The Pope is overrated as a spiritual leader. Even if he likes you, he won’t do anything for you. If he doesn’t like you, he’ll still do nothing, plus complain. A lot. Bishops can be a headache, too. If a Bishop likes you more than the Pope, he will pay you taxes. This almost never happens: instead the Bishop will ship the tax monies you worked so hard to exploit from the peasants off to the Pope. Who’ll just waste it on the finger-relics of St. John. I think he has 15 now.
I am talking, of course, about the game Crusader Kings II. If you personally are dealing with the Pope, Bishops, and are exploiting parishioners for cash; can you give me a ride in your time machine? I’d really like to throw some money into AAPL in 1983.
In-game, Pagans have more fun than Catholics.
There are five or six different flavors of Paganism in Crusader Kings II. I enjoy playing something Viking-like because if I was going to be a Pagan I’d definitely be the kind that worships Thor. Thor is the coolest.
Pagans have one glaring weakness: the religion doesn’t spread into Christian or Islamic nations, but those religions spread easily into yours. This is a problem because Catholic people don’t appreciate a Thor-worshiping ruler. This kind of unhappiness leads to ridiculously frequent revolts with ludicrously large numbers of peasants. I’ve had larger armies spring forth from unhappy Bishoprics than France has troops. France has a lot of troops.
Everything else is sheer Pagan Badness vs. Catholic Boring.
For example, exploiting money from your peasants is entertaining. Sacking Constantinople is fun and profitable. Christians don’t get to use rivers to send boatloads of raiders into urban centers: Boring. Pagan tribal countries can sack Paris, Constantinople, and Rome. If you raid the latter, don’t forget to bring back a “holy” souvenir for the wife and concubines.
Catholic Boring: Christians can go on pilgrimage to see a holy sight. The Pope will like you a tiny bit better. He might even sell you a finger-bone from his collection.
Pagan Badness: Pagans get to raise a massive runestone dedicated to either their father or themselves. Which do I choose? Whichever will give me more prestige, duh. My pragmatism is far higher than my narcissism. All my vassal tribal rulers will like me better. These guy could refuse to support my war efforts. They could even outright rebel against me. A Pope that hates you can only write strongly-worded letters of disapproval. And give you the finger.
Catholic Boring: When Christians declare war, they must have a valid reason. These can come about in several ways, but the most straightforward is the Casus Belli which you’ve attained by honest bribes and clever forgeries. Go team Christian!
Pagans Badness: Pagans have no such limitations. Might makes right! When you approach your future tribal vassal you simply declare yourself to be the stronger. Henceforth, they will add their distinctive culture, likeness, and troops to your own. The troops are the valuable bit: Your culture will replace theirs soon enough.
More Pagan Badness: Every nine years Pagans can hold a mighty feast and everybody is invited! Invite your vassal lords. Invite your temple acolytes. Invite your family members. Invite your prison guests. This great feast is called a Blot. Food is eaten, drink is consumed, nobles do embarrassing things, like get caught behind the curtains with the chambermaid. And prisoners are sacrificed to the gods. Everybody has a great time. I think. No guest has ever complained after it ends, anyway.
If you are very, very blessed, Odin will visit you shortly after the Blot. He raises your stats, which is much more than the stodgy old Pope has ever done.
Pagans can also take female prisoners as concubines. This may or may not be a good thing. You can make bastards with them, and nobody cares if your future loyal generals are of pure blood or not. Once you release a concubine from service, they join your court as an unmarried woman. This is a fabulous way to recruit wives with good traits into your family bloodline. Normally they have to like you enough to marry in. I’m a tough tyrant to like.
When I wrote about the game several weeks ago I was still a newbie. I’ve advanced a bit since then. For example, if you capture an important heir during a battle, you can ransom them for a bit of gold, or you can place them under house arrest and then educate them. Do the latter! I prefer teachers who will change them into a proper Viking, and have wonderful traits like ambition, cruelty, craven cowardice, or being arbitrary. I spare no expense: I use a teacher with a miserable one-star education rating. It’s not about sending back an effective leader. It’s about delivering a biological time bomb who will blow up his country.
The more the leader is hated, the more likely his vassals are to rebel. Rebellions give you an opportunity to pick up territories on the cheap. Think of it as creating your own Black Friday sale.
Sometimes vassals end up in your prison whom you just want to go away. Your current vassals will get very upset if you mistreat them. It turns out that “executing” them falls into this gray area of mistreatment. Christians have to toss them into the oubliette and wait for death. I’ve had prisoners develop interesting combinations of madness and infirmities after twenty years in the oubliette. Pagans can just Blot them out. Go team Pagan!
So it’s pretty clear: Pagan Badness rules. But after reviewing my tips in this post, I’m having second thoughts. I’d definitely be the type of pagan who worships Loki.