August 10, 2022

Classic AARs ~ Crusader Kings, part 2 of 2

Michael Eckenfels, 31 July 2022

Picking up where we left off in part one, the (mis)adventures of Taranto continue…

In the ‘never saw this one coming’ department, I tried my luck at bride-finding in the neighboring state of Napoli. Recall this was a state that I had laid a claim to the title of Count in. They rather willingly gave up their 16-year-old courtesan Anna (their Spy Master, to boot) to wed a dirty old man like de Hauteville. Hey, the more’s the pity, sir, if it pleased God, as Shakespeare would say in about 500 years, ripping me off.

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So here I am, 46, with a 16-year-old bride. She’s a hellion in the Diplomacy field, though – an 11 rating, and a 7 in Intrigue. Her Marital skill is 9, so she’s pretty good at military tactics as well. Her beak, though, indicates to me why Napoli wanted to get rid of her so quickly:

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Continuing the AAR we started on #TBT, here’s part two of what was a pretty long romp through Crusader Kings

Okay, okay, portraits really mean nothing in this game. But take a gander; she looks disturbingly a lot like the Chicken Lady from the Kids in the Hall sketch. I hoped my (fearful) thoughts were not transmitting their way into my computer, making de Hauteville flinch with the prospect of coupling and creating an heir for the throne. Get over that hurdle, and the line is guaranteed. Maybe.

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It wasn’t long before that rascal de Hauteville and his blushing big-nosed bride Anna were expecting a child. With my luck, I’ll have twelve daughters.

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This is about when I discovered the disfavor I was suffering with the Pope. “Excommunicated” was a new trait added to my screen, one I did not notice before or was too tired to notice (hey, I just got married to a teenager, leave me alone). “This is essentially a curse on their soul and a blight on their character.” Well come on, if you put it that way, it sounds bad. So was it my claiming realms that did not belong to me? Or waging war on my Christian brothers? Or marrying a beak-nosed girl half my age? I just don’t know. I do, however, suspect it is from waging war on a province that has my Christian leanings. I must remember in the future to make war on heretics and Muslims here in the good old Middle Ages.

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While I lay in self-pity within my stockade fort, Anna gave birth to…that’s right, a daughter. Sigh. Well, her name was Emma, which must have been a very popular name at the time. If she lived to see adulthood it would be a miracle, especially in this house of rulership.

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Concerned at having fallen from the Church’s favor, I sought out the province of Roma to declare my allegiance to their rule, trying to become their vassal. Funny, though, I was deemed “to loyal” to become their vassal. Considering I’ve been pretty much a sinner since the start of this game in every conceivable way, I’m amazed I can’t try to dig the hole deeper by renouncing my lord’s claim on my spirit. Maybe I can, I just didn’t seek a way to do that – I was too busy with upcoming events to do so.

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This is about where the ‘random events’ began to kick into high gear. This “Evil Omen” thing was just about the icing on the cake at this point, although I chose the last option – turning to the Clergy for an explanation – to increase my Piety rating. It hurt my pocketbook less than the other two choices as well, and I figured things could only move up with regards to my relation with the Holy Mother Church.

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The Taranto Research and Development Department continued to churn out the hits; soon I was the proud owner of the “Divine Rights” advancement, allowing me the good fortune of giving the nobility of my province the ability to know that they have immunity from “almost all outside authorities.” I thought that too, and the Pope begged to disagree. I guess they meant I could repress my peasants with little fear of being labeled a bad guy. At this point, with no favor in the Church and an Excommunicated status that meant I had no legal heirs (my liege was designated as my heir at this time), it did little to excite or motivate me.

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The Taranto R&D boys came up with “Soft Leather,” giving my burlap sack-endowed army something to really write home about. With the power of treated leather hides and short pointy swords, I would no doubt now be a force to be reckoned with on the peninsula. Long Live the King!

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Since I had so little to lose (sure, a teenage wife and a daughter are nice things in the Middle Ages, but my entire political career was essentially on the dung heap), I tried to assassinate my liege and found I couldn’t do it. I did try, and the game teasingly allowed me to get close, but the final confirmation button remained grayed out. Oh, you evil gray color, how many Machiavellian moves have you frustrated by your cold, uncaring appearance?

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A guy looking disturbingly like John Kerry pointing at a piece of paper came up to me and said “Hey, I just discovered the Small Castle!” Great work, now off with his head. My treasury is hardly at the level where I can afford the 1000 gold for a small castle. Thanks for reminding me my province is pitiful, pal.

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Soon after this, nearing the 50-year mark my wife and I were expecting yet another child. I was glad that the good old Count hadn’t lost that touch, at least; seriously, I needed a male heir. I wondered if it even mattered at this point, but it was something to grasp onto besides the cow in the next stall to me in my stable-like royal bedroom.

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Soon, the nobles began getting uppity. It must have had something to do with that “Divine Right” stuff, but they picked their fight poorly: they demanded hunting privileges on Church lands. In Crusader Kings, these kinds of occurrences are more or less a “six of one, half dozen of the other” choice. If I choose to accept their demands, the power of the nobility increases slightly and the clergy decreases slightly, and vice versa if I choose to not accept their demands. Since the church and I aren’t exactly on speaking terms right now, I could care less if the nobles go slay a few church-blessed chickens. I give them my blessing (such as it is) and incur no doubt more wrath from them.

