Tuesday, 11 November 2014

More Than A Game

It's been a while since I wrote anything here, mainly because I haven't been playing any wargames or hobbying.

What I have been doing is playing a lot of Crusader Kings II.

For those that don't know this is a computer game set in the Middle Ages, in which you play a lowly count or a mighty Emperor, and manage a fractious - and frankly annoying family through  several hundred years of bloody history - and it does get very bloody at times (especially if you are Greek but more about that later).

Yeah, yeah.... we know... we've played Civ....

Well maybe, but what sets Crusader Kings II apart from other strategy games is that it is not about conquering the world. It might say that the aim is to rise from count to emperor, and when you start playing it is easy to get drawn into that mindset. But before long you realise that this is a game that is about the characters - a role  playing game if you will.

I can't think of another game that has affected me so deeply emotionly... which I know sounds daft but here's an example.

I was playing as the Earl of Desmond, a roguish Irish Clan. The father was a schemer, and managed to get himself married to an English princess. He immediately came up with the great plan of murdering her family, so that she would become queen, he king, and the Earl's of Desmond would rule England.

He killed her two elder brother's, and a cousin, and then a couple of other relatives, all the while dreaming of the riches that would come to him.

Well he had to do something while he waited for the clever Scottish lawyer he had hired, to fabricate a claim on the Duchy of Munster.

After the fifth or sixth murder, with the Pope breathing down his neck and threatening to excommunicate him, the Earl bothered to look at the succession criteria for the English crown, and was disappointed to learn that a) it is elective, and b) in order to be considered for election you have to hold an English Duchy..

An attempt was made to murder his son - sorry that should be marry his son - into the Duchy of Cornwall. His son's first wife having died of pneumonia two weeks after the wedding, his second wife died in child birth a year later, the third wife was murdered by his father for some reason or another (plotting to kill the Earl's son I think), and so by the age of 24 it was time for the heir to county of Desmond - the Scottish lawyer still not having fabricated the claim, despite eight years of trying - to marry again. The wedding was fine, the trouble was that on the wedding night it was revealed that an attempt had been made to poison the bride's father. She was understandably annoyed, and fled back to Cornwall. And refused to come back.

It took fifteen months of comical escapades, trying to push her out of windows, snakes in her bed, highwaymen attacked her coach, etc before she was finally dead and the son was free to marry.

There was only one choice, the 14 year old Duchess of Flanders, and Countess of Brugge. Ok the son would have to continue banging out the bastards with the lowborn women while he waited for her 16th birthday. And what was more the girl was happy with the betrothal.

Hurray for the Earl's of Desmond.....

And things got better.

The Scottish lawyer finally came through. And what was more the English princess also paid dividends when the new king - the one relative they hadn't killed - sent 20,000 troops to help.

And in no time at all the Earl of Desmond was no longer the Earl of Desmond but the petty King of Munster.

And his son, or rather his son's son, would be the Petty King of Munster and Duke of Flanders.

Unfortunately the Duchess was not what they had expected. The girl who turned up was a lazy, greedy, cruel, weak, sick thing that absolutely repulsed everyone.

In time honoured fashion they tried to kill her, and hopefully marry her sister. But that plan was scuppered by the sister dying of small pox.

There was nothing for it but for the son to hold his nose and do his best to get a son - or at least a daughter who could be married off to one of the children his father was knocking out at a prodigious rate. (He eventually had twelve children with seven different women - 9 of them born after he was 50).

It took a while - three years - but eventually a child was born. A son.

Ahhhhh..... not quite the son that was expected for a rapidly growing petty Kingdom that now reached Kildare and was banging on the gates of Dublin.

The child was an imbecile.

