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Consultan The Creator: CKII Sword Of Islam Interview

Sheiking things up

Familicide is an actual word with a meaning as horrible as you might imagine. A lot of the things that happen in Crusader Kings II are horrible and familicide is just one of them. I've misplaced more blood relatives than I've had hot dinners, and that's mostly because heating food takes time and that's time that could be spent crushing infidels, betraying loyal vassals and hoping for young children to die in a war that I started so that I can inherit everything they own. With a major patch and expansion due, I spoke with project lead Henrik Fåhraeus to learn what horrible history the Sword of Islam DLC will add.

RPS: I recently finished a game of Crusader Kings II. And by finished I mean to say that I was killed in battle and my six year old son was given the responsibility of rule. And then he got ill and died. I'd been doing really badly anyway, just acting as one of the Holy Roman Emperor's many lapdogs, but I was still having fun. Life is tough and CKII isn't always a game about succeeding. Any thoughts on why people find that enjoyable?

Fåhraeus: Well, when you think about the great moments you have had playing strategy games, it's always when you've overcome some serious challenge, beaten the biggest empire on the block or weathered a crisis. Of course, it would not give you the same warm fuzzy feeling if you had never failed, or been close to failing before. Veteran players especially like to lose once in a while. It's always been my ambition to make a game that stays challenging from beginning to end, and Crusader Kings II is probably the closest we've gotten so far; even if you "blob", everything can fall apart in the space of a generation.

RPS: What new challenges can rulers of Islamic dynasties expect to be faced with?

Fåhraeus: There are two main challenges for Muslims; dynastic decadence and "open" or Turkish succession. Basically, there is a stronger incentive to land your (many) sons in the Muslim world, because if you don't, your dynasty will grow decadent. Landed sons, of course, are dangerous; when your ruler dies, they will be your landed brothers, and will be quite likely to launch succession wars.

RPS: Is there any mechanic similar to excommunication for Islamic leaders?

Fåhraeus: There is a somewhat similar mechanic. Muslims rulers can ask their Court Imam or Mullah to issue a fatwa against one of their vassals, allowing them to revoke a title. However, this is not a diplomatic action - like asking the Pope to excommunicate someone - but a decision like holding a tournament.

RPS: In a broad sense, how does the relationship with the Islamic faith manifest itself in the game?

Fåhraeus: In a myriad of ways, I would say. Muslims have many different events from Christians, often referencing Islam. There is a different set of minor titles, such as the Chief Qadi, who will get special events concerning Sharia Law. Muslims can go on the Hajj to Mecca, which triggers a little adventure with various branching events, and they have some unique traits, like Faqih (schooled in Sharia Law), Hafiz (has memorized the Koran) and Sayyid (descendent of Muhammad or his uncles).

RPS: It sounds like the actual swords in the Sword of Islam are going to see a lot of use, with new options for conquest seeming to make striking your neighbours as easy as banging on the wall to make them turn their music down. Am I right in thinking that there will be a lot of intra-faith fighting?

Fåhraeus: That's right. Muslim rulers are allowed to take border provinces off each other for a small Piety cost. They can also declare Holy Wars against any other religion, even Sunni vs Shiite. Lastly, they can start a full-fledged invasion of a de jure kingdom for a more substantial amount of Piety.

RPS: That also ties in with the ease with which Muslim rulers can imprison and execute troublesome family members, simply by expending some piety. It seems like piety is going to be a much more powerful form of 'currency' than for Christian rulers?

Fåhraeus: Yes, though Muslims will also tend to have more Piety to spend, since they are allowed to hold Temple Holdings in their own demesnes and they will get some just by embarking on the Hajj.

RPS: I'm guessing there won't be many dukes under my command. What titles are there and are they direct analogues of duke, king, emperor and the like? Are titles and lands granted in a similar way?

Fåhraeus: There are dukes in the Muslim world too, but in Crusader Kings II they are called Emirs. Counts are called Sheiks, Kings are called Sultans, and an emperor is a Shahanshah, Padishah or simply Emperor, depending on the culture. Titles and lands are granted in the same way as in the Christian world, but Muslims are allowed to revoke duchies without the other vassals objecting, due to the absence of Christian style feudal relationships.

RPS: The rules surrounding marriage seem like they'd be one of the bigger changes. How will that work?

