I’ve seen a lot of people asking questions about what to do in the game, what goals they should be aiming for or fun ways to play once you get bored with raiding and conquest. The correct answer is ‘whatever the hell you like’ but since that’s a bit unhelpful I thought I’d put together a guide to one idea for a long-running campaign where you always have a goal to be working towards and something to do. The key to that is Decisions since they give you a list of criteria to fulfil, track your progress as you go and give you a nice bonus when you succeed.
Onto the campaign:
Stage 1: Adventure!
Start as a Viking in 867. Partly because this is a Paradox Game, partly because Northern Lords is the only DLC and partly because everybody loves Vikings but mostly because you need to be Norse for the first decision. Pick anywhere in Scandinavia to begin, it doesn’t matter because the first thing we’re doing is a Varangian Adventure. So start wherever you like and conquer your way to 10 Scandinavian counties which will give you the maximum amount of 2000 special event troops. If you have 10 counties then 1900 of these are men at arms on top of the usual 3 or 4 units of men at arms you have as a Duke.
Now take your ridiculously powerful army of angry vikings and invade (where else?) France. The aim is obviously to take Normandy and become Norman but I actually recommend targeting your Varangian Adventure at the Duchy of Valois. This is apparently a viable target even though it’s not on the coast because Paris can be reached directly by sailing up the Seine river. The reason to take Valois instead of Normandy is because Valois is the best duchy in France and that’s where you want your capital for probably most of the rest of the game. You’re also going to have to fight the French King for whatever you take so you might as well go for the main prize straight away while you have the most troops because your special Varangian forces will not recover from any casualties and are only going to get weaker as you lose a few here and there over many battles.
By the end of Stage 1 you should have won the war and cut a big chunk out of the middle of West Francia as the independent Duke of Valois. You’ve also lost all of your old holdings in Scandinavia but that’s all part of the plan. Also, now that you hold Paris, park your Steward there, set him to Increase Development and don’t touch him for the rest of the game.
Stage 2: Integration
This is where you stop being a Viking and become civilised. Winning a Varangian Adventure on a feudal duchy makes your character a feudal ruler, conveniently bypassing the usual requirement of reforming your religion and unlocking a bunch of innovations. So you’re now the feudal ruler of Valois but you’re still an Asatru Norse viking. Your next goal is to take Neustria so you can take the ‘Establish Norman Culture’ decision. You can probably do this by swearing fealty to the French King and then attacking the Duke of Neustria once you’re inside the kingdom so the king doesn’t get involved. However, swearing fealty while still being an unreformed Asatru, which you want to be in order to keep your conquest casus belli a little bit longer, is risky because the King might try to revoke your titles since he has claims on your new lands what with you having stolen them from him just recently.
Instead, having just beaten West Francia in a war already, I’d recommend setting your chancellor to shorten truces and just attacking the kingdom to conquer Neustria as soon as you can. Holding all of Neustria makes you eligible for the Establish Norman Culture decision and you could take it straight away, but when you do it will convert all your holdings in northern France to Norman culture. I recommend trying to shorten the truce again and then attacking for a third time to conquer the duchy of Flanders so it will convert as well when you take the decision. Normally you want to keep your culture small in size but this is only to make sure that the average development across counties of your culture remains high. The thing about Neustria and Flanders though is that they’re both basically nothing but coastline so you’ve got room for all the tradeports you could possibly want. Vassals of your culture also like you a bit more than others so you can maintain a loyal power base in your kingdom by having a few extra Norman vassals who will be just a bit less likely to rebel.
Anyway, when you’re ready, take the Establish Norman Culture decision. You’re now a feudal, Frankish nobleman and much more similar to the French lords all around you than the viking barbarian you used to be. The only snag is you still believe in Odin, so they still hate you. Time to fix that. Having taken over Paris you’ve come to realise that Christianity is the true light of the world and you need to abandon the old ways. Convert to Catholicism which, since you’re surrounded by Catholic lands and your own realm is full of Catholics should only cost 250 piety.
