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The Promised Land RELOADED #6

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four, and Part Five.

Back into the fray!  This bit coming up turned out to be particularly war-filled.

Somewhat appropriately, my Marshal kicks things off by inventing the tank about a thousand years too early.  Sadly you can’t actually use it.

Our liege for the moment in King Mamo, and his vassals are causing trouble.  I send my spymaster to get dirt on them and convince them to stay out of factions.  This one is stressed, insane, has syphilis, and homosexual, so I imagine it’s pretty easy.

King Mamo becomes brave via thought experiments.

I start the war against the Yusufids, but Caliph Abdul decides to join his co-religionists.  Fortunately he has a lot of other things on his mind, though.

In the meantime, King Mamo grooms his eldest son Tengene to be heir.  His stats are progressing nicely for age 12!

My half-sister wants to be on the council.  A woman!  Scandalous!  I would happily support her, but she’s actually not a great choice for steward compared to the guy I already have.  A sad day for women’s rights.  (But more on that subject later…)

The Yusufids swear loyalty to the Muhallabids, bring them into the war.  Unfortunately for the Yusufids, they basically don’t show up.

Another victory!  The borders of Semien march north down the Nile.

Not wasting time, I go for Aydhab, the last county south of the Tujibids.  It’s de jure part of the duchy I just took over, so I have a reason for war that won’t drag a bunch of neighboring countries in.

Prince Tengene turned out to be pretty smart, and he’s doing a good job as my spymaster.

Meanwhile, King Mamo continues his pursuit of the legendary White Lion and decides he’s found his purpose in life.

Strange things are afoot in the wider world.  France is slowly taking over Spain, and the Byzantines are working their way back into Italy.

A random Khagan from the middle of Russia wants his son Crazy-Eyes to marry my daughter.  He has an impressive number of umlauts, but I say no.  He proceeds to offer every single one of his fourteen sons.  There’s no “Take a hint, dude, it’s not which son that’s the problem” button.

Then, disaster!  Losing the war, the Shehzadids spitefully decide to murder Prince Tengene, who apparently was not that great a spymaster after all.  I have two other sons, but they’re already ruling their own territories, which makes them much harder to groom.  Grr.

It’s a little late.

As the war against the Shedazids drags on, my angry vassals get together and demand more power.  I’m not about to grant that, of course, so they take up arms.

Fortunately it doesn’t last.  In the first siege I capture the son of the leader of the revolt, and he submits almost immediately.  Everyone goes to jail and loses some titles, to be redistributed to more loyal followers.

Soon after, the Shehzadids concede the point, and my borders inch farther north.  The path to the next target, the Tujibids, is clear, though I need to spend some time rebuilding my strength first.

?I will never be satisfied!?

Sometimes, all you need to do to get someone to stop trying to overthrow you is ask nicely.

With the army back up to strength, I declare war on the one-handed Emir of the Tujibids.

Eh, why not?  He literally can’t be worse than some of the other guys.

By the way, if you’re wondering what happened to Jahzara the Demon-Spawn from last time, she apparently became a Jainist monk in eastern India.  Waste of great military talent.

Dude, seriously.


Prince Berta, now heir to the throne, follows his dead brother’s footsteps both in the “becoming spymaster” department and in the “figuring out which vassals are gay” department.

The Tujibids are duly crushed.  Now we’re getting somewhere!  It presents a new problem, though — the patchwork of little countries is actually much harder to take over, since you have to declare war on them one-by-one.  (You can do it simultaneously, but most of them aren’t actually tiny countries but small outposts of larger countries, so I don’t want to fight them all at once.)  The mess left over from the Arabian Empire is still getting sorted out.

At this point I manage to outsmart myself, or alternately allow roleplaying to coax me into poor decisions.  I’ve been working on increasing the status of women during this playthrough (with the ultimate goal of having female rulers) so moving to Agnatic-Cognatic succession seems like the logical stuff.  For those of you unfamiliar with obscure inheritance terminology (shame on you!) this means that instead of only males being in the line of succession, women can inherit if there are no male children.  (But males always have precedence.  This seems to make sense, because my eldest son has three daughters.

Note that in the new line of succession, Berta’s daughters come before their uncles and great-uncles.  However, I’d forgotten about a wrinkle that would cause much trouble later, which I’ll explain when we get there.

A consequence of expanding quickly is that people can form alliances against you.  Sometimes this is bad, other times it just means a bunch of wimpy countries joining together and remaining wimpy.  This, fortunately, is one of the latter times.

Jeez, I can’t see how that could go wrong…

Since I still have a truce with the Tujibids, next on King Mamo’s hit list is Banu Judham.  A very complicated war ensues, in which another sultanate has also declared a holy war for the same territory, resulting in a sort of race to knock down the Banu Judham castles.

Prince Berta is a shockingly good spymaster.  He seems to dig up dirt on everyone, almost immediately, and as a result my vassals are more obedient then they have been in years.  

I realize that I’ve managed to marry one of my daughters to her first cousin.  Shelbyville here we come.

Here we go again.

But King Mamo the Hunter isn’t going to let mere pain stand between him and the White Lion!

Again.  Could be worse!

Hmm.  Ideas?

“First, do no harm,” right?

Finally he resorts to massage.

When that fails, though, it’s back to good old scab-powder, which works its usual magic.

Look at this mess.  (Counties with cross-hatches are occupied by invaders.)  Every castle within a hundred miles is a smoking ruin as four or five different wars play out simultaneously.

Finally things calm down a bit.  I end up with Alexandria, on the Mediterranean, but with someone else holding all its component baronies.  At least I get Cairo too, pushing ever farther northward.  I’m still not sure why I didn’t get the other Banu Judham county…

With the fall of Cairo (I think) the Caliph decides enough is enough.  This bodes poorly.  A jihad (in the game, this is historically inaccurate) is the equivalent of a crusade, which attacks a kingdom-sized chunk of land and invites all co-religionists to come help out and get piety rewards.  Hopefully they’ll target some Christians and not me.

When my cancer plays up again, I go back to Tengene, and this time he gives me some mercury!  What a good doctor.

