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How to Find the Cause of a Skyrim Crash, Which Mods Caused It and How to Resolve It Using Papyrus Logs and Windows Grep

Updated on April 13, 2016

Guide to fixing crashes caused by Skyrim mods especially a crash to desktop (CTD) with or without an on screen error using the Papyrus logs

If you are like me, you love to play Elder Scrolls V Skyrim with loads of wonderful mods installed. Although mods add so much to the game, they can also cause your game to crash. This hub came out of my frustration at my game crashing and also the lack of any guide on the internet that helps you to find out why the crashes are happening.

Broadly speaking, there are three times that Skyrim can or will crash.

  • When the game starts up
  • After fast travelling
  • Upon leaving a shop or a house

To determine which mod (or mods) are causing your game to crash, you need to do a small amount of detective work. To do this, we need to do four things:

  • First we need to enable Syrim logging (which is turned off by default)
  • Next, we use BOSS to check our load order and also for mod patches, conflicts or other issues
  • Then, we need to read the logs to find out why Skyrim is crashing
  • Finally, we need to use free tool called Windows Grep to look inside the mods themselves to determine exactly which mod is causing the crash

Skyrim with mods is a beautiful and fun game to play.Skyrim in game photo courtesy of Bethesda and Zenimax.
Skyrim with mods is a beautiful and fun game to play.Skyrim in game photo courtesy of Bethesda and Zenimax. | Source

Installing Skyrim mods using either a Mod Manager (Nexus Mod Manager or Mod Organizer) or installing mods manually

If you are new to mods in Skyrim, there are two main ways of installing mods. The first is by using a Mod Manager. There are two main applications to choose from for Skyrim.

  • The first is Nexus Mod Manager. This is a simple and very to use piece of software that is perfect for beginners. It allows you to download and install mods with just one click and takes care of your mod load order and checks mods for updates automatically. I have a hub on Nexus Mod Manager that can be found here:

http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-use-Nexus-Mod-Manager-to-download-install-uninstall-and-manage-Skyrim-Oblivion-Morrowind-and-Witcher-2-mods

  • Mod Organizer is a more advanced Mod Manager and offers the same features as Nexus Mod Manager but is designed for more advanced users. Each mod is installed in its own folder to allow for easy removal and to reduce mod conflicts. You can have separate profiles with save games and different mod lists. It helps you to fix issues with mods and also allows you to back up your .ini files easily. My hub on Mod Organizer is located here:

http://robbiecwilson.hubpages.com/hub/Mod-Organizer-an-advanced-Skyrim-utility-to-manage-install-detect-and-fix-mod-conflicts-and-update-all-your-mods

The second method of installing mods is to install them manually. This is more time consuming that using a Mod Management tool, but gives you more control over what you are installing. I would recommend using this method if:

  • You want to cleanly install just a part of a mod (for example, one armour set out of a mod containing multiple armour sets)
  • You would like to gain a better understanding of how mods work

Both methods are not mutually exclusive. You can install the majority of your mods using a Mod Manager and install a few as and when needed manually. My hub on how to install mods manually can be found here:

http://robbiecwilson.hubpages.com/hub/Beginners-Guide-on-how-to-manually-install-and-use-Elderscrolls-V-Skyrim-mods-downloaded-from-Nexus-or-other-websites

Mod Organizer, a Mod Management tool for Skyrim mods designed for an advanced user.
Mod Organizer, a Mod Management tool for Skyrim mods designed for an advanced user. | Source
Use Nexus Mod Manager to manage your Skyrim mods if you are new to mods.
Use Nexus Mod Manager to manage your Skyrim mods if you are new to mods. | Source

Use BOSS to check your installed Skyrim mods for missing dependencies and patches as well as to check for conflicts and errors which may otherwise cause crashes

BOSS is an excellent tool which will perform a number of crucial checks on your installed mods in Skyrim. I recommend that anyone who installs mods uses this tool to enhance game stability and reduce errors and issues introduced via mods.

  • First and foremost it checks and configures your load order to ensure mods load correctly and don’t overwrite each other
  • It will help you avoid potential crashes by telling you which mods may cause a CTD
  • Then it checks that your installed mods won’t conflict
  • It makes sure your mods don’t have dirty edits which can cause game instability and make other mods work incorrectly
  • BOSS will advise you when you must change an .ini file to make a mod work
  • The application determines if your mods are missing patches or dependencies

I have a hub that goes into greater detail about how to use BOSS to ensure that your game mods are set up to ensure game stability and also that the mods behave as expected which can be found here:

http://robbiecwilson.hubpages.com/hub/Using-BOSS-and-Tes5Edit-to-optimise-your-Skyrim-load-order-to-improve-game-stability-and-reduce-game-crashes

An example of output from BOSS's analysis of my installed Skyrim mods.
An example of output from BOSS's analysis of my installed Skyrim mods. | Source

However good a tool like BOSS is and believe me, BOSS is a tool that you simply cannot live without if you use mods in Skyrim, it is not foolproof. You can see from my picture below, BOSS has no warnings, advise or notes regarding any potential issues. The mod that I suspect to be the culprit, Skyrim Unbound does not show any warnings.

