Harrowhark Playthrough,  Modding,  Skyrim

Mods for Harrowhark’s Playthrough

My latest Skyrim playthrough, launched on my Win11 VM and which is also running on the Steam Deck as my whim dictates, stars Harrowhark the Imperial. She is named after Harrowhark Nonagesimus in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series, and it is very likely she will also wind up being my vampire/necromancer playthrough. I expect she and Serana are going to get along very well indeed.

This, however, is not her first official playthrough post. This is the post in which I’ll document, for the curious, what mods I am running. Because this is also my first official modded Skyrim playthrough!

I have quite a few mods installed on the VM for this–nearly 80 in all. I’m not going to list them here in the actual load order, because the load order is a thing dictated by my mod manager of choice, Vortex. I took pretty much the load order Vortex set up for these mods as I installed them.

Instead, I’ll break them out into categories here. And this post is long, so the full list is behind the fold!

General commentary

In general, the mods I’ve selected here accomplish the following rough goals:

  • Bug fixes and performance improvements
  • Adding interesting new content
  • Fixing some things about the game that aren’t actually bugs per se but which just piss me off, for example, unnecessarily scanty female armor, or lack of female guards in the Imperial-controlled Holds
  • Tweaking certain quest lines that have aspects I don’t care for, particularly so that I can feel better about playing certain parts of the game I haven’t tried yet (Dark Brotherhood, I’m looking at you)
  • Visual and audio overhauls, just to see how much I could change the look of the game to use higher resolution graphics, and not be too hard a drag on my performance
  • Improving game immersion

A bunch of these mods provide multiple files for the player to download. Where relevant, I have called out individual files I explicitly downloaded, some of which show up as separate mods once installed in Vortex. The files I downloaded are shown in this list as sublists of whatever mod they belong to. If I don’t explicitly call out which file I downloaded for a mod, you can assume I downloaded whatever was first on the list on that mod’s Files page. Or, alternately, whatever file they provided that was explicitly marked as for use in an Anniversary Edition install.

Bug fixes and performance improvements

All of these are in the name of improving game performance, and fixing existing bugs.

UI changes

Mods that change general UI of the game. The extra SkyUI plugin here is to fix an issue with SkyUI not being loaded by default on game startup.

Some of the mods I’m running expect SkyUI to be there. However, I do not like SkyUI’s general UI changes, so I also installed Hide SkyUI to revert the front end SkyUI stuff back to vanilla behavior.

Architectural changes

Mods where the intent is to change the architectural style of various locations.

NPCs and followers

Mods that impact the behavior of existing NPCs, or which add new NPCs, especially new and interesting followers.

I pulled in the Serana mod here because in Faanshi’s playthrough, I tried out taking Serana to Solstheim as a follower, following the conclusion of Dawnguard. But Serana does not have interesting dialogue for Solstheim, and I’m interested to see what this mod does to address that. (There’s one other mod I found that also does a dialogue overhaul for Serana, but that one actually recasts Serana’s voice actor and goes back and redoes all her original lines, too. I didn’t want to try that one on the grounds that I like Serana’s original voice actor, and I want to see what the mod I chose does with building new lines for her.)

Inigo, Lucien, and Vilja were all recommended to me as interesting follower mods. I have actually punted Vilja out of my playthrough partway through, but I have not uninstalled her mod on the grounds that it makes several structural changes that I’m reluctant to try to undo mid-playthrough. Vilja had some personality aspects that really annoyed me, though, so I just parked her in the Bannered Mare.

Armor, clothing, and other appearance changes

Mods oriented around adding new armor and clothing, or making changes to ones that are there. I was particularly interested in the mods that make female armor more practical, by which I mean, “showing less skin”. I’m not interested in my characters wearing armor that isn’t going to frigging protect them, and that includes “from frostbite”. Because running around in scanty armor in a cold environment like Skyrim is just begging for frostbite.

