Bleeding Kansas – Mythras

I didn’t want to spill the beans before the sessions up North last weekend so didn’t go into any details other than it was “old west” stuff, but this scenario is set directly in the early months of the Bleeding Kansas proto-ACW era. We had a very solid couple of sessions over the weekend and I had a lot of fun as the GM for a few reasons. First, Mythras (Runequest 6) makes everything just work and I’ve played enough where I don’t need the book much at all. I love about 3 other systems (DCC, 13th Age, FASERIP), but Mythras is the numero uno. Second, the excellent Call of Cthulhu old west supplement by Kevin Ross called Down Darker Trails. It’s an excellent sourcebook for the genre and easy to read (very easy on the eyes too). Third, the Firearms supplement for Mythras– just made it easier to run gunfights with the custom special effects. Why Mythras over Call of Cthulhu 7? It’s just better.

Great cover too.

Buy IN

The initial events for the characters began on a train headed to St. Louis in April, 1855. The rear car was detached, unbeknownst to the passengers, and after it slowed to a stop, it was then boarded by miscreants who stated that it was a robbery, yet, it clearly wasn’t. The ruffians were after the daughter of a soon to be legislator in the newly organized territory of Kansas for reasons explained below. The girl was accompanied by a bodyguard and her nanny, the former being instantly shot on sight when the ruffians entered the train. The characters being of a violent sort, the guns (and knives) came out instantly and the PC’s, none of which knew each other, were then united as so many parties have been in the past in a shower of lead and wholesome violence. The heist set up was three men enter the train, shake down the passengers and grab the girl. Two waited outside in a carriage and one shooter perched 100 yards out from the train was to peg off anyone that tried to follow the carriage or run off. Once the girl was away the others would grab some hidden horses and be off.

This didn’t go as planned. The PC’s knifed and shot the three men on the train, leaving two stone dead and one with a gutshot, unconscious. They were then pinned down by the outside shooter but were able to shoot one of the men from the carriage (blowing his leg clean off) who came to investigate the shootings inside the train. The man in the carriage rode off top-speed at that point and the sniping shooter outside the train called it quits after taking a hit to the arm from another passenger and then being nicked in the head by one of the PCs.

From a combat perspective, this was very exciting with the length of reloads on all sides, maneuvering and using distractions in order to get the drop. Luckily only one of the PC’s was hit, and it was but a minor wound. I wanted the players to understand, outside of using luck points, they could be gunned down in a single round and needed to be cautious–the opposite of nearly every other RPG we play with the exception of DCC funnels and LotFP. Always use the firearms supplement actions and special effects in Mythras, even when just playing with bows and crossbows.

Now stranded between somewhere and St. Louis with two ruffians still about, they hid with the other passengers in a nearby dell for the night waiting for the next train or some help to arrive. They kept watch all the next day and the ruffians didn’t make another appearance. Eventually a train arrived and they were interviewed by the marshals on the incident.

The Hook

This lead to the big hook of the scenario where the players were interviewed by one Judge Morris who asked them to handle a sensitive mission to accompany three slaves through Missouri to the Kansas territory, using whatever guile, tricks and violence they needed to to make it to Lawrence over the border and meet with a contact there. This seemed simple, except one of the “slaves” happened to be an Englishman of mixed birth who was carrying a packet of papers that would be difficult to hide if he opened his mouth or was allowed to act normally (remember in these times, a slave would never meet the eye of any white folks present unless directly spoken to and would walk in a non-threatening manner as to not draw attention to themselves). The other two were skilled tradesmen and would be set up as freemen in the new territory. Morris explained that this was a test of what may occur if other slaves in larger groups tried to cross into Kansas via the route they chose. The group was given an enormous sum of money to equip themselves and I was pretty scared as a GM that they would simply run off, but the prize at the end per-person was enough to start a business or some sort of racket, or innumerable bottles of whiskey, countless nights with whores of any race, creed or persuasion, so they agreed to pick up the soon to be freed slaves. They went to purchase materials for the trip (including a trunk full of ammunition) and while waiting for it to be delivered, went to pick up the ‘contraband.’

