...or at least a master file.
So, over the past version or two I have slowly been considering the possibility of changing my mod from an .esp to an .esm. Or, more understandably, from a plugin to a master file. The difference between plugin and master files are as follows.
Plugin File (.esp): The standard format for mods. They modify or add content within master files while they are loaded. Their changes are not permanent and will not actually modify the .esm file. Instead, Skyrim reads their information and makes the changes inside of the game. Every .esp has a list of master files that are required for it to run. Most of them only require the Skyrim.esm Master File. However, if one were to require Dawnguard, for instance, then it would require both Skyrim.esm and Dawnguard.esm. When you make a mod with the Creation Kit, they are the format that it saves your changes in. They can be uploaded to the Steam Workshop.
Master File (.esm): Skyrim.esm is the main master file. They are what hold all of the main files which the game uses. They have higher priority than any .esp files in the load order. You can make an .esp that modifies and .esm, but you cannot make an .esm that modifies an .esp. They are the star of the solar system and all of the little .esps orbit around them. They can only be created by using modder-made tools to convert a .esp to an .esm, and they cannot be uploaded to the Steam Workshop.
So, why the extended monologue about the difference between the two? Mainly because I am currently giving a significant amount of thought to changing my mod to an .esm. This has a number of pros and cons, but I think that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
+ Modules. I would finally be able to make all of those optional modules that people have been asking for. Some people just want the overhaul without the weapons. Some want the skills to be in the vanilla perk trees. Others want quests. Some want small optionals like a Fists of Steel perk for Light armor. Others might want a Chi system. The list goes on. Making Way of the Monk a Master File mod would allow me to make those modules. You would download the master file with the whole shebang. Then, if you wanted certain aspects changed you could either download a module (.esp) for yourself, or even make your own to use.
+ Compatibility. Compatibility issues would be much easier to solve. Instead of having to change large parts of my system to work with another mod or have them do the same thing, I (or someone else) could just build an .esp that bridges the gap between the two mods and makes them compatible. It would be totally optional and the compatibility patches would be much easier to create.
+ Teamwork. If, at some point, someone else wanted to join me on the project and help me out, then a Master File would be a LOT easier to work with. Say, for instance, that someone wanted to help me build a questline for the mod. We could 1) work together on the SAME file at the SAME time using a program made by SureAI, allowing us to simultaneously build the questline together. Or 2) one of us could make an .esp plugin for the .esm that adds a questline that is totally optional. That way you could get the main mod without having to worry about all of the issues that come with quest mods.
+ No Steam Workshop. Unfortunately, the Steam Workshop does not allow modders to upload .esm Master Files. At all. And even if it did, it has a filesize limit of 100mb. While just the overhaul would not likely meet that size limit, the modules might. Especially if they included new meshes, textures, or sounds. The normal mod has already reached a size of 72 mb. Simply adding full dialog for two characters might raise the size past the 100mb limit on the Steam Workshop. If I turned Way of the Monk into a master file, then Steam users would not be able to download the latest versions from the Workshop. I would not delete the mod, so they would still be able to get whatever version existed before the change to .esm. However, to get any later versions they would *have* to use the Nexus.
So, what do y'all think?
Personally, I think that it is worth the risk. As the creator, I want to grow this mod as much as I can without being limited by the Workshop's capabilities. However, I do not want to alienate players unless I have to. Please feel free to give me your input on the choice.