Crusader Kings II

Game of Thrones diary part four: staying alive in Crusader Kings 2′s Westeros

Rich McCormick at

Rich's rules: 1. Play as ruler of the North, Ned Stark. 2. Don't die. 3. No honour, only backstabbing. 4. I'd really like not to die, please.

Welcome to the Game of Thrones diary, in which Rich plays as Ned Stark and tries to stay alive in the excellent Game of Thrones mod for Crusader Kings 2. The diary may contain spoilers for Game of Thrones book one and season one of the TV show. Missed the start? Here's part one, part two and part three.

My wife is dead and I am sad. Catelyn Stark died last month, and Ned Stark – still ruler of the North of Westeros, and still alive at my hands – is in some serious mourning. Crusader Kings II codifies that mourning in the form of negative character traits: my Ned is now ‘depressed’, ‘chaste’, and a ‘widower’ – traits that conspire to make him about as fertile as a socially awkward panda. That’s a problem when Crusader Kings II’s explicit aim is to create as strong a dynasty as possible, and my eldest son Robb is useless in a fight, diplomatic or otherwise.

Ned’s sad right now but I’m confident, thanks to some Wiki reading, that his malaise will lift. I’ll get over Catelyn, shake off my temporary chasteness and get back to the business of making strong little babies to continue the Stark name. But to do that, I need a new wife.

That’s another problem. Ned’s a Lord, meaning that he’ll be wanting to marry into one of Westeros’s powerful families: the Tyrells, the Arryns, the Baratheons, that class of people. If Ned was to marry someone beneath the Starks in terms of influence, I’d take a massive hit to my prestige – and prestige is the main measure of success in Crusader Kings II. But these similarly highborn families have already been stripped of their eligible womenfolk. Even Asha Greyjoy, hard-faced daughter of piratical plunderer Balon Greyjoy, is married - to Tyrion Lannister, no less.

Shuddering at the thought of their brittle, political union, I scan around Westerosi highborn family trees. I find almost everyone is taken or dead, except for one: Pia Arryn, the daughter of Jon Arryn and Lysa Tully. Lysa is Catelyn’s sister, lending an air of creepy serendipity to a potential betrothal, but more importantly, she’s currently the first in line to the Arryn lordship. With it, command of Westeros’s eastern Vale, one of the continent’s seven kingdoms. Excited, I check her relationship status. She’s single! Brilliant, I’ve found a second wife for Ned after only a few months of searching, and she’s soon-to-be head of one of the world’s most powerful families. I click through to the ‘suggest marriage’ menu and start to draw up wedding terms, when I realise there’s a small problem with my plan.

"I’m 38, with six kids and a dead wife."

Pia is eight years old. I’m 38, with six kids and a dead wife. I’ve seen the world, I’ve cut off my best friend’s head with a sword; my potential bride is probably still learning how to tie her shoelaces. I understand these unions are necessary for the peace of the land, but a 30-year age gap might be a bit too far. What would we talk about? She’s an 8290s kid, all my references are from the 8260s. I cancel the wedding proposal.

But this is business. Ned’s not the only one in the family currently unattached. My son Bran is single, and crucially, not 38 years old. He’s about the same age as her, able to talk to her about wooden blocks or skateboards or kicking a severed head around a courtyard, whatever it is Westerosi kids like talking about. In the interests of getting his dad as much glory as humanly possible, I lock him into an arranged marriage with Pia. I like to think I’ve convinced the Arryns that marrying Bran off to Pia was my plan all along, but I imagine they’re probably watching me head back up the road to Winterfell with the kind of shifty eyes reserved for 38-year-old men who try to show off to eight-year-old girls.

I’m happy for Bran – who, thanks to a careful regimen of not hanging around in windows while the Lannisters are visiting, has retained the use of his legs – but Ned is still flying solo, and is not getting any younger. This fact is further drilled home when I get notification that I’ve contracted a severe illness.

"Maesters are basically pigeon fanciers in whizzo robes"

It’s a gutpunch. The closest Westeros gets to doctors are its Maesters, and they’re basically pigeon fanciers in whizzo robes. My chances of survival are lessened by my advancing years, and the lengthy winter that’s already killing a good proportion of my northern populace. I pause the game, take a deep breath, and make preparations for my end.

Good news arrives on my apparent deathbed. Robb and Daenerys have had their first child, and it’s a son. They’ve named it Eddard. In my weakened state, I find this act of tribute surprisingly emotional: I picture stoic Ned wiping away a single tear as his firstborn boy tells him of his news; in reality, I Alt+Tab to look at a picture of a cat that’s very attached to cheeseburgers.

Proud of my grandson, I check little Eddard’s character sheet and find a honkingly huge negative character modifier in place already. It seems that as a child born of Targaryen parents – Dany’s familial house, which famously married brother with sister – he’s a child of incest. The poor bugger is only a few days old, and half the populace already hate him.