I made an apocryphal small town where they were to pick them up called Forsythe which was influenced by the “porters quarters” area of Gainesville where all the porters who all worked in mansions (not by modern standards) downtown, but lived in the middle of the town in an area with shacks, dirt roads and little running water. When I was there for college the area still had gravel roads!!

They picked up the slaves at a festival in the town that was just beginning and made off into the fields straight away, the biggest issue at first that that Englishman was wearing a suit, but realized they had a tail of a couple mounted men, and that’s where we had to call it.

I wanted to introduce some moral quandaries with the characters, but not so early in the scenario so they didn’t know what to do and didn’t follow story flags. The people who are sponsoring the slaves getting to Kansas by our standards would still be considered racists (maybe these days everyone born before 2001 would be considered one anyway), let alone your normal inhabitant of Missouri, but culturally things are on a continuum and not black and white, and this is a period where multiple groups came together to politically and violently oppose human bondage, even if they themselves felt they were superior to all other races (and were still in the process of wiping out the Native Americans). Like the article in the last post, if you want characters to talk to NPC’s and have political shenanigans, you must have a VERY deadly system, otherwise everything just gets attacked and overwhelmed when people get tired of talking. Within this backdrop of oncoming disorder and madness, the characters are thrust, with huge potential for both profit, roleplaying and being gutshot and left for dead or strung up on a tree limb in the middle of nowhere. Likely their involvement will throw gas on the fire and we will get some double or triple Hendersons out of the whole thing as we go on or they will just take the (ample) money they have at the first sign of danger and leave the foppish Englishman and his two companions to their fate…

Mythras Old West this weekend!

Here we go. This weekend is our annual camping trip and when the weather is bad or after sundown, we get some roleplaying in the deep dark northwoods region.

This year, inspired by a lot of stuff, I’m going to do Old West with Mythras. While the characters take a long time to make (PC’s, I can generate NPC’s pretty quick), the combat system was just too good to not try out for a least a couple sessions. I’m using the Mythras Core rules plus the Firearm rules. I’ve been wanting to run something like this for a long time reminiscent of both our days with Call of Cthulhu where we started to ignore the mythos and run rum as anyone in the 1920’s should and this excellent blog post about boot hill.

Dark Souls on the Switch – it’s good*

Right after Elden Ring came out I had to take a trip and was away from my PC. I grabbed the Switch for my kids but remembered I had Dark Souls on it. The Switch, from many, many hours of whatever the fuck the kids play on there was messed up with a really bad drift-stick on one of the sticks that made DS nearly unplayable. Somewhere at some random Walmart in Indiana, I found a HORI Split Pad Pro and not only did that solve the drift-stick, it made Dark Souls a far better experience to play without the stock controllers. Very much recommended for everything unless you are worried about it fitting inside your little case (like if you have to shove it up your ass when you are sent to prison), otherwise the HORI sticks make everything play better.

Build

I was mulling over the build to use but when Pinwheel dropped the DAD mask (1/3rd chance), I knew what had to be done– Giant Dad with a fucking Chaos Zweihander. It’s a LOT of work to get all the pieces, and for new players of Dark Souls it is NOT worth it, just get the rest of the stuff and do a lightning Zweihander instead. Why? The Chaos Zwei scales off HUMANITY which means you have to run around with 5-10 humanity all the time. If you drop your souls and can’t get them back, you are farming fucking RATS in the depths for hours and hours to get what you need to hit hard enough to win.

Rings: Havel’s Ring, Wolf’s Ring

Armor: Giants + the Dad mask

Shield: Grass Crest

Weapon: Chaos Zwiehander, a bitch to create, and a bitch to use but hit’s so hard…

bastards!

