Game of Thrones diary part three: 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 and part two.

For the Old Gods' sake Robert, can you please let someone else have some fun? No sooner have I re-rallied my northern forces (for the second time in as many months) with the express intention of crushing Mace Tyrell's bid for kingship (also the second in as many months), than Robert beats him up in battle and puts him in his castle. The last time Robert did this, he let Mace go after a stern telling off, patting him on the Tyrell posterior and asking him nicely not to rebel again. Mace, being head of one of Westeros's most powerful families and 'Ambitious' by nature – by character sheet anyway – immediately made another bid for the kingship.

Robert isn't going to make the same mistake again. Out comes old headlopper, and Mace is no more, executed on Baratheon turf for his repeated treasons. My armies, raised from local peasantry and armed with northern steel – and some sticks and pitchforks – have to once again lay down arms and go back to their respective villages, their swords and pointy objects boringly blood-free. I feel bad. I promised these guys a war – several, really – but my remoteness in comparison to the rest of Westeros means I'm always the warmaid, never the warbastard.

I'm back at Winterfell a few days later when I get a notification that Jeor the Old Bear has been killed. Jeor wasn't an actual old bear – at least I hope he wasn't. Instead, he was my Master at Arms, the man (or bear?) responsible for maintaining my armies and garrisons. I would be OK with his death, he was old after all (and also maybe a bear), but the tooltip mentions he died in a suspicious accident. That's Crusader Kings-ese for 'someone's done a plot'. I wonder if it's one of my bloodthirsty peasants, annoyed at me for making him dress up in all his armour and then take it off again before he got to stab anything. Time to make shifty eyes at everyone in Winterfell's streets and to swing my sword arm around menacingly, just in case anyone else has plotty plans.

The Old Bear's death (seriously, I would've noticed if he was a bear) seems to have awakened strong feelings in Ned: suddenly I realise – by means of popup window - that I love my wife Catelyn. It's probably for the best, given that I've had four children by her already and have been married for years, but it also helps give my relationship some spice and buffs to fertility. Those buffs manifest themselves quickly: Catelyn is impregnated by my now-loving Ned.

"Bolton's people are being terrorised by something called an 'Army of Pate'."

While I'm revelling in my newfound adoration for the woman I've been sleeping next to for the past ten years, the north is going a bit wrong. Peasants on Bear Island have started revolting against my rule. The problem is, I don't really know how to stop them. I stroke my chin and consider their motivations for kicking off, coming to the conclusion that they're probably angry because of all the bears. I know how you feel, Bear Islanders, I had one working for me until recently! Those duplicitous eight-foot killing machines. I resolve to help my people, and click around my council menu until I find the option for 'subdue revolt', sending one of my closest men over to pacify my peasants.

I'm getting more worrying news from the lands of Roose Bolton, lord of the Dreadfort and my Spymaster. Bolton's people are being terrorised by something called an 'Army of Pate'. Bears I can handle, but an enemy made entirely of coarse meaty paste is scarier than anything that could come over the Wall. I decide to leave this one to Bolton and co, and resolve to stay away from the Dreadfort. It doesn't take long before the clinical Roose smashes the army apart, imprisons their leader, and, presumably, spreads his remains on toast.

Back in Winterfell, my son Robb has come of age. He's got a real face now – Crusader Kings II has a marked distinction between its child and adult portraits – which means it's time for him to get a wife. As his dad, I'm chief wifepicker, and get to travel the continent asking women if they fancy my 16- year-old boy. Fortunately, as lord of the north, that question isn't as creepy to Westerosi women as you might think, and most jump at the chance. The best option would be to marry Robb off to the daughter of one of the continent's lords, but they all seem to be either married or dead. Neither is ideal. I widen my net and idly follow a few potential leads through to the “eh, how about it?” screen. They're nice girls, but they're all from lower families than Ned's, and the wedding would cost me a good chunk of prestige (the closest thing CKII has to a score).

"It's not a boy. It's a girl. I decide to name her Batman."

Then a familiar name catches my eye. She's not a landed lady any more, but Daenerys Targaryen's family is one of the most prestigious in Westeros. Sure, her dad was famously insane and her brother got killed by having molten gold poured onto his head by a horse-obsessed guy in eyeliner, but Dany's got her head screwed on straight, and – at least in the fiction – comes with three dragony bonuses. Excited, I pause time so no one else can snap her up, and suggest a marriage to Robb. She accepts, and I make preparations for welcoming one of A Song of Ice and Fire's most important characters into my home. I had been worried about Robb: unlike the canonical Stark son, my Robb is cowardly and a bit rubbish at commanding troops. Marrying Dany is a great move. She's 'Attractive', 'Quick', and a 'Genius'. Ned's positive traits may have missed Robb's generation, but I've now got a good chance of producing a strong grandson to carry on the Stark line.

Ned's doing a good job of carrying on that line himself. Catelyn pops out her fifth baby shortly after Robb's betrothal. I've already had Robb, Sansa, Arya and Bran. Were I to continue my slavishness to ASoIaF's canon, this one should be a boy, and I should name it Rickon. It's not a boy. It's a girl. I decide to name her Batman.

