Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Zenith of the Pictish Empire - More Crusade Kings 2 stories

I have broken Crusader Kings 2. I have actually destroyed my game. It’s fucked.

As the Emperor of a sprawling, pan-European Pictish hegemony, I’ve finally reached the tipping point. You know how when people show you maps of the Roman Empire, it’s almost always during the reign of Emperor Trajan, when the empire was at its greatest extent? Well, I’ve reached that point now, and I’m having a hard time admitting to myself that I may have reached the pinnacle of my achievement, and the only thing I have to look forward to a slow descent into chaos, civil war and fiscal oblivion. Even though I’m only in the 1320s and have around 100 years of game-time left, I have to admit I’m a little reluctant to switch on for my nightly 30-min gaming session, because it pains me too much to see the great realm I’ve built over the better part of 7 months fall apart. YES I KNOW I SAID IN MY EARLIER POST I’D BEEN PLAYING FOR ‘A COUPLE OF MONTHS’ BUT WHAT I REALLY MEANT WAS MORE THAN HALF A YEAR. SUE ME.

*sigh* How did I get into this situation?

House Uerterio start out in 769 as the puny earls of Fortriu in the Highlands of Scotland. I picked Fortriu because I wanted to play as the descendants of Bridei of Fortriu, the Pictish king who humbled the Northumbrians at the battle of Dun Nechtain in 685. My early aims were as follows:

1)      Usurp the Kingdom of Pictland
2)      Form culturally Pictish Empire of Brittania

As we will see I was successful in step 1, but the Saxon kingdoms in the south proved a harder nut to crack. I would have them eventually, but by that time my holdings were too diverse to make something like de-Saxonifying England make much sense.

This was my first time playing as a vassal, and also my first time playing as a tribal vassal, so I was really not doing very well at all. I wasn’t really aware of the raiding mechanic so I was completely unable to accrue wealth for those early stages of the game. I conquered Ce (Aberdeenshire I guess?) but lost it to Gavelkind succession and then engaged in a horrific feud with my Doric cousins over the next few years. This culminated with the sack of Ueris (Forres) by the Chief of Ce, my sneaky harelipped cousin Rubert (who I’d actually tried to have installed as king by faction many years before, the ungrateful turd). During this sack Rubert captured my son and two of my daughters and forced one of them into concubinage which is basically the most harrowing thing that has ever happened to my family in the game. I was eventually able to ransom one son and a daughter back, but he kept my youngest daughter for decades. Naturally, I dedicated the next few years to getting back at him. Eventually, I bribed one of his bishops to put poison in his drink and he died like the Ramsay Bolton-esque dog he was. However, by that time my daughter had been away so long that much to my sadness, she actually preferred to stay in Ce. I believe she eventually married a courtier. I hope in the end she found some happiness. But this being Crusader Kings 2, I doubt it.

It was about this time that one of the more unusual characters in this playthrough emerged, and I’m still a little disappointed my attempt to name him my tanist (heir with Tanistry, kind of like elective succession but kept within the same family) and play him failed. Listen, if ye will, to the tale of Castantin the Conqueror. The early 9th Century saw Pictland hit by numerous Viking raids, and on one of these raids, Ueris was once again burned to the ground and prisoners were taken. Among them was a cousin of my character, Castantin, who was just a boy at the time. I spent ages saving up for a ransom, but by the time I had enough to pay for the child’s return, the damage was done. Castantin was now a Norse pagan, and embraced everything that went with it. I shrugged and put him out of my mind, and went on to expand my demesne by conquering Tyrconnell. I was pretty smug until I saw what Castantin had been doing while I was fighting the Irish.  Castantin had taken over Northumbria! And a great swath of land in central Ireland. And to top it off, he appeared to have been vassalised by the King of Bavaria? I like to think he offered his services to the King in exchange for land in the newly conquered territory and had gathered a party of his old Danish buddies to go and make their fortunes. And now he was the most powerful Duke in the British Isles, with six of the best counties including Dublin and York. What a guy. The upshot of this is that I never really got the chance to fight the Saxons after all, because by the time I had to fight border skirmishes to the south, all the Saxons were dead at the hands of Castantin’s Vikings and their Bavarian allies.

