This is the fifth in a series of reviews looking at the evolution of Crusader Kings II. See the previous reviews here:
Crusader Kings II:
The Second Crusade
The Old Gods: That Old-Time Religion
Sons of Abraham: A Little of Everything
Rajas of India: My Elephant for a Kingdom

Paradox went even further back in time for Crusader King II’s seventh expansion. Where The Old Gods had pushed the start date nearly 200 years back, Charlemagne’s headline feature was a 769 start date—98 years before TOG’s. Paradox released the expansion on October 14th, 2014, along side patch 2.2.

In the patch, Paradox streamlined the opening interface, so that you are given five general ‘era’ choices (only three of which can be selected without any expansions) instead of the ten bookmarks. Each one has a description of the main features of the era, and a list of possible rulers to play as. There’s a ‘custom game’ button to get at the old interface, and choose rulers other than the given set. It’s a little annoying for an experienced player, but certainly is an improvement for the novice player.

Realm Update

The major work on the patch away from the headline feature and the things it required (new cultures, religions, and the like) focused on more tweaks to how the ream is administered.

Patch 2.1 had added new penalties for having too many holdings in your demesne, and now they added a limit to how many vassals you can have. Like with the demesne limit, going over reduces the taxes and levies you receive from your vassals, and there there is a chance that vassals will just spontaneously become independent upon your death if you’re over the current limit.

This is meant to keep a large realm from just having a bunch counts as direct vassals, so no one has enough power to become a problem. A ruler needs to delegate power to dukes (or even kings in an empire) to keep from having too large a court to manage.

The interesting part was that they let you balance if you wanted a (modestly) larger demesne, or a larger number of vassals. Realm laws were reworked so that centralization gives you more demesne at the cost of your possible pool of vassals, and both that and the other main authority laws have to be unlocked by the Legalism technology.

Regents got a nice tweak, with regents acting more in their own interest, and with their personality, and less as a swap-in replacement for the ruler. Paradox also added the honorary title designated regent, which lets you choose just who will be running things when your incapacitated.

And finally, with the expansion, a powerful ruler can appoint viceroys. These are duke- or king-level governors who administer the title for you (keeping everyone from getting unhappy because you’re keeping all the good titles to yourself) for life. Once the viceroy dies, the title reverts back to you, keeping his family from becoming a permanent power block that may become disloyal. It will make feudal vassals of that rank modestly unhappy, and does require Legalism IV (say, circa 1150) for viceroy kings, and VIII (end game) for duke viceroys.


Away from Western Europe and the Middle East, many areas are still not extensively settled, and cities have not grown up. This means the feudal structure of CK II isn’t accurate at all, and the problem got worse as the development team went back in time. So, a fourth basic holding type was added to the game:

Tribes have chiefs, who can become high chiefs and khans, if they hold extensive lands in a tribal government. They provide moderate taxes, and start lightly fortified, but can get good defensive values later in the game, and provide heavy troops. Generally, the tribe is the only holding in the province (some will have a temple as well), and gets an income and levy bonus per empty holding slot in the province. They generally have lots of light infantry, and most improvements (not all) cost prestige instead of money.

Tribes are locked to elective gavelkind inheritance, so that each generation, the titles are split amongst the heirs, with the primary heir being chosen by the nobles of the realm. Instead of the normal crown laws, tribes have tribal organization, which will generally start at ‘minimal’, and acts like the normal crown laws except only unreformed pagans will get unhappy as it progresses to ‘maximum’. A tribe at maximum organization can adopt feudalism or become a merchant republic (through decision).

This converts the ruler’s primary holdings from tribes to castles or cities, and as all the tribal improvements go away, the ruler is left with fairly minimal resources until he can start upgrading. On the other hand, tribal rulers get no vassal levies, but must call their vassals to war as allies (remaining under the vassal’s control). In a stable realm, this generates lots of (light) troops, but they can’t be forced to join, and an unpopular ruler can’t force them to join.


With the patch, Ibadism was moved from a Sunni heresy, to being a separate branch of Islam (following the lead of EU IV: Wealth of Nations, and adding the Kharijites as the Ibadi heresy), and with Sword of Islam it is as playable as the other two branches.

However, while the southeast corner of Arabia maintains an Ibadi population during the entire game, only the 769 start has an available independent ruler (the Emir of Azd Umanid). He has one neighbor of about his power level… and Abbasid Caliph on the other side.

Past the usual tough start of a more minor religion, they aren’t mechanically different from other branches of Islam, beyond their own holy order (with Sons of Abraham) and slightly different holy places.


More unexpectedly, Zunism was added to the list of pagan religions. This was a small, not very well documented religion, that may not have been much more than one royal family’s personal beliefs.

It is completely gone in any start after 769 (swallowed up by Shia Islam), so you need both TOG and Charlemagne to play as a Zunist. At that point, three provinces are Zunist, along with the Zunbils and their vassals.

While they share many traits with other pagans, like being able to reform the religion, they are more of a cross between the offensive and defensive subgroups of other pagan religions. They have the same problems with conversion as other pagans, and have the boosted levy size of offensive pagans, but cannot raid, and have the increased defensive attrition of defensive pagans.

The tough-start problems include being adjacent to the Abbassids, though the attrition penalties should help with that, along with mostly being in mountainous terrain. Converting anything to Zunist is very unlikely at the start, but at least you hold one holy site, and a second one is easily available, but the other three range as far away as Cairo.

A Realm of Your Own

Possibly the most immediately interesting feature of the expansion is the ability to create your own kingdoms or empires. This isn’t modding the game, or using the equivalent of the ruler creator, this an in-game function.

Normally, you need to hold a certain amount of land that de jure belongs to a king-level title, and then you can ‘create’ or usurp that title. With the expansion, if you have a large enough realm that is split between several different ‘potential’ kingdoms (leaving you unable to claim any one of them), you can still promote yourself to king, and a new title based on your main duke title is created. Similarly, a powerful king can promote himself to emperor without conforming to any of the defined de jure empires.

It’s handy, and especially at the emperor-level can take a lot of pain out of attempts to get at the next higher rung of titles. The custom ones are more costly to create than the normal game-designated ones, which also makes them just appropriate for those who are stuck with powerful neighbors, or convenient allies, where the pursuit of power would otherwise take them.

Story Missions

Charlemagne’s rise to greatness was not at all inevitable, especially in 769, shortly after becoming effectively a co-equal king with his brother. This is a bit forced with the addition of story missions.

This is potentially a neat idea, that gives a lot of the history involved, and lets certain characters show up when/where needed. However, they’ve never been instituted for any subjects other than Charlemagne’s life, and give something of an ‘acting out history’ feel from EU II. The flexibility of events in CK II has been its strong point, and I think this takes away some of that, and makes playing as Charlemagne less interesting after the first time, even though he’s potentially a very interesting character to play.


Again, as a patch, this is an excellent improvement to the game. The vassal limit strikes me as a bit useless (it’s fairly high normally), though apparently needed for people determined to break the system. But the designated regent is a nice subtle addition, and the new tribal system makes them play very differently, and gives them some nice medium-term goals.

Expansion-wise, not so much. 769 is actually a fairly interesting start date, full of some of the most famous persons of early Medieval Europe. However, the story missions just make things feel a bit artificial, so primary replay interest is away from Charlemagne himself. The custom realms are a big help however, and the primary useful part day-in and day-out, though not really worth an expansion by itself.