Interview with Crusader Kings 3: Princes of Darkness mod creator Sparc

In the final (most likely) interview in my series of interviews with mod creators for Crusader Kings 3, I reached out to Sparc in the blood-soaked underground chambers of the Princes of Darkness Discord. Princes of Darkness is a full conversion mod that takes the World of Darkness (aka Vampire: The Masquerade) universe and brings it to Crusader Kings 3.

Sparc and his team originally created Princes of Darkness for Crusader Kings 2 and with that experience they conjured up the new version for Crusader Kings 3. As it is a full conversion mod it has whole new game mechanics such as vampires (obviously!), new perks, new graphics, and an overarching world story!

Below are the correspondences delivered back and forth by enthralled ghoul written in black ichor upon a leathery scroll, or as some people call it, Discord private messaging.

What is your preferred name? On the mod you go as Sparc but in PMs on Discord you go as Flintsparc.

Sparc is fine. My vampire name in unpronounceable to your human tongue.

In this day and age, it seems like every mod, game, or even office software has a Discord. How is Discord working out for you/your mod team? Where you on Slack before Discord? I swear I couldn’t find your Discord until today. Is the Discord new, or was I just missing something totally obvious?

The Princes of Darkness Discord dates back July 21, 2017. We never used Slack. I think the Princes of Darkness Discord is a pretty nice community space for Princes of Darkness players that goes beyond its utility for developers. People come to discuss the mod, but also the World of Darkness in general. We even started up a V Rising server recently in our #other-games channel.

How many active team members are working on the mod or is it just you?

The amount changes over time as people have varying life priorities. It oscillates over time from about four to as high as eight (when we were working on Inquisition). Right now, we have about six developers contributing, but have hopes that four of our developers currently on hiatus will be able to contribute in the future. The initial work of the mod was done by two lead developers, Karde and myself. We were also the lead developers for Princes of Darkness for Crusader King II. Testing for the mod is done by the developers themselves and by our Patreon patrons who have access to the development build of the mod.

How do you organize all these people?

Presentation boons, blood bonds, the Traditions and a liberal use of the presence and dominate disciplines. Like Rome, we are a Diarchy of absolute tyrants pretending to be a Republic.

More seriously, our primary tool is Discord. Until we started using the GitHub Issue systems, we primarily tracked bugs with our Discord #bugs channel, the Paradox forum thread for the mod and the Steam Workshop Princes of Darkness page bug discussion. We hash out what we are doing over in the developer channel. When we have a controversial decision to reach, we try to reach consensus on the decision. If we can’t reach that as a team overall, the two lead developers reach a consensus about what to include in the mod. If someone wishes to have something with Princes of Darkness that we don’t want to include in the main mod, we have it as a sub mod. We are generous with our mod’s contents and share it freely with most anyone who wants it. To the extent that we can, we share the mod freely in the public domain (some aspects of what can be shared are limited by Paradox and the World of Darkness brand team).

We share our progress with each other, Patreon patrons, and Discord community members. We love to share our progress on the Discord. We also tease some of our progress on Twitter.

Our developers are all World of Darkness fans, and this is a passion project. As such, our devs are usually very motivated self-starters when it comes to tasks. They decide they want to see something in the mod, they tell us they are going to do it and sometimes ask for help along the way. Nearly the entire Princes of Darkness mod team grew organically from the mod. That is, prior to work on Princes of Darkness mod, the majority of our developers had no prior experience with modding Crusader Kings. For my part, I started by making a vampire trait which had a cute little bat icon. Karde got his start in the mod by making a single character. Tonight, I’m still adding trait icon graphics and Karde is still adding characters.

We also have conducted a long survey of our player base, including advertising that survey on our forum, Twitter, website, Discord and even on a loading screen for the mod. We received 1,136 responses. It provided us a lot of information about what people want with the mod going forward and how they play now.

Do you guys have a roadmap?

We had a detailed spreadsheet schedule for an order of tasks with building the initial release of the Vampire portion of the mod up through the release of our Shadow Inquisition hunters. The Road Map after that was a bit more vague with suggestions on the order to create werewolves, mages, etc.… part of our road map also gets influenced by Paradox flavor packs and particularly the Royal Court expansion.

We’ve since moved from that spreadsheet to using GitHub’s project and issue systems. It’s a bit more dynamic. With GitHub Issues/Project any developer or Patreon patron can create an issue and assign it, its progress can be tracked over time as it moves from backlog, to planned, to in progress, to test to done. Some of these issues will be bugs, others will be enhancements. As the number of mod developers grows with variable time commitments, it is useful to know who is working what when.

Project planning and issue tracking is a more professional approach similar to the Jira tool that Paradox Development Studio uses for their own game development. It’s a new approach for the Princes of Darkness Mod team, so there is both a bit of a learning curve and a need to create good habits. Many developers do not necessarily see the utility of such project management when a project is small. At one time, just a spreadsheet and trading a zipped file back and forth of the mod was how we did development.

Access to our shared documents folder, our project plan, issues, and our GitHub source code repository is restricted to our developers and as a perk for our Patreon supporters.

Also, our mod developers tend to work on those parts of the World of Darkness that they are interested in, for example the implementation of Mummies and Kuei-Jin were largely the work of one determined developer on the team, but others have contributed art, localization and now the helpful Wiki guides.

At the moment, the two lead developers and some of the team are developing Werewolves.

How did you get into modding?