A strange woman with a martial score of 20 shows at my court.  This time, I’m happy to grant her request, since my current marshal is pretty terrible.  Welcome, Lady Tavavich!

Now Duchess Falashina wants to be marshal, too!  Unfortunately she’s pretty bad at it, though still better than the previous guy.  I’ll keep Lady Tavavich.

A quick war with the Tujibids after the truce expires restore contiguity to Semien.  I set my chancellor to work forging claims on the counties by the mouth of the Nile, so I can take them without starting massive religious wars.  The only power that’s REALLY frightening, though, is the Sadiqids of Persia, who are fortunately Shia and won’t participate in the jihads.

King Mamo the Hunter finally succumbs to cancer after a long and glorious reign.  Long live King Berta!

Now we have problems.  King Berta is excellent at intrigue and has literally devoted his life to seducing women, although he somehow has only one bastard son.  He completely sucks at war, though, which is disappointing.  

More alarming, though, I now realize the consequences of my earlier decision.  Since Berta has only legitimate daughters, his heir is the eldest, Princess Senalat.  Unfortunately, she’s already married, and to someone not of my dynasty!  The problem I alluded to earlier with Agnatic-Cognatic succesion is this — if a daughter seems likely to inherit, then you need to either marry her to a dynasty member or do a matrilineal marriage, which will make her children dynasty members.  Unfortunately, since Berta wasn’t heir and had land of his own, I couldn’t control her marriage, so now if she has a son he will not be of the dynasty and inherit everything!  This would be game over.

I immediately start taking steps to deal with this problem.  Step one is to legitimize Loua, my bastard son.  As a male, this puts him ahead of Senalat in the succession.  That still doesn’t make me comfortable, though — he’s young, and if anything happens to him before he breeds, we’re in trouble again.

Unfortunately, doing this causes my wife to hate me.  (She actually hated me already for being a horrible lecher.)  Since that means she’s probably willing to help kill me, and it reduces the potential for more sons, she has to go.  Send for the assassins!

Hmm, wait.  Maybe not?

Nope.  Definitely assassins.  Though there’s some weird math going on here for those numbers to add up to -100.  I think some things trump others.

Keren was apparently very unpopular, so it’s not long before I get my chance.  Manure explosions, the old stand-by.

Searching for potential new wives, I find one who is awesome at stewardship (the key skill for wives) and is an old flame of King Berta’s who still loves him!  Welcome Queen Kelile.

King Berta just can’t stop falling in love!

On the war front, I’ve managed to grab one additional county in the north.  But I’m still more worried about succession.  Senalat’s younger sister are both married safely (to dynasty members or matrilineally) so even if Loua dies their sons will be okay to inherit.  Killing Senalat would be one solution, but you’re not allowed to assassinate your children, and simply imprisoning and executing her would make everyone in the country hate me as a tyrant.  Instead, I try to assassinate her husband.  If he dies, then I can remarry her safely or leave her as a widow.

Unfortunately, the inconvenient husband is very popular and difficult to assassinate.  I try to invite him to my court, but he’s happily married and refuses to come.  This is in spite of his massively favorable opinion of King Berta, which turns out to be because he’s gay and super-attracted to Berta’s wiles!  Unfortunately, Berta doesn’t have the option to take one for the team and seduce him, which leaves us at a stalemate.

I’ve been holding off on more wars, expecting a major revolt from my vassals at some point.  Unfortunately King Berta can’t act as his own spymaster.  It finally arrives, with the dukes once again demanding increased power.

Fortunately, I have a pretty good army ready, King Berta’s crappy military stats notwithstanding.  The revolt is led by the Duke of Makuria, so I spend most of the war laying siege to his castles and crushing his armies.  In the meantime, my bastard son Prince Loua has turned sixteen and gotten married.  If he can just sire some sons, we’ll get through this yet…

Oh, dear.  I’m still hip-deep in the rebellion with the Caliph drops the entire Sunni world on my head.  I quickly hire all the mercenaries I get my hands on and set about trying to finish things with the rebels, while Muslim armies lay siege to the castles in the north of Semien.

And, of course, it never rains but it pours.  Prince Loua dies of pneumonia without offspring, which makes Senalat heir again.  Once again the sword of Damocles is poised over my dynasty!

Queen Kelile comes through with a son, which removes the immediate threat.  But his older sisters are almost certainly going to plot to kill him.

A Sunni uprising chooses the absolute best time to join the fray.

Finally, my main force catches up to the rebel army and smashes it, which spells the end for the rebellion.  Once again, half my dukes go to jail, although Makuria promptly dies and leaves everything to his son.  I immediately turn the army north to fight off the hordes who are smashing castles left and right.

There’s quite a lot of them, but fortunately Semien is rather large at this point.  Since they’re attacking all of Egypt, it takes a long time to build up enough victories that I’d have to concede, so I have time to go liberate my castles.

As the march goes on, beloved high-stewardship Kelile gets dysentery.  

Some large battles result, but thing pretty much go my way.  Fortunately, being attacked by infidels makes all your vassals suddenly very friendly, which in turn makes them send more troops.  Soon the main Sunni armies are crushed and driven off my soil.  

Unfortunately, the queen dies.  I quickly pick a new wife, still eager to get some backup sons in play.

King Berta will literally just fall in love with anyone.  Which is appropriate, I guess, for someone nicknamed “the Lecher”.

Unfortunately, Nyala produces a daughter, which doesn’t help the situation.

After their armies are smashed, the Caliph agrees to a white peace.  (Peace with no victor.)  I could have pressed for total victory, but the rewards for winning against a jihad are actually pretty small, so this is fine with me.  Egypt is safe, for now.

Nyala gives birth to another daughter.  In the meantime Senalat has given birth to a son, Teka, who is now second in line for the throne after Kelile’s son Aman.  This calls for drastic measures.

That takes care of that problem.  

The Duke of Makuria, apparently have not paid any attention to what happened to his father, refuses to stop plotting against me, rebels, and ends up in prison.

Senalat’s second child is a daughter, which is no threat, and she now has syphilis.  Hopefully this means she’ll die quickly.  Still nobody wants to help me kill her husband, who is still in love with me, although somewhat peeved I murdered his son.

