Oct 24, 2016

CKII: What to buy

To unwind amidst all the PhD stuff and the dystopianly horrible teacher studies, I started playing Crusader Kings II again this fall. I do genuinely consider it to be one of the best video games I've ever played in my life. In the spirit of my previous buying guides, and with the Black Friday Steam sale approaching, here are my thoughts on what expansions to buy if you do get the game.

There are two DLCs that I think are definitely worth buying fairly soon. Sons of Abraham is one of the cheaper expansions, but it provides some really handy mechanics for novice players, especially when playing Christian rulers. You can get rid of annoying courtiers or even unwanted heirs by making them take holy orders: this will disqualify them from succession, and quite often they'll leave to join a militant order like the Templars. Perhaps more importantly for starting players, you also get to borrow money from either Jewish merchants in your realm or a holy order. When you've overreached yourself in a war, your army's been trashed and the enemy is bearing down on your capital, that loan will be the difference between watching yourself lose a siege and hiring a mercenary troop to save your ass. I can personally testify that this will get you out of a number of pickles you'll manage to get yourself into. So I'd definitely buy Sons of Abraham.

Incidentally, Sons of Abraham also allows heresies to supplant their parent religions if they become more widespread. In my previous game, after the Almoravids converted to Catholicism and the Mongols invaded, the two branches of Islam were the Shi'ites and the Yazidis, and Sunni Islam became a heresy!

The other expansion I'd get fairly soon is Way of Life. It lets you pick a focus for your character, like, say, War, Business or even Theology. This replaces the attribute-based ambitions of the base game and lets you react more intelligently to your situation. For example, if you're married but have no heir, the Family and Seduction foci will increase your fertility. The War focus increases your Martial skill and lets you learn leadership traits, the Hunting focus boosts health, and so on. Not only id this strategically useful, but the foci and the event chains that go with them make your characters feel much more fleshed out. As an additional bonus, the Scholarship focus can trigger an event chain that lets you build an observatory and, among other possibilities, get your hands on the Necronomicon and risk going mad... I highly recommend Way of Life, and couldn't imagine going back to playing without it. If you're only going to get one expansion and don't have your heart set on any of the others, I'd make it this one.


Three other older expansions add significant features to gameplay across the board. Legacy of Rome adds depth to playing as the Byzantines, and unlocks retinues for all rulers.

The Old Gods slightly changes revolts to make them a bit more dangerous, and introduces adventurers, who may try to raise troops and attack you. This can lead to some interesting developments, since if you defeat and imprison them, the adventurers will at least sometimes actually become your vassals, and if they don't have any dangerous claims, you can employ them. In my last game starting from Dublin, a Norse adventurer attacked me as I was fighting the King of Norway for control of Glamorgan. I defeated them both, but since the Norse fellow had a better martial score than most of my commanders, I gave him a job. After succesfully commanding a flank of my army against the infidel, he became the count of Alcácer do Sal in Irish Portugal.

More significantly, the Old Gods unlocks an earlier start date in 867 AD, and lets you play as a pagan ruler. I'm mildly annoyed that Finnish paganism is called Suomenusko, which is a modern-day pseudo-nationalist neopagan "revival" whose very name would have been completely nonsensical to the vast majority of medieval Finno-Ugric people, but in general, I do very much approve of the new pagan religions. I'm currently playing as the Hämäläinen dynasty from the 867 bookmark, and it's been tremendously good fun.

Charlemagne gives you an even earlier starting date in 769 AD, some more narrative events, especially involving historically important characters, and several new administrative options. Perhaps most notably, you now get to create your own titular kingdoms and even empires! This last bit will come in very handy indeed to larger realms, since emperors can have kings as vassals, drastically cutting down on the number of direct vassals you need to have. Conversely, I think beginning players will do just fine without it.


The latest two expansions are also really interesting, but I haven't gotten my hands on them yet. The Reaper's Due only just came out, and I like the idea of advanced disease mechanics! Very medieval. Conclave also looks fun, but I'm waiting for a sale.

In addition to these, there are the expansions that unlock a certain kind of playable character. Sword of Islam lets you play as a Muslim, The Republic allows merchant republics, Rajas of India gives you Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rulers, and Horse Lords unlocks nomads. In addition, Rajas of India gives all characters the ability to convert to their capital province's religion or culture, which can allow some unusual combinations. Horse Lords adds new rules for nomads and the Silk Road, but all of the other major features of these expansions were patched into the base game for free, so the only reason to buy any of these is if you want to play as the kind of ruler they unlock. Of these, I only own Rajas of India, and have yet to try a game in India.

Finally, there are the graphical DLCs, like unit packs, portrait packs and so on. Of these, I haven't really found the unit packs to be worth bothering with, but the portrait packs do make for a more interesting experience since if you play a game through within the same cultural group, I can tell you that you'll get tired of seeing the same faces over and over again! There are also Music DLCs, which I haven't invested in yet, but you can listen to them on Youtube.


So, to sum up, if you're just getting started, I think I'd buy Way of Life, and a portrait pack for the culture I intend to play as. If you still feel like spending some money, Sons of Abraham is also a good choice. In my opinion, that's plenty to get started with. Finally, though, I want to reiterate that this is a very dangerous game. If you like it, you may obsess over it. A lot. Over this past fall, the only thing that's occupied my mind as much as my PhD has been House Hämäläinen. So enjoy yourself, but don't say I didn't warn you!

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