Eventually I gave up the tribal life, since it was doing nothing for me, and embraced feudalism. Shortly after, my spymaster (who had been blinded after being caught spying on Byzantine tech, in the first of a long line of indications the Byzantines are bad news) found out my liege was plotting to revoke my title, so I had him offed and then forced myself into the position of Duke in the power vacuum. Then it was mere moments before I was able to push another faction on the king, who ceded power to me to avoid civil war. So it came to pass that Caruorst Uerterio became the first Uerterio king of Pictland, and ushered the country out of its dark phase of barbarism and civil war. In doing so, I eliminated the last few embers of the emerging “Scottish” culture. Good pikemen or not, I was never going to relinquish my Pictish heritage, never!

Caruorst earned well his title of “The Great”. Possessed of martial skill, charm and a fine ginger beard, he quickly subjugated the warring counts of Ireland, and created a second kingdom. But he was not done yet. Taking up the Pope’s call to crusade in Iberia, Caruorst launched an attack on Galicia and quickly beat back the unprepared Moorish forces. So now I had three kingdoms. Caruorst may have been a fine warrior but he was something of a disaster in all other facets of life. His cousin and close friend Gigurum was his tanist, but he managed to sour that relationship by sleeping with and impregnating his wife. I felt bad for Gigurum, since this was his third wife and every one of them had cheated on him at least once. To make matters worse, Gigurum was Caruorst’s spymaster, so began constantly trying to kill him. Luckily, Caruorst perished in a battle against the Bavarians before the situation could truly come to a head.

Gigurum was kind of an underrated king. Despite his unpopularity with his vassals he continued mopping up the remaining Irish counties as well as some of the Bavarian lands in Northumbria. Then he triumphed in the crusade for Andalusia, bringing his number of kingdoms to four. The next few monarchs spent their time consolidating these gains, snapping up as much Muslim land in Spain as possible at the same time as picking up counties in Wales, eventually forming another Kingdom there.

His heir, Aniel “the Rash” (named for a bastard of the dynasty who proved one of the most unshakable generals during the crusade) proclaimed an empire and continued the partition of Spain. He made it his life’s work to conquer Bohemia, his mother’s country, and planned this while making gains in Mauretania. Aniel eventually launched an attack on Bohemia and was able to take it, but in doing so sowed the seeds of the empire’s later disintegration. With his vassals supporting another candidate for tanist other than his selected heir, Ganant, he destroyed the Kingdom title, giving himself a whole bunch of duke and earl level vassals he could never transfer away… more on that fateful decision later. Aniel also helped his nephew the King of Lombardy conquer Africa, although he would eventually lose it in a rebellion. Aniel also finally conquered the Greeks of England and the Bavarians of Northumbria to hold the entirety of the British Isles. Given that I already had an empire title, I decided not to claim the title of Emperor of Brittannia, because I know how difficult it is to maintain two empire titles on any kind of elective succession. After an unprecedented number of years on the throne, Aniel died of old age. An impetuous and ambitious leader, he truly earned his nickname.

Emperor Ganant married Butayna, the Queen of Africa, and decided to put an end to the constant African/Lombard rivalry. At some point I must have obtained Africa as a vassal kingdom but I still don’t remember how. Anyway, Ganant and Butayna launched an attack on Lombardy and took it in a pretty intense battle. With Butayna “the Great” now Queen of Africa and, hell let’s just call it Italy, she and Ganant went about solidifying their power over the Mediterranean basin. An opportunity to steal territory from the Franks occurred, when the Emperor of Francia idiotically created the Empire of Hispania. Of course, unable to secure the succession of his heir to both empires, Hispania broke away from Francia, taking with it much of its territory in Castille and Aragon as well as some duchies in France itself. Because (I think) the Empire of Hispania was in the de jure territory of the Empire of Pictland, and also because of the hilariously mingled family trees of medieval rulers, the heir to the Empire of Hispania was… some old guy. BUT, his heir was Ganant. Naturally, assassins were summoned. Unfortunately the old guy went into hiding, and he and Ganant had a furious race not to be the first to die so that Hispania would be absorbed into the empire (Ganant was getting on in years at this point). Then lo and behold, the old guy died! Ganant, clearly not learning from Aniel’s mistakes, immediately destroyed the Empire title and gave himself a whole bunch more vassals he could never transfer.

