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Freodom: CKII: The Mercian Supremacy

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I did a sort of stress-relieving project over the new year where I finished Bethesda games I hadn't gotten around to finishing, i.e. Skyrim, Fallout 4 and - finally! - Morrowind. With that out of the way, my next gaming project had to be another shot at Crusader Kings 2. With so many new DLCs and patches out, I figured I needed to get reacquainted with how it all works, especially now that Monks and Mystics promises to make playing in Catholic western Europe a little more interesting. I'm hoping I get the opportunity to be a crypto-Cathar or a demon worshipper! As a faithful Tolkien fan, I'll be playing as Mercia from the 769 start, looking to recreate the Mercian Supremacy and make it last. In Tolkien's Middle-earth, Rohan (the Mark!) is basically Mercia with more horses. In Crusader Kings 2, Mercia in 769 is actually a fairly auspicious start; you have a decent realm and a strong king in Offa , and many of the neighboring counties and petty kingdoms start as your tributaries . The biggest problem is that the Iceling dynasty is absolutely tiny: it's just Offa and his family. So expanding the dynasty is very much a priority. Other early game goals are founding the kingdom of Mercia and instituting primogeniture. Later on, I plan to take a shot at the achievement for holding the kingdoms of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, which I hope to unify into the Mercian empire. Also, with the Conclave DLC in play, I'll be trying to advance the status of women in Mercia. ** A historical figure, the real Offa was the greatest king of Mercia, perhaps best known for Offa's Dyke , which you sadly can't replicate in the game. Here, he was King Offa the Wise (769-810) . He was my starting character, and managed a longer reign than the real Offa. As you can see, he had two sons and eight daughters, and lived to the considerable age of eighty. Offa expanded the realm to Lindsay and usurped the duchies of York and Hwicce, and used the tribute money to lay down an excellent foundation for the Mercian economy. His daughters made advantageous marriages, some in France and Byzantium, some matrilineally to bring great warriors to Mercia. He earned his sobriquet from his dedication to learning, as I worked to collect enough cultural technology points to unlock primogeniture succession. Realistically, I wasn't looking to achieve anything spectacular in Offa's reign. The Mercian start, with nearly all of the neighboring kingdoms starting as tributaries, is pretty darn good, and my goal was to build up the realm for the future and weather the storm: We caught a huge break early in Offa's reign, when the petty kingdom of Essex surprisingly decided to become Waldensians . As a good Catholic, Offa obviously wasted no time before launching a holy war against the despicable heretics, adding the duchy of Essex to his titles and Essex and Middlesex to the royal demesne. Soon enough, the Vikings showed up. The small raiding parties are only a nuisance, but then the Danes launched a prepared invasion against us. There were a lot of vikings, but luckily for us, not only could we call all of our tributaries into the war, but most other realms in the British Isles joined us as well. Maybe all of them don't like Mercia, but apparently they liked the prospect of a kingdom of Danish pagan vikings in their midst even less. We threw the unbelievers back into the North Sea. ** The historical Offa's first son, Ecgfrith , only ruled for five months before passing away. In the game, Offa was succeded by his second son, King Eadsige I the Chaste (810-832) , who reigned for over twenty years and added the Isle of Man to the realm. Eadsige inherited his father's passion for learning, to such an extent that when he became king, he was a member of the Hermetic Society . This was my first experience with the secret societies introduced in Monks and Mystics , and to be honest, it was a bit underwhelming. As a Hermetic, you get occasional prompts to do a mission, which usually consists of exchanging money for secret knowledge points that advance you in the society. I found the events pretty repetitive and boring; apparently it's possible to get some useful artifacts as a hermeticist, but I never saw any of them. ** Eadsige's son, King Eadsige II (832-842) was destined for a short reign, but there was one exploit I'm particularly proud of, and it took place on the Isle of Man. I wanted to set up a vassal merchant republic fairly early, so they'd have plenty of time to expand and make me lots of money. As a coastal one-county duchy, the Isle of Man is a great place for a vassal republic. The problem was, I was holding the