Collections: Teaching Paradox, Crusader Kings III, Part III: Constructivisting a Kingdom

This is the third part of a four part series (I, IIa, IIb, III, IV) examining the historical assumptions behind the popular medieval grand strategy game Crusader Kings III, made by Paradox Interactive. In the last part (in two sections), we discussed how CKIII attempts to model decentralized political power in the fragmented polities of the medieval Mediterranean, with different mechanics to reflect the pressures that led to fragmentation both in the post-Carolingian West and the post-Rashidun East.

This week, we’re going to look at how CKIII understands power to be wielded and maintained within the system of fragmented, personalistic rule we’ve established in the previous weeks. In a sense this is the third leg of a the three-legged stool that is CKIII‘s understanding of power in a medieval polity: if power is personal, rather than institutional (leg one) and highly fragmented between many people (leg two), then how is power gained and kept within such systems. As historians, we tend to approach this question through the concept of legitimacy, the degree to which a ruling authority (in this case a person) is perceived to be the rightful authority and thus obeyed not out of the fear of force but out of tradition and social pressure. Legitimacy, for reasons we’ll get into, is the fundamental lifeblood of any ruling authority.

Legitimacy in traditional monarchies – of the sort the player is running in this game – are in turn founded on social norms, collective standards of behavior (often unwritten). In this case, we’re interested specifically in the social norms about kingship, since norms often differ based on one’s position in society (age, sex, social rank, etc.). There is a degree of circularity here: subjects want their king to act like a ‘good king’ and so they are more ready to support a king that acts out (or performs) their understanding of what a good king looks like, which in turn confers legitimacy on the monarchy, which in turn defines for subsequent kings what being a good king looks like.

What is fascinating about CKIII is that one could easily argue that legitimacy is the central theme of the game, that most of the player’s efforts within a realm are focused on building their own legitimacy or undermining the legitimacy of others and yet ‘legitimacy’ is not a a single system or currency within the game. No character has a ‘legitimacy’ score, instead what CKIII has to say about systems of generating legitimacy emerges from its systems, especially modifiers which interact with either vassal opinion. So that is where we will start: how do you keep all of those scheming vassals happy?

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We stopped our House al-Yiliqi playthrough last time having ended the Struggle for Iberia through the Detente ending. Doing so, as you recall, required fragmenting our kingdom a bit. Our new goal now is to get an empire-tier title, which will enable us to reconsolidate the kingdom. And the new Caliph, Ajannas III, is precisely the fellow for the job. Bright, brave and aggressive, he is planning for a LOT of war.

Factions and Kingdoms

Before we dive into the game systems which influence vassals and holdings, we need to understand what makes vassals compliant and stable in the game. Vassals have three main ways they can work against their liege: they can scheme (using intrigue to launch hostile schemes), they can withhold levies in some government forms and they can form factions. Of these factions are generally the most dangerous and the most common way for a liege to lose control over their polity (either by actively being dethroned or by having key decisions taken against their will).

Of these systems, factions are the most immediately relevant. Factions are coalitions of power centers within a realm which pool together their military power in order to make a demand of their liege, threatening civil war if refused. These in turn divide into two groups, vassal factions and popular factions; we’ll deal with the latter later and focus on vassal factions for now. There are currently four types of vassal factions. Vassals can demand either that crown authority is lowered, that a different claimant be enthroned as liege, that they alone be made independent or that the kingdom itself be dissolved making everyone independent.

Jumping way ahead in my game just to get an example of the factions screen (right). The red dotted line is the mark where a faction will consider itself powerful enough to begin preparing to send an ultimatum, which will happen when the discontent percentage fills. In this case, my ruler has only been ruler for about 4 years and thus still has the ‘short reign’ negative modifier, reflecting the instability around new monarchs, so this is a fairly stable situation, though some attention to the independence faction (mostly North African rulers looking to break away) must be paid, in this case probably by courting the good opinion of some of the key members.

A faction’s power is computed as a comparison of the military forces available to the liege (both your own holding’s armies and also the liege’s slice of the levies of every non-faction member) as compared to the military forces available to the faction (the full army of each participating faction member), so that a vassal who joins a faction both subtracts their contribution from their liege’s power and adds their entire army to the faction’s power. Factions under 80% of the liege’s power are effectively inert; factions with more than 80% of the liege’s power gain ‘discontent’ rapidly and when this reaches 100%, the faction will deliver an ultimatum; if refused they will rebel, triggering a civil war. Vassal contributions to their liege are generally fairly small (typically around c. 25%), meaning that it generally takes only a sizable minority of vassals to be in a faction before they have sufficient strength to make demands.

And in case it isn’t clear, civil wars resulting from vassal factions are very bad. For one, the way the discontent threshold works, factions will only make demands if they have a good chance of winning. It is possible to trigger vassal factions early by unjustly imprisoning a faction member, but the knock-on-effects of the sudden burst of ‘tyranny’ modifiers can easy leave a ruler who does that with bigger problems. At the same time, of course a civil war means a situation in which the kingdom’s military strength is cannibalizing itself, which can leave the kingdom extremely vulnerable to external powers, while all of the fighting and besieging can cause medium-term economic problems through the ‘control’ mechanic (which we’ll come back to in a moment).

Needless to say, as a liege, the player wants their vassals kept out of factions. There are a few ‘strong’ bars to vassals joining factions (that is they absolutely prohibit it rather than discouraging it): vassals cannot join a faction against their liege if they are their friend, lover or military ally, if the liege has a ‘strong hook’ on them (that is, they owe him a big factor or he has big blackmail on them, that kind of thing), or if they have at least 80 positive opinion of the liege (we’ll cover opinion more in a moment). Vassals that are afraid of the liege (a product of ‘dread’) cannot join a faction unless it is over the 80% threshold to generate discontent; which makes dread a useful but dangerous tool that is entirely effective until you desperately need it at which point it is entirely ineffective.

For a small realm with just a handful of vassals, controlling factions through personal relationships (friend, lover, ally) is possible. Alliances, as noted previously, require a close family connection (siblings, parents, or -in-law versions of the same), so the number of available allies is likely to be fairly limited, though a canny ruler is going to use strategic marriages to ‘lock in’ key vassals. Nevertheless, the larger the realm gets the less these strategies matter: with ten vassals, being besties with two and father-in-law to another two makes the realm stable; in a realm with fifty vassals, that’s a rounding error on faction formation.

Jumping ahead again, by way of example here are the vassals in my realm right now who cannot because of personal relationship of some kind, join factions. Five are barred because they are underage, one is a friend and the other five are allies through relation (two brothers) or marriage ties (the rest). That’s eleven total vassals ‘neutralized’ this way, in a realm where the Caliph has sixty-two direct vassals. Eleven is good, but it is not enough.

Which leaves opinion (and dread) as a key tool in controlling vassals: by and large the player wants their vassals to have a positive opinion of them, even if (as feudal or tribal vassals), their opinion does not effect their troop contributions.1 High opinion discourages hostile anti-liege scheming and faction formation, the latter in a sliding scale up to that positive-80 opinion where vassals cannot join a faction against you. Of course the reverse is true for negative opinion (character opinion ranges from +100 to -100): characters with massively negative opinion of their liege are almost guaranteed to form or join factions. For rulers with clan-type vassals whose taxes and levies vary based on opinion, the relationship between opinion and realm stability is intensified since this creates a sliding scale rather than a binary in terms of vassal contribution to realm stability (not in faction and supplying troops) or instability (in faction, supply troops to that faction). And finally, vassals with high opinion tend to have events and interactions with you (like swearing fealty, giving gifts, inviting you to feasts, etc.) which are beneficial, whereas vassals that hate your guts will do things like try to assassinate you.

Fundamentally then, the stability of a kingdom is substantially dependent on the liege keeping positive opinion (as much as possible) of their vassals while also potentially maintaining some dread (to scare the malcontents).

A Brief Aside on Realm Structure

As a brief aside before we move on – the above statement is key for what comes next but is not the end of large-realm-maintenance strategy. I tend to most enjoy being the liege of fairly large realms, so this is a part of the game that gets a lot of my attention. The player as a king or emperor can improve their margin of error with factions also by building up the royal demesne – their personal holdings – to maximize revenue and levy generation, since you get 100% of your own levies in a civil war. In essence you then are reinvesting the taxes on your vassals to build up your ability to leverage your personal army against them (this is why, as you can see in my screenshots, I take so much care to avoid fragmenting my ‘core’ royal holdings even with partition – those are the most heavily improved counties in the kingdom and thus give my ruler a lot of power to play with). In addition, the player wants to avoid the emergence of jumbo-vassals with vast territory, because those fellows if they get out of control can easily become the core of a dangerous faction.

The ideal stable kingdom then would be each duke with only one duchy, holding only the capital county of that duchy personally, with a single count on every other county, perfectly mapping the de jure boundaries. The limit to that strategy is that it reduces the kingdom’s effective offensive power: by adding the maximum number of vassal layers between the king and the lowest rulers (the barons), a lot of military potential ends up trapped locally. Let’s assume a duchy with 5 counties, each county has 3 holdings and each holding generates 100 levies; so the whole thing has 1,500 levies. If the duke holds all five county titles directly, he has 500 personal levies and his barons (all direct vassals) have 1,000 of which he gets a quarter (250), so he has 750 total levies which means you (the king) get 187 men from him in war time. But if his duchy is fragmented as intended here he has just 100 personal levies, plus 6 direct vassals (4 counts, 2 barons); each baron gives him 25 men, each count 37 (they have 100 personal, plus 50 indirect from their two barons), so his total is just 300 levy troops (100+(2*25)+(4*37.5)), of which you the king only get 75 in war time. But at the same time, that means should that duke join a faction, he only removes 75 levies from the king’s strength and adds only 300 to the faction’s strength, which is a lot less dangerous than 187 and 750 respectively. This becomes substantially more important once a realm is large enough to require vassal kings to stay under the vassal limit (a factor for those looking to rebuild the Roman Empire, for instance).

Jumping ahead again, here you can see my efforts to keep vassals ‘right-sized’ to make them easier to control (I’ve enabled the ‘direct vassal’ view so you can see all of the vassals under my main title). The largest yellow Isbaniya chunk is the royal realm, which as you can see is quite large (and also well developed); my own personal territory (including baron-tier vassals) provides around 12,000 troops (including men-at-arms), substantially more than any vassal (indeed, more than my top four vassals combined) which helps to make the realm resilient against factions.

In my own experience, the benefits to realm stability in breaking up (when you can do so without tyranny) vassals who have begun ‘consolidating’ their own de jure areas (that is, their duchies) generally outweigh the lost military power for most large realms if the player has also been diligent in building up the main royal core, because that royal core (and the mercenaries and men-at-arms units it supports) will provide the necessary military core. At the same time, as crown authority increases, the problem implied here reduces because each layer’s contribution of levies and taxes upward increases, which reduces the difference between a duke with a bunch of count vassals and a duke that holds his entire duchy personally.

On the flipside, avoiding ‘double dukes’ (or dukes that end up having lots of non-de jure vassals) is a much more clear-cut priority. A duke that consolidates two whole duchies is likely to be approaching the personal realm holdings of the king or emperor and is thus a substantial threat. When I run large realms I am generally on the lookout for opportunities to break up such situations, by a variety of means. If the ruler in question is caught committing a crime, that can be used to break up the titles via revocation, as can enforced partition as part of the feudal contract in realms that have adopted single-heir succession systems. It can even make sense to take some tyranny to ‘clean up’ titles if your ruler is well ensconced on the throne, to make things easier for a future heir who lacks that advantage; my own pet name for this slow-motion ‘rolling revocation’ strategy is ‘revoke-a-palooza.’

The reason you, as the player, may need all of these strategies is that while your current ruler may be a charismatic diplomat with great skills and a robust opinion bonus from having a long reign, his heir may be none of these things. Succession is always the moment of maximum peril for large realms, precisely because a new ruler is weak and succession creates lots of potential claimants for unhappy vassals to rally around. Building up the ‘margin of safety’ thus keeps the realm stable through generations by centralizing power around the monarch. Of course a player can carry out this kind of state-building to a degree that isn’t very historical, focusing relentlessly on it over multiple generations.

That digression out of the way, on with the show.

Back to where we were in the playthrough, Ajannas III is well-suited to the task. The idea here is to destroy the kingdom of al-Sarq, which will give us enough of Iberia to form the Empire of Hispania title (which because we have Arabic as our language will be Isbaniya), and then revassalize the fragments of our kingdom, Castalla and Navarra. Fortunately, as a clan ruler, we have access to the one-use-per-lifetime ‘invade kingdom’ casus belli, allowing us to seize al-Sarq. So we do that.

Opinion and Prestige

In CKIII, every character has an opinion of every other character within their diplomatic range, which represents how much they like or dislike that character, in a range from positive 100 to negative 100. Opinion calculation is simple: a character’s opinion of you is simple sum of all of the modifiers. What is complex is that there are a lot of possible modifiers, but we can group them into just a few ‘buckets’ to understand how the game system processes them. The key thing is positive opinion modifiers reward the player for acting within the expectations of medieval rulership while breaking with those expectations will generally anger vassals and lower their opinion. So let’s walk through the major categories of opinion modifiers.

First off there are a set of ‘relations’ modifiers (friend, soulmate, rival, etc.); generally characters will only have a few of these over their lifetime. In addition to this there are a bunch of personal modifiers based on actions you have taken: giving someone a gift makes them happy, trying to have them assassinated makes them quite upset. These individual modifiers matter in the game because all rulership is personal but when we are thinking about realm stability with lots of vassals, it is really the modifiers that impact the most characters that matter the most (though absolutely infuriating a powerful vassal or two can absolutely wreck a kingdom). So we’re going to focus on global modifiers to vassals (be they vassal specific or general for everyone).

Then there is a ruler’s personality and skills. The Diplomacy skill provides a flat bonus or penalty to character opinion, reflecting your ruler’s ability to actually do the work of court interactions (high diplomacy skill also frequently gives ‘outs’ in difficult events to avoid offending people). On top of this, personality matters; while most characters like characters with the same trait as them and dislike characters with the opposite trait, certain traits are liked or disliked by vassals generally. Brave, Just, and Patient all give general vassal opinion bonuses, while Craven, Stubborn, Arbitrary, Impatient, Paranoid and Sadistic all give penalties.2 The bonuses and penalties of these traits tend to be small, ranging from +5 to -10; they stack but characters generally only have three traits, limiting how high they can be stacked.

