Posts Tagged ‘Come to a King’

This is the third part in my report of the Come to a King Megagame. For more information, please read Part One.

The Spoils (or not) of War

Prince Owen and I returned as heroes from our foray to Ireland. Knowledge of how we were paid to leave, and the vast untapped richness of the land (the Civil Wars mainly ravaged the south eastern parts from what we heard) quickly spread across Scotland. Jarl not-Sigurd the Second was finally ready and eager to join in our grand enterprise. Even Lord Finlay of Moray was eager to get stuck in to something… it seems I was having a bad influence on my neighbours.

Only the Scottish Abbot opposed our venture, but only because he was generally against Christians attacking other Christians, and even then he did nothing to prevent our plans – he only stayed at home with the King. He did suggest we join in what was turning into a grand ruckuss down in Southern England, but I scoffed at the idea.

“You may know the ways of the Gods,” I said. “But I know the ways of War – you go where everyone ISN’T. And there’s no one in Ireland to defend their lands.”

No one except women and men in skirts, that is.

The King gave his blessing, troops were raised and ships were built. I once again tried to enlist the help of my compatriots in the Irish Sea, but they were committed. Wales would be theirs, or they would see it and the thrice cursed ‘King’ of South Wales burn. There was no-one else to ask.

Planning our actions and coordinating closely with the controls of both the Scottish and Ireland maps, our grand armada of six ships set sail. We were four Lords of War, A Viking, some Scots and a Welshman. It would be a glorious venture indeed!

We had 12 units in all for our invasion of Ireland – hardly a Great Army, but large enough considering there was still no-one at home. Just before we set-sail we learned that the High King of Ireland was slain in a duel, which would cause turmoil in the country. It was surely a sign from the Gods. We landed in Ulster, and were met by some local levies that had been raised that year to deter further raids, as well as another force raised by the same Bishop as last time.

(Jevan tried to convert me both times I was in Ireland. I admired his determination, if not his religion.)

We were asked if we would accept more money to go away, and we said we each wanted three gold.  There were four of us.

They said no.

Sadly, the invasion of Ireland ultimately achieved nothing. There’s no real way to narrate this – a combination of several things I don’t really want to get into right now hampered what we wanted to do. It was the only part of the day where I felt genuinely disappointed. We didn’t manage to seize any lands, didn’t get any money… we saw off the levies, but that was about it and we didn’t get anything from that either.

By this point the Lords of Ireland were retreating from England. Word of our invasion had spread, and with their leader dead there was no point in remaining in Wessex – they were coming home, and they were angry. With our own levies returning home and feeling disillusioned by our lack of success, we returned to our ships and sailed back to Scotland.

As it happened, the Queen who paid us off the first time rose to become High Queen and managed to keep the various Irish Lords in-line – she saw our return as a vile betrayal and swore bloody vengeance upon us. We planned our next move, not really knowing where to go at this point, (maybe we would go to England after all?) but we also had to consider a counter-invasion by Ireland.

Ultimately, we never found out what would happen, as the world ended at the end of the council phase that turn. Ragnarok was here.

I never did find a good women.

End of Part Three | Read Part OneRead Part Two

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And that, in a nut shell, was the epic saga of Jarl Gilli.

There are probably plenty of things I forgot about or miss-remembered, but the above represents the core narrative of how my day went. As mentioned right at the beginning, it also lacks a lot of context as to what was happening in the wider game, since there was a lot I just never interacted with.

I felt very much a fringe character, on the periphery of a game not really meant for the general idea Gilli represented. This was a game of Kings, and of people who could be useful in the great ‘Game of Thrones’ (sorry). I didn’t really feel like either.

Jarl Gilli had fairly poor stats and low fame, and with few ways to boost any of it I was always destined to be a footnote. Personally organising and leading the invasion of Ireland was about as good as it got, but that was me as a person as opposed to Jarl Gilli as a game element, and despite everything I ended the game with the same stats I started with, albeit richer.

I had a great time though – as mentioned above, there was only one instance where I was genuinely disappointed. The rest of the time I didn’t feel like I was wasting my actions, or not accomplishing things I wanted to do… even when I wasn’t sure what it was I was even striving for (which happened a lot).

