The Banner Saga: When Ragtag Means Something

My band trudged through the snow, our Banner, bearing the history of our clan, flapped in the wind.

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Behind, a famously fearsome Dredge pursued us, and ahead their hordes raided and burnt towns. Our supplies dwindled and we became desperate. Still the ever-present threat of the Dredge hounded us. Conflicts broke out among the clansmen – both petty fights and terrible betrayals. Every encounter with the Dredge dropped the number of fighters piteously low and we then ran out of supplies. Clansman began to starve. I ordered them to rob an innocent farmer. My daughter judged me for the decision. At last, we arrived at a village. We were low on renown, with which to buy supplies, but perhaps with just a few days worth we could… the town was burned. There was nothing to buy.

Once more we took to the wastes, people dying. I made the tough decision to try and slog through the hordes of Dredge to shorten the route. If my inner circle and I could make a strong stand, we might get to our destination faster. We failed. There was too many, and so I lost some of my best fighters and we had to go the long way anyway.

At last, the survivors stumbled into the bastion we’d been struggling to reach. But things were no good here either – the town was in turmoil, and the Dredge mustered at the walls. Each day I had to make a tough decision. If I didn’t defend the walls, the Dredge would get in. But if I didn’t try and find supplies, the clan would starve. I couldn’t do both, but neglecting either would be the end of us.

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The Banner Saga is the most visually stunning game I have ever seen; the artwork is nothing short of superb. I normally like my games to get stuck in my teeth, gritty and crunchy. The Banner Saga’s stylized art, though, never ceased to drop short of breathtaking even without the high fidelity graphics that normally get me raving. From its stunning vistas, to its smooth combat animations, to the clansmen and warriors marching along in caravan it is all amazing.

I mention the art first because, although the rest of the game has some solid meat to it, the artwork stands out head-and-shoulders above the rest of the game’s components.

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The game itself plays like a tactical, turn-based RPG with some cut-scenes, pick-a-path choices, and a little bit of resource management in-between.

Having said that, I personally found the in-between sections ultimately more enjoyable than the combat. Not that the combat is bad, but after a while I found it could drag on a bit.

Combat has some pretty interesting concepts: Everyone has armour and “strength” (effectively hitpoints.) The armour protects the strength, but the strength is not only your hitpoints but also how much damage you can do. When you attack, you can target either strength or armour. If you target strength, the amount of damage you do is reduced by each point of armour they have left.

So a typical fight involves wearing their armour down until you can do a reasonable amount of strength damage per hit, while avoiding the same done to your own characters.

You pick up characters as the game progresses, and each one has a class. There’s a great number of classes – to the point where it is rare to actually have two of the same class in your inner circle, despite having 10 or 12 people. Each class has all the usual differing stats, and one unique skill. This is where I think I found combat to eventually become a bit of a grind. These abilities are extremely situational. For example, there an ability that lets one class shoot chain lightning. You know the drill: You target one bad guy, and it bounces to the next adjacent bad guy, doing 1 extra damage each hop. The rub is that it will only bounce to targets that are directly diagonal. Since it does direct strength damage, it is one of the more powerful abilities in your arsenal, but the diagonal catch means entire fights can roll buy without a scenario popping up where you can really make much use of it. On the other hand, very occasionally, a whole group of them will line up nicely and one ability will tear through their ranks like butter.

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So combat is fine, and good, but I found myself not looking forward to it. If I took regular breaks – sure, no problem – but after the 4th or 5th one for the night I started to seriously consider less-optimal decisions so I could avoid yet another tactical battle.

The story, plot, and lore, however? Just fantastic. This is what drove me to keep playing all night. I just had to know what was going to happen next! I attribute this, in a large part, to amazing pacing. The game starts out with tantalizing tastes of interesting characters and lore. A fantasy Viking world with enough depth scattered into conversations and brief map descriptions to keep you begging to find out more. This isn’t Baldur’s Gate though – you can’t go exploring and pore over a thousand conveniently discarded books to discover the rich back stories – it is more like a pick-a-path adventure where it is roughly linear, with alternating branches. This means the story and lore is doled out as deigned by the developers, but with the advantage of spectacular pacing. This game was built by some ex-The Old Republic developers, and it would seem they brought their very best writing chops with them. I did find  the constant shift of focus between main characters for the first half of the game somewhat jarring, however. From a story perspective, it works very well, but from the gameplay point of view it was very annoying.

