Crusader Kings Chronicle: The Prologue

T.J. Hafer


Welcome to the spiritual successor to my Civilization V actual play column, set in Paradox Interactive's grand medieval strategy game Crusader Kings II. If you followed along for the Celtic Chronicle ( Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 ) and the Swedish Saga ( Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 , Part 5 , Part 6 ), here's what to expect:

  • Smaller historical scope. This game only covers the years between 1066 and 1490, as opposed to the typical, millennia-spanning game of Civilzation.
  • More depth. Almost every noble in Europe is an individual character with a sheet of traits, family ties, lieges and vassals, etc. Troops are tracked down to the individual man, and armies can be split and sent in different directions.
  • Real-time. CK2 uses a pausable, real-time mechanic where troop movements are tracked realistically, characters actually age, grow sick, and die, heirs become old enough to marry, and so on. There is no "Next Turn" button.

Got it? Good! On to the story...

The world stage

Crusader Kings II lets you jump into one of a handful of historical scenarios, and the one I've selected is Stamford Bridge. It's 1066, and there's a three-way war for the throne of England going on between Norwegian Vikings under Harald Hardrada, Normans under William the Bastard (known historically as William the Conqueror, but the game may not play out that way...), and the faltering Anglo-Saxon ruling class under reigning King Harold Godwinson. That's far from all that's going on, however.

Basically ruler of the world
The game's map encompasses everything from Iceland in the far Northwest to Siberia and Persia in the East, and as far south as Mali and Ghana in the Southwest. The clash between Christianity, Islam, and native pagans is a primary source of conflict, and the Holy Roman Empire under Pope Alexander II is the single most influential political entity in the world.

You can choose any of the hundreds of nobles on the map to play. For this game, in an homage to my Civilization V Celtic Chronicle, I've selected the House of ua Brian (O'Brian). Who are they, exactly? Well...

The Duchy of Munster in a nutshell

The House of ua Brian are from the South of Ireland, ruling from the county of Thomond in the Duchy of Munster.

Crusader Kings 2 has a pretty in-depth vassalage system, and this is as good a time to explain it as any:

  • Empires are the largest bodies, ruled by an Emperor or Empress and encompassing multiple Kingdoms.
  • Kingdoms are the next step down, ruled by a King or Queen and encompassing multiple Duchies.
  • Duchies are the middle tier, ruled by a Duke (that's me) or Duchess and encompassing one or more Counties.
  • Counties are the lowest playable level, ruled by a Count or Countess and containing one or more Baronies.
  • Baronies are the individual towns and castles within each county space on the map. They're either ruled by a Baron (for military castles), a Lord Mayor (for municipal cities), or a Bishop (for religious settlements.)

Phew, got all that? So my starting leader, Duke Murchad I of Munster, is the Duke of Munster. It is a Duchy that includes the Counties of Thomond and Ormond. Thomond is the seat of my power, while Ormond is my vassal, ruled over by my bannerman, Lord Mayor Ragnvald of Ormond. Within Thomond and Ormond are Baronies that don't actually show up on the map, which swear allegiance to me by way of their County-level superiors (myself and Ragnvald).

Anyway, that should give you an idea of why I started with a smaller realm. If I were playing as, for example, the Holy Roman Empire, the first two weeks of this column would just be explaining who my vassals are.

Now then, let's get to know the important characters better...

Meet the family

In Crusader Kings II, I'll always play as the most direct legitimate heir of my house. The game takes place over hundreds of years, ending in 1490, so I'll control many generations of House ua Brian as the game goes on.

For now, I am Duke Murchad I, liege lord of House ua Brian of Munster, son of Donchad, son of Brian, son of Cenétig. I am 39 years old, a tough soldier, diligent and kind, but also known to be zealous and ambitious (all traits within the game that affect my stats and how others react to me.)

My Family:

My only child is Brian macMurchad , 18 years of age, whose mother (my first wife) has passed on from this world. Like me, he is a tough soldier and diligent, but is also known to be craven, gluttonous, and too patient for my tastes. Nonetheless, he is heir to everything I have built.

I have two living half-brothers (born of my father and his second wife, while my mother was his first): Conchobar macDonnchad is one, a charismatic negotiator, brave and charitable. Unfortunately, he also has a slight lisp, and is taken to sloth and gluttony.

