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Let's Explore Ridiculous Alternate Histories with Crusader Kings 3

Welcome to what I expect to be an entirely ridiculous Let’s Play of Crusader Kings 3. This will be a sceenshot LP which is heavier on narrative than on mechanics. By, like, a lot. Consequently, the main body of each post will be comprised of the narrative, while discussion of mechanics will be hidden under spoilers. Let's start off with a brief summary of the premise of this silly game.

Crusader Kings 3 is one of Paradox Interactive’s historical grand strategy games, and like most of Paradox’s other games, they tend more toward breadth than depth; in CK3’s case, you have a vast map of the medieval world from Iceland to India, and can play as any feudal ruler on the map. The trade-off for this is that there isn’t much in the way of goals or plot aside from what you create yourself. The premise of CK3 is pretty straightforward: you play as a feudal ruler starting in either 867 or 1066, and you play as succeeding member’s of that ruler’s dynasty until all your dynasty members are dead or dispossessed, or until you reach the end date of 1453. Or, if you really want, you can turn off the time limit and play for as long as you want. At the end, you score points based on the amount of prestige, piety, and renown you’ve accumulated during the course of the game. Prestige represents how respected you are as a ruler, piety represents how well you’ve served or exemplified your religion, and renown represents how widespread and prolific your dynasty is, regardless of whether they’re actually any good at ruling.

There are a couple of popular ways to play the game. One is as a sort of map-painting exercise where you attempt to take control of as much of the map as possible in the time you’re allotted; another is to treat the game as a sort of politically-themed RPG where you just try to get into your character’s mindset and roleplay theme appropriately. I’m going to be pursuing a third course: I am going to intentionally attempt to create weird alternate histories which hopefully turn out to be a little less bloody and terrible than the real thing.

Fair warning: this is not the thread to read if you want to play the game well. I’m not going to be following efficient strategies; I’m going to be doing whatever I feel like, which will likely involve playing in suboptimal ways. To that end, I’m going to cheat like mad whenever I feel like it, particularly when it comes to expendable resources. Shortly after CK3 first came out, I once told a friend who was also playing it “I just started a new playthrough with an extremely specific divergence point from actual history. Specifically, ‘What if Bjorn Ironside Found a Big Box of Money?’ ” This may give you an idea of the level of rigor I am bringing to the table here. I will be playing in debug mode the entire time, since it makes playing the game much more convenient and the only downside is the occasional appearance of ugly purple debug text which I have trained my brain to ignore. Needless to say, I will not be playing in Ironman mode or obtaining any achievements.

There are a lot of gameplay settings you can futz with before starting the game, but the only one I’ve changed for this one is setting the “Gender Equality” setting to “Equal,” so women are allowed to inherit on the same basis as men and aren’t barred from any occupations; this applies to every culture and religion in the game. In theory, it might be fun to leave the historical settings in place and try to play as an egalitarian empire bringing gender equality to a benighted world, but establishing gender equality within the game itself requires you to have a bunch of innovations which take a long time to research, and also requires your ruler to belong to certain religions or cultures, so it’s more trouble than it’s worth; consequently, everyone gets to be equal all the time when I’m playing this game.

Finally, this thread is my first attempt at putting together a screenshot LP, so I apologize for any technical or formatting issues, and welcome any suggestions for dealing with any such issues.

The stream finally stops buffering and the video stutters into motion. The camera pans across a vast, ornate room before coming to rest on a woman who stands alone in the center of the room. She smiles at the camera, her foot tapping against the floor as her eyes flick to one side, ask though asking a silent question. After a moment, she nods almost imperceptibly and begins to speak.

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”Hej! Välkommen till Gräva. . . Helvetena, något är fel med översättaren. Jag kan inte. . . Aaaggghhh! We spent an absolute fucking fortune on this setup, and now it’s not even. . . wait, it’s working now. I guess the incoherent screaming did the trick. Okay, cut, let’s start over again.”

A man’s voice speaks up from off camera.

“No, no no no, you don’t get to say cut. That’s not your job. Saying cut is my job. Well, it’s just a small part of my job, a very small part, but one that goes a long way toward making all the rest of it worthwhile. So while I’m overseeing this entire vast technical operation and keeping it running, your job is to present information in an authoritative yet pleasant manner, and if the course of events does somehow necessitate somebody yelling cut, you may rest assured that I will do so without hesitation and I will take great satisfaction in it. Unless and until that happens, just keep going, we need to transmit as much as possible while our window is still open.”

“All right, all right. I’m sure we can just fix this up in post, right?”

“Oh yes, absolutely. That’s what ‘streaming’ means, it means ‘we’ll fix this up in post.’”

“I think the translator’s flaking out again. I don’t know if it’s having trouble with technical jargon, or maybe it’s configured for some kind of non-Euro syntax or something, but I could swear I just heard you say that ‘streaming’ means –”

“Ah, right, right, yeah no, I read about that in the patch notes. Apparently there are known issues with the sarcasto-syntactical logic gates, and I didn’t have time download the architecture updates before we detected this window and had to scramble. Good catch, Doctor Brain, I’ll take care of it as soon as this episode is over. Now let’s get the intro filmed while we still have time.”

“Well, we are in a hurry, so I suppose I may as well allow you to technobabble your way out of trouble this one time. Don't make a habit of it, though. All right, take two. Unless I’m not allowed to say that either?”

“You’re not. And please don’t make that face at me.”

“Ahem. Hello, and welcome to Digging Through Quantum Space-Time! I’m Dr. Gémathar Lejon, inviting you to come with me on a journey across the multiverse to learn about the kind of history they don’t teach in schools – because it didn’t happen in your reality! Behind me, you can see that we have meticulously reconstructed the interior of one of the great Jannabid palaces as it would have appeared in its heyday; if that name doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s because you’re one of the nigh-infinite number of people who inhabit a world other than this one. And even if you do recognize the name, statistically you’re still almost certainly guaranteed to be from a different world, just one that happens to have a history kind of similar to the one I’m standing in right now. How will you know for sure? I guess you’ll just have to keep watching to find out!”

The screen fades away to what is apparently pre-recorded footage. Dr. Lejon stands in an arid landscape in front of what appear to be an archaeological dig site. “Today we’re visiting a particularly significant dig site on Uwal; some of you may know it as Mishmahig, Bahrain, or Tylos. This island’s history stretches back far into antiquity, as it was one of the commercial hubs of the great Dilmun civilization four thousand years ago. The site we’re visiting today is just a little more recent than that, though, dating back to the –” the video freezes up again as though the stream is downloading a massive amount of data for some reason, pausing for a full minute before it resumes “- ninth century. At the time, this island was part of the Abbasid Empire, one of the great monotheistic Arabian empires of the era. Uwal was ruled by Sheikh Bahram Jannabid, an adherent of the Isma’ili sect of Shia Islam. Now, when I mention Bahraini Isma'ilis, I bet you're thinking the same thing I'm thinking, right? Qarmatian Revoluuution! Put a pin in that for now, though; the Qarmatians pretty much never really get going until the tenth century, and this is one of those worlds with a divergence point in 876, so we're about a quarter century too early for the Qarmatians. They might show up later, though, you never know! Still, even at this stage, Sheikh Bahram had many problems, including the relatively small size of his land holdings and his reputation as an indulgent wastrel; his biggest problem, however, was that his liege, the Caliph al-Mu’tazz, professed a belief in Sunni Islam and viewed Shia religious beliefs with a mixture of contempt and hostility."

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Bahram is currently a Count, the lowest level of playable ruler in the game. The game refers to him as Sheikh, because a character’s exact title changes based on their religion, culture, and/or the realm they reside in. Bahram and his liege Mu’tazz are both Muslim characters who belong to Arabic-speaking cultures, so he’s a sheikh. Counts (or Sheikhs or whatever other title they happen to have) each rule over one or more counties, which are the basic unit of territory in the game. The other three levels of playable ruler are Duke, King, and Emperor, each of whom typically rules over 3-10 rulers of the next lowest level, rulers who may or may not be entirely happy with this situation. There is one final, lowest level of ruler, the Baron, who controls a single settlement, such as a castle, temple, or city. These settlements are located within counties, and typically contribute tax money, troop levies, or other bonuses to the county, but they’re sufficiently small that their rulers don’t count as players in their own right.

"All right, I'm putting Bahram's stat sheet up on screen now and. . . here you go! We've estimated his vital statistics in each of our five proprietary Rulership Ratings, and as you can see he's not great at Diplomacy or Intrigue, with measly ratings of 4 and 5, respectively. He's considerable better at everything else, and as you can see his Stewardship rating is a healthy 13, putting him ahead of most of the aristocracy! You can also see a map of his domains, covering Uwal and Al-Qatif; if you look to the southwest you'll see Al-Hasa, which at this time was ruled by Bahram's 16 year old son Aarif. That map is waaay zoomed in, though. Why don't we pull it back a bit, Crup? Let's really get a feel for Bahram's place on the grand stage of history."

"You got it, doctor, zooming out now," says the voice from off camera.

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"Can't you zoom it out any further? You've cut off most of Europe and North Africa."

"Sorry, doc. If I zoom out any further Uwal disappears completely."

Dr. Lejos frowns slightly, but it passes in a moment and her Presentation Smile returns to her face. "Right, so here we see a map of the Abbasid Empire and its neighbors! Now, if you look real closely. . . you see the Persian Gulf there? Now look south of Fars and west of Yahmad, squint your eyes a bit, and. . . there's our boy! That's Bahram's tiny little island right there! Isn't it cute? I joke, of course. There's nothing cute about ruling a tiny domain with a correspondingly tiny economy and military in the feudal age. That's the kind of thing that gets you killed."

“Now, as you can see, Bahram was pretty much sitting behind the eight ball in the fedual warlord sweepstakes, if you'll permit me to mix my metaphors, but despite his shortcomings, he was known as a just, modest, and generous ruler, one who made a genuine effort to improve the lives of his people. He documented his own life meticulously, which is always a great way to encourage future scholars to take an interested in your life. He was also a man who, whatever flaws he might have, at least had the good sense to marry well; after the death of his first wife, he remarried the widow Rashida Zegbid, who had developed a reputation as one of the greatest economic geniuses in the Abbasid Empire; indeed, she was even better at making money than he was at spending it.”

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On the left, we see Rashida's stat screen; the most important feature here is her Midas Touched ability. Each character has one education trait that relates to one of the five main stats. Bahram's Indulgent Wastrel trait is the first-level Stewardship trait, giving him a +1 to his base Stewardship stat. These traits have four levels, and Rashida has the best Stewardship trait, Midas touched, which gives her a whopping +8 to her Stewardship; combined with her already impressive 13 base Stewardship, it pushes her Stewardship up to 21, which is going to be very helpful in the early game.

On the right we see the Council screen; a rule’s councilors help them run the realm, and five of the six seats in the council correspond to one of the five major stats that each character has: Diplomacy, Martial, Stewardship, Intrigue, and Learning. A look at the numbers there can confirm that Bahram's starting council is not great. Each of these Councilors can be assigned one of a few tasks, which I’ll cover when they become relevant. The sixth council seat is for your ruler’s spouse; you can either assign them to assist your ruler (in which case they’ll contribute a small portion of each of their stats to boost your ruler’s) or you can assign them to carry out a single duty (which will give your ruler a boost equivalent to about 50% of the spouses score in the corresponding skill.) In this case, I had Bahram marry Rashida because of her high Stewardship skill, so I’m going to have her focus on that for a massive +10 bonus. The game considers a score of 10 to be average and 20 to be excellent, so this is a pretty major boost. Stewardship primarily effects the amount of income you receive from your holdings as well as how quickly and cheaply you can develop them. It also increases the number of territories you can rule directly, but Bahram’s pretty small potatoes at this point, so that’s a non-issue for now.

It’s also worth noting that if your spouse is also a ruler, they don’t give you any stat bonuses; ruling their own territory is a full-time job. There are other benefits that can compensate for this, notably that you’re automatically allied to your spouse if they’re a ruler, and that any children you have with your spouse stand to inherit their territory. It can be a slow but non-violent way to expand your realm. It can be an interesting way to play, but I’m not doing it here because at the beginning of this game there were literally no rulers in the entire Abbasid Empire who had adult female relatives. So forget about forging alliances through marriage; in this game, we’re all about bringing the most skilled people into the family regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

“Bahram – or more accurately, Rashida at Bahram’s request – revolutionized the practice of agriculture on Uwal, establishing several plantations for growing fruits such as dates and figs; this proved to be very lucrative, allowing Bahram to invest the profits in Uwal’s expanding infrastructure.

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Here we see Uwal’s territory screen, about a decade into the game. It’s extremely small, with room for only one holding. Uwal is a level one castle, and it can’t be expanded until Bedouin culture discovers the Battlements innovation which could take a century or two. This screen also shows how much tax and how many levies the castle provides to the owner. Loot is actually a bad thing; that shows how much money a raider will receive if they sack the settlement. The button that says "Castle 1" allows you to upgrade the settlement's level if you meet the requirements; it also shows that the castle has a permanent garrison of 300 soldiers and a fortification level of 3. It's a pretty dinky castle. Beneath the “Castle” button, we can see there’s space for four additional buildings. What you can build depends on the holding type and your level of technological advancement, but here I’ve invested in Desert Agriculture to boost income, Hunting Camps to further increase income while also providing a small bonus to archer troops, and Barracks and Military Camps that increase the troop levies produced by the country, as well as making those troops slightly more effective.

Above the castle information, we see the county information, including the owner, the Control level (crimes and rebellions start to happen if this gets too low, the Development level (which influences the county's income, and also makes research go faster, Popular Opinion (once again, this mostly just causes rebellions if it gets too low) and the dominant culture and faith in the county. In this case, both of those match up with Bahram's own. If the county's faith or culture differs from the rulers, it usually reduces the county's income and the ruler's popularity there. We'll be trying to play in such a way as to maximize religious and cultural tolerance in our territory, though, so hopefully that won't be too much of an issue for us. Spoiler: the game is called Crusader Kings 3, religious violence is going to happen in spite of our best efforts. We can probably curtail the worst of it, though.

"Bahram was also apparently a pious man, having undertaken pilgrimages to both Jerusalem and Mecca in the 870s. According to the surviving records of his court, during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem his party as attacked by bandits.”