BOSS will not always tell you the cause of your Skyrim crashes.
BOSS will not always tell you the cause of your Skyrim crashes.

This means that BOSS does not have any information in its database to suggest that anything is wrong with my installation.

How to enable error and crash logging in Skyrim

The first step in identifying the cause of any game crashes is to enable logging, so that Skyrim will tell you exactly what happens before the game crashes. By looking at what is happening to cause the crash, we can then determine which mod is causing the crash itself. To enable logging, we need to edit your Skyrim.ini file.

Unless you are using Mod Organiser (in which case it can be found by clicking the Tools button and then INI Editor), your Skyrim.ini file can be found in:

C:\Users\<Your User Name>\Documents\my games\skyrim

Important: Always back your ini files up before making changes so you can easily roll back if you have issues.

Change the following section to read:

[Papyrus]

fPostLoadUpdateTimeMS=500.0

bEnableLogging=1

bEnableTrace=1

bLoadDebugInformation=1

Now, the next time your game crashes, you will see that Skyrim has created a new folder called Logs and a folder inside Logs, called Script. The Script folder will contain your crash logs.

How to read and understand crash or Papyrus logs in Skyrim

As you can see below, I have three crash logs:

Example of crash or Skyrim Papyrus logs.
Example of crash or Skyrim Papyrus logs. | Source

Open the log file which has a time that matches when your game most recently crashed (in my case it is Papyrus.0).

Now, scroll to the bottom of the file and you will see what happened immediately before the crash.

Example of a Skyrim Papyrus or crash log showing the cause of a crash.
Example of a Skyrim Papyrus or crash log showing the cause of a crash. | Source

It is not too readable in its current format. To make it more readable, I found the most recent time stamps in the file (for example [02/04/2014 - 07:09:14 PM]) and put them on different lines.

Tidied up Skyrim Papyrus or crash logs to make them more readable.
Tidied up Skyrim Papyrus or crash logs to make them more readable. | Source

Now it is far more readable. The section we are interested in reads:

02/04/2014 - 07:09:14PM] Error: File "Dragonborn.esp" does not exist or is not currently loaded.

stack:

<unknown self>.Game.GetFormFromFile() - "<native>" Line ?

[SkyrimUnboundMCM (470012C6)].SkyrimUnboundMCMScript.CheckBools() - "SkyrimUnboundMCMScript.psc" Line 115

[SkyrimUnboundMCM (470012C6)].SkyrimUnboundMCMScript.OnOptionSelect() - "SkyrimUnboundMCMScript.psc" Line 651

[SkyrimUnboundMCM (470012C6)].SkyrimUnboundMCMScript.SelectOption() - "SKI_ConfigBase.psc" Line 1069

[SKI_ConfigManagerInstance (1A000802)].SKI_ConfigManager.OnOptionSelect() - "SKI_ConfigManager.psc" Line 157

Looking at that last section, I can instantly spot a problem!

02/04/2014 - 07:09:14PM] Error: File "Dragonborn.esp" does not exist or is not currently loaded

I have over 100 mods installed, but I do not have Dragonborn installed. So a mod is looking for another mod that I don’t have installed. Looks like we are getting somewhere! Now we have to find out what mod that is.

If we keep reading:

SkyrimUnboundMCM (470012C6)].SkyrimUnboundMCMScript.CheckBools() - "SkyrimUnboundMCMScript.psc" Line 115

So we now know that Skyrim Unbound is looking for the Dragon Born DLC in a script called SkyrimUnboundMCMScript.psc on Line 115 and that this is causing my game to crash. I have highlighted the lines from the Papyrus log in green below.

Section of a Skyrim crash or Papyrus log with the parts that show the cause of the crashes highlighted.
Section of a Skyrim crash or Papyrus log with the parts that show the cause of the crashes highlighted. | Source

Use Windows Grep to confirm which mod is causing crashes in Skyrim

We also need to use a free tool called Windows Grep to confirm which file is causing the crashes. This excellent utility looks inside files for a specific string of characters. It is particularly useful if you don’t know which mod is causing the crash, or the Papyrus crash logs don’t give you a meaningful mod name.

In this case, we are going to use Windows Grep to find out which mods reference dragonborn.esp. As I don’t have it installed and have avoided downloading mods that require it to run, I would expect it to not find it mentioned in any mods at all.