(Noting for the record that I don’t care if other players like the vanilla armor versions, or even if they want to play with armor that makes the armor even scantier. If you want to fight dragons practically naked, or have your followers do so, have at it. I just don’t wanna do it in my playthrough.)

I had to install the Weapons Armor Clothing and Clutter Fixes mod to get Armor and Clothing Extension to work.

Not sure if Starsight Eyes is actually useful to install mid-playthrough, which is what I did with it, or whether I won’t see an impact unless I have Harrow hit the Face Sculptor again in Riften. I am experimenting with this just to see. So far though I haven’t noticed an obvious eye difference on any of the NPCs though. Or on Harrow.

Changes in game mechanics

Of these, the ones I’m most excited about are Realistic Animals and Predators (which does highly interesting things to the AI that controls animal behavior), and Ars Metallica (since doing smithing is one of my favorite things in the game).

Campfire I installed mid-playthrough because I was really interested in checking out the craftable tents and seeing if they were better than the campsites available in the AE Camping functionality.

Convenient Horses I likewise installed mid-playthrough and so far am really enjoying it because it solves three problems for me with horses:

  1. Being able summon them when I want them
  2. Assigning their home location to any of my houses with stables
  3. Giving my followers the ability to purchase horses (at least, if they’re vanilla followers)

I added Campfire and Convenient Horses to the playthrough in no small part because of also playing Survival Mode on my Switch, and these seem like critical mods to have in my load order later when I try a Survival Mode equivalent with mods.

Faction overhauls

All of these mods are targeted towards making substantial changes in various factions. I am particularly interested in the Dark Brotherhood one, just because I’ve never actually played the Dark Brotherhood, on the general grounds that I couldn’t bring myself to kill some of the targets in the quest line.

And the Thieves Guild one is because I don’t like extorting the shopkeepers at the beginning of the Thieves Guild quest line. Everything else that mod does is bonus!

Really looking forward to seeing what the Bards College mod does, though, and seeing if that makes the Bards College actually interesting.

I do loves me some College of Winterhold, too, and so far, partway into Harrow’s playthrough, I am adoring the changes this one brings in.

New territory, new adventures, and other content changes

Beyond Skyrim – Bruma came extremely highly recommended, so I’m excited to try that out. Cutting Room Floor intrigued me, as it attempts to resurrect several things that Bethesda was originally going to ship with the game, but which they pulled before release.

Environmental changes

I’ve been pointed at acres of different weather and environment mods, and settled upon the combination I’m using here just because I liked the overall look of what it did to the world.

I’m particularly happy with Sounds of Skyrim, since it adds a boatload of interesting ambient sounds to the game. And EVLaS does amazing things to the light levels all over the place.

Alternate quest paths

Because #TeamPaarthurnaxLives, goddammit! Also, you will note that there are two Paarthurnax mods here, the second one is to add voiced dialogue for the new lines the original one doesn’t have. I do prefer to play with subtitles on, so I’d see those lines anyway, but I want to see what the additional mod did with actually building voice lines out of previously existing lines for those characters.

And I grabbed Innocence Lost Alternative because even though Grelod the Kind is horrible, I’ve always felt a bit squeamish about taking her out. I much prefer the idea of actually reporting her to the Riften Guards. And, for that matter, the idea that at least one Riften Guard sees fit to actually confront her on her behavior. My headcanon for this: multiple citizens of Riften probably grew up in that orphanage. And they’re probably not the slightest bit hesitant to finally do something about the abusive Grelod.

“RUSTIC” collection of mods

These arguably ought to be filed under the various categories above, but I’m listing them all here together because they’re by the same author and do the same overall thing: replacing a bunch of assets in the game with higher resolution ones. I grabbed all of these just in the game of seeing how many assets in Skyrim I could replace with higher res ones, and what that would do to the look of the game as a result.

(This series of mods had one other I did not install, for dragon corpses. I skipped that one on the grounds that I didn’t feel like looking at my dragon skeletons being bloody. Yuck.)