Then the Black Death rolled in! Mostly nobody in the realm cared at first because they were too busy dealing with the scandal of Ganant and Butayna’s son and daughter converting to Kharijite Islam. But eventually, yeah it turned out to be kind of a big deal. Queue a couple of years of hiding in the castle while the peasants perish and bodies piled up in the streets. The people went a little bit crazy, and were looking for someone to blame. Ganant suggested it was probably witchcraft, and inadvertently started a Satanic panic. Wild-eyed courtiers started bringing him suspected witches (probably just D&D loving teenagers) who I duly imprisoned. They started calling for them to be burned at the stake, but by this point Ganant figured it had gone on for too long. He released the accused witches and told everyone just to chill the hell out with their witchcraft shit. The courtiers relented, but this was far from over. Ganant returned to his chambers on night to find Butayna “the Great”, Empress of Pictland, Queen of Africa and Italy, murdered at the hands of the same zealots he had himself stirred up. Thus he earned his nickname: Ganant “The Careless”. Ganant lived for a few more years, but he was never the same again. He died a broken man, never forgiving himself for his mistakes.
Along the way somebody conquered Poland. I don’t remember who. Also Sweden. All I remember about this one was that a dwarf named Borkvard was involved somehow.

The next Emperor of note was Uuen “the Black”. A cynical and bitter man, Uuen had spent his early life focused on learning, given that his club foot precluded a traditional knightly education. On becoming emperor he moved quickly to consolidate power, assassinating a number of rivals, apparently unconcerned with whether or not they were members of his own family. He was definitely not the first Uerturio to be a kinslayer, but he was certainly the first to get caught. Later in life the Pope would grant him absolution for this sin, but in his early days he was hated and feared because of it. It was around this time that Uuen began to become irritated by some of his minor vassals, notably Bosun “the Evil” the Duke of Upper Burgundy, who constantly plotted against him and eventually raised his banners in rebellion, suffering a quite grisly fate. Wounded in numerous battles, Duke Bosun lost a hand and part of his face, before ending up in Uuen’s prison, where he died of cancer soon after. The next Duke, also Bosun, was not much better. Another vassal causing problems was Alboin of Barcelona, who had managed to hoover up an astonishing six duchies and was the instigator of most of the factions against Uuen.

Uuen married Zoe, Princess of the Byzantine Empire, having one child together, Uirup. But when Zoe fell pregnant with the child of a lewd duke, Uuen imprisoned her in a rage. Zoe would live in the prison for the rest of her life with her bastard daughter, a simple girl who died from disease aged twelve, leaving her mother alone. Uuen remarried with Èlodie, Princess of Francia and had a further three children.

Uuen did not do much in the way of conquering, though, due to the quite ridiculous defensive pacts formed against the Picts at this time. In any case, he was concerned with a new threat from the East. The Mongol Empire was expanding across Eurasia and the eastern Christian kingdoms were hard pressed to stop their advance, with the fractious Byzantines too concerned with their own power struggles to put up much of a defence. Uuen elected to aid the King of Mordvinia in his defence against the Mongols but was too late to stop the horsemen of the steppes from gobbling up half of the Russians’ territory. Meanwhile the King of Georgia broke free from the Byzantines, and presumably felt quite smug for a few moments there, before the northern part of his kingdom was absorbed by the hordes. With Pictish holdings in Bohemia and Poland directly threatened it looked like war was imminent.