Finally, Nyala has a son (and another daughter at the same time!).  There’s no guarantees until Senalat dies, but I’m probably out of the woods.  Note to self — watch daughters’ marriages better!

Makuria is subdued, again, and another county in the north falls.  Soon I’ll have completed my conquest of the Nile and start moving on my ultimate goal, the Kingdom of Israel.

Current Year: 1017 AD.  Current Status: Relieved.



Content, Crusader Kings Series 1, Excluded, Games

The Promised Land RELOADED #5

Part OnePart TwoPart Three, and Part Four.

Before the commercial break, incompetent King Fethee was looking avariciously at the lands of his neighbors after the breakup of the mighty Abassid Empire.

As mentioned, Fethee kind of sucks.  A so-so stat is around 10; 3 martial and 5 stewardship is pretty bad.  He’s also slothful, greedy, and somehow both deceitful and trusting.  And he murdered kin at some point and is thus universally reviled.

Possibly for this reason, many of his most powerful vassals are now in prison.  Actually executing people is seen as tyrannical, so my preferred strategy is to throw them in the oubliette and hope they die of their own accord, which they usually do.

First step is to clean up my backfield, so I declare a holy war for Asosa.  This turns out to be a somewhat bad move, as the ruler there holds territory elsewhere, and is able to convince neighboring states to THAT territory to come join the war.  Oops.  (This is the problem with holy wars — the immediate neighbors of your target tend to join in if they’re the same religion.)

I’m forced to summon my vassals and hire mercenaries to fight the war.  (For those who don’t play: you have your personal troops, who cost money, mercenaries, who cost a lot of money, and vassal troops, which are free but cause a steady drop in vassal opinion of you the longer they’re raised, unless you’re defending the realm against infidels.  Generally I prefer to fight wars with personal troops alone, if I can help it, and save vassal troops for emergencies.)

In the meantime, Jahzara is apparently the spawn of Satan.  What do you think, Rabbi?

Oh good, glad to know that’s over and done with.  Definitely won’t come back to haunt me.

Unexplained servants is a perfectly normal thing right?

Fethee’s vassals are not fond of him.  The Duke of Berbera in particular is mad because I may have imprisoned one of his sons, who to be fair did rise in revolt.  They get along because they’re both drunkards though!

This war turns out to be way longer and more expensive then it ought to be, and I actually come close to losing.  Fortunately, having a fleet on the Red Sea lets me switch my armies between Semien and enemy territory quickly.

My court doctors continue their reign of terror.  Although the toad thing actually seems to work.

Meanwhile Jahzara, the perfectly normal child, is killing her sisters in their dreams.  Nothing to worry about, right rabbi?  Most girls go through that phase I’m sure.

The war comes down to a final battle in which I’m pretty badly outnumbered.  Usually this is the same as losing — CK2 has a highly complex combat system with different troop types, etc, but 99% of the time the result is “the guy with more soldiers wins”.  In this case, I managed to stack the “mountainous terrain” defense bonus with the “defending river crossing” bonus and juuuuust pull out a win against a larger force.  (Lucky!)

The aforementioned Duke of Berbera has become a Miaphysite, so I’m forced to declare war to strip him of his titles.  But King Fethee has other things on his mind.


Somehow this costs only one piety?

I guess she got what she was looking for.

I’m still finishing with Berbera when one of the Muslim nations to the north declares a holy war for Oman.  Busy busy.

Aaaand Jahzara continues her reign of terror.  Fortunately, because I’m still under seniority succession, my immediate family is not all that important, but this is still disturbing!  The rabbis still insist nothing is wrong.

With Berbera finally in prison where he belongs, I can devote my time to crushing the Abd Al-Qays attack.  Winning this war gives me a nice chunk of gold as reparation payment, even if it doesn’t grant any territory.

Peace again, finally!  But not for long.  That isolated county in the middle of my territory needs to be mine.

Okay, rabbi, I’m convinced there’s something wrong here.  I’m running out of kids.

I am surrounded by nonsense!

Given King Fethee’s dissolute lifestyle, this is hardly a surprise, but I choose to blame Jahzara instead of my drinking habit.

It worked for cancer, shouldn’t it work for gout?

Apparently not.  Long live King Tengene II!

King Tengene II is a bit better than King Fethee at warring, but even worse at stewardship.  His chancellor having forged a claim on Matamma, the wayward province, he declares war to get it.

In the meantime, he searches for a physician.  This one seems a trustworthy sort!

Irritatingly, a failed rebellion cancels my war and forces me to begin again.  Fortunately the Shehzadids are pretty weak, and since I have a (fake) claim instead of a holy war other countries won’t come help them.

Somewhere along the way, King Tengene lost his sense of justice.

Jahzara is finally of age!  I can get her out of the house.

Except HOLY CRAP, look at those stats!!  She’s literally the best everything in the kingdom, including by far the best general.  Notably, she has the hereditary “genius” trait, possibly the best in the game.  If I could, I’d make her king immediately, but under my current laws women can only be Spymaster.  And I can’t make her spymaster (even if she’d be awesome at it) because she hates me, and having a spymaster that hates you is somewhat suicidal.

As a compromise, I marry her to a younger member of my dynasty, hoping to breed some sons with good traits.

Dum de dum, not suspicious at all.

Okay, now she’s trying to kill me in a more conventional manner, inasmuch as manure bombs are conventional.  Unfortunately, she’s got to go.  Guards!

Typical.  (Now I want to write stories about the possessed hyper-competent demonspawn’s adventures in medieval India.)

The war for Matamma ends satisfactorily.  At peace once more, it’s time to address an ongoing problems: succession law.  The default early succession, gavelkind, is pretty bad — titles are split up among heirs, leading to a fractured demense.  I changed to seniority as soon as possible, which is better — the oldest dynasty member inherits, meaning titles stay together.  But it has some disadvantages.  You get new kings without getting to manage their upbringing, so they often have bad stats.  You also get a lot of assassinations, since everyone in the dynasty is in the line of succession.

What I’d like to do is switch to primogeniture, where the oldest son gets everything.  Now that my dynasty is big enough that there are enough branches to make sure it won’t die out entirely, this will keep things stable.  But switching is annoying — I’ve finally gotten the legal development to allow it (Late Feudal Administration) but I need to reign for ten years, have all my vassals at peace, and most importantly have them all like me.  This is tough.

