The Unofficial Fallout 4 Patch, which we wrote about in our Mod Roundup back in April, is a “comprehensive bug fixing mod” that seeks to address all of the great many technical issues that Bethesda doesn't get to in official patches. It's covered a lot of ground in the three months since it was released, but now it's run into an “impenetrable roadblock” that's forced some not-entirely-desirable changes to how it works.
The problem first came to light over the weekend in this "arrow to the knee" thread explaining that settlers were changing gear, appearance, gender, and race after having been in a settlement for a certain amount of time, based on the respawn timer. “Cut [the timer] to one hour, you can get the problem almost immediately,” it says. “Raise it, and you can probably delay it, but it will cost severely in performance elsewhere.”
The post offers up a much more technical breakdown of the problem, but the need-to-know part is that according to the patch makers, it's hardwired into the Workshop system, and they can't fix it. “IMO, this may sound a death bell for the project. Settlement issues are a large portion of what's wrong with the game and it has taken him/us 4 iterations of work to get to the point we're at now, and now it's all for nothing,” the poster wrote. “Considering Bethesda themselves screwed this up for reasons unknown, I don't know if we can trust them not to completely screw something ELSE up later on that gets in the way of fixing a broken quest, bad flags on NPCs, or even stuff as simple as fixing typos.”
Complicating things further, a Bethesda employee going by the name of SmkViper said it's unlikely that the changes cited in the complaint are actually the cause of the trouble. He asked for “a minimal example of the issue, hopefully without loading several of mods” and said Bethesda would continue to try to track down the issue. But also pointed out several “misconceptions” about how the system works that could have the mod makers headed down the wrong path.
While the problem doesn't sound like it will be going away anytime soon, it's not necessarily the end of the line predicted in the original post either. An update released yesterday actually removes fixes for the AI pack “WorkshopSandboxRelaxation20x4,” as they appeared to be “greatly aggravating” the bug. “The underlying issue has NOT been fixed by Bethesda but this should mitigate most of the worst effects of it. Settlers will still change clothing on a regular basis, but this is harmless and appears to be an unannounced intentional feature added to the system with Patch 1.6,” the update notes say. “Settlers who are already bugged will unfortunately retain the bad behavior. It is not known yet if they will eventually return to normal.”
It's not a perfect fix, but it's better than nothing. And at least now you know you weren't imagining things.