The fucking absurd tale of Dorne and why CK2 is a better writer than me
Significant spoilers for A Feast for Crows and a Dance with Dragons follows. Just kidding, you probably know all this shit by now.
Having just gotten off a CK2 AGOT game where I, Jon “Snow” Stark, had just taken the North back from the Boltons through force of arms, saved Stannis from the dungeons of King’s Landing (with force of arms), freed the slaves of the Iron Islands (with force of arms), took the Riverlands twice (with force of arms), and forced Sansa’s daughter on the Iron Throne, securing all of Westeros was technically property of the Starks (with force of arms), I realized that I was way too quick to start wars, on virtue of knowing I could win.
Which is why for my next game, I decided to play as Dorne, the weakest of the Seven Kingdoms, canonically better defended by deserts and mountains than its limited population. For reference, in CK2, Dorne at game start can field maybe 17,000 soldiers. On a good day. When all your vassals like you and are willing to send as many troops as they can when you ask. By contrast, the Riverlands, Stormlands, Iron Islands, and Vale can all field 21,000 under the same circumstances. The North and Westerlands, 24. The Reach? 27. Suffice to say that in a straight war, especially not a defensive one, Dorne is fucked.
At the start of AFFC, 8301, the Targaryen dynasty is largely fucked. Daenarys Targaryen has claimed the city state of Meereen and is dealing with the colossal clusterfuck of Ghiscari politics and Aegon of Essos, the supposed son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell, has arrived with an army of 10,000 hardened mercenaries to steal the Stormlands.
Meanwhile, Lord Paramount and King in the Narrow Sea, Stannis Baratheon has just repelled the army of Mance Rayder, King Beyond the Wall, and is now trying to set up a Stark puppet in Winterfell to secure the North. Fighting a war at home against Aegon and abroad against the Boltons, Stannis Baratheon has few friends and more enemies as the forces of King Tommen “Baratheon” come barreling down on him.
Meanwhile -and more importantly- in Dorne, the infirm Prince Doran Martell plots to get revenge on the Lannisters for the death of his beloved sister Elia at the hands of Gregor Clagane during the War of the Usurper. Oberyn, Doran and Elia’s brother, has died trying to do the same, and now the nobility of Dorne is clamoring for a war of vengeance, while Doran is more interested in preserving Dornish life than fighting a war he cannot possibly win. This is where we begin.
So naturally I did the most reasonable thing and assassinated half the fucking kingdom. Roose Bolton met assassin’s blades, his bannermen finding him flayed on his throne in the Dreadfort. Unfortunately it didn’t amount to much, seeing as how his fucking insane son still managed to win the war against Stannis and the rebellious northern lords. Worth a try, though.
Second was Lady Paramount and Queen Regent Cersei Lannister, the adulteress and murderer. She met the end of half of the population of Europe’s nobility in any CK2 game: MANURE EXPLOSIONS. With her death, and her brother’s during a duel against Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, the vengeance against the Lannisters was complete.
More or less.
Arianne Martell, scion of the house, returned word from the Stormlands, warning Prince Doran that he ought not ally with the supposed son of Rheagar in his bid for the throne. Why? One can only guess. Perhaps she was horrified after one kingmaker plot had failed due to her own incompetence, and did not want more loss of life. Perhaps she felt that the man she met was not truly Rheagar’s son, only a white-haired bastard or perhaps even a Blackfyre pretender. More likely, however, is the fact that she reported this on the eve of Stannis’ victory over the youth, having just beat the fucking shit out of him and all his soldiers in one swoop.
So far, Dorne had avoided a war. The issue, however, was that young Tommen was starting to look like a second Mad King. Perhaps this was the influence of Cersei prior to her death, or his new mentor, the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard and silent giant, Robert Strong. Or maybe it had to do with the curse of incest taking a grip on the boy’s mind. Doran did not intend to find out, and with a guilty conscience, ended the youth before his own health gave out.
Arianne came to the throne of Dorne as word returned that her brother, plain-faced and honest Quentyn had been burned alive in Daenarys’ dungeons by FUCKING DRAGONS. If the Targaryen queen desired allies in Westeros, she had lost her only possible friends when the barely-adult Quentyn turned to ash on her watch. Still, in place of Tommen, his younger sister, Myrcella, came to the throne, taking with her Arianne’s youngest brother, Trystan.
