Modding Skyrim on the Steam Deck update

This is a followup to last night’s post where I put out a call for help resolving problems I was having getting a modded Skyrim setup going on my Steam Deck.

I’m pleased to report that the situation has now been resolved! Many thanks to the user named Baguette on the Skyrim Together Discord server, who gave me some helpful tips.

So here’s a post about what those tips were, and what I had to do to get the Deck ready for modding.

Step 1: Install steamtinkerlaunch

Baguette basically advised me to try using Vortex to get the Deck prepared for modding, and the only way I had at my disposal to do that was to use steamtinkerlaunch. Specifically, their instructions for how to install it on the Deck, which basically meant needing to run their provided install script in Desktop mode.

It is important to note that I also had to make sure and update my system path to include the directory created by that script, which was /home/deck/stl/prefix. Those of you who are Linux users will recognize that all this meant was that I had to add an appropriate line to my .bashrc, which basically looked like this:

export PATH=$PATH:/home/deck:/home/deck/Downloads:/home/deck/stl/prefix

The purpose of that being, so that I could actually run the steamtinkerlaunch command in my terminal without having to explicitly cd into that directory.

Also important to note for Deck users:

  1. in the Discover app in Desktop mode, there is a steamtinkerlaunch there, but it is not functional. A couple of reviews on it explicitly note this, and just to be thorough I tried it myself and can confirm those reviews. So if you’re going to install steamtinkerlaunch on your Deck, go to the Github repo and follow their instructions on the Steam Deck link I gave above.
  2. There are various bits of UI mentioned in the Steam Deck instructions that I could not figure out how to get to work. So far I haven’t been able to get at the main menu UI at all, and I’m not sure why. So this means that really, all I did here was download and run the install script in my terminal.

Step 2: Use steamtinkerlaunch to install Vortex

Steamtinkerlaunch will apparently let you install either Vortex or Mod Manager 2. I’ve had different people tell me different things about which mod manager is preferable, and I did previously try to install MO2 on the Deck. But Baguette had advised me to try Vortex instead, and so I backed out of the MO2 install attempt.

And I was okay with that. I’d gotten Vortex running on my PC laptop, so I was already familiar with it. From what little I’ve seen of MO2’s UI, I like Vortex’s better anyway.

Plus, the one main argument I’d heard in favor of MO2, i.e., support for different profiles for different mod configurations, is a thing that Vortex also now does anyway. So I have no particular compelling reason to be on MO2 vs. Vortex.

Your mileage may, of course, vary! So depending on which mod manager you want, here are the links for those instructions:

As with step 1, there were some things here that I couldn’t figure out how to get working. The instructions talk about how, once I had Skyrim in a “VORTEX” collection in Steam, I should see Vortex launch as soon as I hit Play in Steam.

This didn’t work. Vortex in general seemed to work fine, though. See below.

Step 3: Set up my profiles in Vortex

I wanted three profiles to switch between for testing purposes:

  1. No mods at all
  2. USSEP only, which is what I’m running right now with Shenner
  3. A Skyrim Together Reborn profile

For the Skyrim Together Reborn profile, I wanted the following mods:

  1. USSEP
  2. Skyim Together Reborn
  3. SkyUI
  4. SKSE for Anniversary Edition, since SkyUI depends on that
  5. Address Library for SKSE Plugins, since STR wants that

So, not a gigantic modding profile there. However, I did run into challenges!

Mod challenge 1: Bethesda broke everything OHNOEZ

Yesterday Bethesda dropped a new patch for the Skyrim Special Edition. This mostly contains fixes for Anniversary Edition stuff, but a couple of other patches to the base game as well. And it pretty much broke everything, notably the SKSE, on which many other mods rely. So I couldn’t get that installed at all, because it bitched at me that my Skyrim version was one it didn’t support.

So I have to wait for that to update before I can run SkyUI with this mod profile.

Mod challenge 2: Making sure my profiles were set up right to load the right mods

At one point I ran into an issue with how, even though I had the USSEP profile active, Skyrim wasn’t picking up on the USSEP being installed. Turned out the issue was that I didn’t have it as an active plugin. Once I figured that out, I just went in to enable that in the Plugins section of Vortex, which has to be done as well as enabling the mod itself. This fixed the problem.

Mod challenge 3: Making sure I had the right versions of stuff

I had mistakenly downloaded version 5 of the Address Library, oops. I got STR to the point of being able to load, only for it to bitch at me that I didn’t have the right version. So I went back to Nexus and found out that there was a version 6. Got that installed properly, and blew away 5 out of Vortex to resolve conflict and redundancy warnings.

Step 4: Make sure my protontricks was defaulting to Windows 10 for settings

Credit to Baguette on the Skyrim Together Discord for this one, which basically meant running this command in my terminal:

protontricks 489830 winecfg

This told protontricks, which I’d previously installed as part of my attempt to set up MO2, to default to emulating Windows 10 when trying to make Windows executables for games run correctly on the Deck. It brought up a UI that let me do this on the Applications tab, and all I had to change was the default setting. I didn’t have to add either the vanilla Skyrim launcher or the Skyrim Together one.

