Last weekend I made the drive up to Leeds for 'Everybody Dies 3: Playing With Fire', the third run of Pennine Megagames' games set in the Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire universe, designed and run by Becky Ladley. For those unfamiliar with the show and books, the action takes place on the continent of Westeros, a low-fantasy medieval setting, with a monarch ruling over a number of different regions. This iteration of the game was set 150 years before the other two games (if you want to know more about those, here are my blogs about the first and second games of ED) with the ruling Targaryen family divided in a war of succession. Also, this time the game had dragons.
I was taking on the role of Region Control again, though I would not be in the Riverlands as I had been for the first two games. Instead, I would be taking on the Westerlands – the region of gold mines, bustling trade ports, and even more gold mines.
Welcome to the Westerlands
The Westerlands is led by its Lord Paramount, Jason Lannister. Jason thinks that leading a region is kind of boring though, so he prefers to use his vast wealth to party, drink with friends and assosciate with friendly women.
Jason would not be the Lord Paramount were it not for the fact that his twin brother, Tyland, was born a mere few minutes after him. Things could have been very different indeed, as Tyland is a very competent, intelligent and level-headed man. So competent, in fact, that the king had him appointed to a position on the king's official council, taking him away from the Westerlands and leaving his brother with practically no sensible oversight. Despite their differences in personality, the two brothers are exceptionally close, having grown up together as friends, and they trust each other unconditionally.
The game about to begin.
Serving under Jason are a number of 'bannermen', each controlling a few of their own territories within the Westerlands. These included: Jenna Lefford, a 17-year-old female bannerman with keen wits and a fierce ambition; Ryam Reyne, a competent leader and administrator looking to assert himself, and Mykal Swyft, an aggressive but highly-skilled military leader who loves fighting and getting his way. Also located in the Westerlands is the Lord Paramount's 'Maester', a knowledgeable adviser and an individual critical to long-distance communication – Maester players were the only players allowed to freely traverse the room and talk to players on other tables (in other regions), representing their in-world use of ravens carrying important messages – a common practice in Westeros.
Pick a Colour
Important to the current political situation was that each of the players had loyalties to one of the two claimants to the throne. The current king was sick, and the country was split between who would be inheriting his title.
The king had personally named Princess Rhaenyra his heir, and she had taken up the tradition of living on the island of Dragonstone until it was time for her to take on the title of Queen. As the king's chosen heir, all of the Lords Paramount and bannermen of Westeros had taken solemn vows to serve her when the time came.
However, as a woman, this broke the precedent that the crown could not pass through or to a female member of the Royal Family – Rhaenyra's appointment could even cause people to question if other Lords, such as those with older sisters, have legitimacy. In addition, accusations abound that she has been unfaithful and her children are illegitimate, as well as concerns that her husband and her father-in-law are both too powerful and ambitious to be given such close connections to the throne.
Others support Prince Aegon, eldest son of the king, as being the rightful heir to the throne. Citing not only the precedent of male-only inheritance, but also his strong character and his stable family line. Supporters of Rhaenyra claim that not only would Aegon being heir be in direct opposition to the wishes of King Viserys, but he is lazy and gluttonous, and inappropriate for such a responsibility. They also point to his relationship with the powerful Hightower family, including Queen Alicent and her father Otto, who many accuse of trying to control Westeros through Aegon, hoping to put him on the throne as their puppet.
The Crownlands, not the calmest place to be.
These two factions were referred to as the 'Blacks' (for Princess Rhaenyra) and the 'Greens' (for Prince Aegon), after a historical event in which Rhaenyra and Queen Alicent (Aegon's mother) wore dresses of the respective colours.
As the game started, Jason, Tyland and Ryam were all passive supporters of the Greens, generally feeling that Aegon is the rightful heir by the customs of the land, and that he has potential if he can just be taught to be less immature. Jenna was a strong supporter of the Greens, as it was Queen Alicent herself who helped her with a serious family problem in her past, namely getting rid of an uncle who tried to steal her position. Mykal was the only player on the team on the side of the Blacks, given his dislike of the Hightowers and wanting to respect his old oath to the Princess.
