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© South West Megagames 2016

Game of Thrones 2: This Time It's Personal: Everybody Dies Harder - Pennine Megagames (22/04/17)

April 25, 2017

Last weekend, I had the exciting opportunity to take part in the sequel to Everybody Dies, the Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones megagame, designed and run by Becky Ladley, that I Controlled at back in November. The game started in much the same way, though some of the more significant background details had been changed (in other words, they changed all the secret conspiracies from the first game so that no-one would know what the secret conspiracies were – a pretty sensible decision). The game is set about 20 years before the events of the books/TV show: if you want to know more about the game's setting, check out the introduction of my After Action Report from the previous game, as it was the same for this game.

 

The calm before the storm.

 

 

The main difference for me was that in the last game, I was Control for the Riverlands – and got to watch from a safe, neutral point-of-view as chaos and destruction erupted through the region, plunging it into war and disarray, including the early and brutal death of the region's leader, Hoster Tully.

 

For the sequel, I would be actually playing the game! I'd be taking on the role of – wait – Hoster Tully?!

 

 

Yep, Hoster Tully

 

Hoster Tully is not a complicated man. He (and his region) value honour and religion pretty highly, and Hoster in particular values family. A 42-year old widower, Hoster has three children, all in their mid-to-late teens, and he cares for them deeply. He also cares deeply about who they're going to be married to, because in this setting, that's something you really do need to be careful about. Betrothals and marriages are incredibly serious business. They can solidify alliances and bring you into wars.

 

Catelyn, the eldest (and probably the best educated and most intelligent) of Hoster's children, is betrothed to Brandon Stark, son of Rickard Stark – who is a personal friend of Hoster's, and more importantly, is Lord Paramount (leader) of the region of 'the North'.

 

It's pretty grim up there.

 

 

Hoster also has a daughter Lysa and a son Edmure, who are too young to marry, but would still be valuable diplomatically as potential betrothals to other major houses. Edmure in particular was significant as he was Hoster's heir, and within a couple of years would be old enough to be considered the official Lord Paramount of the Riverlands should Hoster ever lose the position for any reason (death – the reason would be death).

 

The last member of the Tully family is Brynden, Hoster's younger brother. The two have been estranged for 20 years (Brynden lives in the neighbouring region of 'The Vale'), after Brynden refused to marry against Hoster's wishes – Hoster considered this offensively reckless given his own difficulty to have children (3 is pretty small in this setting), and he was thus endangering the family's future.

 

It's also important to establish at this point Hoster's relationship with the monarchy. He was on paper, loyal to the King and the Targaryen line, but in reality had no strong feelings about it – he paid his taxes, and other than that the trials and tribulations of the King weren't really a concern (he had heard that the King had been rumoured to be a bit paranoid lately? Not really particularly actionable information). He was, however, more than happy to entertain the King and Prince Rhaegar's status if their presence at an event could be used to boost his own public standing.

 

 

Four Weddings and a Tournament

 

At the start of the game, I had two main focuses – firstly, Brandon Stark had been putting off his marriage to Catelyn for too long. The wedding must happen soon, or it would just start looking dishonourable. The delay was also raising questions – why would he not want to marry my amazing daughter? I put it down to the reckless bachelorhood of a young man. The looks that Rickard gave Brandon whenever they came to my visit made me feel like my intuition was correct (though I still don't actually know what the true reason was).

 

Secondly, an absolutely massive tournament had been organised for Turn 2 at the local castle of Harrenhal, by its owner Walter Whent, one of my Lord Bannermen. This resulted in the Riverlands table getting very crowded pretty early on, as well as a shift of our focus towards discussing and planning for the tourney.

 

The tournament brought people from all over the kingdom to the Riverlands. 

 

 

I decided that I could combine these problems and arrange the marriage to be immediately after the tournament – the Starks would be there anyway, and it would only add to the celebratory and joyous mood. The potential presence of other Lords Paramount and possibly royalty would only add to the grandeur. I suggested the idea to the Starks, then proceeded to tell multiple people (including bards) that it was going to happen. I didn't ask for the Starks' explicit agreement, but figured that by the time they realised how much expectation had been built up, they wouldn't break it off.

