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Wot I Think: Crusader Kings 2 - Monks and Mystics

aka my son is the harbinger of the apocalypse

I’ve been hanging around with a bad crowd, staying up all night, attending weird orgies and torturing rivals until they embrace the teachings of Lucifer. Last night I ate my cousin because the Devil told me to do it. Crusader Kings 2 [official site] has always had a bit of a dark side, but with the new Monks and Mystics DLC, it’s been cranked up to 666.

Ostensibly, Monks and Mystics is all about opening up new roleplaying possibilities in regards to faith. You can join a variety of societies, including monastic orders, secret organisations and devilish cults. These sects offer new ways to interact with the religious side of medieval society and for the adventurous can offer strange powers, forbidden knowledge, and the ability to champion heretical religions. Guess which path I followed?

Though more rooted in history than the Sunset Invasion expansion, which allows the Aztecs to invade Europe, there are still plenty of weird novelties, especially if you go down the seductive path of worshipping devils. Most faith groups get their own version of a dark, underworld religion, from Kali worship to serving Hel and the Jotuns, and the more you spread their influence, the more power you get. Curses, demonic possession, unholy impregnation – all the horrible highlights.

Less unpleasant secret societies can be joined immediately, but if you fancy dancing around with goats and murdering people in the name of the Dark Lord, you’ve got to prove yourself a bit. And that’s why I, Duke Laszlo of Transylvania, find myself discussing the inadequacies of God with an eccentric crone, a witch, in my castle. She gives me a leather pouch with some chicken in it. That’s how members of Lucifer’s Own let you know that they like you.

Over the course of a year I get closer and closer to joining the cult. There are messages smeared across my bedroom in blood, cryptic notes and eventually a representative, the Queen of Scotland no less, arrives to tell me that I’m in the club. To seal the deal we have some very spooky sex while Satan presumably watches from inside the closet.

When you join a society like Lucifer’s Own, you start on the lowest rung on the ladder. There’s a hierarchy, you see, and with each rank, you get more abilities that represent your growing power. To work your way up the ranks, you need to perform missions as well as generally spreading the influence of your underground organisation.

As a new initiate, an Abjurer, I can sacrifice prisoners to Lucifer in exchange for the dark power that will allow me to both increase my standing and perform some dark magic. Noticing that I’m currently the only member of the sect in Hungary, where my duchy is situated, I decide to focus on building our organisation, making new allies amid the mostly Catholic population. I instigate some casual chats with my vassals to figure out if they’re right for the job.

“So… that God fella… he’s not that great, is he?” A few of them seem, at first, to be interested, but then when I try to give them their very own leather pouch of chicken, they freak out and I have to avoid them. Why won’t anyone accept my chicken pouches? It’s all a bit dispiriting. I cheer myself up by arranging the abduction of some courtiers and personally murdering them in the name of my new besty. The Queen of Scotland also pays me another visit, leading to a three-day-long drug and sex binge that ends with the death of an innocent bystander. After she leaves, the High Priest of our order gets in touch and tells me that I need to sacrifice a priest.

There’s a mountain of events and missions that may occur while you’re working for a secret society, but you will often see the same ones repeated. For instance, the abduction events are almost all the same, with the only major difference being success or failure. And if you fail, you get more chances to get it right next time. However, there’s always the added risk of being discovered, which can lead to some major difficulties down the line.

All the work I’m doing for Lucifer has put a strain on my marriage. It probably didn’t help that my wife is super-confused because I tried to give her, yes, you’ve guessed it, a bag of chicken. Anyway, it turns out that she’s been having an affair. Marriage counselling doesn’t seem very Satanic, so I chuck her in prison where her poor treatment ends in her untimely demise. I, Fraser, feel pretty awful about the whole thing, but Laszlo is unfazed.

I’ve got a new wife, a Princess of France, but she doesn’t want to join the cult either. It’s exasperating. At least a few members of my court have decided that my gang is the best gang, and I’ve got a lot of new pals all over the world. One of them needs my help, in fact. A priest in Marmaros is playing at being Dean Winchester, hunting demons and demon worshippers, and I agree to take him out. I go on holiday to Marmaros, where my chum and I beat the priest to death. It doesn’t end there, though. I then disguise myself as the priest and spread a twisted version of the gospel throughout the region. When I leave, it’s become a heretic stronghold and there’s an increased risk of revolt. Not bad for a vacation.

Upon my return to Transylvania, the High Priest has another mission for me. Our beloved horny goat wants a virgin sacrifice. I send out my minions to abduct a child, who we promptly murder. Remember when this was all sex and chicken? I miss those days, before I started killing children. All this terrible stuff has left its mark on my soul. Societies not only give you new paths to go down and events to flesh out your character, they also give you traits. My latest one is the possessed trait, leaving me less rational, but more capable in both personal combat and battle. I’m one scary guy.

All the hard work I’ve been doing has given me enough dark power to get a new rank, that of Conjurer. This is where things get interesting. I can now use black magic to taint my enemies, spreading disease; I can summon an animal familiar that increases specific stats, like a raven or a cat; and I can conjure a demon that can possess someone, turning them into my ally, but also a bit of a lunatic.

