How to Find the Cause of a Skyrim Crash, Which Mods Caused It and How to Resolve It Using Papyrus Logs and Windows Grep
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
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:
- 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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
<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.
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)
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 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.
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.
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).
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?
© 2015 Robbie C Wilson