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Dominion of the Dreki: Fires of Faith

Who knows what moves the hearts of men? The fires of faith have seemed dim, this past generation. Asatru have lived in peace with Christian; Moslems have waged only the inner jihad, and have not sought to extend the House of Submission; Christians have not attempted the recovery of the Holy Land; even the vile Suomenusko have, a few disavowed adventurers excepted, fought mainly against the mosquitoes and against their own children. A weak and decayed generation, far from the mighty deeds of their ancestors! But there is an ebb and a flow to history, and in the seventh year of Godfried, the inrushing tide of war at last reached its high-water mark: The Emperor in his wisdom, may the White Christ protect the righteous warrior, proclaimed the Crusade for Anatolia, to recover the mountain peninsula for Christendie and to prepare the way for a campaign for the Holy Land.

The warriors of the Crescent, however, were not slow in answering. The moribund sultanate of Syria (currently unplayed), it is true, did not mobilise with all the decisiveness that might have been looked for. However, the rival Caliphates of Persia and Egypt both responded with declarations of Jihad, for Frisia and France; war objectives which, if attained, would cripple the Empire and reduce it to the level of a second-rank power. (For a moment, seeing ‘Caliph’ and ‘Jihad for France’ together, I thought the long-awaited inevitable betrayal by Fimconte had finally arrived; but I had the wrong Caliph. Iberia remained scrupulously neutral, although no doubt carefully scrutinising both sides for a carelessly exposed kidney.) These Jihads brought out the old warrior spirit of the desert nomads; at one point I had over 80 “Emir X joined the Jihad for France” notifications in my message queue. That wasn’t, however, an advantage for the Muslims. The various Emirs insisted on sending all their troops in stacks of 1k and 2k, so that for a while Central Europe was covered in the banners of Islam, but the Emperor had the advantage of numbers in the decisive clash of the main forces.

The Muslim powers began their campaign with African troops invading Ireland; the Persians, having no navy to speak of, marched towards Europe through Anatolia and the Balkans, incidentally reinforcing the Syrian defenders along the way. The Crusaders, faced both with equal forces defending the difficult terrain of Anatolia, and with a direct threat to their homeland, consequently retreated somewhat rapidly. Thus Istanbul was saved for Islam; and for some time there was a real question of whether Christendom could hold Western Europe against the savage Saracen. The loss of so strategic a location as Ireland, obviously, would have demoralised the nobles of Germany, notoriously more concerned with land and privileges than with religion; and if any significant fraction of them had taken the turban to save their estates, resistance might have collapsed entirely and the Crescent flown from the Danube to the Channel. (Or, in other words, the CK warscore model is kind of gameable; occupying Ireland, indeed.)

However, with the main Crusading forces’ return to the Netherlands, the invasion of Ireland became untenable. The Emperor’s superior sealift capacity, due largely to the Norwegian merchant fleet, gave him such mobility that he was able to force his enemies to battle on unfavourable terms; and in a decisive clash in which Cross outnumbered Crescent 40 thousand to 30, destroyed their main fighting force. Had the two dozen little warbands of the various Emirs managed to be within supporting distance of their Caliphs, this might have gone quite differently; as it was, the warriors of Islam were left with quite a few troops in the field, but scattered all over Germany in futile sieges, with nothing able to stand against the hammer of the Emperor’s relieving column.

All this had, nonetheless, taken time; and more time was lost in mopping up the Emirs and their fanatical ghazi warriors, apparently stimulated by the defeat of Islam into ever-more-suicidal efforts to reverse the tide. The net result of all the bloodshed, therefore, was the status quo antebellum: The Jihads for France and Frisia failed, but so also did the Crusade for Anatolia. After five years of war the Syrians were able to say, with some justice, that if the White Christ had intended to deliver their homelands to His faithful, he’d had His chance. Recognising the point of diminishing returns, the Pope therefore called off the Crusade. This is, of course, the kind of thing that will happen when you insist on using false gods in your Holy Wars.

