The king is dead. Long live the king. Wait, let me check that second bit: Robert Baratheon's death has pushed his son Steffon onto the throne and thrown half the kingdom into revolt, offering me the chance to rise up against my Baratheon bosses. I cast my eye over Steffon's stats to see if I should let the king live.
He's an average commander, and already likes me. He'll do. I enter the war on his side to keep him sweet – it's the crown versus a few bitty provinces who've chosen their moment to wrest free of kingly control – knowing full well that I won't commit any of my forces to the conflict.
I've got my own stuff to sort out. My forces are camped outside Riverrun for the second time, knocking at the castle front door and trying to lure its ruler out. That ruler is Malwyn Whent, whose dad I captured and imprisoned after nicking his land. Malwyn's in charge because his dad died of severe stress a few months ago. I can't help but feel partially responsible.
I've got about 25,000 troops pissing about in Malwyn's back garden. His own forces are ruined, so it doesn't take long for him to poke his head out of Riverrun's murderhole. As soon as I spot him, I grab him by the ear and put him in the same cage I used for his dad. As with daddy, Malwyn won't surrender his lands, so I start trudging northward.
The minute we hit Stark-held territory, Malwyn pipes up from his prison, offering me the Freylands – the bit of land I went to war over in the first place. Pleasure doing business with you, Malwyn.
"Arya's been getting marriage proposal after marriage proposal recently."
After I've sent my levies back home, I take one more look back at the Riverlands. My intervention has weakened the provinces, and they're scrapping among themselves. I idly check out the reasoning for the scuffle and see the aggressors are fighting to get Arya Stark – my daughter – installed as lord of the Riverlands.
Arya's been getting marriage proposal after marriage proposal recently, but I've been turning them down as she's blessed with some incredible traits and character statistics, and the ability to pull a claim on a territory out of thin air. Ideally, I'd keep her in my court forever, wheeling her out to fabricate justifications for war with a wave of a pen, but she deserves better.
The rest of my kids are flawed: Robb's craven, Sansa's selfish, Bran's boringly content with his life – Arya is the only one that's unequivocally brilliant. I want to give her a prize for that brilliance, something tangible to show her she's my favourite. What better prize than the Riverlands?
I pop down to my dungeon to have a word with Malwyn, still trussed up in irons, but still technically lord of the Riverlands. I say that my daughter deserves his house and all his stuff, before toddling off to give my vassals a ring to secure the services of their armies.
I'm sitting with said armies on the border between the Riverlands and the North – the Twins, the bit of land that I nabbed from the dastardly Freys last week – when I get a shock notification. The king is dead. At first I think it's old news,
Crusader Kings II
bugging out, but I dig deeper. Steffon, the spritely 19-year-old head of the realm is now Steffon, the very-much-dead ex-head of the realm. While I was faffing around with Malwyn and his Riverlands, both the provinces of Westeros's west and east – the Westerlands and the Vale respectively – joined forces with usurpers to overthrow Baratheon rule. Steffon's life was ended in hand-to-hand combat by one of the few major characters still alive from the start of this diary: Jaime Lannister. How can one man kill so many kings?
"How can one man kill so many kings?"
The throne quickly passes to Robert's second (legitimate, the lusty dog) son, Guyard. Guyard's a better proposition than his dead brother, and not just because he's not dead. He's 'massive', for one, making him a powerful fighter. He's also a good commander and an exceptional steward, boding well for the realm's rule. I'm much happier to throw my chips in with baby Baratheon 2 than I was his predecessor, but I still don't intend to help him wipe the remaining rebels off the map. I've got my own problems in the Riverlands.
My armies are besieging Riverrun, but Malwyn won't give in and hand Arya his lordship. Granted, negotiations are taking a while because I have to keep sending ravens back up to my house to chat to the man locked in my dungeon, but you'd think having crushed his army of 20,000 with 30,000 men of my own would've sent a powerful enough message. Apparently not: the option to force him to surrender is greyed out on the diplomacy screen.