The other is Lorcán macDonnchad , a tough and diligent soldier like myself. He is famed for being honest and just, but also grows easily envious of others. His sons are Conchobar , 19, and Cennétig , 17.

Now, who can I count on to help me rule these lands?

Wise council

Crusader Kings II allows me to appoint members of my court to five key positions that affect the success of my ream.

My Council:

The Chancellor is in charge of matters political and diplomatic. Perhaps his most important duty is fabricating claims. I can't just declare war whenever I want. I either have to have a blood claim on the County I want to attack (usually through marriage), a religious reason (such as the opposing lord being revealed as a heretic), or a fabricated claim... which means my Chancellor B.S.ed some documents that say the land is mine.

My Chancellor is Toirrdelbach macTadg , a cousin of mine via my grandfather, Brian I. He is an aged relic of 57 (a pretty impressive run for this time period), charismatic, humble, and kind... though also a bit shy.

The Marshall is in charge of my military, and affects how well I do in battles and how quickly I can resupply lost levies.

My Marshall is my young cousin Tadg macDiarmait , son of my late uncle Diarmait. He is a boy of only 16, but is already one of the more impressive warriors in my lands: a brilliant strategist, humble, brave, and honest to the point that his frequent envy is usually overlooked.

The Steward manages the economic affairs of the realm, overseeing tax collection and building construction.

My Steward is my half-brother Lorcán (see page 4), though he is mediocre at best with numbers and likely attained his position through family loyalty.

The Spymaster has two jobs: orchestrate secret plots against my enemies, and discover said plots against me.

My Spymaster is Murchaid macConchobar , son of my half-brother Conchobar (see page 4.) He is a flamboyant schemer, known to those close to him as kind and gregarious. All the same, he also tends to be paranoid and arbitrary in some matters.

Lastly, the Court Chaplain manages the religious matters of the realm and my relations with the Pope in Rome. Having poor relations could result in my excommunication, which basically serves as a free invitation for the entire rest of the Catholic world (which is a pretty vast majority of Europe) to declare war on me. So... fairly important.

My Court Chaplain is the only man not of my blood on the council: Bishop Fogartach of Killaloe . He is one of my vassals, managing the Bishopric (a religious barony) of Killaloe in my home County of Thomond. The 35-year-old is a dutiful cleric, patient, honest, and brave. He also has paranoid tendencies, however... and syphilis. Yeah, syphilis. Let's hope that happened before he became a holy man.

Also, he has won the Munster Beard Faire for the last 11 years in a row.

Lastly, the men sworn to me...

Loyal (hopefully) bannermen

As Duke of Munster and liege lord of the counties of Thomond and Ormond, I have three direct vassals, and two indirect ones (through Lord Mayor Ragnvald.)

The first two are the barons of my home county Thomond: Bishop Fogartach of Killaloe (see page 5) and Mayor Dúngal of Limerick . The latter is a man of 36, unrelated to my house and known for kindness and patience. On the other hand, it is also known that he has a fascination with the occult, and is scared of his own shadow.

My third and most powerful direct vassal is Lord Mayor Ragnvald of Ormond . He is 45, and a descendant of Norwegian Viking settlers who once raided the Irish coasts. Despite having an Irish mother, he is largely distrusted for his Norse blood... and he isn't particularly fond of Irishmen himself. Though honest and humble, he is also a coward and quick to anger.

His direct vassals (and mine by extension) are Halfdan, Bishop of Cashel, and Arnfinn, Baron of Nenagh. He also has a newborn son, Olav Ragnvaldsson, though his wife died giving birth to the babe. Both Halfdan and Arnfinn are of Norwegian descent, like Ragnvald, leading to concerns that half my realm is ruled by Norsemen.

That's enough exposition for now, though. Onward, to glory!

September 15, 1066: Dawn of destiny

My initial goal for this game is pretty simple. While most of the world is currently ruled by Kingdoms, Ireland is merely a handful of warring Duchies and Counties. I plan to go against the grain of history and become High King of Ireland, a feat that was only briefly accomplished in 1156 for about a decade before Normans from England took hold of the Irish nobility. Once I have my crown and have secured Ireland's continued independence, we'll decide where to go from there.

I have a few issues facing me from the outset: I am not married, nor is my son and heir. Marriage is a pretty huge deal in CK2, as it can be used to form alliances and orchestrate my heirs inheriting more land than they started with. Making the wrong choice can also be dangerous, I've found. If I marry too many foreign nobles just to secure their troops for my wars, my own people will stop recognizing my line as “native” and start to grow restless.