“Holy crap, Anna, you have a lot of mods!”

I do, don’t I? And yet, I’m given to understand this is novice-level modding. I’ve heard tell of mod playthroughs that have hundreds of mods.

“But what about <fill in your favorite mod here>?”

I’m aware of certain other mods that take graphical overhaul even further, and do things like overhaul the look of characters all over the game. I’m less interested in those kinds of mods just because the ones I’ve looked at seemed to me like they homogenized the NPCs too much. Particularly Dunmer, who seemed to get a lot paler across the board, and yeah, no.

I am highly interested in Legacy of the Dragonborn, but am not including it in this playthrough. The reason for that is that from what I see on its page on Nexus, that thing is super complicated, and the vibe I’m getting off of it is that I probably don’t want to try to moosh it into a heavily modded playthrough. It may need its own playthrough all by itself.

I’m also interested in Alternate Start – Live Another Life, but wound up not including it in this playthrough mostly because I forgot to! And of course, once my character was out of Helgen, it was too damned late to start over. 😀

I had a look at RaceMenu but ultimately decided not to install it; it didn’t grab me. Mostly because I didn’t feel like I needed even more granular detail over setting up my character at the start of a game.

“Any conflicts setting these mods up?”

I had a few conflicts but nothing serious, and nothing that Vortex’s built-in mod managing couldn’t handle. The conflicts that popped up were generally between Skyrim Flora Overhaul, Noble Skyrim, Realistic Water, and some of the Rustic series of mods. I handled these mostly by taking Vortex’s suggestions for which things should load first.

“Any performance issues?”

I do have some lower FPS going on, particularly outside, and I strongly suspect a big part of that is Realistic Animals and Predators. I did see that mod slow me down hard once or twice in prior testing, and it may or may not become a problem as I proceed through the playthrough.

Watch Harrowhark’s ongoing posts! I will of course be writing up observations of mod behavior, both good and bad.

Any other questions?

Drop a comment!

Editing to add

  1. 11/25/2022: Worked on updating my mods on my Steam Deck to match the ones in my VM, and discovered that the Deck had the Animated Potions and Poisons one, and that I’d forgotten to add that to the VM’s set. So I got the VM in line with the Deck on this. Also, since the Deck reproed the problem I’d seen with the SSE Engine Fixes mod’s Part 1 throwing an error message about a DLL not loading, I disabled that one on the Deck as well as on the VM.
  2. 11/25/2022, later: Removed Anna NPCs mod from this playthrough on the grounds that I discovered it caused two bugs I wasn’t happy with. The mod owner does appear to be active on Nexus but for the time being I don’t want to have to diagnose what’s up with this mod, so I’ve deleted it for now. The issues I noted were:
    • It dropped a tavern just to the west of Whiterun, which was occupied by four women who were apparently a bardic group. Which would have been nice except for the part where two of the women clearly had badly rendered heads, which was extremely distracting
    • More distressingly, the mod also dropped an inn to the east of Whiterun, but right in the same area now occupied by Tundra Homestead, brought in by the Anniversary Edition–and the inn mooshes right into Tundra Homestead
  3. 1/18/2023: Other mod changes I forgot to document here:
    • Added Starsight Eyes
    • Added Convenient Horses
    • Added Campfire
    • Added Cloaks of Skyrim
    • Added patches for Inigo
      • Bow of Shadows Lingering Invisibility Fix
      • Inigo Bloodchill Manor Patch
    • Removed More Elven Armor mod, didn’t find this one terribly interesting, mostly seemed to be repurposed existing assets
    • Removed Bosmer Armor Pack, even though I really liked the armor, on the grounds that the NPC it added broke Jenassa and that is not acceptable
  4. Also 1/18/2023: Reworded sections of this post to indicate reasoning behind some mod changes, and also that Harrowhark’s playthrough is now well and thoroughly in progress.

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.