Tournaments and Tribulations
As the game began, King Viserys was alive and well – well, actually he was alive and quite old and sick – but the important thing was he was alive, and therefore the issue of who would inherit was mostly one of idle speculation and petty politicking. This was especially true in the Westerlands – on the other side of Westeros from the capital, King's Landing.
Instead, Jason and his bannermen had more pressing matters, namely, how they were going to demonstrate and enjoy their immeasurable wealth. The players who were playing as Jason and Jenna began by asking me what kind of things they could spend money on. I explained that there were plenty of things, although some good ideas might be statues, road improvements, feasts and tournaments. They then asked me how much a tournament could cost, to which I replied that it was really a spectrum, where the smallest possible tournament would cost 5 gold coins, and the largest possible kind would be 50 coins. They then informed me that they definitely wanted to host a 50-coin scale tournament, and began discussions about when it would be and how to put the word out. It was during this discussion that Tyland Lannister returned from King's Landing to briefly visit his brother, and upon hearing the conversation, placed his head in his hands, and quietly muttered “Not again”.
The game in full swing.
Planning for the tournament was interrupted by the arrival of a Maester from the region of the North with some startling news. Apparently, the fleet of the nearby Iron Islands region had mobilised and was about to attack the coast somewhere. Ryam volunteered to take the Lannisters' fleet out to sea in their defence, and set off from the Lord's chamber with haste. With that covered, discussion returned to the matter of very expensive tournaments.
Things Get Awkward
Ryam took to the seas with his newly-appointed naval force, only to find himself face-to-face with the Iron Island's fleet, who were sailing past the Westerlands' main port at that moment. After a brief minute of tension where both commanders had to secretly choose their next move, both leaders agreed to hold back and parley. And so began a very pleasant, if awkward conversation, where the Iron Islanders said that they were just on their way to raid someone else, and Ryam listened whilst offering them entirely legitimate and above board financial incentives to make sure that that was exactly what they were going to do.
"Nice invasion fleet. It would look nicer over there."
Back at the Lord's residence, the Tourney was about to begin. It was somewhat less spectacular than had been previously hoped, with Jason and the bannermen eventually agreeing to spend only 20 coins on the festivities. Attendance was also unspectacular, with only five entrants, including Tyland, who had once again visited to check on his brother and update him on developments in the capital. The other four entrants were Ryam, who had just returned from his naval excursion, two bannermen from the region of the Vale, and one from the region of the Riverlands. After a few brief jousts, Rupert Royce of the Vale emerged victorious, taking the grand prize of 5 gold coins. Tyland came second, but unfortunately he was wounded in the final duel. Jason called out for the Maester with some upset and urgency, but in the end the Maester healed Tyland back to full health without issue, meaning he would be ready to soon return to King's Landing.
Two fierce competitors engage in brutal rock-paper-scissors combat.
It was during this time that the people of the Westerlands learned of an awkward fact. The king was dead.
The King is Dead, Long Live... Someone Else
A Maester from Dragonstone arrived and informed everyone that Viserys had died. With this development, the issue of the heir was now of immediate concern. At Tyland's suggestion, he and Jason travelled to King's Landing to attend a coronation that was being held for Prince Aegon (by supporters of the Green faction). Players' support for one of the two factions was tracked on a public board – this action by the Lannister brothers moved them both from Weakly Green to Strongly Green. Things were certainly heating up in the Westerlands.
The declaration board. (image credit: Jake Smithson)
Meanwhile, other problems were brewing. Mykal's territory bordered another territory in the neighbouring region of the Reach, and unbeknownst to him, some of the peasants of his territory had been illegally mining in the Reach territory. This netted him an extra gold coin in tax, but unfortunately reduced the tax income of the Reach's bannerman. This resulted in the Maester of the Reach visiting the Westerlands table and telling Jason that somebody had been stealing from the Reach, and that he expected someone to pay for this transgression!