And what was Norway’s contribution to this clash of titans? Well, apart from the war-winning sealift capacity of our merchant fleet, someone had to keep an eye on the savage Suomenusko! The last thing the Emperor needed, at a time when he was straining every sinew in defense of the heart of his realm, was a second front opened by an ankle-biting opportunist. I’m glad to say that I accomplished this vital mission with great success; so scary were the fierce Norse faces I made in the general direction of Finland, that the Suomenusko Holy War for Uppland did not occur until after the Emperor’s great victory against the Muslims. This turned out to be a strategic miscalculation, since the defeat of the main Muslim forces left the Emperor’s veteran army free to sail north on the aforementioned merchant fleet, and crush the Suomenusko utterly. Having thus put my heathen enemies off-balance, I followed with a strategic masterstroke, declaring Great Holy War for Suomi – the heart of darkness! Unable to face us in battle, Yahmik has instead turned to assassins, presumably hoping to end the war by making me lose an election. This was, indeed, a pretty good move on his part; I lost two Doges before I realised that making an Yngling named ‘Ormr’ my spymaster was probably not a good idea, even if he did have Intrigue 25. I mean, the guy’s name is literally ‘Snake’; great indicator of trustworthiness, there. Fortunately my latest Doge was quicker on the uptake than me, saw through Ormr’s agent, and arrested him. Execution will follow pretty shortly; also, a kinsman is spymaster now. This conflict is not yet settled, but I think I may say without fear of contradiction that it is going my way. The Baltic shall be united under the Dreki! Who in turn are under the Emperor, making some kind of threesome, but it’s ok – Godfried’s nickname of “the Kind” derives from his habit of giving a reacharound.

Orm Yngling

Well, I don’t know what I was thinking.

Suomenusko plot, 1018

Then again, it’s also possible I’ve made myself a teensy bit unpopular.

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The Dominion of the Dreki: Colourful Characters

No great events in this session, except that I recovered the Fylkirate by pressing my brother’s claim and then getting him elected Doge, so I thought I’d have a look at some characters instead.

Emperor of the West

Pippo Groningen

He destroyed Rome in order to save it. He gave the Dreki the honour of bestowing the kiss of friendship on both his cheeks, and distracted them so they didn’t read the fine print. He has survived three wives, but nothing was ever proved to the judges he appointed, and besides, they knew the job was dangerous when they took it. He is The Most Interesting Emperor North of Paris. He doesn’t always drink wine, but when he does, he ensures that his courtiers have a glass too.

Merchant Prince

The most powerful vassal of the Emperor Pippin is sometimes referred to as “The Taxes”, as in the two immemorial scourges of mankind, death and taxes. The Emperor, a formidable warrior in his youth and the scion of a dynasty that has been known to hang the heraldry of exterminated bloodlines on their bedroom walls and gloat over them to ensure potency, is thus cast in the role of “The Death”. But most people are quick to recall, when making this half-in-jest identification, that death, at least, doesn’t come every year.

Pirate Caliph

Yes, he does have a red beard, and he does execute anyone who calls him Barbarossa. Or mentions the inevitable betrayal of his alliance with Frisia. Or looks at him funny. But although his rule is perhaps a touch harsh, you can’t say he’s unfair or arbitrary; it’s easy to avoid being executed if you just follow the rules he has laid out, and are a subject of a completely different kingdom on the other side of Europe. India would be even better.

Concubine

She isn’t conventionally beautiful, although her blue eyes are striking, but Aliken has that feminine allure, that je ne sais quoi, that undefinable charisma of some women that makes men unable to keep their hands off. She has been the concubine, and the power beneath the throne, of three successive Dreki Lawspeakers. Obviously, a woman in such a position attracts whispers even more easily than she attracts men. She is variously said to be the agent of the Emperor, for keeping the Dreki under control; of the Caliph, to subvert the Dreki for the inevitable day of betrayal; of the Pope, to convert the heathen; of the Zoroastrian witch-sisterhood with an agenda that varies with the speaker; or any of the eleven possible combinations of double- and triple-agentry. She is rumoured to be a man-eating and man-hating Valkyrie, her strength-sucking bed arts the cause of the early deaths and senility of the two previous Doges, and the premature greying of Ingemar. (“But,” the whisperers invariably continue, “what a way to go!”) She is the Emperor’s illegitimate daughter, exiled from his court after one too many escapades with the serving maids; or she was thrown for a bone to the throne of the Norse wolves to keep them busy; or she escaped from the sack of Rome and has worked her way to a position of power for revenge against the Caliph. But Aliken keeps her own counsel.

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The Dominion of the Dreki: Restoring the Republic

This seems to belong before what I posted last week, going into more detail about the restoration of the Republic which was a given in the previous post.

