Super Special Awesome Turbo Anniversary Collectors Edition

updated June 2nd, 2019

Welcome to the Skyrim Special Edition guide! The good news is, Skyrim Special Edition is a (marginally) improved version of the now 6 year old game. With an updated 64 bit engine (basically just an outdated Fallout 4 engine) and DX 11 so the game can stop crashing every 10 minutes. The bad news is, we have to re-mod almost everything. Let's jump right in! 
MODS FROM THE ORIGINAL GAME WILL NOT WORK WITH SPECIAL EDITION OUT OF THE GATE, THEY NEED TO BE UPDATED.
The good thing is, updating the mods is normally very easy and only takes 2 minutes. Mods that are present on the Legendary Edition pages but have been removed from the Special Edition ones, like may still work, they've been removed because they haven't been officially ported yet. Just DIY and see if it works.
In this section, we will discuss:
-What's the difference between the original and SE?
-What are ".esl" plugins and "espfe" plugins?
-What is the Creation Club/Bethesda.net?
-The state of modding.
-SkyrimVR? What works, what doesn't?
-Conclusion, why play Special Edition?

 

What's the difference?

The differences between the original game, aka LE (Legendary Edition) and SE (Special Editon) are very minor visually. There are a few new graphical touches that were added such depth of field, improved shadows, improved lighting, rain occlusion, water flow and a few other improvements to everything else. Nothing that modders haven't already added or fixed; in fact it basically looks like a slightly modded Skyrim with a really bad ENB.  
However, a lot of changes have been made to better the game's performance, such as making it 64 bit so that the game will utilize more RAM along with the better graphical stability with DX 11. Meshes are also treated differently as well so that certain outdated texture file formats, such as TGA, can no longer be used. This may be a problem for some modders who have used these formats for their previous mods and want to port them to SE.
 
Speaking of porting to SE, for many mods, all you have to do is run them through the new Creation Kit for SE and you should be fine. But as stated before, in some cases if you do not update the meshes as well they will not work. Any mods using SKSE need to be ported by their original mod authors, and won't work with a simple conversion work.
 
Creation Club is also a thing that exists, but many will just ignore, as they are overpriced and generally not worth the asking price. With the addition of the Creation Club we also got ".esl" plugins, which are smaller plugins than your average ".esp" or ".esm" but operate under different rules and can be used in unique ways to make modding SE an easier time when compared to LE.
The community is pretty divided on this whole Special Edition thing, so only time will tell if it's truly worth it to switch over.

What are ".esl" plugins and "espfe" plugins?

If you asked me (which you haven't) I'd say that ".esl" and "espfe" plugins are the best thing to come out of SE. Here I'll explain what an esl is, what it isn't and how it can make your life past the 255 plugin limit an absolute heaven when compared to LE.
The ".esl"
".esl" plugins otherwise known as "light masters" are a new plugin type added with SE and the Creation Club, you may notice that most CC mods use this plugin format, it was probably created because Bethesda wanted to make a plugin type that wouldn't count towards your 255 plugin limit, and didn't want Creation Club mods to lock players out of achievements when downloaded.
Here's a comprehensive list on what ".esl" files can and can't do (from creationkit.com):
    • .esl files cannot be edited in the Creation Kit. Active development should be done in an normal .esp file. (Edit as a .esp, export as .esl)

    • .esl files allow more plugins to be loaded than the previous 8-bit plugin ID limit (255), by using more of the Form ID for their load order.

    • .esl files have a budget of no more than 2,048 forms, with Form IDs 0x800 to 0xFFF available for use.

      • A absolute maximum of 4096 .esl files can be loaded by the engine at once, but in practice this is difficult to achieve.

      • 331 plugins can be loaded that each contain 2048 ALCH records, but 970+ plugins can be loaded that each contain one CELL record and 2047 REFR records.

      • There may also be a file handle limit, and a reference limit that prevent 4096 .esl files from being loaded.

    • .esl files are merged into plugin slot 0xFE at runtime. Their runtime Form ID is 0xFE[000](Hex Load Order)[000](Original Form ID).

      • Form 0xFA0 from the 10th loaded .esl file would be 0xFE00AFA0 at runtime. From the 200th .esl file, it would be 0xFE0C8FA0.

