Jan 23, 2017

CKII: The time of the heathen

For the day is near, even the day of the LORD is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.
- Ezekiel 30:3

After my failed tribal experiment, I took a bit of a break from Crusader Kings 2. I picked it up again last fall for another game as the Ua Chennselaigh. My goals were to hold the four crowns of the British Isles and become emperor. I managed half of that, finishing the game as the Irish emperor of Mali, with territory from Scotland to Timbuktu. I've come to quite strongly feel that Ireland in 1066 may be the best place to start to get a handle on the game. There's also several promising directions for expansion: you can start working away on England, look north to Norway or southeast to Brittany, or - my favorite option - fabricate a claim on Lisbon and get in on the Reconquista. Now that I've tried that a couple of times and taken it as far as forming the empire of Mali, I figured it was high time for something different: the Old Gods.

My father's family, and with it our family name, is originally from Lammi, and my mother is from Forssa, so if there's somewhere I'm from in Crusader Kings 2 terms, it's Häme. So I was delighted to find that in the 867 bookmark, both Häme and Uusimaa are ruled by Chief Mielus of the Hämäläinen dynasty, Hämäläinen basically meaning "of Häme". I'm set! Here we are:

Mielus is a tribal chief, meaning that instead of starting out as a nobleman with a castle, we start as a tribe, which makes for quite a different playing experience. In contrast to my previous game as a tribal ruler, this time my tribe is pagan. Like I've said before, I don't like that they called Finnic paganism "Suomenusko"; the game correctly identifies the area around modern-day Turku as Suomi, with the name only coming to mean a wider area some time after the Middle Ages. Suomenusko is a modern-day neopagan faith that's basically made up, and uses a name that would've been incomprehensible to the people of the time it purports to descend from. I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Helsinki, so unfortunately I feel obliged to lodge my protest.

Having said that, though, as a life-long anti-Christian, I welcome and relish an opportunity to play as a pagan ruler.

Sorry, dude. Paganing ain't easy. Later on, prisoners will be very handy for this! They can only blame their lieges for not ransoming them. We request very reasonable ransoms!

Although pagan realms can be really powerful in the early game, they suffer from two main disadvantages. First of all, feudal realms will eventually catch up with and surpass them as the game goes on. Secondly and relatedly, pagans have a hard time staying pagan: not only will missionaries from organized religions convert them, but those same religions will also conquer them in holy wars. The way to deal with the first problem is to feudalize yourself. This, however, requires adherence to an organized religion. One option is to convert; in a couple of my Irish games, I've seen a feudal, Catholic Finland or Sápmi succesfully feudalize. But we're not interested in these weak southern fairytales. The other option is to reform your pagan faith into an organized religion, and take on the Abrahamic religions. That's more like it! So my goals for this game are to reform Suomenusko, become a feudal ruler and survive until 1453.

As a tribal chief, many of the game mechanics revolve around Prestige: you can invest it to recruit tribal armies, and several council missions are tied to it. Here, for example, I've sent my steward to Build Legend in Uusimaa, which increases my prestige and has a chance of attracting warriors to our banner. These event troops are basically a freebie you can use for war or raiding. As it happens, we've got a use for them. In order to reform Suomenusko, we have to either control three of its holy sites and have a moral authority of 50%, or control all five holy sites. With two of them as far away as Ryazan and Perm, the latter seems unlikely, but in either case, we'll need to start somewhere. The nearest holy site just happens to be next door, in Käkisalmi province, so:

That, though, was pretty much the summit of our expansion under Mielus, because he spent the rest of his career as chief fighting off Sigurðr Snake-in-the-Eye. For whatever reason that Norse bastard had it in for us, conquering the province of Suomi and launching several invasions of my realm. We eventually managed to beat him off, but there was precious little time for anything else. Well, except a little raiding.

Raiding is great fun, though. You send your guys over to despoil someone else's province and gather loot, and if you have a large enough army, you can even besiege and sack their holdings. Obviously as time goes by, feudal holdings improve their defenses and their armies get bigger, making your job that much harder, but in the early game, especially if you get lucky by raiding a province whose owner is fighting a war somewhere else, you can do some serious damage. Our guys burnt Boulogne and its environs down properly a couple of times, netting plenty of loot and prestige for me.

With that money and prestige, and Sigurðr out of our hair, I was able to conquer both Pohjanmaa and Suomi and form the high chiefdom of Satakunta. We also added Finnish Lapland because why not. My plan is to keep Satakunta as my demesne and land members of my dynasty in the rest of Finland until I can form the kingdom. At the moment, a strong, unified Estonia that also holds Savo is a considerable obstacle to this.

Now that our realm is getting larger, we run into another tribal pagan problem: keeping it in one piece. This is because the only succession law available to tribal rulers is gavelkind. Slightly oddly named after a type of landholding right from Kent, what it means is Salic partible inheritance, where a ruler's lands are divided up among their heirs on death. This can be a huge problem: if you hold multiple duchies or kingdoms, they can get split up into independent realms and the whole thing goes the way of the Carolingians.

In our case, we got away relatively easily, only losing Kemi, which ended up becoming a part of the newly formed kingdom of Ruthenia. To the south, however, gavelkind broke up Estonia, and we capitalized on the confusion. With enough provinces in de jure Finland under our control, in the year 940 the first Hämäläinen king was crowned!

Meanwhile, the infidels invented holy wars. We'd better get cracking on that reformation.

In order to reform Suomenusko, we need to control at least three holy sites. Käkisalmi was our first conquest, and another holy site is at Saaremaa, which we annexed with the rest of Estonia. Perm and Ryazan are far away, so the easiest third site to grab is Novgorod. And, as luck or Ukko would have it, the high chiefdom of Novgorod greatly obliged us by breaking up, so we started our inroads into Russia.

With three holy sites in our hands and a bunch of succesful county conquests under our belt, it was time to achieve the first main objective of this campaign.

This gets us all kinds of neat stuff, like our own holy order!

Not to mention holy wars.

Of course, some things haven't changed.

So now I've reformed my religion, and built a stone hillfort in Uusimaa with the money I made raiding; now a momentous decision awaits...

I have absolutely no idea if I'm ready for this, or if clicking that button means the downfall of the Hämäläinen dynasty. We'll find out - next time.

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