can cause difficulties when creating or editing a mod, or loading one that has not been properly cleaned. The best way to deal with GMSTs is to avoid creating them and to scan new mods for GMST contamination.
See Argent's What the hell is a GMST? for a more thorough treatment of the subject of GMSTs. The Evil GMSTs are listed here for future reference. Utilities likeTESTool are effective in cleaning mods of unwanted GMSTs while leaving intact those intended to make a mod function correctly. New mods should routinely be cleaned before being introduced to your game. Note that there are some mods recommended not to be cleaned with TESTool - Plugins you shouldn't clean with TESTool, A list for reference, though this list may err somewhat on the side of caution.
Savegames. All the player's interactions with the game world are stored in the savegame files - .ess. They tend to get bigger over time and can become corrupted through GMST contamination, excessive adding and removal of mods, system crashes, reliance on the Quick Save feature, "dirty" saves, mod conflicts and probably other causes. Wrye Mash has proven to be very effective in cleaning saved games, removing broken references, reducing 'doubling' and protecting against corruption of savegames. Prevention remains preferable to a need for continual repair and the following have been found to help prevent savegame corruption - clean mods, avoiding QuickSaves, reduction of conflicts, frequent saves in a new slot and effective "clean save" techniques when removing mods. An extensive advanced treatment of the theory of how references are handled, how doubling occurs and how it can be prevented and repaired is available at Wrye Notes: Doubling Explained.
Mod Conflicts. Plugins can and do conflict with each other in numerous ways. Some combinations are virtually incompatible and other conflicts can be resolved quite readily with standard mod management techniques. There are a number of more advanced techniques not dealt with here; for the novice mod user the most effective practice for managing mod conflicts is to avoid them by careful selection. The most extensive listings of mod conflicts are Iamhere's very useful detailed treatment of older plugins in the Links to Compatible List & More  and, more recently, Faceless_Wanderer's compilation Mod Conflict Listing, on Galahaut's Morrowind Mod Wiki. An extensive discussion of the different kinds of mod conflicts that arise and the ways in which mod makers seek to eliminate them is available in Mod Conflicts - Responsibilities. See Cryonaut's Map-O-Mods: Landmass Additions Map for a very useful graphical representation of landmasses occupied by most larger mods. The Morrowind Mod Grid Use Map download by Rougetet is a much more detailed treatment showing specifically which mods affect each exterior game cell, as well as the ability to check two mods for potential conflicts with each other. Obviously, it helps a good deal not to select mods that use the same landmass or act in opposite ways but if mods are chosen with a little common sense, most conflicts can be avoided or resolved: see Baphomet's Some General Considerations ... for some perspective on conflicts. In terms of possible conflicts it is pretty straightforward: the more mods you load, the more potential for conflicts; do the math. This is precisely why it is good to start with a few carefully chosen plugins.
Demanding Mods. In terms of what your system will run well enough to have a playable game instead of a slide show, the answers are not quite so clear. Bearing in mind that the underlying issues are far more complex than this, the following types of mods place more demands on your system and will begin to slow your game down, especially when used in combination or quantity; rough rule of thumb only intended here: high-resolution texture mods, large-scale replacers (texture packs) with high-rez components, mods that place many additional NPCs into the game world, some large-scale city expansions though not nearly all, some foliage mods, many sound plugins and mods that run a lot of scripts (especially global scripts) to accomplish what they are doing. The best answer is not usually to avoid all these but rather to understand what effect they can have and choose wisely amongst them.
Merging Mods. Mods can be merged in the CS or with a number of utility programmes. While this is not a particularly demanding operation, it is one best avoided by the novice mod user. Morrowind can accommodate up to 255 .esm plus .esp so there is no immediate requirement to merge mods. Merging can also provide some challenges in keeping track of what has been installed, with what is it compatible and what needs to be re-merged to include an updated version? By the time a gamer approaches successful use of 200 plus mods, he is unlikely to be a novice and merging mods has therefore been left aside for discussion as a more advanced mod management technique.
Summary. So what essentials have we learned, other than the importance of selecting mods that are likely to work together?
Generally, it points up the need for clean mods and a sound procedure for managing them.
Secondly, we know that load order determines which mod changes take effect and influences mod conflicts.
Thirdly, we can influence those changes and reduce conflicts by varying the load order.
Fourthly, the whole business means that we usually need to Merge Objects and Merge Levelled Lists in order to maximize the beneficial changes of the various mods and to minimize conflicts.
Finally, mention was made of a number of tools or utilities that we will need to use and, as we shall now see in more detail, no single tool will adequately perform all the essential mod management functions. We will need to use several tools in succession.
Utilities and Applications. You need a few tools before you download a single mod. They are:
Sometimes you will run into a problem and will need to get some expert advice on how to solve it. There are a number of standard techniques that will help you identify a problem and explain or show it to someone else. Learn how to set these up now and you will get problems resolved much faster.
