After extremely disappointing Fallout: New Vegas DLC Dead Money, I decided to do something else - check some mods.
I took CK2Plus mod, enabled gender equality submod for hilarity, tweaked ruler designer costs to something lower (since CK2+ made it even harder than vanilla, they disabled all the excommunicated/wounded/etc. trickery, and adjusted relationship costs to something more sensible, so I can't even figure out how to min/max that), then I picked the kingdom of Ethiopian Jews and started playing as Jesus of Christ dynasty in what I thought would be a few hour distraction before my anger levels at Bethesda let me go back to the Fallout Scroll series.
The goodIt went much better than expected.
I needed to figure out everything from scratch, since the mod nerfed a lot of cheap gamey tactics from vanilla CK2:
- retinue is much smaller, but still totally worth it
- mercenaries now cost something like 2x as much - which moves them from essential in every war to something to be used sporadically. You can take one loan via decision now (not sure how they scale that, 100 gold is not really much) - I had to do that to get mercs and it was sad.
- Holy Wars now cost 100 piety per duchy for neighbouring countries, 250 for non-neighbours. (crusades are presumably still free)
- demesne size starts higher, but increases with stewardship less, making it quite tolerable without making stewardship overpowered (it was in reasonable 5-7 range so far)
- no more ridiculously massive penalties for culture differences
- recently conquered provinces get 5 years of no levies/taxes penalty no matter what it is, not up to 20 like in vanilla depending on culture/religion
- crown laws are much more sensible and their changes just require big prestige cost - so you can quit gavelkind with your first ruler if you want, it will just cost you
- things like summer fairs, feasts, hunts, etc. do not scale cost based on your income so they're not ridiculously expensive (and totally worthless since benefits do not scale) when you're big
How the campaign went
For me it was almost like a game of Total War - get up to 100 piety somehow, Holy War a duchy, rinse, repeat. I might be an underdog, but Red Sea and Arabia region being divided by Miaphysites, Shiites, and Sunnis made this viable.
Piety was nearly useless in vanilla, but it's surprisingly important in this kind of endless holy war - I can get +25 every 3 years for 50 golds by giving to charity, I get some piety by converting population, Summer Fair/educating kids have a few decisions for +5 piety each - I was optimizing my piety just as hard as infamy in EU3.
Unfortunately there wasn't that much diplomacy involved - both Miaphysite Christians and Muslims refused to get into any kind of alliances with me, their claimants refused to come to my court due to different religion, so the best I could do was time the wars against minor Shia countries to whenever Fatimid Egypt had civil war of some kind and couldn't help.
Eventually all Miaphysites and minor Shia leaders fell thanks to timing, better maneuvering thanks to Red Sea naval drops, and some occasional mercenaries, and it was just me, huge Shia Fatimid Egypt blob, and twice as huge Sunni Seljuk Turks blob - and to make matter worse with a marriage alliance between Fatimids and Seljuks.
I thought that's where the game gets hard, but then Shia Caliph died, the Shia-Sunni alliance got broken, Fatimids got into constant civil wars, the Pope called a successful if somewhat late crusade on kingdom of Jerusalem - and I couldn't resist going into a series of truce-breaking Holy Wars to break what was left of Fatimids. Meanwhile Seljuks are trying to get Basra back, which I opportunistically seized during one of their civil wars.
The badThe mod has some glitches. When you load a game, you need it to advance 1 day before it recalculates vassal levies correctly - so it's literally impossible to save just before starting a war - you can't start a war on a fresh save (well, you can but if you raise levies without waiting a day you'll be screwed).
Realm view in vanilla was a reasonable way to see how many troops a country has - unfortunately in this mod it seems horribly bugged and sometimes it said thing like "300", then the country would raise 2000+. At other times it seemed to work fine.
I seriously disliked how they nerfed the already overnerfed Ruler Designer. It's already the weakest feature of the game, it's just insane to make it even worse.
The game also suffers from the common problem that any mechanic that's difficult enough to be a challenge for players, will be completely impossible to use for AI.
The weirdAnd as always, there are just weird things. Gender equality submod lets you give titles and council positions to women (except Muslims), while sons still have precedence over daughters - that's reasonably historical with some hand waving, except maybe for women leading armies part.
This also means abundance of decent vassals to choose when giving away provinces, since you have 2x as much choice.
I'm sure the mod was not meant as "use Holy Wars to paint the map in your color" thing, but the great thing about sandbox strategy games (if this is not a name, it should be) is that you can do silly things.
There was this curious thing in Ruler Designer - 0 cost "Immortal" trait. I don't know if it really makes your ruler "immortal" or just less likely to die at random. If he ever gets too old, I'll just console-kill him. Probably once I conquer Jerusalem, which will hopefully be in 10-15 years now unless Seljuks attack me again and I have to spend years defending myself from Turkish waves rather than painting the map.
I find localized titles rather silly. I'm fine with emirs and sheiks and religious titles, but what the hell are the Jewish and African titles about? History books and the Bible call Jewish kings "kings", not whatever is this thing game uses. If your game is not localizing Polish "Duke of Silesia" as "Wojewoda Śląski" why the hell are you translating Jewish names?
By the way I really want to rant how contrary to CK2 naming nonsense independent dukes and ruler of duchy-level provinces under king usually use separate title system, but this post is already getting long.
The mod also changes its mind on everything every other minor version - any kind of summary you'll see (like the one on the wiki) will be wrong on half the points.
CK2Plus also lacks any kind of real website (it seems to be developed on Something Awful forum - it's like 4chan except you have to pay $10 bucks to get in), so you'll see old versions of it scattered all over the Internet. The most recent version seems to be 1.33.15.
This seems like one place with the up to date download.