So, basic game details. This is Crusader Kings II, available on Steam. I have most of the DLC, with the notable exception of Sunset Invasion, which I just find too ridiculous. I started the game as a Norse ruler that I created with the Ruler Designer, because I like to play the game on what is effectively easy mode. I also started as the ruler of the petty kingdom of Svithjod (The original name has a thorn instead of the th, but I'm not going to bother looking up if or how to enter a thorn into text). This is a really powerful petty kingdom by Norse standards, and basically surrounded by weaker neighbors. The game scenario I started with started in 867, at which point the pagan tribes are not in immanent danger of being crushed by Christians, and they can still do effective raids against less defended holdings. My goal was to build a giant viking empire, and I've basically done that. Here are some of the details and thoughts of what happened along the way.
Some notes about religion in the game, for those unfamiliar. Religions by default fall into two categories: Organized and Unorganized. For almost all intents and purposes, organized religions are better than unorganized ones. It is basically impossible for a follower of an unorganized religion to build a large kingdom and hold it together, and they are at risk of their subjects converting to whichever of the organized religions are nearby. Predictably, the various branches of the big abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, all started organized, while all of the varieties of pagans start unorganized.
However! One of the things that pagan faiths can do is reform: this is a tough thing to do in game, as it requires one ruler to control three of their faith's five holy sites, which are scattered across the map and they might reasonably be able to conquer. For example, one of the holy sites for the Norse religion is in northern Germany, inside a kingdom ruled by a successor of Charlemagne, and that kingdom is much, much stronger than any of the Norse rulers.
The reform idea is interesting: the game says that whichever ruler successfully holds the holy sites (there is an additional requirement, but it's really technical and I didn't have a problem meeting it when I had to go through the process) basically calls a convocation of the greatest leaders of the faith, who then develop a holy text and a church hierarchy. In the case of the Norse, the holy book is written in runes, and apparently has chapters on the gods, the creation, Ragnarok,and probably one or two things I'm forgetting. Basically, any reforming pagans copy the religious technologies of the abrahamic religions just enough that they can match up to them theologically.
Reforming the Norse faith was my first major objective towards building a big Viking empire, and though it too some cheating (read: quitting and reloading an earlier save when things didn't go well), I managed to do just that. It helps that because of my position I started with one of the holy sites: I only needed to conquer a couple more to get what I needed.
And I wasn't even the first pagans to reform! In my game, the Tengri religion, native to the great Eurasian plains, actually were the first pagan faith to reform themselves. They managed to do this because of politics: I'm not sure exactly how, but the Hungarians managed to absorb the kingdom of Cumania, given them territory from modern Hungary all the way to the eastern edge of the map, which is just on the eastern side of the Aral sea.
One thing to note is that even after reforming, the faiths have minor differences and quirks. One of the (very useful) quirks for the Norse reformed faith is that the leader of the faith, the Fylkir, is considered a terrestrial ruler as well as a spiritual one, on the model of an Islamic caliph. Practically, this means that if you're the one that reforms the Norse faith, you get to be Fylkir, and your heir will inherit that title along with all of the land they get. Not all of the pagan faiths apparently get this, which is unfortunate for them. The advantage of being the head of the religion is that all of your religious vassals, which for the Norse are Godis and Seeresses, like you more. In addition, some of your starts affect how well the religion is doing over all. Lastly, being the head of the religion lets you (eventually) call Great Holy Wars, which are the equivalents to Crusades. While they haven't been all that practical in my game, it was definitely fun to call one, especially since I did it right after the leader of the Tengri faith called one on me.
One of the basic questions that I keep coming back to with this game is, would the world be better this way? As interesting as the idea of a "reformed" pagan faith is, would it actually be better about addressing the spiritual needs of everyday people than the monotheistic religions? I'm not sure the answer is yes. Nothing in the game text tells me that my Norse believe in charity, compassion, humility, or the universal dignity of human life. Or if they do, its entirely possible that it is in a much more limited way than the teachings of the prophets.
I think that's enough for now. I'll write more later, getting more details and working later into the story. Hopefully this has been enjoyable reading, and let me know if you have any questions.