An example of just how many modifiers you can end up with to produce a single opinion score. While a lot of these are cultural, notice how many are from doing rulership (Court Grandeur, commissioning a history (the Al-Yiliqichronicon), personal diplomacy, illustrious (that’s the fame bonus), being brave, held a large feast) and how many of the penalties are failures to do rulership (tyranny, holding too many duchy titles, doing too much offensive warfare, being impatient and stubborn).

More pervasive is the fame modifier, ranging from negative 10 to positive 30 for all secular rulers; every character has a fame level. The way fame works is that various prestigious actions (holding hunts, having or creating titles, being lauded, winning battles, etc.) give a character prestige and fame in equal amounts; prestige is a resource that is then spent to do things, while fame accumulates. Fame can be lost, but only rarely so; in practice fame is the sort of lifetime value of all of the prestige your character has earned. Splendor, a sort of dynasty-wide fame rating, starts characters off at birth with prestige (they benefit from a famous name), so building dynasty splendor is a strategy to give all of your rulers a leg up in terms of holding together a kingdom.

In some ways the inverse of fame’s effect is tyranny, a negative modifier with effectively no limit that a character gains every time they take what are perceived as unjust actions (imprisonment without cause, that sort of thing). It decays slowly and lowers the opinion of all vassals and all courtiers, which can obviously be quite bad since the former make factions and the latter are effective agents in schemes against you. Individual tyrannical acts range from -5 to -20 opinion, but they stack so that repeatedly acting tyrannically can compile much larger negative modifiers. Unlike in previous games where characters remembered specific acts of tyranny, in CKIII, tyranny is more of a general reputation.

Already we can make some observations about how this system functions. First, vassals care about a ruler’s character, though not as much as they care about a ruler’s actions. A brave, just, patient ruler’s opinion bonus will be entirely swamped by unjustly imprisoning just one vassal (and they’ll also pick up a bunch of stress for it, because they’re just). At the same time, while vassals react very negatively to sources of tyranny, they aren’t looking for a ‘nice guy’ ruler either. Instead, they value prestige, and so it is worth looking at how prestige is acquired.

The main sources of passive prestige (and thus fame) are the titles a ruler holds personally, with a percentage bonus from diplomacy skill added on top.3 Added to this are prestige bonuses from personal and court artifacts which can add up quickly to a substantial bonus; being the head of a large dynasty is also a major prestige bonus. But what I want to note is the sort of ‘outer edge of the possible’ for this, for which let me introduce you to Emperor Konstantinos VII, ruler of the re-established Roman Empire, Emperor, King (3x), Duke (2x), Count (11x), with a maxxed out court, a diplomacy of 16, both Joyeuse and Curtana and effectively infinite wealth:

Like I said, I enjoy managing large realms. This particular screenshot is from my last pre-Struggle for Iberia game.

He has 23.9 monthly prestige, which is a ton. Needless to say even most independent kings will only have a fraction of this. But getting to the maximum fame level requires earning 25,000 prestige which at this rate will take 87 years. Clearly there must be other ways of getting prestige to get those sweet, sweet secular opinion bonuses. And there are! Both feasts and hunts can provide prestige, especially if you have a lavish royal court with lots of servants and good food, but those decisions are expensive and can only be fired once every five years.

But I’ll cut to the chase: successful warfare is the main driver of massive fame. Declaring war itself requires an investment of either prestige or its religious equivalent, piety (but not fame or its religious equivalent, devotion); you have to spend some political capital to bring all of your vassals to war and this reflects that expenditure. But most war types also reward prestige to the winner of the war, and they tend to reward quite a lot of it. For instance, it costs 100 prestige to declare a war to recover de jure territory from another ruler4, but if you win you receive the land and 300 prestige (split between all of your allies, but if you attacked alone, you get all of it). Now that means if successful you ‘net’ 200 prestige, but 300 fame (because prestige but not fame were spent declaring war) and now you have the ‘seed’ prestige to immediately declare war again (on someone else). This is why, for instance, when I needed to hit a high fame level in my House al-Yiliqi playthrough, my kingdom embarked on a sudden conquest spree in the Maghreb – that was the necessary process of building the political capital to do what I wanted.

That’s actually not even the limit of this. Battles provide fame or devotion if you win them (sieges reward gold instead), so a war with lots of big battles (that you win) will reward even more fame than just the prestige for winning. Moreover, big conquests may also mean situations in which ducal or royal titles can be either created or usurped from their old holders (because you now have all of that territory), which rewards another 300 prestige for ducal titles and 400 for kingdom titles. For comparison again, the passive prestige of ruling 3/4ths of the Roman World was just 23.9 per month, just under 300 per year. At almost any stage of the game there is far more prestige to be earned by successful warfare than through any other source, often an order of magnitude more. And the high fame bonus is really big; it is a 40-point swing in vassal opinion from no fame to the highest fame.

In short then, the games mechanics drive the player – even a player who merely wants an internally secure realm – towards external warfare. Why?

Constructing Legitimacy

Which brings us back to international relations theory! We’ve already met IR realism, which contends that states pursue their material interests and tries to understand state action through that lens, as well as emotional choice theory which contends that apart from these material concerns, the emotional states and incentives of individual decision-makers matter. But this sort of game model, which encourages the player to take certain actions (and we’ll look at actions-not-war in a moment because they fit here too) not necessarily because of the territorial results but because of how they would be perceived by peers and vassals because of the way those choices fit how those peers and vassals understand the role of a ruler, that sits largely outside of these concerns. Emotional-choice leaders are guided largely by the desire to produce or avoid specific feelings, while IR realist states are essentially amoral actors looking to maximize security and power, considering the opinions of other states only in as much as they might interfere with those goals. This is something quite different. Here the monarch’s actions are guided by cultural expectations and institutional structures (vassalage itself being the key institution here) as much as practical utility.

Which at last brings us to the next big international relations theory field: constructivism. The central idea of constructivist thinking in international relations is to regard decision-making as fundamentally shaped by institutional and cultural factors (which are ‘socially constructed’ – a fancy way of saying ‘made by humans’ – thus the term constructivism). Rulers and leaders under a constructivist framework do not so much make rational, Machiavellian calculations to maximize strategic benefit as they aim to perform rulership or leadership, in whatever form that takes in their culture: they make decisions within a cultural script provided for them. That form, in turn, in constructivist thought, is shaped by social and historical factors (which is just a fancy way of saying, ‘it comes about culturally over time as a consequence of that culture’s history’).

Ta-da! Turns out I miscounted a touch and seizing some land from Navarra was also necessary to get to the right size, but the crown of Navarra still exists, so future rulers can set to work vassalizing it diplomatically, thus preserving the cadet branches of our dynasty, which I’ve decided is a priority here.

Leaders and rulers, in this framework are thus not so much dune buggies ranging over the wide open desert with an infinite number of choices as they are cars navigating a culturally determined highway system with a limited number of lanes, roads and turns, their choices constricted by the need or desire to ‘perform rulership.’ I should note that while ‘perform’ and ‘performativity’ are the standard academic language, especially in the humanities, for these kinds of interactions, that does not mean the performance is insincere (the strong implication from the word ‘perform’ that the performance is insincere is one of the reasons I find ‘performativity’ an unsatisfying framework in which to understand historical actors. Academics who use the term will insist it does not have this meaning and then go and use it exactly in this way in common speech. People in the past generally believed their own religion and ideology and were generally invested in the values of their culture!). Indeed, a ruler growing up within a culture is very likely to have internalized that model of how rulers ought to behave and when decisions come up be guided as much by the idea of ‘I want to be a good ruler and good rulers do X’ than ‘doing X will convince the people I am a good ruler.’

In CKIII, this the constructivist vision is expressed in two ways: the game both blocks and nudges. For the blocks, some actions are simply unavailable if they sit well outside a character’s accepted cultural milieu. The clearest example of this is the inability to declare unjustified wars (something that can be done in EUIV); though the culturally relevant excuses to go to war differ from one culture to the next and differ based on the target, such an excuse is required. But most of the impacts are nudges: tyranny penalties for some things, vassal opinion bonuses for others, showing the player the culturally preferred path of rulership, which they can take or deviate from as they wish.

In history, the idea that rulership is strongly shaped by cultural and historic factors in this way is so strongly embedded and pervasive in our approaches that it doesn’t have its own ‘school’ the way that it does in political science and international relations theory. It does, however, lead to, I’d argue, two broad approaches to studying what kings do and how they are understood, though of course most historians mix these methods. The most materialistic approach is what I’m going to call – for lack of a more theorized term – studying ‘kinging.’ This approach assumes that kings are what they do, that the best way to chart the social assumptions that inform kingship are to chart the actions of kings, the structure of their administrations and so on. In the ancient world, this approach is very strongly associated with Fergus Millar’s magisterial The Emperor in the Roman World (1977), but the same method has been employed for the various monarchies of the medieval Mediterranean world. As we’ll see, the nature of the many fragmented states of Europe has tended to mean that each polity has to be studied as its own sui generis creature; not one model of medieval kingship but many.

Our man Ajannas III (forming the new empire actually breaks the numbering, since the primary title changes, but I’m going to keep calling him Ajannas III) does most of the rest of his warfare internally, while nurturing a friendship with the king of Leon which will eventually allow us to peacefully vassalize that Christian kingdom (with a promise of religious protection), giving us two decent-sized Christian vassals in Spain (which, you will recall, was part of the aim here: a multiculturally, multi-religious realm).

The other approach, far more common in medieval studies in my experience, is to study kingship, which is to say the ideological and literary constructs that medieval people – mostly authors, most of whom were members of the clergy, but also medieval people more broadly – built around the institution, as a means of understanding how the institution was understood. This is a subset of the Annales school’s emphasis on mentalités and it is no shock that it is pervasive in medieval studies, given that Marc Bloch, an enormously influential scholar of medieval Europe, was also one of the most important figures in the development of the Annales school. Mentalités here are the ways in which people in the past understood and thought about their world; often, as it turns out, quite differently than we do today. While the study of mentalités is most often associated with a ‘history from below’ approach (also part of the Annales school), the study of kingship is more often a question of what are effectively elite mentalités, expressed through writings on kingship.

Fortunately for historians, the literate elite of the Middle Ages wrote a lot about kingship and its place in elite values. Sometimes they did so explicitly in that frame in the form of ‘mirrors for princes‘ – guides on how to rule well. But just as often this is taking place in the chronicles and histories they are producing as well. Scholars of kingship (and indeed, of polity-formation more broadly) will thus point out that the authors writing these chronicles are often engaged not merely in recording events and facts but in constructing (that word again) kingship as an institution an ideological construct as they do so, building a framework for future kings and future vassals to understand their role. As with research on the mechanics of kingship itself, the programs of literary legitimacy building for kings tend not to fit a single ideological pattern but vary by author, monarch and dynasty.

As an aside, one of the most wonderful things added in DLC so far for me was realizing that you, as a king or emperor, can commission or sponsor such works, exactly as a historical ruler might, encouraging (with money and a spot at court) an author in your kingdom to write about your grand lineage and deeds. Moreover, once written such a book can be displayed in your court, where it grants prestige and sometimes a small boost to vassal opinion, which is, it seems to me, exactly what the kings who commissioned or encouraged such works thought they were getting out of them (and often, by the by, the circulation of such works was similarly limited; the point wasn’t that everyone always read them but that the existence of a grand chronicle of your house testified itself to your legitimacy and right to rule). It immediately put me in mind of works like the Gesta Normannorum Ducum (written by Guillaume de Jumièges, later expanded and revised by Orderic Vitalis), a laudatory history of the Normans up to (and eventually beyond) the conquest of England which is also engaged in constructing legitimacy for William I and his descendants. I legitimately giggled for for a few minutes when I saw that you could do this because it is such a medieval-kingship thing to do.5

The fundamental idea here is legitimacy; the king cannot rule by force alone and so must convince his most important supporters (those key vassals with their own private armies) that his rule is legitimate. This kind of ‘legitimacy building’ often seems strange to students coming from modern liberal democracies because those modern government forms rely on the deep well of legitimacy inherent in a democratic process (‘our decision’ being more legitimate by nature than ‘my decision’), but such legitimacy-building was and remains a crucial tool for monarchies of all kinds.

The destruction of al-Sarq ended up creating a couple of independent counties on the border between Aquitaine and Spain, which the king of Aquitaine started attacking. Never one to miss out on a fight, Ajannas responded by declaring a kingdom-tier holy war in response. Normally doing this would clear out all of the Christian rulers all the way down when we won, but due to Muwalladism’s ‘pluralism’ doctrine, this just vassalizes them, leaving the empire now with a large number of Christian vassals.

The valuable distinction here is between two kinds of methods to get people to do what you want, the dichotomy, as Hannah Arendt presents it in “On Violence” (1972), between violence and power. A king’s options for direct coercion – for the use of violence to make other people obey – was always limited (and reliant on getting the men doing the violence to obey without themselves being violenced against), but it was extremely limited for medieval kings whose key subjects also had armies and castles. Instead they had to rely on power – on the ability to coordinate voluntary collective action – in order to get things done or at least in order to get enough of their armed subordinates on board to coerce the rest. Legitimacy – the sense that the king’s rule is rightful and his orders are, in general, to be obeyed – is the tool by which that power is supported.

Fundamental to these notions of legitimacy was the idea of the kingship as a customary institution. As moderns, we are enamored with the idea of progress and change, but by and large pre-modern thinking was that things should continue to be done the way they have always been done, which makes a lot of sense in a world where technological and social change moved quite slowly. Kingship fits neatly into this mold: a good king was a king who practiced kingship in the way that kingship had always been practiced, fulfilling traditional models of how kings were supposed to behave and act. By doing that, or at least appearing to do that, kings could build the necessary legitimacy, lasting over generations, which enabled them to impel their collective subordinates to action.

