Victory or Valhall! With the release of Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods, the time has come once again to weave a stirring saga of war, love, betrayal, and adventure. This is the Crusader Kings Chronicle: Lords of the North.
This introductory chapter will bring you up to speed on what you need to know about Crusader Kings II if you're new to the game, as well as introducing the starting characters and briefly touching on some of the new expansion mechanics. Onward!
Missed the original Crusader Kings Chronicle? Have a read!
The year is 867 A.D., a transitional period between the Early and High Middle Ages, and the height of the Viking Age. Like in CK2's default start date of 1066, the conflict between Christianity and Islam is a defining trait of the age... but there are still many who refuse to follow the Abrahamic god in any of his forms.
Northern and Eastern Europe are still staunchly rooted in the old pagan faiths that would be slowly burned away by the passage of time. Where our story begins, on the sweeping fjords of Norway, the Norse people still pray to Odin, Frey, Thor, and the other ancient gods of the North. With fire and steel, they sail the waves in their dreaded dragonships, raiding the coasts of Christian Europe and conquering new realms...
Crusader Kings II is a strategy game that simulates medieval Europe, down to the hundreds of lords, kings, concubines, and lowborn people of interest that populate it. Every character has traits (such as Brave, Lustful, and Cruel), and they all interact based on opinions they have of one another.
You play as a ruler who may or may not have vassal lords sworn to you, just as you might be sworn to a king or emperor above you. The game is a sandbox where you set your own goals, whether that be conquest, maintaining a small and peaceful realm, or manipulating the world's power structure from the shadows.
When it came time to decide whom to play as from the hundreds of possibilities, I remembered a phrase that came out of an interview I did with Crusader Kings game designer Chris King : “I can be the poorest count in Norway. But if I have a high enough Prestige...”
Thus, I've elected to play as, quite literally, the poorest count in Norway. Chief Þórólfr (THOR-olf-er) of the clan Stórr (a name taken from my own Norse ancestors) rules over Nordland, a cold and inhospitable province in the far north of Norway. He grew up along the frigid, frosty fjords, where the cold winds of the North Sea sweep in with a merciless bite. Hard folk are all who can survive here, where the only significant refuge from the cold is Þórólfr's fire-lit hold at Røst. His will not be an easy path to power. But those who must scratch a living from nothing either crumble, or come out all the stronger for it.
I created Þórólfr in CK2´s ruler designer to carve out glory from one of the coldest, harshest backwaters in all of Europe. At 35, he has risen to rule over the hardy people of Nordland. With only one holding, he has no vassals sworn to him. He is unmarried, with no sons... something we will have to fix in a hurry.
Þórólfr has a set of hand-picked Traits, which will affect his stats, and how other characters feel about him:
He is known to his people as a Skilled Tactician on the battlefield, Bright of mind, driven by Ambition but tempered by Patience. He is not without flaws, however, as he is prone to Cruelty and Drunkenness, allows his Lust to get the better of him, and is a bit too Trusting for his own good. He also carries a Wound from the battles with other petty chiefs that bought him his right to rule.
Like most of Scandinavia at this time, Þórólfr follows the old Norse gods—Thor, Odin, Frey, and the rest. In the distant South, the devotees of the White Christ and the Prophet Mohammed seek to spread their ways to the pagans of Europe. Þórólfr laughs at such notions. One day, he will be king. And the Old Ways will be defended to the last under his reign.
In the winter of 867, the new chief of Nordland was wintering in the south, at the hall of Näsborg, as a guest of Chief Rikulfr Ulfing of Austergautland. His councilors felt it wise that he make himself known, and present gifts to the powerful chieftains in the South of Scandinavia. Worthy friends would be needed to make his ambitions of power a reality.
While half-drowned in mead, Þórólfr made the acquaintance of a lowborn serving girl of 16 years, Rikissa, whom he joked had stronger arms than his father. Stumbling before Chief Rikulfr, he announced his intention to take the girl back North as his wife. Rikulfr approved, saying such a servant would be a fine gift in exchange for those Þórólfr had brought him.
Marrying a lowborn girl will hurt my prestige, but she is young, and has the Strong trait, which can be passed on to our children.
On his way home with his new bride, Þórólfr stopped at the various holds along the fjords to meet with their chieftains. Word came to him that raiding was good at the mouth of the Daugava River, where weak tribes of Balts left their loot poorly protected.
