This is the second time we have started a megacampaign named “Song of the Dead”, and although I do not say we have become exceedingly efficient at it, still it went quite fast this time around. We did make some changes: We are starting in 769, and because of the realm-size limit we reached the conclusion that evening out the number of holdings per province, and forbidding tribal starts, was not really necessary. Additionally we have added a number of new achievements, from the bread-and-butter Little Mermaid – hold Sjaelland at designated checkpoints – to the crazily ambitious Zionist Occupation Government, requiring a Jewish dynasty from outside the Levant to form Israel.
I am playing as Holstein, part of Saxony; not quite my usual Norway, but close enough, and holding to the true faith. It may be worth pointing out that the tribe of Saxons is named for their characteristic weapon, the ‘seax’, a single-edged knife or short sword worn at the hip. The word survives into modern Norwegian as ‘saks’, meaning scissors; but in Charlemagne’s age of axe and wolf it retains its original meaning. The Indo-European root means “to cut”; so the demonym “Saxons”, meaningless to our ears, might be translated into modern English either as “Knifemen” or “Cutters”. Of course, I myself am a highly-civilised product of the twentieth century, and would never dream of anything so inefficient as killing my enemies one by one with quiet thrusts to the kidney; I mention the etymology merely as a point of interest.
Last time several people ended up playing in near-isolation due to the realm limit and some dropouts; this time we packed Western Europe with player slots, to ensure interaction. My immediate neighbours are Clonefusion in Sweden, Vaniver in Holland, Yami Phoenix in Bohemia, and Yami Fenrir (I have no idea how we ended up with two ‘Yami’ nicks; what are the odds?) in Bavaria. All expanded more rapidly than I did; I chose my ambition to become king of Saxony at an unfortunate time, just before Charlemagne declared war for the kingdom. However, as there is general agreement that the AI Karlings must go, there will likely be some opportunities.
Some events of the session:
- The Burning Axe: We turned off diplomatic range so the players could all interact; this had the side effect of making every possible pagan form a defensive pact against the Franks, and mustering 18000 men when Karl tried to invade Saxony. He backed off.
- Put Not Your Trust In Princes: Holstein starts with two count vassals, both of which, for inscrutable reasons, have the Duke as their heir. One of them was foolish enough (or perhaps foresighted enough) to plot to get a claim on my title; I didn’t bother with the oubliette but just executed, since my only other vassal of note was about to get the chop from my assassination plot. Thus I was able to rapidly get three counties under control, which with tribal levies is a fairly nice army this early in the game.
- Dannebrog, Storm-Utslagen: Unfortunately, I used that largish army to seize, among other things, Slesvig from Denmark. Shortly thereafter, there was a new king of Denmark, he had a lot of prestige, and between tribal levies and the Tribal Army decision there were six thousand men coming to retake Slesvig. Not expecting this, I had put my levies in their way; thus I lost not only the war – easy come, easy go – but also most of my power base. It does recover, but this meant I was unable to help my liege in what followed.
- The King Who Knelt: My AI liege decided to attack some minor one-province counts to expand Saxony, and was promptly faced with the same tribal armies that had just killed most of his main vassal’s levies. Saxony lost the war for Brandenburg to the one-province count of Lubusz, got beaten up by some other county with two hundred levies and 2500 tribals out of nowhere – and then Karl declared war for the kingdom, with his threat cooled sufficiently that we didn’t get half of Europe springing to our defense.
- Baptism by Fire and Sword: The Karlings seem curiously eager to make us undergo that ritual where they pour water on your head; to the point of threatening war if we don’t. It may become necessary, as a tactical concession, to take the cross temporarily. I hear they at least give you a new set of clothes for it, so it won’t be a total loss.Players in 788 – most of them, anyway. Ignore the big white blob, we had Khan play as Karl since he didn’t want a permanent slot and he could keep the AI from doing anything egregiously stupid. A couple of players dropped out before I took the screenshot, but it shows at any rate the difficulty of my position, squeezed into northern Germany between several players who have expanded rapidly.