Stage 3: Ambition
So you’ve become a proper Frankish Duke, seen the error of your barbarian ways and converted to Christianity. You feel terrible for carving chunks out of the noble kingdom of the French. Not terrible enough to give them back, but as a nobleman you now owe your fealty to the king so you swear to become a loyal vassal of West Francia and are welcomed with open arms. As a Norman Catholic the king is much less likely to try to revoke your titles now but he still might since he has claims and Paris is great. If you took Flanders though then you fully control 3 entire duchies which is a pretty large part of his kingdom and you should still have quite a lot of men at arms left over from your adventuring days so if he pulls a stunt just put him in his place and have him deposed when you win the war. The next king will probably be even weaker.
Now you could go around fabricating claims and swallowing up the lands of your fellow vassals until you have enough territory to usurp the title but West Francia is a big place and you can’t hold most of it directly anyway so there’s no need to upset the existing order of vassal holdings. You just want to be in charge. Now as a totally loyal and definitely not scheming vassal Duke you of course would never take the Meritocracy Perk from the Stewardship Lifestyle because that would allow you to begin a Claim Throne scheme to gain a claim on your liege’s primary title. Once you’ve completed that scheme everybody will be very surprised to learn that the recently arrived viking raiders who carved off the entire north coast before swearing fealty actually have an ancient claim to the crown of this land they’ve never been to before. How intriguing. Anyway, you now have a claim to the kingdom title.
If you haven’t needed to put the king in his place before now then it’s time. You have the option of just starting a war for Your Claims or of starting a claimant faction to install yourself on the throne. If you have the strength then I’d recommend going it alone. If you have a claimant faction then when you win everyone in it will get a weak hook on you which they will immediately use to either lower their taxes or force their way onto your council. If you need the help though then do form the faction. Being the king with a couple of bad councillors and a bit less cash is still better than not being the king.
Stage 4: Consolidation
Congratulations! You are now a mighty king, but why stop there? What’s better than one crown? Two crowns! See that big purplish kingdom down south which Charles the Bald either gave to his second son when he died or is now ruling after you stole his primary blue crown? You want that bit now too.
If it actually is still Charles then he probably really doesn’t like you for taking West Francia which will make the next part hard so either wait till he dies or speed things along with a spot of light murdering. Once Aquitaine has a new king, you think it would be a great idea if the two kingdoms could be brought together in an alliance and what better way to secure an alliance than with a wedding! Any daughter will do but you’ll be offering up your heir just to show how very sincere you are about the alliance.
It definitely has nothing to do with your son’s sons thereby inheriting their mother’s claim to the throne of Aquitaine. Nothing at all. Now the next key player is going to be your grandson who will inherit West Francia from his father and an unpressed claim to Aquitaine from his mother, but this depends on her inheriting a claim first. She may have an implicit claim which will become a pressed claim upon the death of her father, the current king. However, if she dies before he does, for example in childbirth, then there is no claim for your grandson to inherit so you want to crystallise that implicit claim by quietly murdering your staunch ally the King of Aquitaine.
With him out of the way your daughter-in-law has a claim and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. You can now make nice with Aquitaine for a generation. Reform the alliance since your son is still married to the new king’s sister and focus on building up your own holdings in Valois. Since most of your troops are viking men at arms they’re mostly heavy infantry and spearmen so build a barracks in every castle in your domain. Fill your cities and temples with gold producing builds like farms and pastures.
Ile de France is special since it is full of farmland and there are buildings you can only build on farmland which are manor houses and regimental grounds. There are already two castle holdings in Ile de France but you probably want to add a third. If your characters are good at Stewardship and can hold more than the 7 counties in Valois then revoke the extra castles from your barons. If not then hand them out as needed. Either way, your domain is where most of your gold and military bonuses come from so invest in it as much as possible. If you have spare cash then help out your Norman vassals by building tradeports in all of the coastal holdings in Normandy and Flanders to keep your culture’s development sky high.
Stage 5: Inspiration
When the time comes and you are playing as the grandson who has a claim to Aquitaine then its time to forget the old alliance and claim your birthright. Call up the army and take the purplish southern kingdom which is rightfully yours. Now you’ve got both kingdoms which is really quite a large area and might even have enough already to form the Empire of Francia. If you do then go for it because that will keep the realm together if you have more than one son, otherwise you might lose Aquitaine on succession depending on your laws. Either before or after you have the empire title, grab Burgundy and Brittany anyway just for completeness.