  • To convert a normal plugin (.esp) to a light (.esl) master, load your .esp file, and under File, select Convert Active File to Light Master.

  • It is good practice to run Compact Active File Form IDs to optimize your Form IDs within the 2,048 form budget before converting.

    • Compacting Form IDs does also change Form IDs in the .esp file, so be sure do this before converting to .esl, and be sure to save the .esp file afterwards.

    • Do not compact Form IDs on an .esp file you have already released and are updating. Because Form IDs change, you essentially create a new plugin when compacting, and this new plugin will not be compatible with saves using the old version.

  • Updating .esl files has more restrictions than updating .esp files, but not many.

    • Because of the 2,048 Form ID limit, it is important to be careful when deleting forms not to reuse Form IDs.

      • A saved weapon form could be deleted in your plugin, then have an armor form take the FormID when compacted.

    • Again, be sure to save compacted .esp files, because otherwise compacting again with new forms might give different Form IDs for forms already in a game save.

    • As long as development is done on compacted .esp files that match released .esl files, forms can be added under the 2,048 form limit, and existing forms can be edited without issue.

  • .esl Files released by Bethesda Game Studios (Creation Club releases) are flagged as master files and always load immediately after the official Bethesda masters, in the order specified by the game's .ccc file. These .esl files cannot be deactivated.

  • .esl Files released by modders are flagged the same as .esp files, but these also load with the master files, in the order specified in plugins.txt. These .esl files will need to be activated before the game will load them.

  • .esl Files created by modders cannot use standard .esp files as masters or this will cause the .esp file to also load before the .esl in the master files section. This is new behavior for the game engine as of Skyrim Special Edition v1.5.3.

    • Any dependencies of the normal plugin a light master depends on are not loaded early.

    • Creating light masters that are dependent on normal plugins is highly discouraged.

The biggest takeaway from that list is the fact that ".esl" plugins, while small and limited, don't count towards your 255 plugin limit, instead they have their own limit of 4096 plugins instead, This is great news for those people that would constantly have to make Merge patches to get around the plugin limit, instead we can just turn smaller mods into .esl plugins and live happily past the limit! There are even more good things we can now do with this new plugin form, which is make ".esp" plugins with a ".esl" form, now called espfe plugins.
The "espfe"
The "espfe" file is a ".esp" labeled as an ".esl". It is named espfe because its a .esp plugin that loads on the "fe" space, just like ".esl" files, which means it benefits from bypassing the plugin limit, while also loading on a normal load order like ".esp" files can, meaning we can turn compatibility patches and other smaller mods into espfe. Instead of writing a huge wall of text on what these magical plugins can and can't do, I'll direct you to read Qwinn's incredible article on the subject detailing all that is and isn't about these files. >>>Read here!<<< and >>>read here<<< for a tutorial on how to turn ".esp" plugins into espfe's!
The downside
The biggest downside is the fact that ".esl" and espfe mods cannot be merged, not that you would need to since they have a limit of 4096 plugins, but its a limitation that you should keep in mind.
And, while probably only a temporary issue, espfe plugins are a relatively new thing and not all tools have been updated to work properly with them such as Mator Smash or Merge Plugins. Wrye Bash's development build (available on their Discord) has a working version that identifies these plugins.

What is the Creation Club and Bethesda.net

With the newest release of Skyrim, Bethesda thought it would be a good idea to bring modding to consoles, which is fine, and they also thought it would be a good idea to bring paid mods back, which is arguably not fine.

Bethesda.net

Since Bethesda wanted to bring the joy of modding to consoles, they had to create their own "Nexus" of sorts, a place for modders to upload their content so console players could download and use them.
Skyrim SE now has a button on the main menu to access the Bethesda.net, where you can download mods from, straight into your game.
Xbox users have the biggest freedom of content in regards to modding on consoles, as many modders have posted their mods on the website, even then, the Xbox has a 5GB and 150 esm/esp file limit. Note that enabling mods from the Bethesda.net disables the Achievement system for your game, adding a [M] to the name of your save file to identify that as a modded game. PC users can get
around this restriction by using a SKSE plugin.
PS4 users got the shaft however, as Sony indicated they would not allow any external assets to be used for their mods, limiting the modders to vanilla assets only, and no scripts, with a 100 .esm/esp mod limit as well, making PS4 modding complete shit.
And that's were the Creation Club comes in.
It has been brought to my attention that Bethesda.net has some mods not available on the Nexus, if you ever feel that a mod is missing from the Nexus do not automatically discard Bethesda.net, there's a chance you can find your mod there. Thank you Hans-Landa for bringing this to my attention.