 

There was one big problem. Whilst the North and the Riverlands both greatly value religion, they have two different religions. The Riverlands worship The Seven, the dominant and institutional religion of the Kingdom, with typical priests (called Septons/Septas) and church-like buildings of worship and ceremony (called Septs). In the North however, followers of The Seven are few and the majority worship the Old Gods – a religion with no representatives, and a greater focus on life and the spirits of nature. And so it was that I (and my Septon) both wanted the marriage to be a Seven ceremony, but the Starks wanted it to be done at a sacred Weirwood forest, following Old God traditions – and how would Catelyn practice her Seven religion in the North? And how would they raise the kids? Over the course of multiple visits from the Starks and my Septon, and what must have been over 45 minutes of discussion and hard debate [1], we finally came to a compromise – and none too soon, as we were half way through the tournament by the time we did so – there would be two marriage ceremonies, one for the Seven and one for the Old Gods (luckily Whent remembered that there was a Weirwood forest at Harrenhal). Catelyn would go with Brandon and live in the North, but she would have a Septa as a personal advisor (that was expressly forbidden from proselytising to the public), who would also contribute to the children's educations – and when the children came of age, they would choose for themselves their religious loyalties.

 

The tournament itself was a smashing success, with the relevant side room of the venue packed with attendees, and Prince Rhaegar himself and the King in attendance. The King had me kiss his ring – which I did as loyalty to the king was still not a problem to anyone at this point – and then Control informed me that the king had uncomfortably long hair and nails, and was accompanied by several impersonators. I suppose the rumours of paranoia were something of an understatement. In any traditional story, this would be major foreshadowing and a big turning point of my relationship with the King – but this was a megagame, so instead this turned out to just be “that time the King showed up at my house and he was a bit gross” and I never saw him again for the rest of the game.

 

The tournament was won by a Riverlands bannerman - Myla Mooton - shown here beating Robert Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Stormlands in the final. 

 

 

With the marriage compromise ground out with the Starks in the nick of time, it came time to actually sort out the ceremony. Thanks to my major efforts spent on scheduling and spreading invites, Prince Rhaegar, as well as the Lords Paramount of the Vale and the Stormlands were in attendance for the ceremony/ceremonies. A few important ceremonial words were said, and I handed Catelyn – an NPC represented by her own card – over to Brandon. However, Rhaegar unexpectedly suggested that he should hand her over instead. This was odd but I didn't have any particular reason to be suspicious, and it did sound like something of an honour, so I handed the card over to him. It was at this exact moment that Rhaegar's advisor (dressed in a big, black cloak because that's not suspicious at all) whispered some important development into his ear. Rhaegar, still holding the card that represented my daughter in his hand, turned and walked a few steps away to have a private conversation with his lackey. Brandon, Rickard and I all shared silent, tense looks. As far as any of us knew, Rhaegar was nothing but a charming man and the heir to the throne. But a thousand tiny doubts starting racing through my head. Some call his father mad and there seems to be some precedent... I've heard tales that Rhaegar's been unpredictable and capricious, what if these are indicators of something more...? Rhaegar turned back very soon after, Catelyn's card still in his hand. He just held it there silently for a few seconds. I was 95 percent sure it was just hesitation for some innocent reason, but there was that small part of my mind telling me that I'd just handed my daughter over to a madman and he was going to walk away with her still in his hands and there was nothing I could do about it. It was only a few seconds, but it felt like a year, as I looked at Brandon, then to Rhaegar and back to Brandon. Finally, Rhaegar quietly handed Catelyn back to Brandon, and the ceremony was completed [2]. The turn was rounded off with a couple of other weddings, as my bannermen married off some of their children into the Vale and the North, further cementing our relationships.

 

 

Hoster's Hosting Causes a Whole Host of Problems

 

I started hearing out a plan put forward by the North. They were discussing a potential invasion of our old enemies and murderous pirates, The Iron Islands. They were planning on paying the Lannisters (the house that ran the neighbouring Westerlands) to build a fleet that would be combined with the single Riverlands fleet, in order to launch a combined naval invasion, using Lannister and Riverlands boats, with North, Vale and Riverlands troops.

 

After meeting with the messengers from the North and the Vale, I noticed that Rhaegar and Rickard were still in the Riverlands, having a heated discussion about something. I walked over and tried to figure out what they were discussing in my home. All I could pick up was that Rickard was concerned about Robert Baratheon (Lord Paramount of the southern region of the 'Stormlands') for some reason, and Rhaegar didn't seem to think Robert's opinion was worth much.