It might look like we’re just map painting here, but that’s not the case. You want the empire to hold everything together but what you’re aiming for is the Inspire Opus Francigenum decision. Once you have the necessary technology, which shouldn’t take too long considering how advanced Normans begin and how developed your capital and other Norman counties should be, then you could take the decision in West Francia alone. All you actually need is Valois and Orleans, which you have, but if you also have Provence and Toulouse then the 150 year bonus will apply to them too, so it’s a waste not to take the lot before you get to Inspiring.
Stage 6: Domination
So now you’re an Emperor and your realm is prospering, where to from here? What more can you do? Probably best to just end it there and start afresh, right?
Wrong. We’re just getting started. I won’t go into nearly as much detail from this point but there’s still a lot to do. I’m focusing on Decisions here but most of them require you to hold certain territory as well so there’s still going to be a fair bit of map painting going on.
If you want to go north you can invade England like William the Conqueror and, moving your capital briefly, take the Embrace English Culture decision for some free cultural innovations. Taking the Kingdom of England also coincidentally gains you the 4 duchies you need to take the Request Claim on Ireland decision which gets you a nice casus belli to take over Ireland as well. If you’re not averse to changing culture completely (which can be temporary, you’re still the Empire of Francia so you can always move the capital back to Paris and adopt its Norman culture) then you could have an Irishman educate your heir in his culture. This gives you access to the Reclaim Brittania decision which gives you the nice ‘Tuatha de Danaan’ title, or even ‘Pendragon’ if you got yourself educated by someone Brythonic.
Alternatively you can head east and fight or marry your way onto the throne of East Francia. At that point you can pull a sneaky trick and get rid of your Empire of Francia title. You want to create every kingdom title in your empire all at once so you hold all the kingdoms personally. Also make sure you only have one son. Kill or disinherit the rest, do whatever you have to do but make sure you only have one heir. Use the ‘Know Thyself’ perk so you can predict your own death pretty accurately to make sure you pull this off carefully.
Then once you hold all of the kingdom titles and they will all be inherited by your one and only son, put elective succession on the empire title and vote to make sure it goes to someone other than your son. When you die, your son will be a vassal of the new emperor but he will still control the entire territory of the empire with his kingdom titles and can very easily fight an independence war against the new emperor who probably only has one or two counties to his name.
The purpose of all this is so that when you hold multiple kingdom titles including East Francia but are not an Emperor, you can take the decision to Restore the Holy Roman Empire.
As the Holy Roman Emperor you have all sorts of new options. Go down to Italy and fulfil the conditions for the Dismantle the Greek Pretenders decision. That will let you take the whole Byzantine Empire in one war. At that point you would only need Jerusalem before you could also take the Mend the Great Schism decision.
With Byzantium and Jerusalem you’ll probably have most of the territory you need to take the Restore the Roman Empire decision. That gives you a casus belli on all the old Roman provinces to expand even further but if you really want a challenge you’ve probably got enough holy sites at that point to revive Hellenism if you’re feeling particularly Roman and pious.
Anyway, the world is your oyster.
Decisions give you a goal and a path towards it with a checkboxes to help you mark your progress. As you can see a lot of the decisions have complementary requirements and can be chained together to form a long running campaign. If you need a goal then the decision list is where I would recommend to start.
Or just do whatever the hell you like, it’s your game to play as you choose.
Be viking in 867, hold 10 Scandinavian counties
Varangian Adventure to Duchy of Valois
Conquer Neustria and Flanders
Establish Norman Culture Decision
Convert to Catholicism
Swear Fealty to West Francia
Claim Throne Scheme against King of West Francia
War for Your Claims on West Francia
Marry your heir to princess of Aquitaine
Murder King of Aquitaine to ensure princess inherits kingdom claim
Build up your domain while waiting for grandson with claim to grow up and inherit
Attack and annex Aquitaine
Take Brittany and Burgundy
Form Empire of Francia
Inspire Opus Francigenum Decision
Annex and vassalise eastwards until you hold entire Kingdom of East Francia
Create or revoke all kingdom titles in your empire and have only one heir
Put elective succession on Empire of Francia and vote for someone else
Heir inherits all kingdoms but is technically vassal of new Emperor
War for Independence still hold all territory but as a King now
Restore the Holy Roman Empire Decision
Take region of Italia
Dismantle the Greek Pretenders Decision
Conquer Byzantine Empire
Mend the Great Schism Decision
Restore the Roman Empire Decision
Revive Hellenism or whatever the hell you like.