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

Rich McCormick


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 twopart three and part four.

My wife tried to kill me, but that's OK. I've decided Mya Stone – King Robert Baratheon's bastard daughter, and my new bride who professes to love me – slipped and put the poison in the wrong cup. She must've been trying to kill someone else in the castle. An innocent mistake. A totally innocent mistake with absolutely no troubling connotations whatsoever for my rule of the largest bit of Westeros.

I think it's time for a holiday, away from Winterfell for a bit. Fortunately, Arya has managed to fabricate a claim for me on The Twins, the province to the south. That claim means I can legally go to war for control of the region, and as I'm a double-hard bastard on the battlefield, I'll put myself in charge of my combined armies and lead from the front. That way, I'll be out of the house and away from any further possible poisonings. Here's hoping I don't come back to a heap of bodies and Mya standing over them claiming that “wolves did it”.

Arya is a genius, it should be said. I mean, she's a 'genius' according to her character sheet, giving her happy bonuses to her major statistics – but she's also a genius for managing to fabricate a claim on The Twins for me. I previously had my spymaster Roose Bolton on the task, and despite being one of the most duplicitous men in Westeros, he failed in his job time after time. I cut Roose loose earlier in the year, and installed my brilliant daughter in his place on my small council instead. It's not simple nepotism. Roose held the position for half a decade; in the six months it took Arya to draw up a fake claim and let me go to war, the only thing he managed was to die of severe stress.

My daughter is turning into one of the game's best characters, and everyone else knows it. She's inundated with marriage proposals and, as her dad, I get to choose which ones she says no to. For now, that's all of them: not only are most of them too lowly to consider – and in the case of Narbert Whent, too stupidly named – but Arya's too useful to lose.

"Arya's also, weirdly, followed around by a big brown bear."

If she marries, she goes off to live in another castle, and I lose control of someone sneakier, cleverer and more dastardly than Roose Bolton. Arya's also, weirdly, followed around by a big brown bear, and bears – as I'm sure you know – are handy to have around in a fight. Between her, Daenerys (married to my son Robb) and baby Batman (who's responding well to her schooling), I might be able to dominate Westeros with a cabal of brilliant women in a few decades, thanks to my excellent genes and good eye for marriage.

Crusader Kings II 's marriage system is accurate to 12th century customs and, unless the female partner in the marriage is a lordly step above the male partner, the woman shacks up with the man. That's why Bran – second in line for my seat after Robb, but not yet a full lord – has moved away to live with his betrothed wife, Lady Pia of the Vale, and why Jon Snow's wife now lives in my house.

She's clever but only a courtier, so I took a hit in my familial prestige. Worse, she's called 'Eddara'. Bit close to Eddard, that one, making me – as marriage organiser – look like a mad egotist. Jon seems happy, though, and when I attack, take and give him control of The Twins, he'll be even happier.

I call up my armies from all corners of the north. CKII's armies are made up of local peasants rather than professional standing troops, and the size of my lands mean it takes the most northerly men weeks to get down south. I arrange to meet them all at Greywater Watch, on the border of The Twins, and then cool my heels for a month or so. Once there, I install myself as their leader, and bring up the Diplomacy menu.

"I declare war for my claim on The Twins: a claim that's total bollocks."

The option for 'declare war' is greyed out. I hover over the tooltip. It kindly informs me that I can't start a war with armies already on the field.

Back home, lads! Yes, I know the castle we're going to attack is just across the river, and yes I know you've marched for 30 days solid and some of you live half a continent away, and yes I am going to give you a Westerosi version of a phonecall when you get home to come back south again, but rules are rules.

I stay over in Greywater for a while as my troops disperse – the old gods know I don't want to get back into the marital bed with poisoner Mya – and bring up the Diplomacy menu again. This time, I can follow the options that let me declare war for my claim on The Twins: a claim, remember, that's total bollocks.

The Twins are run by Edwyn Frey. I've still technically got a hit out on him, but my co-conspirators have taken five years to do absolutely nothing. I make a mental note to set Arya on him when I'm done with his land, but it's not him I'll need to be declaring war on. Edwyn is a vassal of the Lord of the Riverlands – a title that's changed hands a few times since the Tully family rose up against Robert Baratheon during the early years of my reign. I click on Riverrun and find its new ruler is Duncan Whent, Narbert's dad.

"He dallies too long and I reinforce quickly."

The Whents are nobodies though, and I'm not messing up any important alliances by antagonising Duncan. My only problem will be the amount of time it'll take my armies to march down the continent, leaving the forces of the Riverlands fairly free to molest my southern regions.

No matter. The only important province down here is the Neck, and that's held by Meera Reed who already hates me (I cut her dad's head off a while back and she's yet to get over it). I declare my war, immediately call my troops, and gather in Meera's garden before marching south.