 

Rhaegar then told me that his wife had recently died, and he was about to marry Rickard's daughter Lyanna. He wanted the marriage to take place straight away – and of course I was more than happy to host a royal wedding in my region.

 

It was about 3 minutes later I heard the “sudden news” that Lyanna Stark had broken her betrothal to Robert Baratheon and married Prince Rhaegar. I also heard a rumour that Lyanna had been kidnapped and the marriage was against her will. As I had been present at the ceremony, I decided to find out what it was I had actually witnessed – and asked Game Control how Lyanna (also an NPC represented by a card) looked during the ceremony. She thought for a moment, then said “indignant”. I thought to myself, “that's definitely better than 'terrified'”, and just wrote off the whole affair as somebody else's problem – after all, I had an invasion to plan.

 

 

There's a Rebellion(?)

 

A naval invasion is a very difficult thing to prepare for. Fleets could only take a certain number of soldiers in one action, and so there was a real risk of over-committing and winding up with a bunch of soldiers with no boats left for them to get on. The game's heavy restrictions on communication [3] made coordinating with the North and the Vale a nightmare. I attempted multiple times to get their Lord Paramounts to a central meeting to discuss precisely how the invasion would happen, and failed utterly. Eventually I got sick of the lack of results and marched up to Winterfell (the North's capital) myself. As I approached, Rickard was just finishing explaining his plan to his own bannermen. He was intending to send his main force down to the Westerlands port, where they'd board the fleet that they'd paid the Lannisters to build for them – and from there they'd join the Iron Islands invasion. Oh also he'd be sending a small force down to the capital, King's Landing, to see what was going on there. Oh, yeah, about that...

 

It was during this time that I was told that the regions of The Stormlands and The Reach to the south were apparently in open rebellion against the King, and were storming King's Landing. This completely changed everything that was going on. I (in my briefing) didn't care for the King, but also wasn't willing to risk much to depose him. I was happy with the status quo, and would have been equally happy with the King removed, and the Riverlands remaining intact.

 

A typical scene in King's Landing before the rebellion started. No word on whether the Jaffa Cakes survived the uprising.

 

 

I had a new dilemma – The Stormlands and The Reach had (rather rudely) failed to inform me about their rebellion and had given me no reason to side with them. I also hadn't received any direct message from the King to do my duty and come to his defence. All I wanted to do was make sure I appeared to be supporting the winning side, whilst not getting dragged into some giant continent-spanning war that would ravage my region (the Riverlands is in the middle of the landmass, and is often the site of major battles between other factions).

 

I told the Vale and the North to immediately halt everything for the Iron Islands invasion. If all of the regions were about to be plunged into war, the last thing I wanted was for my armies to be distracted by some secondary conflict and unable to defend their homes and families.

 

 

An Unwelcome Guest

 

With war raging, and 'the Seven-knows-what' happening in King's Landing, we had a visit from a man who called himself “Jhalo”. He didn't have any title badges, so I asked him if he was one of the bards. “No” he said. “I'm here to tell you about the Lord of Light”.

 

The Lord of Light is a new religion that doesn't really have many followers outside of the southern-most region of Dorne. It's been expanding recently, and generally bringing discontent and disruption in its wake whenever a local leader converts to it – it tempts people in with promises of magical powers, going so far as resurrection from the dead itself. But they're all a bunch of charlatans and troublemakers of course – and Hoster is a devout and enthusiastic follower of the Seven, as previously mentioned.

 

And so I arrested the man on the spot and had him thrown in the dungeons. I had him charged with inciting rebellion and disturbing the peace – which, let's face it, he was definitely about to do.

 

I apologised to the player (who had only arrived at the game about 20 minutes prior) out-of-character about this, but he claimed he had his own plans about how to get out. I knew these Lord of Light types like to do things that involve fire and/or explosions, so I had him immediately moved from the Riverlands capital to a less important dungeon elsewhere.

 

The Septon was pretty happy with my decision, though he was pushing to have him executed. I told him I didn't want to kill him because these people love to make martyrs of their priests and it would only make things worse. The Septon went off to talk to the other Septons/as and said they wanted him taken to the island of Dragonstone to be tried. I was more than happy with that – I wanted rid of him as soon as possible, and I expected the trial to make a fine example of what happened to these kinds of insolent charlatans [4].