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There are a variety of actions you can take from the “decisions” menu, which is where much of the narrative fun is to be found. Pilgrimages are usually available once every five years: you choose one of your religion’s holy sites to visit, you have a couple of adventures going there, and you get a big boost to your piety, assuming you haven’t died along the way.

Smash cut to a re-enactment of a noisy, chaotic battle scene. Armed figures run across the screen, the background obscured by smoke from burning carts. The camera focuses on Bahram as he slowly begins to draw his sword from his scabbard. . . and then lets it slide back into place before diving beneath the nearest unburned cart.

“The sheikh was able to hide from the bandits and escape unharmed – except for the harm to his pride, that is. He wrote that he would never again allow himself to be brought so low, and that he would train day and night to become a warrior worthy of his name.”

“After his return from Jerusalem, he married the three most talented women he could find and brought them to his court to assist with Uwal’s development. And apparently being something of a romantic, he did his best to engender, ahh, a healthy romantic relationship with each of them.”

A montage scene plays in which Bahram flirts with his four wives in a variety of social situations, though it seems as though medieval book clubs are disproportionately represented.

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"Although he did suffer some setbacks along the way."

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The number of spouses a character can have depends on their religion and culture. Muslim characters like Bahram can have up to four wives (though only one gives you a stat boost) and in fact they suffer a prestige penalty if they have too few wives for their station. As a Count, Bahram only needs one, but marrying more wives means bringing more people with useful skills to his court, and increases the number of children he’s likely to have, which in turn both increases the Jannabid dynasty’s renown and makes it less likely that they’ll all get wiped out through bad luck or misfortune. This is kind of important, since at the beginning the dynasty consists entirely of Bahram and his son; this state of affairs won’t last long, though.

Speaking of states of affairs, there are a limited number of ways to interact with other characters. One friendly option is to attempt to sway them, where over time you’ll have opportunities to increase their opinion of you, and possibly participate in events that will make them like you even more. Another, even friendlier option is to attempt to seduce another character. This can cause all kinds of problems, as anyone who’s read those George R. R. Martin books will know. Here, I’ve just had Bahram seduce his own wives whenever possible, because that seems nicer than just having a bunch of purely pragmatic marriages. Seducing characters you’re not married to is a little more dangerous, especially if they’re already married to someone else. In general, I don’t particularly recommend it unless you just like causing trouble for yourself; as I alluded to at the beginning of this paragraph, there are only a handful of personal interactions that characters can directly undertake, and attempting to murder another character is one of them.

Even if you're not being murdered due to your relationship choices, you can still encounter the occasional roadblock along the way to love. In one of the images above, we see that Bahram can't even attempt to seduce Shaykhah Waahida because she's not attracted to men. Like most of the characters in this game she's still fine with a political marriage, but she's never actually going to be attracted to Bahram. This would be a problem if they belonged to a religion that enforced strict monogamy, but they don't, and Waahida has a pretty high learning score that can make her a good court tutor, so it's all fine. In the image below that, we see Habiba trying to seize a private moment with Bahram during a hunting trip; sadly, her plan fails because Bahram is more concerned with the hart they've been chasing and the 75 prestige points he can get for successfully hunting it.

“As delightful as this no doubt was, it left Bahram with little time to practice his combat skills. So, when his party was once again attacked by bandits during the Hajj to Mecca. . .”

Smash cut to another battle scene, almost identical to the first. Bahram sighs heavily, walks directly to the nearest cart and slides under it.

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Usually you have to wait several years between pilgrimages. This is a special case; Muslim characters have a special one-time decision to make the Hajj to Mecca; the events you can experience on the way have a lot of overlap with the usual pilgrimage events, but the rewards are better; here Bahram loses stress, gains a significant 375 points of Piety, and gains the Hajji trait, which boosts his reputation with other Muslims and confers a lifetime increase to the rate at which he gains piety.

You may note that there are a limited number of events that can take place during any given activity. This means that while it's not especially common to face bandit attacks during two separate pilgrimages, it's not precisely a rare event, either.

“Bahram’s reputation for sneakiness wasn’t reserved solely for bandit attacks, however. Despite his reputation for being just and upright, he knew that as part of a persecuted religious minority, he might need to engage in some underhanded tactics to preserve his freedom. Even though many of his fellow vassals in the Abbasid Empire were not naturally sympathetic to him, he set his spies to work ferreting out their secrets for blackmail material, and in cases were such secrets didn’t exist, he was not above having his agents spread rumors and slander about his fellow rumors, simply so he could come to their defense and incur their gratitude. In this way, Bahram was able to build a covert web of power throughout the empire, even as he developed his own lands and recruited more soldiers to his service.

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This is the Lifestyle screen, specifically for Intrigue lifestyles. Each of the five stats has three different lifestyles you can pursue, each of which corresponds to one of the three skill trees here. I have Bahram following the Skulduggery lifestyle, which is somewhat at odds with his personality traits (which favor stewardship and diplomacy) but which gives him some additional options for dealing with enemies. It boosts his Intrigue skill, which is used for carrying out covert activities against other characters and defending against the same, and also makes it more likely he can recruit other characters as agents to help him carry out his schemes. The first level skill, Truth is Relative, is pretty useful: it allows him to carry out the Fabricate Hook scheme against other characters. Hooks represent secrets or obligations that you can use to compel other characters to do what you want; you can obtain them in a variety of ways, such as by learning a character’s secret and blackmailing them, or by releasing someone from your prison in exchange for a future favor. Fabricate Hook allows you to just engineer a situation where the target ends up owing you a favor, regardless of whether they actually have any secrets or not. Digging for Dirt is arguably even better, as it allows our Spymaster to use their Find Secrets councilor ability to just make up secrets about characters they’re investigating, allowing you to put a hook in them even if they don’t have any secrets and haven’t committed any crimes.

Why is this important? There are two types of hooks, weak hooks and strong hooks. Weak ones can be used a single time to make a character more likely to help you with a single action; you can use it to arrange a marriage with a ruler who kind of dislikes you, compel a vassal to give you more money or troops, or convince one of your councilors to vote for a new law they would otherwise oppose. Strong hooks are even better; they can be used multiple times (though there’s a several-year cooldown) and can be used for things weak hooks can’t; most notably, you can use a strong hook to force a character to help you carry out a murder or abduction plot against another character. Even more importantly, if you have a strong hook against a character, they can’t take any aggressive action against you; if you’re afraid of being murdered, having blackmail material against everyone in your court is actually a pretty good defense.

The scene changes. Dr. Lejon is now standing in a museum archive, where a curator is putting a variety of clothes and jewels on display.

"Despite these underhanded tactics, Bahram seems to have been disinclined to start trouble with his fellow vassals. Instead, he appears to have used the security afforded by his extensive spy network to relax and enjoy the finer things in life, spending his time arranging festive hunts and feasts, and spending time with his growing family. He also commissioned some pieces of regalia to demonstrate his power and status, although I apologize if they’re a little less grand than you were expecting."

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"Despite the quality of the craftsmanship, you may notice that they’re made from materials that we would consider to be. . . not especially valuable today. Here we see a scepter and necklace made out of brass and inlaid with jet, which let's be honest is just coal with pretentions; a crown also forged from brass and set with agate which, okay, I'll admit is better than jet, but still; and finally we have some fine robes which may be embroidered with silk, but are still spun from simple, durable wool. While finding skilled craftsman to create such regalia could hardly have been cheap, the lack of extravagance on display here should serve to remind us that despite his accomplishments during his early reign, Bahram was still just a minor noble of limited means, a small cog in the vast machine of the Abbasid Empire."

The recent Royal Court DLC for the game makes several significant additions to the game, including allowing characters to obtain artifacts which carry various benefits. Some artifacts, like these, are procedurally generated. The relatively modest bonuses, and the lackluster descriptions of the items themselves, make it clear that Bahram still has a long way to go before he can be considered a major player in the medieval world.
 
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The view switches back to Dr. Lejon at the archaeological dig, with the run-down structure of Uwal Castle framed dramatically against a sunrise in the background. “This is where Jannabid Dynasty began its rise. But to understand the family’s rise, we need to have a basic understanding of the society that they lived in. In the Eighth Century, the Abbasid Caliphate ruled over a vast territory ranging across Persia, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula. By the late Ninth Century, where our story begins, the Caliphate was in decline, with Egypt and the territories to the west having broken away. Even within those territories that remained part of the empire, there were sharp divisions. Let’s put our cultural map on screen. . . ah, there we go!”

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“Within the Abbasid Caliphate, there were two predominant cultural groups. We have the Mashriqi here, inhabiting the comparatively wealthy and developed northern regions of the empire. To the south, we have the nomadic Bedouin, who lived in the comparatively poor and inhospitable desert regions of the south. Sheikh Bahram was actually quite well off among his fellow Bedouins; Bahrain had a climate less harsh than that of the mainland, and its coastal areas support a highly biodiverse ecology; all reputable historians are of the opinion that the agricultural and hunting industries that Bahram fostered on the island were the source of his family’s remarkable wealth. Speculations that Bahram’s wealth arose from his blackmail of important Abbasid officials, or from other even less conventional sources, are of course mere scurrilous rumors that are worth mentioning only so they can be refuted in the same breath. In any event, by the year 890 Bahram's economic development policies had made Uwal the economic and cultural center of the Bedouin world.”

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The game depicts every province in Bahrain as consisting of drylands or desert, but I wasn't kidding about the biodiversity; here's a nice picture of Ras Sanad Mangrove Forest that I found on Wikipedia.

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“Here we’ve compiled a list of economic and cultural innovations that we know to have been widespread among the Bedouin people during Bahram’s reign. We can see here that they possessed extensive knowledge of agriculture and civic planning for the era, and were developing new accounting and bookkeeping methods to meet the needs of an increasingly complex mercantile economy. They also exchanged information with other cultures throughout the Muslim world, and were striving to adapt new military innovations from North Africa."

A few notes about innovations that don't fit into the narrative. First, near the top of the screen you can see there are four eras. The only one that's in color is Tribal, because that's the only one we've unlocked so far. The era began in the year 476 (way before the beginning of the game) and we've obtained 9 of the 23 innovations in that era. Once we've discovered at least 50% of those innovations and reached the year 900 or later, we can start researching innovations from the Early Medieval era. The last two eras unlock in 1050 and 1200, assuming that we've researched at least 50% of the innovations in all previous groups.

The good news is that you're always making some progress toward every innovation you don't already have. The bad news is that the default progress is slow; it can take literal centuries to obtain an innovation you're not focusing on. Luckily, there are two ways to speed things up. If you're the culture head, you can pick a fascination which your culture learns at an increased rate; the higher your Learning stat, the more quickly you'll make progress. In this screenshot, Emira Hanifa only has a 5 in Learning; at the rate she's going, it will probably take a good 50 or 60 years before that progress bar is complete, but that's still a huge improvement over the default. If you want to speed things up, the simplest way is to play a character with high Learning and become the culture head yourself. The screenshot also helpfully explains how to become the culture head: you need to rule more counties of your own culture than any other ruler of your culture does. This does mean that you can't be the culture head if you're subordinate to a liege of your own culture; your counties count as their own for purposes of determining the culture head. If you and your liege are both Bedouin and you control 4 Bedouin provinces directly while your liege directly controls 1, then as far as the game is concerned they have 5 provinces to your 4.

If you look at the screenshot, you'll see a blue border around the Casus Belli innovation. That means it's being learned faster than normal through exposure to another culture, either because it's adjacent to yours or because it shares a religion with you. Usually you'll be learning two innovations at an increased rate, one through fascination and one through exposure. It's still a pretty slow process, but it's influenced by the culture head's learning stat (higher is better) the number of counties your culture occupies (the fewer the better) and the average development level of your counties (higher is better.) There aren't a huge number of innovations available in the game, but a lot of them are pretty useful; some do typical strategy game things like give you access to new military units or buildings to construct, while others do more unusual but equally crucial things like allow you to enact succession laws that prevent your entire realm from falling apart when your current character dies.

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“Finally, let’s take a look at some of the most iconic features of Bedouin culture at that time. They were desert travelers, capable of making a living in the harshest deserts and fielding camel cavalry especially adapted to desert warfare. Their society valued tribal unity, encouraging strong bonds among their extended families and valuing family relationships over feudal obligations. They were prominent in the area’s caravan trade, known for traveling far and wide, establishing diplomatic relations with many foreign rulers. Finally, they were famed for their Mubarizun warriors, modeled after the champions of the 7th century Rashidun Caliphate. They served a dual role in the army, first as duelists who were tasked with demoralizing enemy forces by calling out and defeating their champions during battle, and then as well-armored and highly trained heavy infantry who fought in formation as shock troops par excellence. They served Sheikh Bahram well in his campaigns against the desert tribes during the second half of his reign. . . oh, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, aren’t I? Well, not to get too spoilery or anything, but those campaigns went a little like this:

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Let’s talk about culture! Everyone has it! More specifically, each character in Crusader Kings belongs to a specific culture, which in turn probably belongs to a culture group containing other cultures that are linguistically related to it. In Crusader Kings 2, cultures were pretty boring and generally served as just one more basis for creating friction between characters and realms. In Crusader Kings 3, they’re a bit more interesting, especially after the release of the Royal Court DLC. In the base game, social and technological innovations were tied to culture, and Royal Court allowed for cultures to have a variety of special qualities and abilities, some of which we’ve seen in this update. It also added the ability to add additional traits to cultures through reforms, to create divergent cultures which break away from the “parent” culture, and to create hybrid cultures that combine aspects of two pre-existing cultures. Royal Court also adds a sort of rudimentary language system, by which characters can learn foreign languages in order to reduce the opinion penalties they suffer when interacting with characters from foreign cultures. The DLC adds a lot of customization options to the game, and definitely contributes to making the world feel a lot more dynamic.

One thing that does kind of bug me about the game’s culture system is that Paradox can’t seem to decide if in-game cultures should be based on language, ethnicity, or geography, so they end up dividing cultures up in ways that sometimes seem arbitrary. With the most recent DLC, at least, cultures are divided up into overarching culture groups based on their language, which imposes some order on the system. Within those groups, though, things can get kind of weird. In the Arabic language group, for instance, we have Mashriqi, Egyptian, and Maghrebi cultures, which all seem to be based on geography: they encompass the Arabic-speaking people of the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, and North Africa, respectively. (Mashriq and Maghreb, much like Egypt, are both terms referring to specific geographical regions.) But it also includes the Bedouins, a distinct ethnic group. So while the game features a vast number of cultures it’s good to keep in mind that some of those cultures are basically a label that the designers have applied to indicate the people living in a specific geographical location in the middle ages, while other cultures are well-defined ethnic groups that still exist in the modern world. It creates kind of a weird duality.

