Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods has just been announced, and will add playable pagans and Zoroastrians to Paradox's grand medieval strategy sandbox. It's fair to say I was just a tiny bit out of my mind excited. Some notable new features include an extension of the timeline back to 867 A.D., and (sadly unplayable) landless adventurers who set out with their bands of warriors to found new kingdoms in true Viking fashion. I got to raid the brain-villages of Chris King, one of the expansion's designers. Read on to share in the knowledge I plundered.
One tidbit I picked up not included in this interview: 867 will be a stand-alone start date. Unlike the rest of CK2's timeline, you won't be able to advance the clock day by day between 867 and 1066. This, unfortunately, means you won't be able to play as some of the intervening figures such as Brian Boru, the legendary Irish king who founded the house I played as in the first Crusader Kings Chronicle.
PC Gamer: Does The Old Gods make all of the pagans playable? Including, say, the Mongols?
Chris King: Yes.
Will there be different flavor events for the different types of pagans?
At the moment, we've been focusing in on the Norse pagans. So as a Norse pagan, you can now erect a runestone in your honor, we have these little things like that. And you can also go a-viking. So you can set yourself up for a big invasion of somewhere.
And then we're going to try to go through all the other pagans and see what we can do with them. So we've kind of been talking about giving, like, the Baltic pagans maybe defensive bonuses or these kinds of things. But we're going to look at each pagan in turn and say, what can we do to bring them out and make them interesting?
"So, just because you've kicked out the guy who claims your title...doesn't mean he's not a threat."
So, the Norse will be the most fleshed-out.
Yes. Well, Norse is our first one. We've actually changed the cultures. So Scandinavia is now "Norse" culture at game start . There's no Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians. And then they will split up into the three.
Is that an event that happens randomly?
Well, it's an event. I'm not sure how random it is.
Do the playable pagans include the Aztecs from Sunset Invasion?
Yeah, the Aztecs will be playable. So I think you can actually tag into them when the Sunset Invasion arrives if you want to. If you decide you want a cruising mid-late game, you can always take over that invasion.
Have you guys figured out who the Interesting Characters are going to be for 867?
Well, the reason we picked 867 is that there was a moment—it was called the Great Heathen Army. And it arrived in York in 866. So you have this heathen army. They're the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok. So you have Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan, Bjorn Ironside— and these were the sons of Lodbrok. At least one of them will be an Interesting Character. It's also a kind of symmetry thing. Because we started in 1066, you have a pack of Norwegians parked in York. So if you start in 867 you have a pack of, I think they're mainly Danes and Swedes now, parked in York.
Have you thought about, beyond the Norse, which rulers you want to highlight in 867?
Not yet, but I think it's the grandsons or great-grandsons of Charlemagne in Central Europe. So they'll definitely be ones to play around with.
So the landless adventurers you mentioned aren't actually playable?
No, not as far as I know. Basically, the adventurer system is not fully implemented yet. So it's in our progression. But our idea is, landless characters can be a danger to you. So just because you've kicked out the guy who claims your title—he doesn't have any land—doesn't mean he's not a threat. Our goal is to try and tie them in with rebels. So rebels will now rebel for a title claimant.
So, is this something that would maybe be moddable? In terms of making adventurers playable?
The engine doesn't really support that. So I don't think we can make landless characters playable. I mean, we had to to actually create special settlements for the republican families, with the palace thing. Which was their core settlement, so they would always be landed.
"...Money is still power, even in the Viking Era."
The fact sheet mentions that it will actually generate unrest if you don't go to war as a pagan.
Yes. Well, there's two parts to it. If you decide I'm going to call an invasion, and then you get your vikings turning up...if you then refuse to declare war, you've got, like, a two year window to do it, then you will get big penalties.
And Prestige is a key thing. So, because these invasions are your biggest way of getting troops over land, I can be the poorest count in Norway. But if I have a high enough Prestige, I can declare invasions for one of my pagan neighbors, in fact, summon Vikings, and basically kick them in. So you have to make sure you have a lot of Prestige so you can counter-invade and things like this.