 

 

Invasive Manoeuvres

 

I was stuck in a difficult situation. The King had finally sent a message asking for help directly – but it was still very unclear how the war was going for either side and I had no idea who was going to take power. The only thing I wanted was to avoid some kind of punitive attack by the victor for failing to support them. Adding to my concerns, the North claimed the Iron Islanders had taken Bear Island from them, and they were still eager to launch the naval attack on the Iron Islands.

 

Then a solution made itself known in the form of Jaime Lannister of the Westerlands. He claimed that the King wanted us to serve the crown by invading the Iron Islands. I had recently received word that the Westerlands had declared for the King, and he was the son of the King's right-hand-man, so his word was at least... partially reliable. It didn't matter though, as this meant I had an option that gave me the appearance of support for either side. If the King won, I could claim I served him based on orders received from (a definitely, completely credible source representing) him; and if the rebels won, I could claim I stayed out of their way and fought pirates when the King asked for my help.

 

The war rages on. Actually, maybe there are two or three wars going on - it was hard to keep track.

 

 

This also gave me an option to finally be militarily proactive. Forces in the Vale and the North had been moving around, and I wanted to show that I was also willing to get things done and commit to something, rather than risking gaining a reputation of a coward who worries so much, he never actually does anything.

 

And so it was that we moved on the Iron Islands, I began moving my forces to the western coastline of the Riverlands, accompanied by one of my bannermen and my brother Brynden (who had saved me the trouble of choosing how to deal with him by being incredibly friendly and trying to repair our hard feelings from the very start of the game). The North army was halfway to the port in the Westerlands, and the Vale would no doubt be moving their armies to the West as soon as they saw our armies were under way.

 

This seemed like a particularly opportune time to strike as well – a large number of Iron Islands fleets had sailed all the way to the eastern coast of the continent to harass the capital, and the rest of their fleets were still stationed to the north, where they had taken Bear Island. There was only a single fleet left at the Iron Islands themselves, which the Riverlands fleet and the North-piloted Lannister fleet would soon be outnumbering two-to-one.

 

 

Everything Can and Does Go Wrong

 

I appointed one of my bannermen as the Castellan to manage everything whilst I was gone, and set off on campaign with my newly raised troops. I, along with my bannerman Frey and my brother Brynden, took 12,000 men across the strait and onto the Iron Islands' isle of The Ten Towers. We took the Iron Islanders by surprise, shipping the army over before their fleet even responded. Things were off to a rousing start, and we had almost another 30,000 men waiting on the shore of the mainland to be shipped over next turn. Meanwhile, the army of the North, led by my new son-in-law Brandon Stark had reached the Lannister port, and would be on his new fleet and coming to assist the next turn. [5]

 

The next turn came, and we readied to ship another 12,000 men across to the island. But two new fleets [6] launched from hidden ports in the Iron Islands, and we were suddenly outnumbered three-to-one in the sea. The way sea transport worked was that you could only do it if any present hostile force had fewer fleets than you, so we were stuck, and our siege useless as the defenders could be resupplied via sea. Our fleet tried to defend itself, but predictably lost the battle and was forced to return to port.

 

You could only damage one fleet per battle per fleet you owned – so the only way we were going to be able to get back sea control would be to win a three-on-one battle, then a two-on-one battle, then a one-on-one battle, damaging their fleets one at a time. With even one more fleet on our side, we would stand a much better chance (just have to win a three-on-two, then a one-on-two, the latter being in our favour).

 

We waited with baited breath for that Lannister-built fleet of the North to come sailing over the horizon and help even the odds. And then we waited some more. Turn after turn we waited, but it never arrived.

 

It wasn't until after the game that I had any idea what had happened to our support. Brandon's North army had reached the Lannister port to pick up the fleet they'd paid for. When they arrived, the player was handed the single token that represented the fleet, and thought that it was only a single ship, and that they'd been swindled by the Westerlands, as they had agreed to a whole fleet. They threatened to attack the port over this injustice. When someone explained that they actually did have an entire fleet, Brandon made the decision to get into a small scrap with the local Westerland bannermen anyway. The fleet was impounded by the Lannisters for Brandon's crimes, and his father admonished him, and told the Westerlands that as repentance, Brandon would “Take The Black” - meaning he would relinquish all lands, titles and family and serve on The Wall to defend against the wild tribes in the north of the continent.[7]

 

***

 

With escaping by conventional means now effectively impossible, we tried to start thinking outside the box about how to get off the island.