Just keep in mind that for the purposes of this LP, I’ll be using the cultural labels used by the game, and they should be understood to refer to the fictional characters existing in this 9th century alternate history, and not to any ethnicities or nationalities as they exist in the real 21st century.
 
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Mogri

Round and round I go
(he)
Staff member
Moderator
I tried to get into Crusader Kings briefly. I realized after a few hours that I mostly wanted to engage with wacky hijinks (as with Shaykhah here), while the game wanted me to get interested in pesky things like "history" and "wars."

So a LP is my preferred form of interaction with this series.
 
"All things considered, though, the true fault lines running through the Abbasid Caliphate were not cultural but religious, and the Caliph proved to be unflinchingly opposed to those sects he considered heretical. And you know what they say about that: "The man who engages in disputations of faith brings the mountain of fire into his home."

That voice from off-camera pipes up. "I've never heard anyone say that. I don't think anyone's ever heard anyone say that."

Dr. Lejon sighs looks offscreen, away from the camera. "Yes, Crup, we're all aware that your weird provincial education left you lacking a familiarity with, and appreciation for, the classics. If you wrack your brain, I'm sure you can come up with an equivalent aphorism that's more familiar to you. Probably something about spilling tea on your wellies or some such. Now, if you're going to horn in on my work, why don't you make yourself useful and tell me how much transmission time we have left?"

"I'd estimate fifteen minutes, assuming we don't have any more bandwidth issues."

"Perfect." Dr. Lejon returns her attention to the camera, all business again. "Where were we?"

"Mountain of--"

"Mountain of fire, right. Bring up the religion infographics. Here we go."

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"Here's what the religious situation looked like in and around the Arabian peninsula in 867. Ash'ari Sunni is the dominant religion in the Abbasid empire, but we also have some Isma'ili Shi'ites there, as well as a number of Nestorian Christians and some Apostolic Christians up in Armenia. Now here's a snapshot from 884, not quite 20 years later.

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"Now the Ash'ari are almost monolithic in their control of the empire. While there are still some Armenian Christians in the far north, there's only a small pocket of Nestorians left, and the only Isma'ilis left in the empire are the inhabitants of Bahram's lands. Let's pull up our demographic data and. . . whoa, look at that!"

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"At this point, there are only two counties where Isma'ilism is the dominant religious faith, and both those counties are ruled by Bahram Jannabid. The Ash'ari control more territory than every other Muslim faith combined. In case you're wondering about the second and third place contenders on that list, Muwalladism and Ibadism are prominent in Iberia and North Africa, respectively. We can also see that all five of the Isma'ili holy sites are controlled by the Ash'ari, a state of affairs that Bahram was in no position to change any time soon. While Bahram ruled over the last Shi'ite communities in the empire, it was obvious that this wasn't a sustainable situation. In fact, as soon as Bahram's children were old enough to be educated, the Caliph began pestering Bahram with requests that he send his children to the Caliph's court to be educated in the ways of Ash'ari religion and Mashriqi culture. Bahram knew it was only a matter of time before the Caliph would stop taking "no" for an answer."

I've spent the last couple posts talking briefly about some of the major systems in the game, and there are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that I wanted to start off slow to give an idea of how the game typically progresses when you're not making a concerted effort to throw a wrench into the computer's plans; consequently, I've spent the first 20 years of the game building up my starting territories and using events like hunting trips, feasts, and pilgrimages to boost my prestige and piety; I've also been cultivating a large family so we'll have a deeper bench of lackies -- I mean valued family members -- to draw upon later. Plus, there's just generally a lot going on in this game, especially given our starting position; the Abbasid Empire can end up being ridiculously large, ridiculous unstable, or both, and religious and cultural tensions can do a lot to push them one way or another, so I kind of feel the need to cover them early.

Now, religious warfare does happen pretty often in Crusader Kings 3; it's right there in the name, after all. The way it handles religion is better than I originally expected, though, and it's miles better than Crusader Kings 2. I won't go in depth about CK2's problems, but among other things it characterized several religious movements as "heresies" of their "parent" religions, and religions were pretty much always hostile toward their heresies. This didn't accurately characterize the historical relationships between those religions, and in some cases this system just led to dumb or even offensive characterizations, such as the Yazidi faith being characterized as a heresy of Sunni Islam.

CK3 ditched pretty much that entire system, and now, as you can see in the screenshot above, each religion can now contain multiple faiths. (I think Islam has 19 by default.) In the screenshot above, each faith has a symbol conveniently showing which of the three major branches of Islam that faith belongs to: the crescent and star for Sunni, and crescent by itself for Shia, and the superimposed squares for Muhakkima. Most faiths tend to be more or less hostile toward other. In the case of the Muslim faiths, rulers of different faiths within the same branch consider each other to be "astray," giving them slight opinion penalties toward each other. Rulers tend to be hostile toward faiths from other branches of Islam, and turbo-hostile toward pretty much every other religion. Not every religion works this way, mind you; for example, the various Indian religions tend to be fairly chill about co-existing with each other. It's also possible to play as (or even create) syncretic religions that receive positive opinion modifiers with religions whose beliefs they incorporate.

Nevertheless, trying to rule over vassals or populations that have a religion that's hostile to your own can be dangerous and difficult, since it leads to a lot of unrest. That's why in the screenshots above, the computer-controlled Abbasid ruler has been so aggressive about stomping out other religions within the empire; converting as much of your realm as possible to your own faith makes it more stable, and makes you much less likely to be overthrown or assassinated. It also makes for kind of a boring game, so we won't be doing much of that ourselves when the time comes.

Oh, and one last thing about religions that is likely to come up soon: you see that list of holy cities there? Most faiths have five of them, and each one gives you some kind of (usually small) bonus if your faith controls that. In addition, there are certain things you can only do if you control enough holy cities yourself; these include reforming or creating a new faith (which allows you to also determine the tenets of the new faith) or establishing a leader for a religion that doesn't currently have one. These tend to lead to the kind of chaos I like to see in this game, so you should fully expect to see some of these mechanics demonstrated during the next generation or two.

In our next post, we'll take a look at Bahram's family in the 880's, have a brief look at the dynastic legacy system, and if Bahram is particularly unlucky, we'll get to see how succession works.
 
I tried to get into Crusader Kings briefly. I realized after a few hours that I mostly wanted to engage with wacky hijinks (as with Shaykhah here), while the game wanted me to get interested in pesky things like "history" and "wars."

So a LP is my preferred form of interaction with this series.

Yes, a lot of the game's design is centered around putting roadblocks in the way of players to keep them from just running rampant and conquering the whole map. Unfortunately, that means that even if you're not planning on playing as the reincarnation of Alexander the Great, you still need to learn how to deal with wars and vassal management in order to not die. The problem is that the game doesn't give the player the level of mechanical control they would have in a more traditional strategy game like Civilization, warfare doesn't have the level of spectacle or tactical crunch you'd see in Total War, and the procedural event-driven narratives that develop don't have the depth that you'd see in a typical RPG. So what you end up with is a game whose appeal is rooted in its sandbox nature, but where there are a lot of systems in place to prevent a certain sort of player from complaining about how easy it is to kick over everyone else's sand castles.

For me, the appeal to the game is the degree of granularity with which it depicts the governments, religions, and cultures of the era, even if it's not always particularly accurate. I find that it appeals to me as a history nerd, and I enjoy the exercise of playing around in that sandbox and then constructing a narrative to make sense out of whatever just happened. That said, the LP so far is focused entirely on the relatively small area of the map that I'm playing in, so there's always a lot going on "off-screen," so to speak. So once things really get underway, if anyone has questions about what's going on in the rest of the world at large, or about why certain things happen the way they do, feel free to ask, and I'll be happy to explain.
 
"Throughout much of Bahram’s reign, he had a strained relationship with his son Aarif. They were separated not only by physical distance, Aarif being Sheikh of Al-Hasa, but also by a distance in their expectations of their duties as rulers and as members of the Jannabid family. Aarif was less religiously-minded than his father, caring little for the specific virtues of one path of Islam over another. When the Caliph Al-Mu’tazz pressured Aarif to convert to Sunni Islam, Aarif acquiesced, unlike his father. He may not have done so entirely willing, but still, he acquiesced.

Furthermore, having had only only one child for eighteen years, Bahram worried perhaps overly much about the continuation of his lineage. He pressured Aarif to marry, and even sought out prospective brides for his son, to little avail. Even though Bahram arranged three different marriages for his son over the course of two decades, Aarif remained childless, and father and son spent less and less time together as the years ground on. At some point, this chilliness between them must have continued through sheer force of habit rather than out of any ongoing concern for succession, because by 894 Bahram had a total of 13 children."

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Darn it, Aarif! When I said you should marry an ace philosopher, this isn't exactly what I meant!

"Bahram spent much of his free time raising his children and doing his best to educate them in the arts of rulership, seeking to inculcate the virtues of a good Muslim ruler whenever possible. The results were mixed, as not every child had the studious temperament their parents may have hoped for, but Bahram and his wives worked tirelessly to ensure that their children had many opportunities to take advantage of. For instance, Paymaneh here was known for being a rowdy and troublesome child, and had a reputation for being an insightful scholar, though much inferior to her comparatively brilliant siblings. Nevertheless, she greatly improved the family’s standing by marrying Nahik ibn Hilal, the Chiefain of Ta’if, an independent tribe on the southern border of the empire, thus establishing a valuable foreign alliance for her father; in her new husband’s court, she studied the medical arts and soon rose to prominence as court physician. With the aid of Sheik Bahram’s powerful warriors and siege engines, Nahik fought two successful wars against his neighbor Shabib ibn Ja’far to become High Chief of Asif, making him one of the most powerful independent tribal rulers of southern Arabia."

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Here's Bahram's second child, Paymaneh, demonstrating how education events work. Children can be given a skill focus, which is shown at the bottom left their portrait; the book in this screenshot represents Learning. You can then assign a guardian to the child, who will do their best to educate them; an adult character can be guardian to up to two children. Every so often, the child has a chance to get increases to their five skills, with modifiers depending on the guardian's abilities. During childhood, characters acquire childhood traits which make them more or less inclined to increase specific skills; these traits go away when the child reaches adulthood. The also get the chance to learn permanent personality traits, which alter their stats and give other bonuses and penalties; just about every character has three such traits. In most cases, the guardian will encourage children to develop personality traits similar to their own, so you want to be careful about who you have educate your children; a ruler with the Shy trait, for instance, is likely to have a hard time. Things work a little differently if you educate a child yourself. In that case, when the child gains a permanent personality trait, an event occurs in which the child demonstrates that trait. There will be one option to allow the child to keep that trait, and two other options that will cause the child to develop a different trait instead; the options available depend on the event, and changing the child's trait will cause you, as the guardian, to develop some stress. If your stress gets too high (it also increases whenever you do something contrary to your character's personality), your physical and mental health might suffer, or else your character might have to develop coping mechanisms (such as drinking, promiscuity, hashish, or journaling) that allow you to reduce stress in exchange for some sort of penalty. In this game though, as in real life, it's worth enduring some stress to make sure your kids don't develop terrible personality traits and turn into sadistic monsters, but you probably don't want to drive yourself crazy discouraging positive traits just because your kids don't have the exact same personality you do.

In the screenshot above, we have the choice of letting Paymaneh be Generous, or take a stress hit so she'll become Diligent or Patient. These are all positive traits; Generous gives a bonus to Diplomacy, Diligent gives a bonus to all five stats, and Patient confers a bonus to Intrigue and Learning, I think. I considered taking the stress hit and going for Diligent here, but I ended up keep Generous because Diplomacy is an important stat and because Generous is considered a virtuous trait in the Isma'ili faith; for every one of your religion's virtues you have, you gain an extra point of piety each month; which is a sizable bonus; if you're playing as a count, you're lucky to be getting 1 piety point a month from your temples and your learning stat, so possessing just one virtue can double your piety income. (As a reminder, Piety is one of the ways the game scores your success, and it can also be "spent" to obtain various benefits.)

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Here's what appens when a child grows up. At the age of 16, they gain an education trait based on the stat you had their education focus on; in general, the more points they gained in that stat during childhood, the better the education trait will be. Here, Paymaneh has gained Insightful Thinker, the second level Learning trait; this is a pretty mediocre result. Gaining 8 Learning as a child isn't bad, but as the narrative notes, she had developed the Rowdy childhood trait, which gives a bonus to children receiving a Martial education but a penalty to Learning education. You do have one opportunity to change a child's education focus after it's been set, but I didn't do that since I expected the penalty to Learning to be less serious. Insightful thinker gives a +4 to learning, which isn't reflected on her stat screen here, so it will end up being 12; that's actually above average, and her total number of stat points is somewhat higher than Bahram's were at the start of the game, when he was 35 years old.

If you look at the character sheet on the left, you'll see that she's gotten out of childhood with only positive personality traits; I believe the first three icons under her name represent the Generous, Patient, and Gregarious traits. To the right of those, the symbol with the books and two stars represent that Insightful Thinker education trait. To the right of that, there's a flower in a green diamond. The green diamond represents a congenital trait, which can be passed down to a character's children. This particular trait is Comely, which gives her a slight Diplomacy increase and a positive opinion modifier from characters who are attracted to women. This is one of the less useful positive congenital traits; there are also congenital traits for intelligence (which increase all of a characters stats) and strength (which tend to improve their health and combat prowess). Still, a positive trait is a positive trait, especially if it's heritable; plus, there's a kind of nice bonus available if you end up playing as a character who has positive traits for intelligence, strength, and attractiveness all at the same time, although that's pretty difficult to accomplish.

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And here's an example of what Dr. Lejon was talking about when she referred to Paymaneh's comparatively brilliant siblings. They both have the top-level Learning education trait, Mastermind Philosopher, which gives +8 to the Learning stat. Their coming of age events also have comparatively flattering flavor text. Interestingly, despite being better educated than their half-sister, they're also a little meaner. Halil is Calm, Paranoid, and Gregarious, while Shoukoh is Content, Deceitful, and Gregarious. Huh, I just realized this is a pretty talkative family, although that's generally a positive trait in a potential ruler.

