Last year I played a multi-generational game of grand strategy Crusader Kings 2 using the A Game of Thrones mod, which transforms the historical medieval setting of CK2 into the continent of Westeros from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels (and the HBO series). My goal was to play as the most minor of lords and experience the conflict and drama of Westeros from the ground floor. Game of Checkers will run on Sundays for the next ten weeks.
A Lack of Thrones
On the continent of Westeros, in The Vale of Arryn, four barren, rocky peninsulas called The Fingers point into the Narrow Sea. The smallest of these worthless fingers of land is Midlor Point, home to Lord Petyr Baelish, also known as “Littlefinger.” Despite his low birth, Littlefinger would use his cunning and wiles to rise to a position of power, wealth, and influence in Westeros, becoming one of the key players in The Game of Thrones.
This is not his story.
This is the story of Littlefinger’s next-door neighbor, Lord Ninedrick of Wycliffe, Wycliffe being the peninsula just to the north of Midlor Point. Like Littlefinger, Ninedrick was born into an insignificant house with few holdings. No massive armies, no chests of gold, no vassals, no reputation, no power. Unlike Littlefinger, however, Ninedrick is not a genius. He’s not shrewd. He’s not devious. He’s kind of a lump.
A Whent Wedding
It is the year 284 AL, fourteen years before the events of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and the Game of Thrones HBO television show. Robert Baratheon sits upon the Iron Throne in King’s Landing with his wife, Queen Cersei Lannister, having just overthrown Mad King Aerys Targaryen. In the North, Ned Stark returns to his wife Catelyn Tully in Winterfell. Ned’s legitimate son, Robb, and his bastard son, Jon Snow, are toddlers.
In Wycliffe, meanwhile, sits the unassuming Ninedrick. He is portly and bald, and possesses an auburn handlebar moustache and little else. There’s a lot to tend to, but first things first: Ninedrick needs to get married. There are a lot of ways to suddenly die in Crusader Kings 2: in battle, via assassination, illness, and even random accidents. Since I created Ninedrick from scratch (rather than playing a character who already exists in the game), he has no children, no siblings, no parents, no relatives, no one to continue his lineage (and the game) should he perish. I need to get him hitched and try to crank out a dynastic heir, stat.
I skim through the character list to find him a good match. Right at the top is an intriguing prospect: Daenerys Targaryen, one of the most popular characters from Game of Thrones. Marrying Daenerys would be a huge get for my pathetic house: she’s a princess, and marrying into royalty comes with a big boost to prestige. There’s a minor problem, though. Since my game takes place 14 years before the Game of Thrones fiction begins, Daenerys is currently a newborn baby.
Not that you can’t arrange to marry a baby! We could still become betrothed at this point. Her guardian would promise to marry her to me when she comes of age, but apart from the somewhat disturbing idea of forcing a baby into a marriage contract, I kinda need to get married now, to an adult, to ensure the survival of my dynasty. It’s just not safe to wait around a decade and a half for a wife, even if that wife would be an awesome Game of Thrones character.
So, I look elsewhere, finally settling on Dana Whent, of House Whent, the eighteen year-old daughter of Lord Edmure II of Harrenhal, the largest, most melted castle in Westeros. (There is a House Whent in Game of Thrones, though Dana herself is a character created by the mod.)
Dana has a positive opinion of me, and that's pretty much all I'm looking for in a bride. She's also lustful, which sounds like a good trait for someone you'd like to have a baby with quickly. We get hitched, I get a decent dowry from Edmure, and I immediately award Dana the title of High Almoner, which makes her like me a bit more. Now to sit back and hope some sparks fly!
Sparks do fly, immediately, not the boots-knocking variety but of the boot- marching variety. The moment I marry Dana Whent, The Vale immediately breaks out in war.
I should be stripping off my clothes and getting acquainted with my teenage bride, but instead I’m strapping on my armor and raising my forces. There’s a chain of three islands just to the north of The Fingers called The Sisters: Longsister, Sweetsister, and Littlesister. King Robert is pressing a claim on one of them.
Since Robert is Jon Arryn’s liege, and Jon Arryn is my liege, I sort of have to go along for the war. Believe me, I don’t want to. I've got plenty of other things to do, like make sure my council is in order and assign tasks to my court. Not to mention, I’ll be wading into battle before I've even had a chance to attempt to create an heir.
You don’t have a standing army in CK2: when you need to go to war, your soldiers come from your lands. Farmers, potters, merchants, blacksmiths, builders, air conditioner repairmen, Best Buy employees, those big bearded guys in taverns who laugh way too loudly at everything... you bang on their doors and tell them they need dig out their armor and weapons and join the fight.
So, I put together a force of 1,200 men and we start marching, hoping someone will tell us what to do because I haven’t really mastered the war portion of the game yet. We’re a few steps towards the coast when The Iron Throne’s fleet arrives on Littlesister, 91 ships packed with soldiers. It’s complete overkill, as Lord Alesandor of Littlesister only has about 600 of his own men, and he makes the wise choice to surrender immediately. Alesandor is thrown into King Robert’s prison and is replaced with Eldon, a young boy. My little band of warriors don’t even have time to reach the coast before the war is called off.