Game Files (Mod List). Sometimes to find a solution to a conflict you will need to be able to send a copy of your Game Files list to someone else to look at. In the Morrowind directory, find the Morrowind.ini file. Open it and scroll down to the bottom, starting with "[Game Files]" - highlight all the game files, to the bottom of the page. Copy the list out to a word processor or forums dialogue box. Close the Morrowind.ini file without saving and post your Game Files list wherever you need it. [This is also a very good way to keep a hard-copy log of what mods you have running at different times or in different installations.] Wrye Mash provides a similar capability and will produce the Game Files list in load order.
Morrowind.txt Files. Morrowind generates two text files each time you load the game or the editor (CS). Found in C:\Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Morrowind are ProgramFlow.txt and Warnings.txt - go have a look at them. Both are overwritten every time you start a session. This information is so very useful in identifying problems that someone giving you fix-it advice will usually ask you to copy and paste the contents. You should provide copies of these files and your game file list when asking for assistance.
- ProgramFlow.txt shows the flow of behaviours and actions that happened during a session.
- Warnings.txt shows any errors encountered on game/editor load and any duplicate references removed.
Allow Yes To All. While the error messages presented when your game loads serve a useful purpose, many of them are harmless and merely slow loading time as you repeatedly press " Yes ". This can be particularly annoying and time-consuming when you already know that the errors are there but need to load to test something or make another save. You can choose to respond only once to all error messages by changing the fifth line in your Morrowind.ini file to "AllowYesToAll=1" from the default setting of 0.
Framerate. If you wish to know how fast or slowly the screen and game world are being updated you can show Frames Per Second (FPS) at the bottom right-hand corner of your computer screen in-game. Near the top of the Morrowind.ini file again, change the sixth line to "Show FPS=1" from the default setting of 0.
Screenshots. Sometimes a picture is necessary to demonstrate a mod problem. Modify the Morrowind.ini file again, in the eighth, largest section under [General], change the twenty-seventh line to "Screen Shot Enable=1" from the default setting of 0. Then, in-game press the <Print Screen> button on your keyboard and a message will indicate that the screenshot has been created. It will be saved in the Morrowind folder where you found the Morrowind.ini file. Screenshots should be converted from bitmap to jpeg in a photo editing program if they are to be hosted on the Internet. For a current listing of free image hosting see the Morrowind Mods FAQs and back them up somewhere too.
Identification - "ori" . Sometimes you need to know to what mod an item belongs. Sometimes you need to know which item, object or NPC is "the double" and which is the original. Open the console - the ~ key - and click on the item that you want to know about. The item ID should be at the top of the console window. Type "ori" with no quotes and it may tell you which plugin file the item comes from. [If it shows "File: None" , it is inconclusive and does not mean it is an item from a dirty save as once thought. If you check the ID-name at the top of the console window, an original item should have an ID-name that ends with 0, while a duplicate should have an ID-name that ends with another number.]
Binary Search. Sometimes it is difficult to determine which mod interactions are causing a problem. For the most efficient way to locate the problem mod(s), see Blockhead's Binary Search directions from Morrowind Tech.
MANAGING MODS - THE BASICS
It should be apparent by now that there are a number of operations that fall under the heading of "Managing Mods" and that they extend beyond simply adding and removing mods from the game. It is also true that successful completion of these two basic tasks are the basis of all the rest and that good techniques for adding and removing mods, coupled with reasonably careful mod selection, will provide a workable solution to a stable and generally conflict-free game and the basis for the new mod user to learn and practice the more advanced techniques of managing plugins.
HINTS and SPOILERS
Managing mods can be quite easy or incredibly complex, if you take short cuts that simply do not work and take awhile to unwind. Here are some helpful hints, fairly obvious mundane things that have worked well for me:
Hope that helps a little. Take it step-by-step; there is no need to digest all that at once. Stay focused on the essentials and use the detailed references to broaden your knowledge as you go along. You will almost certainly find that folk on the ES Mod Forum will help you out with specific advice and trouble-shooting as you get started, especially if it looks like you are trying to help yourself.
When you find you need more information, there are far more references and resources than those indicated here. Many of them and a number of detailed mod lists are listed on the parent site, Mythic Mods. Help yourself and enjoy!
Telesphoros and OldeCow69, without whom none of this would have been possible or much fun. Thanks to just about everyone on the ES Mods Forum; it is hard to think of anyone from whom I have not learned something. I have borrowed heavily from Wrye, Argent, Dragon32, DinkumThinkum, bjam, Yacoby and others: thank you. And my deep and abiding appreciation to Emma, Grumpy R.I.P. and Vorwoda the Black for the warmest of welcomes into this community, an unstinting wealth of assistance and shining personal examples of how to help and contribute. Thank you for that.
Feedback is always welcome. Contact the copyist, Ronin49 on the ES Forums or by email via Contact Us below, with any comments, suggestions, reports of broken or missing links or links to other useful material that should be included here.
This page itself may be reproduced, copied, linked etcetera in whole or in part, preferably a current version, without further request or permission. This permission does not apply equally to the linked pages, reproduction of which should be discussed with the original authors, although, for the life of me, I cannot imagine why anyone would possibly object to helpful mod information being distributed.