Last year I played a multi-generational game of grand strategy Crusader Kings 2 using the A Game of Thrones mod, which transforms the historical medieval setting of CK2 into the continent of Westeros from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels (and the HBO series). My goal was to play as the most minor of lords and experience the conflict and drama of Westeros from the ground floor. Game of Checkers will run on Sundays for ten weeks.
A Storm of Sisters
Going from playing as Ninedrick to his son Neddrick was a bit jarring. Going from Neddrick to his daughter Nondrosie (I ll just call her Rosie from now on) who is eleven years old? I m not sure how to describe that.
Even by Westeros standards, Rosie is still a kid. She s so young we can t even see what she looks like: she still has the default child avatar. We can look at her stats, though, which are disheartening: she s a poor fighter, taking after her father, clearly. She s also arbitrary. She s envious. She s deceitful. Well, she definitely sounds like an eleven year-old kid.
This is a pretty precarious spot to be in, game-wise. The war against the Iron Throne that killed Neddrick still rages on, and while I m no longer on the battlefield, the fighting is right at our doorstep. Half of The Vale is burning with sieges, the other half crawling with tens of thousands of enemy soldiers. And, weirdly, perhaps even grossly, my first priority is to find little Rosie a suitable future husband. As a little girl, my only heirs are two other little girls, Nondrikki and Nondruby, formerly my daughters, now my sisters. It s not much of a safety net as losing Rosie would mean I become an even younger child. Not to mention, we re all in the same castle. If something terrible happens to Rosie, the same thing will probably happen to Rikki and Ruby a moment later. I have to at least lock down a potential husband to get things lined up for a future heir.
Finding a spouse is much trickier now. Acquiring suitable wives for male lords isn't hard, but finding husbands for women comes with a built-in problem. Typically, when a man and woman marry, the woman goes to live with the man, and their children become part of his dynasty, and are his heirs.
I can t marry Rosie that way. Her children would be the heirs of her husband s dynasty, not her own, which means that when Rosie died, her kids would not be playable characters for me. She needs to find a man willing to move to her court and let their children become a part of her dynasty: a matrilineal marriage. I could probably find a number of willing commoners, but it s not easy to find highborn men, or the guardians of young highborn boys, who will agree to that.
In fact, there are only a couple non-commoners I can find. One is Viserys Targaryen, brother of Daenerys. I won't be marrying him. Sure, he s a prince, but he s also cruel and insane. All the prestige in the world isn't worth marrying that dirtbag.
Then there s Moryn Blackbar. He s son of Lord Paramount Margery Tyrell, herself a prominent book character, and he s Heir to the Reach. He s only 13, which is at least age appropriate, though why Margery would agree to a matrilineal marriage, where her grandchildren would become part of my dynasty, I have no idea. I staple a note to a raven, and a week later she sends back a winged response. She s happy with the match, despite it being matrilineal. Amazing! If this goes through, I ll have married into the Starks, the Lannisters, and the Tyrells. Not bad for a House that came from a little stretch of worthless land.
Meanwhile, the few still-living main characters from the books are looking old. Jaime Lannister is in his 50 s, and is Master at Arms for King Michael Baratheon. Jon Snow is 39, Master of Whispers in Karhold, and married with couple of kids. Brienne of Tarth is Master of Laws in Blackhaven, married with one son. Samwell Tarly is around, married and Master at Arms (surprisingly!) of The Westmarch, with three kids. And good old Littlefinger is still at it, Castellan of The Vale. He s certainly not expanded his influence as far as he would like, but when it comes to The Vale, he s still pulling the strings.
Tyrion Lannister is pushing 50, is married (with a mistress, natch) and has four living children including a daughter, Rosamund, whom, he reminds me in a missive, is betrothed to Nerdrick, the suspiciously thin and blond member of my family. Once my son, then my brother, and now my uncle, I give Nerdrick the go-ahead to get officially hitched.
Since I m enabling hookups left and right, I might as well keep going. I arrange a future matrilineal marriage for my sister, Rikki, to boy-lord Aeamon of the Stormlands, but I can t find anyone suitable for little Ruby at the moment. Meanwhile, I seem to be butting heads with my aunt Nanndrick (Ninedrick s third, largely-forgotten child, who was born just as he died of pneumonia). She s a year younger than me and we do not get along. I guess we just come from different generations.
Rosie also doesn't get along with… well, anyone. My sister Ruby doesn't like me much. Rikki absolutely hates me, probably because I (as Neddrick) changed the succession laws so she wouldn't inherit any titles. I give her a present of some gold which makes her a little happier. I m sure the peasants of Pebble and Wycliffe would be thrilled to know their taxes are being given to cranky children to improve their moods.
The war eventually winds down, with King Michael again keeping his butt affixed to the Iron Throne, giving the continent plenty of time to bust up into other, smaller, even more pointless wars. My small collection of exhausted peasant soldiers wander around following my new liege, Lord Paramount Gilwood, for a few years. In the meantime, I get word that Jaime Lannister has been killed in personal combat with some randomly generated character. He was 58.