Also, underneath their stats, you'll notice that all of these kids have a notation that says "2 Claims" over a pair of shields. Those shields represent Bahram's two counties, Uwal and Al-Qatif; a "claim" means that the character has a legal claim to the designated territories. Every one of a ruler's children has a claim to all territories the ruler personally controls. If you think that 13 children each having a claim to the same two territories sounds like a recipe for trouble, well, you'd be right about that!

"The two campaigns against Shabib ibn Ja’far were so short as to be more like punitive expeditions than full-fledged wars, but they did represent a historic first: specifically, they marked the first Abbasid military campaign to be planned and commanded by a woman. The specifics of how Rezan Sadakiyanid came to Bahram’s court are frankly a little murky, but based on the available evidence which I freely admit may be apocryphal, the chain of events seems to have gone as follows: first, Bahram and his marshal Hussayn ibn Ahmed Fatimid were alleged to have consumed an entire cask of expensive if illicit wine between them, a bender which culminated with the two of them swearing eternal friendship and Bahram promising to find Hussayn a wife worthy of his stature. This led to Bahram sending agents all across the empire in search of prospective brides, which eventually resulted in Bahram and Hussayn chartering a boat and traveling up the Euphrates to Baghdad, then going incognito to join a caravan heading north as suspiciously well-equipped guards for hire as part of bizarrely complicated plot to break a giantess out of a Kurdish prison, as one does."

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Another montage plays, this one depicting the events that Dr. Lejon is narrating, culminating in a scene in which Bahram and Hussayn are stumbling across a prison courtyard, carrying a suspiciously large rolled-up carpet between them. They’re stopped by a pair of guards; surprised, Hussayn drops his end of the carpet, which unrolls across the ground to reveal the escapee hidden within. Rezan rolls to a stop at the guards’ feet, then with a sudden fluid motion stands upright, uppercutting both guards into unconsciousness at the same time. She strides across the courtyard and kicks the gates open, motioning impatiently for the two men to follow. The scene fades out, to be replaced by another scene of Hussayn and Rezan at their wedding ceremony. It looks very sweet and romantic.

"When Bahram, Hussayn, and Hussayn’s new fiance Rezan returned to Uwal, Bahram arranged what proved to be the empire’s wildest wedding of 872. As the happy couple were about to say their vows, the ceremony was crashed by a pair of wild-eyed sword-wielding assassins who had been sent to execute Rezan, since she had been sentenced to death in absentia by the sheikh of Irbil for the crime of leading a peasant revolt against the aforementioned sheikh."

"Hussayn drew his sword and rushed to defend his wife’s honor, but he was swiftly disarmed, his sword flying through the air and narrowly missing Bahram’s second wife Waahida. Waahida picked up the weapon as though intending to join the fray, but before she could, Rezan wrested a sword from a nearby guard, strode over to the assassins, and struck their heads from their bodies with a single blow. A solicitous Hussayn picked himself up off the ground. 'Are you all right, my precious rose?' he asked her. 'Did those ruffians cause you harm?'"

"Rezan wiped the sword clean on her dress, handed it back to the guard she had borrowed it from, and smiled tenderly at her husband-to-be. “Do not fear on my account,” she told him. “I have the strength of twenty five men, so anyone who wishes to cause us harm had best have ten more such attacks planned on this day.'"

The wedding scene has been continuing onscreen, depicting the legend Dr. Lejon has been recounting. The scene is no longer particularly sweet or romantic; it can, however be accurately described as absolutely buck wild.

"In Bahram’s later years, he and Aarif were able to reconcile their differences; this seems to have occurred after the year 879, when Aarif contracted a case of smallpox which left him gravely ill for eight months. In his journal, Bahram wrote “O God, the All-Merciful, do not let my son pass from this world having been neglected by a wicked father. On the Day of the Resurrection, do not let me be known as the tormentor of my own son, whom I should have cherished and protected. Have mercy upon us and lead us out of this night so we can walk in the light of the Lord.” The day after he wrote this he departed to Al-Hasa to see his firstborn son for what might be the last time."

"Happily, this was not to be the case. Aarif recovered from his illness, for the remained of Bahram’s reign, Aarif was a regular at Bahram’s feasts, and the two of them went on yearly hunting trips together in Uwal and Al-Hasa. In 886, Aarif's third wife Raazia gave birth to a son, Shaiban, who soon joined his father as a regular visitor to Uwal."

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Here we see the three members of Bahram's family who are currently landed as of 894, and we can also see the territory they control; Bahram's and Aarif control the parts of the Abbasid Empire outlines in white in their screenshots; Paymaneh's husband rules Asir. Bahram's stats are considerably higher than they were at the beginning of the game, and he's picked up several lifestyle traits that augment his abilities. A lifetime of feasting and hunting has made him an Eager Reveler and Novice Hunter, and his studies of intrigue and stewardship given him the Schemer and Architect traits. Aarif is also a Novice Hunter as well as being an Architect. Paymaneh has picked up the Novice Physician trait, which gives her a boost to learning. She's also High Chieftain Nahik's court physician, which means that when people in his court suffer injury or sickness, it's her Learning stat that determines whether they live or die. We'll get into how dynasty Renown works in the next post, but the key thing to keep in mind is that your dynasty gains much more renown from landed characters than unlanded ones; as the only characters in the Jannabid dynasty who currently rule over territory, these three are doing the lion's share of the work of earning renown for the dynasty.

"Overall, the 890s were a decade of peace and contentment for Bahram and his family. Bahram had reconciled with his firstborn son, seen most of his other children grown to adulthood, and had transformed Uwal into the wealthiest Abbasid port on the Persian Gulf. To all appearances, he was content with his achievements in life. In 897, during the final years of the 9th century, Sheikh Bahram passed away peacefully in his sleep."

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Several scenes play in quick succession depicting Bahram's family mourning him at his deathbed and Aarif's coronation as he takes up his father's crown and regalia. "The world that he left to his children was anything but peaceful, however, and without their father's spies and schemes to fall back on, they would have to find new ways to defend themselves from their enemies. In our next episode, we'll be covering Aarif's reign, and exploring the surprising consequences of bad penmanship. Please join us next week for yet another episode of Digging Through Quantum Space-Time! Until then, keep on digging!" Dr. Lejon pauses, then, sotto voce, mutters "we really need to get a better catchphrase."

The video feed cuts off, but the audio feed continues. The hitherto-unseen second voice speaks up. "And cut! Perfect timing, the window is just starting to close. Good job, Doctor, you covered all the important points. I kinda wish you'd covered the voyeuristic juggling troupe, though."

There may be no video feed, but the sound of Dr. Lejon smacking her palm against her forehead is unmistakable. "Dammit, the jugglers! I knew I was forgetting something!"

"Sorry, Doctor, maybe I shouldn't have brought it up. I liked the story about the murder wedding, though. Very bloody, very lurid, very nice. And we could only do so much with the time we had, I guess. "

A sigh. "You're right about that, Crup. We can only do so much with the time we have. So let's start getting ready for next time."

The feed ends.
 
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One More Post About Game Mechanics

So far in this LP, we've talked a little bit about some of the currencies that Crusader Kings characters can earn and spend:

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In that shot, from left to right, we see gold, prestige, piety, and renown. Gold is super boring; you use it to buy stuff or bribe people, for the most part. In any ordinary game of Crusader Kings 3, if you start as a small ruler, you'll probably spend a lot of time trying to be frugal and waiting to obtain enough gold in order to be able to do anything interesting; that's not always super interesting, so I've been utilizing the dark arts of the debug console to make sure our characters always have plenty of cash on hand. Prestige and Piety are a little more complicated; you earn them or lose them depending on how you behave, and you can spend them on certain benefits. For instance, you'll frequently have to spend some prestige to go to war with another ruler, or to obtain a lawful claim to their lands; you can spend piety to do things like request boons from the head of your religion or to start a holy war against a ruler from a competing faith. The game also tracks the amount of prestige and piety your character has gained over their lifetime, and at certain thresholds your ruler will gain a level of Fame or Devotion, which usually makes other characters respect your ruler more, or opens up new options; for instance, higher levels of Fame let you start bigger wars, if that's your thing.

Renown tracks the prestige and fame of your dynasty as a whole. As you can see in the screenshot, it has it's own secondary stat, Splendor, that increases when your renown reaches certain thresholds; each level of splendor confers some kind of benefit to your dynasty, usually increase the Prestige that your dynasty members start with and making them more popular. It's also not particularly easy to obtain. If you look at the score gains in that screenshot, Bahram gains 5.5 piety per month for being exceptionally virtuous and having completed the Hajj; his prestige growth is lower because he only rules two counties, but at 1.7 points per month it's still a bit higher than the renown that his dynasty earns. Conveniently, you can mouse over the numbers to see where they come from, so the game gives us a breakdown of where our 1.32 renown per month comes from. It's pretty grim. You get .02 points for every living member of your dynasty, .25 points for every count, .5 for dukes, and (I believe, although it's not shown here) 1 and 2 points for each king and emperor in your dynasty. Rulers who hold their title by marriage, rather than owning their own land, provide 80% of the usual income. If I had bothered to mouse over that progress bar at the bottom, you'd see that it takes 750 points to go from Obscure to Insiginificant, so 1 or 2 points per month is going to get you nowhere fast.

There's one additional wrinkle when it comes to earning renown: landed characters don't contribute any points if another member of their dynasty rules over them. Having your parents appoint you as Mayor of Dinkytown or whatever is the medieval equivalent of being VP of Sales at your dad's car dealership: it's not going to impress anyone who counts. Fortunately, in our case, that's not an issue; Bahram and Aarif are both Counts, so they're co-equal vassals of the Abbasid Caliph, who's most emphatically not a member of their dynasty. And as of the last post, Paymaneh is married to a duke-level foreign ruler, so she's not anywhere in their chain of command.

Taken all together, what this means is that if you really want to haul in the renown, you'll want to establish as many of your family members as independent rulers as possible, probably by having them marry into the ruling families of other realms. As you might expect, this is an extremely fun and safe way to engage in medieval politics. We'll get to that in a moment. First, though, let's talk about Legacies.



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It turns out Renown is also yet another currency that can be spent on yet another skill tree! There are something like eight different upgrade chains you can invest in. The first upgrade you purchase costs 250 renown; each one you purchase increases the price of subsequent upgrade by 500, so it gets fairly pricy. Here we've unlocked the first Kin upgrade, which provides a fertility and attraction bonus to all the characters in our dynasty. Subsequent upgrades in this line can make our characters better-educated or healthier, and the final upgrade in the Kin series, Graceful Aging, causes all the character in our dynasty to start gaining stat point every 5 years once they reach the age of 35.

I'm of mixed opinions about the legacy upgrades. It's definitely the most "gamey" progression system in the game. While having to spend prestige or piety to get things done is also a pretty abstract system, at least you can rationalize it as your character having to have enough reputation or power to get other people to go along with what they're trying to do. By contrast, it's a lot less believable for the game to be all "Oh hey, your family's now so famous that they're extra good at having babies and studying" or whatever. At the same time, the legacy system is also the only form of permanent progression in the game; your lands and titles can always be taken away by your enemies, but not your legacies. Like they say in that one movie, "they may take our lives, but they will never take our bounteous loins," or something like that. Even if you have a run of bad luck or bad decisions and go from being Emperor Badass back to being Count Stickpicker, you'll at least still have whatever legacy advantages you chose to aid you as to try to make your way back to the top.

Finally, a quick word about succession, since it just became relevant for the first time in this playthrough. There are several succession laws available you can enact in your realm, but doing so depends on having the necessary innovations to enact them, and getting your vassals to agree to them. This early in the game, the only succession law we have available is Confederated Partition, which is the absolute worst for keeping your realm together. Under this succession type, when a ruler dies all their titles get divided up among all their children, starting with the oldest. In our case, Bahram had two counties, Uwal and Qatif, which got distributed to his oldest children Aarif and Paymaneh, respectively. Since the two titles are of equal rank, that means the two children are now co-equal rulers of two separate domains; partition-style succession can make it very difficult to keep your realm in one piece. It doesn't help that by the time you get 30-50 years into any particular playthrough, most counties, duchies, and kingdoms will have multiple claimants fighting over them, so even a seemingly stable realm can devolve into chaos at the drop of a hat. We'll be seeing some examples of this in the next post, as Aarif's position in the Abbasid Empire becomes more tenuous, and the empire itself becomes less tenable.

Oh, and one last thing:

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This is one of the final events Bahram received during his reign. Sometimes, when you've completed enough of the lifestyle paths, you'll get an event that lets you choose a nickname. This is one of the events associated with the Intrigue lifestyles. I kind of like these; they're a cute way for the game to give you some feedback about just what kind of character you've been playing.
 
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The stream begins again, unannounced, this time with a cold open. The camera pans across a desert fortress, the wind kicking sand into the air to lend a harsh red tint to the sunlight. The words "Al-Hasa, 896" appear across the screen. The view swoops forward through the gates of the fortress, through the halls into a small, sparsely-appointed study where two men sit. The camera focuses on the taller of the two men, dressed in ornate cleric's robes. A voiceover begins.

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"This is Grand Allamah al-Mu'tamid, the highest-ranking religious authority in the Abbasid Empire. His ruler and younger brother, Caliph Al-Mu'tazz, has sent him to Al-Hasa to deliver a message to Aarif ibn Bahram."

"It gives me no pleasure to convey this missive to you, sheikh," Al-Mu'tamid says sadly. "As you know, I considered your father to be one of my close friends, despite his heresy. Many people have asked me why, and I always tell them that it's something that just happened; I don't know why." He nods solemnly, but smiles in a manner that suggests he knows exactly why.

The scene in the study is replaced by feast scene, shot in washed-out colors presumably meant to communicate that this is a flashback. The Grand Allamah and other high officials of the empire sit at a banquet table. Amongst the jovial chatter and laughter, the sounds of a heated argument begin to rise; the Caliph is shouting loudly at his neighbor, Bahram's spymaster Zaynab. The Caliph abruptly stands up, his chair toppling behind him. He raises one hand and with a mighty swing slaps Zaynab across her face, knocking her out of her seat. She rolls across the floor, springs back to her feet, and launches herself at the Caliph, one hand tangled in the front of his robe while the other punches his repeatedly in the side of the head. Bahram shouts an order, and his guards rush over to pull Zaynab off the Caliph and hold them apart. Bahram glances pointedly at the guards holding the Caliph and motions toward the door. They haul him away as he screams "Do you know who I am? You'll regret this! Do you know who I am?" As the Caliph is forcibly removed from the banquet hall, his older brother Al-Mu'tamid laughs uproariously.