Much delayed events of what turned out to be the final Crusader Kings session:
- Reconquest: It was slow work as I had to do it one duchy at a time, but I managed to reconquer about half of Norway.
- The Black Death: It didn’t reach quite everywhere, but as shown in the map, the rats from the east were well on their way to the Bay of Biscay when their advance was interrupted by session’s end.
- Second Baltic Crusade: When Heaven demonstrates Its wrath, men become desperate; the brain-addled Christians, in particular, decided that the Plague was their god’s way of telling them to spread their faith at the sword’s point. (Admittedly this is very consistent with the rest of their dogma. Our scholars of comparative religion have yet to find a stimulus that they do [i]not[/i] interpret in this fashion.) They therefore declared the Crusade for Svea Rike; for complicated theological reasons this came precisely thirty years after the end of the Crusade for Norway.
- The White Death: For reasons best known to themselves (perhaps they were complicated theological ones), the Crusaders launched their invasion of Scandinavia just as winter was beginning, which was also just as the plague was arriving. This is evidence that the disease is a blessing sent by Hel, to cleanse the human race of stupidity; the Norse armies did not need to lift a finger in actual defense, per se. It’s no joke to fight in Norway (or Sweden) in winter in any year, but in combination with the plague it turned out to be ludicrously deadly. I merely parked my levies on my fleet, out of range of the attrition, and occasionally landed for long enough to mop up a stack that had started fifteen or twenty thousand strong. This did have the unfortunate side effect of giving my king scurvy, from being at sea for months on end, but that was basically our only casualty in this war. We were, however, interrupted by the session’s end before I could reach 100% warscore, so the crusade will convert into EU4, with perhaps slightly unfortunate effects on the defensibility of Scandinavia. Nevertheless I remain optimistic; the peninsula is also well suited for defense by a strong fleet, which I have, and decades of investing the income from raiding have given me forts in mountain and forest provinces which suffer from hard winters.
- Vox Popoli, Vox Diaboli: We had decided to start voting on whether to convert to EU4 after 200 years, and this session we passed that threshold. This incident actually demonstrates one of the ways that games allow us to explore unlikely corners of theory space. Game theorists and social scientists have demonstrated mathematically that democracy needn’t always have optimal outcomes, but of course this is just airy theorising with no application in the real world – until you start playing games, that is; then you can tweak the rules to construct the weirdest imaginable coalitions, preferences, and utility functions. Our rules had apparently created one of those corner cases in the parameter space of democracy that you can obviously never get in real politics, and there was a majority for the wrong decision: We are converting to EU4. Hence my silence for the last few weeks, I’ve been frantically upgrading the converter to deal with the latest DLCs. Incidentally, when I get rich I’m going to buy a large amount of Paradox stock, get myself onto its board, and make it my mission in life to fire the idiot who changed all the savegame keywords. Failing that, I hope he at least had to hunt down a bunch of hardcoded string literals in half a dozen different source files.
Advance of the Black Death; also showing the successes of Norse arms in our reconquest of Norway and defense of Sweden.
Final political situation. Note the many remaining strong AI realms, due to our strict realm-size limits; the player realms are Eire, Aquitaine, Leon, Nordriki, Saarland, Africa, Great Moravia (the Hungary-ish brown blob), Rus, Lazuli (the Balkan realm in imperial purple), Varingia (grey Ukrainian power, south of Rus), Hedarabia (south of Egypt), and Mordor (into which one does not simply walk). Some of the dynasties have outlier kingdoms granted to brothers or younger sons, which count for custom score and may in some cases convert as personal unions, but even so there are multiple power vacuums in this map. Presumably they will be rapidly filled in EU4.
The corresponding starting situation in EU4 – the conversion may get some final tweaks but the borders won’t change much, if at all.
