Game of Thrones diary part four: 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 onepart 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.

Fortunately, his lineage also means that he'll likely develop positive traits to balance out the innate disadvantages. Dany is one of the Game of Thrones mod's best characters, and I believe her son will do well. I call Robb to my deathbed and beckon him closer, ready to say my farewells and wish him the best – he'll be the character I control next when Ned passes. I croak out the beginning of a goodbye when another tooltip pops up.

"Lying in bed and hacking my guts up has made Ned super-horny."

Ned's better. I've been cured of my disease and am back to full strength. Not only am I healthy again, but I've shed my depression and chasteness. Lying in bed and hacking my guts up has made Ned super-horny. I leap out of bed and sprint past Robb, eager to get back to the business of ruling the North and finding a wife.

The former is still easy. The people of the North are a contented bunch compared with those further down Westeros. I'm notified of constant rebellions, with the most unruly territory seeming to be a place called Dalston, in the far south. Presumably Robert's regnum hasn't kept the region as well stocked with brightly coloured Ray-Ban ripoffs and tight red trousers as they would like: I count three open attacks on the King's armies in a few months.

The latter is tougher, but the possibility of nabbing a spouse is growing more promising as the years go on. Ned's illness has given some of Westeros's eligible women the time to reach marriageable age. Primary amongst these potential wives is Mya Stone. She's one of Robert's many bastard daughters, and although Ned would take a small prestige hit for marrying her, she's a better option than most. I write a list to weigh up her pros and cons.

She's attractive! But she's scarred. She's gregarious! But envious. She's a poet! But she's greedy. With a surfeit of ladies to choose from she'd be mid-table, but my woman-cupboard is bare. As is sensible when deciding to spend the rest of your life with someone, I shrug, consider the worst that could happen, and ask her to marry me.

"I shrug, consider the worst that could happen, and ask her to marry me."

She accepts quickly and I prepare Winterfell for a wedding feast, to which I invite all my vassals. They're joined by a troop of wandering jongleurs, in off the street. I hate jongleurs, but for some reason having them there jongling around while my guests eat is worth five prestige points. I let them in on the proviso that they don't jongle anywhere near me, and get down to the serious business of stuffing my lordly face with capons to demonstrate how virile I am to my new wife.

The wedding clears out, my servants clear up, and I bundle the jongleurs out into the cold Winterfell night. I'm still riding a post-disease, post-marriage high, so when an invite comes in to attend a tournament I accept, and take part in the jousting competition. I bring my new wife along and show off to her by using a ten-foot pole to whack another man carrying a ten-foot pole off a horse. Apparently she likes that, as she's pregnant within the month.

I'm finding life with Mya charmingly simple. It took Ned and Catelyn years to truly love each other; within a few months I was given the option to buy Mya a set of earrings that apparently made me utterly irresistible. Mya's now in love with me – either Crusader Kings II has a strange view on women or I've married a materialistic idiot.

Elsewhere in love, Tyrion's marriage with Asha Greyjoy is going so well that he's decided to become chaste, and Robb and Daenerys have just squeezed out their second child. They name this one Bran, another bit of nominative copycattery. I thought naming the first one Eddard was sweet, but now I'm worried Robb might just be terminally uncreative.

"I'm worried Robb might be terminally uncreative."

Robb's also an ultra-wuss. He comes to me and asks for an honorary title, giving him some glory but meaning he'll not have to do much. I decide to pick the burliest honorary title I have, and make him Master of the Hunt, assuming he'll get some fresh air without cocking anything up.

It takes him two months to cock it up spectacularly, getting himself kidnapped while on duty. I imagine he fell into a big net while backing away from his own shadow. Luckily, Daddy's here to go and save him. Being a burly Northman, I wave off the hired help and sally forth to go and bash the Robb-nappers up. I bring him – and a boatload of personal prestige – back to the castle at Winterfell, where I'm greeted by Mya and our new baby that she managed to pop out while I was out on rescue duty.

It's a girl! As demonstrated by the birth of baby Batman, I've run out of girl's names. Instead, I remember back to Robb's naming conventions and how pleased I was to hear about my namesake grandson. In a move of tremendous egotism, I call my seventh child Nednina.

"Robb is crowing for some land of his own, and baby Batman needs a guardian."

It's a tumultuous time for my kids. Bran's reached an age where he can move in with his betrothed, so I send him packing off to the Vale to live with Pia – reminding him before he goes to knock before entering Lannister bedrooms. Sansa's had what Crusader Kings II describes as her 'bleedings', and can therefore be married off for my own benefit; Robb is crowing for some land of his own, and baby Batman needs a guardian. I think there's something backwards about that last one, but I let it slide and assign her education to the Maester. There are no eligible bachelors around at the moment so Sansa will have to wait, but a turn of events means I can help Robb.

One of my vassals, Daryn of Hornwood, has been caught plotting. I've been rash in my reactions to these kinds of plots before, but this one is a legitimate cause for concern: he's trying to fabricate claims to the entire North, making him Lord and usurping the Stark family. This can't stand, and I send a group of goons to duff him up and bring him back to me. They succeed in the former but fail in the latter, and Daryn escapes to put together an army.

A fight! It's only a small one, but it's a fight, something my men – and me – have been desperate for since I started to wear Ned's skin. Daryn flits about his corner of the North, sacking small towns and moving on. I set Hornwood itself as my prize, and install my troops around the castle walls, starving Daryn's pals out.

"A fight! It's only a small one, but it's a fight."

It's not long before the upstart himself appears; he approaches me on the field of battle and I batter him around the head. My army takes him prisoner, I take his town, and before he can say anything seditious to his cellmate I chop off his head with my super-sword, Ice. His baby son comes to me, asking for his rightful land – at least I think that's what he was asking, he's two years old and there's a lot of raspberry blowing – and I deny him outright. Hornwood is now mine. Shortly afterwards, it becomes Robb's. My firstborn is happy, and at the cost of just one rebel head.

This is a great success for Ned: spotting a plot and stopping it in his tracks shows how he's grown as a duplicitous, cynical sneak – exactly how I wanted to play him. I'm proud. Proud until I come home to Winterfell, and find Mya putting something strange in my wine glass. Mya likes me 100, and I like her 97: as close to a perfect match as possible. But, as I check the plot menu to confirm my fears, I see that Mya Stone – my new bride and the mother of my youngest baby – wants me dead.

So I married a murderer. Now what?

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

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