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How To Install Mods

This guide was written for Oblivion; but so far, all of the principles here can be applied directly to Skyrim.  I have added Skyrim-only notes in blue.  Here are some tips to help you use this guide with Skyrim:
  • Replace "Oblivion" with "Skyrim".
  • Skyrim does not require Archive Invalidation.
Instructions in green are for OBMM/NMM users only.

1. Unpack the download.

Mods for Oblivion/Skyrim are often provided in either archive (.zip, .rar, .7z) or .omod (OBMM) format.

If the mod you downloaded is a .zip, .rar, or .7z file, you'll need to unpack it before you can do anything with it.  To do this, I heavily recommend the freeware program 7zip, as it will unpack .zip and .rar, and is also the only program that will unpack .7z files.  It's simple to use and free, so you may find yourself using it for everything once you have it.

Unpack your downloaded archive into a new temporary folder.  If you are using 7zip, you can just right-click the file, and choose "Extract to folder.." from the context menu.

2. It puts the files in the Data folder, or it gets the hose again!

Manual Installation:

Copy the files.

Most mods are simple.  Once you find the "root" folder of the mod (the folder containing the plugin and/or resource folders), simply copy its contents to your ..Oblivion\Data (or ..Skyrim\Data) folder and click "yes" to overwrite folders.  Note that you do not have to (and should not, for tidiness) copy screenshots or readmes into your Data folder.

But wait, what if this mod wants to overwrite existing files?  Then you have a decision to make!  Sometimes more than one mod will add or change the same file.  This is quite common with mesh and texture replacers.  In this case, you need to decide which version of that file you want to keep.  Usually you need to see it in-game before making a decision, so I recommend you just go with it unless you see something in-game you don't like.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Always read the readme that comes with the mod, as many contain explicit instructions on how the mod needs to be installed.  While most are simply as above, some are not.  If you fail to read the readme and the mod doesn't work, the modder is going to be quite cross with you if you blame them for a "broken" mod.  A good sign of a mod requiring extra steps to install is if you see folder named "Extras" or the like.

OBMM/NMM Installation:

If what you downloaded is a file with the extension .omod, you need Oblivion Mod Manager (OBMM) to install it.  With OBMM installed, you can simply double-click this .omod file from wherever it is in Windows Explorer, which will open OBMM and place the mod in the list on the right-hand pane of OBMM.  Double-click it again from there, and it will install automatically.  The installer may ask you questions to determine your preferences or ensure mod compatibility.

Recently, Nexus has released Nexus Mod Manager (NMM).  This utility can automatically download, install, and update mods for you.  Please use this with caution, as not all mods are packaged in such a way as to work well with it.  At least in the beginning, stick with manual installation or pre-made OMOD/BAIN packages until you get to know the process.

3. Back up your files.

This is one of the most important steps of using mods.  There are THREE things you should back up with regularity.

The first is your ..Oblivion\Data (or ..Skyrim\Data) folder.  You do not have to back this up every time you install a new mod, but it might be worthwhile to back it up once you have your favorite basics in place.  If you have set up multiple installs for your game, this is probably not necessary, as you have surely created a backup.

The second is your saved games.  These are, by default, located in ..My Documents\My Games\Oblivion\Saves (or ..My Documents\My Games\Skyrim\Saves).  Every time I get a bunch, I sort them into backup folders named by character, which periodically get compressed into .7z files.  Saves can easily get to 6-10mb each, but a block of 100 saves can be 7zipped down to 20mb.

The third is your mods!  Let's say you install one mod, then another that overwrote something from the first, and you don't like it.  If you still have a copy of the first mod, it is easy to simply re-install that one again overtop of the second one and get those changes back how you had them.  So when you're done installing a mod, re-zip it and toss it in a backup folder.  Make sure you name these backups after the mods themselves, as many downloads won't have recognizable names (grr).  OBMM users may skip all this, as OMODs are stored intact in a separate folder anyway.

All this takes up extra drive space.  If you don't have room, put priority on backing up your saves regularly and go from there.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Oblivion checks every single file in its folders on load and as the game is running.  For this reason, your backups should go in a new folder outside of Oblivion's program folder, and also outside of its ..My Games\Oblivion folder.  I do not know yet if Skyrim still does this or not, but there can only be good to come of keeping it clean anyway.

4. Archive Invalidation.

Skyrim does not require any Archive Invalidation, so if you are using this guide for Skyrim, skip this step.
OBMM and Wrye Bash users can skip this step, as by default they handle Archive Invalidation for you.

Lots of mods are "texture packs" or "replacers" which provide an alternate visual representation for existing stuff in the game.  If you use one, you may need some form of Archive Invalidation.  There are two ways to handle this: manually, or automatically.  The manual way is so tedious and error-prone that I will not talk about it.  To handle it automatically, get the utility described  there.

5. Activate the mod.

If the mod came with a plugin (an .esp file, that is), launch Oblivion/Skyrim and click on "Data Files".  You will see a list of currently installed plugins.  Check the box next to the one you just installed.  If you don't see it in the list, then exit the launcher, and check in Windows Explorer make sure you copied the files correctly.

OBMM users will see their plugins listed in the left-hand pane of OBMM, and may activate plugins from there if the installer did not do so automatically.  Likewise for users of Wrye Bash, NMM, and other mod managers; they all include a way to activate plugins.

6. Play!

If you experience any game play oddities, crashing, visual anomalies, etc... go back and read the readme that came with your new mod to be sure you didn't miss anything.  If you didn't, go see the Mod Use Troubleshooting Guide posted here.  If that doesn't solve your problem, then respectfully contact the modder and ask for assistance.  This is usually best done by leaving a comment on the mod's download page, or sending the modder a private message at the site where the mod is hosted.