- Another Such Victory: At the beginning of the session I was at war with three players in a Crusade for Norway, and the warscore stood at 74% against me. Two crusader armies (Ukrainian and Italian) were besieging southern Norway, and a third (Leonese) was skulking about the east side of the Jotunheim (the mountain range that divides western and eastern Norway; in Crusader Kings it is impassable to military units), apparently not quite sure whether to go for my capital and accept the attrition (it’s no joke to fight in Norway in winter), or to go east into Sweden and return in the summer. However, I had secured support from several people, and sufficient money poured in that I was able to hire more mercenaries. At the same time Hadogei made up his mind and the Leonese army, seven thousand men, came north towards Nidaros, challenging my main stack – five thousand strong – to fight. Since I had three thousand men offshore in boats, where I had been getting ready to sail south to recapture some of the occupied land, and since Nidaros attacked from the south is a strong defensive position – mountains and a river – I decided to accept battle. That was a mistake. Not because I lost; on the contrary I was well on my way to beating the Leonian army. However, that took time, and the crusading players, realising that they were about to lose a large amount of warscore, Took Steps; in particular they ordered their armies to assault the sieges they were in. That cost them heavily, but the occupation of Akershus tipped the warscore to 100%, mainly by losing me the “holds Norway” ticking warscore. The AI, for once, was on the ball, and the Pope forced the peace through before I could finish trouncing the Leonese. For reasons entirely unclear, the Pope also awarded the victory to Leon, which had fought one and a half battles with me, rather than Italy, which had occupied several of my provinces.
- The Forty-Year Night: Norway now languishes under colonial rule, a Christian “King” of the von Britannia family. Of course, such a person has only the form, not the substance, of kingship; submitting, as they necessarily must, to the Pope on Earth and to their god in Heaven, they are not true sovereigns, but subordinates – servants, not masters. A king of the Norse faith is genuinely sovereign, admitting no superior; even Odin, the giver of victory, is only first among equals in the host of brave men who will meet the ice-giants on Vigrid field. However, theology aside, it is a fact that Norway is now a colony; I trust that in this timeline the liberation will require only forty years, and not four hundred as in ours. (Note for those not familiar with Norwegian history: During the national-romantic revival of the 1850s some historians began to refer to the union with Denmark, from 1397 to 1814, as the “four-hundred-year night”; I don’t think you would find anyone doing so unironically these days, but ironic or not it is an expression I think most Norwegians would recognise.)
- The Viking War: I was left with a claim to Norway; since Hadogei didn’t keep the kingdom as part of his played realm, but handed it out to a relative, I was able to press the claim almost immediately with a good chance of success, since I’d be fighting the AI. Indeed this came very close to working. However, the AI, being under attack by a character of the true faith, was able to attract one of the Hel-damned Holy Orders that infest the Christian world like lice; with ten thousand fighting men, and the mountains of Norway for a bastion, they were able to draw out the fight for a considerable time. I did eventually manage to bait them into attacking me across a river into a mountain, with reasonably equal numbers and good commanders on my side. But my shout of “Victoglory” was premature; I won the battle but ran out of money before I could complete the sieges I needed. My mercenaries promptly deserted, and I accepted a white peace.
- The Nidaros War: King Anlaufr, “The Sword of the Allfather”, died of cancer before I could renew the war against the colonial regime. His son Snorre (named “the Sword of Frey” for his successful wars against the breakaway lords in Sweden) had only a weak claim, which I could not press; I perforce fell back on a Holy War for Nidaros, which is not yet over. Nidaros is my traditional capital in this timeline, and also contains the third holy site, which I need to make myself Fylkir. Unfortunately, while I’m superior to the Norwegian kingdom on its own, the entire von Britannia family seems to have joined the wars in High Germany, and to have combined their armies under Norwegian command – which, upon my declaration of war, promptly brought home all eighteen thousand men from whatever they were doing in Germany. Some testing in single player reveals that this is a mistake on the AI’s part; my armies are sea-mobile and don’t have to fight if I don’t want to, and it’s no joke to wander around above the supply limit in Norwegian winter. But attriting them down is going to take a while, and meanwhile the risk of Leonese or Irish intervention looms.
I needed some money for the Nidaros War, and decided to go get it from my erstwhile enemies, the kings of Leon. It turns out that the cockpit of Europe is living up to its nickname at the moment; northern Germany is a chaos of contending armies – in the middle of which my raiding stack is quite calmly helping itself to a couple hundred ducats. My raid only makes me hostile to the Leonese, who apparently have other things to do with their main forces at the moment; so my army is sitting there in the middle of the war, besieging a random castle, with a dozen armies walking by giving friendly waves – “Oh hai, raiding the Leonese? Kk not my problem, thxbai”.
