On Saturday I travelled to London to be the Regional Control for the Riverlands in 'Everybody Dies', the Game of Thrones Megagame (of Thrones).
The game was based in the world of the book series 'A Song of Ice and Fire'. The books and the TV show based on them are famous for having many characters killed off unexpectedly, and Everybody Dies (as the name somewhat heavily implies) promised to keep that theme in the game.
The game is set almost 20 years prior to the start of the books (and the TV series) – this frames the action around the time of the war of 'Robert's Rebellion', where multiple houses turned on King Aerys II.
If you're not familiar with the setting, much of the action takes place in the fictional country of Westeros, one of the main continents of a low-fantasy world. The books were based loosely on the War of the Roses, and society and technology are similar to that era.
Definitely no secrets or backstabbing going on here!
The country is ruled by King Aerys II Targaryen, the latest in a line of Targaryen family rulers that had held the crown for almost 300 years, since Aegon Targaryen conquered the local kings of the region.
Westeros is divided into 9 principal regions, with each having a Lord Paramount, who is responsible for running the region and paying taxes to the king.
The Riverlands: The Happiest Place in Westeros
The Riverlands is one of those 9 regions. Located bang in the middle of the continent, it serves as a crossroads between the North, the Westerlands, the Vale, the Reach and the Crownlands. Its Lord Paramount, Hoster Tully, is the head of the Tully family and his primary concern at the moment is that his daughter, Catelyn, is betrothed to Brandon Stark of the North, but Brandon seems to keep delaying the marriage.
At the start of the game, I reminded Hoster of this concern. I also pointed out a couple of other things that he should consider. Firstly, his son and heir Edmure is only 11 years old (the legal minimum age for a Lord Paramount is 16), and therefore Hoster should appoint a Regent, just in case he died unexpectedly. Secondly, I reminded him that the Riverlands currently pays 12 “Dragons” to the King as tax, which will be asked for at the end of every turn. I didn't know it at the time, but this conversation would prove to be oddly significant.
The Riverlands is the dark blue bit, surrounded by all those other colours.
After a brief few minutes discussing it with his Lords, he decided that Brynden Tully, his brother, would be appointed Regent. Brynden was currently living in the neighbouring region of the Vale, having fallen out with Hoster over the issue of Brynden not wanting to marry. After becoming friends with Jon Arryn (Lord Paramount of the Vale), Brynden was happy to live as a minor lord in this neighbouring territory, rather than live in the Riverlands with his “nagging” brother in their family home of Riverrun.
With that matter settled, the Riverlands was a bustle of activity and festivities amongst its various Lords and their lands. Walter Whent had invited any and all nobles to a massive tournament at his castle at Harrenhal, which was looking to be a fantastic display of wealth and good cheer. Myla Mooton was investing money into expanding and improving trade and infrastructure in her region of Maidenpool. Hoster was having a large, elegant statue built in remembrance to his wife, Minisa. Walder Frey was busy, as ever, trying to negotiate various betrothals for his many, many children and grandchildren.
As the second turn arrived, Lords and Knights started arriving from all over Westeros to compete in the Harrenhal tournament. Even Prince Rhaegar Targaryen himself would be competing. Adding to the celebrations was the fact that Catelyn Tully and her betrothed, Brandon Stark, would finally get a chance to spend some time together.
The tournament itself moved to another room in order to accommodate the 17 players, all eager to joust their way to victory. Much cheering and rock-paper-scissors was had, and at the end, Elbert Arryn of the Vale was crowned the victor. To add to the joy, a lavish double wedding ceremony was held for Catelyn and Brandon , as well as the (Non-Played) Lysa Tully and a young Lannister noble from the Westerlands – the ceremony took place in front of the new chapel and Minisa statue, which was completed at great expense for the occasion. And so, with an expensive, giant, successful tournament, and an expensive joyous double wedding, and an expensive, impressive chapel and statue newly constructed, the Riverlands had never been a happier place.
Then the King's Tax Collector arrived.
Times Have Changed
Due to mismanagement of funds, Hoster was unable to produce the full 12 Dragons required by the King's Tax. He immediately set off for Westeros' capital, King's Landing, in order to resolve the matter and apologise.
Due to Hoster’s temporary absence, Walder Frey was named Castellan, and the lords of the Riverlands began considering what they should do next. Walter Whent and Myla Mooton had just become grandparents thanks to two of their married-off children, so there were calls for more feasting. Walter was keen to keep position on the status tracks as an honourable, religious and wealthy man, and a religious feast to celebrate the new babies seemed like a great idea.
Meanwhile, things in King's Landing were taking an unexpected turn. King Aerys accused Hoster of not only failing to pay his tax, but also for poisoning and killing his daughter . Hoster chose to resolve his fate through Trial By Combat.
It should probably be noted that by this point that King Aerys was starting to put forth more and more bizarre and outlandish policies, and people had noticed his behaviour had become somewhat... unusual .
The King's personal champions stood by, waiting to see which of them would be picked for the Trial. None were called forward, and instead the King chose fire as Hoster's opponent. Before anyone could properly react, Hoster was doused in the potent flammable substance “wildfire” and set ablaze. He did not win the Trial.