For starters, some of them are in prison, and they’re obvious not happy.  I quickly have the Duke of Wag murdered.  Eremias, in spite of being in the oubliette for 26 years, is still alive, and popular enough that nobody wants to help murder him!  Boo.  I have him tortured to speed him along his way.

Having him tortured didn’t make him like me, but he did finally die.  I get to work on my other vassals via more conventional means, like bribery.

The wider world is still a mess, although the Sadiqid Empire is becoming quite powerful.  Francia also seems to be working its way into Spain.

Finally, after nearly ten years of peace and prosperity, everyone likes me enough!  From now on Tengene II’s sons, grandsons, etc will inherit the throne.  Hopefully this will cut down on assassinations!

To celebrate, I declare holy war on Alodia, to the west of Semien.

They are quickly subdued, and the Fadlids are next in line.  Most of the nearby Muslim countries are too distracted to join in the fighting.

swear it runs in the family!

Meanwhile, in France…

Being possessed was apparently not kind to Tengene’s health.  Long live King Mamo, his son!

Mamo caught the flu but shockingly managed to survive the attentions of his doctors.  The war concludes, and Semien is bigger than ever.  The Yusufids are next, clearly, and then things will get trickier as we get close to the larger Muslim states and fight our way toward the mouth of the Nile.

Current Year: 974 AD.  Current Status: Not Yet Possessed.

Content, Crusader Kings Series 1, Excluded, Games

The Promised Land RELOADED #4

Part OnePart Two, and Part Three.

Back to the Horn of Africa!

King Kifle, unlike many of my kings, actually has pretty good stats, so under his rule Semien is quite powerful.

First up is a quick holy war to subdue the Hafazids.

With that done, I’m out of nearby neighbors who aren’t part of the Issamid Empire, so expansion becomes a bit tricky.  I start putting a lot of money into upgrading my military infrastructure.

My vassals while away the time by fighting one another.

Kifle, tragically, dies fairly young, of natural causes.  (At least no doctors were involved.)  Long live King Tengene!

An opportunity presents itself when the Issamid Empire is divided by civil war!  I have a claim on Akordat, the gray province at the north end of Semien, because it’s de jure part of one of my duchies.  I can declare war on the temporary revolt state without having to fight the Issamid army proper, which is probably busy anyway.  The downside is that if the revolt ends, my war will end inconclusively, but a revolt this big is going to last a while.  So away we go!

No sooner have I started the war then I have “malaise”.  Here we go again.

That … actually seems reasonable.

That does not.

Fine work Hagos.  What’s your next treatment?


I should say not.

Actually, this was not because of his proctological expertise, but because a gang of my vassals decided this would be a good time to demand extra powers, including Hagos.  

At the same time, another Miaphysite rebellion broke out, so that kept me pretty busy.  I quickly hired a mercenary company to put down the rioting Christians, then continue on into Issamid Revolt territory to bring that war to a close.  Meanwhile, my primary army heads over to what used to be Hafazid territory to discipline the ungrateful jerks I gave it to.

As I’m fighting three wars, Tengene still is feeling poorly.

Cancer again, eh?

Ah, the old reliable methods.

Well, at least his diagnosis was right.

This unorthodox cancer treatment somehow worked brilliantly, and Tengene’s illness went into remission for five years.

Finally.  My old hunting companion Ezana gets thrown in prison and has his titles revoked.  Serves him right for demanding representation.

Eventually the Issamid Rebels concede as well, and Akordat swears fealty to me.  Its rulers are all Muslims, so I can revoke their titles and hand them out to loyal Jews without any of my Jewish vassals (which is all of them) caring.

The Issamid civil war is still ongoing and both sides are weak, plus one of their vassals is having his own civil war.  I smell profit, and launch a holy war for Blemmiya, the region immediately north-west of Semien under Issamid control.  Sure enough, my armies roll in and capture most of it without any Issamids coming to dispute the matter.

It’s tricky, because there’s a bunch of rebel factions and they’re all mutually hostile and hostile to me.  I lose a couple of battles but continue to hold territory.  In the meantime, Tengene’s cancer returns, and I go back to Rabbi Taye.

A … apparently it was leg cancer?  I hope.  But this treatment actually works and King Tengene makes a full recovery!

The war drags on.  As long as I control Blemmiya, the contested territory, it swings slowly but surely in my favor.

Irritatingly, a powerful faction wants to change to gavelkind inheritance, where titles are split among the sons.  It’s led, appropriately enough, by Tengene’s only son Eremias.  Currently I’m using seniority inheritance, where the oldest member of the dynasty gets everything.  This has the disadvantage that you can’t groom your successors, but it keeps all the titles together.  I’d like to switch to primogeniture but can’t manage it quite yet.

Fortunately, Eremias has the impetuosity of youth.  He starts a plot to kill Tengene, which I find out about.  This means I can try to throw him in prison — while that fails, and he revolts against me, he does it without any of his faction allies.  Leaving Blemmiya alone for a while, I head out to discipline the boy.

Unfortunately, things start to go wrong.  First, the Issamid civil war ends, which means that the Issamids regain control of part of Blemmiya that was owned by the rebels and reduce my war progress.  Second, someone is still trying to kill me, probably Eremias.  

He fails the first time, but succeeds the second.  Alas, poor king Tengene.

Come on, Tengene was unfaithful like … one time!  Two or three at most.  Anyway, long live King Fethee!  “Trusting and complacent”, huh?

Complacent he might be, but Fethee gets things done.  He gathers the armies and gets the better of the Issamids, finishing the war for Blemmiya.

Staying well clear of yet another giant revolt army heading for the Caliph, Fethee turns the armies around and heads for the rebellious Eremias in Bayda.

Aaaaand then splits the army again to deal with a Sunni revolt.  Fortunately by this point the rebels are mostly spent, and it’s just a matter of besieging their castles.

Finally Semien is reunited!  However, King Fethee kind of sucks, especially at war, and all his vassals hate him.  I put further plans against the Issamids on hold to try to pacify my country.