My first raid into Ireland was probably the highlight of my day: Turn up, Get Paid to Leave. Looking at the game-rules as presented, there was no way to come away with four gold from just a single action given the circumstances. A huge success in my books, and I hope the real Jar Gilli would have been proud.

Some other primary thoughts:

Province/Land ownership was weird.

There seemed to be no mechanism to exert influence over lands not controlled by you directly in terms of resources and manpower. For example, If I had been made Lord of Argyll without seizing the other Land, I still couldn’t have raised troops or collected taxes from the other man.

(If this wasn’t the case then it was a miscommunication applied across several maps, as far as I was aware.)

The point is best presented by looking at my friend’s situation. As the Prince of the Sub-Kingdom of Strathclyde, he was technically a power unto himself on the Scottish map. And yet he still had to spend early turns physically seizing and taking possession over everything within Strathclyde to reap the full benefits of the province.

I also personally disliked the rule that you had to be physically in a province to tax it, as it meant owning land was pointless in general. You had to own the RIGHT province (so one with at least 2/3 Lands and a Town), and once you had that it didn’t really matter what else you owned. Even owning two like that seemed kind of inefficient because you’d have to spend actions repeating tasks in the other province. I witnessed an instance like this where Tim had to do a Tax action in Orkney, and then a Tax action in Caithness, even though they are just across from each other on the same map.

It gave considerable advantage to players who owned such desirable provinces, and mean’t anyone who didn’t was off to a slow start. I didn’t really mind not being able to do something on another map entirely though – that at least made some sense.

This makes me uncomfortable, but I feel some controls were definitely better than others on the day.

I respect each and every one of them for donating their time, and their patience in dealing with all of us and acting as GM’s. To be clear, I had positive dealings with every control I talked to, and everyone heard me out when I wanted to propose something and ruled fairly, in my mind.

However, local controls also tend to interpret and enforce the rules differently, and in different ways (which I’m not questioning their right to either). In this specific game though those fluctuations had a far greater impact on things than I’ve ever experienced before. I’m sorry to say, some seemed to do this better than others.

I never went to/organised a single feast.

They were costly, and only one person generally got the benefit so it was hard to justify said cost. That left them being used as one of two primary platforms for assassinating another character – which meant nobody wanted to actually go to a feast ever. Even when the King of Alba married his daughter to the newly crowned King of Northumbria, no feast was held because nobody wanted a Red Wedding.

I understand there was actually a Red Wedding elsewhere in the game, so my viewpoint is by no means universal, but most of the people I interacted with certainly were wary of holding feasts. Brodir of Mann went to a feast designed to betray the King of South Wales, who (surprisingly) didn’t turn up. It just felt to me it was a bit too obvious what would happen if you went to a feast.

It would have been nice if Raiding were a mechanically supported concept.

For fringe characters like myself, all we really do is get swept up in greater events or try and make a nuisance of ourselves. For a Norse character especially, the ability to ‘Raid’ should have been a thing that was easier to accomplish. As it was, our invasion of Ireland was working on the plan of seizing lands, and then taxing the crap out of it for maximum profit, and then leaving/moving on. It was the only way I could think of representing a ‘Raid’ within the rules as written.

I realise I had a conversation with Andrew regarding this on Facebook prior to the event, so I know why the game was set up the way it was. I imagine I wouldn’t even be making this point were I a King in Ireland, or a Saxon Lord in the South of England.

As I’ve alluded to above, I feel the main meat and potatoes of Come to a King wasn’t really meant for someone like Jarl Gilli. I really enjoyed playing as him, and I had a blast working within the rules to be an unruly, troublesome Irish Sea Viking and I accomplished everything I wanted to (although not, as it turns out, anything my briefing suggested I should work towards. I didn’t even get married!).

Thank you again to Andrew for putting on this game, and I hope you don’t take offence to my criticisms. I would definitely play again – I would personally like to see a few things fine-tuned, is all (or maybe play as someone more grounded in the setting, for contrast). 

