Crusader Kings 3 is a cutthroat game of medieval strategy, politics, and war. I have to keep my own empire alive through skullduggery and tactical prowess, as well as prepare my heir to assume my duties. Once I die, my heir takes over, and a new generation begins. There’s just one problem I keep encountering: I’m a medieval lord who forged a new kingdom through martial might, trying to survive endless assassinations, not a well-balanced person who’s equipped to raise a good human being. I’m an absolute disaster of a parent, and it turns out everyone in Europe has to pay for my foolish choices.
I was playing a pretty prestigious ruler in Crusader Kings 3: The High Queen Bodil of Ireland. I had united the island, and was preparing for more wars over Brittannia. Crusader Kings 3 randomly prompts the player with text boxes, and then I get to make a choice. Sometimes, that means choosing a strategy before a big siege, or approaching a lord I’d like to sway to my side. Other times, it includes actually taking care of my child, who just kind of hangs out in court looking like a weird gremlin.
This is Amlaíb, my son, and in a new random event, I’ve just encountered him in the woods standing over the body of a deer he clearly just tortured to death.
At that point, I was given a set of options. I could nurture a different set of instincts in the boy, teaching him how to become a man I would be proud of… but that would inflict Stress, and at a high enough level, Stress causes all sorts of terrible consequences for the player. Needless to say, I was already pretty overwhelmed with work drama over the Duchess of Meath, so I just nervously laughed and gave Amlaíb the thumbs up. Then, I made the bold decision to assign his care to my Archbishop, who I figured could probably teach him a thing or two about morality. And then I, uh… ignored him for like, 20 years, and let God and the AI sort it out.
At no point have I claimed to be a good parent or even a good problem-solver. I’m clearly the fool in this scenario. I just didn’t expect things to go so wrong.
High Queen Bodil was badly injured after a battle in southern Scotland. I realized, with a jolt, she was getting older and ailing. My character, once an immortal valkyrie in my mind, suddenly felt very mortal. So I decided it was probably a good idea to see what Amlaíb was up to, and if I needed to get him set up for the throne at all.
I immediately encountered… this.
In this moment, I lock eyes with my son and heir Amlaíb, and the shock of his new situation sends me reeling. He is somewhere in the forests of Norway, and he’s disfigured, so he’s wearing a metal mask and a roughspun cowl. He’s basically medieval times Doctor Doom, but he doesn’t even have a doctorate, so he’s just Mister Doom.
As far as I can tell, he’s spent the last few years drinking, contracting various diseases, and banging. He has eight children, the oldest of whom is eight years old and currently imprisoned in Bulgaria. Weirdly enough, these kids aren’t with different mothers — he’s married to the Princess of Poland, but he’s not staying with her at court. I am immediately struck with pity for her. How do you think she handles it when people at the water cooler ask what her husband’s up to?
Amlaíb had murdered a bunch of nobles in random duels, and absolutely everyone who had met him hated the dude. Every character gets a couple of words to describe them, a quick way to sum up their personality. Sometimes those words are things like “humble caretaker” or “benevolent ruler”. Amlaíb’s phrase was “treacherous villain”.
This revelation changed the way I played Crusader Kings 3, changing my story from “expanding power and winning wars” to a mad, desperate dash to keep my older High Queen alive long enough to sort out the whole Amlaíb problem and secure a new heir.
I couldn’t straight-up assassinate Amlaíb; he was still my son, after all, and you can’t murder your own kids very easily. I had to find a proper heir and denounce Amlaíb without triggering a power struggle or coup within Ireland from my vassals. My final years as Bodil were much slower on the map, but a small, personal, complex story played out as the militant Queen returned home, then convinced her son to return home, only to be banished. My new heir finally stepped forward.
I had managed to free Amlaíb’s daughter from prison in Bulgaria, where she had been trapped since she was a baby. Somehow, her struggles in medieval Bulgarian jail left her hale and healthy. My dynasty in Crusader Kings 3 lived on through her, mercifully skipping the reign of the tyrant King Amlaíb.