Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods has just been announced , and will add playable pagans and Zoroastrians to Paradox's grand medieval strategy sandbox. It's fair to say I was just a tiny bit out of my mind excited. Some notable new features include an extension of the timeline back to 867 A.D., and (sadly unplayable) landless adventurers who set out with their bands of warriors to found new kingdoms in true Viking fashion. I got to raid the brain-villages of Chris King, one of the expansion's designers. Read on to share in the knowledge I plundered.
One tidbit I picked up not included in this interview: 867 will be a stand-alone start date. Unlike the rest of CK2's timeline, you won't be able to advance the clock day by day between 867 and 1066. This, unfortunately, means you won't be able to play as some of the intervening figures such as Brian Boru, the legendary Irish king who founded the house I played as in the first Crusader Kings Chronicle .
PC Gamer: Does The Old Gods make all of the pagans playable? Including, say, the Mongols?
Chris King: Yes.
Will there be different flavor events for the different types of pagans?
At the moment, we've been focusing in on the Norse pagans. So as a Norse pagan, you can now erect a runestone in your honor, we have these little things like that. And you can also go a-viking. So you can set yourself up for a big invasion of somewhere.
And then we're going to try to go through all the other pagans and see what we can do with them. So we've kind of been talking about giving, like, the Baltic pagans maybe defensive bonuses or these kinds of things. But we're going to look at each pagan [religion] in turn and say, what can we do to bring them out and make them interesting?
"So, just because you've kicked out the guy who claims your title...doesn't mean he's not a threat."
So, the Norse will be the most fleshed-out.
Yes. Well, Norse is our first one. We've actually changed the cultures. So Scandinavia is now "Norse" culture at game start [in 867]. There's no Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians. And then they will split up into the three.
Is that an event that happens randomly?
Well, it's an event. I'm not sure how random it is.
Do the playable pagans include the Aztecs from Sunset Invasion?
Yeah, the Aztecs will be playable. So I think you can actually tag into them when the Sunset Invasion arrives if you want to. If you decide you want a cruising mid-late game, you can always take over that invasion.
Have you guys figured out who the Interesting Characters are going to be for 867?
Well, the reason we picked 867 is that there was a moment—it was called the Great Heathen Army. And it arrived in York in 866. So you have this heathen army. They're the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok . So you have Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan, Bjorn Ironside— and these were the sons of Lodbrok. At least one of them will be an Interesting Character. It's also a kind of symmetry thing. Because we started in 1066, you have a pack of Norwegians parked in York. So if you start in 867 you have a pack of, I think they're mainly Danes and Swedes now, parked in York.
Have you thought about, beyond the Norse, which rulers you want to highlight in 867?
Not yet, but I think it's the grandsons or great-grandsons of Charlemagne in Central Europe. So they'll definitely be ones to play around with.
So the landless adventurers you mentioned aren't actually playable?
No, not as far as I know. Basically, the adventurer system is not fully implemented yet. So it's in our progression. But our idea is, landless characters can be a danger to you. So just because you've kicked out the guy who claims your title—he doesn't have any land—doesn't mean he's not a threat. Our goal is to try and tie them in with rebels. So rebels will now rebel for a title claimant.
So, is this something that would maybe be moddable? In terms of making adventurers playable?
The engine doesn't really support that. So I don't think we can make landless characters playable. I mean, we had to to actually create special settlements for the republican families, with the palace thing. Which was their core settlement, so they would always be landed.
"...Money is still power, even in the Viking Era."
The fact sheet mentions that it will actually generate unrest if you don't go to war as a pagan.
Yes. Well, there's two parts to it. If you decide I'm going to call an invasion, and then you get your vikings turning up...if you then refuse to declare war, you've got, like, a two year window to do it, then you will get big penalties.
And Prestige is a key thing. So, because these invasions are your biggest way of getting troops over land, I can be the poorest count in Norway. But if I have a high enough Prestige, I can declare invasions for one of my pagan neighbors, in fact, summon Vikings, and basically kick them in. So you have to make sure you have a lot of Prestige so you can counter-invade and things like this.
The other part is, obviously, that if you go looting, you're going to get money. And money still translates into building upgrades and all these kinds of things. It builds up your core demesne, allows you to buy titles...so, money is still power, even in the Viking Era.
And do you actually destroy holdings when you go raiding? Or destroy building improvements?
Well, that's definitely going to be a kind of tweaking/balancing thing. We definitely think it should destroy improvements. You know, but it's going to be a question of balance, how much damage they should do. Should they be able to burn down whole holdings? Or should they set back your improvements in holdings? That's going to be something we'll play around with.
So it's not just a red icon that says "Pillaged" that goes on the province and just gives you a temporary penalty.
No. We're aiming to make sure it actually damages stuff.
"So I rage-quit. I said, 'This needs balancing! It's broken! You need to fix this!'"
You mentioned at one point that you're still messing with the numbers and balancing for pagan invasions.
Yeah, I played the King of Scotland, and the Great Heathen Army was obviously beating up the English. Which was pleasing for me. But then there's one scripted invasion [after 867] we have, which is the Great Summer Army, which came a year after the Great Heathen Army. And he should pick East Anglia, but he actually has a random chance of picking another county.
So he picked bloody Scotland! And 6000 Vikings arrived on an invasion CB. So if they won, I'm out. So I rage-quit. I said, "This needs balancing! It's broken! You need to fix this!"
We're trying to get that kind of thing where it shouldn't just be a simple steamroll. But also, it should be a threat. So we're trying to find that right balance number.
On the next page: How the expansion will handle the Great Christian Schism, cultural shifts, and nomads.