This is Part Two of my report from the recent Megagame ‘Come to a King’. For more information please read Part One.

This is the longest part, so apologies in advance for the length.

Trouble in Wales & Afar

By this point, I think the Danish King who had taken the English crown from Athelred, had died somehow, which caused a lot of feuding in the south of England. At some point a massive mercenary army from Sweden also turned up and took London, but I never really spent much time around the two ‘England’ maps to really tell what was going on. I hear they switched sides because their leader – Thorkall the Tall – wasn’t being paid enough.

Ireland had pretty much sorted out its differences and decided to invade Wales, and there were also shenanigans taking place in Northumbria I think.

For me though, I only had one thought on my mind – revenge! No sooner had I started consolidating my control over Argyll that I glanced over at the Irish Sea map and saw someone invading the Southern Isles! Jarl Emachahachamach (not really his name) of Galloway, one of my listed enemies, had gotten bored and decided to take some land from the absentee Lord of the Isles. (I was busy, ok?)

Rushing back with my Huscarls and a local levy I’d raised from Argyll, I decided to land on Galloway to force the usurper off the islands, although at the time I didn’t realise he’d already seized them. Ecmach sailed back to Galloway as well, and we had a small skirmish on its windy shores, with neither party doing any damage. We were at a stalemate.

With the season coming to an end, our levies had to go home, and I retreated back to my old holdings on the Northern Isles. Meanwhile, Jarl Brodir of Mann (played by the excellent Matt Bambridge) had led an invasion into Gwynedd, with the view to make it his new seat of power and to form a new Kingdom that spanned North Wales and the Irish Sea.

He had succeeded in taking most of the Lands there, and was in the process of besieging the towns (of which there were two), but he was being opposed by the Prince of Powys. Holding his own council at the beginning of the next turn, he demanded both me and Echelech attend and make peace.

“I know what you both want” he said* (*I may be making this up, but the jist is true) “and I tell you now what you want is in Wales. I require your help, brothers, and there is glory and riches to be had in the mountains!”

Due to the nature of how the game worked, I was considering Argyll more and more my new seat of power, but being Lord of the Isles granted me certain bonuses, which I kept so long as I retained direct control over one of the two Island provinces. The Southern Isles were previously held by an NPC anyway, so as far as I was concerned there had simply been a change in ownership.

I recognised Ecclair’s strength and his right to the Southern Isles – the previous tenant had been feeble, and weak. But I drew a line in the sand with my sword:

“This foolishness stops here,” I said. “If you want the Southern Isles, have them! But if you try and take the rest I will return, and I will bring allies, and either you will be crushed, or I will die fighting you to the last. Let us not make this petty feud the thing we are remembered for.”

Emachelmore agreed. It was also at this point that we were informed of an extra rule/thing that wasn’t in the rulebook – Trading/Interacting with Foreign control.  James (playing Ecmachahaka) decided that there was probably more money to be made trading overseas, and so he spent much of the next year in Europe.

As for me, I agreed to help Brodir secure his place in Gwynedd. Raising the levy of the Northern Isles, I landed my forces in North Wales and together we faced the Prince of Powys on the field of battle. It was glorious! Being the more experienced commander, Brodir naturally led our armies, but I would dare say my troops made their ancestors proud. Our forces stormed their lines, burst through their shield wall, and even the Prince of Powys himself was mortally wounded in the fight. We didn’t see him die, but we heard he perished from his wounds whilst fleeing back into the mountains in the centre of Powys.

Sadly, our enemy wasn’t so numerous that we could all share in the fame, so my part in the conquest of North Wales remains largely unremembered, although I did get some loot out of it (Me and Matt got 1 Gold each, while Matt got the Fame from being the leader).

Meanwhile, the southern lords of Wales had united under one King of South Wales, and had destroyed the Irish invaders on the shores of Dyfed. We heard stories of that great slaughter, and I must say it even inflamed my Norse sensibilities. What a fight that would have been! I wouldn’t have even cared which side I was on either, but alas…

It was at this point that the story of Wales took a darker turn. With a power vacuum in Powys, and Gwynedd more or less secure (one of the towns was holding out I think), Brodir wanted to extend his dominion across the north and centre. The Lord of Dyfed, who supposedly tipped his head to the King In the South, came to us with a proposal – help him topple the King and he would recognise Norse dominion over the north, as well as formal recognition as the Lord of Gwynedd.