But it was not in the east that the Mongols struck. When Georgia broke away, a small portion of Latium south of Rome had gone with it. Now, with a swathe of Georgian territory in the hands of the Mongols, one county with a port became property of the Khans. The Mongols aimed to expand that territory, and using their Italian holdings as a springboard, they wrested Rome away from the Franks who had held it since before the Pictish/African conquest. Uuen likely felt a little conflicted on this account. On one hand, hey, thanks for kicking the Franks out of Rome for us, but on the other… Rome in the hands of pagan barbarians is not good for Christendom in general and pagan barbarians in mainland Italy is definitely not something to be tolerated. Uuen “The Black” – atheist cynic, kinslayer and wife-imprisoner, would play the defender of Christendom. The Picts declared war, and mustered their armies. Now, by this point the Mongols 90,000 troop event-spawned doomstack had diminished somewhat, but they could still field a lot of troops, and had two 20,000 stacks active in Italy. I fielded an army of just over 40,000, including about 10,000 cavalry and heavy infantry retinues. In the Tuscan countryside a single, decisive battle was fought. Thanks to the generalship of Gede, Uuen’s best friend and marshal, the Mongols were turned back and sent packing, their manpower severely diminished. The Mongols are now no longer a threat, and the Khan has recently converted to Christianity. The Holy Father wrote to Uuen thanking him and requesting that he return Rome to the Fraticelli Papacy. Uuen’s response was something along the lines of “Sod you, we’re keeping it.”

Something changed in Uuen after this battle, though. He had always had an interest in the religions and history of India, and I think he may have felt kinship with the ancient Indian Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, who had a life-changing experience after personally witnessing the human cost of his own conquests. Like Chandragupta Maurya, he converted to Jainism (although in secret because, yeah, medieval Europe is not the most tolerant of places). Entering a Jain secret society, he realised that basically everyone has been secretly practising Jainism for years. His mother, his wife, his good buddy Gede. Everyone! Uuen and Gede started discussing a plan to eventually convert the Empire to Jainism. Buuuuuut then he died of food poisoning. I suspect that Uuen wasn’t taking the whole vegetarian thing seriously. Well, beats starving yourself to death in a cave, I guess.
Emperor Gede dealt with some more internal squabbles, particularly from the awful Dukes of Barcelona and Upper Burgundy, who were a huge in pain in the ass as usual. To top it off, Gede was monumentally depressed when his friend Uuen died. Now, Gede was peace-loving secret Jain as well but he hadn’t quite ditched the warlike streak like his old friend. Thus, it didn’t take too much for his friend’s son Uirup to convince him to push his claim on the 9-year-old Byzantine Empress, who was in the middle of a rebellion. Mustering his troops into five 10,000 man doomstacks, they sieged their way through Dalmatia, conquering province after province, facing little resistance from the overwhelmed child Empress. Although Gede died of old age before the war could be completed, Uirup was now Emperor of both Pictland and Byzantium. And from this point on the game was essentially unwinnable.

A word about Uirup. Uirup is the WORST.

Uuen never wanted this for Uirup. He packed him off as soon as he came of age to marry a disfigured duchess in England where he would never have anything asked of him and would never do any harm. Oh boy, was this not what happened. Somehow, all my vassals voted for Uirup as Gede’s successor, apparently because they were getting all nostalgic for Uuen’s time in the hot seat. Don’t worry, it didn’t last long. Uirup has a diplomacy score of zero and a stewardship score that isn’t much better. Given that he’s also a foreign conqueror to half of his subjects, he’s having a little trouble.
The main problem is revenue. I’m bringing in less than nine gold on a good month. The Empire is now hilariously overstretched. I don’t have Imperial Administration because I didn’t realise you had to have been changing laws to favour the ruler all along. My attitude to things like banishment or war committees is kind of “sure, let them vote on it” so I never felt I needed to change them. As a result of this, as well as Aniel and Ganant’s reckless destruction of titles, I have 52 vassals and only a 29 vassal limit. Getting Imperial Administration at this point is impossible, mainly because none of my council will support the law changes I propose. Neither will they let me buy favours, they hate Uirup that much they literally won’t take a bribe from him. I’ve already given away all the vassals I could, and created all the kingdom titles I could – Sicily, Croatia, Greece, Armenia, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, maybe a couple of others – and I could still only get it down to about 32, only for it to fly back up again when I inevitably had to fight three or four successive rebellions and revoke the titles from the offenders.