This goes poorly.  What do they think this is, a democracy?

However!  As I’m crushing this latest rebellion, the event I’ve been waiting for finally arrives — the Issamids collapse entirely.

What used to be a unified Arabian Empire is now a mess of tiny states, which should help my expansion prospects considerably.

The Pope decides to take advantage of this new geopolitical climate with a crusade against … the Slavs?

Another civil war won, another set of vassals in jail.  The somewhat-incompetent King Fethee turns his sights northward…

Current Year: 940 AD.  Current Status: Avaricious.



Content, Crusader Kings Series 1, Excluded, Games

The Promised Land RELOADED #3

Part One and Part Two.

I’m going to have to start doing these in a little less detail — so much crazy stuff happens in this game I’d be here all night!

When we last left our heroes, my daughter Habesha had cancer.  It turns out she’s also possessed!  And an awesome spymaster!  (And shrewd and deceitful.)  I kind of want to know more about this character.

I’m still part of the Kingdom of Abyssinia, though by dint of falsifying claims on other nobles in the kingdom and then taking their land, I’m rapidly becoming the biggest landholder after the king.

That’s me in light brown, the king in dark brown, and Duke Wededem in green.  I can’t declare war on the king without fighting all the other nobles at once, so I concentrate on trying to get land of Wededem.

In the meantime, the king takes Berbera, extending Abyssinian rule all the way to the Horn of Africa.

Then, dickishly, the king decides he likes Gondar and revokes my title to it!  I have to agree or go to war, and going to war doesn’t seem on quite yet.  But I’ll get it back if it takes a century or two…

My doctors continue their reign of terror.

Seriously, guys?

The king’s demands for my lands have put me on notice.  It’s time for Semien to be free once again!  I launch a war of independence and win, with heavy mercenary support.  Unfortunately I’m now surrounded by hostile Abyssinia.  This is going to take some work.

I am beginning to doubt the wisdom of these rabbis.  

The newly crowned King Mekonnen died soon afterward, presumably of sheer exhaustion.  Long live King Bekele!


Right then.  Long live King Yacob!  

(Seriously, long live, we need one of these guys to last more than a year.)

Because the Abyssinians are Miaphysite Christians, I can declare Holy Wars against them and don’t need, like, a reason.  This has the downside of having other nearby co-religionists come to their defense, but we’re surrounded by Muslims anyway.  So after some long and extremely expensive warring I manage to grab the Duchy of Afar, which takes the wind out of Abyssinia’s sails.

My favorite part of this war: early on, I captured the Abyssinian king’s entire family, including seven or eight children.  As the war dragged out and my treasury ran low, I ransomed the kids back to him, one by one, to get enough money to keep paying my mercenaries.  What a great dad!

A long, tense, and hard-to-follow sequence of wars commences.  If this were a history book, this is the part where you’d start to lose the thread.  I fend off a war of revenge from Abyssinia, but one of the Sultanates that makes up part of the massive Abassid Empire comes and starts nibbling at my northern border.  To forestall this, I assassinate the sultan, and then his son, leaving a five year old in charge.  He swears eternal revenge which definitely won’t be an issue later.

King Yacob: a deep thinker.

As the Semien/Abyssinian Wars continue, interrupted by brief truces which usually end in assassinations, I get the upper hand, and also promote Semien into an official kingdom!  It is, finally, good to be the king.

Glancing at the Abbasids at one point, I discover they are at war with somebody named “Maharaja Dundaka III the Mutilator of Varman”, which may be the best name ever.

Yacob and his wife continue their passion, even though he’s now in his 70s.  Note the tooltip — 10% chance of death.  Also, why does it give you prestige?  Is the whole castle watching?

Somewhere in here, the boy-sultan grew up and launched a war of revenge specifically against Yacob, not even for territory.  He ended up spending some time in the dungeon until I could raise the money for a ransom.

Yacob lived to a ripe old age and much success.  Perhaps I’ve broken my streak!  Long live King Kafa!

Turns out Kafa was already comatose in bed when he took the throne.  Long live King Gebereal!

The Tujibid Sultan, all grown up, comes at me again, but this time I fend him off and end up with a sultan’s ransom.  I continue to pick away at Abyssinia, though they still hold Gondar. 

For a guy called “the Hideous” he looks okay to me.  Although he is also possessed, which apparently runs in the family.

Finally, after not quite a century, Gondar returns to its rightful owners.

Soon afterward, Semien’s victory is complete!  Abyssinia is expelled from Africa.

The bad news is that the Abbasids, while they have become the Issamids, are still far too gigantic to challenge.  This is going to present a problem.

The new king, Loua (who is only like 45 at this point) decides he’s had enough of this and would prefer to live forever.

“Just ask around, guys!  I’m sure someone knows how to live forever.”

Apparently living forever is very expensive.  I like to imagine these guys are out partying it up with the money.

Sadly, Loua did not secure life eternal.

However, his reign is long and successful!  The Abyssinians are wiped out, and the Hafizids are soon to follow.  The Pope has called for the Crusades, which I’m hoping will weaken the Issamids a bit, although the First Crusade apparently went to Saxony.  Step One of the master plan, secure the Horn of Africa, is complete.  But fighting our way toward Jerusalem is not going to be easy…

Current Year: 915 AD.  Current Status: Apprehensive.

Content, Crusader Kings Series 1, Excluded, Games

The Promised Land RELOADED

This is my attempt at a text-and-images Let’s Play, of sorts, documenting one of my adventures in Crusader Kings II.  I may adjust the format as we go along, let me know if you have any suggestions.  Clicking images should embiggen.

A few caveats!  I am not a super-expert CKII player, nor do I really care to be — I tend to be in it more for the story than anything else.  So I may behave sub-optimally from time to time!  (I may also explain more than needed, since my assumption is that not everyone reading this plays.)  Also, CKII is a historical game, so we’ll be dealing with some real-world stuff here — countries, religions, even a few people.  Generally I’ll try to be sensitive but if it bothers you when I declare holy war against Orthodox Christianity on behalf of the pope, or whatever, this is probably not the best thing to be reading.