 

Brynden told me he'd received divine inspiration in a dream – a vision of the Iron Islanders' fleets burning. We were happy to know that the Seven were on our side, until Brynden told us that his vision was from “the Lady of the Light, or something like that”. My expression instantly changed, and the Septon and I told Brynden “No – that's a bad vision. Forget all about that vision. You didn't have any visions.” I decided this would also be a good time to play my 'Pray To The Seven' card, in order to wash the stain of Brynden's unknowing nocturnal dalliance with heresy away for good.

 

Clearly our religion was the best one - look at all those groovy colours!

 

 

I still had a pocket full of coin that I had taken with me for the campaign. This being a megagame, I decided that I would try something outside the rules, and thought that perhaps those Iron Islander boat captains could be convinced to take the day off for a single action phase if I passed them some coin. Game Control came over and I was literally a second away from beginning negotiating the bribe with Control/the NPC sailors when one of the Iron Islander players came over and said that they wanted us off their island, and they were willing to allow us to leave next action phase as long as we removed all our soldiers. They said in return they'd stop raiding our coast too. This sounded like the perfect compromise – they wanted us gone, we wanted to go! I could also spin it as a successful intimidation and show of strength, making our campaign possibly look like a success. I didn't exactly trust that the Iron Islanders would actually let us go, but our options were limited – and if they did betray us, I could just try the bribery plan next action phase, so it was worth a shot.

 

The next action phase began and the Iron Islanders didn't show up to stop us, so we began boarding the boats and it looked like we would finally be able to go home!

 

Just as we started to embark, the Iron Islander fleets appeared over the horizon once again, dashing our hopes of getting off the island this turn. Hoster considered his options and began disembarking back onto the island again. This was when, in true 'Game of Thrones' fashion, blind chance intervened in a way no-one saw coming. Hoster Tully, 42-year-old, widower, Lord Paramount of the Riverlands and commander of the Iron Islands invasion, lost his footing on a particularly slippery bit of the deck and fell overboard, landing on the rocks a few feet below.

 

Whoops.

 

 

42 Going On 14

 

Everybody Dies, believe it or not, is a game where a lot of player characters die. Sometimes these deaths are the result of momentous and bold risks, where someone puts their life on the line to try and change the balance of power in the kingdom, but – in a fashion which I feel both really represents the tone of the source material and works fantastically as a megagame – most of the time they're far more realistic and pedestrian: an unlikely but plausible random accident, or the end result of a long and unglamorous series of events.

 

But with this expectation of commonplace death comes a fairly robust system for re-roling and re-briefing players and getting them back into the game. And that is how I went from being Hoster to being his 14-year-old son Edmure. Edmure is intelligent and good-natured, but can be a bit hot headed and isn't always particularly eager to respect authority figures. Far from the most bratty teenager in Westeros, but not quite everyone's favourite young adult.

 

I returned to the Riverlands table with an entirely new outlook. I would eventually become Lord Paramount of the Riverlands like my father, but not until I came of age, which wouldn't happen within the time frame of the game. I no longer had any control over the region's income or armies – but at the same time I was no longer responsible for their use.

 

I had the option to try and become the Lord Paramount even as a non-adult (there was precedent), but I'd spent so long away from the table as Hoster stuck on that damned island, in addition to the time spent out of the game reading my new briefing, that when I came back I had completely lost track of what was going on. As Edmure, I was confused and a bit angry (the former both in and out of character), and felt somewhat powerless to do anything about it as I no longer held any actual power over the Riverlands' actions. Instead I decided to do some diplomatic travelling.

 

Look at all these colourful new places to explore!