In addition, with the death of King Viserys, the tension between Green and Black supporters was mounting. Aemond Targaryen, Prince Aegon's fierce younger brother, and rider of the largest dragon in Westeros, had arrived to offer assistance and open diplomatic channels between Jason and the Green forces in the capital.
"I'll just leave my massive dragon by the door. Hey, who here loves Prince Aegon?"
Mykal's support for the Black faction made him a clear outsider in Jason's court, with Jason and Jenna now classified as Strong Green and Ryam as Weak Green supporters. Confusion over the illegal mining, as well as paranoia and increased tensions, led to things very quickly spiralling out of control, and Mykal raised his personal troops and attempted to flee the Westerlands. Ryam, with Jason's permission, raised most of the Westerlands' forces and took off in pursuit. Aegon offered to help, and followed the army, riding his awe-inspiring beast.
Dragon statuettes not guaranteed to be to scale.
Reach Out For Help
The Reach was far more split between Green and Black supporters with its bannermen. Mykal took his forces and very narrowly managed to avoid Ryam's pursuing army, eventually arriving at the territory of Goldengrove. The bannerman of Goldengrove, Thaddeus Rowan, was a strong Black supporter, and Mykal was hoping to obtain sanctuary, either from Thaddeus' loyalties to Rhaenyra, or from Westeros' officials of Westeros' local religion (called the Faith of the Seven). Unfortunately for Mykal, the latter would prove impossible, as the leaders of the Faith of the Seven had just pledged their support for Prince Aegon as the true heir, and Mykal, due to his position as a supporter of the Blacks, as well as his sudden, seemingly rebellious military actions, had been officially excommunicated.
As for the former, that was looking unlikely. Marching an army into the Reach without explanation or warning caused some commotion and outrage, as the bannermen of the region hurriedly raised all their own troops to defend against what appeared to be an invasion.
It's starting to feel cramped in here.
Eventually the confusion was cleared up, and Ryam explained to the Reach that Mykal was not working with the Westerlands, but instead was attempting to flee from them to somewhere safe. The forces of the Reach joined up with Ryam's army and prepared to seize Ryam at Thaddeus' castle. This was when Thaddeus turned around and declared that he was defying his Lord Paramount's wishes and protecting Mykal. A prolonged siege followed. At first the attackers were kept at bay, but eventually, the defenders could no longer hold against overwhelming enemy numbers, and Thaddeus was executed, whilst Mykal fled to the east to seek more bannermen who fought for Rhaenyra.
If at first you don't succ-seige, try, try again.
Glory and Glorious Hats
With Mykal now no longer a cause for concern, things were looking up for the Westerlands. With no direct threats or internal divisions within his bannermen, Jason could focus on what he loved best, spending money. Jason had already bought a “Very Luxurious, Very Large Hat” and “seven new outfits, one for every day of the week” for the earlier tournament, but these were beginning to go out of style. So Jason ordered a “Brand New, Very Luxurious, Very Large Hat” to be made for him, as well as “another set of seven new outfits, one for every day of the week”. He also had a giant feast on which he spent 20 coins.
On top of this, the Bards were singing the Westerlands' praises to the people of the land. Due to his spending, Jason obtained the nickname “Jason the Decadent”, which he was very happy to receive. Ryam was also receiving recognition from the bards' songs, with many a tune apparently being written about the “glorious victory” he had achieved over the Iron Islanders' fleet.
The Turning Point
The Westerlands continued to flourish as battles raged in the capital. Ryam was dispatched with his army once more, with orders from Jason to provide assistance to the Greens who had been asking for help.
That's when a Maester from the capital arrived and informed Jason that several of the various Green-backing members of the royal family had just been killed in the conflict. (I don't remember the names but I think it was 3 or 4 player characters). Most of the leadership of the Greens were now dead.
On top of all this, the Iron Islanders, outraged at the embarrassment caused by the songs of Ryam's victories, mounted a gigantic raid on the capital of the Westerlands, and in the mayhem, managed to capture Jason's wife.
That's when Jason's Maester returned from the capital with a message. It was from the Black supporters – they had captured Tyland.