The pacing is cleverly tied into the strategy and resource management aspects. Take my opening prose. This is how I felt by about 3/4 the way through the game. I start out with a village’s-worth of clansmen and a small number of fighters with enough friends in my inner circle to fight respectable tactical battles. After a while, I started to grow that fledgling group as I picked up more refugees, trained fighters, and specialist warriors. I, naively, assumed this would continue throughout the game, gradually growing until I had a mighty army. Ah, but the plot had other things in store for me. Things happened. Huge things. And my fledgling army became a flight of refugees and I tried to juggle all the competing issues as best as I could. Our army quickly became a rag-tag band of survivors, and it really felt like it. More than any game I have experienced before. Many games have tried to leverage the “fleeing for your life” cliché, but none have ever nailed it like The Banner Saga.

Constantly the game would task me with tough decisions, and the way it is structured there is little clue as to the end result. You can make educated guesses, of course, but the developers have definitely and purposefully eschewed a more modern approach such as telling you the end-result on mouse over (e.g. -15 warriors; +20 supplies, -30 warriors). So hard-pressed for supplies, fighters and renown as I was, I sweated over ever every decision. Then, just went I thought things couldn’t get any worse, something else would happen that would cause me to literally swear out loud. You know they have a compelling story when they can get you to react like that.

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To top it all off, it has a little bit of a rogue-like flavour to it. You can load the game, no problems. You can quit and pick up where you left off without issue. But besides your current save, it really only keeps the start of chapters as load points, so if you really want to re-try something you often have to load up a save some time back – and it’s entirely possible with random chance, and the way tactical battles play out, you could make things worse (cough like me cough).

It sounds brutal, but to be perfectly honest I don’t have any idea if it is, or whether it just feels brutal. I get the distinct impression that no matter how badly I do, the story will keep chugging on. I’ve stopped to write this review before I make one such brutal decision. It seems like any choice is going to end the game, but I suspect that perhaps no choice will. Not that there will be no consequences, just that things would be very different if I had have had more supplies, or more warriors, or … who knows? Will there be a big GAME OVER screen, or will we limp on as a torn up band, overrun by Dredge where a luckier, or smarter player could have fought a stalwart defence and saved … well, I’ll keep who and what spoiler-free.

The Banner Saga isn’t flawless – it’s both surprising and disappointing that the core mechanic, the tactical battles, is probably the least satisfying part. It’s good, but not great. The game, as a whole though, is greatly lifted by the amazing art, fantastic writing, compelling characters, epic storyline and difficult decisions. Especially for the indie price of $25 it is a great purchase.

 

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Are Steam Sales Bad?

So says The Castle Doctrine developer, Jason Rohrer.

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I have to admit, at first I was armed and ready to completely discount this idea. Sales, bad? He makes some points, but I think ultimately he is wrong.

Before I get into that, though, I think that there are several successful strategies possible. For example, the Minecraft/Castle Doctrine pricing model works to a degree: I was keeping an eye on Castle Doctrine, and now he’s saying it is 50% off for the last time ever, I think I’ll add it to my library (possibly never to be played…) (also not really to my library, because it’s not on Steam.)

So the points I agree with: Yes, tricking players into buying something they don’t want is a bit anti-ethical. However, most sales folk wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Marketing is practically built around the idea. (Basic premise of marketing: create a need, then fill the need. Note they CREATE it first. For example, shampoo will talk about “damaged hair strands” and then go on to say how their brand fixes that. You’re not supposed to realise that damaged hair strands isn’t really a thing. i.e. they trick you into buying something you don’t want.)

However, no-one feels burned by this. People pick the games up super cheap, knowing full-well they MAY NOT PLAY IT. They buy it for that price, JUST IN CASE THEY DO PLAY IT. For $5? Sure, I’ll take the risk. I’m paying for the possibility of playing should the mood strike me. Best-case scenario: I play an excellent game for very cheap; worst-case scenario: I throw away $5. Honestly, something I can live with.

If I bought a game, full-price, and then it later went on sale I also wouldn’t feel burned. I paid for the privilege of getting it early. And I’d be fine with that. I knew if I just waited 6 months it’d likely be on sale, but NO WAY I’m waiting that long for a game I’m hanging out for. Even if it DOES go on sale, for the first 12 months it’s usually barely 25%. And how does that make me feel? Not bad at all. I’ve probably played and dropped the game by the time it comes on sale. I don’t feel burned at all. In fact, if I really liked the game (e.g. Tomb Raider) every time it goes on sale, I tell my friends: You should get this game!

Now, I have to admit, the frequent sales have definitely changed my buying habits. I now only buy 3 or 4 full-priced games a year and unless it was something I was really hanging out for, I do feel pretty ripped off. A perfect example is Splinter Cell: Blacklist. I loved Conviction, but didn’t like some of the stuff I was hearing about Blacklist. I hummed and harred, but after watching a few videos decided to take the plunge. For a game I wasn’t pumped about, paying a full $80 for it was pretty painful. All the worse because the game was pretty average, not great.