The other part is, obviously, that if you go looting, you're going to get money. And money still translates into building upgrades and all these kinds of things. It builds up your core demesne, allows you to buy titles...so, money is still power, even in the Viking Era.
And do you actually destroy holdings when you go raiding? Or destroy building improvements?
Well, that's definitely going to be a kind of tweaking/balancing thing. We definitely think it should destroy improvements. You know, but it's going to be a question of balance, how much damage they should do. Should they be able to burn down whole holdings? Or should they set back your improvements in holdings? That's going to be something we'll play around with.
So it's not just a red icon that says "Pillaged" that goes on the province and just gives you a temporary penalty.
No. We're aiming to make sure it actually damages stuff.
"So I rage-quit. I said, 'This needs balancing! It's broken! You need to fix this!'"
You mentioned at one point that you're still messing with the numbers and balancing for pagan invasions.
Yeah, I played the King of Scotland, and the Great Heathen Army was obviously beating up the English. Which was pleasing for me. But then there's one scripted invasion we have, which is the Great Summer Army, which came a year after the Great Heathen Army. And he should pick East Anglia, but he actually has a random chance of picking another county.
So he picked bloody Scotland! And 6000 Vikings arrived on an invasion CB. So if they won, I'm out. So I rage-quit. I said, "This needs balancing! It's broken! You need to fix this!"
We're trying to get that kind of thing where it shouldn't just be a simple steamroll. But also, it should be a threat. So we're trying to find that right balance number.
On the next page: How the expansion will handle the Great Christian Schism, cultural shifts, and nomads.
PC Gamer: One question that has actually come up a lot when I've put out the call on Twitter is: how are you guys going to handle the Catholic schism that happened between 867 and 1066?
Chris King: Yes, that's something we're discussing a lot. Because we're going to basically run with the idea that the schism has as good as happened . If you go back maybe another 200 years prior to that, the Byzantine Emperor was the protector of the Pope in Rome. So even though there were theological differences between the Pope in Rome and the Eastern bishops, this political situation— he was still approved by the Byzantine Emperor. And there were four Eastern Patriarchs versus one Western Patriarch.
By 800, there's two things. One: They've brought in Charlemagne. The Pope has crowned his own Emperor in the West to protect him. And three of the Eastern bishops have fallen to the advance of Islam. So you're already at this point where the Western church is diverging. Even though they haven't done that final, cataclysmic excommunication of the Byzantine Emperor ... the Western and Eastern churches have already strongly diverged.
So we're not going to have as the same religion. But we might have some kind of flavor things going in there.
" got far more development time. At least an extra month, which I think puts it about 25 percent bigger than any of the others."
Will there be an event, possibly, for the big cross-excommuncation? A big "Screw you Byzantines" event?
Possibly. We're definitely going to aim, if we have the time, to put in a bit of flavor around that great moment. Because it is one of those seminal moments in history. It turned what was essentially theological differences of interpretation into a final break that there was no way back from.
Will there be many new cultural change events between 867 and 1066?
Well, there's definitely going to have to be a Norse kind of "fracturing pot." You know, you split into Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians. And that's the kind of thing where we're going to look at it and see, what would be cool with the game, and what do we have time to script?
What about things like the Vikings under Rollo landing in France and becoming Normans?
Yeah, we're going to actually have to make sure we do that. I don't know if Henrik has got that planned. I'll certainly remind him that we're going to have to make sure that's in.
Is this your biggest expansion yet? The price point is more than any of the previous DLCs.
Yes. It's got far more development time. At least an extra month, which I think puts it about 25 percent bigger than any of the others.
As far as the old school pagan mechanics, are those getting replaced now that you're fleshing them out? Thinking specifically of Warrior Cults and all these little things that were meant to help them survive a bit longer.
Well, at the moment they're still there. And we're just going to see how we should adapt them as the game unfolds. We're already looking at, "What do we do to stop the Holy Roman Empire just trashing the Norse in 867?" So a lot of it is going to be how the game actually plays itself, how we're going to handle these things.