Rosie turns 14 and marries the Heir to the Reach, Moryn Blackbar. Now Margery, Lady Paramount of the Reach, is my ally. Good news, because I've started thinking, again, about that other small island in The Fingers: The Paps. Neddrick s claim on it died with him, but I guess the paperwork is still lying around because I immediately receive a fresh claim. Unfortunately, I can only scrounge up a combined 200 troops from Pebble and Wycliffe, not nearly enough to storm The Paps. I don t have the cash for mercenaries, either, so I m going to have to wait.
With what little gold I've got, I've started construction on a castle town in Pebble hoping to increase my tax base a little. With only military holdings, it s really tough to raise any money.
And, something actually happens: I've been appointed Master of Whispers to Lord Paramount Gilwood! Hell yeah! Just call me Rosiefinger! Wait, don t call me that. That s weird. Not to be outdone, Littlefinger becomes Regent for like the 20th time. I also notice some activity on Midlor Point: Littlefinger is building some barracks to increase the size of his armies. Sure, as soon as I start building a town, he starts building military structures. He must know something I don t.
More Iron Throne business erupts. Former King Arrec, who was chilling in the Iron Islands, has been mysterious murdered. Now, some people want Herbert, Arrec s son, to take the throne instead of current King Michael, Robert s bastard, who has already put down several rebellions. I sense some pointless marching in our future.
In less heartening news, my family still doesn't like me. Everyone has a negative opinion of Rosie. Uncle Nerdrick and his wife. Both of my sisters. Even my new husband despises me, probably because he s heir to the Reach and has to live on a crummy island called Pebble. I m too broke from building a castle town to buy anyone gifts, but I award my husband the honorary title of Cupbearer, hoping it ll cure his grouchiness. Nerdrick and his wife Rosamund have a daughter they name Marianne. Weird name. My opinion of their child is negative six. I am not impressed by you, stupid baby.
Tyrion Lannister dies at age 56, after falling into a coma. I get busy, trying to get young Ruby promised off to some stranger. The best bet is another one of Margery s sons, Humfrey Blackbar. It s another matrilineal marriage and it gives us a healthy dose of prestige. It s a little weird that both she and I will be marrying two brothers, but in Westeros, that's nowhere near as weird as some relationships.
Meanwhile, there s still no action between the sheets for Rosie and Moryn. We are pretty much neutral to each other. His goal is to have a son, so I make that my goal, not that I care if I have a boy or a girl. I just figure with a common goal we might get to humping at some point. I m now in my twentiespractically middle-aged for this world—and haven t produced an heir
While I m idly scrolling around the map, waiting for time to pass, I notice, way off to the west, something I've never seen before. A tiny island, miles out to sea. It s called Lonely Light. Technically, Lonely Light is part of the Iron Islands but it s eight days away by boat to even reach it.
I decide to send a message, via raven, to the commander of Lonely Light, and I decide that message should be an insult. It just strikes me as funny. This guy lives on an island eight days away from the rest of the world. Imagine getting a raven waaaaay out there and opening the message and it just says U smell. Look, I have no money and very little to do. You have take your entertainment where you can get it.
As if to reward this act of trolling, I become pregnant. Soon my daughter is born, and I name her Nondaisy. It's fantastic news for me and my husband, but terrible news for my sister Rikki, who was heir by default. She suddenly hates my guts. Well, she already hated my guts, but now she completely loathes me. Sister Ruby continues to dislike me, and my Aunt Nandrick isn t much fonder.
All this hatred is clearly leading somewhere, and I m genuinely not surprised when my spymaster taps me on the shoulder one day and whispers the words I've been waiting for: there s a plot to assassinate my newborn daughter. The plot was hatched by my sister Rikki, which is depressing but not really a shock. What's more, the plot is being backed by Lothar the Lame! I d made him my Master of Coin a couple years ago, and I m glad I did: if he d been my Master of Whispers, he certainly wouldn't have revealed a plot that he himself was taking part in.
I tell them I m aware of their plan and that they both need to knock it off. They back down and drop the murder plot, but it s pretty horrifying to be in close quarters with two people who want to kill my baby daughter.
I decide to make some changes: I replace Lothar with another Master of Coin and hope he buggers off out of my court, or at least dies soon (he s 66). As for Rikki, when her betrothed is old enough to marry, I m going to see if I can switch her marriage from matrilineal to traditional. That way she ll move in with her betrothed and off my island. Hell, if I hadn t already promised her to Aemon of the Stormlands I d marry her to that Lonely Light island commander let her spend the rest of her life counting seagulls and filing all the insulting notes I d send them.
Another plot comes out. My aunt, Nanndrick, is trying to kill my Master of Whispers, Marsella. Backing this plot is Lothar (again, he s still hanging around my court) and my grandmother, Dana Whent (wife of Ninedrick! Remember him? And her?). So, Marsella, for being kind and competent enough to prevent my baby daughter from being murdered, is now in the crosshairs herself.