In particular, the king’s traditional roles generally fit under three large headers: chief priest, chief judge, and chief general – that is the religious, legal and military head of a society. But the military role is peculiar of the three; the first two roles are judged based on how they conform to past practice and cultural ideals, but military performance is judged against results. Consequently, military performance becomes the ‘proof in the pudding,’ as it were, for the other two: a king that is successful on the battlefield must be so because they rule well in peacetime (and thus have a well-run kingdom with a good army) and because whatever Higher Powers may be interested were on their side. That then feeds back into the model of kingship: because the ideal king is successful on the battlefield, the actual king must seek battlefields on which to be successful. The performance of kingship by the socially constructed models present in these societies demands military performance and so conflicts must be found to do that performance.

The balance of CKIII‘s prestige system pushes the player in exactly this direction, since the secular opinion bonuses of fame are so high and the best way to get fame is to spend prestige declaring wars you then win. That allows vassal opinion to be kept high (and some high opinion rolls over to your ruler’s heir for a few years after succession), because the king is doing kingship (here, military activity) well.

The game then mirrors this same structure for the ‘chief judge’ role as well with the Royal Court DLC. I’ve discussed this DLC already but here I want to briefly note how it adopts the same prestige/fame economy: it costs prestige to hold court (you can do so every five years). Doing so gives your character three dilemmas to resolve; getting favorable resolutions either by leveraging the treasury (vassals like generous kings!) or by being wise and skilled rewards further prestige and all gains of prestige are gains in fame, so the player spends political capital (the prestige investment) for the chance to win legitimacy (fame if you perform well). The effects aren’t nearly as strong as warfare and that makes a lot of sense: these are military aristocrats, after all. But it fits in the same mold.

However fame, while a major component of how the game models legitimacy, is not the only system for doing so. Remember that there are a lot of either general opinion or vassal opinion modifiers. Fame is one of the largest, but a character’s traits (like Brave or Just, but as we’ll see these can be culture and religion specific too!) matter. A number of lifestyle traits also boost opinion either directly (like ‘Administrator,’ +5 vassal opinion) or indirectly through a diplomacy bonus (like the ‘Eager reveler’ trait from doing lots of feasting, but beware because a character that does that can also pick up the ‘drunkard’ trait which is sharply disapproved of by some but not all religions/cultures!). On the other hand, holding personally more territory than you can inherit upsets vassals, as does acts of tyranny, but also acts a culture disapproves of (which can vary, culture to culture, see below).

Consequently, the way CKIII models legitimacy is through a multitude of bonuses and penalties which bear on vassal opinion. Collectively the things that provide bonuses to vassal opinion – high fame (from military success), good diplomacy, holding feasts, giving fair judgement, commissioning histories of your house and displaying them – all together form the game’s model of building legitimacy through performing a sort of ideal kingship in line with cultural expectations. By contrast, doing the things which provide penalties to vassal opinion – tanking fame by declaring wars without ‘just cause’ (the prestige to pay for it), committing crimes, having culturally or religiously disapproved of traits or lifestyles and so – do the inverse, undermining a character’s legitimacy and promoting the formation of dangerous factions that undermine the unity of the kingdom. Legitimacy is very present in CKIII, not as a single system, but as an interaction of many systems which in turn influence vassal behavior.

That said, we’ve been talking a lot about general features – every ruler is using prestige and fame (and the religious equivalents, piety and devotion, which naturally speak to the ‘chief priest’ kingship role). But of course as implied by the constructivist framing here, these roles are socially constructed (which again, just means ‘a thing that humans made rather than a thing that occurs in nature without humans.’ ‘Socially constructed’ does not mean ‘fake.’)6 which in turn implies that while there many be some common, cross-cultural features (like king-as-warleader), there also ought to be a lot of cultural particularity. What a ‘good king’ looks like in one society isn’t going to be precisely what a ‘good king’ looks like in another, and so the job of building legitimacy is going to change from one to the other.

Which brings us to…

Legitimacy, Culture and Religion

The way that CKIII deals with both culture and religion represents a significant shift from CKII. In the earlier game there were a set number of cultures and religions, some with bespoke mechanics (most religions and a few cultures) but the whole system was fairly inflexible and yet at the same time often had minimal impact on gameplay. The main impact of the system was merely to make multicultural realms less stable and efficient than monocultural realms.

By contrast, culture and religion are much more complexly modeled in CKIII and – important for this post – have an impact on the game’s understanding of legitimacy. Both culture and religion are, in the first place, modular. Each culture consists of an ethos (one of seven core values), four ‘pillars’ (language, but also an aesthetic which determines how characters of the culture dress, etc.), and then a series of traditions. Traditions are modular quirks of individual cultures, such as a preference for certain kinds of soldiers (heavy infantry, archers, etc.), familiarity with certain kinds of terrain, a tradition of monasticism, or traditions around activities like feasting or dueling. There are a lot of these and they can have a modest but noticable impact on gameplay, especially where they allow certain activites to occur more often or be taken without gateway perks (e.g. ‘Tabletop Warriors’ for cultures that place a high value on board games like chess, which in turn makes being challenged to friendly (or not so friendly) board games a regular occurrence). This modular structure also allows the game to simulate cultural blending and drift more easily (and giving the player some agency in it).

Examples of the Religion and Culture screens, where you can see the culture’s pillars and traditions and the religion’s tenets and doctrines displayed (though note that both scroll downward). These are modular and the player can try to start a new branch of their religion or, as the largest ruler of a given culture, try to reshape their culture (though the prestige cost is considerable, reflecting the tremendous political capital needed to make such changes ‘stick.’)

Religion is similarly modular in how it is modeled. Characters each have a faith which is then part of a religion which is then part of a religious family, which allows the game to distinguish between different religions, branches of religions, heterodoxies and heresies within those branches and so on. Like culture, each faith has a set of tenets which inform its function in game, both a set of modular bonuses much like culture traditions but also a set of doctrines on the role of the clergy, marriage and what acts are considered criminal or shunned. Each religion (so a bundle of faiths) also has its own list of ‘virtues’ (preferred traits) and ‘sins’ (disfavored traits).

The combined effect of all of these little factors is to change, sometimes in subtle ways but often in quite pronounced ones, what traits and actions improve or damage a liege’s standing among their vassals, which is to say what traits and actions build or damage legitimacy. The differences are generally fairly small – no in-game religion prefers cowards or murderers to brave or just people, for instance – but then the range of human moral codes is not infinite either. Nevertheless, a vengeful hard-feasting (and hard-drinking) Norse-religion ruler with a high martial education and the ‘poet’ trait in a culture with the ‘Chanson de Geste’ cultural tradition is going to be highly regarded: vengeful and poet are both favored by the religion and martial education by the cultural trait. But take that same ruler traits but put them in a Muslim context and suddenly the hard-drinking damages the character’s appeal to others; put the character in a Byzantine context and vengeful is now a serious character flaw (global opinion malus) while that character’s martial prowess, while not disapproved of, provides no general opinion bonus.

Meanwhile some of these tenets and traditions open up entirely new interactions or substantially change existing ones. Several traditions, like Druzhina and Futuwaa open up the option to have either serious to-the-death duels or sparring duels. Different faiths have different understandings of religious war and pilgrimage, even within a single religion, leading to different activities and bonuses for doing them. Thus a Muslim ruler can earn some legitimacy (general opinion bonus) by performing the Hajj; most Christian rulers can do something similar with a Christian pilgrimage, whereas for the Tengri with the ‘ancestor worship’ tenet, doing so only grants a close family opinion modifier.

If anything, as a historian I wish these impacts were much stronger, encouraging very different forms of royal display and action. One difference that jumps out to me as not being modeled as fully are cultural assumptions about the king’s role in the army. My sense is that most players keep their ruler out of army leadership because that is a high risk profession and surprise successions are bad, but in a lot of cultures that choice for an adult male ruler should be effectively impossible or at least badly politically damaging. Attitudes in different cultures here shifted over time, which makes a good fit for the culture system’s traditions, which can also change over time.7

I suspect this is the direction the game is trending in any event. The ‘Tabletop Warriors’ and ‘Malleable Subjects’ traditions added with the Iberia DLC are both relatively more impactful on gameplay, the former leading to a different form of culturally important activity (lots of chess), while the latter changes the shape your kingdom takes culturally, making multicultural realms more stable. Looking at what the developers are talking about in terms of what kind of content they intend to make, it seems safe to bet that future cultural flavor packs are likely to come with more impactful culture traditions or religious tenets, especially using new traditions as the ‘wrappers’ to contain a whole bunch of new event lines. I hope this is the direction they go; the system here seems to provide a good foundation to express the many different models of rulership at work in this period, but as of now that foundation isn’t fully utilized.

Ajannas III passes away in 1028, leaving the throne to his son Muntasir (once again, there’s been some careful title management to keep the royal realm from being partitions badly), who now takes the helm of a large, polyglot, multi-ethnic, multi-religious empire. With a diplomacy of 21, a diplomatic education and the diplomatic court trait, Muntasir is well equipped to manage.

Performing Kingship

Nevertheless, I think the overall focus on rulership (which, when the developers discuss the game tends to be discussed under the heading of ‘roleplay’ but since the only role you play is some form of ruler, the overlap is considerable) is broadly successful and also quite innovative for a strategy title. Getting that to work in CKIII requires all three of the design elements that we’ve discussed so far. Fragmentation is necessary so that the player has subordinates whose opinions matter, rather than merely opponents to be defeated, while the personalistic system of rule encourages the player to think about how their actions will impact the views and behaviors of peers, vassals and their liege (should they have one).

With those pillars in place, the game doesn’t have to pull the player out for a lecture on constructivism or kingship: instead players are going to rapidly note, especially when running a large realm that anything with a general opinion or vassal opinion bonus is very valuable to realm stability and that staying king or emperor over multiple generations is going to require racking up as many of those things as possible. And off the player goes, performing kingship (or failing to do so and finding their realm cracks up under the pressure of faction wars). In the process it provides a striking example of how often foreign policy is domestic policy by other means, as players routinely will use foreign policy (especially warfare) as a potential solution for domestic policy problems, which works in societies where military success is the ultimate marker of successful kingship.

And I can’t stress how unusual this approach, trying to get the player to play like a historical figure and to understand the concerns that shaped their behavior, is in this genre. Short of ultra-niche titles like King of Dragon Pass, most strategy games never put the player in a situation where the cultural and institutional constraints on their actions are so extensively modeled. Instead, most historical strategy games put the player in charge of a unitary state with near absolute power. To the degree that culture or religion are modeled, they more often exist the way that they do in the Civilization games, as beliefs for other people8 which are putty to be molded into the desired form by the player’s will, rather than as long-lasting structures which shape and constrain actors.9

But in CKIII, religion and culture are not ‘for other people,’ but rather are fundamental shaping constraints on the possibility space for the player; culture is the sandbox they must play in. There are other sandboxes they could move to, but in all cases there will be a box and they will be in it. CKIII‘s design, built around personal rule, allow it to consider systems that are larger than any one ruler, and that is fantastic.

Now I should note that we’ve ignored the other component of how the game simulates legitimacy, the ‘popular opinion’ modifier, which we’ll get to next week as we take a look at how CKIII handles armies, unconventional polities and the other half of the vassalage-manorialism pair that makes up feudalism.

  1. Opinion also matters for lots of intrigue and since members of your council – typically powerful vassals – are potentially agents in schemes against you, having them like you is an important way to plug gaps in your personal security.
  2. Sadistic’s penalty is actually global, rather than just vassals.
  3. I have tended to avoid giving ranges for skill-bonuses because technically skills can go all the way to 100, though in practice skills above 20 are exceedingly rare. At 20 diplomacy, a character gets +12% monthly prestige. That’s a meaningful, but not overwhelming bonus. It certainly doesn’t change the balance of what I’m about to point out.
  4. That is, your title or the title of your vassal ought to make you a ruler of a place, but someone else has it, you can declare war to go get it.
  5. Though realistically it should also probably give you a malus that makes tyranny accumulate more quickly, since now with a history of your house on offer, vassals can more easily accuse you of breaking with the ancient and customary practice of your ancestors when you revoke all of their titles and imprison them.
  6. By way of example, which side of the road we drive on is socially constructed and entirely contingent. It could be – and indeed in many countries, is – the opposite of however you do it. But just because this is constructed doesn’t mean it isn’t real; if you drive on the wrong side of the road, you will soon have a very bad time.
  7. By way of example early Roman emperors absolutely did not lead armies in the field, a norm that weakened in the second century AD and then inverted in the third. By the end of the third century the emperor always moved with the main field army, the comitatenses. But that norm wasn’t stable either; by the early Middle Ages Eastern Roman Emperors were back to dispatching subordinates with the armies, as Justinian (r. 527-565) did, until the practice changed again with Heraclius (r. 610-641).
  8. And you know how much that vision of past religions frustrates me!
  9. Structures here is (surprise!) another idea out of the Annales school, which divides history conceptually into three: short-term changes (‘events’ or événements), mid-term shifting conditions and periods of rapid change (‘conjunctures’) and then la longue durée, long-term historical structures (geography, climate, mentalités, etc.). The Annales approach is explicit in prioritizing those structures over the other two, though of course sometimes major events can fundamentally alter underlying structures.

181 thoughts on “Collections: Teaching Paradox, Crusader Kings III, Part III: Constructivisting a Kingdom

  1. Interesting that large-scale offensive warfare is the best way to generate Fame and Prestige, and yet Vassals start accumulating an “Offensive War” penalty the longer you stay in such wars (unless you are a Warmonger religion, in which case being at peace for too long accumulates that penalty!) That means vassals basically prefer quick, decisive wars in which they win gloriously and can go home, rather than committing their troops to a years-long struggle.

        1. They’re manpower. Presumably your lord has use for them elsewhere even if it’s not made clear in the mechanic.

        2. But as long as you’ve got those troops, *they* can’t use them to launch wars and gain prestige of their own!

  2. “And, as always, if you want to be my vassal, my levy and tax contribution rates are customary and reasonable; you can pledge fealty via Patreon.”

    But how can one man serve [counting] twenty-three lords?

      1. Given that homage is the stronger only-one-liege version, and that Brett only asked for the weaker pledge in the first place, I am sure that he is fine with homage too.