My preference would be to marry into an Irish noble family, but none of them have eligible daughters right now. After looking over the choices, it seems that strengthening ties with my bannerman Ragnvald's Norse kinsmen is the best course of action at the moment.

September, 1066: Duke Murchad sends his messengers east with two offers of marriage. He seeks to marry Alfhild Aslaksdatter, the 36-year-old sister of the Norwegian Count Svein of Rogaland. For his son Brian, he chooses none other than the 18-year-old Princess Sigrid of Denmark, second oldest daughter of King Svend II.

Interestingly enough, it turns out that Svend's oldest daughter, Ragnhild, is married to Count Svein of Rogaland. So my liege is marrying his son's future wife's sister-in-law. Believe me, this is the Middle Ages... it's only going to get weirder.

The next thing I do is pick an ambition: short-term goals that give me a small stat boost when completed. I pick one that's sure to come true almost immediately: get married. Doing so will increase my Piety, which makes it less likely that the church will decide to excommunicate me for murdering people on my path to kingship.

What's mine is mine

While I wait to hear back about those marriage proposals, I consider my other pressing issue. As I've mentioned, CK2 requires me to have some “legal” justification to go to war. So I can't just raise my armies and start yelling “I'M KING OF IRELAND! IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, COME AT ME BRO!” Okay, well, eventually I can do that. But I have to control a significant portion of what is considered “de jure” Ireland first.

Currently, I only have one valid claim that I can press through war. Enter: this d-bag. Earl Muiredach mac Carthaigh of Desmond , 41, is a pretender and a liar. Also he probably smells bad. He rules over the County of Desmond, which is part of the de jure Duchy of Munster. As long as I hold the title Duke of Munster, I can make the argument that his land is actually my land. Which it is. I plan to oust the fool right quick, and put an ua Brian in Castle Dunasead.

September, 1066 (Continued): Duke Murchad sends an offer of vassalization to Earl Muiredach of Desmond. He refuses. Duke Murchad emphasizes that this isn't really optional. Muiredach still refuses. Murchad sighs, and assures the Earl he will be hearing from some men with swords shortly.

Well, it was worth a try. Now he's going to make me raise an army. Luckily, that will give me a chance to explain how raising armies works. (And I promise, future installments won't be this “explainy.”) In CK2, I don't have guys that stay on the map all the time. Like actual medieval Europe, I need to call on “levies” from my vassals when I want to go to war. Every holding has a max number of troops it can give me, but the actual number it will give me is based on how much a particular vassal likes me.

County Thomond is mine, so I'll get the full troop yield of 225. County Ormond, on the other hand, is ruled by Ragnvald... who doesn't like me all that much. He's offering 4 men. And the troop numbers in this game aren't abstract. That's, literally, four guys. They were probably planning on splitting the fare for a carriage. So, what's to be done?

When the levee breaks...

September, 1066 (Continued): In preparation for war, Duke Murchad institutes a new law, increasing the number of feudal levies required from each lord of Munster in a time of conflict.

I have a set of laws I can mess with relating to taxation, troop levies, and eventually (once I'm king), how much autonomy my vassals have. I can only change one law every ten years, and this one will simply force my bannermen to send me more troops when I ask... at the cost of making them all slightly more annoyed.

To counter this, I've granted Ragnvald an honorary title. These are a set of functionally meaningless appellations I can give to anyone in my court to improve their opinion of me. I've given him the most important one: Cupbearer, to get the maximum gain. Along with the title, I've sent a gift of gold to further sweeten the deal.

That's better. Now County Ormond is offering me 94 men. It's still a fraction of what they could muster, but it's acceptable for now.

As soon as preparations are in place, Duke Murchad declares war on the Earl of Desmond for his rightful claim. The Duchy of Munster raises 370 footmen and archers, and 19 horsemen. Led by Duke Murchad himself, Mayor Dúngal of Limerick, and Lord Mayor Ragnvald of Ormond, they march for Desmond at dawn.

And that's all before I even hit “go” on CK2's pausable, real-time clock. Yes, all of that happened in the space of a day. Only about 154,000 more to go! Buckle in.

NEXT WEEK: I press my claim on Desmond, and discover whether or not those Viking princesses find my son and me fit for marriage.

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