castle, when creating a republic requires handing the county title to the mayor holding the city. He was just some random lowborn dude, and I didn't want the glorious Manx Hansa to be run by House Random. But I can't just revoke his title for no reason, since that would constitute tyranny and make all my vassals hate me. What to do? What I did was have my king pick the Intrigue focus and start spying on the hapless mayor. It soon became apparent that there was absolutely nothing to find, but of course I didn't let that stop me. In a surprisingly short amount of time (i.e. luckily), we managed to have him framed for treason, which meant I could arrest him and revoke his title with no protests. And now House Iceling runs a merchant republic on the Isle of Man. Sorry, Mayor Random. ** King Eadsige II died in suspicious circumstances only ten years into his reign, when his heir Éomer was less than a year old. After a fifteen-year regency, during which two civil wars broke out (which I barely won), King Éomer the Strange (842-909) took the throne. That's not a Tolkien reference, by the way; rather, Tolkien was making a Mercia reference: Eomer was supposedly the father of the Icel after whom the dynasty is named. I did, however, at this point decide to start taking some liberties with the names of my character's children, especially since Éomer, like his great-grandfather, had so many of them. They were lucky children, too, because Éomer was spectacularly succesful at expanding the realm, with the very competent help of his Irish chancellor, Cronan, a master at forging claims. Éomer seized Wessex and handed it to his son Wulfhere; we made inroads into Wales by conquering the duchy of Powys and Perfeddwlad, the latter going to Éomer's son Grimbold. We were even able to secure a foothold in Ireland by capturing Dublin, which went to Grimbold's twin brother Helm. Cronan was rewarded for his efforts by a matrilineal marriage into my dynasty, and after we subjugated Kent, his son Sæxbald was made Earl of Surrey. Other children made succesful marriages abroad, none more so than Accolon, who married the Queen of Italy. She passed away fairly soon afterwards, but not before they produced several Iceling children; she was succeeded to the throne by Éomer, the first Iceling king of Italy. On the queen's death, Accolon returned to Mercia to head the merchant republic of Man and serve as his father's spymaster. Annexing Wessex brought enough English land under our rule for Éomer to crown himself King of England. To my great surprise, our northern neighbors agreed to swear fealty to him: not just our old rivals, the kings of Northumbria, but lords all the way north to Teviotdale. This gave us a foothold in Scotland, and with the Pictish kingdom wracked by a civil war and fighting off viking invaders, we grabbed Lothian and had to reach out to the next generation, appointing one of Éomer's grandsons the Duke of Lothian. Éomer also continued his predecessors' work on improving the demesne, with excellent results. Since I have the Reaper's Due DLC, our demesne provinces were able to keep accumulating prosperity even as we fought wars on our borders, and we were getting some pretty decent taxes from our merchant republic. Éomer built a new castle in Leicester, founded a city in Northampton, and even managed to trigger the event for adding a new holding slot in Leicester. Also, Éomer advanced the status of women in Mercia from Traditional to Marginal. The one cloud on this excellently succesful horizon was the vikings. On the continent, Charlemagne's legacy had collapsed into something like half a dozen kingdoms, and at some point (I wasn't really paying attention), the vikings had conquered Germamy. I only really noticed this when they conquered a couple of independent provinces in England with worryingly large armies. Luckily, those provinces later rebelled and threw off the heathen yoke, but the prospect of an invasion from Germany became alarmingly real. However, this also meant that Germanic pagans were holding Cologne, one of the holy sites of Catholicism, in the year 900. Therefore: Crusades are a wonderful thing: not only do you have a chance to secure a kingdom title, but every character who commands troops in the de jure kingdom that is the crusade's target gets the Crusader trait, which gives +15 opinion with anyone else who also has it. Therefore, a Crusade is a great opportunity to make your realm run smoother: go yourself, bring your heir and try to rotate every powerful vassal in, especially if they're young, so that everybody has the Crusader trait. It's amazingly useful if a young Crusader heir succeeds. Seeing as how Éomer was already going on sixty and had gone mad from studying the stars - hence the sobriquet - I was determined to