King Snorre, “the Sword of Frey”. A formidable character even with only half his rightful kingdom.
- Fall of the Island Fortress: My vassals, like moths seeking self-immolation in candle flames, kept flinging themselves at the Orkneys; three separate county conquests were declared against it this session! Despairing at the cost to my moral authority, and having gotten a respectable army together, I finally joined one of these wars. The Holy Order that has been faithfully defending the Island Fortress through these wars was thus decoyed out to attack my province of Caithness (the northern tip of Scotland), and I landed my army in the Orkneys to await their counterattack. It came, I won, and the Island Fortress is at last part of the Norwegian kingdom.
The Island Fortress stands firm against the pagan hordes. This is just before I got tired of them tanking my moral authority.
- Set England Ablaze: In search of moral authority (and gold) I systematically raided the entire east coast of England, from the Thames to the Ouse.
- New Dawn of the Old Gods: A number of failed invasions and holy wars passed out of men’s memory in the 1010s, increasing Norse moral authority to the high thirties. By dint of much raiding of temples, intervening in the prepared invasion of one of Gollevainen’s Dukes against Denmark, and generally speaking doing my utmost to turn northern Europe into a smoking wasteland, I managed to raise this to fifty, and (as I already controlled three holy sites) was thus able to reform the Germanic faith. Triumph! Victory! Glory to the Allfather! It is said that the smoke of the Great Blot I ordered in Uppsala was visible from the Saar Tower in Finland, a hundred miles over the water; and men shivered at the sight, not knowing when the dragon-headed ships might pull up on their own beaches to disgorge bearded warriors in search of captives to burn for the glory of Odin.
- The Sword of the Allfather: Anlaufr gained this illustrious title by descending on the jarl of Ostergotland, a heretic who preferred the old ways, and demonstrating that Odin’s favour is with the reformed religion.
Anlaufr, King of Norway, the Sword of the Allfather, pictured at the culmination of his career of fighting in Odin’s name.
- The Cleansing Flame: Unfortunately I was not the only one with a cool nickname. With the pagan defensive attrition removed, a crusade to cleanse the North with fire and sword was declared almost immediately. Crusade for Norway! Obviously, the loss of my main kingdom – something over half my territory – would be a devastating blow to the true faith; for this reason I am confident Odin won’t let it happen. Nevertheless the position looks somewhat dire at the moment; no less than three powerful player kingdoms – Leon, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Ukraine – have large armies in my territory, and my levy is retreating towards Nidaros after a disastrous battle.
- The West’s Awake: Ireland stands poised to send ten thousand screaming gallowglasses to my coast, to settle who is in charge of the British Isles once and for all.
- No Joke to Fight in Norway in Winter: Although the extra-special pagan attrition is gone, I still have the regular winter/mountain attrition; I believe my enemies won’t be able to catch my retreating army without marching through inland, winter, mountain terrain and melting away as a result. So I have some breathing space.
Diplomatic situation: War with three powerful kingdoms.
Eclipse of the Old Gods: In spite of massive raiding against the target kingdoms, I failed to make my vassals’ invasions of Denmark and England succeed; as for the invasion of Dragoon’s vast Ukraine-Poland blob, forget it. Consequently the moral authority of Norse paganism was precisely zero for most of the session. These are dark times for the faith of fighting men.
Island Fortress: No, not Britain, nor England. For the second time, the Orkneys have held off a county conquest; and although they were nominally fighting one of my vassals, which might have been a fair match, I joined the war (since I had an army raised and nothing better to do with it), so the single-province Orkneys were facing the full might of Norway. It turns out that it’s really difficult to shift a Holy Order defending a hilly island. In truth the AI also had some difficulty; early in the war I managed to land in the Orkneys while the Holy Order was off besieging Caithness. That was before I knew what I faced; thinking I was fighting only the Orkneys, I just put a stack of 2000 men in, enough to siege the island down, and went off to look at what my raids in Sweden were doing. The next thing I know, I have a popup saying that my 2000 men just held off 5000. Unfortunately they took such damage in doing so that when the HO had recovered they managed to kick me off; and from then on I couldn’t win a single battle. (No doubt due to that zero moral authority – clearly, Odin was off in a sulk.) From here on, whenever I have occasion to refer to the Orkneys, it will be as “the Island Fortress of the Orkneys”.