I don't have to go very far to meet my opposition: Duncan Whent's forces are sat in The Twins. For a time, he has more than me – some 15,000 Riverlanders versus my 10,000 from the north's south. But he dallies too long and I reinforce quickly, soon outnumbering him by 10,000 men. With Ned at the head of one front, and Benjen Stark – another tip-top fighter – at the head of the other, Duncan's forces are quickly smashed.

Out on the field, I see Duncan between the pikes and horsies of battle. At least, I'm told by way of menu that I can – CKII's battle screens aren't so hot on the majesty and noise of battle, being two sets of numbers slowly reducing each other. The menu gives me the option to leave him alone and let him escape, or go over and duff him up. I rely on Ned's superior sword-handling, and storm over to boss Whent.

"I can either jab my sword through his neck or take him prisoner"

Fair play to Dunc: he parries a number of my blows, but Ned is one of Westeros's best fighters, and after knocking him onto his armoured rump a fourth time, I'm given the choice to either jab my sword through his neck or take him prisoner. Thinking that a man clapped in irons in my dungeon will be a lot more willing to negotiate for land than a head mounted on a spike on my castle wall, I let him live and scatter his forces to a hasty retreat.

The Whents are broken, but they have a few armies dotted around the Riverlands. My men and I have been aching for a proper fight since the start of this diary, so I take them on a tour of the region's best locations, before laying siege to them and drinking all their booze. Last on my whistle-stop tour of Time Out Westeros's “top 10 places to set fire to” list is Riverrun itself.

I've been holding on to Duncan Whent all throughout my rampage. He's in chains somewhere in my retinue, held for when I've stopped killing his generals and shrinking his line of succession. I can only really demand The Twins from him – although, with his army gone, I could grab so much more – but I figure he'll say yes on the spot.

He doesn't. I keep pressing the matter in the Diplomacy menu, asking him to give me The Twins in exchange for the safety of his family and the pleasure of not having his entire lordship revoked, but he just won't listen. I try waving my sword about and pointing up at all the heads of his citizens that I've arranged in neat little rows, but he's still not giving in.

"I send super-Arya to fabricate a claim."

So I take him home. Not back to his home, but to mine. I pull my forces back – they're overextended and starting to succumb to disease and lack of resources – and set a course for Winterfell. The second I drag Duncan over the border, he capitulates, offering me peace, money and, most importantly, the Twins. I immediately accept and let Duncan loose. He's a good prize, but he fought well and I'm in danger of forgetting my original aim: wiping the Freys off the map.

I give The Twins to Jon Snow. He's an acceptable commander, and it should stop his – heavily accented – bleating. Next on the list of Frey properties I want to pilfer is the Freylands themselves.

As before, I send super-Arya to fabricate a claim on them. As before, it takes her about 13 minutes before she has rustled up enough 'evidence' of my right to their control to convince the king. Think about this for a minute: she's managed to convince the ruler of Westeros that the Starks have more of a claim on the Freylands than the Freys themselves. She will make a hell of a queen one day, this one.

I begin the process of war again, and bring up Riverrun's ruler. It's not Duncan any more: the poor bastard died of 'severe stress' a few weeks back. Riding along with an invading force as they pillage your lands and nick your stuff will do that to a person, I guess. His son Malwyn is the new leader of the Riverlands. Luckily for me, he's totally useless.

"I seem to be caught in the grip of late-onset homosexuality"

My forces rampage through his already- depleted group and lay siege to Riverrun. Malwyn is trapped inside, but every time I walk up to the murder-hole and shout “give up yet?”, he shrieks “no!” and slams the door shut. Looks like my army is in this for the long haul.

I say “my army”, because I'm not going to be there all the time. I'm not going home to Winterfell – Mya's there after all, and she might get a bit poison-y again. Instead I'm off to King's Landing, where Robert, ever the hedonist even as his two biggest allies are butting heads, is holding a tournament. Sit tight at the gates, lads, I'll be back in a few months.

Something strange happens at the tournament. I win the melee, which is nice – but that's not the strange bit. I've been to loads of these since taking on Ned's crown, after all, and I'm good enough in a fight that I usually come back with a win and a prestige boost. No, the strangeness is my suddenly apparent attraction to men.

I seem to be caught in the grip of late-onset homosexuality – I'm 48 now – seemingly caused by watching dudes beat the snot out of each other in a load of mud. My Ned is now gay, and I've taken hits to my fertility as a result, but I'm mainly worried about what Mya is going to say, and who she'll try to poison because of it. Maybe I'll put off that triumphant homecoming for a little while longer.

I'm on my way back to Riverrun to rejoin my troops when I get even more surprising news: Robert Baratheon is dead, and his son Steffon – no Joffrey in this campaign – has taken the throne. “Suspicious circumstances” are to blame for Robert's passing, so I pause the game and scan through a list of the usual suspects: Cersei, Tyrion, Theon.

They're all dead. Cersei died at 43. Tyrion died at 39, chaste and a widower, his wife Asha Greyjoy having died three years previously. I'm one of the last survivors of the old guard. Suddenly, I feel very mortal, and very alone.

Head here for PART SIX of the Game of Thrones diary.

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