Once again, I rap on Lothar s chamber door and say, Hey, could you please stop backing plots to murder everyone I know, you limping shit? He agrees, so I move onto Grandma Dana. She also agrees to drop her plot. Then I confront Nanndrick. It takes her nine days to respond, despite the fact that we live in the same castle, but she finally promises she will end her plot.
There's a saying: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But what the hell do you do about family, who at times represent your best of friends and worst of enemies? Frankly, I feel like I need keep them as far away from me as possible.
Suddenly, I m pregnant again. Great. Another relative. Another potential enemy. This castle is suddenly feeling far too small.
I'll continue Rosie's story next week, but before I go, I want to relate something interesting that happened elsewhere in the world. Since this event contains something of a spoiler for the fiction, it's on the next page, but here I'll explain as vaguely as possible why it might be considered a spoiler.
If you're only interested in the storyline of Game of Checkers, you can just come back next week—nothing on the next page has anything to do with my little dynasty. You won t miss any of Rosie s story: this is just an account of what happens with the current war for the Iron Throne, and it takes place without any of my involvement. And, the event isn't one that takes place in the fiction, it just involves a certain character from the books whose very name might be a spoiler.
See, there s a character that died well before the books began, though there are a number of hints to indicate this character is actually alive and secretly living elsewhere. We don t really know if it s true. It has not been definitively revealed in the books yet (and I don't think this character has even been mentioned on the TV show.) One character in the books has met someone claiming to be this person, but it s just a claim and hasn't been confirmed.
Anyway, this next section involves this character, so proceed with caution, or just leave now and come back next week.
Hey, guess what? A new claim on the Iron Throne is being pressed. This is nothing new, but this time it s the claim of a Targaryen. It s not Daenerys. It s not Vicerys.
It s Aegon.
In the history of the novels, Aegon (son of Rhaegar) was killed as a baby when Mad King Aerys was overthrown, though it s possible that Varys, Master of Whispers, actually smuggled baby Aegon out of King s Landing to have him raised in Essos, allowing a peasant s baby to be killed in Aegon s place. The idea was that Aegon might return one day and claim the Iron Throne, bringing the rule of the Seven Kingdoms back to the Targaryens. That day has apparently come.
One of my response options to this is news is to declare Long Live the True King! Meaning King Michael Baratheon. Look, even if you hate the Targaryens, how can anyone in Westeros say any one of the collection of bastards we've rotated on and off Iron Throne is the true king? I m very tempted to throw in with the Targaryens, because we sure have made a mess of things without them. But, I m following my liege, like a good little lord.
So! A Targaryen invasion. Exciting! Instead of some inbred jerk sitting on our throne, we may get... a different inbred jerk sitting on our throne (canonically, the Targaryens did a lot of inbreeding).
Aegon makes his landing at Dyre Den, right in my neighborhood, with about a thousand of his own soldiers and 10,000 Golden Company warriors (a mercenary fighting force). My immediate thought is: 10,000? That s it? I m sure they look really impressive and all, but it seems a bit weak: my grandfather Ninedrick was once attached to an Iron Throne army some 50,000 strong. No one from Westeros seems to have thrown in with Aegon, either, so he s not going to have any local support. Still, I m pretty damned excited to see him. Aegon, in the flesh, stepping off a boat onto my turf.
After laying siege to Dyre Den and easily claiming it, Aegon heads to North Crackclaw Point where there are about 4,000 Iron Throne soldiers awaiting him. There are also 67 ships bearing soldiers from The Reach approaching.
I guess I was right: 10,000 Golden Company warriors do look damn impressive, because the ships from the Reach turn right around and vanish, and the 4,000 Iron Throne soldiers skirt around Aegon and slip away into The Whispers, letting him sack North Crackclaw.
I hope Aegon is happy seeing his enemies flee before him: I suspect it s going to be all downhill from here. A full 34,000 Iron Throne soldiers advance from the west, with 27 ships appearing in the Bay of Crabs for additional support. 2,000 Thronemen peel off and begin taking back Dyre Den.
Galleys land and start pooping out soldiers. The Iron Throne s forces are up to 52,000 now, and another 22,000 are marching in through Rook Rest, only a couple of weeks away. The clash begins in North Crackclaw, and Aegon s army is whittled down to 5,000 men within a month. He s left himself no escape on land: the Bay of Crabs is north of him and Claw Cape is to the east and south. The only way to run is west, where the land is crawling with more Iron Throne soldiers.
With only 2,000 men left, Aegon retreats through The Whispers. In pursuit are the 50,000 soldiers he was fighting. 32 ships worth of Westerlanders arrive by boat, not that they ll be needed.
And then it s over. Offered peace, with no other choice, Aegon accepts, having only briefly conquered Dyre Den. The invasion, if you can even call it that, ends with a whimper. He s thrown in jail in King s Landing.
The war is over. The remnants of the Golden Company just stand there on North Cracklaw Point, no one left to pay their tab.