Step 5: Add Skyrim Together Reborn as a launchable game in Steam

Wanted to do this to make sure I could get at STR when the Deck was in gaming mode as well as Desktop mode, basically. So there were two things I had to do here:

  1. Tell Steam to use Proton 7 for it, explicitly; trying 6.3 appears to have been the root cause of that weird Minhook error i was seeing before
  2. Add a path to the launch options for it so that it knew where to go to launch Skyrim’s actual installer

The pathing that Baguette recommended looked like this:

STEAM_COMPAT_DATA_PATH="/path/to/steamapps/compatdata/489830/" %command%

I just had to edit that path to point at the equivalent on my actual device, and then paste the edited result into the launch options for STR in Steam.

Other challenges

Steamtinkerlaunch’s instructions were somewhat confusing in a few areas, and sent me down at least one big rabbit hole that should not have happened. Their writeup basically seemed to want me to launch Skyrim via steamtinkerlaunch itself, and/or Vortex.

When I tried that, Skyrim launched but it lost all recognition of my controller layout and defaulted to wanting me to use a keyboard instead. Given that this was on my Steam Deck, that was a goddamn problem! The entire point here being, of course, to be able to use the Steam Deck’s own controller buttons.

This wasn’t a complete blocker–I was at least able to use the teeny keyboard I’ve bought for the Deck, and its teeny trackpad, to get out of the game safely while it was in that state. But it was hugely frustrating to have to deal with. And it started reproducing even when launching Skyrim outside of Vortex as well, in both Desktop and Gaming modes.

I ultimately wound up blowing away my entire steamtinkerlaunch install and doing it again, including all the stuff in Vortex, just because I wasn’t sure what the hell I’d mangled to confuse Skyrim like that. Fortunately, second time through, I got Skyrim to a point of being able to launch safely, still having my controller mappings available, and acknowledging when I switched between profiles in Vortex.

While I was doing all of this, in parallel, I also went through a similar procedure to see if I could get Skyrim Together Reborn set up on my PC laptop. This is likely to be hilariously stupid, given how old that box is, as I have written before on many posts. But I wanted to try it for comparison purposes, to see if doing the setup on the PC gave me any helpful insights on how to make it work on the Deck.

Notably, this is how I figured out the “don’t launch Skyrim via Vortex” problem. Because I reproed that “completely lose track of the controller mappings” problem on the PC, too. In that scenario, Skyrim lost track of the Nintendo Switch Pro controller I had plugged into the USB port. Again: not optimal.

After doing all of this, I finally got both the PC and the Deck to a similar point: i.e., being able to launch vanilla Skyrim safely (so that I can continue Shenner’s playthrough), and also being able to launch the STR version of the launcher.

Which is about as far as I was able to get. Because now when I launch STR, I’m seeing the same crash behavior everybody else is seeing. This is the one remaining challenge, because Bethesda’s update did break the world, for any modder. SKSE still needs to update to catch up, and that impacts a whole hell of a lot of mods that depend on SKSE.

Skyrim Together Reborn’s wiki says they explicitly do not require SKSE though they do want the Address Library I mentioned above. But they’re also now telling their users that they’ve gotten reports that STR has broken in a lot of unpredictable ways after the update, so they have to go through all the reports and evaluate how to fix the issues. They’re telling everybody for now that if you want to try STR, you need to downgrade your Skyrim to the previous released patch.

Instructions for how to do that are called out on this reddit thread, for the interested!

Next steps

Since trying Skyrim Together Reborn was only part of my interest in getting the Deck ready for modding, I may or may not bother to downgrade Skyrim on that device to the previous patch. I’m kind of thinking right now that I may try the downgrade just on the PC, since the Deck is now my primary play device. So I’m less concerned about potentially fucking up the Skyrim install on the PC.

And I’m keeping an eye on just to see when the SKSE finally updates. Because I do want to try SkyUI, and SkyUI depends on that!

For now, at least, the Deck is now finally in a state where it can take Skyrim mods, which is where I wanted to be. So I may just now wait for the Skyrim mod situation to settle down before I add any further mods–and in the meantime, I can also experiment with this setup to see if I can extend it to Morrowind. And maybe also Open Morrowind!

And I do have playthroughs in progress that need attention anyway. Shenner’s playthrough only has the USSEP so I have plenty of unfinished business there. And none of this modding brouhaha impacts the Switch, anyway!

Anybody got any questions, let me know!

As Angela Highland, Angela is the writer of the Rebels of Adalonia epic fantasy series with Carina Press. As Angela Korra'ti, she writes the Free Court of Seattle urban fantasy series. She's also an amateur musician and devoted fan of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music.