On balance, I’d estimate I spend about the same amount on games per year but, I don’t pirate any more (much easier to just wait for a sale) and I buy less full-price games and tons more cut-price games and games on special.

Also, one final point: I never bought Minecraft in part because of the rising price model. I was always on the fence about the game, and the longer I delayed the more expensive it got. It never got to the point of “OMG so costly” but it passed the point where I was willing to pick it up “just to try” a fair while back… the sort of scenario where I might have picked it up if I saw it on special. But that isn’t going to happen. So I never got it.

So, in summary:

  • I don’t think sales hurt long-term income at all and gives your community a regular injection of a new players.
  • I do think it cannibalizes your launch week community a little bit, but for the most part these losses wouldn’t have been people who were pumped for your game anyway. I think it’s a minor sacrifice.
  • I think in the long run, regular sales would ultimately bring in more money and more players – particularly when you consider that it’s the guys that pick it up on special who then get their friends to buy it full-price (I cannot count how many times I’ve done this (both as the sales-person and the full-price purchaser.))
  • I think that other sales methods (such as the open and up-front rising price model) will work fine as well. In fact, it might depend on the sort of game (games that are grass-roots and grow over time might benefit more from this model, while games with lots of hype benefit more from Steam Sales.)
  • There are some people who will feel “burned” by the rising price model.

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The background for this pic: The dev just added the ability to arm your wife with a shotgun, so when the robber comes knocking, she can blow him away – and/or hit the panic button and… release the hound. Did I mention the “robber” is another player?

Having said my piece, The Castle Doctrine is only $8 right now, and seems like a fascinating idea. So I have grabbed it “just in case.”

It’s fortunate I came across this article when I did, because it is NOT going to be on Steam, and will go up to $16 very soon. Those two things combined probably would have meant I would not have made the purchase.

It seems like Jason has a unique mind: it shows in his game design. But I think his desire to be unique is hurting his bottom line.

Mage Knight is Epic in Every Sense of the Word

I haven’t yet written about a game of Mage Knight I played a few weeks ago.

I received the expansion, The Lost Legion, for Christmas, and had some friends over during the break. I was able to convince them to play – even though I warned them it would probably take all day. As it turns out, that was a conservative estimate.

In an attempt to alienate both camps, I hope to write this in such a way that those who have not played before can keep up, and those that are experienced can treat it as an after-action report.

We selected our four mage knights. We were co-operating, in this scenario, against General Volkare and his massive army. Both the general and the mage knights were looking for the capital city. We had to find it first, conquer it before he gets there, then defend it against his army. Trust me. It’s a daunting task.

I had Arythea, the red mage knight. I had decided to try and build her as someone who could turn wounds to her advantage (card draws willing.)

Our epic journey began at 11am, after a late breakfast. Two of our players were new, but as I’ve said before Mage Knight is actually a very easy game to teach. I explained things as we went along and so set-up took much longer than initial explanation.

Things were humming along well, and the hours flew by. This is an incredibly long game, but you just don’t notice the time. Opening a Mage Knight box is a dangerous prospect. The lid clings desperately to the box, trying to contain that which is within. As the lid comes free you will hear a slight rush of air, as time itself is drawn in. You probably think this a myth, to scare the foolish from the treasures contained inside. When you play it – you will see, oh yes, you will see.

On the first night, Volkare attacked one of us. At the end of the game, after 3 days and nights, and we are high level and all four of us are working together, we expect to have a very difficult battle with Volkare. Trying to stand up to him by yourself on the first night is unheard of. And so they ran taking a few wounds for their trouble.

We proceeded as slowly as we dared. We wanted to explore every tomb, tower, and ruins but we also needed to make sure we moved fast enough that we would find the city before Volkare, and before his deck ran dry – if it did, he would rage and would be impossible to beat. Our slower pace meant he was able to recruit new followers to his army, but this is a trade-off we’d agreed to as our strategy.

My character was destroying her reputation in favour of more personal power. She burned monasteries for their artifacts (after intimidating them into teaching her a new trick), hired thugs who are actually more likely to follow a character with a poor reputation, and cajoled others to follow with magic.

We stopped for dinner and one player had to work a short shift. This gave us a break of 3-4 hours. We were just starting the 3rd day, and had just found the city. We were a pretty well equipped, but time was running short. We had to take the city as soon as possible, then brace for Volkare who would be arriving very shortly afterwards.

The original plan entailed taking the city at the end of the 3rd day, so we could fight Volkare during the final night… but we hit a problem.

Two mage knights approached from the west, and were effectively waiting for myself and Wolfhawk to rush back from the east. Unfortunately we were cut off by two dragons. One was a red and while challenging, he was beatable… if only I had got the right draw (and I did not). The other was a new summoner dragon who, with both physical resistance and arcane immunity, just couldn’t be harmed by Wolfhawk.