That’s the other thing. I’m facing continual factions and revolts. Even vassals that love me because I just made them kings are plotting against me. I’m currently fighting off some Avarian duke who’s pushing a courtier’s claim on the Byzantine Empire with only my 10K retinues and about 5K extra men while at the same time fighting the King of Croatia who’s rebelling because I tried to have him arrested. And since I’m bankrupt from fighting the last few wars with mercs, those retinues aren’t going to be reinforced any time soon.

To top things off: I am going to lose the Byzantine Empire. I managed to switch it to tanistry, so that my heir Domelch (Half-brother, Uuen and Èlodie’s kid) would inherit both. And this worked for a while, before the electors in Byzantium very deliberately switched their loyalties to Amalrich “the Just” the goodie-two-shoes Earl of Hamburg, from a cadet branch of the Uerturio family. I have virtually no plot power so killing him is out of the question. Except for using the console to kill him, I don’t see any way to avoid the fact that not only am I going to lose Byzantium to Amalrich, he’s also going to take his lands in Germany with him, as well as Mauretania and Andalusia because he’s just been elected heir to those too. So to sum up, I am losing not only the Empire I conspired and fought so hard to get (all right I beat a 9-year-old but you get the point) I am also losing two entire Kingdoms – including my capital, Seville – and a bunch of miscellaneous territory in Francia. And probably Alexandria since I gave it to the King of Sicily… aaaaaaagggghhhhh.

That’s why I say: This is it. This is the high water mark. It’s never going to get any better than this. This is the beginning of my empire’s downfall. Trajan was definitely a better Emperor than Uirup, but I doubt he had the same perspective. To think I harboured dreams of reforming the Roman Empire itself! To think I planned to push Domelch’s claim on Francia and take that too! Hubris! Hubris I say!
I understand why this is happening. To be honest, the game doesn’t WANT you to be able to take this much territory. Blobbing is fine, up until a point, and then no more. It’s not really realistic for me to be able to take over the entirety of Europe. But I wanted to be able to push this as far as I could, and build the ultimate Pictland to transfer over to EUIV.

Now I’m not sure what to do. Do I try and steer the Empire through its downward spiral? Settle for being second best to reinvigorated Byzantium (third best if you include the now untouchable Francia, I suppose). Or, the second option… I cheat. I’ll kill Amalrich using a console command, give myself a buttload of cash and weather the inevitable rebellions. Third option, I go back to before I declared war on Byzantium, and just don’t do it. Find some other way to expand my glorious Pictish Empire.
Or… transfer Byzantium to my primary title and destroy the Empire of Pictland… thereby making Amalrich my heir, solving a lot of my vassal problems in the process. Move my capital to Constantinople as I would have already if there wasn’t so much heat in that vicinity. So what will it be? Double down on the mistake or try to erase it? Perhaps there’s a chance after all. Perhaps, if I keep persevering, I can stop the terrible decline… be Trajan, forever expanding. We’ll see.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Kings of León

The Empire of Leon, in brown
It’s no secret that I’m currently obsessed with Paradox’s Crusader Kings II (a little late to the party, I know). If you follow me on Twitter you’re probably already sick of me describing the minutia of my fictional kingdom in unhealthy detail. In an effort to curb the follower bleed-off I get every time I unleash a 2,000 character tweetstorm about the king’s bedroom habits or which conniving noble is going to end up with his head on a pike for opposing me, I’m going to reduce the CK recaps to one blog post per game. That way I can avoid spamming the followers I have who don’t follow me for videogames chat.

Since I’ve already covered the recap thing on Twitter I’ll just cover it in brief strokes here. I played as the Kingdom of León, spending the early game trying to complete la Reconquista in double-quick time, but losing out on some key territory to the Holy Roman Empire (some of which I never managed to snatch away). After that I moved into Africa, conquering Mauretania and the former Malian Empire and then opportunistically snatched Sicily, Scotland (which netted me portions of Greece too) and eventually Italy. The rest of the game was played under the restriction of a fairly heavy defensive pact against me which left me picking fights mainly with the HRE and Byzantines for individual counties. Late in the game I also conquered Hungary and Croatia.