Bosses

This is my second time all the way through the game so I was familiar with just about all the bosses I fought. Most of the bosses I thought were scary the first time were pushovers and some I thought were easy earlier were challenging.

Fatty Demon: Easy, but punishing later versions make me still hate this guy (like the Erdtrees)

Taurus Demon: Super easy.

Capra Demon: STILL a bitch to defeat, took me a lot of tries, not because of the Capra, but because of the dogs

Insideout Dragon : a tough fight, but the first real “boss” in the game so it better be. I lost a lot of souls during this battle for sure.

Bell Gargoyles: this was really easy, and I remember emotionally suffering in my initial playthrough.

Iron Giant: Not too bad but took me a lot of tries.

Queelag the topless: I used the summon because that one is so silly (a lady with a cleaver with a sack over her head) and she wasn’t too hard. Took me a few tries for sure and of course, that’s after Blighttown so you are always emotionally drained before fighting her, but at least there’s cleavage.

Ceaseless Discharge: this is a trick boss, so really doesn’t count. He’s easy if you know what to do and just a sad sack of fiery shit really.

Smough and Orenstein: Well… I summoned the Sunbro for help and followed the basics: Kill Orenstein first, don’t get hit by Smough and it worked out. This took me countless tries the first time through so I made sure I was good and ready for this battle, including walking in there with 10 Humanity so the Zwei was hitting hard. Big risk, big reward of the beautiful chest ahead.

Yeah, I look REAL good.

NITO: one of my favorite bosses in the end game because he’s pretty easy and also scary. Advice I got was to not go in the room to trigger the big skellingtons. Getting to NITO was terrible for me though…. ugh, Tomb of Giants was worse than Blightown this time.

SEATH: This one was tough, but I just stayed near his leg and kept circling and took him down. I had forgotten the whole prison thing so that was again a surprise!

FOUR KINGS: Super easy. I remember having a ton of trouble with these guys the first play through. Just hit them again and again.

hey I’m one of the good guys right? right? …

Demon Firesage: what an asshole. I kept getting the RNG on his AOE and it just killed me over and over and over. This boss I didn’t like too much because it felt ALMOST unfair.

Fire Centipeed: I lost 10 humanity the first time fighting this jerk, but summoned Sunbro again and we took her down.

BED OF CHAOS: this is my least favorite fight in Dark Souls. Just being constantly pushed off a cliff is not great fun. You can’t do anything but just suffer through this one and get it over with.

SIF: funny doggy. Not a tough fight. Maybe he’s the only good guy among all these bosses and you’re the bad guy.

Gwyn Lord of Cinder: For the final boss, he seems intimidating at first even for my second play through the game, but after playing Bloodborne where you MUST parry as part of normal play, this was a very easy fight that took only two tries! I just parried him over and over and had enough health to tank the shots I missed on… and the chaos zwei with 10 Humanity.

Come at me CHIZZLE CHEST!

Final verdict

The Switch version of Dark Souls is excellent, plays great, performance is fantastic. It’s all there and right in the palm of your hand and really good if you get the Hori controllers. If they work well with DS, they will work well with Breath of the Wild and everything else.

Elden Ring – a golden shower of FROM hits

I’m 17+ hours in and I’ve seen a few things and suffered some bad beatings, had my first character’s save file corrupted and had to start over from scratch. I’m going to comment on a couple reasons why people may not like this game even though reviewers have given it 10/10 almost across the board. Do you like Dark Souls? This is absolutely a 10/10. Fan of Breath of the Wild or Monster Hunter? This is probably 7/10 for you. Lukewarm or couldn’t get through Dark Souls? This may not be your thing, and that’s OK!

First off, this is fundamentally a FROM game, but open world. It takes a lot of things from previous FROM games, mixes them up, improves them and throws you into this gigantic area to try to deal with all of it at once. There are wandering giants, mud men that rip their chests open and shoot their insides out, gigantic fighting trees, parades of low-lifes, mount and blade style mounted warriors, harpies, sirens, and just so much more. The game feels like a best-hit collection from the previous games, yet due to the new context, without being repetitive or redundant.

