[Beta AAR] Winter is Coming: Dukes of Kiev.
Chapter 1. Veni.
This is me, Duke Iziaslav of Galich, Kiev, Volhynia, Smolensk and Turov. By the amount of titles I hold you can easily notice I am as powerful as it gets in the Middle Ages, but that doesn't mean I'm going to have it easy. Holding titles and securing their inheritance for the right person might be as challenging as acquiring them. One trip on the stairs and it could all fall apart. My capital is still in Galich and I am urged to maybe move it to Kiev, the richest city of the Rus and a comfortable seat for a future king.
I'm kind, brave and honest, also chaste and naive appeaser. This will make a good amount of vassals like me throughout the game, especially those of clerical state. My gregarious wife is a good diplomat, this also gives me a bonus to vassal relations.
Green traits are popular with the church, red aren't and I don't have even one red trait, at least not yet. Being popular with the church means not only that I will go to heaven after I die, it also means more church levies and taxes and might be exactly what I need to tip the balance to my side in case of a war. Bishop of Kaniv for example slightly likes me already, and this means his money are at my disposal and his troops won't stay at home when I go to war. For that reason you really want to be more pious than your enemy.
My family situation is an interesting one and there could be a good book written about all the family connections, direct and indirect, at the beginning of the game. One thing is for sure, I'm of the viking blood. My grandfathers were the duke of Novgorod and the king of Sweden. My ancestry can be traced back right to the brave Rurik, my father was the 6th son of the 3rd son of Rurik's grandson actually.
We Rurikovich dynasty are a big family, unrivalled as far as the amount of land we hold is concerned. This is good and bad news. Good because I can always call on my sons, brothers and nephews to aid me in war. So whoever attacks me might have to deal with entire Rus at once, provided I don't ruin my family relations but keep them in good shape so my calls for help are answered.
Bad news because whenever I want to fight one of my own, it'll cost me prestige for weakening us as a group and making us vulnerable to external threat. So blood protects my position and titles, but also blood prevents me from gaining more of them via normal conquest. One of the goals is securing Rurikovich rulers on as many thrones as possible, pressing our claims and removing claimants of other dynasties.
My younger son rules in Novgorod, my third bastard son has a county there and is his vassal. My oldest son is still unmarried and unlanded and he is my direct heir.
The law of the land is Gavelkind, which means that all my possessions after I die will be divided between my direct heirs evenly. So all the duchies and counties I hold will be split in two parts. With one exception, my oldest son will inherit all my vassals and they will become his. My bastard son so far has no claim at anything, but he's of our dynasty and is somewhere in the queue to the throne in case his older brothers should perish prematurely. Agnatic-Cognatic law means that my little daughter also has her chance to inherit, but this might only happen if there's no male heir involved. In general, my older sons should watch their back once those two grow up and start plotting.
All this might seem boring, but it's a crucial part of what I'll be doing as the ruler and understanding inheritance and family connections might lead me to great things, while neglecting them might set me back a few centuries as far as reaching the hegemony over the whole Rus goes.
I have family ties outside of my dynasty as well. My wife is an aunt of the current King of Poland (not that he cares...), my sister is the queen mother of Hungary. But those aren't strong alliances and could use some refreshing.
There are two things everyone should remember about Hungarians, one is that their language is incomprehensible for anyone else in Europe, second is that the teenage Hungarian king is a nephew of the Holy Roman Emperor which allows him to call 20 000 swords from Germany to aid him in conquest, which means he isn't to be messed with. His luck might change though as the Holy Roman Emperor title often changes hands, so if he dares harm us, we can get back at him when he loses his protection and then there won't be any mercy for him.
Polish king, Boleslaw the Bold is a professional bully and his favorite pastime is putting friendly rulers on the thrones of neighboring countries. He holds Silesia with a firm grip and looks greedily at Pommerania as his next step to greatness. I happen to hold Jacwiez, which is technically a part of Poland and Poles might ask for it eventually. Luckily for me, Mazovia is currently in hands of Boleslaw's incapable brother Wladyslaw Herman who has no strength to push his claim for it against the whole Rus. Polish situation is a risk but a chance also. Boleslaw might marry a princess from a powerful dynasty and have a heir that will be able to continue his father's great expansion. Or he may die and leave the kingdom to Herman who will lead it to a quick demise.
To the south are the Pechengs, they are Pagans, so noone really wants to be associated with them. I already have made inroads into their duchy of Moldavia and ousting them from there would break their power for good eliminating them from the picture. It would give me border with my potential allies in the Byzantine Empire, so much needed access to sea, rich coastal Black Sea provinces and a few more territories to levy from in case Poland, Hungary or my own family get too greedy. I'd be also helping my nephew in Hungary to conquer Wallachia for himself. And of course I am going to win a lot of favor with the church.
For the end of the first chapter, let's look at Rus itself. First thought, it's big, second thought, it isn't as much divided as one would assume. As I mentioned before, my son rules Novgorod where we all originate from. My brothers are dukes of Ryazan and Rostov, and my uncle's grandson is the duke of Polotsk. There's no quarrel between us just yet, Novgorod and Polotsk will be busy fighting Pagans of the Baltics to turn their rich coastal provinces into a source of wealth and power for themselves. Ryazan and Rostov will be busy holding their border against the many powerful rulers of Khazaria. All four of them will often call for my help, and it will take careful planning to decide whether I am going to help them to prevent Rurikovich domain from shrinking, or not help them and make it easier to take away titles from my own later on.
The main axis of division within the Rurikovich dynasty in the early years will be between me and my son in Novgorod trying to secure Tver and Smolensk for our branch of the family against the interests of my brothers in Ryazan and Rostov. The conflict seems imminent, because neither of us seems to be keen to back down at this point.