People are starting to get suspicious, though. All of these missing folk, villagers being slaughtered and tormented, rumours of orgies – it all points to my friends and I. The more I use my power and exert my influence, the more dangerous it becomes. If I’m outed as an actual Satanist, it doesn’t quite mean the end for me, as I’m still a Duke and Prince of Hungary, but it does give people an excuse to have me imprisoned or executed if they see me as a rival.

My second wife has been caught having an affair, which unfortunately means it’s time for another sacrifice. This is becoming a habit. My third wife is only 10, so she’s actually my betrothed until she comes of age. She will be the Queen of Hungary, though, and if I can turn her, she’ll be a powerful ally. And yes, she’s a relative. Blue bloods are peculiar.

Too many people know about my dark proclivities, which has started to affect my influence at court. I’m no longer the Regent of Hungary, and even my own council hates me. Enough is enough, I decide, and I begin a campaign of getting demons to possess or corrupt everyone. By the time I marry the Queen of Hungary, my council and most of my court is loyal, but also entirely insane. They cause all sorts of problems, stealing money and plotting, but at least they like me.

This is where things start to get a little confusing. Monks & Mystics has given more power to things like the Lollard heresy, a heretical Catholic group. The result is that, if you want, you can secretly support a heresy and, eventually, officially convert and make it your nation’s religion. I don’t want to do that, of course, but I’ve still somehow become a Lollard, and now Jesus is talking to me. It’s a conflict that the game doesn’t really acknowledge.

On the plus side, I’m now a werewolf and spend my evenings chasing balls and eating peasants. I’ve also developed a taste for human flesh even when I’m not a wolf, and make frequent trips to the dungeon to snack on my prisoners. Neither of these traits is exclusive to Monks and Mystics, but they are rather fitting. It’s a good thing that most of the nobles in Transylvania are now bonkers, or I might be in trouble.

My third wife is having an affair and gosh why does this keep happening to me? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m an insane, morbidly obese werewolf who worships Satan? I decide to have an affair too. I sleep with men, women, a centaur and a demon. I also end up with a bastard that I refuse to acknowledge after sleeping with a courtier, Csillag. That won’t lead to any problems down the line, I’m sure.

While I have a whole host of negative traits, these are balanced out by things like my aforementioned familiar, a raven, and also relics. These are a new feature in Crusader Kings 2 and are kept in the treasury, essentially an RPG inventory. Relics are religious or mystical artefacts, like the finger of an Apostle, that grant stat bonuses when discovered. If you’re playing as a member of the Hermetic society rather than Lucifer’s Own, you’ll also be able to collect reagents and ingredients for alchemical elixirs, but unexpectedly they don’t actually do anything at this time. Apparently they’ll see use after a patch.

But that's not my greatest concern right now because back in Transylvania, I may have made a terrible mistake. My heir, the son of myself and the Queen of Hungary, and thus the child who will inherit both my Duchy and the kingdom itself, is dead. He died of nightmares, I’m told, but I know the real reason. My bastard killed him with magic. He’s not just my son, it turns out; he’s the son of Lucifer.

As a newly ordained Priest of Lucifer’s Own, with the power to get Satan to let me divorce my wife through dark magic (and her death), the ability to heal myself with the Devil’s blessing, and the option to bring other members of the cult to court, I feel pretty powerful. But, really, I now exist to protect my evil son. I murder every plotter that seeks his demise, while he systematically slaughters all of my other children. When my wife tries to have him killed, I give her cancer through magic, and then I marry her heir, my sister-in-law, in the hopes that we can have a child who will inherit the kingdom of Hungary. None of that is possible, though; not while my bastard lives.

All of my plans are falling apart. I’ve been flung in jail because my wife discovered all the terrible things I’ve done. I escape, finally, thanks to my buddy Lucifer, but I’m still in trouble. Maybe if I can become the High Priest of Lucifer’s Own things will get better? Maybe then I can control my son.

I’m too late. The Spawn of Satan has grown into a monster of a man. He’s killed all ten of my children, hates me, and Lucifer’s Own now formally recognises him as the bringer of Armageddon. He’s given the mantle of High Priest and I… well I’m lying on a battlefield in the middle of nowhere, dying from a wound that even my black magic can’t heal. This is the end.

The occasional strange conflict and the missing alchemy feature aside, Monks & Mystics is undoubtedly one of Crusader Kings 2’s strongest pieces of DLC. It leans heavily towards the game’s roleplaying aspect, its best feature, and produces some of the game’s most bizarre stories. Essentially, you’re playing two characters. You have your public face and your secret one, so there are very few moments where you’re waiting around for something to happen. Indeed, you can almost ignore the traditional intrigue and realm management, if you want, in favour of playing a member of one of these secret sects or hunting them down to save your kingdom.

Even though it launched five years ago, Crusader Kings 2 still feels new, and that’s an impressive feat.

Monks and Mystics requires the base game to play and is available now, for £10.99, via Steam.

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