How to Diagnose and Resolve a "Skyrim" Crash
If you are like me, you love to play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with loads of wonderful mods installed. Although mods add a ton of extra content and fun to the game, they can also cause your game to crash. This article was inspired by my frustration when my game kept crashing and there were no guides on the internet to help me troubleshoot.
Generally speaking, there are three things that can or will cause Skyrim to crash:
- Starting-up the game
- After fast traveling
- Upon leaving a shop or house
How to Resolve a Skyrim Crash
To determine which mod is causing your game to crash, you need to do some detective work. Here are the four steps necessary to stop your game from crashing:
- First, we need to enable Skyrim logging (which is turned off by default).
- Next, we use BOSS to check our load order, 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 a free tool called Windows Grep to look inside the mods themselves to determine exactly which mod is causing the crash.
In this article, I will explain how to execute each step and provide the information necessary for you to download and organize your mods more efficiently.
Step 1. Enable Error and Crash Logging in Skyrim
The first step in identifying the cause of any crash is to enable logging so that Skyrim will tell you exactly what happened before the game crashed. 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.
Step 2. Use BOSS to Manage Your Mods
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 an article that goes into greater detail about how to use BOSS to ensure that your game mods are set up properly and behave as expected.
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, advice 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.
Step 3. Read the Skyrim Papyrus or Crash Log
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 timestamps 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.
Step 4. Use Windows Grep to Confirm Cause
We also need to use a free tool called Windows Grep to confirm which file is causing the crash. This excellent utility looks inside of files for a specific string of characters. It is particularly useful if you don’t know which mod is causing the crash, or if 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.windowsgrep.com/download.html and install it.
Now, we 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 Skyrim 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 instance 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.)
Installing Skyrim Mods: Software vs Manual
Now that you know how to solve a crash, it's time to learn how to download and organize your mods to avoid future crashes. If you are new to using mods in Skyrim, there are two ways to install them. The first is by using a Mod Manager. Here are the two methods you can choose from:
- Software: Nexus Mod Manager is a simple and very to use a 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. Mod Manager is another tool that 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. If you need more help, here's an article about how to use the software.
- Manual: The second method of installing mods is to install them manually. This is more time consuming than 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, you may want only one armor set out of a mod containing multiple armor sets.) Similarly, if you need more help with Mod Management, check out this article.
- 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 manually when needed.
Enjoying Your Mods and Your Playthrough
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 article, we learned:
- First, we enabled Papyrus or crash logging.
- Then, 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. Should you experience a crash that you couldn't prevent, I hope that my article will help you find a solution. By following the proper procedure, you can spend 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