Am I My Sweet Brother’s Keeper?: Sweden, under the rule of the Traitor-Kings, is succumbing to the internal rot that will eventually make all Christian kingdoms fail; the process is particularly fast here in the north, where the people have no painfully-acquired immunity to the worst excesses of the religion of slaves. No less than six of my vassals (not counting human-played Finland) declared war for various counties, and they all won, too – possibly with some involvement from the King’s armies, it’s true. There is not much left of Sweden, now.
Triple Telemark: Of the six vassals who declared war on Sweden, three did so for the single county of Telemark. It follows that two of their wars ended inconclusively. Fortunately this does not count as a failure for purposes of moral authority.
The Friend Zone: One of the more pernicious effects of the religion of slaves is that it forbids concubines. This makes it very difficult to get a proper Yngling breeding program going; I’ve been forced to select concubines more because they were available than because they had attractive traits. On the plus side, this does mean that my armies are full of horny teenagers taking out their frustrations on the rest of the world.
Sisu Transformation: The successful conquests put me over the realm limit of 150; at Ranger’s suggestion I cut Finland loose, and the Saars once more face the world without the protection of Odin. On the plus side I suspect that nobody wants to stick their army in crazy.
The death of Kings. The ‘Gout’ thing is silly; Anund died in the middle of leading his troops in battle. The ‘suspicious circumstances’ one is also silly, if slightly less so; Valdemar died in the same battle, leading the right flank. I admit that the arrow did not necessarily come from the Swedish lines.
- Where Kings Go To Die: I fought a war with Småland, which had broken free of Sweden and thus become ripe for incorporation in the Greater Yngling Co-Prosperity Sphere. There was a battle fought, in Öland; in this battle king Anund took his bane-wound. Also his eldest son Valdemar who succeeded him, and was King of Norway for just long enough to lead a charge for the Red Lion banner, under which stood Gudfrid, the Smålander king. And though Valdemar fell in that charge, Gudfrid’s men were beaten and the king was captured, and he gave submission to King Bagge of Norway, the younger brother of Valdemar, the third to hold that title in a day. For this reason the war is called the War of the Four Kings and Two Kingdoms. After these events no king of Norway has set foot on Öland, nor will they while men remember.
- Twilight of the Old Gods: Both Denmark and Sweden have had kings who follow the White Christ; only Norway has remained firmly a bastion of the worship of Odin. Worse, when brave men have sent out the war-arrow to gather sea-kings to their cause, to take the crowns of weaklings, seize broad acres, and become land-kings by right of conquest – they have, so many of them, failed; the corpses of would-be kings litter the beaches from Estonia to England. Men say that Odin does not give victory as in times past; men say that the White Christ came not to bring peace, but the sword, and that he wields it right well. The moral authority of Norse paganism has not been over 30% in a generation.
- The Silent Oaks: The kings of Norway have gathered Uppsala and Mære under their rule; they have torn down the churches that were built there, raised once more the holy howes, and hanged the priests from young oaks recently planted, with shimmering flaxen ropes around their necks and spear-wounds in their sides. Thus hung Odin, once, for nine days and nights, for the knowledge of seid, rune-magic; and indeed it is clear that one may gain wisdom by doing so, for no hanged priest has ever been heard to babble of the White Christ again. The war for Lejre is underway, and goes well; the weak kings of Sweden do not seem to find strength in their new god.
- Holy Smoke: So that men may respect the old gods – and also so that maybe a prepared invasion could succeed once in a while, how about it Odin? – I have taken to raiding extensively in kingdoms that are the targets of my vassals’ wars. This has the dual effect of reducing their armies and burning their churches. Much of England, for example, is smoking ruin. Unfortunately the Orcadians wasted their prepared-invasion army on a battle before I could get there, and now they have about 200 men left, which makes for slow progress even when what you’re besieging is a smoking ruin.