  3. My sense is that most players keep their ruler out of army leadership because that is a high risk profession and surprise successions are bad

    Well, mostly I do it because my ruler is bad at it. I’m pretty sure nothing bad can happen to an army commander if you win the fight (knights are another story, but the player cannot be a knight) and I try to avoid losing battles anyways. However, I tend to go for stewardship or diplomacy over martial, so usually my ruler is a middling commander at best and doesn’t have a commander trait. There’s a +5 “leading own troops” advantage boost but that rarely makes you the top general.

    With the latest dev diary announcing they plan to include the entire Old World, which I presume includes China, I’m really curious how they intend to handle China, which was specifically ruled out in CK2 because its government form was just too different.

    1. Ideally they could do China by making government form mutable, just like culture and religion are now.

      1. The problem is mainly that it’s a burecratic state that appoints people to jobs based on their test scores and reassigns them a lot and generally does not have much dynastic succession at lower levels. It’s certainly possible to create a government in the system that works like that, but then it’s rather hard to play a dynasty. There’s two existing governments with nondynastic succession but they’re unplayable for that reason.

        1. Yes but succession based on high levels of a certain attribute was already present for CK2’s imperial system so all they have to do is remove the elective part and calculate the inheritance of lower titles based entirely on ability score. It would be tough to play as “regulalry” but the lifepath system would let you subvert it really easy.

          1. CK2 Venice: Every Doge is from the same family

            Real Venice: Every Doge is from a different family

            CK2 made them playable by making them dynastic. It’s like making the Papacy playable by assuming all Popes are either a Borgia, a Medici, a Richelieu, a Mazarin, or a Cromwell

        2. The complicated bit is of course that china absolutely had dynastic rule not only on the top level but you have dynasties of scholar-gentry or military aristocrats (depending on timeframe) but in a way that’s much harder to make an on-off thing and it’s less about marriage and more about finagling a way to get your idiot son appointed to a cushy job.

          1. That seems much like America today. Little or no formal hereditary succession, but dynasties (political, financial, etc.) anyway.

    2. It’s especially interesting since in the very same dev diary they say that a separate mechanic for empires (such as the Eastern Romans) is a long ways off. Perhaps they’re planning to expand the playing area South before they go East?

    3. Effectively they’d have to start by adding a Title tier; either something above Empire, or by renaming the current Empire tier to something smaller-sounding and making Empires so big that they almost never happen organically.

  4. All right, I’ve finally been convinced to play Crusader Kings. You win! But I second the recommendation for Tyranny – it’s a great game and tons of fun.

  5. Wait, in the Twitter thread announcing this post you say that kingship doesn’t usually arise from tyranny but rather from legitimacy, but in the Fremen Mirage part I you said that kingship essentially arises from military force, and in one podcast you said that the state was essentially a “stationary bandit.” These seem contradictory- does kingship come from legitimacy or extortion?

    1. You need to have legitimacy among the people doing the extorting. Notice that this entire part covers only relationships with lords who have military power to call upon. Those lords and their troops can then extort peasants, although even then they can’t keep an eye on all peasants at all times and need to persuade people that either they should pay their full taxes out of a sense of obligation or that they’ll really regret not doing so.

      As for legitimacy with the peasants, that’s represented with Control and Popular Opinion, with Control being how effectively you collect taxes and Popular Opinion being how happy they are with you. This is per county and mostly affected by the direct holder of that county, so the main driver for landing people outside your religion and culture (which can give like -45 opinion right out the gate) is to reduce popular discontent. If Popular Opinion is low enough the counties can form factions and demand you lower control or give them independence. But you end up not much caring because they don’t have much in the way of armor and weapons.

    2. None of those statements are incompatible- the state is a “stationary bandit” because it relies on involuntary contributions from the people it rules over. However, generally speaking, states produce forms of legitimacy to explain why these involuntary contributions should continue. And kingship specifically generally arises from an ideological understanding of military force- if you accept that I will take some of what is yours, I will defend the rest of what is yours, and I am very good at that. And thus, kings generally must be capable at wielding military force to be seen as legitimate, because it is the use of that military force for particular purposes which makes them legitimate and more than just the head of an organized crime syndicate.

      1. The ‘stationary bandit’ terminology devalues the state. Bandits don’t give anything back. Any hierarchy has to have a culminating point – a point of final decision. Also, as some sociologists have pointed out – nested hierarchies are the only form that scales. A band of foragers can reach decisions by consensus after debate; a city cannot. So ‘kings’ or some such are inevitable when societies reach a certain size. The issue is the terms of trade within the hierarchy – how much the top gets, and on what terms, and what the state will provide (sadly often, the opportunity to plunder the neighbours).

        1. Bandits (organized crime groups, anyway) can be no less called upon to revolve disputes or even sometimes to provide disaster relief (see yakuza practices) than states (particularly medieval ones). The difference between a well-run protection racket and a state in quantitative, not qualitative.

        2. Bandits can certainly give back by suppressing rival bandits. A stationary band might give back by occasional almsgiving to the poor.

          And of course there is no guarantee that a government will give back.

        3. @Peter Thomson
          >The ‘stationary bandit’ terminology
          >devalues the state. Bandits don’t
          >give anything back.

          I think you’re adopting an over-narrow definition of “bandit.” A “bandit” in the sense of “an isolated outlaw hunted by the state” is likely to give little back because they cannot afford to give anything back. And in a sort of grim circular logic, this is what makes them an isolated outlaw with every man’s hand turned against them. But a “bandit” in the sense that, say, a mob boss is a bandit? That’s different. Such individuals must be seen to give something back, at least to their own followers and perhaps to the community those followers live in

          @Peak Singularity
          >Didn’t the classical Greek democratic
          >city-states manage to rule more or
          >less by consensus ?

          Yes and no. In a typical polis, much of the population was disqualified from political discourse on account of being female, enslaved, or a noncitizen. They thus had no ability to participate in that consensus. Furthermore, there were many small poleis where the total citizen population was, if large by hunter-gatherer standards, not that large. We’re talking here about populations that can all fit in a sizeable market square and be addressed by a single speaker as long as said speaker is a loud man and everyone else shuts up and listens.

    3. “These seem contradictory- does kingship come from legitimacy or extortion?”

      They are not contradictory at all. As a example from immediate experience: The legitimate right of the government to be given your tax money is not in any way contradicted by it’s threat to jail you if you don’t give it that tax money.

      There are three ways to get people to do something: reward them for doing it, convince them they should to do it, or force them to do it. A ruler that wants to stay ruling had better be willing and able to use all three. And show some judgement about which to use and when to use it.

    4. Well, that is one of those complicated issues that’s tricky to get becuase by their very nature we usually don’t have a historical record of exactly how kingship arises (because kingship usually predates the kinds of records that can show that kind of detail) it’s entirely possible that there are both models.

      That said, kingship once created cannot be maintained by force alone, simply out of practicality. You need people to do what you want them to *even when you’re not there and can do violence to them* (even moreso in a pre-modern society where you might be months away from actually being able to do violence to someone). And that’s where legitimacy comes in.

      Now, fear is absolutely a part of this. But you can’t use fear *alone*. You at least need to keep the guys you use to instil fear in other people loyal by some measure other than violence itself. (though a healthy mix of fear can be useful there too)

    5. I’m not sure it is contradictory considering that a medieval king isn’t (usually) governing a state. They don’t have a monopoly on violence the way a state does and thus must rely even more on building legitimacy since they don’t possess as much coercive force.

  6. Some unconnected thoughts.

    First off, as a chess nut, I want to pedantically note that what was being played in the timeframe that Crusader Kings covers isn’t exactly chess as we know it today. It had different rules, especially in piece movement, to “Mad Queen’s Chess” which is the current form of the game played at FIDE events and pretty much all casual formats. The Knight is the only piece whose move survives from the days of Shatranj. (And, incidentally, it makes a lot more sense when you know how those old pieces moved. Once upon a time, the King moved one space horizontally or vertically, the Queen/vizier moved one space diagonally, the bishop/camel moved exactly two spaces diagonally, and the rook/elephant moved exactly two spaces horizontally or vertically. The knight can move to any of the squares that would not be immediately reachable by all of the other back-rank pieces) Modern chess only emerged in the late 15th century, more in early EU timeframe.

    Secondly, as someone coming in new to the game, I’ve noticed that civil wars aren’t *that* bad. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather avoid them if possible, but assuming you win, it can actually be pretty good to lock up the majority of your vassals, and then get all sorts of hooks or just cash bribes when they get out, or strip them of their titles and redistribute their lands. At least so far, I’ve noticed that vassal coalition troops tend to be fairly low quality, a lot more levies, a lot fewer “real” troops. Unless I have another, external war going on, I’ve rarely had too much trouble stomping them. And while that might “cannibalize” my realm’s strength, it seems to grow back fairly quickly. Maybe too quickly. I don’t seem to have gotten any of these massive civil wars that even victory is kind of a defeat, at least not so far.

    One thing that maybe could help remedy it is maybe giving some kind of penalty for keeping your vassals in prison? I mean, the entire reason that you have this vassalage system is the inability of the central authority to actually administer all their landholdings. That’s why it gets leased out to these guys in the first place, and somehow I don’t think they can manage their mini-realms locked up in your jail. But (and maybe this is just reflective of bad play) I find one of the best ways to keep the realm stable is to keep a significant proportion of the vassals, especially the more powerful ones, in jail for as long as possible, which is kind of dumb.

    Also, as a last aside, and wholly in the realm of game advice and not history, is there any way to deal with the aggressive war impact on popular opinion? Make it go down faster? Right now, the best I’ve got is to take the stewardship option that gives a +50 bonus to try to counteract it, but my expansionistic ways are getting deep rumblings of discontent as I try my hand at re-establishing the Roman Empire.

    1. Secondly, as someone coming in new to the game, I’ve noticed that civil wars aren’t *that* bad. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather avoid them if possible, but assuming you win, it can actually be pretty good to lock up the majority of your vassals, and then get all sorts of hooks or just cash bribes when they get out, or strip them of their titles and redistribute their lands.

      This is a valid plan I often use when I’ve wound up with a pile of different-religion vassals. How bad they are is gonna depend on how large a chunk of your vassals join and how powerful they are, and if they’re at 200% military strength you’re going to have a bad time.

      At least so far, I’ve noticed that vassal coalition troops tend to be fairly low quality, a lot more levies, a lot fewer “real” troops.

      Well, they’ve got the full army of their domains, same as they’d have if they’re independent. I guess if you’ve recently-ish installed them they won’t have had as much time to build up their men-at-arms as foreigners, but a good vassal revolt can easily muster more MaA than you.

      Also, as a last aside, and wholly in the realm of game advice and not history, is there any way to deal with the aggressive war impact on popular opinion?

      Far as I know, no. I tend not to pay it much mind, though; popular uprisings are almost entirely levies and spawn in split up.

    2. The thing about civil wars is that they have opportunity cost. The time and money you’re spending on suppressing your own vassals could have gone to expansion instead. The nice thing about winning a civil war is that it gives you a lot of leeway to resolve the problems that caused the war (by reducing the power of your vassals), but that’s still generally worse than not having one in the first place.

    3. This post and the blogpost itself have reminded me how some are suspecting that Turkey’s Erdogan might have “set up” the recent civil war to easily remove opposition for quite a long time…

    4. @Adam

      >Secondly, as someone coming in new
      >to the game, I’ve noticed that civil wars
      >aren’t *that* bad…

      I suspect this is in part because it’s easy to come up with good plans for winning wars in most computer strategy games. In practice, it’s harder. Also, it should be noted that historically, many rebellions failed and many attempts to overthrow a monarch likewise failed, and when the monarch wins they do often get some pretty sweet consolation prizes like being able to lock up That One Jerk in a dungeon… But you only have to screw up once for the dynasty to collapse.

      This is another area where rulers being culturally expected to personally command their troops (especially in a civil war where their personal right and fitness to rule is in question) would probably “keep players honest” a little better. The prospect of goading a third of your vassals into rebelling against you so you can crush their armies and subjugate them might seem less attractive then. Because then, in-character, it means you as monarch have to personally lead the crushing force and accept the risk of said vassals attempting to remove the crown from your head with a large mace.

    5. Well triggering small “fires” to avoid bigger “fires” is how I roll in CK2. Also very useful to tidy up some internal border gores.

    6. Ironically, the “chess” in the game is just rock-paper-scissors anyway! But for your other points: Civil wars in the hands of an experienced, metagaming player are an easy way to simplify and rationalize your realm; new and AI players find civil wars to be a total hard brake on their realms.
      You misunderstand what the game is doing with imprisoned vassals, though. They are defaulted to ‘house arrest’, which should be understood as being just a requirement to be in your capital castle instead of their own. The game screws this up a little bit by preventing non-dungeoned-but-imprisoned vassals from being invited to your feasts and hunts, which it shouldn’t, but a noble landholder imprisoned under house arrest restrictions can get by delegating management without incurring unsustainable inefficiencies. There should be more hostage-exchanging though, it was built into CK2 but not really developed and it’s not present in CK3 as a non-RP-mechanic.
      There’s no real solution to the popular opinion thing. It’s specifically designed to stop you from being expansionistic in exactly the way you’re being. Changing your religion is the best option, there’s also IIRC cultural things you can do to boost popular opinion, but like the stewardship perk it’s just counteracting. In my current game I just gave the peasants in my home domain a ‘tax lien’, wrecking Control (and levies) because I have so many Martial perks that the control loss is not very painful, but I’m only able to stay on top of the resulting factions because I already changed my religion to allow polygamy. There is the locust option–using holy wars to continually get new lands and then giving away your old counties in order of popular opinion but I think in practice that also doesn’t work.

  7. Do you plan on doing a post about House of the Dragon ? I find that a lot of what is being said here also intersects with that series’ plot and it would be nice to know your thoughts on it, and whether it does better than it’s predecessor when it comes to it’s relationship with history.

    1. Seconded.

      Debating Daeron II Legitimacy and Rulership. How bad is Robert and Aegon IV drinking and womanizing. Jaeharys and Viserys decision on succession. And all over Legitimacy of various Targaryen Kings, Queens, and Usurper would be fascinating analysis. Steven Attewell had some articles, seeing other opinions would be nice.

