Recently I held a facebook vote between two mods, Witchery and Thaumcraft4. During this process two things became clear. One, they are both really great mods. The second, what a “mod” is and does for someone new to Minecraft isn’t clear.
What is a mod?
A mod is a pretty generic term for anything that changes the way Minecraft works. Some mods only add blocks to the game, some don’t add anything but change how spawning happens, or make it so you can walk on water. Some mods add entirely new worlds to the game complete with new monsters, trees, ores, adventures, etc.
The two mods I was picking between change the game significantly. They both add magic, though they use it in very different ways, and blocks, though their themes are quite different. They both add more “game” to Minecraft. With more “game” comes more looking things up, progression, advancement if you will. Both of these mods eventually add a whole new dimension (or world) to the game. Minecraft by default has 3 dimensions, the overworld (where you start), the nether (hell like place), and the end (???). Witchery adds a dream dimension that you get to by drinking a sleeping drought and Thaumcraft adds the outer lands which you get to through a portal that is a bugger to open. Before getting to these things you have to do a LOT of stuff in the mods.
In Witchery you pretty much grow things, make potions, sew some witches robes, find some other witches in the world, etc. If you are skilled enough (i.e. have done enough) they will share knowledge, information, or even materials with you.
In Thaumcraft you are a lone thaumaturge working in your lab. You build a wand and thaumicon to unlock and track your progress. Explore the world around you looking for aura nodes, treasures, and avoid the crimson cult. You perform research, on paper, in your lab by combining elements into new more advanced materials (discover life for instance). You use that knowledge to plot out glyphs (puzzles) that in turn unlock arcane knowledge for you. Advancing is difficult and there is a progression order.
Mods typically are loaded through a mod-loader.
What is a “Mod Loader”?
A mod-loader is a hacked-up version of Minecraft that makes it so mods have a consistent API (application programming interface). Basically it’s a Minecraft install that allows modding. There are two main launchers in use today, Bukkit and Forge. I prefer and use almost exclusively Forge based mod loaders.
Mod Loaders get used by Launchers to start the game.
What is a “Launcher”?
A launcher is a program that you start before you start the actual game. For Minecraft we typically use Technic launcher for LostDorks but Feed-The-Beast has been used in the past and may be in the future. Think of it as the “battle.net” game launcher, but for minecraft. It will handle updating your mods and the game as required for the particular server you wish to play on, so long as the developers did an okay job packaging things up.