Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods Interview (PC)

The Old Gods is the fifth expansion DLC for Paradox Interactive’s gripping dynastic succession strategy title Crusader Kings II, shunting the starting date back and allowing players to take control of the pagan chieftains vying for power in the turbulent 9th Century. We talked to project lead Henrik Fåhraeus about raiding, rebels and more.

Strategy Informer: The Old Gods is the biggest DLC we’ve seen yet for Crusader Kings II, and for the first time pagans and Zoroastrians will be fully playable. Was that something you always intended to implement somewhere down the line, or was it a decision driven by the enthusiasm the community has shown for those factions?

Henrik Fåhraeus: I wouldn’t say we’ve always intended it. It’s probably something that we hoped to be able to do right from the start, but it wasn’t really planned when we released the game.

Strategy Informer: With so many different pagan tribes, will we be seeing different flavour events and bonuses for each kind, or have you had to concentrate on a select few?

Henrik Fåhraeus: They’re all going to get some love. All will get some unique events and decisions. For example, the Finnish pagans have a special Christmas celebration. The same is true for the Slavic pagans and Baltic pagans and so on. They’re all unique.

Strategy Informer: You’re pushing back the start date to 867 AD with The Old Gods. Can you talk about why that date specifically?

Henrik Fåhraeus: Well, we were looking for a date around that time, and the reason we chose 867 AD specifically is simply that so many things kind of clicked that year. You have the rise of the House of Macedon in the Byzantine Empire, which was a period of restoration for them. You also had the Great Heathen Army rampaging through the British Isles and in the East the Viking most commonly known as Rurik formed a new kingdom amongst the Slavic peoples of Russia, creating that state. So there are many scenarios we can have set around that date, which makes it pretty handy.

Strategy Informer: Was there any temptation to push the start date further back so you could include the reign of Charlemagne?

Henrik Fåhraeus: Yeah, we considered pretty much all the situations, but on the other hand doing that would mean an enormous state in Europe. His empire would be hard to handle and to ensure it was split up properly so we thought 200 more years of gameplay is plenty.

And at this time, 867 AD, the Holy Roman Empire is split into four parts so it’s a more balanced set-up than if we started earlier.

Strategy Informer: How does pushing that start date back into the earlier Middle Ages effect the basic mechanics of Crusader Kings II?

Henrik Fåhraeus: Well, we’re trying to model the pagan tribes as tribes, so what we know as the Scandinavian Kingdoms aren’t really Kingdoms, they’re more like Duchies in the game’s terms even if they’re called Kingdoms. And you have the same thing in the British Isles where you have petty Kingdoms such as Mercia or Wessex. But we have set it up so that they will tend to form the later kingdoms that you see in 1066.

Of course you also have the various horse tribes of the East such as the Magyars, and we’ve set it up so that they will tend to move West in the manner they did historically, with some special events for when the Magyars form the Kingdom of Hungary and so on. So it’s kind of a useful date, as it means we can nudge these processes on at the start of the game, and it tends to happen in a fairly historical manner.

The tribes play quite differently from the nation states, but we control that by the fact that they are pagan. The pagan mechanics are quite different.

Strategy Informer: As a pagan chieftain, laying waste to your neighbours is going to play a big part. Can you tell us about how war and especially prepared invasions factor into your standing as a Viking king?

Henrik Fåhraeus: Prestige is the most important commodity for pagan rulers, and it’s something they can acquire through raiding, for example. They can send off a small army - or a big army, if they are so inclined - to loot provinces. And if they can bring that loot home, then they will a get a big amount of both wealth and prestige, which they can then use to do prepared invasions or to subjugate other tribes through another casus belli that we’ve added.

So they need to prove themselves as worthy or as mighty warriors, and then can use that prestige to conquer new lands. Of course, the non-Norse Pagans can’t really go off raiding with ships, but they can still raid neighbouring provinces and tribes. So that’s the basic mechanic that we’re striving for.

Strategy Informer: With the raiding, what effects will the victim experience - will there be damage to holdings, for example?

Henrik Fåhraeus: Absolutely. We’ve added a loot value to all provinces - it’s a bar in the province view - that can be protected by the fortification levels in each province. So if you’ve upgraded your holdings with forts, they need to take the holdings to get to the loot basically. If a looting army does take a holding and occupies it there is a risk that the buildings will be damaged or destroyed, and even the entire holding itself may end up destroyed.

When the loot bar in a province goes down, so does the tax bar, so a lot of looting will mean that you get less money from the affected provinces until it grows back.

Strategy Informer: So you could essentially use it as a tactic to “soften up” a target nation before going for a big invasion?

Henrik Fåhraeus: Yeah, you could. you don’t need a CB for this, you just mark the unit as a looting unit and then you go off and do it.

Also, in normal wars, every time a province or holding is under siege, the loot value is damaged, even if the sieging unit isn’t getting any loot from it. So even in normal wars you will see economic damage to provinces.

Strategy Informer: How difficult has the balancing process been with introducing the pagan tribes and their new mechanics?

