In Sons of Abraham, the latest and most religious add-on to appear for Crusader Kings II, it’s possible for the son or daughter of your ruler to turn out to be the spawn of Satan. By that I don’t mean they’ll grow up to be little brats who misbehave at banquets. No, they end up guided by the dark voice of Beelzebub and start bumping off other members of the family. Oh, and sometimes they attract powerful witches who will then serve on their unholy council.

It pains me to say I’ve not witnessed this amazing event (nor the one which effectively leads to a Joan of Arc character in everything but name,) but reading about it over on the Paradox forums reminded me that this ostensibly dour, numbers-heavy game creates some of the best stories around.

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Kid, you’re a little frightening.

I’ve had plenty of my own medieval fun with Sons of Abraham, but it’s been in a more traditional Crusader Kings II style. Deceitful family members. Rebellious vassals. That sort of thing. It’s been a tremendous excuse to re-visit the game.

I started off as the Duke of York, because he’s a fairly powerful character and well-positioned in England; though contrary to media reports he does not have ten thousand men. After waiting out the initial Viking invasion, the country rose in rebellion (led by my uncle) to see off William the Conqueror. By way of thanking me for helping him take the throne, my uncle then started a plot to have me assassinated. A bit harsh, considering the fact that at this point the (new) Duke of York was six years old. He didn’t get a Christmas card that year.

Luckily, I discovered this plot and forced most of the conspirators to knock it off. Then the King caught tuberculosis and died (hurrah!) leaving my cousin in charge. He currently flips back and forth over whether the heir to the Kingdom of England should be (a now adult) me, or his young son. In other words, I’m just a well-placed knife or two away from power.

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Making me your heir was your first mistake, cousin.

So far, so Crusader Kings II, but you could do all of that before Sons of Abraham was released. As a moderately powerful Catholic who wasn’t really in a position to manipulate the Pope, the religious aspects added by this new DLC only affected the peripheries of that particular playthrough.

But while nothing dramatic happened, I was able to partake in a few new things like sending my ruler on a pilgrimage. He opted to go to Santiago, was thoroughly unimpressed by the quality of the totally real religious relics on show there and picked up the ‘Cynical” trait. Thanks to the added ability to force unmarried courtiers to take the vows of a monk or nun, I was also able to get rid of a couple of the assassination plotters in this fashion. It reflects more kindly on the disposition of a ruler than a brutal beheading.

Had I required additional gold, I could’ve borrowed it from some accommodating Jewish merchants or a Holy Order. Though the latter might have wanted something in return, like a nice plot of land to build something on.

And though I wasn’t actively taking part in it, the whole process of electing a Pope has been expanded. The Pope chooses his nine favourite cardinals (based, as far as I can tell, on how Italian they are and how much money they’ve given him) and whenever a Pope dies, those cardinals select a new one. As a player you can use these mechanics to try to get a friendly face in the Vatican, who in turn should be happy to stick a big CRUSADE HERE sign on someone for you or grant you a juicy title claim.

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Heresies have been spruced up too, so if you want to lead the Fraticellis to greatness and have them become the new norm with their own Pope and everything, that’s something you can do.

Out of all the Abrahamic religions, it’s really Christianity that’s seen most attention in this DLC; but over in the East, it’s Judaism that has the most direct, challenging scenario to play. By the default Crusader Kings II start date of 1066, the Jewish faith is not doing too well for rulers. In fact, there’s only one lonely Duke hanging on to the rather historically important realm of Khazaria. Since the natural inclination is to aim for the reformation of Israel and the short-term goal is simply to remain in existence, it’s a bit of a tricky one to master.

You’re an “infidel” to pretty much everybody and a “foreigner” to boot, which are sizeable hits to your relationships and makes it basically impossible to find a high-ranking lady to marry. I did the best I could and just took hits to prestige by marrying common courtiers, on the basis that keeping the Jewish dynasty alive was more important than keeping up my royal appearances. Israel is still a distant dream, but at least two of the three areas that make up Khazar now accept Judaism as the one true faith.

Handily enough, being able to celebrate Passover (another added event) provides a regular boost to prestige.

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Best of all, nobody tried to stab me during Passover.

Jewish characters will pop up in the courts of other characters too, so I presume it would be possible to have a young heir tutored in the ways of the Jewish faith and approach the Israel situation from somewhere other than Khazar. Or, if you already own the DLC that lets you design your own ruler, create a new Jewish character that way too. It all adds some neat diversity to a game that thrives on the frictions between religion and culture.

For Muslim characters, Sons of Abraham tweaks a couple of things but doesn’t provide the same expansive mechanics added to Christianity. That’s probably because the previous Sword of Islam DLC (which you’ll need if you actually want to play as a Muslim ruler) already added aspects like sending a character on The Hajj. I believe the application of decadence has been altered somewhat, and Muslim players can now choose between a pair of theology schools (Mu’tazili and Ash’ari.) Beyond that I’m not too sure, as I only have Sword of Islam for a GamersGate copy of Crusader Kings II and it doesn’t (yet) play nicely with the Steam version.

As tends to be the case with add-ons for this game, Sons of Abraham is accompanied by a general patch that applies to all copies of the title. This included a change to vassal levies (they’re now much lower) and the numbers of troops which spawn as a result of events (now much higher,) which have proved unpopular with some parts of the player-base. It certainly makes rebel stacks a lot more troublesome if you’re lacking the spare cash to splash on helpful mercenaries.

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To get the most out of Sons of Abraham, you really have to dedicate yourself to a specific type of play-through. Something like a Khazar-focused run, or an Italian ruler who has long-term plans for the Papacy. If you don’t do this, several parts of the game that the DLC alters will be slightly out of reach to you, or just happening elsewhere. Events will still occur that have an impact on the general flavour of the game, but they’ll tend to be at the margins. You might see a Jewish courtier show up, say, or force an irritating son to join a Holy Order.

In that sense, it brings an inessential but entertaining set of features to the already quite marvellous Crusader Kings II. Religion was an ever-present part of medieval power politics and this expansion gives it a little extra weight. Plus, you know, demon babies.

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