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Dominion of the Dreki: Groaningen Under the Yoke

Life has been uneventful in the far north, these two sessions; that’s why I wrote no AAR last week – it seemed a bit boring to report “to my surprise, I survived the session”. In fact, I not only survived but did so without territorial cessions. I conjecture that oddman doesn’t think it worth bothering with Ireland for a while; I am protected in my possession of Scandinavia by his treaty with Khan, and while I still have a couple of provinces on the British mainland, they’re perhaps not worth burning a Holy War CB on. Thus, little of interest happened to me in the 934-946 session; I strategically moved vassals around in accordance with a Cunning Plan that shall be revealed later, but that’s all.

In the 946-960 session, however, all hell broke loose – though I wasn’t its target. Oddman (ably subbed by Vaniver) and Fimconte declared, respectively, Crusade and Jihad for the northern and southern parts of Italy. In spite of various interventions they rapidly overran the peninsula and annexed it. That results in this map of Europe:

Europe, 960

In other words, two allied powers now rule (ok, yes, modulo the revolt in Italy, but it’ll soon be crushed) from Gibraltar to the Elbe, from the Highlands to Malta. This is a bit of a problem. As balances of power go, it doesn’t. (Balance, that is. It certainly powers.) Naturally, the great nations of Europe and the Middle East have immediately formed an alliance to contain this common enemy, exchanging dynastically connected girls like party favours to create an overpowering coalition that can roll back the ill-gotten gains – hah. I jest, and the jest is bitter. The great nations of Europe are cowering in fear of the aggressors. The phrase “new Christian overlords” has not, admittedly, made an appearance yet, but it can be only a question of time.

I did my best to help the Italians: I sent my raiders south in their dragon-headed ships, to loot and burn in Pomerania, and distract the Moslem armies. I meant to do good, and I did quite well. But this business of raiding people who have actual armies is nerve-wracking – my mouse hand twitched for the embarkation order at every random movement of Fimconte’s vassals. The powers of Africa and the Levant need to get their act together; the people of the North can bite ankles (and such bites have been known to fester), but we’re going to need someone who can meet the Christian armies in the open field, and break their faith and make them run. Where are the brave Moslem armies of old? Where are the conquerors of Ethiopia and Rome?

Earlier in the game I had a lot of characters die young, mostly at very inconvenient times; although my current one is not that great, he is at least sticking around for a while. I’ll be sad to see him go; after my geniuses all died before reaching two score, having an average man reach his three-and-ten got me rather attached to him.

Thorsteinn Dreki

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Dominion of the Dreki: Emergency Powers Activated

The situation has developed not necessarily entirely to my advantage. Because the PvP is depressing, I will first relate the only amusing thing that happened during the session, namely the way I took over the kingdom of Svithjod. It turned out that I had enough bits and pieces of Sweden to do a Usurp of the kingdom title; however, you can’t usurp while the target is at war. The war in question was a revolt, which the Swedish AI had effectively won; the rebels were reduced to a 20-man stack hiding out across the border in Lappland. Now, if I were leading a revolt that was down to its last twenty men, against a kingdom that could get together a thousand easily, I think I might have traveled east and south and seen whether the Sultan of somewhere warm was hiring blond mercenaries; but the AI was just sitting there slowly attriting away. It’s true that banditry “in aid of the cause”, and calling it guerrilla resistance, is an old and honoured occupation, but it’s not as though they could even have been finding much to steal in Lappland. However, the Swedish AI, displaying a nearly human level of metagaming – don’t let anyone tell you the Singularity is not near – refused to send its stack north to finish the deal. After all, what did it care if twenty former rebels slowly starved to death? That war was the only thing keeping it independent. So I offered it help – a classic offer you cannot refuse; in fact, while the player gets a choice in these things, I’d be unsurprised to learn that the AI has been coded to always accept offers of help in war. In any case, I sent my retinue north into Lappland, it duly crushed the rebels, the war ended, and I usurped Svithjod. You’re welcome, Swedish AI! Oh, and would you like to be my vassal? It turns out he would. (If he hadn’t, of course, I would have DOWed for the de jure CB.) So Scandinavia, at least, is now united under my rule.

