Michael Eckenfels, 28 July 2022
My AAR on Crusader Kings came from a slightly different angle than the other articles that are being written. I hadn’t played the game before, but am very familiar with the interface and the methodology having spent countless hours with Europa Universalis II and Hearts of Iron. It was essentially like meeting an old friend, just dressed up differently. However, my assignment is to cover this game from the Count-level perspective, something akin to covering World War II from the perspective of then-neutral Lichtenstein.
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Crusader Kings has three levels a player can interact at: King, Duke, and Count. Roughly, Kings have one or more Dukes under them, while Dukes have one or more Counts under them. The Count is the leader of a province, and as far as I could tell there were few decent ones to try out. Most empires in this game are better as a sum of their parts, but playing one of those parts looked like it would be dull, dry, and not really worth the effort. Fortunately I turned this perception into several hours’ worth of enjoyment. And hey, he has a really cool heraldry device with that scorpion grasping a crown. Could this be foreshadowing, and would we soon be bowing to Lord King Abelard de Hauteville, King of Europe? Nah, probably not, but in this day (as in that one), you have to dream big – otherwise what’s the point of playing the game?
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I selected sunny Taranto, the arch of the heel of Italy, as my Count’s bastion. Unfortunately I could not choose the name of my Count (de Money seemed to be worth a few yuks), but I was stuck with what the game already had assigned. I noticed that most of the characters in this game had an affinity for overdefined proboscises, even the ladies, indicating they liked their barroom fights back then or just an ingrained need to inhale the fresh, clean scents of the lush Middle Ages world they lived in.
My guy, Abelard de Hauteville, was a mere 26 years old and seemed to be the best choice over some middle-aged guy with no wife. Little did I know that age means little in this game as far as marriages are concerned, and guess what, there’s more on this later! Suffice it to say that Abelard seemed a solid choice – he’s young, so unless he eats some bad fish or gets allergic to knives in his back or something, he has an outstanding Marital (or, military) skill (12), as well as the “Knowledgeable Tactician” Trait, which accounts for his high Martial ability. He also has a decent Diplomacy (7) and Intrigue (6), which may come in handy. I selected the “Hastings 1066” scenario and began on January 1, 1066, and am told that the game will end in 1452. I had to create a dynasty to stand the test of time, as it were, but fortunately for the dear reader my time on this Crusader Kings-generated Earth fell far short of this goal.
It wasn’t long (March 9, 1066 to be exact) before some minor province in the middle of France came to me begging my Count to take his homely daughter/courtesan (Emma, who looks rather East Germanic Women’s Team to me in the above screenshot – hey, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that). Seeing as my guy is 26 and pretty much in his middle age at this point, I clicked ‘Accept.’ Little did I know that this must have been the equivalent of Middle Age spam in my ‘inbox’ so to speak, since I saw neither hide nor hair of the fine (young?) Emma. Ah well, it was not meant to be, or perhaps one of those Genoa charlatans picked her up and sold her into slavery as she traveled through that fine province.
I took a look at my court – four people, not very many. Humbert de Romano was a 31-year-old with decent diplomatic skills; Humphrey Tittoni, besides having a name funny in a juvenile kind of way, was a relatively decent mid-level bureaucrat; Eremberga Berlinguer, by far the courtesan with the biggest mouthful of a name, wasn’t distinguishable in any one category; and then there was Emma (no relation to the one that disappeared in transit), who had a nice Intrigue rating but was also tagged with the “Suspicious” and “Flamboyant Schemer” traits. She’d make a great Spy Master in my court, as long as she didn’t plan on taking the captain’s chair by offing me in the process.
Little did I know what a backward technological marvel Taranto was in 1066: they have little or no technological advances in any of the trees or branches. I had my work cut out for me if I were to become King Of All Mankind within my brief lifespan. Fortunately, I was greeted with the above message relatively early on and told essentially ‘congratulations, you can grow things in the ground now!’ Yay! Well, the two-field system probably has something to do with crop rotation or some other thing that I know nothing about – until I read it in the manual (oops): “This method meant that at any one time half of the village farmland was under cultivation and the other half lay fallow. The length of the fallow period was usually one year. Every peasant farmer had strips scattered in both halves.” Nice to know I’m doing my part to keep Italy and Europe moving on into the future. We don’t even know what Leather Armor or slashing weapons are, so I can only assume my ‘knights’ are armed with stones and my peasants are like the ones in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where they move piles of filth from here to there and argue about supreme executive power.
See what I mean? My province has little more than a ‘hill fort’ that would do the Wild West proud in about eight hundred years, but that’s about it. No mines, no infrastructure, and nothing but peasant filth to count and move about. My income was pathetic, about 1.8 gold or so, but it was multiplied by about 130% because of some decent bonuses (including being the Duke’s steward, which is great but my Duke isn’t a good judge of Stewards, because my rating’s rather low – not that I’ll argue). So that means lots of time spent in “Extremely Fast” mode, watching my treasury grow at a snail’s pace. Most improvements start at about 100 gold or so, and with a starting treasury of about 25 I’d have some waiting to do.