 

The failure of the Lannister fleets to arrive at the Iron Islands was directly related to my father's death. I marched to the Westerlands capital and demanded answers. What occurred next was pretty confusing and disheartening. I told their local Castellan that they'd failed to save the lives of Hoster and his men, and that I was outraged. They said they'd made no promise to do so and didn't really see why I was yelling at them. The Westerlands didn't really value honour much [8], so “because it's not exactly great to stand there and watch your fellow man starve to death when you're the only one that can do something about it” wasn't going to fly here, as I learned quickly. They claimed that it was Brandon who decided not to sail to our aid – he was the one who promised to bring the fleet, they just built it. This wasn't helped when their Lord Paramount Tywin Lannister appeared and counter-accused me of illegally “breaking the King's peace” by invading the Iron Islands. I was taken aback so hard that I almost fell out of the opposite window. The invasion of the pirates who attacked our coast was “breaking the King's peace”? The invasion that occurred whilst the capital was in the middle of being stormed was “breaking the King's peace”? The invasion that your own son, Jaime Lannister, ordered me to do on behalf of the King, was “breaking the King's peace”? It was about this time I learned that apparently Jaime Lannister was some kind of mad wild card over which the Westerlands had apparently no control, nor felt no responsibility for whatever crazy scheme he was trying to pull at any given moment. The conversation quickly slid back to blaming Brandon and the North, helped by the fact that a confusing timeline of events made things hard to argue about in any definitive way. I trudged home, defeated and confused, out-debated and disrespected by half a dozen experienced cynical profiteers. It was somewhat dissatisfying, but at least it was very in character for a 14 year old who decided to go riding off on a whim to throw accusations around.

 

However, on returning home to the Riverlands, I got a fresh opportunity to sink myself into. An army led by the Septon and one of my bannermen had been dispatched to the Reach, where its capital of Highgarden had been seized by the Dornish, who had now officially become adherents to the heretical “Lord of Light”. Our Septon would lead us on a glorious religious campaign – no more debating for me, just pure combat. I'd get to stab some heretics and fight in glorious battle – or perhaps even die in glorious battle! I was game for either, frankly. It was the Iron Islanders I really wanted some brutal revenge on, but that wasn't an option, so I'd settle for this. With my lands run by some tedious Castellan, and my father murdered and betrayed by everybody – battle would be the excitement that either gave me new life or brought it to a glorious end serving the Seven.

 

The journey to Highgarden took a while, and whilst I was on my way through the Reach, I realised that I was still unbetrothed (as were both my sisters, thanks to Brandon). I decided I wanted to find a suitable betrothal and set up this new expansion to my dynastic line as soon as possible. There was always the chance I'd die in the upcoming battle – but hey, courage is just another selling point for my raven-distributed dating profile. I tasked my Maester and one of my bannermen, Frey (recently returned from the island with Brynden thanks to an incredibly expensive rental fee paid for the use of the Lannisters' fleets – but not before 11,000 of the 12,000 soldiers there starved to death) to scout the land in search of suitable Lord's Paramount daughters (as a soon-to-be Lord Paramount I could obviously expect nothing less) to betroth me to. I promised Frey he had my blessing to have one of his sons marry my younger sister Lysa (she was always kind of spoilt and boring anyway) if he was successful in finding me a betrothal of suitable status.

 

As I was in the Reach, we decided to visit the locals and ask if they had any great local daughters lying around. The Lord Paramount said he didn't have any daughters, but they did have a particularly important female bannerman that owned a lot of land and money. I considered it but unfortunately she was completely unwilling to leave her lands to live in the Riverlands any time in the future. Oh well.

 

We finally reached Highgarden and were told that the entire city had been set ablaze (seriously, those Lord of Light guys are crazy). The heretical Dornish armies were holding up at the gate, and the combined forces of the Reach and the Riverlands (and the Septon's religious military forces, the Faith Militant) rushed in. Or at least they would have, but the entire fight was bottlenecked into the gate and only the Reach's and Dorne's best fighters actually met on the field before the Dornish were pushed back into the city and defeated. None of the Dornish leaders managed to escape. Control asked the Reach's commander what he wanted to do with the captured leaders, and I believe his exact response was “we've got three spikes, and I see three heads”. Certainly not for a lack of trying, Edmure was stuck at the back of the crowd for the battle and didn't actually get to kill anyone or properly risk his life. It wasn't what he was looking for, but hey, a battle won is a battle won! I got to play Edmure's “Prove Yourself” card, which allowed me to gain honour if I took part in a victorious battle.

 

I returned home and was greeted with news from my maester that I had received an offer of betrothal. Apparently it wasn't a Lord Paramount's daughter, but it was a Westerlands noble that owned a lot of silver mines. I hadn't had much time to consider it before Frey came over and said he actually had got a Lord Paramount's daughter. A (no doubt lovely) young woman called Cersei Lannister. I set off excitedly with a new goal – meet my new fiancee. That couldn't be too hard, could it?