I had just  brought the powerful Altem Mages under my control (magic coercion of course), and they had the power to single-handedly dispatch that dragon – but I was blocked by the red who wouldn’t let me pass.

I discarded cards frantically while Volkare closed on the city in an attempt to get a winning combination on the red. It cost me a lot of resources, and I took a good handful of wounds, but I managed to dispatch the red. I moved up to the dragon summoner and, in what was ultimately a pretty anti-climactic end for a unit that seemed indestructible, my Altem Mages dispatched him with a wave of a hand.

This badly delayed our city assault, but now all four of us were prepared. We launched a four-way attack, and although most of us defeated our opponents, Wolfhawk had to leave one alive, and the strongest enemy defender (Altem Mages except this time defending against us) also survived. We were forced to wait until the first turn, of the final night to take the city.

After re-drawing a hand of cards ready for the start of the final night, I decided I had enough power to take the final two defenders myself. I did so, in a large part because my Altem Mages were able to dispatch one powerful opponent with nary a thought. This meant they were unfortunately spent for the upcoming battles with Volkare. The can destroy a single opponent, sure, but they also have the power to turn every one of my attacks into the most powerful forces of destruction in the game. If had that, anything I attack would surely die – before it even had a chance to attack.

Volkare soon arrived. We counted up his army and divided the foes. Some of us felt we could better-handle the more dangerous white and red elite enemies, so we divvied up a few extras to Mage Knights Norowas and Tovak. Without the Altem Mages to help me, I wasn’t sure I could comfortably handle too many elites, but opted for a couple extra orcs and soldiers.

I did have an ace up my sleeve, though. For what turns we’d been able to prepare, before Volkare’s arrival, I had been saving up my strength with a tactic called Sparing Power. This allowed me to put an extra card away each turn, and then take all these saved cards into hand at the start of a later turn. This allowed me to have many more cards than my normal hand limit in preparation for the attack.

We flipped over our enemies so we knew what we faced, and simultaneously calculated and organized our tactics. In a typical game of Mage Knight you usually fight one enemy. Sometimes you might fight two. At the climax of the game, you may be forced to face three. In this battle, I was facing nine.

A quiet murmuring arose from the table as we each mumbled various ideas and calculations to ourselves: “To block them, I need 6. But it won’t be efficient blocking, because I don’t have any fire block, so in total I need 12. If block with these guys, then that lowers it to 4 – ah! But I could play this, with a bit of mana, and then that’ll just leave me with 1…”

One by one we announced we’d finished our attack. You really need to then call another person over to check your working, because the battles get that complex.

I think we were all pretty proud of our eventual defenses, but I really only remember my own:

As I said, I had many cards over my normal hand-limit.

The first thing I did was break my ring artifact – this gave me unlimited green and black mana. Green mana tends to be of the domain of nature, and healing. Black is the rare, powerful mana needed to augment the most powerful spells.

I also had an advanced action that allowed me to cast a spell I could see on the table, but didn’t actually have in my hand. I used this, with my unlimited mana, to cast a mighty earthquake, lowering all my opponents armour (effectively hitpoints.) In many cases this lowered them all the way to 1.

Next, I had to mount a defense, blocking what I could. I shot a few of the weaker enemies with arrows and I threw my thugs and other followers suicidally into the path of my enemies (by this stage, my reputation was so bad I was actually barred from interacting with NPCs :/) I still took a huge number of wounds, nearly stunning me, but that’s all I needed.

My counter attack consisted of just one card. Flame Wave. Cast using my unlimited black mana (and a dash of red I’d been saving.) It starts out powerful enough: Fire Attack 5. But it is increased by 2 for every enemy you face, for a total of… Fire Attack 21. With enemies already softened up with an earthquake, that single wave of fire wiped out Volkare’s entire flank.

In the end, everyone had done well. Tovak had to let one elite enemy get away, Norowas had to let one minor enemy slip through his fingers, and Wolfhawk couldn’t quite kill one of his either. Volkare’s army of about 34 was reduced to 3.

Yes, our hands were greatly depleted, but even so at least two of us were able to comfortably dispatch these final enemies, and Volkare was defeated.

We were elated. We looked around. It was 2.30am. For those that couldn’t be bothered with the maths, that’s 15-and-a-half hours, minus a 3-4 hours for dinner. We’ll just call it an even 12-hour game.

Latest on the Oculus Rift

Things have been quiet. Between re-writing history in Crusader Kings

(In a minor battle with a rebelling duke, Morgan took a blow to the head and went into a coma. He died a few years later, and the succession did not go smoothly: His son did not have enough land to raise many personal levies, the English throne did not pass to him at all, and the rest of his dukes rose up in rebellions. There was no doubt he was going to be relegated to being a minor duke while someone else sat on the imperial throne (and several someone elses sat on the thrones of the various Kingdoms I’d united.) Ah. C’est la vie.