A noble of Gwynedd, who looked suspiciously like the recently deceased Prince of Powys (the guy had been given a new character), had risen to prominence during the Conquest, and had pledged his household troops to Brodir. He would be installed as the new Lord or Powys, giving fealty to the Lord of Mann. Since he was welsh himself it helped keep things in balance.

It was at this point that I departed the stage of the Irish Sea, never to return as it later turned out. My good friend Brodir was more secure in his new seat of power (sadly, he would never be formally recognised as the Lord of Gwynedd, which drove him to madness), and we made promises to go a-Viking soon, probably in England which was in turmoil.

I would need a time to consolidate, raise a war chest, and ready myself, so I returned north to Scotland.

A Grand Adventure

Much had changed while I was away campaigning in Wales. Prince Owen of Strathclyde ruled his province with an iron fist, becoming  the most powerful  of the Scottish lords (he was Welsh, technically), more powerful than the King of Alba himself.

Elsewhere, Ireland had become embroiled in a bloody civil war after the High King was slain in the failed invasion of Wales. Great armies clashed in the south of England as Danes and Saxons fought desperately for the throne of England. The fighting escalated to such a scale that England as a political entity collapsed at one point – undoing all the work of Alfred the Great and his grandson Athelstan decades before.

Hwicce, which bordered Wales, had declared independence first. Mercia also rose as an independent power for a time, and eventually Northumbria broke away to form its own Kingdom, with the support of the King of Alba. I never trusted the Northumbrians. The Danes of York were weak, and had spent too long under the yolk, and the Saxons were deceitful.

Despite having peace with Scotland, I never recognised their authority, nor their right to exist.

The worst news was saved for last, however. I returned to find that my good friend Sigurd had died in his sleep, and chaos reigned over the Orkneys. Norse influence in Scotland was weakening, and if it wasn’t for my timely return we may have been done away with altogether, and my lands in Argyll could have been seized.

Tim, now playing Sigurd’s son, had a bit of a rough time of it. No sooner did he try and take possession of his father’s lands, than someone from Control turned up and contested his right to the Orkney Islands. There was a duel in which Sigurdsson AND the claimant killed each other, so Tim had been through two characters in the space of a couple of turns. The Lord of Moray meanwhile had convinced the King of Alba to give him control of Caithness (one of Sigurd’s holdings) after the great Lord’s death. It was at this point that I was thinking of taking the Orkney’s for myself.

Sigurd had been a great ally, and while I was debating whether to keep my allegiance to his son (whom I’d had no real dealings with), once he died too there was little staying my hand. Tim came up to me however and revealed that his new Character happened to be a Grandson of the King of Alba – and heir to the Scottish throne thanks to a decision made right at the beginning of the game. I think he was part Norse (and to be honest I was Norse/Irish, so it wasn’t really a question of blood), which would mean a considerable Norse influence in the Kingdom of Alba should the current King die, so I re-affirmed my loyalty to Jarl whoever-he-was (I never did learn the names of Tim’s other characters).

I spent most of this year preparing – with my position more or less safe again I decided to take my huscarls and go abroad to Foreign Control – first on a trading run to Flanders, taking Scottish timbre and wares, although I only broke even. During my visit though I learned that the Holy Roman Empire was embroiled in a revolt from the Saxons in Saxony, AND in a war with Poland. Instead of trading, I decided to take my crew of experienced warriors (heroes of the Conquest of North Wales you know) and spend a season fighting as mercenaries. According to Foreign Control we didn’t do that well, but I still came away with three gold and no tangible negative effects.

(For someone like me, 3 gold for one action was really, really good.)

Upon my return, I found that the situation had changed once again. The Irish Lords, having finally chosen a new High King, had decided to lead a grand invasion of Southern England through the South of Wales and into Bristol and Hwicce. That left Ireland more or less defenceless.