make the most of this opportunity. Éomer, his heir and even his heir's heir, and all his dukes, came away Crusaders. Even though the Mercian army was the one to capture Cologne, the kingdom of Germany went to the Queen of Burgundy, Swanahild the Daughter of Satan. I question this decision! But at least the immediate pagan threat was gone. King Éomer died at the age of 67, having been king for basically his entire life. He left a much larger realm than he inherited. ** Unfortunately, his son, King Mordred the Lawgiver (909-932) , would find that not even crusader traits help much if your dukes are hell-bent on being complete assholes. Mordred earned his nickname by having a witch burned, but his vassals weren't too keen on having laws given to them. I lost a civil war to increase council power, which I can live with but is annoying. Some Crusader solidarity! Before the first civil war, Mordred had conquered Clydesdale and Kildare, taking us one step closer to the crowns of Scotland and Ireland, and the annexation of Cornwall let him crown himself King of Wales. After the civil war, I forswore expansion and gathered a war chest for when the bastards tried again, and when they did, our mercenaries crushed them. The rebel Duke of Kent died in my dungeon before I could even decide what to do with him. Eventually the dukes calmed down, and with Mordred still sitting on a sufficient war chest to kick their ass if they act up, we could resume building the empire. I can't fucking wait to be emperor and delegate all this squabbling to my vassal kings. Here's what the British Isles looked like when Mordred passed away: Scotland is still in chaos. One of my vassals is trying to seize Carrick from the King of Scotland, and if he succeeds, we're a stone's throw away from usurping the Scottish crown. Ireland is also within reach; we'll start working on a Mercian Ulster. This means I also need to start saving money, because founding a custom empire costs 1000 gold. If I get my hands on the four crowns, I could just form the empire of Britannia, but where's the fun in that? So far, the game has gone very well! The civil wars in Mordred's reign have been the lowest point, but he recovered. I'm particularly pleased that we've managed to build a fairly stable realm based on primogeniture, while the Karling legacy on the continent keeps falling apart again and again. ** Back what seems an eternity ago, when Mordred came of age, it transpired he'd fathered a bastard with a maid or something. His father, King Éomer, packed him off to be Baron of Southwell, and made him legitimize the kid. That child grew up to be King Genobaud (932-932) . Also, a satanist. I was somewhat startled after his succession when I got a prompt that said he was alarmed that a fellow devil worshipper was caught! It was the first I heard of this. Now that I found my side chosen for me, I decided to roll with it and do a satanic ritual to get a demon to possess the Duke of Wessex. It worked, too! Whether coincidentally or not, Genobaud passed away soon afterwards, having reigned for barely a year. But I did say I hope I get to play as a devil-worshipper, and so I did. ** Genobaud was succeeded by his possessed son, King Gedalbert the Cruel (932-971) , who came to the throne as a minor. What I can only presume were his late father's activities resulted in some interesting childhood experiences. After young Gedalbert acquired a character modifier called Voice of Satan, I have to admit I wasn't all that surprised when his vassals decided to rebel. They were handily defeated with the aid of Mordred's war chest, but if I'm honest, I'm not sure how well my dukes are going to acclimatize to being ruled by a demon-possessed king. Because stuff like this keeps happening: To top it all off, shortly after his marriage, Gedalbert discovered he's gay. I'll admit: at that point, things didn't look great. However, the realm was in decent shape, we had a pretty good income, and an opportunity came along: presumably since the previous crusade went so well, the pope called a new one for Jerusalem. Obviously as a gay demon-possessed king, I participated. It went surprisingly well! So well, in fact, that we won, making catholicism 2-0 on crusades, and demon king Gedalbert became King of Jerusalem, Voice of Satan and all. Since literally every single holding in the Kingdom of Jerusalem was now mine, the dynasty-building work done by Gedalbert's predecessors came in damn handy as I scoured the realm for Iceling men to give out the counties and duchies to. I barely found enough to be able to leave our newest kingdom to its own devices for a while. At this point, I had no idea what the life expectancy of the Kingdom of Jerusalem would be, and briefly considered giving it away to a relative, but if