So either I load up the war with the Duke (leading an army with the Emperor was not something I intended to do) or that’s where my campaign ends)

I have been trying out Company of Heroes 2. I only picked it up the other day on special. It’s got some nice features, but it is very similar to the original – so I expect this flirtation to be fairly short-lived.

I got the same feeling when I played Batman: Arkham Origins. It was a good game – practically identical to the previous game… and I loved that game so it should have been all good. I loved it, but it didn’t have the staying power, because I’d done it all before.

Anyway. I’m a ways into this post and haven’t mentioned anything about the headline yet.

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The OR has a 1080p version floating around, and, separately, a version that has positional tracking – dubbed Crystal Cove. So let’s tally a score, shall we?

Traditional VR problems:

  • Low field of view, giving “long-distance screen” problem – solved
  • High latency on head-movement – solved

Traditional VR problems, that the OR also had:

  • Poor resolution – solved
  • Low latency, not zero latency – solved (for all intents and purposes)
  • Motion blur – solved
  • Turn and yaw, but no X/Y movement (i.e. leaning) – solved
  • “Screen-door” effect – unresolved
  • Very high resolution – unresolved

That’s doesn’t leave many things left for the OR to solve. You’d want the screen-door fixed just so you can compete with monitors, and 1080p resolution is acceptable, but because our eyes are so close we really do need extremely high resolution to be able to comfortably read text etc. I have a sneaking suspicion they may try and work around it, though (e.g. UI’s that make use of the stereoscopic features to “float” it at a comfortable reading resolution.)

In any case. They could ship tomorrow with quite a successful product. If they can solve the screen-door effect, and combine all these features into one mass-produced device then I’d say they’re ready to go. And maybe they are

 

Crusader Kings II: The Quest for the English Throne part deuce

I am Emperor Morgan the Wise of Alba. King of Scotland, Ireland, and England. The last heir to the Kingdom of Aquitaine and de jure liege of Wales and Brittany. Duke of Albany and the Dunbar ancestral lands Lothian, and Count of all associated holdings.

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You may remember my great, great, great grandmother: AElfeda who married matrilineally to Patrick which her brother put on the throne.

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Click to enhance

King Patrick only lived for another decade or so and when he died the realm passed to the first Dunbar king: King Dietrich.

AElfeda lived to a ripe old age of 69. In those years as Queen Mother and Duchess of Lothian, the Dunbar ancestral lands, King Dietrich broke away from the generational plan to start moving into the English nobility and instead pushed into Ireland. His second-cousin was a Countess by the name of Godgifu, a formidable woman who would come to be known as “the Lion” and had many claims in Ireland.

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Dietrich pushed those claims and by the time Queen AElfeda died and the ancestral lands passed to him, Northern Ireland was within Scottish borders.

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This of course made the Countess quite powerful. In fact, by doing this she was probably one of the most powerful people in Scotland. She was the Countess of Galloway, Ulster, Oriel, and Tyrone. More worryingly, though, she was sworn to the Duke of Moray. Duke Lachlan. An ambitious a Muirebe.

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Uprisings, both from nobility and peasantry, happened from time to time but it was a wise King that kept enough territory in his demense and enough allies to be able to handle any opposition. Between the Duke of Moray and the Countess they could perhaps match the King’s personal levies – and that was a problem.

Transferring the vassalage of the Countess directly to the King would be out of the question – the Duke would surely rise up in arms and the Countess would be obligated to join him. So Dietrich simply promoted the Countess to the Duchess of Ulster. A newly created Duchy for the new Irish holdings. By making her a peer of Moray she could no longer be his vassal and, like all dukes, swore fealty directly to the king.

Dietrich was known as the Careless because he was often wounded in battle. Ultimately he took a blow to the head answering a call to arms to a distant ally – the King of Aquitaine (some sort of marriage alliance no doubt) – and was rendered incapable. A regent ruled for a few years and then Scotland, and the ancestral Lothian lands, passed to Dugald in the year of our Lord, 1175.

Each successive King achieved more than the last. Dietrich was known for bringing northern Ireland into the fold. Dugald would all-but complete his father’s quest.

On succession Dugald began claiming Irish territory on behalf of his vassals. You see, Ireland was not a united Kingdom but broken up into smaller Petty Kingdoms – sometimes only one county in size. This made them grossly outnumbered as they rarely banded together. By picking the Irish apart, Dugald incorporated just under half of Irish land. More importantly though, the once loyal Countess turned on the new King. She loved his father, of course, but held no special love for Dugald and, as previously stated, she was one of the most powerful individuals in Scotland.