I could smell it in the air – now was the time to go Viking. Unfortunately allies were in short supply that year – Jarl Tim the Third was busy consolidating his hold over Orkney, and my good friend Brodir of Mann had become obsessed with his ventures in Wales, dragging Emachabon aong with him. That left my old rival, Prince Owen of Strathclyde.

We had never been friends (despite Tom being my best friend) – it was Norse raiders who brought about Strathclyde’s demise as a British power, and me being a belligerent and unruly Norse Pagan meant that we were wary neighbours at best. Still, I’d never attacked him, despite his attempts to undermine me. The Northumbrians had formed their own kingdom by this point, which included the province of Cumbria, a historical possession of the old Kings of Strathclyde. He didn’t trust his neighbours to the south any more than I did, and perhaps it was that mutual hatred that finally united us.

On a whim I paid the Prince a visit while he was staying at Strathclyde’s principal Harbour. I was blunt – It was the season for raiding, and I would have someone accompany me on a grand adventure, even him.

Owen was restless – he couldn’t reclaim Cumbria whilst Alba supported Northumbria, fearing the Scots wanted the Bretons gone from Scotland once and for all and only needed an excuse. Breaking the King’s peace would provide that. Still, he was restless, and he was as itching for a fight as I was. He agreed, and we both took our household troops and sailed for Ireland.

That was a strange trip, but ultimately a successful one. Somehow the Irish had caught wind of our raid, and when we landed in the North of the country our scouts reported that an army of levies had been raised to confront us. We slipped away that night and went further south, guided, I thought, by the Gods, although I never voiced my beliefs to Owen, who was devoutly Christian.

(What actually happened was that I left my map at the end of Turn 3, only to turn up at the Ireland map at the beginning of their Turn 3, due to individual maps handling the progress of the action phases differently. It gave the Irish players an un fair advantage, since Moving is always done last so they shouldn’t, in theory, have been able to react to our presence that phase. Talking it over with control, we were allowed to change our landing point at the end of the phase ready for Phase 4.)

Our sudden disappearance and reappearance must have frightened the Irish witless though. No sooner had we run ashore and spread out into the countryside than an emissary came from one of the Irish Queens and the head Christian Priest.

We later learned that their levy had been raised by the Churchmen in Ireland, who claimed to have seen a vision of our coming. However, their God didn’t tell them we moved south, and so were caught completely out of position. By the time a new levy could have been raised and/or the first one rushed south, we would have done our damage and would be long gone. It was also nearing harvest season and it would prove impossible to keep the levies together when that happened.

The Queen in Ireland (I was never sure if it was a Queen or THE Queen, although that question was to be answered soon enough), and the high Bishop knew that, so we proposed a deal – Pay us, and we shall go away.

(We were paid two gold each, which was more than we could have physically achieved on our own had we just attacked the land.)

A very strange, but a very successful trip.

End of Part Two | Read Part OneRead Part Three

This is my report from the Come to a King Megagame that took place on Saturday, 14th November 2015. You may have read reports of mine from previous games – Watch the Skies 2 & Watch the Skies 3. This post will mainly focus on the narrative of my personal game, and so there will be a lot of context and wider elements missing.

Due to length, this will be split into three parts, with the final post finishing with some thoughts on the most salient points in terms of feedback.

Thanks once again to Andrew for putting on a great day, and thank you to Control and everyone else involved.

Come to a King was a very different prospect than WTS on many levels – it was smaller, for one thing, with no more than 50 – 70 people in attendance (I didn’t actually count so that’s entirely made up), and instead of teams representing nations, you played a specific character in 11th century England, a time that saw a lot of change and upheaval across the British Isles. It was down to you to make your own alliances and make your own mark in the world.

As a Lord, you owned lands that you could tax & invest in, raise troops from, and there were a number of other actions you could do as well, but you were limited to four actions a turn. Wars could be fought, Lands seized and Towns besieged, but high level play revolved around the politics of Titles and Kingdoms. There were several Kingdoms in existence at the start of the game, and many that could be created either through politicking or by the sword. Kings and other prominent Lords held councils, and it was down to everyone else to decide who to show fealty to.

