How to Create, Save, and Change Skyrim Character Presets
Why a Preset and Not a Save Game?
Presets may be a bit more work for the one making the mod, but they are better for the player and the game itself in the long run.
Even Bethesda has said that there is no such thing as a "clean save." Mods can no longer be popped in and out at will without issues as they could in Morrowind and Oblivion. Large mods and scripts, even when stopped, stay present on a save game until the end of time, causing potential problems down the road for anyone downloading the character you wish to share. Why? The leftover stuff from any mods you had installed will still be there in the save.
It's time for the modding community to move onto better, more sophisticated ways of sharing content. Hence the preset plugin. This type of minor mod can be removed easily without any awful side effects to your game.
With a preset, the people who download your mod can do whatever they want—from applying the look in ShowRaceMenu to starting a new game from scratch looking like your character. The bottom line: less restrictions and fewer issues from save game residue.
What You Will Need
- The Skyrim Creation Kit (I'll be using patch 1.8)
- Some knowledge about how to work the kit on your own
Open the Creation Kit. Make sure to run the program as an Administrator to avoid problems down the road.
You can set the Creation Kit to open as Administrator every time by choosing Properties from the drop-down menu, navigating to the Compatibility tab in the Properties window, and checking the box labeled Run this Program as Administrator.
The Creation Kit will take a few seconds to open. Once it does, go to File in the top-left corner and choose Data from the drop-down list. Check Skyrim.esm and Update.esm, then hit OK and let the Creation Kit load. This may take a while. If the Creation Kit encounters any errors, hit Yes or Ignore. This is normal and doesn't mean anything is wrong.
For future reference, if you ever want to edit your mod again, check Skyrim.esm and Update.esm in the data window, then choose your mod file in the window and make sure that it is set as the Active File.
The next thing to do is save your mod. Navigate to File in the top left, where you just were, and choose Save from the drop-down menu. Give your mod a clearly descriptive name. I can't emphasize this point strongly enough. When people name their mods ambiguously, it's really annoying.
When you are finished saving, exit out of your Creation Kit. I named my mod Solding_CharPreset, for the character I am going to be sharing. Whatever you named your mod, you need to go to the mod manager you are using, whether it be the launcher or the Nexus Mod Manager, and uncheck your mod in the load order. There is no point in having an empty mod enabled.
Making an NPC File for Reference
Now, start up Skyrim. Create a character that you would like to share, or open your old save. Make sure that you are out of the ShowRaceMenu. You can decide whether or not to save your game after this, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
Once you have your character looking like how you want the preset to look, hit the tilde key, otherwise known as "~", and type "SPF YOURCHARNAME", of course substituting the "YOURCHARNAME" for the name of your character.
This will generate a file in your Skyrim installation folder called "YOURCHARNAME.NPC". We are going to use this to make the face of the preset. After we are done, don't delete the .NPC file. You can use it to make followers with the preset's look, give NPCs the preset look, ect.. I generally tend to include mine in my mods just in case anyone wants it.
Making a Placeholder Actor
Now, reopen the Creation Kit. Go to "Data..." and reopen your mod using the method I described above (with the active file button). When everything is loaded and the errors are dismissed, go to the object window (the window on the left of the CK with things like "Actors", "Audio", and "Character" written in it, and expand the Actors category.
Expand the second Actor category, right click on the right set of boxes where all the names of the NPCs are, and choose "New" from the drop down menu. This should create a new NPC and open the NPC editor window. In the Object Window, your new NPC should have a little star next to their Count, which should ALWAYS be 0. If it isn't 0, you've done something wrong.
We aren't actually going to be introducting this actor to the world of Skyrim; they are a "placeholder" actor that the Vanilla race uses as a reference.
In the Actor window, we're going to do a few things - first, give your placeholder actor a unique formID. Putting "1_YOURFORMID" (in other words, a 1_ in front of your ID) will put the actor at the top of the Actor's window so that they can easily be found.
We don't need to do much to this window. You can get away with leaving the Name and Short Name empty, but I like to fill it in so it can be searched in the Creation Kit. In the Traits tab, make sure to set the actor's Race to the race of your character, and check the box if they are female; leave it empty if your preset is male.
Once you have done that, go to the "Character Gen Parts" tab. You may have to click the arrow pointing to the right at the very top right of the Actor window to get to it.
The CharGenParts window is pretty ugly, but there is only one thing that we want here - that's the Import button. You should save your mod before going any further.
When you've saved, hit that button, navigate to your .NPC file with your character name, and open it with the Creation Kit. It will automatically put the face on your character. Check to see if it worked by ticking the "Head" Checkbox at the very bottom of this window - a preview of your character's face will appear on the right.
Once that is done, close the Actor window and save your mod again.
Setting the Actor as a Preset
Now, the last step of this tutorial. Go back to the object window, expand the "Character" dropdown on the left, and open the Race category. Find the Race of your character (same name you put in the Actors window next to the gender of your character) and double click on it to open it.
Go to the Presets tab, and tick the appropriate gender checkbox on the top right of the window. Then, drag your placeholder actor into the Races preset window so that it looks something like the screenshot below. If you hit the head checkbox now, your face will not show - instead, it will show the default face for the race. This is normal. Exit out of the Race window and save your mod. Now you can exit the Creation Kit.
The only thing you need to do now is re-enable your mod in your Mod Manager and check to see if the results in game are as expected. If you see your character's face at the end of your presets for the correct race and gender, then you have succeeded and you are ready to distribute your mod.
If not, then something has gone wrong along the way. You don't have to start from scratch; just go over and second check the steps again in the Creation Kit, and make sure your mod is at the bottom of the load order.
Be a Good Modder: Compatibility With Other Mods
If installed alongside any other mods that edit race, this new mod you have created may cause crashes. The mod makes one small change to the original race, which can create conflicts if you use mods that make changes to it as well. It can't be avoided.
However, the strength of this type of mod is that it can be installed and then removed. Once you save your game, the character's appearance is saved too, so you no longer need the mod enabled. That means that if something is incompatible you can temporarily uninstall, and reinstall it, after you are done with the character creation screen.
Make sure that the people who download your mod are aware of this so that they don't break their game. That's what being a good modder is all about.