FUUCKED!!!!!!

Mechanically, the game is closest to Dark Souls compared to Bloodborne or Sekiro. I think there is a ton to learn and the nature of the game forces you to deal with aspects of the mechanics that you may not have bothered with in the previous Souls games, such as the magic system, summons, mass healing, AOE attacks, and so on. At the root of this is the incredibly varied nature of the enemies you will face. The Tank and Spank style that I went with in the original Dark Souls works, but there are mobs and bosses that will really cause problems for this style and will force players to add other aspects (like summons) to their repertoire. I went through the entirety of Bloodborne using the Kirkhammer to smash things with no thought to any other mechanics, but there’s no way I will make it through Elden Ring with such basic tactics that I can see. Add to this that many battles will be fought on horse-back and you have a totally new dimension to the game. And speaking of horse stuff….

The Mount and Blade Parts

Mount and Blade is an awesome series with excellent mass combat mechanics and really groundbreaking horseback combat. Elden Ring borrows from this extensively and creates many of the same type of feels with it’s horse-based combat. I am addicted to running around and challenging other dudes on horses to fight. The best part is dragging your weapon along the ground and just mowing through dismounted enemies. This is very similar to the feeling of smashing into a formation of foot soldiers in Mount and Blade and hacking them down with a giant sword or scythe. If you dig Mount and Blade, you will feel instantly comfortable with the horse-based combat of Elden Ring.

Classes

There are a lot of classes in the game and they all give you a basis for a playstyle that you may or may not follow through the game. It’s fundamentally if you want to go Strength, Dexterity or some sort of magic. Class doesn’t matter that much and if you are stressed about it, just take the wretch and let what you find in the game define what you become– it almost always works out that way anyway.

That said, I really like the prisoner for the silly helmet and the Samurai who starts with a longbow and katana (this would be a dexterity build). I started with the bandit for a dex/arcane build, but my second character was, of course, a wretch. While lots of builds are effective, not all of them are easy and you could be setting yourself up for HARD MODE if you go down the magic path (at least at first) without ever playing the game. Basically there are a lot of foundations to choose from, but they don’t matter all that much and even out as you gain even 10-15 levels.

a wretch, doing what wretches do which is being naked and afraid.

Weapons

Weapons will feel very familiar to Souls players, in fact, many are nearly the same but with one critical exception: weapons have special abilities called Ashes of War that allow one of the heavy attack buttons to invoke a special move– some of which are pretty mundane (like Determination that gives you extra damage) and others that are spectacular like Glintsword Arch which turns your weapon into a massive one for a single strike, or super useful such as a special dodge. What’s more, you can change these special powers out, which also can change your ability affinities with each weapon (for example, some Ashes will change a STR affinity from D to B, etc.). These use you characters spell points (FP) to use, so most of them you can’t use all day. Great addition to the game so far that you may miss early in your play.

Magic

I have never run a balls out magic user, just added a bit of Faith to my STR builds to heal on the fly. I’ve seen some magic during multiplayer and it is NUTS in this game. This is an area of Elden Ring I can’t wait to explore more, as soon as I get more confidence that I can survive!

a couple of Wretch and Turtle Friend

In addition to the normal spell builds available (pyro, sorcery, faith), all players can use SUMMONS. These are NPC’s that join you in a fight /period of time and range from sorcerers to wolves, undead and many other things I haven’t seen before. This helps a ton with bosses and you can tell that they made bosses more difficult assuming that all players would use summons.

Multiplayer

I ran all of Dark Souls 1 and 2 without using multiplayer the first time, and boy I missed out. Multiplayer is one of the best parts of the game despite the fact that it is obtuse to try to get going at first, and currently prone to drops on the PC fairly frequently.