"And what is this important message from the Caliph?" Aarif asks, back in the present day.

"I have it right here, and I shall share it with you now, before the public pronouncement," the cleric says, spreading out the document on the table between them. "You see here, the Caliph says al the proper words of condolence about your father, but then we have this: 'As a faithful servant of Allah and the Empire, I command you to proceed to Uwal and stamp out the Isma'ili heresy, Execute my order zealously and without fail, and when not a single heretic remains, come in person to my court in Shahrazur to report your success."

Aarif frowns. "For years, Isma'ilis from all across the empire fled to Uwal seeking my father's protection. To 'stamp them out' in the way that the Caliph suggests, is. . . if you will pardon my saying so. . ."

"A difficult, bloody business, yes," Al-Mu'tamid nods. "And possibly dangerous as well. You can see why he would prefer that you be the one to suppress the heretics, and to be the public face of this campaign."

"And even if I did expel or exterminate those whom the Caliph deems heretics. . ."

"Oh, they are, have no doubt about that," Al-Mutamid nods serenely.

"Even if I do carry out this task successfully without sparking a rebellion or being assassinated. . . when I go to Shahrazur, what happens then?"

Al-Mu'tamid shrugs. "Neither I nor any man alive can say for certain what might happen to you there. I only know that the Caliph bore no great love for your father, and in turn bears no great love for you either."

"As much as it pains me to contemplate this possibility while we discuss our noble liege, but if the Caliph were to intend to do me harm. . ."

"There would be no place within the Empire where you are safe," Al-Mu'tamid says with finality. "If you are unwilling to carry out the Caliph's order and submit to his judgment afterwards, there is only one thing you can do which might permit you a measure of safety: flee the Empire and go as far and as fast as you can."

Aarif shakes his head sadly. "I dislike this idea, but I dislike the prospect of persecuting my father's loyal subjects even more. Where to go, though? Our merchants have traded in many distant lands, and have told me much about them. Perhaps. . ." He pauses to consider his options. He smiles slowly and leans toward Al-Mu'tamid. "Would you be willing to buy me some time? If I do not directly disobey the Caliph's order, if instead there is a simple miscommunication, it may afford me a head start before he acts against me."

"If I can do so without endangering myself, of course," Al-Mu'tamid nods, a doubtful expression on his face. "First tell me what you would have me do."

"All I require is a small correction to the missive you carry," Aarif says. He pulls a pen and inkwell from a drawer, sliding them across the table to his co-conspirator. He points out the portion of the document to be altered. "I believe I have found a transcription error, there should be a ra' right there."

Al-Mu'tamid picks up the pen and makes a small mark where Aarif has indicated. Where the missive once read "أوال" it now reads "أورال." He softly reads the "corrected" line out loud. "I command you to proceed to Ural and stamp out the Isma'ili heresy. . ." He takes a deep breath and sighs. "I do hope you'll pardon my Frankish, but where in the hell is Ural?"

I don't actually know what name, if any, 9th century Abbasids would use to refer to the lands near the Ural Mountains, so I don't expect the linguistics here to be super accurate. I was mostly just looking for an excuse to get Aarif out of the empire so we could see a new section of the world map, one which is home to a very different political situation.

Incidentally, the fight between the caliph and the spymaster did happen as a random event during the game, and that has to be one of the most unfortunate feast events I've seen. Having your liege mad at you is bad news because if they don't like you they can cause you all sorts of problems, including imprisoning you or revoking your titles. Having your spymaster mad at you is bad news because if they don't like you they'll stop protecting you from other people's plots, and may even decide on their own to enjoy some recreational murder at your expense. Any event which requires you to annoy one of those people is real bad news.
 
Episode 2: Emir Aarif ibn Bahram

The scene changes from the dimly-lit study to a crisply lit landscape viewed from atop a cliff. The camera pans across a thick forest in the valley below.

“Welcome back to Digging Through Quantum Space-Time. I’m your host, Gemathar Lejon. I’m speaking to you today from the Northern Urals near the old fortress town of Kerken, constructed in the early 10th century. In most timelines, the closest modern city to where we’re now standing is Krasnovishersk, Russia.” The camera pans further to bring Dr. Lejon into focus. Today she is wearing an extremely puffy green jacket and a rainbow-colored knitted cap topped with a fuzzy pom-pom; her breath clouds the air in front of her as she speaks. “We’ll visit the castle itself a little later, but right now, we’re here to get an idea of what this land might have looked like to Aarif Jannabid and his followers when they arrived here; try to imagine how strange this must have looked to people who had spent most of their lives in the deserts far to the south. This mountain overlooks North Ural Nature Reserve, most of which has changed little over the past thousand years. That’s because it is strictly forbidden to build permanent structures anywhere in the reserve, and it is only opened to visitors for two weeks every spring, the time of the most important sacred hunt of the year. Happily, we’ve received permission from the government and the High Council to conduct an excavation of an ancient campsite, one which may even date back as far as the Arabic Arrival.”

Cut to several scenes of Lejon speaking with the workers at the dig site in a forest clearing. One garrulous older fellow talks at length about the team’s latest finds. “If you look on this bench over here, you’ll see we’ve amassed quite the fine collection of arrowheads and even a few spearheads. If you look closely, you’ll see that several of them are made of iron, and even better, they’re quite similar in size and shape to what you’d see being used in the Arabian Peninsula around the 10th century. Even more exciting is if you look at the contents of the middens here. Some of the trash is rather unusual; in some places, we’ve even found surprisingly well-preserved seeds from plants that quite simply aren’t native to this region. One can almost imagine this site as it must once have been, bustling with activity. Perhaps somewhere overt there you’d see a Bedouin prince enjoying a taste of home with a breakfast of dried fruit before setting off with his retinue in search of prey. What a sight that must have been!”

Next, Dr. Lejon’s voice speaks over a map as an arrow traces Aarif’s progress northward. “When Aarif and his family departed on their journey to Ural, accompanied by barely more than a thousand of their closest and most heavily-armed friends, they traveled north through the massive empire of Khazaria, up the Volga River until it because the Kama. At the time, this land was occupied by a variety of Permian tribes, most of which were led by one of two High Chieftains: Burmort of Perm or Shindyay of Ural”

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We haven't taken a close look at this section of the map before, so here you go! You can see Ural is a little ways away from any of the major empires, and inhabits a neighborhood full of relatively small tribal realms. If you look at Shindyay there, he has a Tribal government. Tribal realms tend to have issues, to put it mildly. The only settlements they can rule effectively are tribal settlements, which are a lot like feudal castle settlements (i.e. focused on military power with a few opportunities for economic development) except weaker. Even worse, most of their buildings (and all of their troops) are purchased with prestige rather than gold. As I've mentioned before, prestige isn't always easy to come by, and there are plenty of other things you might want to use it for; for example, changing your laws to centralize your government so you can get become a feudal ruler rather than a tribal ruler. Tribes are also only able to learn innovations that fall under the Tribal Era (i.e. the earliest of the four available eras.) Tribes do have some advantages, chief of which is that they can raid their neighbors. Raids are basically short conflicts in which a tribe send its troops into enemy territory to capture and loot enemy settlements. You don't get to keep the places you capture, but you gain gold and prestige from sacking them, assuming you manage to get away with your loot. Consequently, tribes can get benefits from either beating up on each other this way, or raiding larger feudal neighbors and (hopefully) sacking some towns and getting away before their enemy can bring their (probably) greater forces to bear.

I like building up my territories, so I don't really like playing as tribes. Whenever I play as one, I make it a priority to switch to a feudal government as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, even though Bahram had a Clan government (a form of feudalism in which rulers receive money and troops from their vassals based on how much their vassals like them), Aarif has a Tribal government; before he inherited Uwal, all the counties he ruled over had tribal settlements. That means it will take some work to get him into a proper feudal government.

The map fades away to display a shot of Kerken castle, still standing imposingly on a hill as a small but modern city sprawls beneath it, while operatic music plays in the background before fading out. “Now, depending on when and where you live, you may have heard of Perm in the news because of terrible explosions. Or perhaps you recognize the Permians from their brief mention in the Terem Scene in Boris Godunov. Well, they get mentioned in the version that Modest Mussorgsky composed, at least; I’d recommend checking it out if you can. If you live in a timeline that only has access to Konstantinov’s version of Godunov, I don’t know what to say; sucks to be you, I guess.”

“Aarif arrived in Ural to discover that it was already in turmoil; Shindyay's sister, Chieftess Anava of Kumych, had declared herself to be the true High Chief and sparked a civil war. Even though Shindyay was winning the war handily by the time Aarif arrived, Aarif believed that the final stages of the campaign would keep the bulk of Shindyay's forces busy pacifying Kumych. He promptly declared the land of Ural to be his by divine right and right of conquest, and announced that he would bring peace by putting both siblings in their place; Shindyay, who considered himself to be the rightful ruler of Ural by virtue of the fact that he was already there, was determined to put Aarif's claim to the test. Their foces fought a fierce battle at Serga in April 898, where the skilled but overconfident soldiers of the Abbasid Empire were surrounded and nearly overrun by their foes, who were much more skilled at fighting in the dense and tangled forests. It was only through the valor of Aarif’s champions which turned the tide, repelling Chief Shindyay's final push and convincing his warriors that discretion was the better part of the valor. Aarif’s forces then fought a series of skirmishes with Shindyay's rearguard and with local forces as they proceeded to the Ural tribe's stronghold. Finally, instead of a series of demoralizing battles against a relentless and nearly invisible foe, Aarif’s forces faced a good old-fashioned siege, and they proved to be far more skilled at siege warfare than at pitched battle. They set up their catapults in short order and began bombarding the stronghold, which had not been built to repel such a ferocious attack."

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Here we see an example of how combat works in Crusader Kings 3. When your forces occupy the same province as an enemy force, they fight it out. Clicking on them as they do so causes this pop-up to appear at the bottom of your screen. It shows the respective morale of the combatants, the commanders, their skills, and any special troops involved in the battle. The forces then fight it out until one side breaks and retreats. Once battle is joined, there's not much you can do to change the outcome (except maybe get more troops into the fight if any are close enough.) Similarly, siege warfare is a matter of occupying a province with an enemy settlement and waiting for the enemy's morale to tick down to zero so they'll surrender. Sometimes events happen that can speed that up, and you can assault the enemy stronghold to try and bring it down sooner, but it's usually best to just be patient. In any event, warfare in this game isn't super interesting, and the best way to win is just to be better prepared than whoever you're fighting.

"In April of 898, the siege finally came to an end; High Chief Shindyay and the lesser chieftains who followed him swore their loyalty to Aarif and surrendered the entirety of Kerken to him. Aarif and his followers, with the assistance of the local Permian population, began building a castle there, to serve as the seat of his power. At the same time, he began following to the letter the Caliph’s “order” that he purge Ural of the Isma’ili heresy. To no one’s surprise, he found no such heretics in Ural; instead, the predominant religious faith was a shamanistic religion centered around nature, spirits, and reincarnation; most modern religious scholars agree that this religion was a form of Siberian shamanism, although the modern Turumic religion has of coursed developed and diverged considerably from those roots in the intervening centuries."

"Just when it seemed as though Aarif and his family were safe and secure, a group of merchants arrived at his castle, a group which included his brother-in-law Shaiban, who carried with him his infant daughter Rashida. Shaiban brought news that his wife Shokouh, one of the most celebrated rising philosophers of the Arabic-speaking world, had died in childbirth at the age of 19. By all accounts, Aarif took this news hard; he locked himself away from his family and retainers for weeks. It’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like for him there that first winter, far from home, experiencing the bone-deep chill of the northern winter, reeling from the loss of his father and sister in so short a time. It’s difficult too to imagine what it must have been like for his wife and his son, to see him seemingly go mad with grief."

"From Aarif’s writings, we know that he suffered a profound crisis of faith. He seemingly tried to remain true to his religion, but he was tormented by the thought that as Shi’ite heretics, his father and sister might be barred from the gates of paradise. He remembered his visits to his father’s castle, the celebrations and hunting trips with his father and half-siblings, and remembered them as the happiest times of his life. The thought of losing his family for eternity was too much for Aarif. When he finally emerged from seclusion, he went to the local shamans, and begged him to teach them about their faith. Through their words, he discovered a new world: a world in which the spirits of his beloved family would one day be re-united with him not in a distant heaven, but here on earth. Aarif spoke numerous times with Viryay, a shaman of Kerken, and one day the two of them walked into the woods and didn’t return for a week. When they finally returned, Aarif wore a new cloak of bearskin and all signs of his exhaustion and despair were gone; he now bore himself with an air of calm and tranquility. As they returned to the castle, curious onlookers followed at their heels. When they arrived and Aarif’s family rushed out to greet them, Viryay announced that in the heart of the woods, the spirits of the land had spoken, and had declared Aarif to be the rightful ruler and guardian of Ural. Aarif then announced a month-long ritual feast in celebration of the spirits’ judgment. The celebration culminated in a ceremony in which Aarif, his wife Rafiqa, and son Shaiban were consecrated by Viryay as the rightful ruling family of Ural. In another ceremony, Aarif and his soldiers on one side, and the shamans of Kerken on the other, speaking as representatives of the material and spiritual worlds, respectively, swore a common cause to defend Ural against those who would invade and despoil its lands."

"Two months after this ceremony, when the snows had melted enough to allow travel once again, Aarif drafted a message to be sent to the Caliph back in Shahrazur. 'Your majesty, pre-eminent among men,' he began, adding all the usual formalities before coming to the meat of his statement. 'I have scoured Ural diligently, as you have commanded, and I can assure you that not a single Isma’ili heretic lives in this land. Regrettably, the difficulties caused by the harsh climes and fractious tribes here prevent me from attending upon you at your court at this time. If your majesty wishes to hear my report in person, your majesty is welcome to come to Kerken, where he may experience for himself the hospitality and devoutness of his subjects here.'"

"The letter was signed 'Aarif ibn Bahram Jannabid, Emir of Ural.'"