The chieftain brought this news to his home, where some 317 loyal men stood ready to set sail with him for riches and glory. Axes were sharpened, and ships readied. Þórólfr meant to make a name for himself among the great Vikings of legend.
I've taken the ambition “Become King of Norway,” which allows me to declare war on and subjugate other chieftains in the realm with impunity... as long as I have the strength to back it up. Since Nordland is so poor, however, I don't have the manpower to best any of my neighbors in a stand-up fight. I'll need mercenaries, which means I'll need gold.
And I aim to make this gold the Viking way: raiding the coasts of Europe. Some research has revealed that the Baltic tribe of the Lettigallians are a prime target, with few men to their name and a chieftain that doesn't know his head from his handaxe on the battlefield. I, on the other hand, am a very skilled commander.
317 men on seven ships. With only this did Þórólfr set off as the warm winds of late spring filled the sails, billowing above the dragon heads on the prows. The brave sons of Nordland left tearful families behind on the sweeping fjords, knowing some of them would not return. Failure was not an option. Only by blade and by raid could wealth and comfort be brought back for their kin.
As their ships took port for the night on the isle of Sjælland, disturbing news arrived. Haraldr Fairhair, King of the Ynglings, had caught word of Þórólfr's departure, and had dispatched a fleet of his own to take the hold while it was undefended. This wealthy man who would call himself King of all Norway had proven the depth of his dishonor, and Þórólfr that day swore revenge on him and his house.
This is unexpected. I knew I would have to deal with the Ynglings, most powerful family in the lands and the historical founders of the Kingdom of Norway... but not so soon. There are plenty of cheiftains to subjugate between Haraldr and myself, and it seems odd that he would single me out first. There is nothing to be done about it, and to spare my people suffering in a pointless, unwinnable war, I'm swearing myself to Haraldr as a vassal... for now.
Seven days after Midsummer, after nearly 60 days at sea, Þórólfr's band arrived in the land of the Lettigallians. They beached their ships and leaped out onto the sand, marching for the nearest village with a fury in their hearts stoked by the wicked King Haraldr's treachery.
Settlements burned, and valuables were carried back by the armloads as the Balts fled from their homes before the terror of the Norsemen. The raiders continued their foray down the Daugva river, the shallow drafts of the longships allowing them passage. They were met by a paltry force under the local chief near the town of Rezekne, but the unworthy warriors caused them no grief. The Northmen's shield wall held, and the Balts dashed their numbers against it.
Eleven Norsemen entered Valhall across two skirmishes, while some 60 of the enemy were left bleeding on their own soil. Emboldened, Þórólfr's host crossed the river into the land of the Zemigallians and the Curonians to find yet more plunder. They met no resistance, as the local chieftains feared to even raise their armies against the Northern scourge. From there, the ships headed back West, raiding the Pommeranians on the northern coast of the mainland.
On the 7th of February, 869, Þórólfr's first son was born, named Ragnarr.
I finally have an heir, and he's inherited the Bright trait from me, giving him a +3 to all stats. With a proper education, he will make a very fitting successor—when my current character dies, I will take over playing as him.
Some two months later, the raiding fleet finally arrived home with their ships loaded full of plunder. The chieftain saw his son for the first time, and called a great celebration to mark the good fortune the gods had granted to his house. There was much feasting, singing, and drinking... but as Þórólfr retired for the night, his mind returned to thoughts of vengeance on King Haraldr.
I've brought home enough gold to hire some mercenaries, but not for very long. My plans also have to change now that I'm a vassal of the Ynglings. I can still subjugate other rulers in Norway, but I won't be able to form a Duke-level title, since my liege is a Petty King (which is equivalent to a Duke). This means that I can't give away land to any vassal counts, as that would make them the same rank as me and release them from my service.
So until Haraldr forms Norway (making him a proper King), or I win a bid for independence, I'll have to rule over everything I conquer directly. This can be problematic, as having more direct holdings than my Stewardship skill can support means I won't be able to tax them efficiently, and my vassals will get annoyed with me for not spreading the wealth around.
For now, I'll continue to raid until I can support a mercenary army in the long-term. When my coffers are full and my armies mighty, the time to break free from Fairhair's fetters will come...
Return next week to see the continuing saga unfold!