England, unfortunately, is rather closer to being united under the rule of Voldemort – excuse me, Oddman. (“Unity is strength! Division is weakness!”) Following his obvious best strategy, as soon as the truce ran out he (and separately Fimconte) attacked me, holy wars for duchies. Pavski sent an army; but his navy was too small to transport the amount of troops we needed to challenge Oddman’s 45k. (Logistical constraints, in Crusader Kings! Who would have thought it?) We lost the decisive battle, and the war ended with my capital being ignominiously moved inland; in this exigency, I have assumed emergency powers and Denmark is no longer a republic. I am sad about this, because republics are fun to play, but it must be admitted that the “emergency powers” thing is not entirely a euphemism; I’ve spent quite a bit of time in this game waiting to become Doge. (Not to mention those two elections that didn’t stay bought.) A reasonable certainty that I’ll still be in charge if – to take a completely unlikely scenario – some two-bit AI with a coded grudge should manage to give me poisoned wine is worth quite a bit of money. I will attempt to restore the republic as and when convenient, but right now we need a single strong hand at the helm, and every man to his oar!

I still retain a few English provinces and most of Ireland, but at this point it’s clear that my most important assets are Scandinavia, the Muslim alliance, and the unquenchable optimism of the man who knows the gods are on his side. Oh, and my Yngling vassals. It’s true that unleashing these weapons of historical destruction is a move of desperation, and in truth I’m not yet quite desperate enough to go there. But it’s good to have something in reserve; and I have not yet begun to fight.

England, 934

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Dominion of the Dreki: The Dutch in the Medway

I’m beginning to think I should have suggested “England’s on the Anvil” for the naming theme of this game, rather than “Recessional”. Kipling’s telling phrase, “little bits of kingdoms cannot stand against their foes”, keeps recurring to me as I write these AARs; a splendid description of the blobbing phase of a megacampaign, in which those players not lucky or skilled enough to grow big are ground out of existence. Unfortunately it applies just as much to republics.

England’s being hammered, hammered, hammered into one; but not by me. Rather, I’m the iron clanging from the Severn to the Tyne. However, before getting into that, a recap of relevant geopolitical events on the Continent. Oddman, playing Frisia, had more-or-less united Charlemagne’s empire, from the Oder to the Bay of Biscay, with bits missing in the south where Fimconte as Iberia had taken a bite. He had two fairly powerful player vassals in Synario and Alexei, Bavaria and Aquitaine respectively. He had several times fought against Fimconte, attempting to contain Muslim Spain south of the Pyrenees. Now, however, he turned this longstanding foreign policy on a dime. (Well, perhaps not on a dime – no doubt there were lengthy negotiations of spheres of influence.) When Fimconte DOWed for some land that belonged to Alexei, Oddman promptly surrendered; he then vassalised Fimconte, revoked Alexei’s capital, imprisoned Synario, and handily won the resulting revolt. Where there had been two polities with four players, there was now a single united empire stretching from Gibraltar to the aforementioned Oder, with two players in it. Fimconte then went independent again, taking the south of France with him. Then both of them (and separately an AI vassal of oddman’s) declared holy wars on me.

There wasn’t any question of fighting two humans that individually outnumbered me two to one; I surrendered promptly so as to retain my army for the fight against that vassal. But it’s clear that this is a stopgap measure at best; truce timers end, and oddman’s character could keel over any moment. (Indeed, I feel confident that the RNG will cause him to die at the worst possible time for the English Resistance; why should the lifespans suddenly become convenient now?) Unless, then, a diplomatic revolution occurs, it appears that I will be taking the Dreki back to Scandinavia whence they came. Admittedly, going into exile and plotting revenge for the next millennium is kind of my thing in these games, but I was hoping to avoid a second iteration. Besides, Scandinavia is full of snow and Ynglings, and dignobbit, I’ve played that position already. Three times. But needs must when the Dutchman drives; with our house rules, it would be very difficult for anyone else to come to my aid. Without a good claim, the best that could be done by any of oddman’s neighbours – who in any case have their own problems – would be to declare holy war for a duchy; and quite apart from his possible ability to just fight on two fronts, oddman could simply surrender, beat me senseless, and return to the Continent later on.

It seems that Kipling will have all sorts of applications in this game; but then, history is long, and empires rise and fall. This week it is “The Dutch in the Medway”. Next month, who knows? Perhaps “Cities and Thrones and Powers” will be the poem of the day.

If wars were won by feasting,
Or victory by song,
Or safety found in sleeping sound,
How England would be strong!
But honour and dominion
Are not maintained so.
They’re only got by sword and shot.
And this the Dutchmen know.