I could get at least some tax money out of it to finance my wars in Britain, I figured I was winning. So I stayed King of Jerusalem. Speaking of the British Isles, Gedalbert's chancellor brought off a real coup when he forged a claim to the duchy of Ulster. A short war later, I was able to create the Kingdom of Ireland. Now only Scotland remained, and Scotland was a mess. Several families had claims on the crown and kept fighting for it; at one point there was a Scandinavian invasion, and even the Manx merchant republic grabbed itself a piece of Scotland. I managed to forge some claims and press others, but with the crown itself constantly under contention, we had to wait to usurp it. In the meanwhile, a miracle happened. After I picked the Theology focus for Gedalbert, to try to get rid of at least some mortal sins, I got a random event where a priest offered to exorcize my character. I agreed, but unfortunately nothing happened. The second time, though, the exorcism was a success! The Possessed trait and the Voice of Satan were gone, Leviathan stopped whispering from the fish course, and Gedalbert stopped developing new predilections for heresies or mortal sins. Best of all, he got to keep his military advice from Jesus; a staggering +20 Martial. Now that he was demon-free, it was an easier task to get the council to approve an improvement in the status of women. Now we should be able to appoint women who are either landed vassals, relatives of the ruler or nuns to serve as spymaster, chancellor or steward on the council, which broadens the talent pool quite a bit. After all this, there was finally a moment when one of the pretenders to the Scottish crown managed to grab it and be at peace - just long enough for me to usurp their title. And so, on February 13, 971, Gedalbert, King of Mercia, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Jerusalem, crowned himself Emperor of Mercia. That's an even bigger Mercian Supremacy than I was aiming for, so I'll take it! Here's the first Emperor of Mercia, in all his post-demonic glory. You'll notice that despite declaring himself gay, Gedalbert was strongly motivated to continue the dynasty, fathering ten children. Sadly, six of them died, most in childhood and of diseases, but I'm hoping at least someone will survive to inherit the throne. Here's the Mercian Empire on the British Isles, or should that be Mercian Isles? ** So, we went from the duchy of Mercia to an empire dominating the British Isles in just over 200 years. How? Mostly the slow, costly, old-fashioned way: forging and pressing claims. I did once nearly succeed in uniting the Mercian and Scottish crowns by marriage, but the other side broke the betrothal. So mostly it was a case of forging enough claims to flip a duchy, and flipping enough duchies to take a kingdom. For those of you who are new to this, that means spending some quality time with the de jure duchies and kingdoms maps, figuring out the optimal path to your goal. It also means money and capable chancellors. Of the latter, I found several through the character search, as well as my best commanders and other specialists. If you matrilineally marry them to women of your dynasty, they'll hopefully produce some capable children as well; the first Mercian earls of Somerset, father and son, served the realm excellently as stewards, while the dukes of York are descended from one of Offa's Khazar commanders. Also, never neglect your war chest. It is such a relief to have vassal kings to insulate you from the constant squabbles and factions of the dukes. Until you do, you need money on hand: they're only going to rebel when they have more troops than you, and you need mercenaries to make up the difference. Later, the same will be true of the kings. A big reason I've done so well with Mercia is because we had a pretty good income from the beginning with the various tributaries, a lot of which I invested in my demesne. Especially in the earlier starts, you have to invest in the future. ** Now that I've achieved what I set out to do, what's next for the Empire of Mercia? Here's what Europe looks like in 971: Looking at how the Iceling kings of Italy are carving up North Africa, and judging from both a failed jihad against Byzantium and the continuing existence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Muslim world is in some disarray. So, given that we have a pretty strong foothold in the Middle East, there might be some potential there. Then again, I could also try to get in on the Reconquista, if only to stop Acquitaine from grabbing all of Spain. Scandinavia also looks promisingly fragmented... I don't know! We'll see how long Jesus keeps giving Gedalbert military advice, and where that takes us.

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