The beauty of multiplayer is the fact that it can ease up the difficulty vs mobs and bosses and allow non-standard and sub-optimal builds as well as allowing more experienced players to carry newer folks through some of the really rough spots so they can progress.

Invasions are a bit odd in Elden Ring– you can only invade players that are already using summons of other players, so you are walking into a 1v 2 situation at least every time as an invader. If your goal is to hunt and kill people, that’s great, but if you want to duel, this is very different from Bloodborne /Dark Souls.

There are invasion arena areas where you can get duels in designated areas, but it’s definitely not the same as the old games– seems like it’s a bit friendlier for new players who don’t have to worry about getting invaded while alone.

Onward!

Elden Ring is awesome and absolutely deserves the hype it got before release and is getting post release, confusing (by design) and very difficult to try to solo. I have a long, long way to go in the game and will probably do a real review in about a year– likely when Elden Ring wins GOTY for 2022.

Mythras Combat Modules

Mythras, in my opinion, has the best hand to hand combat system of any RPG. Nothing else even comes close. It can be a bit challenging to learn at first, though even as a beginner with this system I was able to run the game without the book with the exception of the special effects list, and some references to weapons here and there.

Knowing there is a bit of a learning curve, Design Mechanism in their infinite wisdom has released not just one, but THREE combat training modules to get you over the hump and enjoying some FORCED FAILURES and tasty impaling available on DrivethruRPG

New Marvel RPG in the Works

This is a bit OFN, but the original teaser was so sparse I was waiting for more information before posting anything, but it looks like it’s all still under the covers except for the press release. First off, this looks like it will be heavily influenced by FASERIP, using it’s own acronym for stats (M.A.R.V.E.L. – Might, Agility, Resilience, Vigilance, Ego, and Logic) which is good because FASERIP has influenced nearly all Supers RPG’s since it’s release. The system it’s using is new, called D616?

When we pulled the first Marvel RPG out of the shrinkwrap and realized you couldn’t create characters, it was a bummer, especially after having played Champions for quite some time where frankly creating characters is the best part of the game. They ain’t messing around with this new one, you will be able to create characters right away, they’ve made that abundantly clear (see the image below). After reading Invincible, there’s no reason NOT to start from scratch completely rather than be bound tight in the hidebound MCU.

Lastly, you can buy the “Playtest Packet” for 10$ off Amazon here (not out until March 2022 though).

Excellent Interview on FASERIP

Dungeon Designers Guild did a long and excellent interview with Jeff Grubb, the designer and mastermind behind FASERIP (aka, Marvel Superheroes RPG from 1984) on FASERIP itself (he’s done a lot of other stuff).

Look, there’s the real Captain Marvel!!!

I have probably posted this on this blog before but Matt and I got this as kids and I learned it and tried to play and it just did not grab us, especially from just the base set. I think it was the small set of characters, the fact that you can’t make your OWN characters (at first at least), the rather oddly written rulebook and the apparent SIMPLICITY of the game compared to what we were playing at the time (Call of Cthulhu and AD&D mostly). We had been playing Champions which was a total mess to play with great mid-max character generation. I wish I had stuck with FASERIP back in the day until the Advanced version came out and tried it again– it’s really good and still probably the best Superhero game. While it would be fun to create a hero, in all honesty I’d probably just grab She-Hulk and punch stuff and say lawyer quotes from Better Call Saul.

Anyway, enough of my words, listen to the podcast.

SPOTIFY

Onyx Path fixes Stunting in the Storyteller System!

I just finished reading the new Onyx Path Trinity Core rules and it looks like they fixed Stunts, albeit too late for Exalted 3.