As someone who’s maybe read too many Harry Turtledove books I love looking at these odd diversions from history and marveling at the almost-plausibility of it all. I love the way the game starts out recognisable but can deliver a vastly different world by the time the game is over. Some of these diversions are more believable than others. Here are a few of the weird historical occurrences CK2 threw in my way this game:
  • William the Bastard failed in the Norman Conquest, managing to get about halfway through the Midlands before petering out. Then instead, Norway conquered England, which only regained independence 100 years or so later when the HRE absorbed Norway. This meant that all the nobles in England were of Norwegian descent, and many of the counties were culturally Norwegian. Even so – and I’m not sure how this happened – the royal dynasty of England ended up being Ashkenazi Catholics. England had a queen called Yentl, make of that what you will.
  • The King of Scotland went on a crusade to evict the Seljuks from Greece and ended up king of that country as well. Consequently when I interrupted an attempt by the English to expand north by galloping a whole bunch of caballeros across the field to claim Scotland, I got half of Greece too.
  • France ended up in a very weird civil war situation. It won Jerusalem in the second crusade and a few hundred years later Jerusalem declared independence from France and its king took his lands in France with him. The Scots used the ensuing conflict as an opportunity to seize Brittany and it was a long time before France was united again, although Normandy remained “Jerusalem” until game end, even after the Muslims took back the actual Holy Land. Eventually the Kingdom of Jerusalem (i.e. Normandy) was inherited by a culturally Cuman dynasty, which was pretty awesome.
  • I have to say I loved some of the characters I ended up with too. It’s weird and immersive in a way I didn’t think it would be. A mean, essentially what you have in front of you is a character sheet like it was D&D or something – a list of random traits and characteristics. All the character building really goes on in your head. Where possible I tried to play my characters true to the characteristics I was given. Some of my favourites were:
  •  Queen Fronilda the Just – My second monarch and the only female character I was able to play. She was educated in the ways of war by El Cid himself, so it goes without saying she was a little bit OP when it came to martial pursuits. Conquered Galicia and Aragon, early game. Went on Crusade and won a great victory against the Abbasids while pregnant with her third child, despite being wounded.
  • Emperor Guillen the Fat “Fatty G” – Like a hyper-competent Robert Baratheon. Hobbies include drinking, fighting and making bastards. ALMOST conquered France and then fought the Byzantines to install his brother’s wife on the throne. Then he let his brother die in jail and married her. Got a taste for being an Emperor after that, so decided to start his own. Fought off a jihad for Andalusia single-handedly. Learned the hard way that dogs and cats cannot live together.
  • Emperor Diego – Louche and indolent. Furious when his son married a lowborn Muslim girl, then a clubfooted countess. Also failed to conquer France. Somehow, though, managed to fight off a county claim by the HRE. Pushed Sicily for his son and then gained a rivalry with Count Odoin the Spider of Salerno, who he could not succeed in assassinating. Eventually invited him to a tourney where he perished by accidental lance to the face. I imagine wine sprayed out of Diego’s nose.
  • Emperor Juan the Great – Married Princess Bona of Italy, who cheated on him, infected him with the Lover’s Pox, and then tried to have him assassinated. Unfortunately Guillen was unable to complete his revenge and she fled to Italy which coincidentally was the epicentre of an outbreak of Poison Dick. Conquered much of North Africa. Built a giant tower.
  •  Emperor Juan the Terrible – Not really sure what he did that was so terrible, apart from that one time he had his sister tortured for plotting with the King of England to usurp his throne. Went mad. Frequently disrobed and howled at the moon. Chased ghost raccoons. Tried to have his cat burned at the stake.
All good fun. For my current game I started as Chief of the Fortriu clan in 769 and I'll give you an update on that soon. Thank you for indulging me.