 

 

I Just Want To Meet Cersei Lannister

 

Cersei, just like Catelyn and countless other NPC children, was not a player but represented by a card. I decided I wanted to “meet Cersei” – a phrase which here means I wanted to look at the card and then maybe see if I can ask Control what she was like (I've seen the show but I was trying to remain in character as someone who'd probably never met her before). I was told she was in King's Landing, so I headed there for the first time in the game – only to find only a single player in all of the region. He didn't know where her card was. Someone said Tywin Lannister had it, I looked around some more and asked Tywin – who said that Jaime had it. I wandered over to Jaime [9] who was at the map at the time and he seemed to be organising some kind of invasion of Dragonstone in order to find and kill (the now) King Rhaegar. Oh, ok. Can I see Cersei now?

 

At that exact moment, the game ended. [10]

 

And I only died once.

 

 

Some Analysis

 

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.

 

It almost feels wrong to provide analysis for Everybody Dies Harder. Last time I got to see everything from a very tactical, systematic perspective. But actually playing the game, everything felt a lot more character driven, and it was a much more emotional experience than a tactical one. But I will analyse what I can nonetheless, as I know people like to read critiques and think about game design and what works and what doesn't etc.

 

Following on from what I said before, I think that one of the biggest issues for the game is that it's not easy to handle. For those not familiar with megagames, and their complex, unpredictable, impossible-to-understand-everything nature, the game can feel particularly harsh. Megagames are such big simulations that it's both impossible to deal with everything, and there's always a chance you'll be screwed over (sometimes that means dying, or being embarrassed, or just stuck somewhere where not much is going on) by something you couldn't have seen coming. ED in particular is quite harsh, as not only are a large number of the player characters willing to screw each other over, but there are also heavy restrictions on communication and movement that make things harder to deal with – and on top of that there's the constant threat of death by accident/king executing you/ambitious people. For those who are totally new to megagames, or those who find them somewhat emotionally stressful, I think that ED might be a bit too much. However, it does certainly come with the theme – and it's good to have a variety of megagame styles, including the more challenging, so I wouldn't consider this a fault, just something that might cause issues for some.

 

I witnessed a few players not following the room movement/communication rules, and I also heard some others complaining about this. This gives a very significant unfair advantage to those who are willing to break the rules. I don't know what could be done about this, but perhaps a handful of reminders throughout the day could have kept it in players' minds how important this rule was.

 

The map got crowded often and it was something of a free-for-all for talking. People who were meant to be located in completely different regions talked to each other freely at the map, which seemed a bit unfair. Another issue at the map was that there wasn't much to do when you were between locations waiting for the next action phase and it got a bit tedious at times. I think one way both of these issues could be improved could be to tell players they have to go to their current region table during non-action phases. This would not only help with the above problems, but I also think it would be more thematic to be able to talk to locals as you pass through (or give them the opportunity to talk at you if they don't want you there) – and in addition would allow Control, and players moving around without armies, to access and view the map table much more easily.

 

On a more positive note, I did just want to point out that the new mechanic of having NPC family members as individual cards seemed to be a fantastic change. Managing all of the family in the previous game as names on paper was functional but didn't seem very thematically interesting and could become hard to keep track of, as well as being very Control-intensive. The cards system used for this version were not only self-managed by the players for the most part, but they felt far more thematic, as they could be shown and passed between players at appropriate points. For anyone looking for inspiration when designing a family system in a future megagame, I definitely recommend considering what this option has to offer.

 

 

In Summary

 

 

Everybody Dies Harder was a disorienting experience but also gave me some of the most excitement I've had in years. Tense marriage discussions led into nebulous power struggles and uncomfortable shifts in allegiances that I had to negotiate. Then everything changed gear completely when I became Edmure, and the game became an almost giddy rush charging all over Westeros trying to find excitement, danger and a good woman (hey, two out of three ain't so bad).

 

As for the future? Who knows what will be next for Edmure. Despite a bad end to the Iron Islands campaign, the regions of the North, the Vale and the Riverlands are still intact and relatively united, and not under threat by anyone else. Brynden was potentially in the middle of joining Jaime's campaign against the King, so perhaps the Riverlands will be dragged into a war after all, but from what I could tell Jaime had a decent amount of support and was probably going to get the throne after a pretty short time, so we'd be an ally of the next King. As for my fiancee, I think the odds are that the betrothal would just fall through like so many before it. Hmm, what was the name of that woman with all the silver mines again?