    2. It’s interesting that in both series the nobles seem to have more interest in “legacy” – meaning pushing for their family members to be kings or married to a king, but rarely care about the number one resource in feudalism – land. It’s like in a Crusader kings game where you try to get your family more titles but don’t care to expand your domain.

      1. I wonder if that could make sense given how big the major realms are according to GRRM. Would they be pushing the limits of practical administration as it is? The “Seven Kingdoms” were never unified in thousands of years until someone with reusable flying WMDs showed up, with communications from flying WMDs and maybe magic scrying (Valyrian glass candles).

  8. A great real-world example of “external wars provide legitimacy” as modeled by CK3 was Almanzor in the late days of the Caliphate of Cordoba, who engaging in what I can only describe as “Prestige farming” through annual campaigns against the Christian kingdoms to the north. As (more or less) a usurper, he lacked a reserve of legitimacy through family history (Renown!) or titles, so he helped solidify his grip through the ostentatious performance of religiously-supported warfare, accruing both Prestige and Piety in the process. While at the same time destabilizing the realm in other ways that caused the dissolution of the Kingdom-level title after his death…

    1. New Kingdom Egyptian Pharaohs did much the same with warfare against their neighbors to the South, especially early in each pharaoh’s reign.

      So this is actually something that happens!

      1. And wasn’t at least part of the reasoning behind Claudius ordering the invasion of what’s now England to shore up his own legitimacy?

      2. It has been argued that this is what Putin is doing in Ukrain right now.
        His legitimacy is build on the idea that he is the one that will reconstitute the empire. He got popular by subjugating Chechenya. Then he brought part’s of Georgia back, and he tries to be seen as the protector of central Asia.

        1. Of course, one of the complications of legitimacy-building is that it doesn’t work very well if you don’t have a clear understanding of both reality and the constructed culture of the people you’re dealing with.

          Putin has surrounded himself with a bubble, and so is relatively bad at judging whether Russians as a whole actually give a damn about his empire-reconstituting project. And likewise, he is bad at judging whether he can win wars by doing so.

          So it’s an attempt to build legitimacy through (re)conquest, but the attempt is susceptible to failure.

          1. > Putin has surrounded himself with a bubble, and so is relatively bad at judging whether Russians as a whole actually give a damn about his empire-reconstituting project.

            I don’t know, I have seen some Telegram channels full of Russians who are absolutly furious that the war isn’t waged more aggresive. And as I said his popularity in Russia as President was absolutly build on the brutal Chechen war.
            Now his ability to win this war, is another question.

          2. Just read in October’s *Le Monde Diplomatique* today :

            According to both the two official and non-official surveyors, at the start of the “special operation” late February around 65% of the population (that answered the poll) more or less supported it. A few weeks later, after the “””Western””” sanctions, 75% did.

            While 10% were staunchly anti, and 1% spent personal effort to support it.

            The non-official surveyor mentioned he expected this to change after the recent events in September.

          3. For the Dark tiger and Peak Singularity comments:

            Supports the war in a poll and willing to make sacrifices for it are different things, Putin may have though most people were more invested than is actually the case. The actual need to scrounge around for soldiers and use the draft plus some trickery suggests a population that supports the war in the poll, maybe likes the idea of their country beating up some other one, but weren’t themselves itching to reconquer Ukraine and won’t put much extra effort into doing so.

      3. That’s also part of how the Carolingians built their legitimacy. Between the end of the Merovingian civil wars in 720 and the end of the Saxon War/ peace with the Umayyads in Spain in 803, barely a year passed without the Frankish people in arms being summoned for a seasonal campaign. Through that series of campaigns they basically reconquered all the territories the Merovingians had claimed overlordship over back in the reign of Dagobert (d.639) and more.

  9. The focus on legitimacy reminds me of an early scene in The Last Kingdom where a character who has a strong claim to the throne but lacks the qualities associated with kingship says something along the lines of “Alfred is king because he looks and acts like a king and people think I do not.” (Incidentally, a review/critique of that series would be awesome.)

  10. > the strong implication from the word ‘perform’ that the performance is insincere is one of the reasons I find ‘performativity’ an unsatisfying framework in which to understand historical actors.

    I dunno, there’s shades of meaning in “perform”. Someone can perform their duty, or the functions of their job, without it being somehow insincere. Granted, it depends on the context in which it’s used, of course, but I don’t personally find that describing someone as “performing the functions of kingship” means they’re insincerely aping their way through it for the spectacle alone. But maybe that’s just me.

    1. You’re right. But the choice of the word “perform” in particular makes it that little bit easier for a modern historian or student of history to think about “the performance of kingship” while imagining it as an insincere staged ‘performance.’

      It’s not that the word is incompatible with a good interpretation of what is really going on. It’s that the word is also compatible with a bad interpretation if one thinks sloppily… which many do.

  11. For instance, it costs 100 prestige to declare a war to recover de jure territory from another ruler4, but if you win you receive the land and 300 prestige (split between all of your allies, but if you attacked alone, you get all of it). Now that means if successful you ‘net’ 200 prestige, but 300 fame (because prestige but not fame were spent declaring war) and now you have the ‘seed’ prestige to immediately declare war again (on someone else).

    Not true! Critically not true. Or, at least, the assertion that winning a war gets an attacker their prestige back. The primary attacker in a war does not (typically- I’ve not done an exhaustive survey and the way CBs are scripted means there’s definitely scope for outliers) get prestige for winning it. Their allies do, but they themselves only get the fame.

    The game is generally averse to feedback loops of this sort, despite the fact that they are entirely appropriate to the dynamics of social capital. Core to them, I’d assert. Actually one of my key criticisms of the game’s prestige economy, is that lack.

    1. The loop is there if you are engaging in foreign alliances as intended. You have to ask your AI allies to let you into their wars though, the AI’s willingness to drag you into things is toned down following player complaints going back into CK2 days. In fact, most of the time when you feel like there’s a missing feedback loop in a Paradox game, it’s because the 1000-hour players complained about message spam from the AIs.

  12. In particular, the king’s traditional roles generally fit under three large headers: chief priest, chief judge, and chief general………..Consequently, military performance becomes the ‘proof in the pudding,’ as it were, for the other two: a king that is successful on the battlefield must be so because they rule well in peacetime (and thus have a well-run kingdom with a good army) and because whatever Higher Powers may be interested were on their side.

    Vladimir Putin has had issues with the chief judge role, and the Russian military is notably suffering for it, so…checks out. 🙂

    Ukraine fight is one of many modern “wars for prestige”, it seems, start a war somewhere so a leader can look powerful, so the concept obviously continues to the present day. Though in different circumstances of modern times these wars are not as favorably viewed.

    While mulling around some space empire game ideas in my head, I’d thought about different government types as a way to handle “unitary empire vs. lots of internal politics” as this post mentions. Instead of having bonuses and penalties, the different government types would change how the game is played, so a standard hive mind would play like the usual “player directly controls things” game, a feudal system, or split hive mind with separate rulers for each planet or system would be like managing lords/vassals, a federations/democracy type government has you work through popular opinion, elections, and such. I’d thought of “hive vs. independent”, “elections vs. top down”, and “unified vs. planets/systems have separate systems” (I think the last one is unitary vs. something else in political science terms, but don’t know exactly) as covering the standard space empire games.

    Presumably the more complex playstyles offer some bonuses to output, or administration costs, or such to compensate for the lack of control, and create different playstyles, and different spaces would have some options available or locked (humans lose the hive option, for example, some other aliens might lost the top down or unitary options.)

    1. “in different circumstances of modern times these wars are not as favorably viewed.”

      That doesn’t seem right. Short successful wars (Falklands, first Gulf War) dramatically boost a ruler’s prestige. If the Ukraine war had gone like that, I’m pretty sure it would have boosted Putin considerably.

      1. The leader whose prestige was dramatically boosted by the first Gulf War was President George H. W. Bush. How did his re-election go in 1992?

        Putin’s power is dependent upon control of oil revenues, the media, and the “security” services. War helps with none of them. Conquering Ukraine helps with none of them.

        The point about dictators is that sometimes they do things because they want to. They’re dictators.

        1. This being a pedantic blog, I think “monarch”, or even better : “emperor” applies better to Putin than “dictator”, which implies seizing power in an emergency / by a coup ?

          1. Wouldn’t tyrant be more fitting. Since he got elected but managed to break the system and seize control (like how democratic greek cities could turn into tyrannies)

          2. Hmm,

            unlike Yeltsin with his 1993 coup where he sent tanks to shell the White House and then dissolved the first democratically-elected Parliament,

            Putin *did* stay in power (mostly, kind of) constitutionally-

            (which involved that weird “president-premier castling” with Medvedev, and rewriting the constitution, so might be considered invalid I guess ?)

            -the main matter is that, sadly, at least until recently, Putin still has (had?) popular support.

            (Also, not to be forgotten the very likely false flag 1999 terrorist operation that helped him to be elected in 2000…)

            At this point it’s kind of moot I guess…

      2. You could rather say short successful wars like Chechnya, Georgia, and Crimea. Those short and successful wars were pretty good at boosting Putin’s domestic and international legitimacy. When you stake your legitimacy on winning these sorts of wars and then you fail; however, things can get bad kind of quickly.

    2. Though in different circumstances of modern times these wars are not as favorably viewed.

      After all, views of the proper performance of statesmanship change over time!

      (And TBF, there was a very concerted effort, involving spending a lot of prestige, to normalize the idea that all wars are crimes.)

    3. It’s not, perhaps, as extreme as what you’ve described here, but Stellaris does have different government types that somewhat affect the state of play. Picking the most democratic one has elections every 10 years (which goes by pretty quickly in-game), and while the leader bonuses may not be large enough to swing the game wildly they can have an impact. On the other extreme, you can have “imperial” succession type where you have a royal family with an heir who steps in upon death of the current leader. Then there’s hive-minds, which dispense with all of that for an “immortal” leader (to make it work with the engine). By default empires are still pretty unitary no matter what government type you take, but with the recent Overlord expansion you can now have vassal states with completely unique vassal contracts, which can lead to some differences in gameplay (e.g., one vassal could be required to support you in your wars and not engage in outside diplomacy, while another can require you to come to their aid in their offensive wars that they conduct with their own, separate diplomacy.) There’s also the ability to put planets/sectors within your empire under the control of the AI, but these aren’t really internal politics as they won’t have separate agency (though planets can secede and declare their own empire if things get bad enough).

    4. For space empire building, I suggest searching for a copy of “Stars at War” by Ken Burnside, Ad Astra Games. It was a set of campaign rules for tabletop space battles with some ideas about how different forms of government would affect building fleets and managing diplomacy. Not nearly as complex as CK3, as required for a human powered game that’s primarily about generating reasons for fleets of spaceships to blow each other up, but an interesting approach.

    5. While not strictly a *space* empire game, check out what I wrote about the 2020 post-apocalyptic (extra-)planetary 4X / wargame *Shadow Empire* :
      (also in comments to previous blogposts)

      As for more traditional space 4X, the published (but not developed) by Paradox : Sword of the Stars 2 comes to mind, with its Political Compass (based on the IRL one !) where your actions move you in that 2D plane, and you will end up in one of the 9 “quadrants”, each of which have empire-wide bonuses an penalties…

  13. Grateful for the shoutout to KODP, greatest game of all time!

    And in my best Hans Moleman impersonation, I was objecting to people using “performative” to mean ineffective in casual language…

    (it is a pedantic pet peeve of mine; if its performative, that means it works! Its effective! The word you’re looking for is “insincere” my friends! Gonna start the other kind of Butlerian Jihad over this)

    1. I can’t really agree with this statement “Grateful for the shoutout to KODP, greatest game of all time!”

      Six ages, IMO, is considerably better.

    2. I remember someone (was it Dworkin?) talking about that and in regards to gender being performative (which she’d gotten some pushback from people who thought she menat it was a performance, and fake) and she explained it like this: A judge declaring a sentence is using performative language, because in addition to describing his actions (“I sentence you to…”) that bit of language *itself* performs a function: The Judge (in the particular context of a sentencing) is *doing the thing he is saying*. The language is the act of doing.

  14. “This kind of ‘legitimacy building’ often seems strange to students coming from modern liberal democracies because those modern government forms rely on the deep well of legitimacy inherent in a democratic process (‘our decision’ being more legitimate by nature than ‘my decision’), but such legitimacy-building was and remains a crucial tool for monarchies of all kinds.”

    I think there’s plenty of ‘legitimacy building’ in Liberal Democracy (TM), and we just tend to not think of it that way. What is public relations, governmental or corporate or otherwise, if not an extended exercise in “here I am, doing the things that I am supposed to do, so allow me to continue wielding this power?”

    There’s also plenty that needs the legitimacy built – see the Supreme Court in the US, or the monarchy i the UK. For all the rhetoric spilled about freedom and democracy, a LOT of government still depends on the Legitimacy of the Institution, which can be good (I like executive agencies when they regulate pollution without requiring an up-down vote on every regulation) and very bad (I do not love the Electoral College and Senate, why didn’t we change that shit when we did Reconstruction, aaaaaaaaaaaaaa)

    1. The democratic form of government does seem to lend legitimacy to the idea that you should do what the elected guy and his representatives say, but anyone who wants to win the next election is going to have to persuade people they did a good job presidenting. Also, they need to persuade the legislature to follow their lead if they want to get bills passed, though the importance of doing that varies. A democratic system provides something of a pressure valve for anti-government sentiments because if they’re widely held the leader gets voted out of office rather than getting bayoneted in the street.

      I’d call the State Of The Union in particular a major legitimacy-building exercise, and presidents get noticeable approval shifts from war depending on how it’s going.

      The executive agencies derive legitimacy from the fact that they’re created by acts of Congress and controlled by the President (to varying degrees). Congress can technically yank an agency’s leash at any time and strike down a regulation, pass a specific law on a topic, or eliminate or alter agency powers.