The inevitable eventually occurred and she rose up in rebellion demanding independence. It was a tough war, but the King was rich and hired mercenaries to defeat her armies and imprison the Countess. She was stripped of her Ducal title and Dugald passed it to a more loyal vassal. She never saw the light of day again and eventually died in the King’s dungeons around 1185. She would serve her King one last time though, just before her death.

After some investigation it was discovered she had one more claim that could be pressed: Dublin.

Dugald pushed the claim – dungeon’s were not known for keeping their guests healthy and Dublin needed to be claimed before she, unfortunately, expired.

It was swiftly done, and within 12 months the Countess passed on.

Now with over half of the Irish counties under Scottish rule, Dugald declared himself King of Ireland. This gave him an all-too-important casus belli on any remaining Irish counts and Petty Kings – your lands are now rightfully within the realm of the King.

Due to the intricacies of peace treaties the entirety of Ireland was not quite incorporated before Dugald’s death in 1199 – the County of Desmond remained, the last refuge of King Mael-Sechlann of Munster – protected by a 10-year truce.

King Dugald, aged 64,  was known as “the Old” when he passed the ancestral lands of Lothian on to his son Waldeve. My Grandfather.

Waldeve’s reign was inconceivably long. But also very successful.

With Dugald’s death, so did die his truce with King Mael-Sechlann, and Waldeve incorporated the last Irish hold-out into his realm.

Next he moved on the Petty Kings of Wales. The idea was with the Irish and Welsh combined with Scottish levies, he should have enough men to place anyone he needed on the English throne. Or, perhaps, to claim counties one-by-one should opportunities arise.

He didn’t have to wait long. England was regularly breaking down into civil war, and in 1208 a succession crisis lead to England splitting in two. As it happens, Waldeve had a woman in his court by the name of Valdrade who had a weak claim on the throne. In fact there was also a woman by the name of Herrmessent who also had a claim.  Valdrade was Countess of Ross, and Herrmessent was Duchess of The Isles. Waldeve carefully weighed up both options – most importantly where their children lay in the line of succession, and their ages in comparison to Waldeve’s – and determined Valdrade the better claimant. This would be quite a different story for me, if he had chosen otherwise.

Valdrade, supported by Waldeve, threw her hat into the conflict over the English throne (at that time seated by the child-Queen Constance.) The war ended in 1213 with Valdrade on the throne.

Waldeve’s work was not quite done, however. You see, at this stage he’d had 4 daughters and no sons. Eleanor was, in fact, already married to the Duke of Moray and had even had a daughter – my step-sister Malmure. Unsure of the best way to proceed, destiny seemed to show the way:

The Duke died young to some disease. This freed up Eleanor to marry again and Valdrade’s son was not quite of age, but Eleanor was only in her mid-twenties and still of a child-bearing age. No doubt a virile 16-year-old would be able to get her to bear a son.

And so it came to be. Waldeve married his brightest and youngest daughter, Eleanor, to Valdrade’s son and heir, Guirand – my mother and my father.

Still, the laws in Scotland meant that Waldeve’s rightful heir was his nephew, as he had no sons of his own. The succession laws were changed to elective. This allowed all of Waldeve’s dukes to vote on the next king, but they rarely stray from the King’s suggestion and so when I was born in 1221 he immediately nominated me, his grandson.

Perhaps to cover his bases, when Waldeve’s wife died in 1211 he married a very young Mael-Muire. She then went on to bear him another daughter… followed by 3 sons.

Naturally they were livid, once old enough to understand, at the law change that robbed them of the Kingdom, but Waldeve’s manoeuvring meant that on his death I would inherit Scotland, Ireland, and the ancestral Dunbar lands and on Valdrade’s death: The Kingdom of England.

Waldeve should have settled in then, and lived out the rest of his days as a comfortable king. Any chance of that fled in 1235.

A noble in the Kingdom of Aquitaine send King Waldeve a letter which, in other words, read: “We plan to petition our King to abdicate to you, as we want you to be our King.”

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As you can see, Aquitaine was no small Kingdom. In fact, the Kings of Aquitaine and France had regularly been at war over territory for the last 200 years – and it would seem the Aquitaine Kings had been winning.

It’s true Waldeve had picked up a claim on that Kingdom from one of his ancestors somewhere, but expected this demand to lead to war. A war he hadn’t planned on, but it seemed like a good opportunity. Scotland was stable, and it could be a simple way to add an entire Kingdom to her borders.

As it turned out, he needn’t have worried. The King abdicated and just like that, Waldeve was the King of Scotland, Ireland, and now Aquitaine.