Meanwhile, more trouble is brewing. For all the Game of Thrones mod's brilliance, it can be a little unrealistic, nobles rising up against people who they're a tiny bit miffed at, no matter their chances of success.

"I decide to accept the invitation to a tournament."

Sweetsister is the tiniest of the Sisters: a group of tiny, windswept islands nestled off Westeros's eastern seaboard. Its leader has just declared war on Robert, king of all Westeros and a man who's really keen on not only killing challengers, but mounting their heads on things. It takes the poor idiots of Sweetsister a fair while to actually make landfall with their miniscule army, all the while Robert's troops are stood at the shore, idly planning all the interesting ways they'll get to stab the rebels. I half-heartedly try and join in, aiming to get to Sweetsister itself before they land on the continent, but I can't figure out how to do boats, and my expeditionary force gets stuck at the coast before being disbanded.

Sick of failing to get into fights, I decide to accept the invitation to a tournament. This one's taking place on the newly subdued Bear Island, and isn't organised by bears in a sneaky attempt to kill me when I'm not expecting it. I checked. Crusader Kings II's tournaments offer the chance to earn prestige for your family, and Ned's combat character bonuses always come in handy. I win the melee, and come home covered in glory. And blood.

I'm fresh from the festivities when I learn Daenerys and Robb are to be married in a few days. I opt for a wedding feast: I don't need to show off for the in-laws as they're inbred, insane and dead, but a lord of the north should never turn down the chance for a capon or two. I invite all my favourite people of the north, and devise a seating plan that puts me as far away from Roose Bolton as possible. The wedding itself is beautiful. Probably. Crusader Kings II doesn't model it beyond informing me that it happened. Dany moves into my castle. She doesn't have direct access to her dragons in the mod, but then I can't help but feel that having three fire-breathing monsters in my castle mainly made of wood is a bad idea in any case. Still, at least my first-born son is married, and my line will continue. Now I just need to find him some land.

"Jon Snow is my bastard, and a total wuss."

All this attention on Robb is getting my second-born's back up. Jon Snow is my bastard, and a total wuss. My attendance at the Bear Island tournament prompts him to ask me to stop risking my life so often. I give him a noogie and punch him in the arm, taking the time to suggest he is a capon. We in the north practise the old ways.

Beyond Jon's bleating, all is fairly quiet at home in Winterfell – at least until I get the notification that Jorah Mormont has been captured and killed by peasants. Jorah is Jeor's son – Dany's protector in the fiction– and as good a soldier as you'd expect someone who may or may not have had a bear for a dad to be. To have him lynched by peasants is unlucky: one of CKII's lower probability events that can topple a wobbly regime without proper preparation. Fortunately, my court's big enough that I'm able to appoint another skilled Master at Arms: my third in a year.

Another council spot is quickly vacated as Maester Luwin snuffs it. There's no foul play or peasant murdering here: Luwin was just really old, and the north's continuing winter finished him off. Maesters are ASoIaF's scientists and teachers, and are trained down in Oldtown in the extreme southwest of Westeros. When one dies, the lord can send for a replacement. Mine doesn't take too long to turn up.

"I find Tyrion Lannister not only married, but married to Asha Greyjoy"

I get lucky: he's a 'Mastermind Scholar'. He's also 'Shy', and 'Rude'. Nevertheless, I ask him to start teaching my kids how to do stuff, and with a muttered “fuck off” and a red face, he goes about his duties.

Westeros remains peaceful for a spell, and I spend my time looking for the series' major characters, using the map like a fantasy medieval version of Facebook. I find Tyrion Lannister not only married, but married to Asha Greyjoy, daughter of Balon, lord of the Iron Islands. I can't think of a more mismatched pair, and imagine bounding up the Winterfell stairs to tell my lady love Catelyn the news when a popup appears.

'Catelyn Stark has died.'

I'm stunned. I – not Ned, me – sit in silence for a while. I pause the flow of time and Alt-Tab out from Crusader Kings II, rocked by the news. I flit back to the game and confirm her death. She died of natural causes at age 34. Her face on her character sheet – the mother of Robb, Sansa, Bran, Arya, and little Batman – is tarnished by a little skull symbol in the corner, her braided red hair only just starting to fade with age. Ned had only come to love her this year, but she was a constant companion for my time in Westeros. She'd helped me avoid narrative determinism, avoid the blade that should've canonically chopped Ned's head off. Survival was hard enough when we were in this together, and now I was in this alone.

"The light in Ned's eyes grows dim."

The light in Ned's eyes grows dim. The game puts him in mourning and lumbers him with depressive, widower traits. A short time afterwards, Ned becomes 'Chaste'. I 'don't feel comfortable touching other human beings' with my wife gone.

For a time I embrace Ned's sadness and toy with the idea of reloading an old save when Catelyn was still alive. It's a bastard that snaps me out of my funk. One of my illegitimate children – I swear I don't remember anything your honour – comes to me and asks to be legitimised. With Catelyn gone I incur no spousal wrath for my infidelity, so I accept the claim. I realise that although Ned might have lost his wife, he hasn't yet lost his life: he's still a virile young man at 38, and – more pragmatically – my two oldest sons are massive nerds blessed with some of life's most useless traits. It's time to put myself back on the market.

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

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