Some maps:

England, 910

England, 910. The green blight is in Wales; incidentally, Fimconte has converted his family to Welsh culture, presumably for the archery tactic. The whole of England-south-of-Thames is in Dutch hands.

Western Europe, 910

Western Europe. Note Iberian gains in southern France, where Aquitaine used to be; presumably the quid pro quo for oddman’s adding England to his domains. Note also that the Roman Empire no longer rules Italy.

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Dominion of the Dreki: Gameplay 889-898

The path of the righteous continues to be strewn with thorns. In particular, the RNG seems to have it in for me with respect to lifespans: My good Genius character died in prison, while m’liege – an idiot in all respects except for his damnable Intrigue score, which incidentally is completely unrelated to why I was in prison – goes on and on like the damn Duracell rabbit. (Perhaps I date myself; do CK players still catch that reference? If you don’t, just substitute “like a thing that goes on for a very long time”, and then get off my lawn.) He outlasted my next head of household as well, not that this was a great loss, and looks like he’s settling in to reach his eightieth birthday. Or perhaps he’ll keel over just the day after my current head dies, leaving me bereft of the Respect I need to get elected and without time to pump up the election fund.




My three Fylkirs this session: Kjartan, Starkard, and the current incumbent Kol; and their common liege. Why, oh why, can the RNG not see that this deadwood needs to go, and let the fresh new shoots reach the lifegiving sun?

That is as the RNG wills; I have, actually, larger problems. As I prophecied last session, the powers of Europe have begun to take an interest in this strategically located island with the many good harbours. Little bits of kingdoms – in this case, the petty-kingdoms of England-south-of-Thames, namely Essex, East Anglia, and Hwicce – cannot stand against their foes; unfortunately I wasn’t the foe in question. The Mussulman is at the gates! No doubt Fimconte plans to dominate the entire western seaboard of Europe, taking the entire colonisation game for himself. True, he’ll have to subdue a powerful Frisia to take the French coast, but he’s got four hundred years of CK to do so; why not pick up England while it’s cheap?

The evolution was rapid. Here is England in 889; all is quiet except for the usual state of quasi-civil war. (That is to say, I’m very polite about picking up Lincoln; everyone else behaves like football hooligans. Not a civil war in the sense of being internal to a polity.)

891, and the green blight is far inland: Fimconte’s doomstack of 5000 (a vast host, by island standards) has hammered East Anglia and Hwicce into submission, though Hwicce survives by dint of having more than one Duchy available. The invasion continues into the Welsh mountains; my stack of a little more than 4k is about to intervene.

894. My intervention did not go well. Fimconte pulled another 3k warriors out of nowhere (he’d moved his capital to England in the interim; perhaps they were mercenaries), his liege the Caliph sent another doomstack of 8k, and I suspect that with even numbers I’d still have lost, just not as badly – Spain being more technologically advanced than England. There was nothing for it but to end the war and watch Fimconte absorb his gains.

On Wenlock edge the Norse are troubled;
his bearded flank the Serk-king heaves…

My bearded enemy, the Serk-king!

896. Oddman has decided to absorb those bits of England that Fimconte didn’t get to, to keep them out of Muslim hands. Yay for the balance of power. It’s more amusing when someone else is the apple of contention. Note also the colour change; Fimconte, getting wind of a Christian coalition forming to invade Iberia, strategically switched his allegiance to another player, over in Egypt. Taking on the AI Umayyads is one thing, even if they have a powerful human vassal (in fact, Fimconte was about 80% of Spain by this point); taking on a human Egypt is something else entirely. The coalition dissolved. “To defeat your enemy without combat is the acme of skill.”

898, and England is neatly divided into three parts: Norse pagan, Frisian Christian, and Iberian Moslem.

I did manage to expand a bit, using take-county CBs on my neighbouring Christians. This does lead to quickly hitting my demesne limits; I was handing out baronies like candy, and getting so desperate for adult courtiers that at one point I gave one to an Yngling. As Fivoin pointed out, not giving land to that dynasty is Scandinavian Governance 101; but needs must when the devil drives. In any case I got a fair return, for he taught wisdom to the Fylkir Kjartan, and now all the Dreki know an ancient rune-song, handed down from Frey, the ancestor of the Yngling line. It does not translate well into the vernacular, losing all its magic power for calling vengeance-spirits down onto the heads of those who have wronged you; this is just as well, since why should I give away secrets of power? But the sense of it, without magic, is clear enough: It is intolerable. It shall not stand.

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