CKII is a game with no real defined end goal.  You pick a ruler and a starting time, and you play as successive rulers of that dynasty, until you die out or the game ends in 1453.  I usually try to pick something to work toward to make things more interesting.  I’ve done a bunch of fun stuff, but one previous playthrough was kind of a bust — I wanted to play as a Jewish ruler, with the goal of re-establishing Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple, only to have a game bug screw up the events that were supposed to make that happen at the last minute.  I have now gotten over my annoyance enough to try again!  (This time I’m not using Ironman mode since a) I don’t care about achievements and b) this way I can reload or use the console if I get blocked by bugs again.)

So!  Can we get back to the promised land … AGAIN?  Let’s find out.


The first problem is that there, uh, aren’t that many Jewish rulers.  We’re going to start at the earliest possible date, 769 AD, because we need a LOT of time to get this project done.  There are definitely easier ways (starting with the Kazakhs for example) but this one seemed fun.  So we will start as the Duke of Semien, a tiny little Jewish state in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  (One of the teeny ones to the right of Kassala.)

Yeah, see?  Middle of nowhere!

The other problem is that being a Jew is not exactly a popular choice in 769.  They’re the tiny little blue patch.

Tiiiiiny little blue patch.  This poses a couple of problems.  First of all, everybody around us is going to have an attitude penalty (in CKII, attitudes are numerical values from -100 to 100, and Infidel is -20) and basically not like us.  Second, it’s going to be hard to find people to marry.  Third, and most importantly, anybody who isn’t Jewish, which is everybody, can declare a holy war and come and take our land.  More on that in a minute.

Here is our King (actually Duke, but he calls himself a King) Phineas Gideon.  He is 46 years old with a son who has apparently formed ex nihilo, since he’s never been married.  His stats are pretty crap, to be honest, but we’re going to have to put up with a lot of that since we won’t have much choice in terms of wives, mentors, etc.

Here’s the Prince, Gideon Gideon.  He’s 14 and a bit better, stat-wise, except in terms of Stewardship, which is of course the one that we want the most.

Our initial goal is going to be to accumulate a lot of gold, so that we can use mercenaries to punch above our weight and take over some neighbors.  So we set Phineas Gideon to studying the mysterious ways of commerce.

Gideon Gideon will be tutored by Tessema, a random courtier who happens to be awesome at Stewardship.  We’d really really like it if he learns the Midas Touched trait from him.

Phineas needs to get married, because one son is never enough.  There is exactly one woman in the entire world willing to marry him, so I guess Senalat will have to do.  Fortunately she happens to be an awesome diplomat at age 16, which may come in handy.

Our council mostly isn’t bad, except for our Steward, who completely sucks at his job.  Fortunately, we can just replace him with Tessema.  He won’t like that but he’s not powerful enough to do anything about it.

On the to-do list, eventually: change away from Gavelkind inheritance, which will be problematic once our realm gets bigger.  Not urgent though.

Military: pretty poor.  Admittedly it’s 769 so everyone sucks, though.  We could use some more castles.

Ultimate goal!  We’re … a long way off from that.  But you gotta have goals.

Last important step before unpausing the game is to swear fealty to the King of Abyssinia.  Seems sort of counterproductive, I know, since ideally we want to be king, right?  But Semien is just not big enough to go it alone, and Abyssinia is our biggest neighbor.  Swearing fealty means that Abyssinia itself probably won’t attack us, plus provides a little protection against other people.  On the downside, the King might take our land or execute us, but one thing at a time.

King Oda Gosh accepts our request!  We are now part of the not-very-mighty Kingdom of Abyssinia, and none too soon.

We assign our councilors to their tasks and get working.  First goal, as I said before, is to build up some gold.  I also sent away for a Court Physician, and found this cynical rabbi named Amare.  (This is my first time playing with Reaper’s Due, so I have no idea about this part!)

Every year we can celebrate Passover!  But it’s expensive so I usually don’t.  Sorry guys.

King Oda Gosh is pretty quick off the block.  Not more than six months have passed before he’s declared a holy war against Berbera, which is off to the right of the screen there.  We’re not actually obligated to help, but it looks like a good prospect, so we’ll go along in hopes of some loot.

I’m in the middle of besieging Berber castles and the peasants are asking for money for their like … dance social?  Sure, why not.

Hmm.  I’m not an expert, but this bodes poorly.

What do you think, Rabbi?  Gout, huh?

You had one job, Amare!

One.  Job.

Predictably, diseased beaver secretions failed to help Duke Phineas, and he died shortly thereafter.  Thankfully, Gideon Gideon is almost 16 (the age of majority) and thus will have only a short regency.  That leaves me in a poor position, though, with only one family member to my name.

On the plus side, Gideon Gideon gained Midas Touched when he reached adulthood!  This will help with his crappy stats.

At this point, though, things are going pretty badly for the new Duke.  Our heir is King Oda Gosh, which means if Gideon dies we lose the game.  Also, the war has taken a decided turn for the worse.  The Shirazids (the green country including Harer, between Abyssinia and Berbera) have declared a holy war for Aksum, the core territory of Abyssinia.  They marched over into Berbera, where Oda and I were laying siege, and crushed both our armies.  So at this point Oda’s capital is under siege by a large Shirazid army, while he runs around desperately trying to recruit more men.  I am standing still lying in wait, but if the Shirazids win the war Abyssinia will be crippled and I’m probably screwed.

Oh, also, on reaching adulthood Duke Gideon Gideon turned out to be gay.  Definitely less than ideal dynasty-wise.

Gideon Gideon decides to console himself with “family”, which in this case means “sexing”.  In spite of his natural inclination, he’s managed to acquire a wife (once again the only woman in the kingdom) and is hard at work trying to acquire some sons.

There’s also a measles epidemic spreading fast.  Hopefully it does some damage to the enemy.

In spite of being gay, Gideon Gideon falls in love with his own wife!  A hopeful sign.

The war is still going very poorly, though.  Aksum is now occupied by the Shirazids, and their army continues to rampage throughout Abyssinia.  Our forces have recovered somewhat but are still waiting in their castles until the odds get a little closer to even.