Myrcella had been tutored by Prince Doran prior to his death, and even at such a tender age, she was looking like the best Queen in… uh, well, ever. Quick-witted and as beautiful as her mother but with none of her faults, Myrcella was looking like Westeros’ best chance at peace.
And then the Iron Bank happened. Spurned by Tommen’s regency and looking to reclaim their money, the Iron Bank of Braavos looked for a pretender to fund, someone willing to take the Throne from Myrcella and hemorrhage money across the Narrow Sea.
So they chose the dumbest motherfucker with the biggest army. Mace Tyrell marched on the Crownlands, his alliance with the “Baratheons” vanished after Tommen’s death. Arianne died of unrelated causes prior to the War’s start, and Myrcella’s husband and close confidant, Trystan, took Dorne. Trystan was a kind man, humble and decent, but he did not have the foresight of his father. If it meant protecting his wife’s life, he would march on King’s Landing.
And so he did. The last scion of the Martell dynasty threw himself at the Reach, hoping that he could take Highgarden and force a Tyrell surrender before King’s Landing and the Crownlands burned. He failed. By the time the Dornish spearmen were marshaled and marched into the Reach, the war had turned sharply against Myrcella, and the final blow came to Dorne itself. During the siege of Highgarden, Tyrell soldiers fell on the Dornish position, crushing them with superior numbers.
The last of the loyalist army fell and Myrcella was dragged out in chains to the fat fucker who strode into King’s Landing. Trystan was a kind and content man, and would have tolerated the pretender’s rule. Then Mace killed his wife and cemented a second feud between the Martells and the unjust rulers of King’s Landing.
Trystan repurposed his life. Assassination plots fell into his lap, agents spreading throughout the Crownlands and the Reach. Mace would choke on his own blood, preferably before he choked on enough food to feed half of Westeros.
Then Dany invaded. Two dragon riders came barreling down on Westeros, Daenarys Targaryen and her husband, JORAH FUCKING MORMONT OF ALL GOD DAMN PEOPLE. Trystan had been spared once for siding against the Tyrells, due either to Mace’s mercy or incompetence. Though he wanted revenge, he did not want to lose his head and allow the entirety of the Martell dynasty to disappear because of his hatred for the ‘fat rose’ as they had taken to calling the lump of lard that sat on the Iron Throne.
So Trystan stayed out of the war, and Jorah lost his life in the Stormlands. Daenarys and the armies of a unified Ghiscar were rebuffed, and Westeros repelled the last Targaryen. And then Mace died a peaceful death, surrounded by his family, and Trystan’s revenge had been stolen. Depression hit, and eventually Trystan died as well.
But, at 8 years old, young Doran II now stood at Dorne’s helm, Trystan’s only son, and the most intelligent man in Westeros since the deaths of Petyr Balish and Tyrion Lannister– the former executed in a revolt by the Riverlords, the latter burned alive at the whims of the Targaryen princess. Doran toured the continent, learning from Kingsguard, King Willas Tyrell the Learned, and all the scholars of the world. He broke hearts, even the Crown Princess’, ultimately marrying a commoner with a mind as sharp as his own.
When he came to age, Doran’s wits were matched solely by his silver tongue. He was a man of such unparalleled charisma that even old enemies of his family could not hate him. At 29 diplomacy score, literally everyone, the entire world over, fucking loved him. Unlike his father, Doran had no interest in removing the Tyrells from power. Excluding the minor squabbles between lords, largely in the North against the Boltons, Westeros was at peace, and he had no interest in sabotaging it.
Then his wife died in childbirth, leaving another genius Martell. It struck Doran hard, and for the rest of his life, he refused to remarry. In his darkest hour, an old friend came to him and comforted him, leading him to her bedchambers and away from the dark thoughts that had consumed his father.
I’m not really sure how that last part works because she was a lesbian, but I guess silver tongued Doran could literally turn gay women straight and straight men gay. They had two daughters together, it was pretty strange.