The Creation Club (Aka "not paid mods")

Around September of 2017, Bethesda decided to finally release their new monster, paid mo--
Sorry, "mini dlcs", in the form of the Creation Club.
Bethesda selected a few notorious big name modders to work for them, making extra content for Skyrim SE and Fallout 4, some modders included are Elianora, Trainwiz, unoctium and others.
The content ranges from badly textures armor and weapons to a fucking Mudcrab.
The most egregious fact about the creation club is the price x quality of the content:
"For ONLY 5 DOLLARS you too can buy a Survival Mode for Skyrim! Complete with no new features compared to free mods already out there!"
The stuff there is seriously overpriced, badly designed and sometimes just pure lazy, quests start automatically, as soon as you start the game, and THEN the quests are all just fetch quests!
For example, one of the paid mods they've added is the Divine Crusader set, as in Pelinal's fucking Armor and weapons.
As soon as you shell out 5 DOLLARS for it, upon loading your game, you'll find you have started a new quest, this new quest points you toward a dungeon, not a new one, just a repurposed one, when you get there, you'll find that two BANDITS have somehow gotten the whole fucking set, common Bandit Thieves (not even Chiefs), you kill them, you loot the armor, and that's it. Quest done. Congratulations. Lovely.
Oh, but they don't lock your achievements though. Money well spent.
Q. Who's the Creation Club stuff for then, if they're so shit?
A. The poor PS4 people, because they can't have actual mods, their only source of something is the Creation Club.
And even then, I wouldn't recommend they buy it.
Q. Should I even bother?
A. No. Only if its for free. Do try Trainwiz's dungeon mod though, its pretty decent. Don't buy it obviously.
Q. But I see a creation that I li-
A. No.

The state of modding on Special Edition

With ENB receiving almost daily updates and SKSE fully developed, SE modding scene is better than ever, creators are porting the big mods over and many other mods work without much effort.
Other than the new and improved CBBE SE, High Poly Project, Obsidian Weathers and now most Arthmoor mods, no big mods have been made SE exclusive yet.
Some mods that require SKSE and people consider essential have not been ported yet, like Enhanced Camera (although an alternative is in the works over at Reddit).

SkyrimVR

SkyrimVR is based on Skyrim Special Edition, however, differently from other Skyrim versions available for PC, Bethesda does not officially support SkyrimVR modding, to the ire of many modders *cough* *cough* A̶r̶t̶h̶m̶o̶o̶r̶ *cough* *cough*.
But that didn't stop the community from modding the game, now, I don't have a VR headset, so I can't attest to the validity of these claims, but a group of users are compiling a list of working VR mods, which you can access here.
Ordinator is a fringe case, where some perks seem to work, others don't, you can check which perks work here.
Other than that, everything else seems to be similar to Skyrim Special Edition, it has its own SKSE and its own ENB, XPMSSE seems to work just fine, which allows for the use of CBP or simple BBP physics, and some mods (like Flower Girls ye fucking pervs) are getting their own VR versions.

Conclusion: Who is Special Edition for?

Pro:
-Better stability, meaning less need for mods like Crash Fixes or ENBs memory optimization and other external mods/tools just to get the game running without crashing so often.
-Possibly better performance depending on your setup
Cons:
-Less mods than Legendary Edition
-Bethesda breaks SKSE functionality every few months with Creation Club updates.
That said, I would recommend Special Edition only for those returning to the game from long hiatuses, without a mod setup already built, those who are starting from scratch and late newcomers to the series, who would be too overwhelmed by the shit stability and constant troubleshooting of Legendary Edition.
For the people that want to take the most beautiful screenshots or make amazing waifus (and the dirty husbandos) I would recommend staying on Legendary Edition for the time being.
>inb4 lel SE is shit