Finally, I get the 100 gold and decide to institute Forestry immediately. It will take 12 months to build this, but it will increase my income by a huge 5%. When you consider exactly what 5% of 1.8 is, if you’re the Count in charge you’ll go weep into your horse manure pillow inside your drafty hill fort. But it’s a start, and Rome wasn’t built in a day, and…some other tired clichés.
It wasn’t long before my Forestry plan was enacted, and my income leapt like a one-legged man with one foot in the grave. I felt confident, perhaps overly so; as any good Count would do I began to get the conquest itch and immediately started picking on a couple of neighboring provinces (see the orange-highlighted ones below – mine is dark green):
Those poor souls. I immediately laid claim to both provinces, demanding that it was indeed I, the Count Abelard de Hauteville, who was the rightful Count of these provinces. It costs Prestige to do so, but gives an inroad to declaring war. I think this is about the time where I started ticking off the Pope and my lord, but more on that later. Oh, this story isn’t done yet, not by a longshot.
Yes, back in good old sunny Taranto, we scraped together a few more coins from under the royal cushions to build a Fishing Wharf. This increased my income by 5%. Couple that with the 5% from Forestry, and I had…a 10% bonus to my income. Whee. Well, it wasn’t the U.S.’s GNP of 2003, but it was better than pig slop farming. I think my peasants agreed; their Loyalty remained at 100%, as did the loyalty of everyone in my province.
It was about this time (March 10, 1076 to be exact) that we made the amazing breakthrough of discovering…the short sword! No more pointy sticks or coming at people with bananas; no, we were a power now. The fine citizens across the Adriatic were no doubt laughing themselves silly at us backward country folk, and counting us lucky for having a large body of water between us and them. Had they had access to us, their bows and leather outfits would have caused short work of my elite pointy-stick knights. Thankfully, it’s a step in the right direction. I immediately ordered a change of focus into armor – now that we had the nice, sharp swords, we needed something to keep other nice, sharp swords from cutting into our expensive soldiers.
So this one came out of the blue…the Duchy of Toscana, located way the heck up the boot of Italy, declared war on me. Okay, makes sense, perhaps they had some kind of agreement with the provinces I had machinations on. It also may have had something to do with me declaring war on the closest one (Salerno), but I digress. I think the Pope wasn’t very happy with me at this point, as I declared war on another Christian nation. Popes don’t like it when their like-minded provinces attack one another – that’s what the Moors and Muslims are for, but the Great Crusades were centuries off so I told the Pope to back off and mind his own business – I was creating a generation of warriors who would fight off the Asiatic Mongol Hordes ™ and make short work of anything remotely trying to keep Jerusalem out of the hands of the righteous ™ Crusaders. I was just practicing for the big show, but that didn’t leave much of an impression on the powers-that-be.
Turns out that Salerno’s leader, “Richard,” had a smaller army and not much of a stomach for a fight. My regiment made short work of him and his men, and lay siege very quickly to his holdings. However, I had to do it several times, because some annoying expeditionary forces from neighboring Napoli (incidentally, the other province I laid a claim on) kept sending 33-man regiments into my invasion zone. It looked like every time I ‘won’ a siege, they came running with their tiny army and broke the siege…making me have to start all over again. I think the other provinces run by my lord were sending reinforcements to help me, though goodness knows why. They ended up despising me before long.
Ah, that’s better. Richard, better known as Richard Duke of Campania, offered me peace with 480 gold to sweeten the pot. I felt I must have had him on the ropes if he was turning out that kind of cash to buy me off (see above; my treasury has a whopping 17 in it at that time). So, I did what any non-logical liege would do and declined the offer. Richard tried to push it off on me several more times as the annoying little raids came in time and time again, and each time I refused. It was the principle of the thing – how could I spread the glory of Taranto throughout Italy and the world if I gave in to every bribe that came along?
Those lovely little raids were coming more or less constantly from up-boot Italy and the Duchy of Campania. Fortunately they were beaten every time – I couldn’t tell if the AI had problems counting or if the people of northern Italy at that time suffered from astigmatism, but regardless they were cut down like wheat in a wheat field (even though my people didn’t know what wheat was at the time).
Finally, I figured out that Richard wasn’t the only one that could issue peace proposals. I jumped right in with one of my own. It was August 20, 1080, and my treasury was in the pits (-279). I demanded a tribute of about 50 gold, control of Salerno, and for him to mind his own beeswax. He quickly agreed, and the “Heel War” came to a close. One down, five hundred or so to go!
It was about this time (1080 or so) that I remembered I was in my 40’s and without a bride. Pickings locally must have been dried up, but after having run a successful war that more or less offed a significant portion of the male population of my province, leaving grieving widows behind that needed a little royal comforting (nudge-nudge), alas this was not to be. So, after much study and deliberation (i.e., ‘randomly choosing’) I selected the fine province of Genoa to provide me with a willing bride. I asked for Clara’s hand in marriage and can’t recall how old she was. Most of the women in the courts at the time were in their 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s – hardly a good child-bearing age in this day and age (the Middle Ages; remember I’m trying to be ‘in character’ here). She must’ve been old and worldly because it wasn’t long before Genoa told me what I could go do with myself. Fine, be that way; the royal de Hauteville line would go on sooner or later, as there were likely more where that came from.
to be continued…..
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