Crusader Kings II scores your wars using something appropriately titled 'warscore'. Warscore is inflated by occupying territory, or winning battles, and once one side gets it to 100%, they can sue for surrender on their own terms. My warscore is stuck at around 25%, having smashed one great clump of enemies in one fight, before cantering straight for Riverrun. I easily have enough men that I could split my army into bits and send them off to siege other Riverlands regions, but that process would be fiddly and slow. Much better, I decide, to roll my men into a big burly ball and careen around the countryside battering the remnants of the Riverlander forces like a horribly spiky Katamari.
Two months of this, and I've chased down every last fighting man in the Riverlands and jabbed something sharp through their chest. My warscore hits 100%, and I give Malwyn a raven-shaped call. He doesn't answer. Someone else sends a message back, explaining that living in a dungeon for the better part of a year without food or water can do bad things to a human being. Malwyn's dead.
"My warscore hits 100%"
No problem: Malwyn's heir can do the surrendering for him. OK, he's two years old and hasn't had time to learn how to read, let alone wrong anyone on this low-fantasy earth, but I'm not above storming into a castle in full plate armour and holding my sword to a baby's throat until he gurgles out a capitulation.
He does. I mean, I think he does, between the giggles and the windypops. Three generations of Whents, terrorised by me and mine in the name of, um, having more stuff. Baby Whent's home, his lordship and all the Riverlands, are mine. Well, they're not mine. They're Arya's now.
I could've taken them in Robb's name. My kids have a claim on the Riverlands because their mum – my dead wife Catelyn – was a Tully, and the Tullys were once lords of the region. It would have been sensible for me to claim them for Robb, given that Ned is now reaching a ripe old age – visually represented by the fetchingly grey beard I'm now sporting in the character menu – and Robb's the character I'll play when he dies. But I have a real attachment to Arya, and I think she'll make a fantastic ruler.
I'm immediately proved wrong. Over in the eastern lands of the Vale, Pia Arryn uses Guyard's ascension to the throne to make a break from kingly command. She wants the Vale to be an independent realm, and manages to convince Arya her cause is just.
"I should rise up in support of my daughter and my daughter-in-law. But I can't."
It probably is. Pia's married to my son Bran – who's technically a king as long as the Vale stays independent, boosting my prestige as proud pappy – making her sister-in-law to Arya. Elsewhere in the family tree I've got Daenerys, with claims to Dragonstone and the Iron Throne itself, married to Robb. There are a lot of Baratheon bastards, but a lack of marital dealing has left their ranks thinned. The other noble families are in similar states: the Tyrells are stripped of power, the Martells have intermarried so effectively their name is lost in Dorne, and the Lannisters are down to Jaime: old, maimed, sworn-to-chastity Jaime.
The Starks should control this land, and I should rise up in support of my daughter and my daughter-in-law. But I can't. I already cast my lot in with Guyard shortly after his coronation, expecting the tussle to be a quick one, and because of our differences – I worship the old gods, Pia and the others pray to the Seven; I like ketchup on chips, they prefer brown sauce, that sort of thing – I'm unable to switch sides mid-conflict.
I'm stuck silently mouthing words of encouragement over the border to Arya as she sends ineffectual forces southwards. Lannisters broken, Guyard has control of all of the west, in addition to the southern Reach, south-eastern Stormlands and King's Landing itself. An army of 55,000 sits in Westeros's capital, sallying forth to destroy the Riverlands' already-depleted forces any time they poke their nose into contested territory. I've got 35,000 men at my command, but there is nothing I can do to help my favourite daughter as she slides towards imprisonment, or worse.
Summer comes, and with it some good news. Years ago, I set Ned's ambition: to become exalted among men. My martial and marital successes have paid off enough prestige, and I now get to suffix my name with 'the great'. Attempts to make this stick in the PC Gamer office are still ongoing.
"My firstborn son and heir died at 35. He died of pneumonia."
