So:  Right now I’m the King of Ireland and I have a problem. I’m in my late 50’s and death is stalking me. My son is set to inherit half of my kingdom, and another son will inherit my other title: King of Scotland. I didn’t plan it this way. Welcome to Crusader Kings II.

Gleaning the news every day for hilarious stories to write about simply got too depressing last week. So when Steam had a sale, I snagged it on the cheap. Paradox strategy games (Victoria, Europa Universalis, and Crusader Kings) are a breed unto themselves. They come with a steep learning curve and a barrel of frustrations, but once you adapt to the spirit of the game they play more like a puzzle game than anything else.

I started in Ireland. Crusader Kings II calls it Eire and players call it “newbie island.” The year is 867, and I’m the mediocre Chief of a small province with one asset to my name: an exploitable family.  By “exploitable family,” I mean: completely. If you can’t explain to your daughter that she is being shipped off to Aquitane so her nephew (my grandson) will benefit in 70 years, then you shouldn’t play this game. If the Prince she is marrying is a cruel, craven dwarf, she’ll just have to suck it up and do her dynastic duty. We need the alliance he provides now. I’ve want my dynasty to rule the known world before Columbus sets sail.

I tried to groom my successors for empire. But when my grandson came to power, at the ripe old age of 28, a pack of raiders appeared in his home territory. There were 143 of them, which might sound dangerous, but is actually equivalent to a duel with a level 1 rat. Since fighting helps improve a low martial score, I sent him to lead the army. He got wounded. A month later he got ill. A month after that he caught pneumonia and promptly died. Imagine your level 10 Knight fighting a single level 1 rat, getting bit, and dying a fortnight later from disease. Now you know my pain.

Having your king die doesn’t end your dynasty in Crusader Kings II. The game keeps track of your extended family. In my case I had an uncle far back in the family tree, from a branch long since abandoned by me. He has three sons. The middle son is both inbred and a stutterer. The first son isn’t terrible. I marry off the third son to a Queen in Mercia. England is next to be conquered: gotta plan ahead. I didn’t realize this meant that instead of the daughter joining my court (the way things have worked up until now) my son would leave. Stupid different cultures.

So I continue along my sanguinary and heartless way. Even though I hold the title “King of Scotland,” I haven’t exactly crushed all the Chiefs who won’t recognize me as the new landlord. Inbred Imbecile middle son wants a title to something early because he is set to inherit a few provinces once I die.

What can I possibly give him that he can’t screw up? Ah hah! I just captured a Bishopric. This is a church, they don’t pay taxes because if I give them a tax rate they’ll either pay me or the Pope, and they like the Pope more. Lots more. I’m not what you would call “saintly”. So I set their tax rate to zero, this way my Bishop Vassals will keep the money and build more stuff in their churches, which means more troops which I can call on in time of need. Which is often. So, here you go son, enjoy your property!

A miracle occurs. Apparently when a ‘toon becomes a priest they take vows of chastity and poverty. Score! A whole list of provinces I was going to lose control of will now be inherited by first son when I die. Except for the Kingdom of Scotland, which goes to third son, far, far away from my court and influence. Bummer.

My first instinct is to assassinate him. I’ve poisoned people, dropped people into manure pits, and once pushed a child off the parapet walls. Like I said, there’s a reason they all like the Pope better. It’s not like I, personally, did those things. I just provided the backing so that other people with good reason to hate my enemies will murder them for me. It is not risk-free: if you are suspected of being involved, there’s a reputation hit, which you can scarcely afford. Low rep is most likely why you’d be removing a person in the first place.

Except you can’t plot to murder your own heir in Crusader Kings II. The one unrealistic feature. In fact, since my son isn’t even in my own court I’m pretty limited on what I can do. Normally, if the landed spouse dies, the unlanded spouse returns to the court of their dynastic family. Sooo…

I guess my daughter-in-law will have to die. I set up the plan. To my surprise, my son, her husband, also wants her dead. Badly. He joins me and we almost have enough points to put the plan in motion.

At about this point I realize I’m a total bastard. And I’m good at it!

In the end, I gave the Kingdom of Scotland to my first son, losing control of it for a few years. Yes, he managed to screw it up in that short amount of time. When I died, he inherited the Kingdom of Ireland and a handful of provinces I’d managed to capture in England. Since he was already King of Scotland, my empire was more or less intact. Number three son got nothing. Them’s the breaks. He should have plotted to have his brother killed, like I would have.

Inbred monastic son eventually did manage to screw up his Bishopric. He got into mysticism and died at the tender age of thirty-six. Luckily, he didn’t die alone. Before he kicked the bucket he was possessed. Yes. As in “demonic.”

I love this game.