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I'm including this screenshot to show a little bit about how duchies work in this game. As I mentioned in one of the first posts, every county belongs to a de jure duchy; this is the duchy that the county is traditionally or historically considered a part of. Similarly, each duchy is associated with a kingdom, which is associated with an empire. On the right, we see a portion of the map with the "de jure duchies" overlay active; this shows those (sometimes hypothetical) duchies on the map, rather than the actual political situation. If you look on the left, you can see a list of the three counties that comprise the duchy of Ural, and who currently rules them. You can see Shindyay rules 2 and Burmort rules 1. Burmort is the duke of Perm, so Vothkar is part of his realm even though it's historically a part of Ural. This is important for a couple of reasons. You see that button marked "usurp" down at the bottom? Typically, if you own two thirds of the counties that comprise a duchy but someone else is the duke, you can spend a bunch of gold to usurp their title, giving you a bunch of prestige and making you the new duke. If there isn't currently a duke, owning most of the counties in the duchy allows you to spend gold to create the title, also giving you a bunch of prestige and, once again, making you a duke. Finally, a little bit later in the game, we'll get the ability to declare war on someone who owns a county that rightfully belongs to a duchy we hold; your ability to declare war on rulers who share your religion is typically fairly restricted, so being able to grab their territory just because it "should" belong to you is a pretty nice ability.

So, why would you want to be a duke? First, it's a step up from being a count; duchy titles give you twice as much prestige gain as county titles. They allow you to hire a slightly higher number of special soldiers, and make it easier to arrange good marriages or attract skilled characters to your court. Most importantly, they allow you to have counts as vassals, making it easier to have a larger realm and making succession a little less painful. Remember how when Bahram died, the two counties he ruled got divided between his two oldest children? If you're a duke, when you die the duchy title goes to the oldest child (along with one county if they don't already have one), while the remaining counties get parceled out among the other children. However, those new counts will all be vassals of the new duke, so your successor will inherit a unified realm (albeit one subdivided between all their siblings.) On the other hand, if you hold two duchy titles, they'll usually go to the two oldest children on succession, and your realm will split into two independent realms, since a duke can't have another duke as a vassal. What can I say? Early game succession is a mess, and anything you can do that makes it a little less painful is well worth the effort.
 
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I’m digging this series MrChris. Looking forward to what happens next.
Thanks, I'm glad you're enjoying it! The next few years of game time have proven to be pretty eventful, so the next post has been taking a while to put together, but I'm hoping to be able to put it up tomorrow.
 
Episode 2, part 2: Emir Aarif ibn Bahram

The stream temporarily pauses, replaced by an advertisement. An excited voice that sounds like it should be announcing a tractor pull speaks over CGI footage of weapons spinning onto the screen. “Coming soon, from Badass Museum Replicas Unlimited: Swords, swords, and MORE SWORDS! We’ve got Viking swords! We’ve got Paladin swords! We’ve got Crusader swords, khopesh swords, and katana swords! SO FUCKING MANY SWORDS! And now, for a limited time, we’re offering painstaking replicas of the very weapons and armor used in the Turumic Unification Conflicts! Check out this AWESOME Jannabid Sword and Jannabid Scale Mail combo pack, only 40,000 kroner! Act now and get a set of Jannabid Gauntlets absolutely free! Catalog available upon request. Please contact us to inquire about educator bulk discounts. Offer only valid for universes located within the VT1X spectrum.”

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Dr. Lejon’s voice fades back in, speaking over a series of scenes depicting Aarif’s adventures in the Urals.

“While Aarif had established himself as Emir of Ural, his position was far from secure. Not only did the Caliph still consider him untrustworthy, but he was now faced with the challenge of ruling over the Permian chieftains he had recently conquered, who as you might expect were not entirely thrilled to be ruled by a foreigner. While Aarif’s religious conversion did somewhat smooth the tensions between the Permians and the newly-arrived Abbasid conquerors, stabilizing the new emirate would take a great deal with work. Thankfully, Aarif already had a reputation as a skilled administrator, and he now devoted himself to the study of diplomacy. “

“Aarif also took a page from his father’s book, and periodically held grand feasts and hunts in order to foster a positive relationship with his vassals, as well as to display his wealth and prestige as a ruler. A review of the proclamations that Aarif ordered during his reign show that while Aarif may have gone to considerable effort to act as a benevolent rulers, there were limits to that benevolence, especially when it had the potential to interfere with his favorite sport:"

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Since Aarif just conquered several provinces of a different culture, popular opinion and stability are going to be a matter of some concern for a while. Kicking a bunch of peasants out of the forest won't make him any more popular with the people, but 150 prestige is hard to pass up, so it's time to engage in a little light tyranny!

That's just a little joke; the game doesn't consider this to be tyranny. Characters do have an actual tyranny stat, but it generally only increases for rulers who mistreat their vassals; nameless commoners apparently get oppressed often enough that they don't even count.

“While Aarif’s order to have peasants forcibly driven from his hunting grounds may seem extreme to some of our viewers, it underscores the increasingly important role that hunting played in Uralic culture at this time. Many religious rites centered around the hunt, and by participating in those rites Aarif and his retainers demonstrated their commitment to their new religion; it could be said that by demonstrating their prowess in the hunting ground, they demonstrated their connection to the land and to the divine. Around this time, hunting, whether as an economic endeavor or a leisure activity, also became a particularly prominent cornerstone of Bedouin culture, one which had numerous sacred and social rites associated with it. Big game hunting became a popular prestige sport amongst Uralic Bedouin nobles. Meanwhile, professional hunters made a living from the bounty of the regions forests, with the fur of the sable becoming a particularly valuable commodity. While the term “black gold” was sometimes used in the twentieth century to describe petroleum, in its original usage it referred to the sable furs of the Urals and Siberia. The natural resources of the region, combined with the new administrative systems that Aarif meticulously developed, resulted in the Emirate of Ural becoming considerably wealthier than its status as a backwater of the Abbasid Empire would lead one to expect.”

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Bedouin culture has a new trait as a result of cultural reforms! It would be kind of cool if this just happened naturally, but alas, that's not the cas.e If you're the head of your culture, you can select a trait to add to your culture, at a hefty cost of prestige. That cost usually becomes even more hefty if you don't meet some sort of very specific requirement. Prolific Hunters here costs 2000 prestige, plus an additional 3000 if there aren't at least 5 rulers of your culture who have a hunting-related character trait. New traits also take a long time to become active, depending on how many provinces your culture occupies. What I did here was, at the very beginning of the game, use the handy "switch character" option to temporarily play as the rando emir who was the Bedouin culture head, use the debug console to give him 5000 prestige, making him at one fell swoop the most famous emir in the Abbasid Empire, and buying the Prolific Hunters trait. Now, 30 years later, it's finally active. As you can see, it lets members of this culture hunt more frequently (the "call a hunt" event is typically on a five year cooldown), makes characters more likely to gain a Hunter trait after a successful hunt (there are three levels of his trait, with each level increasing the character's combat prowess and the amount of stress they lose when going hunting) and it provides a monthly prestige bonus to hunters with the character trait. Happily, Aarif's new religion of Turumism considers Hunter traits to be virtues which provide a monthly piety bonus. So Aarif's Novice Hunter trait is now providing him with both Prestige and Piety on a monthly basis; this is a pretty good synergy, but like most such synergies in this game, it's sufficiently expensive to pull off that it's not exactly game-breaking. In any event, expect to see me periodically adding new traits to various cultures just so we get to see them in action.

“In the year 898, Aarif and some of his most loyal warriors embarked on a pilgrimage to the holy site of Tyumen, walking among the sacred groves there, meeting with shamans from all across the northern lands and deepening their understanding of their new faith. Aarif was fascinated by everything that he learned, but also increasingly dissatisfied by the shamans’ reliance on oral traditions to pass along their knowledge. “
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Different religions have different events for completing pilgrimages, which is a nice touch. Also, in the lower left here, we see that because Turumism has the Ancestor Worship tenet, Aarif gains a bonus that improves his family members' opinion toward him for the next ten years.

“Ever since we arrived in this land, we have learned to see the world with new eyes,” he told his followers. “But we have also brought knowledge and wisdom of our own to this land. And that includes the knowledge that words which are spoken into the empty air can be blown away by the slightest breeze. In the south, we were united with our brothers and sisters in the knowledge that in matters of faith, we could turn to the Holy Quran. A man in Damascus and a man in Cairo can read from it and know that despite the distance between them, they are reading the same words. When I learned the surahs as a child, they were exactly the same as when my grandfather learned them decades before, uncorrupted by the passage of time. It is time that our new brethren here in the north have a holy book of their own, one that can preserve the wisdom of our shamans for eternity.” The acclaim with which Aarif’s followers greeted his words convinced him to send word for all the greatest shamans of the world to gather at Ural to contribute to the new holy book. When none of them came to him, he was disappointed. Then he decided that he had made a mistake in demanding that such eminent shamans come to him. He decided that instead, he would go to them."

"Over the next several years, Aarif waged a military campaign to take control of the most holy Turumist sites, reasoning that if he could control access to those sites, he could compel the shamans to attend the conclave he had proposed. He began by leading an expedition to Ob, far to the east in Siberia; this site had long been controlled by the Kyrgyz Khanate, whose rulers were hostile toward Turumic pilgrims. The recent death of the Khan, however, had lead to the Khanate breaking up into several smaller states, and Aarif seized this opportunity. After a swift campaign and swiftly-signed peace brought Ob under Aarif’s control, he started to seize other holy sites, ones closer to his own lands, such as Perm and Tyumen. At the dawn of the 10th century, Aarif had proven himself by taking every Turumic holy site under his protection (or his control, depending upon your perspective), and he finally got the ecumenical council he wanted.

"As might be expected, this council involved months of dispute about the finer points of the Turumic religion. Every culture’s shamans had their own particular beliefs, rituals, and myths which they had passed on from one generation to the next; in addition, those Bedouins who had recently converted, though new to the shamanistic faith, had accompanied Aarif on his expeditions to the various holy sites and had seen the many different ways shamanism was practiced across the Urals and Siberia. One of Aarif’s mubarizun, Reshawna, had during those campaigns proven herself not only a skilled warrior but also a masterful philosopher, one whose fascination with the possibility of synthesizing the many shamanistic traditions into a single overarching faith made her a dominant figure at the council. With Aarif’s support, she argued fiercely in favor of a transcultural shamanic faith that interfered in people’s private lives as little as possible, and a faith which would not discriminate against people based on the circumstances of their birth. At long last, many of the assembled shamans agreed to lend their support to the creation of a Turumic High Council comprised of shamans from many cultures who would be responsible for establishing the faith’s overarching doctrine, and Reshawna was chosen as the Grand Shaman who would be the first leader of the council. At her direction, the council compiled a holy book (originally in Arabic, of course, though soon translated into other languages) which detailed the creation myths of the various peoples who practiced shamanism, as well as detailing the new faith’s doctrines, liturgies, and customs. As the newly standardized religious rites and social customs were more widely adopted, they led to increased trade between the various shamanistic cultures. Bedouin merchants established themselves as key players in commerce between Central Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe; many surviving travelers’ and merchants accounts almost revel in their stereotypical depictions of hard-bitten Arabic merchant adventurers, traveling through dangerous lands and harsh climes while keeping their book of prayers close at hand, whether that book be the Quran or the Word of Numi-Turum."
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Here we see the screen for reforming a religion. Most pagan religions in the game start off as "unreformed;" a ruler who controls at least three of the religion's holy sites can reform it into an "organized" religion. Having an organized religion makes advancing from tribalism to feudalism considerably easier, which is one reason why we're doing this. Another is that when it comes to religious conversion, organized religions eat unreformed religions' lunch. Priests of organized religions, when given the mission to convert a province's population, tend to work two or three times faster than priests of unreformed religions; furthermore, rulers who belong to an organized religion have the ability to demand that their vassals convert to their religion; there's no guarantee it will work, or that they'll stay converted, but it's still a pretty quick and effective top-down approach to religious conversion.

Even after you meet the requirements to reform a religion, it costs a lot of piety, and the further the reformed religion deviates from the original form of the religion, the more piety you'll have to spend. Here, I've left the three main tenets untouched, since they're perfectly fine. Ancestor Worship improves your family relations and (I think) gives you prestige for giving titles to family members. Ritual Celebrations gives you piety in addition to prestige for holding a feast, and any vassals who refuse to attend your feasts lose piety. Sanctity of Nature makes it more expensive to construct buildings, but gives your military commanders a significant advantage in a variety of woodland terrains.

Below the tenets we see some additional doctrines. Every religion and culture in this world has gender equality due to the game settings I selected, so no problem there. Religious Attitude governs how much of a popularity hit you suffer when ruling over people of a different religion, and also how good your religion is at converting people and keeping its own people from being converted. I picked Righteous, which is the middle ground; we can get along moderately well with other religions, but we still have the ability to effectively convert our population away from other, less tolerant religions if need be. Having a Spiritual head of faith means that the religion will have a head who is not a secular ruler; in our case, that means having a Grand Shaman who appoints the court chaplains for Turumic characters, and who can be appealed to for various favors.

I made quite a few changes to the Marriage and Crime Doctrines. Divorce is now always allowed, and bastards no longer exist as a concept; children born outside of marriage have all the same rights as children born within a marriage. It's not visible in the screenshot there, but I've also legalized same-sex relationships and all forms of adultery (CK3 religions are sufficiently granular as to allow separate attitudes toward male and female adultery.) In practical terms, this doesn't mean that people are going to be fine with their spouses committing adultery; it just means that extramarital affairs aren't going to result in people being arrested as criminals. I left Deviancy as its default position of Shunned, since I'm not entirely certain what it entails, but it obviously doesn't entail same-sex relationships and adultery, since those are separate categories, and the icon is a goat head, so I figured it's best not to take any chances.

The end result of all this is that we can create a new version of Turumism which is extremely liberal by 10th century standards, all for the low cost of an entire lifetime's worth of Piety. Oh yes, there's also the additional minor issue that most Turumist rulers aren't going to convert automatically just because you enact a reformation, so you can also expect to see a split between Turumism and Old Turumism, the unreformed version of the religion.

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Oh, and when you establish a new religious head, the game generally fills the position by creating a new character who shares your character's religion and culture, which is where Reshawna here comes from. As you can see from her stats, she's pretty badass. 42 Learning is ridiculous, and her Martial and Stewardship stats are really solid as well. If she actually ruled over any territory, she'd be a force to be reckoned with.

Of course, cultural diffusion rarely operates in only one direction, and representatives of the nomadic eastern tribes often visited Aarif’s court, a practice that he encouraged in his efforts to maintain strong diplomatic relations with his neighbors and with foreign powers further abroad. Aarif maintained a court that was as cosmopolitan as one could reasonably expect, despite living at what seemed like the northernmost border of the world. Even as he consolidated power there, he fervently prayed that the Caliph would remain in his capital and wouldn’t send his soldiers north to bring Aarif to heel.