That bright spot is immediately blackened by the news that Ned's ill. I'm in my late 50s by this point in the game, and I'm fully expecting this to be my last spin around the mortal coil. I say my goodbyes and am composing a letter to Arya – apologising for handing her a poisoned chalice of a lordship – when I suddenly spring out of bed, cured of my disease. I perk up, and picture Ned sprinting through Winterfell's corridors. Reinvigorated, I plan for the future.
That's when I get more news. Robb's dead.
My firstborn son and heir died at 35. He died of pneumonia, some two months after a decade of winter finally loosened its grip on the North and summer sprung forth. I cycle through my other children's portrait screens for the next few months, sad at losing my son and worried about my future. Half a year after Robb's death, Bran follows him into the afterlife thanks to some unspecified illness.
I have two boys left and, as I check their progress, I see they're squabbling. A spot of fabrication had secured me a claim on Seagard, an ex-Riverlander province independent since Arya's rise to lordship. I took the area with a small force and gave it to my youngest boy Rickard. One region over in the Twins, Jon Snow looked on enviously. The lordship of the Twins gives Jon the claim to Seagard, but I'd foolishly assumed he wouldn't attack his own little brother. I was wrong. Jon batters Rickard in combat and imprisons him, before usurping his claim and nabbing Seagard for his own.
Two months later, Rickard is killed in hand-to-hand combat with a character so minor the game can't even find him in its search function. He was 19.
"Harrenhal breaks free of Arya's rule, shortly followed by the Bay of Claws."
Seagard isn't the only territory to secede from the Riverlands. Harrenhal breaks free of Arya's rule, shortly followed by the Bay of Claws. The Riverlands, once the heart of Westeros's central spit, are now lumpen and oddly shaped thanks to the machinations of unhappy vassals. Arya's pain is compounded further when a force of locals rises against her, rebelling in the name of the deposed Whents. Her armies are still lacking from years of fighting, the pretenders oust her from Riverrun and reinstall the youngest Whent as lord of the Riverlands. She remains in control of a paltry two territories, split by a river and my own land.
I feel terrible. I passed over Robb in my desire to give Arya the Riverlands, but never asked my little genius what she wanted. She told me a few times – she wanted to get married and have children – but my plans for her were grander. Or I thought they were. Now she's stuck in a forbidding, rocky place called the Cape of the Eagles, in charge of an eighth of the land she used to have. At 65 and with a tomb full of dead sons – Jon Snow died a few months after fighting and imprisoning his own brother – I have time to reflect on my mistakes.
I try to fabricate a claim on the Riverlands again, to sweep down with my own armies and take the region for myself, but the three masters of law I appoint to the task die in the space of a single year. I can feel that spectre of death pointing his bony finger at me, but I've dodged him well so far, and he can wait a few more months. I allow myself one last scan around the map. It's then that I really look at what I've left on this planet.
"I can feel that spectre of death pointing his bony finger at me"
I've wiped most of the Freys – the family I dedicated my life to killing – off the map, assassinating their lords, taking their territory and giving them to my own dynasty. I've led an acceptable life: I hold kind, trusting and charitable traits, as well as more practical skills such as 'brilliant commander'. I have a wife who, despite trying to poison me once, and despite me being technically gay the last ten years of my life, loves me truly. I've achieved my main aim: simply to survive in harsh Westeros. I've outlived almost everyone mentioned in the books.
And I have my favourite daughter, Arya. I check her character card again from her home in the Cape of the Eagles, on the western sea. She's married. She always wanted to get married. And she is, I notice with a real-life smile, pregnant. She might have a poky little home compared with the grandeur of Riverrun, but free from my machinations, she's happy. She's not being forced to play that game of thrones.
Ned's last few months are, curiously, some of his most feted. My score rises higher as his legacy pays out. He dies at 66. His wife mourns his passing, and his sword goes to his grandson. Ned the great, Crusader Kings II informs me, will be remembered.
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