However!  Fellow Miaphysites from surrounding countries rally to Oda’s side and send some armies over.  We quickly raise our troops and lead them to join the fight.  (Red armies are bad, gray are neutral to us, green are ours.)

As is so often the case, one hard-fought battle completely changes the course of the war.  We quickly liberate the castles and towns in Aksum and pursue the retreating enemy back into their own territory.

Unfortunately the Jews of Semien are not, uh, particularly warlike in their abilities.  We’re going to have to work on that guys.

As we reduce the Shirazid castles, good news!  Gideon’s wife is pregnant.  Maybe the dynasty will continue!

In addition to capturing some castles, we got a visiting Sheikh as well!  This is very good, he will bring a fine ransom.

Seriously, Amare?  Seriously?

Aaaand he’s been joined by the entire peasantry of Semien.  You’d think that being a Jew surrounded by hostile religions was hard or something.  We’ll get our Court Rabbi on setting people straight ASAP. 

Hurrah!  Gideon: The Next Generation.

On the downside, my wife contracted dysentery and died shortly thereafter.  Not one to waste time mourning, the Duke searched for a new wife, but this time there were literally no women in the world willing to marry Duke Gideon Gideon.  Fortunately, for a little cash you can “Present Debutante” which creates a new woman from scratch.  Long live Duchess Semhar!

My prisoner complains of his accommodations, which reminds us that he exists.  Now that the war is over, we ransom him back and pad our treasury.

For being gay, Duke Gideon Gideon keeps falling in love with his wives!  Later he fell in love with her again, and it stacks, meaning he had DOUBLE LOVE.

Then, for a while, things went relatively peacefully.  One of the small countries south of Abyssinia fell apart in civil war, and Oda Gosh grabbed half while the Shirazids grabbed the other half.

Semhar acquired an interest in romantic poetry, which we encouraged because it made her lustful.  Not long after, she gave birth to a daughter.

Oda Gosh, getting bored, declares war on the Shirazids again.  This time, because we’re not simultaneously fighting Berbera and he has some allies, it goes much better.  The AI is not super-good at fighting wars — it prefers to sit around besieging castles, rather than confronting the enemy even with a 2-to-1 advantage.  Not how we’d do it if we were in charge, but at least we get some loot from taking cities!

We win the war and take most of the Shirazid territory.  They won’t be much of an issue from here on out, I think.  Also, between the ransom and the looting, I’ve acquired a reasonable amount of gold, enough to pay some mercenaries for a bit.  So I set my chancellor to forging claims against the Duchy of Gojjam, just south of me, in hopes of getting a quick little war going.

Will it work out?  Who knows!  Tune in next time.  Current Year: 779 AD.  Current status: Still alive.

Content, Movies

Doctor Strange and Origin Stories

A few weeks back on Twitter, I had a small rant about origin stories in superhero movies, specifically how I generally dislike them. The specific target of the rant was the origin stories in movies that have been remade frequently, so that the beats of the origin story become like the Stations of the Cross — nerdy Peter Parker, radioactive spider, Uncle Ben shot, great power = great responsibility, etc. (Someday I want a version where the Waynes make it out alive. I’m sure there’s a comic.) However, today I saw Doctor Strange and thought a little bit more about the origin story thing. Since I have nothing better to so (lies, I am horribly procrastinating) I thought I’d write something down.

SPOILER WARNING for Doctor Strange and some other popular superhero movies everyone has already seen!

So, Doctor Strange is, on the balance, not a very good movie, for a variety of reasons. (As you’ll see, I think a chunk of that can be blamed on the way the origin story is handled, but there are other problems.) The way it unfolds looks like this: we see Kaecilius (I will never learn how to spell that) break into a library and steal a page from a book, and also behead a guy so we know he’s the bad guy. The Ancient One chases him and fails to catch him. Then we cut to Dr. Stephen Strange, establish that he’s a brilliant neurosurgeon and kind of a dick. He has a car accident, in which his hands are badly damaged. He tries to get doctors to fix them, but nobody can. Eventually, he finds a guy who tells him about a magical healer, and he goes to Nepal to find her. It turns out to be the Ancient One, who demonstrates magic for him and eventually agrees to teach him stuff.

Dr. Strange learns a bunch of magic, some karate, and gets some backstory explained and some Chekhov’s Guns set up. Then Kaecilius (I’ve just got it in my copy/paste now) shows up, attacks the Ancient One and her people, and generally wrecks everything. The Ancient One dies, Dr. Strange has to fight the bad guys, and then he resolves the plot with a bizarre trick pulled out of nowhere. (Then there’s a stinger tying it to the Infinity Gauntlet saga because it’s the Marvel universe and of course there is.)

I think two things that seem contradictory at first are in fact both true:
1) The origin story stuff is the best part of the movie.
2) The origin story makes the movie’s structure fail utterly.

The first one is self-evidently true. Origin stories are often the best parts of superhero movies. As was pointed out in the Twitter discussion, they capture the purest part of the superhero fantasy — the time when an ordinary person discovers they have awesome powers and how cool that is. All but the broodingest of superhero movies have a scene where the hero plays a prank, flies around for fun, or generally just revels in the use of his new powers; even Batman typically has a scene or two where he clobbers some muggers and looks like an omnipotent badass, which probably counts as fun if you’re Batman. Doctor Strange is no different — there’s psychedelic journeys, Strange stealing books from the library with portal magic, and playing around with time magic. It’s also the part of the movie where there’s a lot of good humor and character-building moments.

In contrast, the whole second half of the movie, after Kaecilius attacks, is awkward and rushed. Literally hours pass in-world between “oh no here they come!” and the potential apocalypse; the only time Strange stops running is to have his stab wounds stitched. There’s a good moment at the death of the Ancient One, but otherwise it’s straight from one set-piece to the next, with very thin connective tissue. There is, essentially, no plot. Kaecilius wants to summon the Dark God, which means destroying three sanctuaries. So he attacks the sanctuaries, and keeps attacking them until he succeeds, but then Strange undoes his success. Roll credits!