He's in there... somewhere.
Jason raised all his remaining troops and began preparations to march on the capital. However, he contemplated just how long it would take to reach his brother in the capital, and as he received more and more bad news about the Green's prospects from his Maester, he questioned how much success he would actually have when he finally arrived. On top of that, the threat of further raids from the Iron Islands made the idea of taking all of his soldiers out of the Westerlands even more of a risk.
With Tyland's life at stake, and after repeated suggestions from his Maester, Jason, along with his bannermen, all switched their allegiances to strongly supporting the Blacks instead. This cost them some of their honour – especially Jenna, who was forced to break off an engagement to a member of the Green-supporting royal family – but it was a choice they had to make.
Black is the new black.
It was a short time later that Jason was informed that his wife had died in the hands of her Iron Islands captors. Though Jason didn't really like his wife, so he wasn't too torn up about it.
A New Status Quo
With the Westerlands now supporting what appeared to be the decisively winning side, Jason got what he really wanted, as Tyland was released. This led to a very joyous and emotional reunion, during which Tyland revealed that he had been appointed to a new, desirable position on Rhaenyra's council, and Jason got to show off all his cool new clothes to his brother.
A happy family reunion.
There was another visitor to the region though, as Ranmara Staunton, a female bannerman from the capital, arrived in the Westerlands. A short time later, Jason and Ranmara were betrothed to be wed, and much excitement was had as Jason began planning his wedding. In Westeros, it is traditional that the bride's father pay for the wedding – but Jason, of course, was more than happy to fund it himself.
Til Death Do Us Part (or, Nothing Bad Ever Happens At Weddings)
Jason and Ranmara began travelling to the capital to arrange their wedding. After a brief stay in the Riverlands, they eventually arrived, and began talking to the High Septa about officiating. For this astounding honour all that was required was a donation of 20 gold to the Faith of the Seven, to which Jason was happy to oblige.
"We could really do with some more luxurious hats for the poor"
Queen Rhaenyra on the far left, happy couple on the right.
The ceremony itself started only a short while later. Jason dropped 43 gold on the occasion, officially making it one of the largest and most absurdly luxurious weddings in recent history. Not only that but the High Septa did indeed officiate, and Queen Rhaenyra herself was in attendance. The ceremony was beautiful and spectacular, and really the only thing bringing it down was the sudden and horrifying death of the Queen's chief bodyguard, who began clutching at his throat before collapsing to the floor.
Other than that though, it was a really nice ceremony.
With the ceremony over, Jason and his new wife returned to the Westerlands. Soon after, the Queen asked for help defending the capital from a sneak attack by what was left of the Green forces. Ranmara, newly pregnant with Jason's child, offered to take her own forces to answer the Queen's request. Jason, seeing an opportunity to do less work, was happy with this and stayed behind to... you, know defend the Westerlands, or something.
And with that, game end was called.
I had a very enjoyable time at 'Everybody Dies 3: Playing With Fire'. Being in the Westerlands felt fairly different from being in the Riverlands, and it was cool to see things from a new perspective. In the Riverlands, a lot of decisions are made based on honour, duty and trying to avoid being ravaged by war. In comparison, the Westerlands saw a lot more bold and eccentric characters, due to their wealth and relative safety.
I liked the change in setting from the previous games, which allowed things to feel fresh, including the addition of dragons, which I barely saw from where I was, but nonetheless seemed very interesting.
I'd have to say that, at least from where I was sitting, Everybody Dies 3 seemed to succeed in doing what the previous two games also did, which is to create very interesting character narratives, occasionally marked by battles and major events, all shaped by the communication difficulties and fragile politics of the setting.
Thanks to Becky Ladley for all her work on the design and construction of the game, as well as everyone on the Control team and Pennine Megagames for all the hard work required to make the game happen on the day and beforehand. And thanks to everyone for coming – especially the players of the Westerlands who really took to their roles and made the game their own!
Couldn't have eaten Ferrero Rochers and drawn up pictures of luxurious hats for a nicer bunch of people.