Who would think that you can spend a lazy Sunday afternoon playing in a pious way? Monks and Mystics, a Crusader Kings II add-on, makes it possible. So here I am, listening to Gregorian chant and accompanying my ruler in his spiritual journey.
The 13th century Iceland isn’t the most exciting place in the world of Christendom. All right, some time ago a friendly host of Norwegian crusaders paid us a visit after one of our rulers gave up to his self-destructive urges and declared this (petty) kingdom to be a stronghold of the heretic Fratelli sect. Fortunately, after a few crushing defeats suffered by his army he came to his mind and decided to renounce his exotic beliefs. The Norse tourists left us without saying a word.
Another time, the half of the Iceland decided that a vulgar and watered-down version of Gnosticism is just what they needed. Tells something about crazy things people do when they’re bored. The French Templar knights summoned by the king put an end to this folly in no time.
So, what can you do when you’re a ruler of a literally insular kingdom consisting of two provinces, what can you do to kill the time? Foreign invasions don’t happen unless provoked, the people usually love their ruler more than he deserves, and ‘court intrigue’ sounds outlandish because the Royal House and its retainers are all a happy family.
Fortunately, we have the Downloadable Content. Monks and Mystics lets the player join four societies which, in case of Christian rulers, are the Dominican and Benedictine, the Hermetics, and finally a literal cult od devil worshippers. Dabbling into alchemy and astrology would be interesting, but it requires high Learning skill and Iceland has never been known for having scholars as rulers (at least not in this timeline). Since I’ve always preferred to play the good guys, Satanic worship has no appeal to me at all — besides, all those cannibalistic feasts are a terrible mess — so donning the sackcloth habit remains the only option.
Playing with my ruler as a pious lay brother is a surprisingly uplifting experience. It involves missions given to you by the head of the order, usually meaning that you have to go into seclusion to fast, pray and meditate on the Word of God, but you also participate in events like a pilgrimage to a holy site containing a precious relic. The reward systems is interesting, because gaining a higher rank gives you the power to cure a courtier or family member from a certain vice or even teach them virtue, which, as I suppose, reflects some of the quiet power such religious societies had in the medieval period. Of course, someone could point out that this vision is too idealistic and ignores the historical fact that monastic orders had direct political power too, and that some convents were literal nests of debauchery, but I’m not going to complain about that. Monks&Mystics may not be complex enough, but at least it avoids presentism, anti-medieval bias and the tired Dung Ages cliché, which is enough for me.
Since I tried to play the DLC with a Catholic ruler, I’m really curious how it works out for other religions. Can I become a Sufi mystic as a Shia leader? What option do Buddhists or Hindus have? Maybe I’ll try those options out and write about it next week.