Years ago I did a post about the really bad design of STUNTS in Exalted 2nd Edition, that was not improved by Exalted 3rd. This wasn’t a review of Exalted 3 as a whole, just a note that the way stunts were designed were a huge problem as it puts the onus on the player to come up with something cool, that may not happened due to the dice being rolled AFTER the description. In 2nd edition, stunts were tied to Mote-regeneration (the stuff that let’s you use your powers) and that turned out to be a very bad idea*. White Wolf was never known for their playtesting ability…

Feng Shui 2’s solution to stunts was the simple and best one– roll the dice, see what happens and if you roll high enough in the situation, then you get a stunt. In Mythras, the opposed combat rolls determine levels of success, which may allow special effects (which are fucking brutal). Lastly, the 13th Age Rogue has a power that gives them one stunt per battle, that ALWAYS happens regardless of the roll of the dice. I like this, but that’s probably because I play using a rogue in 13th Age!

The way it works in the new Trinity/AEON/Aberrant is you make a roll vs a difficulty and then spend your successes to overcome the difficulty first, next spend any excess for effects of your attack. Doing damage to your opponent is considered an effect, for example, as well as tripping, blinding, added dice for your next attack, disarming: all of it are purchased with successes– successes realized and explained AFTER the roll. So if you even up successes vs difficulty, you effectively succeeded, but you don’t have any additional successes for that success to have an effect.

What this avoids are players mulling over more than just their attack moves, but an over-blown description of their attack moves before the dice hit the table to show that it happened. You can declare a ‘medium attack to no specific location’ the same as D&D, but if the dice come up GREAT for you, that medium attack can become a dry gulch to the throat, disarm and knee to the nuts!

Added to this is the ability for characters to do multiple actions during their turn up to their Cunning stat– so punching a mook, grabbing his gun and shooting the kneecaps off a couple of other mooks is entirely possible. With the scaling rules, a character with a 3+ scale difference in skill vs his opponents simply DICTATES what occurs during their combat action. Love it.

I’m not super interested in Aeon (the sci fi game), but let’s see if Onyx Path can pull off D10 superheroes with Aberrant! There are a million superhero games out now, and most of them don’t even compare well to FASERIP, especially all of them made during the “RPG microlite” or FATE years that hand wave all powers into some generic die roll.

While this will likely be missing the hard-edge 90’s conspiracy and nihilism we’ve come to love from White Wolf, after reading the Trinity Core Rules, I bet system wise, it’s a winner.

*for the record: Excellency + Shadow over Water [or Seven Shadow Evasion] + Reflex Sidestep Technique + Leaping Dodge Method. This combo costs 10 XP to purchase, is friendly with Infinite Mastery, allows the character to perfectly defend against any attack, allows the nullification of unexpected attacks and allows the character to break most flurries. Invoke this combo for every single action in combat, using a 2-die stunt to restore the expended Willpower. Thank you Jon Chung: why were you not on the Exalted 3 playtesting team?

13th Age MINARIA Campaign!

You read that right, 13th Age in Minaria— the campaign setting from TSR that never was, and could have been.

For the non old-person, Minaria is the fantasy world created for the Divine Right board game, which many of us had as kids in the 80’s. While the game was a bit labyrinthian for a 9-12 year-old as a hex and counter, the map board was on the wall of my bedroom for at least 15 years. The map and counter art is by Dave Trampier, and is amazing. The Tower of Zards, Invisible School of Thaumaturgy and all the awesome mercenary units (like Hamhara the dragon) were incredibly fertile ground for the imagination as a young and now older mainge.

The mystery is why this was not turned into a Greyhawk style campaign setting by TSR as all the assets were right there– just needed someone to start writing modules for it! There were multiple articles in Dragon Magazine on Minaria and it’s environs. Anyway, time to redress this issue!

13th Age and Minaria are a great combo as the 13th Age world itself is godless and pretty generic fantasy, especially since it has no gods which I’ve always found very strange. While Runequest has a bit too much to do with the gods for me, the 13th Age world just doesn’t seem grounded. The Icons in 13th Age are really just basic concepts and with Minaria, there are oodles of Icons that are far more interesting and engaging than the stock 13th Age ones. Yet on the plus side, you have the amazing 13th Age system, which is probably my most run RPG in the last 5 years or so. While Minaria is not explicitly high fantasy, it has enough of those elements to fit well with the more gonzo fantasy of 13th Age. Minaria and Divine Right are still products of the Gonzo TSR age.