By now the old Earl/King was dead, and the son - being the new King - was eventually able to get a divorce after buying an indulgence, and having his chancellor and bishop camping out in Rome trying to get the Pope to see what a nice guy he really was - yes there was that business able killing those children because their father refused to surrender, but he did it to prevent further bloodshed, and yes he had murdered his uncle in a fit of rage, but he did let his cousin's off with banishment.... and the business about breaking the truce was a simple misunderstanding of the rules of war, he genuinely thought the truce was for two months not ten years.

By the time the divorce came through the 'idiot' - as he was affectionately known by his father - had typhus, and so did the mother, so when she unceremoniously boarded her ship back to Flanders on a cold November evening, as far as everyone was concerned that was the last they thought they would see of either of them.

And besides, there were a couple of sons from the previous liaisons, so the idiot was irrelevant.

The new wife, was a chosen for love. A careful search was made, in the most diligent manner of all the potential brides. Until the perfect girl was found. She brought no alliance, but by this time none was needed, as the wars were going well and the alliances were provided by the marriages of his numerous siblings.

The wife was a genius, And the two son's she produced carried the gene. It was a forum warrior's wet dream - made all the more creamy when those son's were betrothed to girls who also had the genius gene.

Well that is until an outbreak of typhus killed the eldest son, and the next eldest died in an 'accident'.

And suddenly, fifteen years after he disappeared, the imbecile is back in the frame, as the heir to what is by now the Kingdom of Ireland.

A word beginning with 'F'....

Not 'F' because he is an imbecile per se..... but 'F' because the structure of the Kingdom requires he have certain skills, particularly stewardship - which he doesn't have.

What he does have, thanks the guardianship of the Bishop of Paris, is a set of traits to make him the most noble and virtuous knight that ever lived; diligent, humble, charitable,patient, and brave. Ok he can't talk but by some miracle he does have a skillset that with the decent wife might make him a decent king.... just not of Ireland at that particular time.

But compared to the genius younger son the choice is a no brainer.... or maybe not.... as it means changing the succession,.... and then that means having to wait ten years before changing it back.... and that means having a king that can live ten years.... and have all his vassals on board.... and a lot can happen in ten years..... and there is no guarantee that the imbecile will live long enough to make it an issue - he has health issues other than the imbecility.... every time I check on him during this period of about a year or so as I decide what to do, he has some new illness.

The bizarre twist to the tale is the ex-wife, in what can only be considered an act of spite, has married the youngest of the three banished cousins.

That marriage is ended by murdering him before a child can be born, and an outbreak of disease finally does for the Duchess.

Meaning that the imbecile is now the Duke of a realm at the centre of a lengthy and ongoing war between France, England and the HRE. Which is really the issue that finally forces the change in the succession law for first born to last.

The change made, the imbecile is marked as a person of interest - more out of curiosity - and I get on with the game.

The genius king turns out to be a wise and great ruler. Bringing all Ireland under his control, making inroads into Scotland and Wales, he is tyrannical when he needs to be and just when he doesn't. He rules for nearly fifty years, with just one queen - who he loves - and then a succession of young brides when she eventually dies. During his reign there are no civil wars, the reversin of the succession laws is made without opposition. In short he is the personification of everything a medieval king should be.

And much to my surprise, so is the imbecile.

He swims with the tide in Flanders, losing a county, regaining it, snatching another, changing allegiance when he has to to, is the marshal of both France and the HRE, twice runs for the HRE, and finally dies aged 68, leaving the Duchy of Flanders to his one remaining son - who is basically a psychopath and everything that his father is not - and quite probably everything that his grandmother would have been had she been a man.

I didn't cry when I learned of his death. But my blood did run cold, and it was like I had reached the end of great novel.

My king being the virtuous man that he was sent the widow and the son a gift. In part for the loss of his half brother. But mainly as an apology for the way her husband and his father had been treated, and essentially robbed of his birth right - and in recognition of his great life that he had made despite every adversity that had been placed in his way.

And you don't get stories like that with Civ....


I am currently in the middle of a game, and I want to record a potted history of it here, and this will act as a suitable introduction....


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