Henrik Fåhraeus: Balancing is probably the largest part of this expansion, to be honest: getting it right, getting the A.I. to handle all the new features and maintaining an appropriate level of raiding going on. Also, balancing the preparedness of nations so that they’re not completely over-powered. It’s quite difficult, and it’s what we’re working on at this moment - we’re basically feature-complete, we’re just trying to get it right. But it’s working pretty well, and I think it’s going to be great.

Strategy Informer: What’s happening with the landless adventurers, and how will they factor into the overall gameplay?

Henrik Fåhraeus: It’s kind of a two-part thing. We were never happy with the rebel system as it was in Crusader Kings II - it was reminiscent of the old Europa Universalis I and II rebels - so we’ve replaced them with more advanced rebels with a cause system. So you can have peasant revolters but they’re led by a peasant leader, a specific character who gets a temporary title. If they succeed, that province will secede. And you have other kinds of rebels, such as heretics or claimants.

Adventurers are a version of this, where an existing claimant in the game can go off on an adventure and seize territory wherever he feels it is possible, or even seize his claim. Even a younger son without a claim can go off and seize any kind of province, such as the Normans going to Naples and Southern Italy and taking that area.

It’s a more dynamic system where characters can have a temporary title, an A.I. and do stuff on their own, even without having land.

Strategy Informer: Talking of the Normans, will events such as Rollo’s landing and taking of what became Normandy be part of the game?

Henrik Fåhraeus: It’s not going to be pre-scripted to occur. What we’re aiming for is that the Norse Vikings will use a coastal conquest CB which can have the effect that they are vassalised and turn Christian. If this happens in a Frankish area then the Norman culture will appear. It doesn’t have to be Normandy though - it can be anywhere along the coast.

Strategy Informer: From what you’ve said previously, you’re going to be treating the Great Catholic Schism as if it has essentially already occurred by 867 AD. Will we see it factor into the game though in terms of flavour events and so on?

Henrik Fåhraeus: That remains to be seen actually. We have that ambition, but there are so many events to try and get right for the pagan tribes. So I don’t think we’ll do anything major with the schism, but it’s definitely something that we want to get some flavour events in for, probably in the form of the Byzantine ambitions in Italy, that sort of thing.

Strategy Informer: Will we be seeing any changes to the Zoroastrianism mechanics now they’re fully playable?

Henrik Fåhraeus: Yes. We’re toying around with some ideas to make it interesting to play the Zoroastrians. They’re not pagans - it’s a religious group all on its own - but they’re probably going to have some form of sacred marriage and some unique decisions and events.

Of course it’s difficult to play as the Zoroastrians as they’re completely surrounded by the Muslims, so it’s the last gasp of the Zoroastrian rulers. But there is the House of Karen on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea, and they do stand some chance. A skillful player may be able to turn things around.

Strategy Informer: How much historical research does the team conduct, not just during the creation of the original game but also while designing DLC such as The Old Gods?

Henrik Fåhraeus: It’s a huge deal. We have a “resident historian”, if you want to call him that, in the form of gameplay designer Chris King, and he does a lot of the research and leads the research team we have on the forum. Many of our beta testers are also involved in this and help us out. It’s extensive work, but the 867 AD start now feels fairly historical, I would say, and it’s a case of getting all the various Dukes and Counts in.

Strategy Informer: With the Sunset Invasion DLC (which posited an invasion of Europe by the Aztecs in the 13th Century) there was initially some negative reaction as it was the most extreme example of a “what if?” scenario you’d done up to that point. Were you surprised by the reaction, and has it affected any future plans for doing large-scale “what if?” DLC?

Henrik Fåhraeus: We did expect there to be some kind of backlash, because we have so many, shall we say, historical purists who like to play our games, but it was always intended to be tongue in cheek. So if you don’t like the idea, don’t buy it! It’s quite likely we’ll do something similar again. I mean why not? It’s fun!

And of course there are the other people who appreciate this kind of thing, and even if you buy it you can just turn it off when you don’t feel like having the Aztecs come round.

I think many people thought we were abandoning the historical approach and going into fantasy land territory, and that is not at all what it was about. It was just a fun little thing.

Strategy Informer: What lies beyond The Old Gods? Is this still a continuing process, is there still a lot you want to do with Crusader Kings II?

Henrik Fåhraeus: Yes. The Old Gods is the last major DLC that we planned and had ideas for early on. We still have a lot of loose ideas kicking around, and there is a new plan that we are working on, but I can’t really say much about it! There will definitely be more major DLC for Crusader Kings II.


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By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 26, 2013
Thanks for the interview, guys. Very entertaining and tantalising. I lost some interest in playing "CK II" recently, and "The Sunset Invasion" did not pique my curiosity enough to purchase it (I'd already played "Real Warfare: XIII Century" and wasn't much moved by it). However, Pagan tribes and rebels with leaders? I'm in.
I don't know much of the history of the Zoroastrians, as it falls outside of my usual focuses of historical periods and culture, but I'll soon be rectifying that.
By TurkiAjm (SI Newbie) on Mar 26, 2013
Can't wait! :3