I’m not GMing this one, which is a great break from almost always GMing and I get to play a rogue, so far my favorite class for the game (among many awesome class selections). The fun part about the rogue is that you can bounce around the combat area almost at will, you rarely get stuck, and you can hammer enemies.

I’ve only been in two sessions with the group so far and we are in some rather familiar house by the sea near Port Lork at the moment… and we’ll see where this goes.

Crusader Kings 3: FULL AUTO BIRTH CANNON!!!

I want to do a long post about CK3. This is an amazing game. Here’s the TL:DR.

FIRST: it’s much easier to get into than CK2, which I gave the good colleddged try a few times and failed to figure out what to do and it definitely failed to pique my interest and I just yearned for Stellaris… this one is totally smooth. SMOOTH.

SECOND: this is not a conquest game like Total War, this is a medieval FUCK simulator with war-like…um… consequences. It’s all about relationships, both hierarchical and personal, hereditary and romantic. You don’t have winning goal– you set that for yourself which is extremely different than Total War or Stellaris. As a strategy buff, this seemed odd to me, but it’s great. It’s a sandbox and it’s huge.

THIRD: The things you can do are absolute madness. Eating prisoners, seducing relatives of either gender, creating a naked, satanic religion and then forcing it onto your subjects, running a bene gesserit style breeding program with your children and grand children to create what later amounts to a kwizatch haderach (or transalpine dwarfs….).

So what the hell is this game?

CK3 is a game where you play as a single person, specifically a landowning noble of some kind. When that person dies, if they have kids who can inherit their wealth and status and holdings (not just spawns that can’t inherit anything), you play as one of those children, otherwise it’s game over. You are incentivized to continue your bloodline and make sure you have enough heirs, so that with the high death rates of the early medieval period, you don’t lose the game.

You can start as anyone: a king, a queen, a count or a duke but not Barons or unlanded nobles (ie: no banking families— yet). You can start anywhere in the ‘old’ world (Europe to the western edge of China) as well as amazingly, Africa. You can play as nobles in the Califates, in the late dark age Viking kingdoms or as leaders of the Hausa in Africa. The scope is nuts.

Once you start, you will have a holding, house you belong to, family and a court that you need to manage. This comes with a small or large military, alliances, a current religion with all of the rules and complexity that goes along with these.

And here’s how this fucking madness can play out.

lots of kids, lots of useless males…

On my first play, I chose Malika of the Hausa, a matrilineal, tribal area in Africa. I got a husband and other mating partners (totally OK in Hausa culture, not at all OK in most others) and started the full auto birthcannon, just firing out kids. The issue was, they started to try to kill each other as there were no laws of primogeniture. Eventually my first character had about 7-8 kids– quite a horde and 2 of them died early. When my first character died, I thought: ‘Ok, I’ve built quite a power-base here and my oldest daughter is going to continue to kick total ass.’ NOPE! The rules of succession split everything among the female heirs equally and my main daughter immediately had to go to war with two of her sisters to reclaim (or claim rather) the lands that were rightfully hers. Meanwhile she racked up the consorts and started firing out kids of her own– but NO girls. So if she got killed, she I would end up playing as one of her sisters that I was now at war with, or at the last minute would have to switch to a patriarchal culture. Fan, fucking, tastic.

Being my first play with no clue as to what I was doing, I quit to start over. After running through the tutorial that starts in Ireland, then I began as Eudes, a little kid count in Western France, beset by enemies all around him with a couple of powerful uncles, one of which is his liege who has bigger problems to worry about.

