This is the second in a series of reviews looking at the evolution of Crusader Kings II. See the original review here:
Crusader Kings II: The Second Crusade

With the release of The Republic, Paradox’s CK team mentioned that they had finally exhausted all the ideas they’d had for the game during development. So it isn’t so surprising that the fifth expansion for Crusader Kings II started a new round of expansions by expanding the scope of the game.

The Old Gods was released on May 28th, 2013, along with patch 1.10. My main review of CK II covered the state of the game as of the last free patch before the expansion after this (1.111; more properly ‘1.11.1’), so this review will concentrate on the features of the expansion itself.

A New Start

The major feature of the expansion was a new starting date of AD 867, 199 years before the previous starting date of the game. Pretty much everything else about the expansion is related to this feature. Sadly, it does not conform to the usual ‘timeline’ practice of Paradox’s games, so there is no way to start in between 867 and 1066.

This is a very different environment than the comparatively settled 11th Century, with Charlemagne’s empire broken up into five parts, and not yet in anything resembling their modern forms, while England is fractured between different minor or ‘petty’ kings, and in the middle of dealing with Viking invasions.


The map was re-worked so some major rivers became akin to sea areas: They were now navigable for ships, so sea-borne forces can work inland before coming ashore again, potentially going around or through all sorts of defenses.

Pagan rulers can raise an army, set it to ‘raiding’ mode, and attack neighboring and overseas provinces for loot… without being at war (though much the same mechanics apply to any army that is at war). Anyone raided becomes hostile and can attack the raiders and the origin country for a short while, and can start an actual war. But especially with raiders made mobile with ships, it can be very difficult for a ruler to protect his own lands.

The point of this activity is that each province has a pool of money that in turn produces taxes. Fortification values of the holdings protect some of this value (until the holding is taken in a siege; for looters this won’t ‘take’ the holding, but they will get a massive cash bonus), and the rest is vulnerable to looting. When the pool is drained, taxes are reduced or eliminated until it can replenish. But the money doesn’t disappear; when raiding a neighboring province, the looted money goes straight to the raider’s treasury, along with a prestige boost. Overseas raids send money to the fleet, and the money is transferred to the owner’s treasury when it comes back home.

I generally like the idea (actually, I rather like any time Paradox plays around with war/peace mechanics), and it’s amazingly thematic, but there is a problem. A raiding army generates a bit of loot every four days out of a limited pool. Keeping an eye on when a province is exhausted, and it is time to move on becomes micro-management. If you’re raiding by sea, then you need to move back to the fleet, which halts movement, and then give the order to land in the next province. If you have a small realm with not much to do, this might not be too bad, but if you have a large realm, it’s a problem, as there’s no automation for, ‘loot this, move on’, or ‘warn me if a hostile army shows up.’


Along with the earlier start, the expansion makes Zoroastrians and the pagan religions playable (this includes the Aztecs if playing with Sunset Invasion). By the time of the normal start, all of these are fairly limited in utility, with small areas and few rulers still following those faiths (though a large chunk of Eastern Europe is still Tengri), but it would not end the game if you converted to one of them (to make your new Aztec overlords happy, for instance), but the 867 start has wide possibilities for the standard set of them.

And finally, the patch featured an enhancement for all religions. Each one has five holy sites, and control of them is the main basis for current authority for that religion (see the original review). This helped out that system immensely, and helps with the demise of the pagan religions mid-game as their holy sites get taken over by encroaching Christians and Muslims.


All of the pagans together are considered one religion group, but there are two different styles of mechanics for them, offensive and defensive. All of them have access to various casus belli that make expansion easy, but are locked to gavelkind inheritance, which splits the realm amongst all the heirs, leading to a great deal of instability. Also, there is a steep penalty to non-pagan supply in pagan territories, so that large armies cannot easily go in and suppress the pagans.

That penalty goes away at organization technology 4 (all of a sudden, instead of graduated), while gavelkind keeps large pagan empires from lasting long, and they have a hard time converting provinces to their religion, while pagan leaders tend to be vulnerable to converting to Christianity or Islam from outside influence. This means the various brands of pagans are very powerful early on, especially as they’re hard to invade, but will fade as the game goes on.

Offensive pagans (Germanic, Tengri, and Aztec) have a bonus to their muster sizes, and pay no money or opinion penalty for mustering troops, so they can easily field large armies, especially considering their lower technology levels which inhibit holding development.

Defensive pagans (Romuva, Slavic, Suomenusko, and West African) have a bonus to garrison sizes, and have a +80% to defense when fighting on territory (any territory, including someone else’s) of their religion. This combines to make offensive operations against tribes of these faiths exceptionally punishing.

Additionally, Germanic leaders may take an ambition to gain a particular king-level title (say, of Scotland or of England). This allows them to declare a prepared invasion, where a large number of warriors will gather in special event-created armies in the expectation of loot and plunder. The actual war must happen within two years, or the character will lose a lot of prestige, but it grants him an even bigger and more powerful army to conquer large realms with.

Finally, there is the option to reform a pagan religion. The idea is to organize the religion with formal scripture and hierarchy, so that it can try to compete with the world religions of Christianity and Islam. I’m not exactly sold on this idea, as ‘competing’ with a religion like this isn’t part of the mind set of the era. But, it is at least as likely as any other method for those religions to survive. At any rate, it requires control of that religion’s holy sites to accomplish, which certainly makes it a challenge for any of them, as some of these tend to be in the area of powerful Christian or Muslim states.

Reforming the religion disables the standard advantages it provides, but reduces the main problems as well (conversion rate, and increased ‘short reign’ penalties). When it happens, everyone else of that religion gets a decision of whether to reform along with the person who did it, or keep to the old ways, which then becomes a heresy of the new reformed faith.


The other enabled religion is a much smaller deal. Zoroastrianism is an older religion, and is considered an organized one in game, though there is no high priesthood (it having been eliminated by the Muslims…).

There’s only one duke-level Zoroastrian ruler as of 867, out by the Caspian Sea, and the holy sites are scattered across the ex-Persian Empire, making play of the Zoroastrians very challenging, as there’s no friends, and religious authority is low, making conversion difficult, and the three heresies likely to pop up often. As of 1066 there are no playable Zoroastrians, though there are still courtiers and provinces of that religion. Even better, doing well as a Zoroastrian puts you right in the path of the Seljuks.

Paradox still gave the religion the full suite of mechanics: A Zoroastrian ruler of the Persian Empire (one of the ‘de jure’ empires not normally in existence) can restore the high priesthood, giving the religion a head that can operate like the head of the Orthodox church, and be declared Saoshyant, a messiah-figure.


At first glance, a single bookmark doesn’t seem like much of an expansion, but Paradox really went all-out to expand CK II to the new era. My initial worry was that the game just couldn’t handle the feel of the period. But in the main it works very well. There are events to help a few ‘transitions’ between the periods such as the split up of Norse culture into various sub-cultures, and the Magyar transition from a tribe to the settled nation of Hungary, though I’m not yet convinced that it really does post-Charlemangian western Europe very well (I haven’t played enough to really tell).

If you don’t feel like playing as pagan, it’s not as valuable, but still a good expansion if you want to deal with the challenges of a Christian Europe that is much less secure than in 1066. The cross-over with Sunset Invasion is a nice touch, though not a reason in itself to get it.