The scene: two Kings claimed ownership over the throne of England – Athelred the Ill-Counselled in exile in Normandy, with King Swegan of Denmark having just usurped his crown. There was discontent in the North, which had always been rebellious and independent minded. The Welsh were at each other’s throats, as usual, and a massive civil brewed in Ireland as High King Brian tried to keep the Irish Kingdoms in line. King Malcolm in Scotland was trying to keep his modest Scottish Kingdom together, surrounded as he was by unruly Norse neighbours ( namely me), disgruntled Britons in Strathclyde and ambitious Lords from within.

I played Jarl Gilli, a Norse/Irish Viking Lord located mainly in the Hebrides in the Irish Sea, just off the coast of Scotland. What did I want? I was a pagan, clinging to the edges of a Christian world hungry for power, glory and a good woman to call my own. I had friends. I had enemies.

I was a Viking, Lord of the Isles, and this is my story.

Lord of Land & Sea

All I knew prior to the game was that I was Lord of the ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ Isles (an abstraction of the Hebrides and other island bits just off the coast of Scotland), and that I would probably have some kind of relationship with Jarl Sigurd of the Orkney Islands, who was my nominal superior according to the one piece of text that references my character.

When I arrived, I found that I was indeed Lord of the Isles, although I only had direct control over the Northern Isles as an NPC held the Southern Isles. Still, since I held the ‘Title’, I got a bonus gold each turn. Sigurd was indeed my ally and sort-of overlord, and my enemies were the Lord of Galloway, and Owen of Strathclyde (who was played by my best-friend, which scuppered all the plans we’d made on the train ride up). I also owned some land in Argyll, on the Scottish mainland, which was a pleasant surprise, although it did tie my destiny more to Scotland than I had anticipated.

The ‘turn’ is split into two parts – a Council phase and then a four successive action phases. The turn is meant to represent a year. Going to a council means you’re showing fealty to whoever is holding the council, but it also means you can benefit from whatever policies the King/Great Lord wants to enact for the year and it’s the easiest way to get lands, titles etc…

I wasn’t sure where to go first turn –a vague plan to start land-grabbing in Scotland meant that I couldn’t attend the council there (otherwise I would be penalised by the game), and there was no council local to the Irish Sea, my official starting location. I decided to attend the Rebel Irish council just to feel out the situation there, and because Sigurd, my boss, historically helped the Rebel Irish and Danes fight the High King.

It was a bit bleak since I was only person to turn up, but we had a nice chat and I bid him good luck when all was done.

Back in Argyll, it turned out I shared the province with an NPC who owned the other bit of land. I wanted him to recognise me as his overlord and pay me dues, but a conversation with control determined that the only way to really make the most of this was to seize his lands for myself, which I did. This got some of the other lords of Alba (the primary Kingdom in Scotland) a little bit concerned; however Jarl Sigurd (who was tied to the King of Alba through marriage) managed to convince them that if they gave me what I wanted I wouldn’t cause any more trouble.

I cared not who sat on the throne of Alba – I was Viking! I took what I wanted, but I was also smart enough to jump through some hoops where necessary. Next turn I showed fealty to the King and swore to keep the peace, and in return he formally made me Jarl of all Argyll, something that had specific in-game benefits. There were grumblings from Strathclyde, who neighboured Argyll and was played by my friend. We were enemies, so he was playing up his role and trying to be a dissenting voice.

The Abbot for the Scotland map, whose name I forget, also objected since I was a Pagan, but I said I would let Christian Priests walk freely through my land. I wouldn’t convert myself, as my faith was my own, but I wouldn’t stop people choosing freely either.

It was handy having Jarl Sigurd as an ally in Scotland, and Tim was generally a really nice guy. It would be awkward when I came to betray him, as my briefing suggested I should eventually, but for the moment we were allies and we plotted the fate of Alba together while we prepared for the coming year.

End of Part One | Read Part TwoRead Part Three