      1. What’s noteworthy is that democracy creates more of a gap between the legitimacy of an institution and the right-to-rule of the specific individuals who sit in the chairs in that institution. Because you can tell yourself, with some hope of being correct, that even if right now the institution is occupied by losers or idiots or hateful snakes, that some day it will be elected by people you like better.

        Monarchies and other forms of more or less autocratic government don’t have much of this, because the office of the king is almost inseparable from the physical person of the king.

        The catch in a democracy is that if your democracy faces a long string of abuses, incompetent leaders, or failures of the institution to enact popular reforms and solve widely known problems… Well, over time, the legitimacy of the institution decays as it becomes more apparent that the problem isn’t only with the specific person sitting in the chair.

        For instance, the Supreme Court relies heavily on legitimacy. Control of the Court is normally very slow to change hands, but could theoretically be changed at any time using “court-packing,” on behalf of a faction that held the presidency and a narrow Senate majority. The reason no one has done this since the early 1800s is because of legitimacy considerations. A packed Court is an obviously partisan Court, and nearly all of the Court’s legitimacy comes from the idea that, in theory, it is a purely neutral and nonpartisan arbiter of constitutional law.

        But, speaking purely hypothetically, if the US got to a point where, say, 80% of the electorate thinks the Court is obviously partisan anyway and doesn’t happen to like the Court’s decisions, that legitimacy tends to evaporate. There is a real danger of the Court destroying its own legitimacy as an institution and opening itself up to court-packing maneuvers if it makes enough consistently unpopular decisions without taking steps to preserve the appearance of political neutrality.

        1. I loath the term court packing it has come to imply an almost quasi illegitimate act. The court size is not in the constitution and its been altered before.

          1. Yes. And the last time it was altered was in 1869.

            At this juncture, expanding the court would be a nakedly partisan activity, and would be regarded as illegitimate by the majority of Americans. So the pejorative connotation of the term is entirely appropriate.

        2. It’s not quite that. People can certainly be in favour of the monarchy anot the actual king. and there’s also the “Good king being mislead by his evil advisors!” schtick.

    2. I was going to say that what you were commenting on was pretty much the point: Democratic government systems have legitimacy-building incorporated in their structure from the foundation.

      On the other hand, the running joke about headlines of “This is when Trump finally became president,” point to the other thing, which is that we still have ideas of what being a good president looks like, and to be reelected, you need to do those things.

    3. Since the Electoral College was instituted in part so that the President was not “whoever New York elects”, after the Civil War I think the other states >still< didn't want it to be "whoever New York elects".
      Today it would be "whoever New York and California elect" but it's pretty much the same.

      1. I looked this up, and in the first census New York had 8.6% of the national population. Virginia was in first place with 18.9%. That’s not nearly enough for a single state to choose the president by themselves.

        In the last census, the top two states were California and Texas, which combined had 20.7%. That’s not nearly enough for just two states to choose the president by themselves, even if the people of those states all chose the same candidate. And of course they wouldn’t all choose the same candidate; California is majority Democratic, but also has a lot of Republicans who have no representation under the electoral college. Texas is the other way around.

        1. The electoral college and senate make more sense if you think of the US as an international alliance, which it sort of was. The junior partners, the small states, wanted disproportinate representation so as to protect their interests, and states voting as a single block is hardly uncommon in alliances.

          1. Yeah, just compare with the European Union, which is now more than an international alliance, yet every of the 27 member states, even the smallest one, have veto rights.

          2. It was also thought of as more of a nominating body than a deciding one. The thinking at the time was that the House of Representatives would make the decision from the candidates put forth by the electoral college.

        2. And yet many companies are effectively run by a stockholder with only 10% or less of the shares.
          You are correct that New York (or Virginia, or California or Texas) could not elect a president against the unified wishes of the rest of the states. But this is never the case; given a limited choice among candidates, one of those states is often enough to put one over the top. The College’s formula still has population component, but with a limit to how small a state’s population can get.
          I am a Canadian; we have a similar situation with the House of Commons. PEI has 4 seats but should have fewer; there have been a number of changes over the years to keep various provinces from losing too many seats at once due to population changes.

          1. Coming back to this much later, it should be noted that Californians and New Yorkers aren’t hive minds. If the population of California is so strongly in favor of something that it would sway a national election, the odds are good that people in lots and lots of other parts of the country want the same thing very much. Likewise for New York.

            There is no plausible scenario where 90% of Californians vote in lockstep and somehow through the popular vote this results in something wildly unpopular throughout the rest of America happening. Because 90% of Californians [i]don’t outnumber[/i] such a huge supermajority in the rest of the country. They’d lose. The only way for 90% of Californians all supporting the same thing to be decisive is if, say, 45% or so of all people in the rest of the country also supported the proposition and the totally overwhelming support among the minority of Americans who happen to be Californian tipped things over the lines.

            Rational opposition to nationwide popular votes isn’t really about keeping power out of the hands of some single province or ethnic minority. By definition, it can’t be. It’s about the fear that one’s own positions will become genuinely unpopular among the majority, but remain popular among people similar to oneself, and that oneself will be expected to stop doing something the majority opposes.

      2. The Electoral College was instituted because a) everyone was drunk and b) everyone knew that George Washington would win under any system whatsoever so it didn’t matter and c) everyone had been drinking alcohol in the sun for months and was still drunk.
        This is not disputed among scholars, it’s the most reliably documented legislative proceeding in the pre-magnetic-recording-technology era.

        1. I think that effectively everyone who could be at that time probably was what we would consider drunk more or less all the time.
          Drinking the water in a city was not safe.

  15. “This kind of ‘legitimacy building’ often seems strange to students coming from modern liberal democracies because those modern government forms rely on the deep well of legitimacy inherent in a democratic process.”

    Partly, those students have little real world experience (as compared to members of the Class of 1981), and partly, they have not examined deeply many of the aspects of the world in which they live (as I had not in 1981). Was their professor selected by a democratic process? What about the president of the university? And when they have private sector jobs, most of them will have no trouble with the legitimacy of a superior who says, “My father founded this company,” much less with someone who says, “I founded this company,” even though neither of these is a democratic process. In fact, medieval political entities might better be compared to family businesses, run by the founder or his offspring, than to modern states.

    1. And when they have private sector jobs, most of them will have no trouble with the legitimacy of a superior who says, “My father founded this company,” much less with someone who says, “I founded this company,” even though neither of these is a democratic process.

      I think that has less to do with family ties and more to do with capitalist institutions; most students are willing to go along with what their boss says even if that boss is only “legitimate” by decree of a few wealthy stakeholders (with no bloodline connection to the company’s founding). And an awful lot of students are eager to give the opinions of rich guys way more weight than the opinions of poor or middle-class experts in the fields those rich guys stumble through. (*cough cough*Elon*cough*)

      1. I think capitalist legitimacy mostly comes in the form of paychecks. Employees may have little respect for their bosses but plenty for Mr Green.

        1. Though there are lots of day to day decisions that don’t carry a realistic risk of being fired. It’s a lot like the force versus power distinction: some jobs may be micromanaged and maximally precarious, but most depend on employees acting when there isn’t direct observation or an immediate risk of termination or pay loss. Things like work ethic, team spirit, respect for the manager, etc. have a similar role in legitimacy and can make the difference between healthy and dysfunctional organizations.

      2. That’s not inconsistent with what I said: students are willing to accept the legitimacy of capitalist authority even though it isn’t chosen by democratic means. What they need to understand is that the medieval mind didn’t see the same division between economic and political activity, or between property and sovereignty, as we do, and therefore accepted as legitimate the political authority of entities that were more like family businesses than the political entities we know today.

        1. “students are willing to accept the legitimacy of capitalist authority even though it isn’t chosen by democratic means”

          Depends on the way you look at it: If you don’t like working for XYZ Corp, you can always resign and move to ABC Corp instead. But if you don’t like President A, you can’t declare that you will be rules by defeated Presidential Candidate B.

          If Democracy is about giving you a choice over your authority figures, Capitalism would seem to be more Democratic than Democracy.

          1. I was hoping someone with a stronger poli sci background than I would expand on the difference between “voice” and “exit,” but they haven’t. In any case, the terms are more or less self-explanatory and democracy is usually considered to be a system that gives its subjects voice, not merely exit. (Plenty of autocracies over the years have not restricted emigration, but that didn’t make them into democracies.)

          2. Peak Singularity, the average person working for McDonalds has far more influence over whether he works for McDonalds than whether he is ruled by President Biden. All of its American workers chose to work for it; quite a lot of them probably voted to be ruled by Trump.

            Voice is far less powerful than exit. If you doubt me, consider whether being able to escape from a slave plantation was more powerful than being able to complain to the slave driver.

            This is why political activists and moralists of all persuasions care so much about the government: It can force people to do what the activists want them to do. The thing that distinguishes political activity from economic activity is that political activity includes the option of forcing people to do things.

            Restricting people’s options is the whole point, because only that way can you remove the option of doing the thing you object to being done. Only that way can you force people to close an abortion clinic, never use a plastic straw in a fast-food restaurant, or invade Ukraine.

            Eliminating other people’s options is the whole point of politics and, indeed, of strategy.

            This doesn’t mean that political activity is necessarily bad, just that at some level it has to be about who forces whom to do what.

          3. Yes, yes, I actually agree, I just wanted to point this out, as many corporations and even some politicians seem to be using dystopian cyberpunk tales as some kind of guide to economics and politics…

          4. There are different levels of voice and voting, too, of course.

            In most representative democracies, you pick from a handful of representative options (multiple parties, or US primary -> 2 parties), every few years. (US federal has Pres/House/Senate, but if you want things to get done then those aren’t independent options but need to correlate.) If you want finer-grained influence you have to lobby or protest, and even months-long protests backed (in opinion polls) by a majority of the country may not overturn a law.

            In Switzerland you get the same elections, and also the option (with enough allied voters) to call an referendum on any law, or even push through an initiative change to the constitution. If the government passes an unpopular law, it’s easy for the people to snipe it down.

            I imagine this helps the legitimacy of the surviving laws quite a lot. Instead of “no one likes this law, but we don’t have the range of options to acceptably change the government” (i.e. “I’m unhappy with what the Purple party is doing but they’re still better than the Orange”), you *know* that every law older than a few months has the implicit support of a majority of the people, otherwise it would be gone.

    2. “democratic process” in capitalist terms means “social contract” – which considers citizens to be the “stakeholders” of a state, similar to the stakeholders of a company. Feudal systems were also based on contracts for land and rulership, dictated by the “stakeholders” – feudal warlords.

    3. I think people get fed up and quit their jobs more often than medieval vassals abandoned their liege or modern people leave their democratic country.
      (not that it would be bad to make it easier for workers to change jobs by strengthening the safety net)

  16. I should note that while ‘perform’ and ‘performativity’ are the standard academic language, especially in the humanities, for these kinds of interactions, that does not mean the performance is insincere (the strong implication from the word ‘perform’ that the performance is insincere is one of the reasons I find ‘performativity’ an unsatisfying framework in which to understand historical actors. Academics who use the term will insist it does not have this meaning and then go and use it exactly in this way in common speech.)

    FWIW, I haven’t heard “performativity” used in an insincere sense…though I’ve mostly heard it used by trans people discussing gender performativity, who have more of a stake in this performance being seen as sincere than most academics.

    Though realistically [writing self-aggrandizement books] should also probably give you a malus that makes tyranny accumulate more quickly, since now with a history of your house on offer, vassals can more easily accuse you of breaking with the ancient and customary practice of your ancestors when you revoke all of their titles and imprison them.

    It would be neat if a future DLC let you create/commission more specialized books, which gave both a bigger bonus and a restrictive malus. One that paints you as virtuous for extra opinion and piety, but gives extra tyranny. Another that paints you as merciless (but just) for extra Dread gain, which makes (unintimidated) vassals join factions more readily. Stuff like that.

    Or heck, since we’re fantasizing about future DLC, we could imagine a whole Reputation system, influencing how contemporaries and history view your character. A high Virtuous Reputation gives piety and worsens tyranny, a high Merciless reputation gives extra Dread and encourages factions, that kind of thing. Books, bards, and the like could build an individual’s or dynasty’s reputation, but so could actions.

    The performance of kingship by the socially constructed models present in these societies demands military performance and so conflicts must be found to do that performance.

    And the result of those pressures in turn has an influence on the societies they’re built around. Rome might be the most overt example of this; its culture bent around its strategic needs, because its leaders needed to justify and succeed in wars to advance.

    Also, nitpick: Excellent use of the word “performance” in a sincere sense.

    But of course as implied by the constructivist framing here, these roles are socially constructed (which again, just means ‘a thing that humans made rather than a thing that occurs in nature without humans.’ ‘Socially constructed’ does not mean ‘fake.’)

    Your example of road-driving is a good one, but I prefer species. Sure, there is an obvious truth within our concept of “species”. A pre-human truth, even! Cats and dogs can’t have babies. But the way we describe and understand that truth is still socially constructed!

    Look at hominid evolution. The place where Australopithecus becomes Homo erectus is completely arbitrary—the first H. erectus looked more like their Australopithecine parents than like their Homo descendants—or, for that matter, than the parents looked like other Australopithecines. This isn’t just theoretical—most hominid fossils have been given multiple different taxonomic classifications, because the lines are arbitrary.

    (Maybe “planet” would be simpler to explain? It’s a bit less obviously applicable to socially-constructed categories based on biological differences, though.)

    1. In many of my classes during my Biology undergraduate degree, entire lectures were spent on explaining the fuzzy lines between species, and how a lot of the divisions as you say are ultimately arbitrary.

    2. Regarding footnote five, I think the idea is that in the course of the book being written, you’d also be familiarizing yourself with all the obscure precedents and loopholes which could supply a tenuous pretext for some tyrannical act – or if necessary, instructing the historian to invent a few from whole cloth, tailored to whatever specific political problems you’re anticipating.

    3. Having recently looked into human prehistory, the split between humans and other animals (between *Australopithecus* and its immediate ancestor) ~4 Mya seems to be much larger, than between *Australopithecus* and *Homo*…

      In the first case, that’s where is the split between us and the only remaining relatives (chimpanzees and bonobos), and where the move from tree habitat to savanna happens (bipedism, persistence hunting…).