Fåhraeus: Muslims are allowed to marry up to four wives. For gameplay reasons, they are expected to marry a number of wives corresponding to their rank (we want Muslim rulers to have many children, as they historically did.) So, for example, an Emir is expected to have at least three wives, or he will lose a bit of Prestige every month. Also for gameplay reasons, the first wife is a bit special; only her skills are added to yours, but all wives can give you alliances. Lastly, Muslims do not gain any Prestige for marrying, and there is no royal wedding event granting you money or Prestige.

RPS: Decadence is going to be an important feature in the Islamic world. Can you explain a little about how that works in the game and what the historical background is?

Fåhraeus: Decadence is the new core mechanic for Muslim rulers. It represents, in an abstract sense, the rise and fall of dynasties in the Muslim world. There are many examples from history where a tribe or clan from the fringes of the realm suddenly rose up to seize power from what they viewed as a weak ruling dynasty of decadent city dwellers; particularly in North Africa. These desert clansmen tended to seize a chain of cities along a trade route or coastal stretch. Perhaps the most clear-cut example from real history would be the Almoravids of Morocco being supplanted by the Almohads, who in turn fell to the Marinids, who fell to the Wattasids. In the game, Decadence is per dynasty and starts at 25%.

It affects your demesne tax income and the morale damage your demesne levies take. At 75%, there is a very real risk that a clan of desert tribesmen will rise up to depose you - a rather apocalyptic event. Decadence grows if you have unlanded adult members of your dynasty kicking around doing nothing, and it is lowered when members of your dynasty lead troops in sieges and battles. Having a smaller demense than the max also helps keep it down. Wise Muslim rulers therefore make sure to land their sons well, to wage enough wars, and to imprison, banish or execute brothers and more distant male relatives.

RPS: In regards to Islamic and Christian alike, how important is it for you to balance historical accuracy with interesting and varied rulesets?

Fåhraeus: In general, gameplay always comes before historicity for us, and the Sword of Islam mechanics are no exception. We took inspiration from historical processes and differences, thought about how we could represent it best with the allotted time and resources, and came up with some interesting gameplay mechanics. In the case of the Sword of Islam, the main gameplay changes revolve around Decadence, Polygamy (with its multitude of sons), and the Open Succession Law. Easy come, easy go...

RPS: The map is growing, the world is expanding and there are new horizons to march toward. What in particular made you decide to include these new regions specifically?

Fåhraeus: Oh, many reasons. By expanding the map south around the Red Sea compared to the original Crusader Kings, we created a huge empty area in the Sahara. Trying to make use of that part of the map was one of the reasons. Another was of course the riches and fame of Mali and Songhay. It also gives Moroccan rulers more options, and makes a hypothetical African portrait DLC more viable...

RPS: Although I love the game's potential complexity, I'm content with the relative simplicity of combat. I assume I have people working for me who handle the tactical side of things. I've read about the new commander abilities; what will they add and what else can I expect from the expanded combat?

Fåhraeus: We are not entirely happy with the combat mechanics; not because they are too simple, but because there is little the player can do to affect the outcome, and the larger force always tends to win. Our solution is to put more emphasis on the leaders. After all, this is a game about characters! So, with patch v1.06 the combat tactics are more varied and more decisive, and the choice of flank leader matters more. This is the first step in an ongoing combat system revision; future updates will take this further and make the leaders matter even more.

RPS: Finally, you've added some new De Jure empires, including Britannia! How hard is it going to be for me to become the once and future Emperor?

Fåhraeus: To create any empire, you need to control 80% of its constituent counties. In addition, many empires have special creation conditions. The Empire of Britannia requires that you are of English, Saxon, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, or Norman culture. We are aware that the addition of the new empires might be controversial for historical accuracy reasons, but it makes for good gameplay, and gameplay... is king.

RPS: Thanks for your time!

Fåhraeus: Thanks for the interview! I am happy to report that Crusader Kings II is still doing very well and the future looks bright. We have planned the next four expansions in some detail, and I think people will be pleased with the subject matters!

RPS: This is awkward. 'Thanks for your time' is my closing line! We'll be back to learn more about future expansions when the time is right. Until then, thanksforyourtime.

The 1.06 patch and Sword of Islam expansion are due next week. The latter will cost $9.99.

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About the Author

Adam Smith

Former Deputy Editor

Adam wrote for Rock Paper Shotgun between 2011-2018, rising through the ranks to become its Deputy Editor. He now works at Larian Studios on Baldur's Gate 3.