First, download Windows Grep from http://www.Windows Grep.com/download.htm and install it

Now, the first thing we do is tell Windows Grep what to look for (in this case dragonborn.esp)

First, tell Windows Grep what we are going to ask it to find inside the files of our Skyrim install folder.
First, tell Windows Grep what we are going to ask it to find inside the files of our Skyrim install folder. | Source

Windows Grep needs to know where to look, so browse to your Skyrim install folder and click the > to load it to the right hand panel.

Next, we tell Windows Grep where to look.
Next, we tell Windows Grep where to look. | Source

Next, we need to tell Windows Grep which files to look in. We will ask it to look inside

*.bsa, .*.bsl, *.esp and *.psc files. Those file extensions are the main extensions used for Syrim mods and scripts.

Now we tell Windows Grep which types of files we want it to look inside.
Now we tell Windows Grep which types of files we want it to look inside. | Source

Windows Grep will now search all file types you specified for the string you asked it to look for. After a period of time, it will come back with the results.

Windows Grep will give you a report of every time it finds the text you were looking for inside the Skyrim installation files so you can identify the cause of the crash.
Windows Grep will give you a report of every time it finds the text you were looking for inside the Skyrim installation files so you can identify the cause of the crash. | Source

You can see above, that Windows Grep has found only one instances of dragonborn.esp in any mod or script installed and it is Skyrim Unbound.bsa. This confirms what we believed after reading the Papyrus crash logs.

You can also look inside the actual file itself and check for instances of the string of characters you are interested in by clicking on the link to the file (illustrated by the red arrow in the figure above) and doing a find.

Now that I have confirmation of the issue causing Skyrim to crash, I have two options. I can either purchase the Dragon Born DLC or remove Skyrim Unbound (I cannot live without Skyrim Unbound so I bought Dragon Born).

Conclusion

Game crashes are an extremely annoying, but sadly frequent downside to playing Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series especially if you install large numbers of mods like I do. Skyrim, although a stable game overall, is no exception to this rule. There is no default logging as there is in Morrowind for example (it used a Warnings file to notify you of mod related issues) while the game is loading.

In this hub we learnt:

  • How to enable Papyrus or crash logging
  • We used BOSS to search for known issues with the mods I had already installed
  • Next, we looked at how to make sense of the logs and find out what caused the crash and which mod was responsible
  • Finally, we used Windows Grep to confirm which mod is causing the crash by searching inside the mod and script files themselves

Using this method of crash investigation, I was able to determine why my installation of Skyrim was crashing and which mod was causing it. I hope that should you have a crash that you couldn't prevent that my hub has helped you figure it out and that you are enjoying (like me) spending a great deal of time happily exploring the wonderful world that is Skyrim.

Which type of Skyrim crashes do you have most often?

See results

© 2015 Robbie C Wilson

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    • profile image

      Garret 2 weeks ago

      @luke or anybody having an issue where the game crashes when they are playing: it's a memory issue. Look into SSME, it solves the problem.

    • profile image

      Outdated 3 weeks ago

      Needless to say, this guide is hopelessly outdated and incorrect even when it was first released. First of all, BOSS is completely outdated and is no longer supported. All of the BOSS devs have either quit or moved over to LOOT development. Use LOOT. Second of all, Papyrus is NOT a crash debugging tool. It was meant to be a SCRIPT debugging tool, so unless you are a modder trying to debug your own scripts, you should not even have Papyrus logging enabled. In fact, enabling Papyrus logging causes more strain on your game and increases the amount of CTDs.

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      Frist 2 months ago

      I can't do this because I'm a console gamer, it's crashes on my Xbox One... Is there another way to find out?

    • profile image

      cade 3 months ago

      hey, guys, i know this is probably a few months or even years old but I found the solution to not being able to find the logs. go to

      C:\Users\[name]\Documents\My Games\Skyrim\Logs\Script

      your welcome ;)

    • profile image

      Ferralian 3 months ago

      Try opening the papyrus log in wordpad. Every timestamp is automatically placed on a new line. Saves a lot of work!

    • profile image

      The Seer 3 months ago

      Just followed step one of edit Skyrim.ini. Played Skyrim and waited for the inevitable crash and checked out the logs. And no scripts.

    • profile image

      Luke 4 months ago

      "Broadly speaking, there are three times that Skyrim can or will crash.

      When the game starts up

      After fast travelling

      Upon leaving a shop or a house"

      Mine is crashing after a minute (so so) playing. No fast travel, no enter/leaving a shop or a house. Just walking by and then...crash

    • profile image

      Anonymous 5 months ago

      Thank you.

    • profile image

      Eris 7 months ago

      BOSS is deprecated and the masterlist hasn't been updated for a few years. It was replaced by LOOT which is much more reliable and updated regularly.

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