Of course the nobles that had pushed Waldeve’s claim liked him, but the rest of the French (technically Aquitaine, but I’m going to call them French) Dukes did not like this King with his Scottish mannerisms and they also considered him a foreign conqueror.

A few wars were required, but this allowed Waldeve to stripped a couple titles to weaken the more rebellious Dukes, and rearrange the Kingdom somewhat. It wasn’t perfect – short of expelling all the French Dukes and replacing them with Scottish nobles, Aquitaine would always be a struggle to contain. It was hoped eventually they will get used to a Scottish King and come around.

He changed the Aquitaine succession laws to elective, and nominated me as his heir. The hope was that I would then inherit the Kingdoms of Scotland, Ireland, and Aquitaine, but the French nobles wouldn’t come to the table. It was looking like on Waldeve’s death Aquitaine would fall to one of their own Dukes.

Unable to change the laws a second time, Waldeve simply dissolved the title and Kingdom altogether. What was once the Kingdom of Aquitaine, was now simply more Scotland. The nobles weren’t exactly happy about the development, but Waldeve couldn’t live for much longer, surely.

Waldeve, like his father, became known as “the Old”, and eventually passed away on 30 October, 1247, aged 85. Not even from old age, but it was severe stress that got him in the end.

My Grandmother (on the other side) also lived to a ripe old age of 87 – so it was some time until I finally inherited England.

The succession actually went quite smoothly. The nobles still weren’t thrilled with having to deal with a Scottish King, but they did not bear a grudge against me, like they had with my Grandfather, for “conquering” them.

No, my biggest problem came from my neighbour – the Holy Roman Empire (HRE). A mighty empire, nearly as powerful as Scotland will be – once I inherit England. In the meantime we seem to be well matched.

We had terrible trouble trying to stamp out the Lollard heresy here in Scotland. The HRE, meanwhile, had embraced it. This meant that either Kingdom could declare a holy war on the other. So far we have had 4 – twice a holy war for the Duchy of Toulouse, and twice for the Duchy of Provence.

Toulouse

Toulouse

Provence

Provence

All wars have ended with the defender victorious, so I count us evenly matched. I hope with the English behind me I will finally be able to break this stalemate.

In 1264 the Queen of England passed away, and so, finally, a Dunbar sits on the English throne. It also united the Welsh territories, previously split evenly between England and Scotland, under the one banner.

And so, I declared myself Emperor, and my Empire was called Alba.

I have a number of duties to attend to with my new Empire. Now all the Kingdoms follow the same laws, I think I should change the succession laws back to primogeniture (oldest son inherits.) My vassals like the current law, but I can’t risk the Empire or Kingdoms passing into the wrong hands. I don’t expect I’ll need to skip a generation, like my Grandfather. This will please my eldest son, naturally, and as a traditional succession law vassals and other children won’t mind (much.)

To my east is my great foe: the HRE. I have essentially unlimited casus belli’s to call on them, and could incorporate great swathes of their territory to my own – if only I can beat their armies. The last time we fought, I did so handily and would have pressed my advantage, but with the English crown passing to me I thought I had better deal with the petty in-fighting that the English dukes brought with them first. If I’m lucky I might be able to get the Pope to declare a full invasion of heretic lands, which will allow me to simply invade and keep whatever I occupy. Invasion or no, I can also call on the Knights Templar, the Teutonic Order, and the Knights Hospitaller who can be counted on to fight heretics and non-Christians.

Speaking of non-Christians, to my south and west is the Iberian peninsular. This area has been almost entirely conquerored by the Abbidad Sultantate. Muslim, of course, so again – I can call a Holy War on them at any time. We have no need for “claims” when Europe is in the clutches of non-Christians. Once again, if I’m lucky, I might be able to convince the Pope to declare a crusade on either of these powerful foes.

The Dunbar goal has finally been achieved – but perhaps Morgan can push it further than any of my ancestors had ever dreamed.

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Click to read the text

Click to read the text

Crusader Kings II – The Quest for the Throne of England

Let me tell you a tale.

I am Duke Gospatrick II of Lothian.

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My Duchy lies within the Kingdom of Scotland, on the border with the English.

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Through generations of political manoeuvring, our family has been able to secure all of the counties within Lothian, thus securing an impressive personal holding ensuring taxes and warriors sworn directly to us – should we need them against any foe, foreign or domestic.

More importantly (though, not really) I have been able to put my sister on the throne and even change the laws of succession. Her husband, of course, is the King of Scotland:

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but with the changes to the law, I can choose my next successor to be anyone in my bloodline. Say, a nephew. Say a nephew who is heir to the throne. Thus, in just 1 generation house Dunbar will be on the throne (that is to say when I die and control passes to my heir I will be on the throne.)