Hoster, despite his fate, still showing off a warm smile.
Word reached back to the Riverlands of Hoster's death, and with their Lord Paramount being declared a traitor to the king, the Riverlands' status plummeted on the game's regional status tracks across the board.
The disruption caused by this had a significant impact, and the lords now all lost income from their territories. In addition, the infrastructure projects in Maidenpool were halted as the workers rebelled against dangerous working conditions, and the Iron Islanders (people hailing from a region off the west coast of the Riverlands) restarted their raiding attacks .
In addition, the people of the Riverlands were in rebellion. The smallfolk all over were being incited by the bards. The King had executed another player – this time one of the bards – and the King was considered an enemy of all music and culture in songs sung around taverns and town squares in all of Westeros.
The Riverlands needed a leader. A Raven was sent to the Vale with a message tied to its leg. Brynden Tully was to finally return to his family's home.
The Bachelor Fighter
Brynden arrived at the Riverlands to find them in a terrible state. But he was no ruler of coin and diplomacy – he was a leader of men, of soldiers. He'd spent his whole life fighting – fighting battles, and fighting against those who wanted him to change, those who wanted him married, quiet and pleasing nobles all day.
It was not long at all before Brynden gave the newly important Lord Darry (the new character given to the player who was previously playing as Hoster Tully) the title of Castellan, mustered the troops of his bannermen, and marched south for King's Landing.
And so it was that Frey, Whent, Mooton and Darry were left trying to recover a shattered Riverlands with an absent Lord Paramount.
The people rejoiced at Brynden's decision to march their troops to King's Landing and kill Aerys (nicknamed “The Uncultured” by the bards). Brynden was joined by troops from the North and the Vale as they all marched to the Crownlands together. But the people were also excited by a popular rumour – that apparently, the King's palace was in chaos with fights breaking out, and was now aflame in a massive spitting ball of heat and destruction.
The King, the Prince and the... OH SH*T IS THAT A GRENADE!?
Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Prince Rhaegar had realised his father's madness was tearing the Kingdom apart, and endangering the Targaryen family's safety by inciting a rebellion. Rhaegar sailed to the neighbouring continent of Essos and recruited an Army which he then brought to King's Landing.
King Aerys and his council before things got heated.
A battle raged through King's Landing as father fought son and allegiances were put to the test. Eventually, Rhaegar fought his way through to the Throne Room, where the King's Master of Fire threw a wildfire explosive device at the attackers. The devastation wreaked was unthinkable. The King's personal bodyguard, personal advisor, the tax collector and the Master of Fire himself – all of whom were important figures in Westeros' governance – all died in the blaze.
King Aerys himself escaped to the region of Dorne, though rumours that he had died swept quickly throughout all of Westeros , and Rhaegar took the throne. But all was not well with Rhaegar, and he quickly fell victim to the same disease as his father – bards were even telling that Rhaegar had given his dog the position of Master of Coin on the council of Westeros.
The army of the Riverlands, North and the Vale arrived outside King's Landing to remove King Aerys – only to find an army from the Reach and an army from the Stormlands were also there. After a tense standoff, the leaders agreed to talk and realised they were all there to stand against Aerys. They learned only then of the new King Rhaegar, but learned just as quickly that he was no better.
Rhaegar fought a doomed battle against the 5 armies outside King's Landing, and was ousted and replaced by Robert Baratheon of the Stormlands as the new king. Rhaegar had escaped, but the Targaryens no longer ruled Westeros.
A Riverlands Divided
The situation in the Riverlands had been steadily getting better whilst Brynden was absent . There were feasts, marriages and new trade and infrastructure projects. The Riverlands had recovered much of its former self, as it was before the loss of Hoster.
Frey was mainly concerned with marrying off his various children and grandchildren, whilst Whent was preoccupied with his status and constantly arranging the biggest feasts and marriages. An expensive double funeral was held for Hoster and the recently-deceased during childbirth Catelyn in front of the Minisa statue and church – solemnly mirroring the weddings hosted by Hoster earlier in the game.
Darry and Mooton were concerned however. They were old friends of Rhaegar, and believed he should be on the throne, as he was (as far as they knew) responsible and intelligent – and trying to unseat the Targaryens entirely could result in fighting over who got the throne.
There was then suddenly a flurry of activity as Prince Rhaegar was spotted on the map as moving through the Riverlands . All of the lords stopped what they were doing to dispatch soldiers and pay townsfolk in a desperate search to grab Rhaegar – with Darry hoping he could be the one to bring him in, in order to ensure his safety . Unfortunately, two men alone in such a big area are very hard to find, and Rhaegar managed to evade them.
With Brynden gone, Darry had been left in charge of the capital of the Riverlands, Riverrun. Darry's troops were garrisoned in the castle, as were Mooton's and Whent's.
Brynden arrived at Riverrun, having completing his campaign in King's Landing. Darry said he wouldn't let Brynden back into the castle, demanding that he discuss allowing Rhaegar to be king.