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Anna soon reaches the ripe old age of 21, still carrying our second child, and the more I look at her the more I realize she’s quite the keeper. She’s an amazing diplomat, something that would be nice if I had something like, oh, favorable influence in the realm right now. I appointed her my Chancellor, since she’s so highly rated in that skill, and slowly but surely I was beginning to feel that perhaps she should be the one in charge. Crete, I hear, is nice this time of year – nobody would miss a few gold and a boat, would they?

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September 13, 1088 seemed like a joyous day, but turned ugly really quick when Anna died trying to deliver our second child. The child, unfortunately squared, died as well. It was me and Emma, who was quickly approaching the ripe old age of five, and I began to think about her education and training – she’d need it if she had to carry the name “de Hauteville” throughout her life.

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Like any red-blooded Middle Ages middle-aged guy, the mourning was over really quick and less than a month later I asked for and received the hand in marriage of the fair Fressenda, from the neighboring province of Benevento. And yes, he’s lecherous, because she’s sixteen years old also. Yes, I know this is normal for this time, but it’s still a bit creepy. I was thinking that this was a good thing because perhaps since she was young, she’d live a little while to give me lots of kids that I could train to become master world-rulers. Or fishermen, whichever came first, because I really couldn’t afford to be too picky at this point.

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Good old de Hauteville! Soon Fressenda is with child and hopefully things are back on track. Probably not, as that whole excommunication thing makes me look bad, but I need every bit of good news I can grab onto these days.

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The good news continues to roll in as I realize that Emma is now five years old and ready for me to decide her education path. I’m given the choice of having her trained at the court or at a monastery; the court will increase her Prestige while the monastery will…well, who cares, it was a one-sided choice for me. The church hadn’t done much for me lately except bless my union (presumably, anyway) with my second wife, so I quickly selected to train her at the court. Emma needed to be like her momma, very well versed in the ways of diplomacy and intrigue.

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Blessed day! September 29, 1089 dawns and I find that Fressenda has blessed me with a son, who we name Guillaume. That’s good news, at least as far as the whole “I-hope-my-line-survives” thread of thought that I’m nurturing along. I’m wondering if, when I die, Guillaume will become my new character or if my lands will secede to my liege, and leave me with a big fat “Game Over.” Only one way to find out, and that’s to keep plugging away. The good news continues with the birth of my son, so things are looking good for good ol’ Taranto.

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I even get a moment to remember there’s people in my province that like to be happy and make money, so I finally get my economy out of the debt it suffered from my ill-conceived war of decades ago and start to build a Tile Factory improvement. This will increase my income and decrease the building time of other structures, so this is more good news.

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And…that’s all, folks. Guillaume dies – he’s only one day shy of being two months old. I forget this is the Middle Ages and infant mortality is high, but the death of this child (coupled with the death of Anna and my other child) causes the dear old Count to start talking in third person and planning heinous acts.

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Fressenda comes to the Count with good news – she’s pregnant again, seven months after the death of little Guillaume. But the Count is already too far gone, planning wars and conquests that are long out of his reach. The Count doesn’t take prisoners, so the world better watch out. Fressenda knows her husband is going mad and probably starts to take steps to protect little Emma from his psychopathic dealings.

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The Count snaps as a new daughter is born on May 10, 1091 – not a son, but a daughter, Judith. Nothing wrong with that, but hey, The Count needs a son, not another daughter. The Count slowly loses his hold on sanity and begins to plan for world domination once again.

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Baby Judith’s death six months later is the manure-laden straw that broke the Count’s back. No more Mr. Nice Count, here comes the conquest express!

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The Count and his loyal minions tried to forcibly bring neighboring Benevento into the fold; no doubt poor Fressenda, who came from this province to join The Count in a state of matrimony, did something dreadful when she received the news. So did my liege, the Duke of Apulia, who had finally had enough of The Count’s crazy antics and declared war on him. Silly mortal, I suppose he wants to die young, is that it? His 70,000 troops are no match for my soft leather-endowed, short sword-bearing 1,000 man regiment! Bring them on!

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Barely three or four months later, Taranto is conquered by the backstabbing Apulia conglomerate. The Count does something that makes him run away into the night. At this point I pretty much gave up playing.

The invasion near the end of the game was silly, I admit, but given the circumstances and the likelihood of not having a line to continue the name of de Hauteville, I think I came full circle as the past wrongdoings came to haunt him and bite him on the rear. It’s evident that Crusader Kings is indeed serious about its religion; the manual even warns that making war on Muslim provinces is a Good Idea as opposed to attacking faithful lands. I made that mistake, as is obvious above; don’t go and make the same one. Pick battles carefully and only attack when not only victory is certain, but when belief that the cause is just is as certain.

Playing as a Count has its own difficulties, the main one of which is “getting noticed.” I certainly managed to do that in droves here, managing to tee off the Pope, the Vatican, and most of southern Italy in the process. No doubt history books will mention de Hauteville now as a mere cog in a machine (albeit a rusty one that was in desperate need of a little diplomatic oil), but regardless of his footprint in history I genuinely had fun playing this scenario out. I didn’t think playing such a low-level game would make anything interesting come out in an AAR; after all, who cares what the province of Taranto does in the scheme of things, compared to, say, all of France? Or any other major nation? I certainly didn’t, but after playing Crusader Kings at this level I found that there is a lot of appeal and intrigue, as well as choices to make, at this level as there are at the higher ones. At the low Count level, the player will be much more insulated from external threats (unless their province is near Mongol hordes or Muslim invaders), giving the player a chance to concentrate on infrastructure and intrigue. At the Duke and King levels, the player will need to be more concerned with these external threats; as a Count, one is merely along for the ride.

 


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