Medieval 2: Total War Designer Diary #5 - Rigging Papal Elections

Designer Dan Toose returns to tell us how you'll be able to manipulate religion to your advantage in Medieval 2: Total War.


With Medieval 2: Total War, designer Creative Assembly is revisiting the setting to one of its most popular games. The Total War series is renowned for its epic-scale strategy gameplay. In it, you get the chance to take command of a historical faction and rewrite history your own way. On a strategic level, you'll figure out whom to ally with, whom to attack, and what sorts of armies to build, while on a tactical level, you can command your forces in combat on the battlefield, telling them where to move and attack. Medieval 2 is more than just a beautiful graphical upgrade, though, as there are extensive improvements throughout the gameplay. To tell us more about the fascinating religious aspect of the game, we have designer Dan Toose. Medieval 2 is scheduled to ship later this year.

Religion, Part Two

By Dan Toose
Game Designer, Creative Assembly Australia

In part one of my diary on religion in Medieval 2: Total War, I talked you through the basic mechanic of how religion worked within your regions. We also touched on the role of priests, which led us to the introduction of one of the most powerful figures in the game: the pope. In this second part, I'm going to begin by taking you through the options you have when playing as a Catholic faction to interact with the pope and the papal states, before I move on to look at the crusades and jihads.

Medieval armies come to life like never before in Medieval 2.
Medieval armies come to life like never before in Medieval 2.

For the most part, so long as you do what the pope asks of you, he'll approve of your people and you should have no problems. Of course, that's very limited, and we wanted to ensure that the player can have lots of interaction with the pope and the papacy as a whole.

In Rome: Total War, the senate wasn't really tangible. You could attack the armies of SPQR (the senate and people of Rome), but you couldn't actually have the members of the senate killed. This is something we wanted to change with Medieval 2 and the pope. The pope is the leader of the papal states, and as such can be targeted and killed, just like any other faction leader. He can even take to the field of battle, although a pope who wants to get involved in combat himself is very rare.

Not only did we want the player to be able to attack the pope directly (which is an incredibly drastic measure in the campaign), we also wanted them to be able to spend time influencing the Catholic Church from within. The pope is not a constant. If you have a horrible relationship with the pope, things may improve remarkably after the next papal election.

Catholicism is a religion with a very established system of hierarchy, and Medieval 2 covers this with several ranks of priest for Catholic factions. A Catholic priest can become a bishop if created in a major church such as a cathedral, something that is entirely within the player's power to build.

However, the Catholic Church denotes its higher ranks itself, and during the course of the game, various priests will be promoted to the rank of cardinal, joining the Sacred College of Cardinals. There are 13 seats within the college, and these are only ever filled by rather pious priests. Once a priest becomes a cardinal, further emphasis on their personality becomes apparent in their traits. This is how you can glean what sort of pope they might make, should they ever be elected to the position.

Sacking and pillaging cities is all part of the job of being a medieval general.
Sacking and pillaging cities is all part of the job of being a medieval general.

The papal elections themselves are always between three candidates, called the preferati. These are usually the most pious of the cardinals, although priests who achieve certain things during their lives can become more eligible for the role of pope, so there is reason to be proactive with your priests.

When the pope passes away and a papal election is called, factions that have a cardinal will be able to vote in the election. Since there are only ever three candidates, most Catholic factions won't have a cardinal from their lands as a preferati. For that reason, there's a huge opportunity for Catholic powers to haggle over their votes, and we ensured that the player can do this by allowing them to jump straight into a request for support in the election.

Holy Wars

There is more scope than simply asking for support, though. At any time you can look at the College of Cardinals and consider taking out a potential rival at the next election. You could also look for other factions with cardinals that don't have preferati and start buttering those people up so that they are more likely to support you in the election, as most people relish the prospect of a positive relationship with the future pope.

The new graphics engine is undeniably beautiful and a huge improvement over that of the original Medieval.
The new graphics engine is undeniably beautiful and a huge improvement over that of the original Medieval.

The reason that your relationship with the pope is so important is that he is the one person who can give the green light to other Catholic factions to attack you. If you upset the pope badly enough, he may excommunicate your faction, meaning that your people are no longer considered to be true followers of the faith. Excommunication has been designed as a personal issue between the pope and your faction leader. If either dies, there's a chance to make amends. However, it may only take a few turns for the rest of Christendom assaulting your people to make all the difference, so waiting for the pope to die isn't an effective safety plan.

Aside from how the pope feels about you personally, he is generally concerned about how large a problem heresy becomes in your lands. To ensure the player had to deal with this, we set things up so that if they let heresy get out of control, the Catholic Church will start sending inquisitors into your realm in an effort to root out the problem. Inquisitors are not averse to looking for heresy in high places, and may actually put your generals and family members through a trial for heresy. Unless your characters appear to have a truly pious nature, chances are that they will be found guilty and put to death. So although you may not fear heresy itself, you'd be wise to fear what may happen should the church feel the need to deal with the matter personally.

The last major aspect of the Medieval 2 religion design is the crusades and jihads, a very special kind of religious mission for Catholic and Islamic factions respectively. These are essentially conquest missions that multiple factions can join, both cooperating and competing on their mutual quest to claim a certain place in the name of their faith. The benefits for joining a crusade or a jihad are identical, but the way they come about is somewhat different.

The pope may call crusades spontaneously, but they will more typically come about because one of the Catholic factions has requested one. This is yet another area where the relationship with the pope is important for a Catholic power. Islamic factions can call a jihad so long as they have an imam with sufficient piety. This is one of the few areas where we make the religions work differently.

Once a crusade or jihad is called, armies of the same faith with a general or family member can join them. This will grant the army some amazing benefits, such as doubling the movement speed of the entire force, removing all upkeep costs, the ability to move through Catholic lands without it being an act of war, and allowing the recruitment of religious mercenaries who will not join your forces at any other time.

The game is scheduled to be released later this year.
The game is scheduled to be released later this year.

These benefits are all a result of religious zeal; this is an age where many men were prepared to go well above and beyond for their faith. For that reason, the men in these armies are not prepared to follow a leader who isn't going to share their drive and conviction. Generals who don't make progress toward the crusade or jihad target will see their troops begin to desert. So, while joining a crusade or jihad offers great benefits, such as the chance to quickly fly across the map to secure a distant region and receive outstanding rewards, it's not something to undertake lightly.

As you can see, religion plays a large role in Medieval 2, and although we've gone to great lengths to ensure that those who don't find it interesting don't have to get bogged down in something complex to avoid problems, we've gone to even greater lengths to ensure those of you who do want to work religion into your schemes have a means to do so.

$19.95 on Amazon
$10.00 on Walmart

GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email

Join the conversation
There are 49 comments about this story