      In the second case, *Homo* seems to appear (very roughly ?) at the start of our current Ice Age (aka Quaternary period) ~2.6 Mya, with its (so far) ~50 glacial periods…

      Not too long ago we thought that the first stone tools industries (“Oldowan”) appeared with *Homo* (AFAIK that’s where the name *Homo habilis* = “handy man” comes from ?), but we’ve recently discovered even *earlier* stone tool industries, pointing towards an apparition with *Australopithecus* : Lomekwian ?

      1. I don’t see how that changes the fundamental point I’m making. The first Homo had more in common with their parents than the parents had with other members of their genus; this makes absolutely no sense, whatever definition of “species” you use. Species are socially-constructed categories, the lines are arbitrary—lines and categories drawn over the empirical reality that man-apes three million years ago were significantly different from modern humans.

    4. > FWIW, I haven’t heard “performativity” used in an insincere sense…

      I’ve heard it both ways. People sometimes accuse political opponents of “performative outrage”, meaning “You’re not actually upset about this, you’re faking it.”

    5. @GreatWyrmGold, for an example of “socially constructed” cars and which side of the road to drive on is a much better example for almost everybody.

      In 2022 the vast majority of the world’s population know what cars are, even if they don’t own or drive one themselves. Likewise almost everybody who knows about cars also knows that you drive on one particular side of the road. Thanks to movies and TV it is also easy to explain, if they didn’t know already, that in other countries people may drive on the other side of the road.

      This is a clear distinction, left or right are the only alternatives. And it is very obviously a choice by human beings, there is nothing biological that forces us to drive on one side or the other. Ask the person who drives on one side of the road if they can imagine moving to another country and changing, and they’ll almost certainly say yes.

      A lot of people also have the idea of species, but as a biological reality, not something we get to decide. As Niall notes, it can take an entire university level lecture to explain that species are sometimes fuzzy. And your example of hominid evolution are even more obscure. Having to recap the current interpretation of fossil morphology and type specimens before explaining “socially constructed” will take a while.

      Which side to drive on makes it very clear what “socially constructed” means. Some societies make a different choice. There are also examples of societies deciding to change: various European countries changed in the 20thC within living memory and apparently Samoa changed as recently as 2009.

      With hominid species, unless you have access to a time machine and/or parallel universes, there is nothing we can change about these hominids except the labels that we put on museum cases and in textbooks. There’s a lot more to “socially constructed” than just changing the words we use, hence the driving example.

      1. “Species” is the label we put on museum cases, or more generally on certain populations of organisms. Just like “gender” or “race” are labels we put on certain populations of humans. So for those situations, it’s very directly applicable (if you can get someone to listen to the whole explanation).

        While examples like currency or roads are clear examples, they’re also trivial examples. They are very obviously things we can change, not the sorts of things you’d need to convince someone is socially-constructed. This makes it a bad example for convincing people that X is socially constructed, because anything analogous to it is also something obviously constructed.

        Explaining how the US Dollar is a social construct is not particularly informative; nobody thinks that the exchange rate between dollars and Euro is just an inevitable consequence of natural laws. Species is something people tend to assume is 100% empicirally-based, just raw science. Explaining how it isn’t, how the objective differences between Australopithecus and Homo aren’t the only things that makes them different, is analogous to a wide variety of things that seem objective but are socially constructed.

  17. I’d be interested to hear more about how this stuff works for a ruler who isn’t independent. If you’re a duke in a larger kingdom, what do you need to do to keep your vassals in line? Presumably you’re less free to start wars as a source of prestige and fame.

    1. Yes and no. The answer to whether you are as free to war as your liege varies over the game dependent in part upon your liege and his vassals and also the date and type of government.

      For feudal rules at low levels of crown authority you are basically as free as if you were independent. There are some restrictions, for example if your liege is King or greater rank and therefore has a royal court another vassal might petition your liege to intervene to end any wars between their vassals.

      Starting at crown authority three for feudal rulers you are forbidden from warring against your fellow vassals. Crown authority three is itself gated behind a cultural innovation which is not available to be unlocked until a certain point in the game. And at crown authority four you are prohibited from warring at all (against an internal or external target) without spending a hook on your liege.

      However there are still options for a vassal under high crown authority. You may still wage a war if you spend a hook on your liege which you could gain from familial relations or blackmail. You may also alter your feudal contract with your liege to exempt you from the general prohibition on wars against your co-vassals.

      That last option also has the upshot of making wars declared on your co-vassals cost half as much prestige. It only requires a weak hook to alter the contract in this way, in my opinion given the impact on the general stability of the realm it should probably require a strong hook (seriously good blackmail).

    2. Unless the King is very powerful, you can attack other vassals and even foreigners if you think you have the strength to succeed without breaking any laws. You just need a culturally appropriate casau belli.

    3. Until your liege hits a certain level of Crown Authority you totally can start wars as a source of prestige and fame.

      However, when you’re playing a duke, you shift away from general opinion bonuses to specific opinion bonuses and the briefly mentioned relationships. There’s a scheme, sway, that can give you +25 decaying opinion with a targeted character. You can straight-up give people money, though you can’t afford to keep more than a couple vassals happy that way. You can marry off kids to vassals for an alliance to keep them in line, which is particularly important for clan vassals as mentioned previously. Feasts and hunts and holding court give you opportunities to raise the opinion of random vassals, and when you have like five vassals you care more about a random count than when you have sixty. Your five strongest vassals want to be on your council, and at small vassal counts you’re likely to actually let them. Depending on how gender preferences line up you can sleep with them.

      1. “Depending on how gender preferences line up you can sleep with them.”

        My wife and I had a game where we formed the empire of Britannia out of our original holdings in the Duchy of Meath. We did have one guy who broke up a coalition to break England away from the empire by seducing 4 of the participants and making all 4 his lovers. It was amusing.

        1. It’s a bit toned-down in CK3, but in CK2 homosexuality was the key to power, enabling a male leader to fill every council position and commander role with amazing talent from all over the realm.

          1. Games create a lot of situations where seemingly sensible mechanics interact to something completely unrealistic/nonsensical/unexpected, I think you’ve just won this category. 🙂

          2. It’s hard not to be impressed with this story. But then, reality often produces situations where seemingly sensible rules allow people to game them outrageously.

            Recall the story of Junilla, daughter of Lucius Aelius Sejanus, who was executed for being the daughter of Lucius Aelius Sejanus. As it was thought dangerous to kill a virgin girl who had done no wrong, the story goes, the executioner was ordered to rape her first. That way, they would not be killing a virgin girl who had done no wrong, after all.

  18. Using war to build Prestige may work in some cases, but it is generally a bad move in my experience.

    First, the only true moment of instability are successions, because of the “short reign” modifier + the fact that some vassals may have claims on your titles. And successions are generally the moment where you also lack the tools (money, mens and casus belli) to effectively wage wars.

    Second, even if victorious, external offensive wars generates discontent among vassals and losses in battle diminishs your own forces, thus lowering the bar to trigger revolts.

    It may work if you are far larger than your neighbors (and their allies) and can win short wars, but not for mosts kingdoms. It can also work if you can manage to get some ennoying vassals to get killed in battles.

    But in general, short term consequences (attrition, loss of control, war exhaustion) outweigh long term rewards, because factions are generally a short term problem. Once you get rid of the “short reign modifier”, managing vassals becomes (maybe too) easy : more childs, more hooks, more positive modifier, more skills, more vassals in jail….

  19. You earned a million awesome points by mentioning King of Dragon Pass!

    All the magic and weirdness of Glorantha aside, how well do you think that game captures pre-state iron age socities?

  20. In the first part of this series, you mention some upcoming criticism:

    > That is not to say I am going to shy away from criticism here (although most of that will be in the third part of the series), but I thought disclosure here would be appropriate.

    I will admit that there was no mention of which content your third part would be (so maybe you shifted around the order of your chapters), but I was quite surprised to not find any significant counterpoints or historical rectifications today.

  21. “Our man Ajannas III (forming the new empire actually breaks the numbering, since the primary title changes, but I’m going to keep calling him Ajannas III) ”
    Isnt this supposed to happen with titles? Like Francis II (holy roman emperor) Francis I (emperor of austria).

    1. But for a counterexample we have Frederick III, German Emperor. Then again I think regnal numbers are an anarchronism for most countries in this period, at least Muslim ones

      1. Far easier to disambiguate with insults. Were they bald? short? fat? ill-advised? universally spiderous?

  22. “but by and large pre-modern thinking was that things should continue to be done the way they have always been done, which makes a lot of sense in a world where technological and social change moved quite slowly.”

    I’m not sure this is true. Medieval social change did not move that much more slowly than ours, and could often move quite quickly. What they did do was justify changes by reference to the past – an old thing was thought more legitimate. In practice, this just meant that changes were justified and rationalised as continuations of some past practice – even when that practice was obscure, irrelevant or long obsolete. Novelty was arbitrary, and smacked of tyranny, hence often came painted as a past revived.

    1. That depends. The limited amount of social change (coups, rebellions, wars, etc. that rearranges the social pyramid in terms of who is where) were absolutely quick, but people also generlaly underestimate how *blazingly* quick social change has been for the last 250 years or so.

      A lot of people are only two or three generations away from people living an entirely different kind of life, while for most medieval people if they go two or three generations back there’s…. more farmers.

      1. My grandfather’s grandfather didn’t use money, because it’s the root of all evil. It’s hard to imagine that being an option today.

      2. It’s true that the changes of the last several generations have been hectic (arguably most intense between 1850 and 1900). In terms of mentalites, the change from justifying change by looking to the (imagined) past, and justifying it by looking to some imagined future happens in the 18th century. Before that you had renaissance and reformation (note the ‘re’); after it competing visions of the future. It’s not that technology changed (material life in say 1750 was not so different from 1680), it’s a change in outlook.

        1. “I am the the only daughter of Kidrash Tarkaan, the son of Rishti Tarkaan, the son of Kidrash Tarkaan, the son of Illsombreh Tisroc, the son of Ardeeb Tisroc who was descended in a right line from the god Tash.”
          – C. S. Lewis, The Horse and his Boy

          Aravis certainly knew how to introduce herself.

  23. The ‘Tabletop Warrior’ thing makes me imagine some medieval analogue of Dr. Devereaux’s blog, breaking down the mechanics of chess and how accurately the chess game systems model actual military operations.

    1. Pretty badly, I would think. I don’t know of any medieval chess player’s scoresheets with military backgrounds that have survived, but we do have a couple of move-scores from some of Napoleon’s games. And despite his obvious skill as a military commander, he was a pretty lousy chessplayer. We even name the (weak) opening sequence 1e4, e5 2Qf3 after Napoleon, since he used it quite a bit.

    2. Fancy what a game of chess would be if all the chessmen had passions and intellects, more or less small and cunning; if you were not only uncertain about your adversary’s men, but a little uncertain also about your own; if your knight could shuffle himself on to a new square by the sly; if your bishop, at your castling, could wheedle your pawns out of their places; and if your pawns, hating you because they are pawns, could make away from their appointed posts that you might get checkmate on a sudden. You might be the longest-headed of deductive reasoners, and yet you might be beaten by your own pawns. You would be especially likely to be beaten, if you depended arrogantly on your mathematical imagination, and regarded your passionate pieces with contempt. Yet this imaginary chess is easy compared with the game a man has to play against his fellow-men with other fellow-men for his instruments.
      — George Eliot

    3. “Because of the lower lethality of armored combat compared to chess, real armies usually place the rooks, bishops, queens and knights at the front, which puts the best soldiers quickly in contact with the enemy.”

      “Securing the flanks is automatic on a chess board, but real battlefields are more variable. Armies must chose locations and movement routes carefully to avoid “off board” ambushes or attacks…”

      “Armies in real life can be variable sizes, which means logistics and recruitment are valuable skill for a real life general.”

  24. And, yes, yet *again* I’m going to point to the 2020 post-apocalyptic (extra-)planetary 4X / wargame Shadow Empire as an example of a game with Crusader Kings and King of Dragon Pass -like constraints :

    Taking the example of declaration of war (and not of the various other diplomacy and spying related Decisions and Stratagems that also have related effects) :

    A declaration of war, especially on a Major Regime, typically comes with several penalties, which are going to be aggravated by :
    – having a good relation with that Regime
    – having a non-aggression treaty with that Regime (3 different levels)

    The penalties are :
    – decrease of happiness across your whole Regime : Population, (public) Workers, Soldier Morale, Leader Relation (with “you” as an “immortal Holy Ghost of Regime”, which is a much more typical 4X trope.)
    – decrease of Population and Leader Loyalty (which acts as a “drag” for Happiness/Relation, both upward and downward)
    – decrease of your Word score (which is even *more* important than Loyalty, but mostly impacting diplomacy and relations with your Leaders and the Factions they will tend to form, but also whether your Soldiers will vote (if allowed to) towards Autocracy or Democracy.)
    – Prestige Damage, which is quite a bummer, because it decreases your Political Point generation, which is needed for all kinds of decisions, some as lowly as raising new Formations.
    – Last but not least, an increase in the Fist profile

    The Fist Profile is one of the 3 Regime Psychology Profiles (there are also 3 Society Profiles and 3 Politics Profiles).
    And every Leader will have more or less strong likes and dislikes over 2-4 Profiles, which means that they will have their Relation (with you) increased or lowered depending on how the 9 Regime Profiles move (in a range from 0 to 100).
    And Leaders will tend to join Factions which will slowly accrue likes for up to 3 Profiles (1 in each group), which will determine how powerful they are politically. The leaders that joined them will also see their Profile likes slowly increase to fit those of the Faction.

    Also, after the early game, Profiles inside a group are going to be competing with each other : if Fist rises by 4 points, this will also reduce Mind by 2 points (burning 1 point of Fist in the process), and reduce Heart by 1 point (burning 2 points of Fist in the process) : for an effective increase of Fist by only 1. (Somewhat rough math, but should be mostly correct.)

    All of this to explain : if you suddenly declare war on a friendly neighbor, then your Fist is going to rise a LOT, which is going to move various Leader Relations themselves quite a lot.
    (And then there’s also the various Regime-wide bonuses including unlocking new Stratagems coming with having and *keeping* each of the 9 Profiles high enough – remember how increasing Fist reduces Heart and especially Mind ?)

