I’m writing this because up till now, Bethesda still has not addressed this “bug” and they have already mentioned they will not continue to patch Skyrim anymore. Thus, this bug is ‘here to stay”. This affects every NPC, follower or non-follower alike.
Have you ever wondered why your housecarls, eg Lydia, keeps on wearing her Steel Armour at home, even if you’ve given her better armour when she was following you on your adventures?
Skyrim has the following “Wardrobe features”
- Skyrim “snapshots” the armour and weapons (ie the gear) that is being worn by the NPC at the point the player says “FOLLOW ME”.
- If weapons or shields in snapshots are not present after zoning (Fast travel, cell change indoors/outdoors), it helpfully “re-creates” them (ie dup exploit!)
- If body armour in snapshots (head/arm/chest/legs) are not present after zoning (Fast Travel, cell change indoors/outdoors), Skyrim engine “crashes” out right here, and will not equip better gear even if present in inventory.
When a player enters a cell with an NPC in it, Skyrim engine does these:
- Loads NPC graphic
- Dresses NPC in “default outfit”.
- Does Skyrim have a snapshot (rule 1 above)? If yes, try to dress in snapshot gear.
- If you entered/exit a building together with this NPC, and this NPC is a currently follower, then Skyrim will equip the best gear available in inventory, but will still go through step 2 and 3 first.
- If the default outfit AND snapshot body gear NO LONGER EXIST IN INVENTORY in step 2 and 3 above, and the NPC is currently NOT FOLLOWING YOU, crash! Error! Stop right here! Even if this NPC has a set of armour in inventory, they will NOT be equipped if these are not part of the snapshot set.
- Snapshot weapons and shields that no longer exists are helpfully re-created (hence, duped), even if the NPC is currently an active follower.
Best way to demonstrate points (1) to (3) – If you own Hjerim and have Calder, give him better gear, dismiss and recruit him to snapshot him in better gear. Dismiss him, and leave Hjerim (not an active follower). Go back in. Chances are, you can see Calder in his default Steel Armour walking around, then right before your eyes, he “changes” into your better gear.
Point (4) is demonstrated everytime you tell a follower, eg Lydia, to “follow me” when she’s in default outfit (Steel Armour,) and you’ve already given her better armour. Once you step outside the house, amazingly she did a Wonder Woman change and is now fully dressed for adventuring, in the gear you’ve already given her! Further, if Lydia is NOT an active follower, she’ll be wearing her STEEL ARMOUR at home (default and/or snapshot) even if you have given her Daedric. Just try to recall… when you say FOLLOW ME to Lydia, was she wearing STEEL or Daedric?
To demonstrate point (5), when you have Lydia as follower, use console or a mod to REMOVE Lydia’s Steel Armour. That’s her default outfit. Give her better gear if you want to, then dismiss her, and do NOT recruit her again (not an active follower, invalid snapshot of non-existing Steel Armour, no new snapshots of any current armour). Leave the zone/cell, and come back. See her run around naked at home.
To demonstrate point (6), with Lydia as a follower, give her a better sword and a better shield. Dismiss her. Recruit her (Snapshot!). Take back the sword and shield you’ve given her. Now, go travel a bit. After 1 or 2 cell changes (fast travel, or indoors/outdoors change), check her inventory. You will see the same sword and shield THAT YOU HAVE ALREADY TAKEN BACK, present in her inventory (and may even be equipped).
So what significance is this bug?
Understanding this bug allows you to do something interesting – allows you to equip your spouse and/or followers with 2 sets of outfits. One for use when they’re following you (point 4), and one for use when they’re NOT following you (point 3).
Or, if you like seeing your housecarls using the best gear possible, then update their snapshot when they’re wearing the best gear, and next time you come home you will continue to see them wearing it instead of the Steel Armour.
Also it may help you work around some modded custom companions that “feature” some sort of wardrobe functions. The mod author(s) may or may not be aware of this Skyrim bug and might not have written scripts to take care of this, and thus their modded NPC companion may run around naked when the right conditions present themselves.