Game of Thrones diary part two: staying alive in Crusader Kings 2's Westeros
Ned Stark has killed hundreds of people – including, last week, one of his best mates for a minor transgression. But Ned always stared in their faces as he lopped their heads off, never breaking eye contact as their heads bounced around on the floor like bony footballs. I’m about to make him take a life by nefarious, sneaky means, and I feel bad.
Ned is boss of Westeros’s North, and looks after a vast swathe of land. But I wasn’t happy with the size of his territory. I wanted more for Ned. Last week, I decided he would do whatever it took to increase his holdings – even if that meant taking a life to get at that land.
That land was to be the Twins, the fortified stronghold directly south of Ned’s southernmost territory, and that life was to be Stevron Frey’s. Stevron is Lord of the Twins, and the head of a gigantic family several hundred cousins deep. The downside: there are so many Freys milling about that killing one would just see another step into its place like a many-headed hydra. The upside: being forced to live in a castle alongside your 40-odd siblings puts stresses on familial bonds.
Crusader Kings II’s plots need backers to work. After opening CKII’s Intrigue menu and selecting a bid to kill Stevron, I waded through a list of 30 members of his own family that were not only keen to see him dead, they were also happy to help me kill him. I bet Christmas was great fun at the Frey household. I selected ten of them and fired off requests to formally join my plot. “Dear sir/madam: would you like to help me kill your dad? Please RSVP, yes/no/maybe to This Guy Up North as soon as possible.” I got ten positive replies within a few days. The plot was on – and, thanks to the plotters’ power, it had a 107 per cent chance of succeeding! I was expecting old Stevvers to meet with an unfortunate accident later that afternoon, as his kids queued up to push him down the stairs.
But that afternoon turned to days, and days turned to in-game weeks. Still Stevron clung on in the face of multiple patricide attempts. I wondered if part of the problem was Ned himself: great at war, boss Stark isn’t the sneakiest tool in the shed, and has an innately sucky Intrigue score. I considered calling off the plot, but without a claim on the Twins – a reasonable justification for war in CKII’s robo-eyes – I had no way of hurting the Freys. And for many reasons, I really want to hurt the Freys. I’ll just have to bide my time.
My attention is quickly snaffled by another family: the Tullys. Eighteen-year-old Edmure Tully, natural heir to Westeros’s central Riverlands lordship, has declared war on King Robert and marched on King’s Landing. Robert, in turn, has raised his allies in the south, west, and east to rebuff the invaders, and presumably do things to Edmure that involve disengaging his head from his neck and mounting it on something pointy. Robert has also asked for my assistance in bashing down the young upstart, but there’s one problem: Edmure is my brother-in-law.
Ned’s wife Catelyn is a Tully, and Edmure is her younger brother. So when Robert – Ned’s best pal, commander of by far the largest fighting force in Westeros, and temperamental shit at the best of times – comes a-knocking to secure the support of the North’s armies, I’m forced to stall for time. I open my hands, shuffle my feet around, and select the ‘maybe I’ll wait a little bit before deciding’ option in the prompt that pops up. Robert immediately loses ten ‘fondness’ for me, but at least I’ve not pissed off the bearer of (most) of my children. I hope Edmure sorts himself out before Robert’s army crashes down around him, for both our sakes.
But Edmure doesn’t. The war rages on, the land south of the Neck tumultuous with military movements. The Riverlands can call on many vassals, and have fielded a large army. Robert’s is bigger, but has to stream over slowly from all corners of Westeros. Small scraps chip away at both sides’ resolve, and Robert is forced to come back to the North, begging for an army. With a mouthed “sorry” to Catelyn, I decide to acquiesce: Robert’s opinion of me is waning, and I’d rather be best friends with the continent’s ruler than have to hang around with the in-laws.
Characters in Crusader Kings II don’t get standing armies; instead they have levies, fighting men who can be raised come wartime, and sunk back into the general populace in times of peace. To join Robert’s war, I need to raise all my levies from my many different vassals, and then join them into a collective force. I start to mass them in the Neck, just north of the Twins. I’m wondering if they can maybe sneak into Stevron Frey’s bedroom and give him a good scare on the way down south, when I spy a little notifier in the top right of the screen: “Stevron Frey has died.”