Why is it awkward? Because the plot has no room to breathe. The action set-pieces, which are admittedly pretty spectacular, take up a lot of running time, and there’s only enough left over to tell the very barest bones of the story. The audience has no investment in stopping Kaecilius other than that he’s going to destroy the world — Strange doesn’t know him, and the other characters who have never demonstrate a personal connection. At one point, Kaecilius tells strange that the Dark God isn’t so bad, and he really just makes everyone live forever, and Strange actually has no way to refute this, because he has no idea what’s going on. All he ends up going on is that Kaecilius and his friends murder people, and the Ancient One kinda-sorta tries not to. We as the audience have the same problem!

The squished structure exists, of course, because the origin story takes up half the runtime. Like all the worst origin-story offenders, it’s essentially two movies running back to back. First there’s the story of a guy who become a superhero sorcerer, and then there’s a story about that sorcerer having to fight some unrelated bad guy. A few bits and pieces carry over, but they’re mostly unconnected. (There’s what I can only describe as a half-hearted swipe at a love interest.) This is always going to be a problem for a movie with this structure.

This is more or less where I was at re: origin stories before. But the failings of this movie got me thinking about the examples of origin stories that do work, because the problem, as I said, is that the origin story is often the best part of the movie. So what are your options?

First, you can leave out the origin story. This feels controversial, which is weird. Most movies don’t have long sequences at the beginning explaining the origins of the characters! This is why we have exposition and flashbacks, which (if used deftly) can get the job done without wasting time. The first Blade movie is a good example. The movie starts with Blade already being a badass vampire-murderer. We get a little flashback about how he got there, but that’s it! The Ed Norton Hulk explains everything we need to know about how Hulk came to be in the opening credits with a wordless animation. This is particularly useful for heroes like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, etc., where everyone in the entire universe already knows the origin story.

Second, you can make the origin story the entire movie. This is actually a surprisingly natural choice, since the origin story typically has an arc all its own — from skepticism to excitement to a sobering realization of danger, from weakness to strength, from fear to courage, etc. All you really need to do is make the completion of the origin story (the point where the hero steps out on his own) basically the end of the movie, so that the objective of the movie is the completion of the origin story. This is so straightforward many non-superhero movies do it as a matter of course; think The Karate Kid and similar. The Matrix arguably follows roughly this trajectory too.

Why don’t the superhero movies do this? The main reason, I think, is lack of patience and fear of audience disappointment. In this format, the first movie doesn’t have the hero saving the universe or generally running around under his own steam; the end of the movie is “graduation”. In Doctor Strange it would mean that the story of Strange learning awesome powers and becoming a wizard would be the whole movie. Perhaps he clashes with the other students, learns to befriend them except for the villainous one who cheats, and ultimately is tripped of the Ancient One’s protection at a critical moment and has to step up. (If this formula sounds familiar, it’s basically Harry Potter.) But … then we wouldn’t have the clash with Kaecilius and Dormamu?

I’m a little baffled in this case, actually, because who cares about Dormamu? Comic book fans, but they’re not going to skip the movie anyway. But in some better-known cases it makes sense — if you’re rebooting Spiderman, you can’t not have the Green Goblin, or Superman without Lex Luthor. I think it’s an adaptational problem — the movies are handicapped, in some ways, by their source material. They have to do the origin story, which comes from one text, but also the most popular villain, which comes from a different text. If you don’t, then you risk not even getting a second movie!

Sometimes, therefore, they attempt the third solution, which is to tie the origin story and the rest of the plot together. You still do them both, but have enough common elements that they feel like a single movie instead of two separate ones. This is the most common thing superhero movies actually attempt, because it means they can have their origin story cake and eat it too, but it’s the hardest to do from a writing perspective. As noted above, the origin and whatever popular villain/threat you’re using generally come from very different parts of the source material, and attempting to just mash them together can go really wrong. At worst, it ends up relying on staggering coincidences. (The guy who hates the hero in his ordinary identity just happens to get superpowers and come back for revenge! Note that in Dr. Strange, Strange arrives at the Ancient One’s school, by chance, just a few weeks before Kaecilius attacks and destroys it, after months of recovery and medical work. Good thing he didn’t wait longer!)

There’s a few successful examples here though. Batman Begins works, probably because it takes a ton of liberties with the source material to hammer the origin story and rest of the plot into a single piece. (Arguably it belongs in the former category!) It’s worth noting that they took a huge risk not including the Joker in Batman’s first outing, since he’s the only villain most of the non-comic-book-fan audience would have heard of. (It paid off, obviously, since they got to essentially give the Joker his own movie.) The first Iron Man movie also more or less makes this work, with the whole movie being a single arc of Tony’s progression from self-centered jerk to hero. But it’s also possible to try this and fail horriblyMan of Steel comes to mind, and some of the Spiderman outings.

So that’s my more nuanced take on origin stories: they’re fun, but you really, really can’t take the “origin story for an hour, then cut to a different story for an hour!” approach and expect the resulting movie to hang together. If you can’t lose the origin story, it’s much better to stretch the origin story to the full movie (and risk the audience not staying around for the next part) or blend the origin story with the rest of the plot (and seriously stray from the canon, plus the risk of doing it badly). Doctor Strange just does neither, which is one of several reasons why it’s pretty bad in spite of being pretty and well-acted.


Shadow Campaigns ages

Someone asked how old the characters in Shadow Campaigns are, which I think I can answer without being spoilery! The Thousand Names starts in 1208 YHG, so at that point (plus or minus a few months, I don’t have everyone’s birthdays) we’ve got:

  • Marcus d’Ivoire – 35, b. 1173. He fights in the War of the Princes (1198-1202) as a lieutenant, then returns to the War College for more training to become a captain.
  • Winter Ihernglass – 22, b. 1186. She runs away from the Prison in 1205 but takes some time to get to Khandar.
  • Janus bet Vhalnich – Unknown, but probably late twenties.
  • Raesinia Orboan – 19, b. 1189. Her “death” occurs in 1204, so she looks closer to 15-16.
  • Bobby Forester – 17, b. 1191.
  • Feor – Unknown, probably 18-20.
  • Jane Verity – 23, b. 1185.
  • Sothe – Unknown. Definitely thirties, probably older than Marcus.

I’m working from my notes here, so if I contradicted the books they’re probably right and I changed something later.

Hope that helps! If you have further questions drop me an email or Twitter.