Still, Westeros was at peace, and in place of his wife, the Prince of Dorne found friendship. Lord Paramount Harold Arryn, the dwarf crown prince, the new Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, it could be argued that Doran and Dorne had more support than the throne. In fact, it was well known that Doran was the cornerstone of Westerosi peace.
Doran the Wise thought that the peace would last forever, as did I.
Then I realized that I had forgot to turn off Sunset Invasion and FUCKING AZTECS with FUCKING DRAGONS landed in Lannisport. The Lord Paramount of the Westerlands begged the Tyrells in King’s Landing for assistance, and all of Westeros marched against the sun-worshiping foreigners from the West.
And then they lost.
Aztec Jaguar Warriors smashed Westerosi knights, dragons scorched camps, and thousands of Westermen and Lannister bannermen were sacrificed, hearts and blood fueling the heathen rituals of these foreigners. As the casualty rate among the forces of the Seven Kingdoms reached the hundreds of thousands, the Iron Throne surrendered.
Doran could not tolerate the thought of sending more men to their death. He looked to the Water Gardens of Sunspear, and among the naked children laughing and playing, saw the orphans who did not yet know that their parents would not be returning. He could not tolerate a war, nor could he allow the heathens from the West to continue to tear out the hearts of the living.
He stormed into the office of his father, the only part of Spear Tower not used in years. Once it belonged to his namesake, Doran the first, then to Arianne, and to his father, but he had never used it. Accounts, names, detailed files on poison and human anatomy.
Just, kind, honest, honorable, Doran always thought that he could end a conflict with well-chosen words or the threat of a force of arms. Ravens flew from Spear Tower to old agents who moved across the border into the Westerlands, now known as the 'Aztec Empire’.
The Emperor of the Aztecs found himself assassinated before he could find himself an heir. His successor did too. Aztec nobility died faster than Starks or the enemies of Aegon Targaryen.
News of Doran’s activities got out. His agents were found occasionally, but their number were so many and so beloved by the enslaved Westermen that it did not matter. Even if one assassin was flayed or his heart ripped out, the rest would still find their mark. Among the Aztecs, Doran was thought of as an avatar of the God of Night, a demonic figure saved from the righteous wrath of the Sun God’s chosen by the mountains and deserts of Dorne. Among the Westerosi, Doran was considered a hero. Secret feasts were held in the Westerlands in his honor– the 'slayer of heathens’ some called him.
Or so the legend goes.
Doran 'the Wise’, however, was not so callous as to deny the horror of his actions. Guilt turned to stress, stress that eventually burned away at his sanity. As lunacy took its hold, one of his agents introduced him to a sailor who’d be smuggling wildfire below one of the Aztec castles. The sailor was Ironborn, and the ship’s chaplain spoke of the Drowned God. During the conversation between the sailor and the prince of Dorne, the Drowned Man told Doran that his dreams were not simply lunacy, but were prophetic. That the Drowned God was speaking to him.
Doran donned his black cloak and wizened old hat and followed the Drowned Man. First to the docks, then out to sea, and to a secluded island, uncharted, but according to his calculations, between the Aztec-controlled Westerlands and the Iron Islands. The advocates of the Drowned God chanted, dark rituals took place, and a thing beyond human understanding rose from the sea.
Doran’s heartbeat raced as the thing from below the waves marched through the sea towards Westeros. Certainly, he wanted to stop the Aztecs. Certainly, he wanted the Emperors and their legions to die. But not like this. He drew his blade and howled.
Doran was not the greatest fighter Westeros had ever seen, but surprise, his natural intellect, and desperation allowed him to overwhelm the chanting cultists. One by one they fell as he made his way to the longboats and rowed towards the creature he had helped raise. his black hair was caught in his bloodshot eyes as a wave carried him towards a beast his mind could scarcely comprehend. As his ship came barreling down towards the tentacled cranium of the Drowned God, he drew his blade and howled.
And awoke in his bed, the taste of salt on his lips and the wounds from his battle against the Ironmen cultists under bandages. According to his maester, he had washed up on shore, on the verge of death. It was only by the will of the Seven and his own personal resilience that he had managed to survive.
And then he lost his nickname and gained a new one. Prince Doran 'The Godslayer’ Martell of Dorne. And I decided there was no fucking way I was topping that and turned off the game.