 

Also, I don't know if I've ever laughed as hard as I did when, after the game, I talked with Rhaegar about the moment when he really did look like he was a second away from kidnapping Catelyn. It was just a few seconds of hesitation, but the moment it created was unforgettable.

 

Thanks to Becky, everyone on the Control team, and all the other players for everything they did to make this an exciting and fascinating day.

 

 

Footnotes

 

[1] Whilst Hoster's own relgious focus was a big part of it, my Septon also informed me that the leaders of the Seven were planning to aggressively de-legitimise any non-Seven political leaders in the near future, so Catelyn and her children's future were very much at stake if they were allowed to be converted to the Old Gods. Oh, and also, at one point my Septon privately asked how I would feel about burning down the Weirwood forest! I said it would be a hideous insult to our friends the Starks, to which his response was “but what if it was 'an accident' though?”. I'll say one thing, you couldn't question the man's loyalty to the Seven.

 

[2] It's interesting that this was just an innocent poorly-timed conversation and nothing actually happened. But it was such a hilariously tense 30 seconds to experience at the time.

 

[3] Each region had its own table, and if you were in that region, you had to stay at that table – unless you had to go to the map to command units. Maesters didn't have to follow these rules as it was assumed they could communicate via messages attached to ravens.

 

[4] If you want to find out what happened to that “red priest” - check out this other After Action Report written by the Septon of Dragonstone.

 

[5] The Vale didn't end up sending any troops for the invasion in the end, but their lack of any naval capacity meant it likely didn't make much difference anyway. It's a good demonstration of just how hard it is to coordinate things when communication is so limited, though.

 

[6] The Iron Islanders had smaller fleets that counted as a third as strong as ours – but had significantly more. For simplicity's sake, I'm referring to them as a third of their actual number. In other words, the Iron Islanders had 9 fleets (of longboats) and we had 1 (of galleys), but when it came to sea unit strength and combat calculations, 3 longboats were worth 1 galley, so they outnumbered us as if they had “three fleets against one” anyway.

 

[7] Without support from the second fleet, the Riverlands soldiers, along with my brother, my bannermen and I, were stuck on the Ten Towers with no escape. Unbeknownst to him, Brandon's impulsive decision to fight rather than continue with the duty his father gave him, indirectly resulted in 11,000 Riverlands soldiers starving to death on a foreign island. Oh, and him 'Taking The Black' meant that all of the time, energy and money put into the Brandon-Catelyn marriage was for nought, and Catelyn was single again. It was a single act, taken hundreds of miles away, that did a whole lot of impossible to predict damage and completely derailed everything that Hoster had worked for all game. It's these kind of bizarre grand simulation aspects that make these games so fascinating.

 

[8] Between the Lannisters' cynical profiteering, the Vale's failure to raise their army for support, and Brandon Stark's failure to follow through with the fleet support plan (for, as far as I can tell, very silly reasons), I did sometimes feel like doing my best impression of a certain Klingon and berating people with “you have no honour!”.

 

[9] As I said, I have watched Game of Thrones, so I knew out-of-character that Cersei was meant to be a pretty awful person to be around. However in all of the confusion of the game I had completely forgotten about the whole Jaime-Cersei relationship thing, so that ignorance naturally fit into my character. I also had some rather real but in-character childlike enthusiasm for the betrothal in general, as it was the first time I'd ever gotten married (or proposed to be) at a megagame and it was genuinely something of an exciting first.

 

[10] I would later find out that I was just one of a long line of people who had been betrothed to Cersei, apparently Tywin was offering her betrothal around a lot and some of them got cancelled or killed or any number of things. At the time of my betrothal, she was apparently betrothed to at least one other person simultaneously (after the game Tywin told me it was simply good sense to have two people in the running just in case – seriously, these Westerlanders have no honour). Also Jaime (who, for those not familiar with the setting, is secretly his sister's lover) was planning to delay any marriage to Cersei for as long as possible, and if it had ever gotten far enough, might have actually killed me before the marriage could take place. Kind of a rough deal for my first ever megagame marriage proposal.

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