- Yngling Blood Runs True: One of my vassals and kinsmen, Jarl Hrolfr of Østlandet, has managed to show the mettle of our bloodline by launching a prepared invasion of Denmark, currently held by a child of the von Britannia dynasty. I wish him much luck in this endeavour, and suspect he’ll find it; because I was, as it happens, campaigning in that area anyway. It could be that there won’t be very many Danish armies to oppose his righteous claim.
Southern Scandinavia is a cauldron of war. Sweden is at war with me, and also four of my vassals have various one-province CBs that they are pursuing. Denmark is at war with an adventurer, a revolt, and another of my vassals who is doing a prepared invasion.
As noted, I’m not writing an AAR. These are just some things that happened during the session, given names and described in, I hope, moderately amusing language.
- The Oak Breaks: Wrestling the giantess Eld, old age, even mighty Thor had to bend the knee – or so the Elder Edda claims; it is not clear whether the pre-Christian Norse told this tale. Be that as it may, Harald finally died in 923, at the ripe old age of 73. While leading his troops in the field.
- The Brothers’ Quarrel: In accordance with immemorial custom, Harald’s estate was split evenly between his sons; in particular, Tyke called “the Holy” gained the fertile valleys of eastern Norway and the title of King, and Valdemar “the Just” was given the bleak north, which is still, however, rich in fish and furs and fighting men. So when Valdemar gathered the great men of Norway to his cause, and demanded that the King title should be his, Tyke swallowed his pride and agreed. (I had a look at the two brothers, and Valdemar was way better.) But Tyke did not forget. (We had a rehost somewhere in here and I switched to playing Valdemar).
- The Brothers’ War: Tyke did as his brother had done: He gathered the chief men of Norway to his cause, one by one; after a year or two there were many who forgot why they had supported Valdemar’s claim to the throne, and remembered that he had not given them land or gifts or women. Or perhaps they thought that men who made a king had a right to unmake one as well, and wished to establish for time to come that the kings of Norway – a title that had not existed before Harald made it – ruled only with the consent of their chiefs. In any case Tyke demanded, after a year or two of Valdemar’s rule, that the crown be given back to him. But Valdemar did not do as his brother had done; he called out the levies of the north – for all the south had risen against his rule – and sailed to restore his father’s kingdom to obedience.
- King of Rags And Patches: At about this time the Ladejarls, the dukes of Trondhjem, succeeded in their long war to subdue Denmark. (Which had become independent of Sweden due to the same immemorial custom that split Norway in two.) Splendid, we all cheered – but it took a major source of manpower out of the realm when every man was needed. With the out-islands joining Tyke’s cause, and the Christian Orkneys in revolt against pagan rule, this left Valdemar as king only of the North – Lappland and Finnmark, in effect. Now ‘Lapp’ is actually an insult; it means ‘patch’ – presumably in reference to ragged clothes; which is why nowadays the people who were formerly called so are referred to as ‘Sami’, their own name for themselves. Hence the rebels’ mocking name for Valdemar, the King of Rags. But his ragged fighting men, who patched the holes in their clothes with strips of birch bark, drove the southerners back and back, from Dovre to the mouth of the Mjøsa. Let them call what names they like, if they obey.
- King in the North: Valdemar died, like his father, at the head of his troops; his son Anund inherited the throne of Norway – or at any rate, as much of Norway as the birch-leg fighting men happened to be standing on – at the age of eight. His father had never ruled the whole kingdom at peace; so when the time came to write of his memory, those who were loyal to him called him the King in the North. For that was indisputable. To be “King of Norway” is, in this year of wolf and raven, a form of words which many men lay claim to. But Valdemar had gained the hearts of the northmen, and led them through thick and thin (“and Loki be my witness, there was more thin than thick on the Dovre front”), and that is the essence of kingship.
There was a Council revolt in there somewhere as well, which I mention only so I can increment the counter:
- Norwegian Council Revolts for More Power: 2.