Brynden would not stand for any of this, and immediately stormed the castle.
Mooton and Whent's loyalties were tested. Mooton stuck with Darry, asserting that Rhaegar would be the best choice for the new King. Whent assessed the situation and saw the size of Brynden's forces – and decided that he was loyal as ever to his Lord Paramount. Before Brynden's forces could reach the castle, a full-fledged battle raged inside as Whent's troops fought to take the castle and open the gate's for Brynden's men.
Eventually Brynden and Whent emerged victorious at Riverrun. Darry and Mooton were swiftly executed by Brynden himself for their lack of loyalty to their Lord Paramount.
The game's military campaign map saw plenty of action, including from Brynden, who spent most of his time there.
If you're wondering what Frey did during all this, he and his troops remained at home and watched the whole thing from a distance. Funny how that guy seems to survive so much longer than everyone else, eh?
A New King, The Same Old Lord Paramount
With the Riverlands' short-lived rebellion settled, the Lord Paramount set to dealing with new challenges. Robert Baratheon, the new king, had decided that the Iron Islanders' coastal raids had to stop, and began planning an invasion. Brynden Tully immediately left Riverrun for the coast and began assembling as many ships as possible .
Frey was left as the Castellan for the Riverlands once more, and the executed players returned as Frey's son, Stevron Frey, and Myla Mooton's daughter, Vivie Mooton, respectively.
And that was where the game ended. The Tully's were fractured but not broken. Edmure would come of age soon, no doubt freeing Brynden of the responsibilities he didn't want anyway – leaving Brynden to attempt to invade the Iron Islands in the name of the King a short time in the future.
Frey had married various descendants off and increased his standing, as had Whent, whereas the reputation of the Darry and Mooton family houses were now in ruin.
Disclaimer: The following is some analytical observation of what I think did or didn’t work well. It's all my uneducated opinion, my only qualification being that I overthink things. If you disagree with anything I've said, please comment - I'd be interested to know.
From what I could see, Everybody Dies was an interesting day full of both diplomacy and fascinating organic narratives. The status tracks and coins were the only real mechanical elements for the players, but they were enough to give the lords a good idea of how they were doing in-game. Someone did comment to me that players that were new to megagames might have issues with a lack of direction as a result of the freeform nature of some of the rules, but could be helped by a more experienced player or control to guide them.
The military cards were designed to somewhat realistically reflect the time period of the setting – bannermen were called on to raise certain numbers of units, split between infantry (who had no effect other than in sieges) and cavalry (who had no effect other than in pitched battles). This worked fine for the core conflicts at the centre of the game, but seemed inflexible for the little unexpected challenges that occur in megagames – for example, we had a number of different smallfolk riots, and the only solution we could think of was to raise some of the available infantry and have them sit on the problem. It worked, but it felt a little inelegant.
The military units also costed no money to raise, or keep in the field. This was likely a deliberate part of the design – the idea being that for this game it is more important what you do with your troops than whether you make sacrifices elsewhere in order to be able to use them – but it felt a little strange that there was no drawback to raising and maintaining one's entire army.
Everybody Dies was both an exciting simulation of the Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones universe, and a fascinating look into local and macro politics in a late-medieval setting.
In particular I'd like to mention that Game of Thrones has a habit of killing off characters unexpectedly, but not without reason, and it was especially fun to explore that organically through a megagame.
My thanks go to Becky for designing the game, and everyone else who helped make this possible, and also to everyone else on the Control team. Personally, I was more than happy to lend a hand and be a part of this excellent megagame – after all, valar dohaeris.
In the Megagame of Thrones, you win or you die [and are assigned a new character].
 The players for Catelyn and Brandon asked if they “could roll to determine whether [they] fall in love”. For a game with so much horror and bloodshed, this was such a sweet idea. I had them both roll in secret. Catelyn rolled a 4 and thought Brandon was a very decent man, and Brandon rolled a 6 and realised he had found the most amazing woman in Westeros.
 Hoster had nothing to do with the assassination. Another team of players called the Maesters had organised it, and they used Hoster as a scapegoat.
 He had the nickname “Mad King Aerys” in the books, and this is when people were really beginning to notice his insanity.
 “Reaving” is outlawed officially, but is considered culturally important to the Iron Islanders, and it's hard for any authority to stop them from doing it, as they can strike anywhere along the coast.
 Aerys would later attempt to escape to the region of The Reach by boat, but was killed by being pushed overboard by one of the Reach's Lords.
 With the exception of the tragic death of Catelyn Stark during childbirth – though she then resided in the North with her husband. But the child was healthy and would prove to further cement the alliance between the North and the Riverlands.
 Rhaegar was heading to the North to look for his daughter. He eventually reached the North capital, Winterfell, where he was killed by one of the North lords as soon as he arrived.
 It's a shame that Darry failed to find Rhaegar, as I would have loved to see his face when he realised how much Rhaegar was now as mad as his father.
 The Riverlands could actually only produce a tiny number of ships per turn. They were the only option the king had though, as the Westerlands had apparently imprisoned their Lord Paramount and were in open rebellion against the new king.