How many nations are pagan in 867? I think I heard Hungary might be?
Well, the Hungarians are pagan, but they're not actually in Hungary. They're out in the steppes at the moment. Poland is still pagan. All the way East is. You know, the Slavic tribes are there. You've got Rurik, the Norse Viking in Novgorod, who's also pagan. All of Scandinavia is pagan as well.
Is Poland lumped in with the Baltic/Romuva group?
No, we've added a new flavor of pagans: Slavonic pagans. Which covers, like, Poles and Russians. They are fractured into several sub-tribes. There is no Poland at the moment.
How do you model that in the game? Obviously, and I've seen this on the forums when we were just speculating about the expansion— a lot of these tribes didn't have anything close to CK2's feudal system.
What we have is just, essentially, lower-tier titles. So that one of these tribes can come together and unite as Poland.
What we're currently playing around with is a kind of pagan fracturing sort of idea. Because you don't have these tight bonds to the feudal structure, at what point do you just allow people to leave your little constructed realm? I've built myself up as, you know, a king in Sweden. But then, it's not feudal. You don't have those tight contracts. We're looking at evolving that kind of system.
"We call it 'The Hungarian Question.'"
Are they represented as counts? Or dukes?
There are some dukes, some counties. One of our is apparently well up on Slavic tribes, so he's given us a set-up with different power blocs in different places.
Are there any changes being made to model the nomadic people who were around at that time? There was a lot of migration going on, a lot of tribes that just up and left where they were between 867 and 1066. It wasn't just an issue of conquering more stuff, they left the old lands behind.
That's something, obviously. We call it "The Hungarian Question." Which is, "How do we get the Hungarians from their home right now, in Western Ukraine, into Hungary?" So it's something that we know about, and we're probably going to do a bit of iteration, and trial and error, on that one. We definitely want nomads to move.
Now, let's say you're a pagan jarl, and you're being invaded by the Holy Roman Emperor. Could you put out a call for, like, a defensive invasion?
That's one of the things we're looking at to help pagans defend is, perhaps, these bands that spawn for invasions will spawn to protect and defend them as well. It's one of these things that would make sure we don't have a Holy Roman steamroll through Scandinavia in 867. And so we're open to these kind of ideas, and we're going to pick the ones that give us the right effect.
Were there any more religions added beyond the Slavonic pagans?
No. I mean, you've got the Khazars out on the steppes, which I've read were actually Jews, essentially. But we decided not to add another religion again, because then we get sucked into giving them cool mechanics. And we felt, we'll just make them pagan—Tengri pagan. And then just develop the mechanics for that. We felt that if we started adding, you know, many more religions, we would start spreading ourselves too thin on this expansion.
"I mean, they were dualistic fire-worshipers. So it’s not really like Christianity."
The Zoroastrians are also getting some love, though?
They'll be playable.
But they're not getting any specific, new mechanics.
Well, we'll see about that. There's not many Zoroastrian rulers kicking about. So it's down on our list. But we know our fans like the Zoroastrians. So we'll see what we can do for them.
Will they be modeled more closely to the pagans, in terms of mechanics and interface and things like that?
Yes. I mean, they were dualistic fire-worshipers. So it's not really like Christianity.
Can they call invasions?
We'll see. It's something where we'll just see what's fun and interesting. The Norse definitely get the invasions. We'll see who else does.
So invasions aren't necessarily everyone within the Pagan religious group.
Not necessarily. We'll just be playing around a lot with them. If it ends up with, like, the Finns invading Spain all the time, we'll have to say, "Look, Finns, you're not getting the invasion CB." So we'll be looking at what feels historical and what's fun with all of the pagan religions.
And so we set our sails for the fertile lands of Q2 2013, when our longships will arrive and our heathen armies can reign over Europe at last. Thanks again to Chris for sharing his wisdom with us. You can get caught up about the expansion and check out the trailer if you're gnawing at your shield for more.