Other than making sure I was not going to get immediately destroyed by the Vikings nearby, the first thing I had to find was a good woman just like the Hausa lady finding a set of good men to breed children, this is essential, and in Catholic France, you likely get only one shot at this. I have a certain… uh… type of lady that I like so I was like: why not let’s go look at Spain/Portugal and I found a similar age kid that fit the bill and had a positive congenital trait as well– boom! Betrothed which gave me an instant ally across the Pyrenees and some claims on some counties in the Basque region. I married off a sister which gave me another ally nearby. Then…

Dwarf.

… I got– distracted. The map is gigantic, just mind-bogglingly large. I started looking at India and environs on a whim and BOOM: there were tits. Granted they were on a lady with dwarfism… Then the deep dive into the mystery of the naked rulers in India began– and then I found one in Eastern Europe. Why? What the hell and how can I get everyone naked?? How? I won’t spoil anything, but this led me to some deep respect around the religious aspect of this game. There are 15 Islamic sects alone and I have no idea how many Christian ones, including the Gnoscists, your leaders can, of course, create their own religions. These each have different mechanics and change the rules of the game, including, you got it: NUDITY.

I played as Eudes until he passed away happily having quite a few children and a few un-legitimized bastards and then the madness and obsession really began. When you start with one of the ‘try this first’ factions you feel a bit like you are on rails (you are not) but when that guy or gal dies, you know everything can and will change drastically, a lot like some of the better Total War games. Eventually, France collapsed under the constant conflict between rival counts and dukes, meanwhile raided from Vikings in the north and pressure from the south from the Islamic empire that had rolled across Spain. Eventually ALL of southern France was part of a massive Islamic empire who had also encroached into Italy. The only thing for it was for the Pope to call a Crusade and madness began again.

While the urge is to get the biggest Kingdom/Dukedom or solid heirs, sometimes, you just need do things out of spite. A few generations down I had an absolute rake seducer as a duke as well as some unruly vassals and they went and rebelled. The rebellion was crushed and I captured a couple of the rulers, most of which I tortured and then let go. But one of them had a comely lass for a spouse and no children yet! I left him to rot in jail, seduced his wife who must have been oh so lonely (she hated him anyway) and as soon as she was impregnated, I turned him loose from jail to cope with the fact that his primary heir was not his own child. This did nothing to advance the cause of my realm, but real good fun.

Another event was that I needed a good spymaster. I found some Teutonic broad in the low countries with a shockingly high intrigue stat, seduced her to my court, then my rakish duke had some kids with her. Over the years, I noticed one of her daughters had some amazing congenital traits and seduced her too (this was her daughter from a previous husband/lover) and when the Duchess died, married the duke to the daughter. Eventually, since her mom was the spymaster, she exposed the secret to her daughter that the duke had also humped her mom and there was an incident… luckily my duke had a high likability, otherwise you start to see murder after murder of your dynasty members from inside your own court.

Eventually my dynasty was stripped of all other Duke level titles and was stuck with just a Duchy of Provence (between Italy and France) and even though I had kidnapped my liege multiple times to get concessions, due to disease, murder and accidents at war, I was down to a barren duchess with zero male heirs in her line of succession and it was game over.

Again, this game has no ‘winning’ goal: you make your own goals and it’s just brilliant. You can play as a warlike Richard the Lionhearted, a foppish lout who whores and drinks, or a Bathory style torturer and murderer and anywhere in between. Then, next generation, you get to decide how to play again.

Lastly, I love how small, seemingly insignificant decisions later become massive problems or boons. Marrying off an ugly, scaly daughter to some bastard child of one of your vassals ends up accidentally with you controlling the province as the father murdered his bastard and a month later his son and heir, one of your knights, is killed fighting in a crusade.

They really knocked one out of the park and this will be played all Winter…I can’t wait for expansions: especially if there are BANKING expansions where you can play as the FUGGERS, etc. and not worry about all the owning land stuff.

My horribly scarred ruler, his drunk lesbian wife, and bastard son.