"As it happens, the Caliph never had the chance; in the year 898 he was forced from power by a faction of Abbasid aristocrats led by the eccentric young Emira Duha of Palestine, who installed the Caliph’s 16 year old cousin Emira Zuhayra in his place. The new empress was known for being gluttonus, shy, and fickle, and at first showed no particular inclination to interfere in Aarif's administration of his newly conquered territories. For some time, it seemed like Aarif’s worries were over. But as the new empress settled into her reign, however, she decided that the Abbasid Empire didn’t need a semi-independent northern emir thumbing his nose at the imperial throne, and she declared Aarif an outlaw and ordered him to submit to arrest in the year 900. Aarif refused to do so, and after a ceremony in which High Shaman Reshawna consecrated the Jannabid family as the "eternal defenders of the Turumic faith," Aarif sent his most trusted warriors and commanders on the long trek south back to the island of Uwal in preparation for a dangerous military gambit."

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Here's something you can do if you've accumulated enough Piety over your lifetime to reach the maximum level of Devotion: you can consecrate your bloodline, giving yourself and all of your descendants a relationship bonus with your religious vassals (who will generally be the priests who rule any temple holdings you control.) It's not always incredibly useful, but if you've accumulated enough Piety to reform a religion, you've probably accrued enough Devotion to get consecrated, so why not?

Oh, and here's one last big change that happened during this session:

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Last time I talked about how much the tribal government sucks, so I had Aarif adopt feudalism. This typically takes a lot of time and effort, but there's a special decision available to tribal rulers which allows them to adopt feudalism if their liege has a feudal government. The major roadblock was that adopting feudalism requires you to belong to an organized religion, so I couldn't do it until we reformed Turumism. Once that was done, though, it was fairly easy to have Aarif adopt feudalism so he can start building up his territory properly. Oh, and for some reason the empress tried to arrest Aarif the next day. Just one of those occupational hazards, I guess.
 
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"Upon learning that the empress had declared him an outlaw and rebel, Aarif hit upon a bold gambit, sending his best commanders and most battle-hardened troops on a long trek back south to conduct a routine military inspection of the castle at Uwal; among the commanders were the Permian chieftains whom Aarif had recently conquered, reasoning that if he were sending his best and most loyal troops far away, it was best if his most easily-disgruntled vassals were equally far away from him. Once they arrived, they immediately began levying more forces, even as Empress Zuhayra raised her own troops and prepared to send them north to Ural."

"Seeing an opportunity to assert their own sovereignty, an alliance of rulers in the northern area of the empire (or, at least, what had been the northern area before Aarif brought Ural into the fold) chose this moment to assert their independence. The leader of this alliance was the ruler of the Armenian Principalities, Prince Smbat; other major instigators of the rebellion were Emir Abu al-Saj of Sajid and Emir Muhammad of Armani. When the empress had gathered her troops, she sent them north with order to suppress suppress the Armenian rebellion, then continue north to do the same to Ural; since the subjugation force now faced four wayward emirs instead of just one, it was larger than had initially been planned for, and a comparatively small force was left behind to defend the capital at Wasit."

A CGI re-enactment of a desert battle plays, looking suspiciously like footage from an off-brand Total War game. "The Abbasid force which sallied forth slightly outnumbered Aarif’s, but the Jannabid commander Souzan Hakamid, Aarif’s marshal and lover, was a skilled tactician, known for her aggression and her expertise in desert warfare. While mustering her troops at Uwal, she had taken care to recruit guides and scouts from the regions on the route to Wasit. This allowed her force to advance quickly, and also allowed her to force an engagement against the empress’s army at Basra, at a time when she knew the opposing force would be fatigued after a long day’s march without shelter in the sweltering heat. Although the enemy archers exacted a fearsome toll upon her lightly-armored levies, the tide of battle turned when Souzan’s heavy infantry smashed through the enemy lines, throwing the empress’s forces into disarray. Souzan’s lack of cavalry meant that she could not pursue the routed forces to inflict further losses, and rather than be distracted by chasing down the remnants of the defense force, she marched her troops to Wasit as quickly as possible to lay siege to it."

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Here are Souzan's stats on the left, and a map of the route from Uwal to Wasit on the right; Wasit is in the province with the big banner with a crown over it and the 6,333 enemy troops. The skulls indicate provinces along the route where your force is going to suffer attrition damage. Each province has a supply limit which is determined by its terrain, level of development, and any buildings constructed there. If the size of your army exceeds the supply limit, you're going to lose some troops every month. You'll note that Souzan's Desert Warrior trait lets her negate the supply limit penalty in deserts; ordinarily, a province with desert terrain has its supply limit reduced by 50%. Souzan won't suffer that penalty, so she can effectively move twice as many troops through deserts as can commanders without that trait. In spite of all that, her army will still suffer some attrition damage along the way, because those provinces are just that underdeveloped. Incidentally, if you take a look at her stats, her Martial score (the crossed swords) is 24, which is quite high, while the Prowess (the hand holding a sword) is a rather pathetic 2; she's an excellent commander but quite weak in actual combat. That's actually not a terrible thing, because if you're not micromanaging your forces, the game automatically designates your characters with the highest prowess as combatants; the exact nomenclature differs (Bedouin rulers have faris, while other rulers may have knights or champions) but the way they work is identical: they all fight in battles, where they're worth approximately one basic soldier per point of prowess they have, and sometimes get themselves injured or killed in combat. Having a commander who's not actually fighting in the battle means they're much less likely to get themselves murdered and replaced by a worse commander, which is nice. Another interesting factoid: fighters and commanders with the Brave trait get a bonus to their martial and prowess stats, but are also twice as likely to be injured or killed during battle.

The overall course of this war ends up being extremely stupid, and is the result of the weird mix of abstraction and granularity which CK3 exhibits. There are probably a few thousand different provinces, and the game tracks time day-by-day, which would make it a massive pain to fight a huge war by raising troops over dozens or even hundreds of provinces and then trying to coordinate them all. What CK3 does to simplify matters is allow you to set rally points (the red flag down near Uwal); when you raise troops, your available soldiers start to assemble at the rally point; the amount of time it takes depends on how large your realm is and how recently you've raised your troops in the past; the game then delays the appearance of your troops to simulate travel time. This works in most situations. This is not one of them. Mechanically, the best and easiest way to handle this war is to set a rally point in one of Aarif's holdings in the Arabian peninsula, wait for part of that massive stack of Abbasid troops to start heading north, and then march straight from Uwal to Wasit. What this means in realistic (well, "realistic") terms is that Aarif's troops from his holdings in Arabia assemble in Bahrain, then wait for 14 months as his forces from Ural travel south through the heart of the Abbasid Empire completely unopposed, then show up in Bahrain where they link up with the other forces and immediately turn around to march over a thousand kilometers back toward the empire's capital in Iraq. For purposes of the fiction I just had Aarif's elite men at arms make the journey and recruit additional troops from the friendly trips in the region, but as far as the game is concerned, Aarif is sending absolutely every single guy he commands down there to fight this war, and there's nothing the empress can do about it until they all just materialize into existence in the southern empire.

"Meanwhile, in Armenia, Smbat and his allies did their job either too well or not well enough, depending on your perspective. Much as had occurred in the south, Smbat had won a hard-fought victory at Kars, but his troops had suffered serious losses and the members of the alliance were reluctant to press their luck by advancing south. Consequently, in April of 902, Souzan received word that both of the defeated Abbasid armies, despite having been defeated and suffering some losses, had rallied and reorganized into effecting fighting forces once again; even worse, they were both returning to Wasit at considerable speed. Faced with the prospect of being encircled by the two advancing forces, Souzan made a dangerous gamble and ordered her force to assault the castle, hoping to bring the siege to an end before the relief forces arrived."

The view switches to an aerial view of Wasit castle, swooping down across the fortifications. “The defenders and the besiegers were both in desperate straits, and the hand-to-hand combat on the walls and within the castle must have been bloody and horrifying. In the end, Souzan's force proved victorious, capturing the empress Zuhayra. Left with few options, the empress was forced to grant Aarif a pardon and declare him to be a loyal servant of the Abbasid Empire, her last official proclamation before she allegedly voluntarily abdicated the throne to her daughter Nager. When the Abbasid armies arrived at Wasit three weeks later, they were met by the sight of their new three year old empress occupying the Abbasid throne; Souzan promptly informed them that Aarif had been appointed Chancellor of the Empire, and that further military action against him would constitute an act of treason. Faced with this ultimatum, the remaining Abbasid forces stood down. The war was over, and Aarif was back in the empire’s good graces."

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Pictured here: a precipitous decline in the capabilities of Abbasid rulers.

"For a short time, at least. The period from 898 to 922 later became known as the Reign of the Two Empresses, a pleasantly anodyne name which obscures the fact that this was an intensely stupid period in Abbasid history during which competing factions within the empire periodically installed either Zuhayra or Negar on the throne after deposing the other, causing control of the empire to seesaw between the two, with Zuhayra favoring the western emirs in Palestine and Syria, and Negar favoring the northern emirs."

"Not surprisingly, this era marked a decline in the stability and power of the Abbasid empire, and a shift of the balance of power from the imperial government to local lords. While the Empire did manage to retain control over Egypt, which it had taken over in 898 after a years-long campaign, in the years between 910 and 920, the Armenian Principalities, Sajid Emirate, and Armani Emirate broke away from the empire. Perhaps ironically, the departure of these realms from the Abbasid Empire deprived Empress Negar of her most powerful and prominent supporters, and she was again deposed by her mother in 922."

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Here's what the majority of the Abbasid empire (here shown as the Arabian Empire after a few rebellions and depositions) looks in in 922. The empire has expanded west to encompass Egypt, but several other parts have broken away, including Al-Jawf in the South, and Sajid and Armenia to the north (Armenia is the salmon-colored territory just east of the Byzantine Empire). We also have an independent Kurdistan consisting of two non-contiguous provinces, for some reason. In any event, hopefully this map will adequately illustrate how quickly fortunes can turn around in Crusader Kings; in the space of two generations, the Abbasid Empire has gone from being the superpower of the Islamic world to being a sort of geopolitical Jenga tower.

"As you might expect, Aarif benefited from this shift as the ruler of the most far-flung region of the empire. Over the next 20 years, he built up his power base in Ural, and particularly in Kerken. He encouraged the development of hunting and forestry as important economic practices, as well as the development of new pasture lands. He also established a network of lookout towers and outposts throughout Kerken; these allowed Aarif’s soldiers, and guards employed by local merchants, to more easily patrol the roads and keep them safe from raiders and bandits. The first major temple of the reformed Turumic religion was built in Shimal, and a monastic school was established there as well. He also founded Akchim, the first major city in Ural, which became known for its wealthy and influential artisans’ guilds."
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By way of illustration, here's what Aarif's capital of Kerken looks like near the end of his reign. It's only a level 1 castle, since his culture doesn't have the technical innovations to let him upgrade it yet. Near the bottom of the screen, the blue icons show that several military and economic structures have been built at this castle as well; these secondary structures can go up to level 8, but once again, the limits of technology mean that we're maxed out at level 2 for now. This castle is slightly better than the buildings that are available to tribal rulers, but the big advantage in going feudal can be seen by looking at the three icons just above Kerken's name in the screenshot. Those three icons represent a castle, temple, and city, respectively; these are the three baronies within the county of Kerken, and because we're feudal, we've been able to build settlements in all three of them; tribal rulers, by contrast, are limited to one settlement per county. Going feudal allows us to make use of all of our land, giving us a big economic advantage over neighboring tribal rulers. (By way of balance, those tribal rulers are allowed to try and raid our lands and take our stuff, but during the game I did have to put down a few raids during Aarif's reign.)

As an aside, you may have noticed that the illustration the game uses for your buildings is frequently based on the culture of the ruler rather than on the terrain of the province, which is why Kerken is depicted as this imposing desert fortress despite being located in a subarctic taiga region.

"While his father Bahram had maintained his realm’s security through intrigue and blackmail, Aarif favored diplomacy and a policy of open-handed generosity toward his vassals, which might simply be a polite euphemism for outright bribery. Whatever words we use to describe his policies, they were undoubtedly effective, as even the chieftains he had defeated when he first arrived in Ural soon ceased to conspire against him. With the aid of his court chaplain Jabir and steward Rayda, he spent much of the rest of his reign converting the majority of Ural’s population to his new form of Turumism, as well as encouraging the adoption of Bedouin culture; by the end of his reign, Arabic was as widely spoken spoken as the Komi language in Kerken and Ural, at least in urban areas and amongst the aristocratic and mercantile classes. Not to be outdone, the two empresses sent missionaries to the northlands to preach the word of Islam, with some success."

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Here we see the cultures inhabit the region around Ural. At this point, there are two Bedouin counties there; since the Bedouin culture has more innovations than any of the other cultures in the region, these counties can be developed a bit more easily than others in the area. Also, now that there are some Bedouin provinces in the area, we'll see cultural tolerance start developing between the Bedouins and the other local cultures. Rulers suffer a public opinion penalty in counties whose dominant culture differs from their own, but it's possible to reduce that through cultural tolerance. Tolerance can come naturally between cultures that are from the same culture group or which share a language, but it can also be cultivated by having two cultures border each other or exist in the same realm; extended contact will usually cause tolerance to grow naturally, although wars and conquest will obviously decrease it. Bedouin and Permian culture had nothing in common to begin with, so there's nowhere to go but up, on this front. To the right, you can see Aarif's council, which already represents a few different cultures. While most of the councilors are Bedouin, Aarif's chancellor Gazheg is an Ostyak from the lands just to the east of Ural, while his wife Zhimba is Buryat, from Mongolia far to the east.