    Finally, Factions can make Demands (more or less often, depending whether your Regime is politically a Parliament, Senate, or Politburo…), refusing them will lower Faction Happiness and your Word, but accepting and then failing to *deliver* on them in time will lower them even more !

    And, coming back to declaration of war, Fist-loving factions will typically ask you to raise your Fist rating, conquer a city (which might require declaring war), increase your overall Victory score… (which comes from controlling population and territory : you need at least 50% average of both *and* your next Major competitor to be 25% lower than you to win the game – Shadow Empire is much more of a typical 4X/wargame(?) in this sense…)

  25. I do not quite understand the point of linking to ‘natural law’ when discussing commonality in human morals crossculturally. That seems like a specifically European idea, the article traced the concept from Greek philosophy to mediaeval Christian ideas. Or have other cultures/regions had analogous ideas?

    1. Crosscultural commonality is what “natural law” is about. Some laws are different from one state or culture to the next, but certain things are the same. E.g., everyone outlaws murder, so outlawing murder is probably part of human nature.

      I’m not sure why you brought this up; I don’t see anything about natural law in the post.

      1. ‘Everyone outlaws murder’ – true. But ‘murder’ in Icelandic and Old Norse law was undeclared killing, not killing per se. If you ambushed and killed the neighbour, and then declared the death at the nearest homestead, you were guilty only of manslaughter, which could be offset by whatever offence had provoked you. So if Atli kills Thorstein, and then recalls to the Thing that Thorstein had publicly insulted him, you get off with atonement. Murder can be a very narrow category, or a wide one.

        1. Manslaughter? I’m pretty sure that’s an English common law concept, not from Norse law. That said, historically some American jurisdictions included in the first-degree (most serious) category of murders those committed by stealth, and both common law and modern statutory schemes allow for certain provocations to excuse or at least mitigate homicide. But I agree, the precise contours of what constitutes punishable homicide vary from one culture to another.

        2. Oh FFS.
          “Natural law” is the English language term for a concept or idea also found in (at least) Islamic and Chinese tradition. Of course we can’t sum up an entire moral code / ethos in two words.
          Likewise we can’t specify an entire category of crimes or offences precisely with just one word as used in current English.

          “Everyone outlaws murder” is the widespread idea, across numerous cultures, that KILLING PEOPLE IS BAD. If you kill someone, you better have a reason. That reason may not look great to modern eyes (“he insulted my honour”) and the definition of people may look equally unsound (“from a different tribe, so not people”) but even the Norse are starting from this basic idea, don’t kill people.

          1. I do note that the islamic natural law tradition isn’t really separate from the western one: They’re both originateded in graeco-roman philosophy. (though they diverged)

          2. @Arilou : Yeah, I recently realized that separating (most) Islamic and/or Arabic polities from the “European” civilization is really weird, and way too €Urocentric : the “European” civilization started in the East Mediterranean ! (including Levant and North Egypt). And Islam is literally derived from the same book as Judaism and Christianity, not to mention the importance of preservation of Classical thought by the Muslims !

            And so the real “circulatory system” of our civilization is the Mediterranean, and the real borders (especially before the steam engine) are the Sahara, the Mid-Eastern deserts, and the Nomad steppes – anyone knows a name for such an “extended Europe” ?

            (Note that this is still Euro-centric, if not €Uro-centric : from the point of view of those Islamic Empires, they would probably include India (Mughal Empire), the Steppe Nomad polities, whatever is Persia-derived, maybe some trans-Saharan polities too (?), and would probably exclude “little” and Great Britains, Ireland, Scandinavia ?)

          3. Can you tell me more about natural law in Chinese thought? I do not know anything about that

      2. “but then the range of human moral codes is not infinite either.”

        The last words in that sentence in the post link to Wikipedia’s natural law article.

  26. The first picture features Caliph Ajannas III and his son, Caliph Ajannas III. Shouldn’t they have different numbers?

  27. I agree that civil wars in CK3 are sometimes not so bad, generally. Even if the rebels have about as many troops as you do, they spawn their troops in their holdings, while you can spawn all your troops wherever you want. So instead of one big battle with an opponent of equal size, you may get three battles where you have an advantage of three to one. You may have to besiege some castles the rebels took while you were busy crushing their allies, but in general it is very doable in peace times.

    (side notice wrt logistics:)
    The logistics of the armies are modeled: Armies have a supply level, starting at 100 (well supplied) and going down to 0 (starving). Any barony can support a certain amount of troops indefinitely (with seasonal variations) without any adverse effect to the army or the population (I think?) while more troops in the barony will use up their supplies. From a game play perspective, the main thing about wars is to balance having a wide-spread army which can “live
    of the land”, but will easily be defeated by a more concentrated force and having a big host which can win battles but will starve itself very quickly. While one might quibble about the details (I do not see any army surviving on hunting game and gathering berries in the field. Foraging means stealing the grain saved by the local peasantry for the winter, as our host has discussed in detail previously.), at least the mechanic is there.

    *But* in peacetime, the men at arms and levies are delocated within your realm just like the pi electrons are in benzene. Unless you have recently used them, you can basically assemble all your forces anywhere within your realm within a month or two. This gives you a force projection capability which is arguably higher than that of present day military superpowers: while the US army would certainly be able to deploy significant troops to say Alaska within days, concentrating about all of their forces there would probably take more than a few months.

    The game does not even allow you to muster your troops before declaring war, so unless your opponent is otherwise occupied, both parties will fight with all the troops they have. This clearly favors both defenders (as in reality the attacker might have planned their campaign for months before their victim notices they are invaded) and also large empires (because troops from 1000km away spawn about as fast as troops from the next barony). Having the players/AIs commit their men at arms in peacetime to some castles, knowing that they will have to move as an army to whatever hotspot there is might improve this. For levies, just have them arrive by and by.
    (end side notice)

    Having many different fractions also helps. The AI players are not particularly smart about which factions to back. If you have inherited lords various religious minorities and different cultures from an invasion, they will generally not band together to form a strong “Dissolution” faction, but instead neatly distribute themselves into many different factions. “No, this is the faction for dissatisfied Orthodox Bulgarians. Dissatisfied Orthodox Serbians are next door.”

    In general, I find the game quite challenging in the beginning (especially if my realm is surrounded by other realms of similar size) where any lost war can spell the doom of any delusions of grandeur your characters might have. Once you are the biggest realm in your neighborhood, making it larger is quite straightforward. (I guess that one could handicap oneself and never disinherit anyone or try to maintain a multi-cultural empire. In my first game as Russia (easy), the last challenge was really when the pope declared a crusade against me. Unifying Slavia was then mostly straightforward, but tedious. “Strengthening the bloodline” took another faith reform and some 100 years of careful eugenics. Founding a coven would have been easier if I had done it when my dynasty was smaller. I have started another game as the steppe normad empire (Ironman, normal) and after a night of playing am again in a similar position. Unless I allow my realm to be split apart, it would take very bad luck to ever see a decrease in power. (Contrast this with the storytelling AI in rimworld, which can be told to spawn challenging, scaling catastrophes from time to time.)

    Speaking of simplistic models, the garrison/levy/MaA separation is also a bit strange.

    Garrisons are the only soldiers allowed seek shelter in castles (probably a union rule or something). They are supplied for months and during that time can withstand any amount of enemy infantry. When they run out of food, they surrender and swear fealty to their besieger. Whenever the siege is interrupted for some days, they restock immediately (using Amazon fresh).

    Levies are commoners pressed into service by nobles. Once raised, they are completely loyal to their controller even without any noble oversight. They do not have any particular weapons, I imagine them as a pitchfork mob.

    Men at arms are professional soldiers. They are employed (either temporarily or permanently) by some noble and come in different flavors. Unlike levies, their service is not owed to the liege, because the noble declares them as “racing teams” (light cavalry) or “earth moving equipment” (siege engines) on their tax forms. So while they themselves might serve and die as commanders, their MaA are generally only deployed if they are personally involved.

    Personally involved is not always what one would think it is. Imagine the CK3 version of Ned Stark (before the events of GoT, obviously) waking up one morning to find that the white walkers are besieging Winterfell to claim it for themselves. CK3 Ned says: “Okay, on the one hand, they want to take my ancestral lands from me. Also, parts of my family will likely be killed when Winterfell is taken, while the rest will become unlanded nobles seeking refuge at some court. Unfortunately, the white walkers are not part of the realm. If my vassal Lord Bolton or my co-vassal Stannis attacked me, that would justify me getting personally involved. As matters stand, however, this is an attack from outside the realm, so it is a realm problem, not my problem. I sure hope that King Robert will win this one, but apart from my garrison holding the castle I will do nothing.”

    Instead, if you try to take a particular county as an outsider, all the nobles who have skin in the game *should* oppose you:
    – The count and his barons
    – The duke
    – The king
    – The emperor

    Perhaps the higher tier nobles would only get involved it petitioned by their besieged vassals. Defeating any opponents (by capturing them or their family) should make their force cease opposing you. The time it takes to raise armies would be vastly different for the different tiers: while the count could possibly muster his troops in a few days, the bulk of reinforcements from the empire might take a year to arrive. Or the attacker might precommit to fealty towards the liege of the defendant, thus allowing them not to intervene, just as with intra-realm warfare, where the motto of the liege seems to be “as long as the taxes are paid, I don’t care who pays them”. (This would require multi-fealty for external attackers, of course.) So if the Winter King can convince King Robert that he will pay the taxes owed by Winterfell to Kings Landing, Robert might not bother to field an army at all.

    1. “The game does not even allow you to muster your troops before declaring war”

      What ?!
      Why ?!?

      I guess because it requires less effort than the alternative where you have to teach the AI do do it too : whether offensively or defensively ?

      1. It’s common in modern 4X/grand strategy games to have some kind of restriction to prevent you from pre-positioning troops for a war, such as auto-kicking them out if you have an open borders treaty. I assume it’s because the AI can’t handle the complexities of identifying incoming treachery.

        Realistically it’s relatively hard to muster up an army and launch a war that takes your target entirely by surprise, the way you could if you could freely muster your army right on their border or even inside it.

        1. Yeah, sure, *inside* their borders kicks your units out (sometimes even at your closest city/planet or even your capital rather than your closest border), but *right* at their border is still allowed, and some AIs even recognize the threat ! (As I’ve literally seen in a Shadow Empire stream a few days ago.)

    2. “If you have inherited lords various religious minorities and different cultures from an invasion, they will generally not band together to form a strong “Dissolution” faction, but instead neatly distribute themselves into many different factions”

      I guess this too is a question of easier programming than to make factions infinitely fractal ? (Including of making it legible for both human and AI players…)

    3. This is definitely one way in which, as things are, CKII had a better model, armies raised on a per-county/vassal basis (per-vassal still allows a enormous power projection by very large realms though, as a king vassal can materialize 5000 men anywhere from Milan to Rome).

      Also I strongly dislike the levy system, it just seems like a really poor representation. Ofc, having a quarter of your MaA stolen from you is undesireable so it’s difficult to engineer an alternative.

  28. So how does it work if your ruler has a vassal of a different religion or culture? Say your vengeful alcoholic Norse king has a Muslim vassal under him. Do you simply accept that you’re permanently disliked for a bunch of stuff with this vassal and hope that the aspects of your ruler that the vassal approves of will outweigh the negatives? Or maybe find a way to replace this vassal with a good Norseman?

    Also, can your ruler have more than one religion? I recall that some of the early pagan rulers who converted to Christianity kind of hedged their bets and were pagan with some people and Christian with others. I understand Canute basically had two wives – the regular Christian one and a handfast according to pagan custom. Is this something that you can do in the game?

    1. Vassal opinions of you are based on their religion and culture, and there’s also varying levels of opinion penalty for being different, depending on how different; Catholics like Orthodox much more than Muslim.

      Generally if they’re radically different religions you want to force conversion or replace them, which can be difficult. Replacing them does mean the peasants will be unhappy their lord doesn’t share their culture and religion, but I’ll take angry peasants over angry lords any day.

      You can’t be multiple religions, but you can pick/make a religion that has a tenent for syncretism that reduces penalties with a certain religion group. Also, Bret’s playthrough is as a religion that has reduced penalties, and using Iberia-only mechanics to further counteract them.

      1. Ah okay, thanks, sounds like religion is a little too binary to represent real world practices (lots of Haitian Catholics do a little voodoo on the side, for example), but it’s to be expected for a computer game.

          1. As I recall it (It’s been like a decade at this point) at least in the base game you only get one religion that’s your actual formal state religion that your nation officially practices, but you can have a large number of religions in any city, and you can build basically a pilgrimage destination for any religion you have the holy city of, which grants you bonuses regardless of your state religion.

        1. Technically in the game you’d represent that with a “Hatian Catholic” faith with the Pope as Religious Head and swap one of the main tenants for Voodoo Syncretism which raises Voodoo opinion of you and maybe gets access to a Voodoo mechanic, representing the fact that you’re mixing in some Voodoo practices.

          1. This is kind of a limiting option though, because you only get three Tenet slots, so they’d have to give up a major Catholic feature like Crusades or indulgences in order to get it, or have a special doctrine set up at game start.

          2. That sounds really kludgey but also like something a software engineer would invent to describe something real people do.

        2. P.S.: Somewhat funnily, Voodoo is an option as a full-blown religion in Caveman2Cosmos/Civ4, but the various sects of Christianism like Catholic, Orthodox… pretty much aren’t (directly) represented !

  29. It is when it comes to factions and vassals that CK3 fails badly. The factions, and vassals, don’t really want very much at all. Factions are purely antagonistic, and vassals are oddly soulless.

    Like, why on earth is parcelling out conquered land, which should be arguably the most important political choice a ruler has to make, so pointless that it is often automatised by mods? Literally every single one of your vassals should have an opinion on who should get what, and violating their expectations should result in bad outcomes. Likewise, one of the preferred marriage metas is marrying your heir to a super genius, regardless of where that genius comes from, and it is idiotic. Marrying your heir to a lowborn should result in furious vassals who feel spurned.

    There are so many other choices like that are so bizarre I can’t quite understand why Paradox made them.

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