A Game of Mods
I’m known to be something of a fan of Crusader Kings II. I’ve fought the Kaisers of the Holy Roman Empire to create an independent Kingdom of Bohemia; I’ve played as Scots subjugating the English, and forged the Empire of Britannia; I’ve assassinated countless heirs, spouses, brothers and rival leaders; I’ve even tried to make most of Europe ruled by women, exclusively.
After causing so many wars, rebellions and “what if” scenarios, I was looking for something a wee bit different. Something ever so slightly fantastical. I found it in the A Game of Thrones total conversion mod, and I’ve been stuck playing it ever since.
The setting of Westeros is something of a perfect fit for a grand strategy game, especially one so focused on human relationships and political intrigue. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was, in part, inspired by a lot of the historical events that also feature in CK II, and the vanilla game was created with modders in mind. Paradox has even implemented incest, despite not intending to use it for the base game. Unpleasant, to be sure, but undeniably important considering the Targaryens’ proclivities.
I’m rather fond of the Iron Islanders. They might be brutal and a bit crazy, but they mean business and I appreciate that. House Greyjoy, like most of the game’s representations of the houses of The Seven Kingdoms, is pretty much spot on. You can select a historical start for your playthrough, the first being Robert’s Rebellion, and the other starting around the same time as the first book, during Robert’s reign. In Robert’s Rebellion crotchety Lord Balon Greyjoy’s court was a lot larger than it would be a few years later. Both of his sons Rodrik and Malon still lived, not yet slain during the Iron Isles’ own rebellion and Theon was but a baby. Within the limits of the game, they even looked about right. At the very least they looked tough and dark haired.
This attention to detail extends to character traits as well. There’s a big community supporting the mod, and they are constantly on the look out for traits and abilities that don’t quite match up to the source material. Characters also have their own religious beliefs, just as in the core game, but the religions have been replaced by those from the books. Appropriately, the Iron Islanders followed the Drowned God, and their clergymen were called Drowned Men.
At the start of my reign things were about to kick off. Mad King Aerys had been a little too mad lately, and Robert Baratheon had risen up against him. I decided to not get involved, better to see how it plays out. In the mean time, I had a house to run. I had a bunch of kids running around the place, and they were pissing everyone off. The solution? Bring in a Maester. The council is slightly different here, most of the positions have simply been renamed, but in the case of the Maester he is rather unique. He can heal the wounded, research technology, and even be the default tutor for your children. Helpful chap.
Number one son, Rodrik, had finally come of age. Time to secure an alliance. House Goodbrother, despite their name, were being thoroughly bad. We were not chums. But with the land at war, it was best to keep one’s enemies close. With that in mind, I married Rodrik to the daughter of the house’s patriarch: The Lord Reaver of Great Wyk, Gorold I. With the alliance sealed, we could now act like pals — at least on the surface.
With everyone still at war, all the old kingdoms are free to reignite old grievances, or even join the rebellion. I decide that it might be nice to have some territory on the mainland just to stick it to the Riverlanders. While my minion was away fabricating claims before our war, I got my Master of Arms to get me a list of all the Valyrian steel swords in the kingdoms. I was going to go Pokémon on those swords. For the uninitiated, think Damascus steel, but magic.
Before I could strike, the war ended. Robert’s rebellion failed and he was in the King’s dungeons for the time being. Now it was far too risky to start messing with the Riverlands. I’m yet to actually see his rebellion succeed. While that might seem odd given how pivotal the event was, from a gameplay stand point it wouldn’t be very satisfying if the victory came so easily. If Robert succeeds every single time, there’s no sense of accomplishment for a player who decides to participate in the war.
At Pyke, my seat of power, things were getting pretty stressful. All of my brothers kept demanding titles and lands, none of which I was willing to give up. I ruled over a bunch of shitty islands, I wasn’t exactly up to my neck in fiefs. So those buggers were going all around the islands telling everyone who would listen what a bastard I was. What a cheek. I told them I’d send them to the Nights Watch if they didn’t shut it. While I was busy dealing with my irritating brothers, I wasn’t keeping an eye on those pesky lords under my rule. Lord Baelor of Blackdyke is being an arsehole and he’s raised a wee army. How adorable. After not getting a decent war in quite some time, I decide to go all out and raise a vast army.
In one battle the rebellion is over and Baelor is dead.
After a taste of victory it’s back to dealing with the business of governing. King Aerys dies and is succeeded by King Rhaegar, who makes me his Master of Arms. More work! I get dragged to Kings Landing to train the troops. That’s when things got messy. I was busy in the capitol kicking soldiers, shouting, and trying to find a new Maester since the old one got a seat on the Conclave. Well, good for him, the git. And this whole time my wife, who I’d left back in Pyke, was being taken care of by my despicable brother, Euron Crow’s Eye. She gets pregnant, and it’s most certainly not mine.
Rushing back to Pyke, with my son Theon in tow (this was before everyone knew he was a terrible shit), we get waylaid and he is kidnapped. Screw paying a ransom, I send my men to hunt down the kidnappers and slaughter them. Theon is brought back safe, and likely covered in the blood of the bandits. Back in my castle I deal with my wife.
She gives birth in her prison cell. The bastard is named after his father, adding insult to bloody injury.
Another rebellion kicks off, once again the Targaryens are fighting those they rule. Already rather peeved, I decide I want to finally make a bid for independence, and create the Kingdom of the Iron Isles. To celebrate I have a tumble with a courtier — the wife of my Master of Laws — and eventually find myself with my own little bastard. I acknowledge him, but won’t legitimise him. No sense in having another kid trying to get the crown.
Rhaegar is dead but his heir Viserys continues the war. To blow off some steam I take a trip to the dungeons.
The missus is now dead and everyone thinks I’m awful.
The crowns rests heavily on my brow, and I’m getting a tad under the weather. Seeing the end in sight, I decide to clear the air with my hated brother Euron. Especially now that my wife is dead.
Euron is now in exile. Job done.
King Balon of the Iron Isles goes for an extremely long nap, and Rodrik becomes the regent. He fends off other prospective regents, almost single handedly ends a civil war, and forges new alliances. Eventually, Balon passes on and Rodrik makes peace with the Targaryens but retains the Kingdom of the Iron Isles. Instead of dying fighting against a post Targaryen Seven Kingdoms, he becomes a king himself.
The mod is still a work in progress. The last big update added things like the Wildlings and the Nightwatch, though they still need to be fleshed out more. It’s interesting to see how the various houses and their nobles act a little bit like you might expect from the books, in my time playing the Greyjoys this was especially noticeable with Euron.
While this total conversion is something fans of the series will really appreciate, the breadth of changes that the team has implemented, and the different setting means that it offers something for those unfamiliar with the source material and just want a new scenario. I honestly haven’t had this much fun with a grand strategy mod since The Third Age Lord of the Rings total conversion for Medieval II: Total War. It’s filled with new events, actions, ambitions and new features. There’s a lot of potential, and even at this stage it’s more than playable. I highly recommend checking the beta out, it can be downloaded here.
I’ll be taking a closer look at it in the near future.