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Here we see the religious situation in the north. the highlighted area of Ural follows the new Turumic religion. Bordering realms follow Old Turumic (i.e. the version of the religion that existed before Aarif reformed it), and to the south, we see that Tengri is one of the predominant religions of central Asia. To the west of that we see the Kuzarite religion, which is the term the game uses to represent Judaism as practiced in Khazaria, which is apparently a matter of some historical controversy. If you look closely, you can also see some green regions marking the spread of Ash'ari Islam; the empresses have also has their chaplains hard at work trying to convert the Old Turumic population of the north to their own religion. Typically, cultural and religious conversion are both pretty slow; even with skilled councilors leading the effort (your chaplain for religious conversion, your steward for cultural promotion), it will typically take between 5 and 10 years per county, and your councilors can only convert one county at a time, which is why it's taken this long to convert a little 3-province emirate. It is possible to speed up the spread of your religion a bit by assigning vassals of your religion to rule over your territories; they'll frequently have their own chaplains try to convert the populations of their territories, so they can do some of the work while your own chaplain is busy elsewhere. Your vassals seem to prioritize cultural conversion much less than religious conversion, though, so it's nice that the latest DLC implements the cultural tolerance mechanic to help you improve your realm's stability without necessarily converting your provinces' cultures to your own.
 
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Mini-Episode: The Ranking of Jannabids
In the mid 9th century, the Jannabid family consisted of precisely two people: Bahram and his son Aarif. Two generations later, at the end of Aarif's reign, the family numbered in the dozens, its members traveling to courts throughout the Middle East, Russia, and Siberia. Still, while the family was much more prolific than it had been in the previous century, only a few members ruled over substantial lands of there own. In this segment, we’re going to take a look at those members and rank them appropriately. Without further ado, here is the Ranking of the Sneakiest Jannabids!


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First we have Paymaneh, Aarif’s half sister. She was formerly the High Chieftess of Asim, until her husband lost a war against the Chief of Najd and they had to flee to the safety of Paymaneh’s homeland of Qatif, which she had inherited from her father. While she had been an insightful student during her childhood, she had been overshadowed by her brilliant younger siblings. Since then, three decades of ruling had sharpened her into one of the foremost thinkers in the Abbasid Empire, and Empress Negar appointed her Chief Qadi, the foremost Islamic judge in the empire. She might seem an odd choice for such a post, as she was not only known as a physician, scholar, and unyielding military commander, but also a mystic and an inveterate fornicator. In spite of her eccentricities, she was also regarded as the finest legal mind in the empire, and her influence over the courts allowed the empire at least some small degree of stability during this turbulent era.

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Second on our list is Aarif’s daughter Mayam, ruler of Olkhon in Siberia. Olkhon is home to the Shaman’s Rock, one of the holy sites of the Turumic religion. At this time Maryam was still relatively young and unaccomplished, but she proved to be a skilled administrator and good-natured ruler, bringing prosperity to Olkhon and ensuring that the region proved hospitable to pilgrims coming to visit the holy site.

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Third on our list is Aarif himself. Undeniably the most influential member of the Jannabid family after his father’s death, he had more than tripled the family’s land holdings, expanded the empire into an entirely new realm, and overseen a major religious reform. He was not, however, particularly skilled at underhanded intrigued, preferring to maintain his popularity through skilled stewardship and open-handed generosity, establishing himself as a consummate diplomat and administrator. After he had conquered Ural and reformed the Turumic religion, he settled into a relatively quiet life devoted to developing his new holdings and to living the good life, and to intermittently serving as Chancellor of the Empire during those times when Empress Negar was in power. Much like his father, he was known as an avid hunter and reveler, popular among his people and vassals. The final decade of his life was a time of relative peace, and he passed away in the year 922.

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Finally, we have Aarif’s son Shaiban. Shaiban was. . . not a man who was particularly inclined to enjoy the good life, let’s put it that way. Shaiban had been entrusted with the protection of the other Turumic holy sites, a duty he took to with zeal. A man with an intellectual’s education and a warrior’s temperament, he had inherited his father’s bravery, but not his tendencies toward generosity or moderation. His early adulthood was spent protecting the holy sites against raiders who thought this new religion represented easy pickings; it was during one battle with such raiders that he lost one eye. During these campaigns, he gained a reputation for being wrathful, and even vengeful, pursuing fleeing raiders far into enemy territory to finish off as many as possible. During times of relative peace, Shaiban practiced what seems to have been an intensely botanical form of mystic shamanism, although it does not seem to have particularly mellowed him out; instead, he claimed that the spirits themselves guided him in his campaigns against his enemies. When Shaiban ascended the throne, the chroniclers described him as a “master of many skills,” which was certainly true; it just happens that diplomacy and the ability to chill were not among those skills.

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Shaiban would prove to be one of the strangest rulers of his era: a violent warrior who sought peace through conquest while preaching a philosophy of love and unity, and a ruler who embroiled the Abbasid Empire in countless turmoils in foreign lands, even as he propelled the Jannabid dynasty to new heights of prominence. Tune in next time to learn more about the reign of Emire Shaiban and the continuing history of the Jannabid Dynasty, now with vikings!

We've reached the point where the amount of work involved managing a sizeable realm is slowing my progress down. When you're ruling over a single county, you can frequently set the game to fast forward and let several years pass before you really need to make any important decisions. Once you have a larger realm and a few vassals, managing your internal affairs and foreign relations becomes a bit more complicated and time consuming, as you need to figure out how to keeps your vassals and courtiers from assassinating each other (or worse, you) while you simultaneously work out how to cajole or strongarm them into doing what you want. In addition, the recent Royal Court DLC adds an additional court management system for Kingdom and Empire level realms, so you get to deal with all kinds of new court intrigue! Also, due to weird inheritance issues or political intrigues that you as a player aren't necessarily aware of, sometimes weird things happen like your liege suddenly granting a chunk of your realm to some other person with no warning; when that happens, good luck figuring out exactly why! In any event, I've played about a decade into Shaiban's reign at this point, so I'm hoping to have the next 10-20 years written up within the next couple of days.
 
"The new emir of Ural, Shaiban, was the son of Aarif and his third wife Raazia, a Sinhalese Muslim from the Bakkarid Sultanate, which occupied what is in many timelimes southeastern Pakistan. Upon becoming emir far from either of his parents’ homelands, Shaiban knew that as a new ruler he would faces challenges to his authority from both above and below. The most immediately dangerous threat among Shaiban’s vassals was Shindyay, the Chief of Ural, whom Aarif had subjugated during his initial campaign in the north. Shindyay still resented the Jannabid conquerors, and harbored an intense dislike for Shaiban, for reasons that the historical record does not entirely make clear. Lacking his father’s talent for diplomacy, Shaiban was unable to cajole and bribe Shindyay the way the way his father had, so instead he elected to emulate his grandfather and protect his reign through subterfuge. Instead of targeting Shindyay directly, he focused on befriending and even seducing many prominent members of Shidnyay’s court, in particular his court physician Sanal'ka, on the basis that if you need someone to die in a plausibly deniable way, being on good terms with their personal doctor is a pretty good way of facilitating that. Shaiban operated on the assumption that having many agents in place would give him advance warning should Shindyay be planning a coup or assassination attempt, and would make it easier for him to respond quickly and decisively. Or possibly he just enjoyed tomcatting around and later constructed an ex post facto justification to make himself look like a devious schemer. Who knows?"

"The threat from above came of the empress Zuhayra, who had once again recently seized the throne from her daughter. After some consideration, Shaiban hit upon the novel idea of seeking a foreign ally to protect him against his liege. He arranged a marriage between his sister Maryan and High Chieftain Zebulun of Azov, who suffered from strained relations with his own liege, a paranoid, lazy, sadistic, hashish-addicted lothario known as Çat the Heartbreaker. The rationale behind this alliance was rather devious: if Zuhayra took up arms against Shaiban the way she had against his father, not only would Zebulun come to Shaiban’s defense, but likely the entire Empire of Khazaria would as well, as the emperor would welcome the opportunity to annex Ural; similarly, should Çat take action against his own vassal, Shaiban and the Abbasid Empire would have the chance to seize Azov for themselves."
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"This alliance was a political powder keg that could potentially turn an internal Abbasid or Khazar conflict into an international conflict, in so far as nationalism had any particular meaning in the 10th century. So of course, what happened was that this powder keg was defused when vikings from the Kingdom of Sweden promptly invaded Azov, prompting the Khazars and Abbasids to team up to fend them off. To talk a little bit more about this era, let’s hear our resident expert on British and Norse culture, the man whose voice you may recognize as belonging to the man behind the camera, or as the host of the popular podcast 'Oh No, Not More Vikings!' Let’s have a big hand for Crupp Montagu!"

The scene shifts to a windwept Scandinavian plain, where a slightly pudgy man who looks to be pushing the boundaries of middle age stands wearing hiking boots, jeans, a leather jacket and a fedora. He stands in front of an aged Norse runestone, looking entirely discontented. “Are you sure about this getup? I feel ridiculous,” he grumbles.

“Oh yes, absolutely positive,” Lejon says chirpily from off camera. “I reviewed all the market research myself this time, and I can confirm that 60% of the population of the universes in our broadcast range consider what you’re wearing to be the iconic outfit of a cool archaeologist.”

“Okay, right Gemma. Are you sure that they said ‘cool archaeologist’ and not ‘tool archaeologist?’”

“Yes, I’m almost one hundred percent sure that’s what they said. I’m also almost one hundred percent sure that the tool archaeologists actually prefer to be referred to as ‘experimental archaeologists’ these days. We really should try to make sure we use the right nomenclature if we want people to take us seriously.”

“I’m on indefinite leave from the university filming an unsanctioned edutainment documentary in some backwater timeline where I’m about to explain how some Arabic shaman-king went all Thirteenth Warrior here and rampaged the everloving hell out of Scandinavia. Being taken seriously is probably not in the cards here, is it?”

“The first step toward being taken seriously is taking your work seriously. It’s like they say on the street: if you want to get respect, you’ve got to give respect.”

“Are you joking with me right now? Are you fucking joking with me? Just where would someone like you have learned about what they say on the street, anyway?”

“Umm, the same place anyone else does? From Johann Vanderfinkel’s landmark review of cinematic cult classic Bad Breaking 2: 2 Bad 2 Break?”

“I can't believe this, but we've worked together long enough that I think I can actually parse that sentence. Okay, tell me if I'm wrong, but what I'm hearing here is that you watched a six hour video about a ninety minute movie that maybe ten people had ever heard of, and from that you have learned about the importance of respect on the street. Does that accurately sum up the situation?”

“No. It was an eighty four minute movie. And the video wasn’t just about the movie. It also covered the tie-in dating sim on the Saga Gigadrive. In considerable detail. But you know what? Neither the movie nor the game feature bloodthirsty Norse berserkers, which I am apparently obligated to remind you is what you’re being paid to talk about. Now let’s focus and get back to the vikings, Crupp.”

Crupp sighs, looking toward the camera and adjusting his fedora to shade his eyes in an appropriately dramatic fashion. “Fine. Let’s talk about vikings, then. Now, I know that in a lot of places, they’re the subject of some kind of weird rehabilitation campaign. They’ve got TV shows about vikings fighting Anglo-Saxons or zombies or Lucifer. They’ve got superhero shows about Norse gods bringing down Theranos and punching out the Weak Anthropic Prinicple or whatever. They’ve got social media posts where people are all squeeing over ‘look, all these old-timey English dudes were talking about how viking dudes were too attractive because they bathed regularly and washed their hair and braided it and smelled too nice, isn’t that amazing?”

A shadow passes across Crupp’s face as a cloud drifts in front of the sun. He scowls bitterly at the camera. “Yeah, you know what’s not amazing? When you’re some pacifist monk just minding your own business in a seaside monastery, illuminating your manuscripts or whatever, and then a dozen longships just sail right up onto the beach and disgorge hundred of screaming heavily armed berserkers. You think any of those monks ever said ‘Oh my, some bellicose asshole just rammed a sword into my gut and set fire to my home, and now they’re stealing all our valuables and destroying my life’s work, and oh yes, let’s not forget that I’m dying here, but oh well, I guess it’s okay because the guy who’s currently murdering me has pretty hair and he smells nice?’ I can guarantee you that absolutely none of them ever said that.”

“No, despite all of modern society’s efforts to rehabilitate the vikings and the culture that gave rise to them, the fact remains that they were basically the worst neighbors you could possibly have. There’s a reason that in the 10th century you had Norse rulers all over the place not only in Scandinavia but in Russia and the British Isles as well, and why those rulers were constantly fighting with pretty much everybody else.”

"Anyway, the point is that people everywhere from Ireland to Kiev knew about Norse invaders by reputation if not by personal experience, and when King Sigtryggr Bjornsson and his army showed up in Crimea, nobody was under the mistaken impression that they were there to enjoy a sightseeing tour, so it was considered neither surprising nor an overreaction when the Emperor of Khazaria mobilized all the troops available to stand against the invaders.”
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Here we see the situation in Scandinavia. There are a lot of independent realms, with Sweden being the local powerhouse. The king himself is quite capable, and if you look at the row of character trait icons underneath his name, you'll see one on the far right depicting a bear. This is the Berserker trait, which is fairly common among Norse pagans and pretty rare everywhere else. It gives him a host of bonuses, most notably to his Martial and Prowess stats, while reducing his Diplomacy stat. The resulting 22 Prowess makes him a really scary combatant, while he still has 20 Diplomacy even after taking a 2 point hit from the Berserker trait. He's pretty buff, although getting into a war against two larger empires shortly after fighting a war with Novgorod turned out to not be his best idea ever.

“While it would be only natural for Shaiban to gather his troops and head south to Crimea to join in the fracas, he was a man to held to the opinion that maintaining a bunch of catapults was a waste if you didn’t use them to lay siege to someone. So instead he and his troops marched west to the Baltic Sea, where he hired a flotilla of transport ships from some bemused Estonian merchants who didn’t entirely know what to make of these warriors from the east, but who had themselves had enough of the Norse vikings’ shit and were happy to see an invasion force sailing in the other direction for a change. Shaiban’s force landed in Sodermannaland, and after a forced march laid siege to Sigtryggr’s stronghold at Strigines. Much as they had done in Ural a generation before, the Abbasid catapults laid waste to the walls of Strigines, which had not been built to withstand bombardment from proper siege engines. In the end, Shaiban followed the same strategy in his war against Sweden as his father had followed in conquering Ural: smashing the wall’s of his opponent’s capital, assaulting the garrison, and occupying the castle and holding his foe’s family hostage as insurance of their future good behavior.”

"Needless to say, the thanes of Sweden were shocked when an angry one-eyed warrior leading a foreign army conducted a lightning-fast surgical strike against their royal family, wielding his iron-bladed spear as though he were possessed by Odin the Allfather himself. They were even more surprised when he declared himself the earthly champion of the gods, come to lead the Norse people into a new age as their sultan.”

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