So. What lies in our way? The first problem is that my dear sister has not born her husband any children. Boys in particular. They have not been married long, and she is but 23, so I just have to hope she is not barren. It could bring about the ruin of generations of planning (no pressure sis’) but all we can do is pray to God.

Perhaps the King’s cousin, Earl of Atholl (current heir to the throne), will take poorly to having his claim bumped in favour of a new child. He might even take steps to maintain his lineage. His Majesty can count on me to root out any such plots and put an end to them.

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And then there is my own children. Only 6 years old, but still my son may well feel slighted when he is older and his father’s entire estate passes to his cousin. No matter!

Once on the throne, we will press our claim on the County of Cumberland and begin marrying into the English nobility.

—–

The first wheel has fallen off the cart. Since I last played they have changed the amount of holdings you can personally have without serious penalties. Halved it in fact. So I can no longer hold all the Counties in my Duchy. This is a big hit to my original plan. I’m not sure whether to wait until a child is born to my sister and award it to him (who, as future King, may get a bigger Demensne) or find someone in my court I can safely off-load to.

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So which of my vassals do I want to curry favour with?

There is Waltheof Dunbar. My cousin and Chancellor.

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He is a talented young man. That’s why I made him Chancellor. However I think the best thing to do will be to give both titles to my son. He’s already annoyed (at the tender age of 6!) that the laws don’t say he automatically inherits, so I if I let him grow into some titles – he’ll be happy, my Demesne penalty will be eliminated and when I die and become his cousin I should have a fairly strong ally.

—–

Harmony didn’t last long.

Within months the Duke of Gallway started on war on behalf of the claimant “Edward”

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So who is this Edward? And why would the Duke go to war in his name?

Well, to answer the first question we just need to look at the last 6 Kings.

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You see the red shields? That is house Dunkeld. They’re slightly related to us Dunbars. The blue shield is house Muirebe. As you can see these two houses have been at it for generations. The crown flitting between them, giving descendants claims on the throne for them to squabble over for many years to come.

You’ll also notice that last King – Laurence – he’s not dead. He’s in gaol. I might have had something to do with that when I put Patrick on the throne. This has made the Muirebes none-too-happy. Edward is Laurence’s son.

As to the second question: when the Muirebes were on the throne, the Duchy of Gallway carried a lot of influence. It was a large contiguous Duchy that could call on many troops and had vast money stores. After the war of succession where I put Patrick on the throne, that Duchy was broken up and some of its Counties moved to more… appropriate holdings (i.e. mine.) I believe the Duke may want some of his previous prestige back.

I believe the King and I have enough troops. Let’s hope so.

The war was short-lived. The Duke’s armies were smashed by our levies. I didn’t have the men to siege the Duke’s castle and force a surrender, though, so I hired some mercenaries to do it for me. Three thousand of “The Scottish Band” camped around Duke Galloway’s castle and after 2 or 3 months I ordered the mercenaries to breach the walls. The castle fell easily, so the mercenaries took to besieging and assaulting the other baronies of the County.

The mercenaries and levies then spent the remaining year besieging every castle they could find. Eventually the Duke capitulated and both he and Edward were imprisoned by the King for their treason. He may execute them, yes, but even treasonous nobles can still have influence – afterall Edward’s Grandfather was King Mael-Snechtai the Great.

Well, isn’t this interesting? Here I was worried about my son – and it’s my daughter that’s plotting to kill me. ONE MILLION YEARS DUNGEON!!!

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And in the year of our Lord, 1115, a son was born to King Patrick and Queen AElfeda. Exxxxcelllent.

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Because of my earlier political manoeuvring – the children of the King and Queen are actually house Dunbar. That was the deal with Patrick. “I’ll put you on the throne, but you must marry my sister and the children are Dunbar.” I assumed this would allow me to nominate their children as my successor, but apparently not. I CAN nominate the Queen, however, so I will simply await her death – at which point Dietrich should inherit her claims – I can then nominate Dietrich as my successor. (I think I’ll save it though, because I may need to Nominate the Queen right now… Actually. What am I talking about? All I have to do is Nominate the Queen, and then when I die I’ll be Queen of Scotland!)

Interestingly the Earl of Atoll has come to me with a plot to kill Dietrich (a babe not even a year old!) Did I not say he would be put-out by a son cutting off his claim? I have declined. That’s my heir too, so I have no intention of allowing the Earl to further these plots. As soon as I’m Queen I will come up with my own schemes, to counter his.

November 1116. I have fallen gravely ill. Is it strange that I hope that I die?

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And that makes me Queen of Scotland!

I now set my eyes on the English throne. I will take generations and generations of political work – lies, plots, marriages – to get a claim on the throne. Possibly hundreds of years. But that’s where I’m heading next…