I was a strategy gamer that played Civilization or Age of Empires. I’d messed around with modding Skyrim at one point, but never released anything. I was attracted to Crusader Kings 2 when I went looking for a game like Game of Thrones novels and TV series and found the Crusader Kings 2 AGOT mod. After playing a bunch of that and a lot of vanilla CK2, I thought that it was a great game… but what would make it even better was vampires.

I found several attempts at creating a World of Darkness/Vampire themes mod for CK2, but all had been abandoned. So, I decided it needed to happen and my path started with creating that first little vampire trait with the bat icon.

I do have a professional background in computer programming and Unix system administration, so concepts like Paradox’s Clausewitz/Jomini scripting language wasn’t an alien thing to me.

How does someone get into modding in general?

You find something you want to change about the game and do it. That said, there are now a lot of tools to help get you started on your journey. There is a modding section on the official CK3 Wiki, as well as a User Mods forum for CK3 hosted on the Paradox Plaza forums. Further, there is a community led Discord call the CK3 Mod-Coop that is an excellent place to ask for advice and see some of the latest mod progress from the best CK3 modders. For someone getting started, you could take a look at the PDXCON Tutorial Mod that I created. It’s a mod that will teach you about modding! Everything done in the mod is explained both in comments in the mod files themselves but also in the tool tips inside the game. Someone can make a very good mod with just using what I teach in that tutorial mod.

The single most important thing a modder can do is to take a look at their Crusader Kings 3 base game files, read .info files in a directory and review how Crusader Kings 3 content designers did something.

Do you accept new people into your team?

Absolutely. Our general rule is that we take new people onto the team when they submit content to our file repository that is reviewed by the other developers and decided to be incorporated into the base mod. Some of our developers started as Patreon patrons of the mod, then went from testing our latest creations to making some of their own.

You update Princes of Darkness really fast after each Crusader Kings 3 update (such as the Fate of Iberia update.) How do you pull that off?

An amalgam discipline of temporis with celerity, the iron will merit and caffeinated blood with a sanguine resonance.

Karde and I have been updating Princes of Darkness since the mod was available in Crusader Kings 2. Some of those updates took longer than others. The process is mostly taking a look at what files the base game update has changed and comparing them file by file with the files that Princes of Darkness changes from the base game. WinMerge or Notepad++ compare functions are heavily used.

Most content designer tools for changing Crusader Kings 3 are the same as the tools that modders use. The Clausewitz/Jomini scripting layer is very flexible and powerful. This is why Crusader Kings 3 is the most moddable game in Paradox Plaza’s catalog. Prior experience with modding other Clausewitz games also helps in understanding how to mod CK3.

Princes of Darkness, as a total conversion mod, was available and playable on the first day of Crusader Kings 3 release. How that is possible is not much of a mystery if you think about it. Princes of Darkness Mod has had a positive relationship with Paradox since I initially contacted them as the holders of the World of Darkness intellectual property seeking permission to continue developing and publishing the Princes of Darkness mod for Crusader Kings 2. Not only did they approve of my request to continue the mod, but they also even offered me a job to work on Crusader Kings 3. One thing I can disclose from my still binding non-disclosure agreement is that I was a freelance content designer for Paradox Development Studio for Crusader Kings 3 prior to its release. Some of my events are in the base game. My professional knowledge of Crusader Kings 3 obviously greatly helps my understanding of how the game works.

Since Cepheus 3.4 update for Stellaris, Paradox recently publicly announced in May 2022 that they provide modders with early access to BETA builds of their Stellaris development so that modders can work on getting their mods updated as quickly as possible for the community.

I noticed some of your mod team works on other mods as well, how do they manage their time between the mods?

Most of the modders on our team that work with other teams have contributed some small parts to our mod: a model here, some animations there. They aren’t the driving force behind our mod. We include them in our discussions in a spirit of camaraderie and mutual support, but we do not have expectations that they will be devoting much time and effort to Princes of Darkness in the future.

Is there competition between the different Crusader King 3 mods? Are there any mods you want to trash talk (I am kidding! Unless…)?

There is healthy competition in trying to constantly improve our mods and show off the new things we have accomplished. People do have reputations in the modding community based on things like their subscription rates, their speed of updates, the complexity of their mods, the sheer jankiness and amazing things that they can pull off. The trash talk is more along the ways of encouragement or poking fun at our own lack of documenting our code (a problem for all programmers everywhere), or that many modders enjoy scripting more than they enjoy localization.

The shared Discord of the Crusader King 3 Mod-Coop, the ModCon last year and the shared project of the ModJam all have spread feelings of camaraderie and mutual support in the Crusader Kings 3 modding community. Also, ModCon2022 will be happening!

How long have you been working on this mod?

As I worked on mod for Crusader Kings 2, since January 2014.

I probably started thinking about Princes of Darkness for Crusader Kings 3 the first moment I heard it was happening.

What is your process for working on the mod? Do you use traditional programming tools like Git, or do you just wing it?

Our team primarily does scripting with Sublime Text Editor, Notepad++ or Visual Studio Code. 2D graphics are made with Gimp or Adobe Photoshop. 3D Models are made with Blender or Maya. For source code control, we have been using GitHub. My first commit for Princes of Darkness was September 14th, 2014. GitHub has been a great tool and I encourage anyone with a mod project of substantial size to be using some kind of software for version control. Paradox also uses Git for their own source code control. I was actually on their team when they moved from CVS to Git. So technically, I was a little ahead of them on adopting Git!

Do you get paid for working on the mod?

I am supplied with a night’s worth of blood as long as I continue to work on it.

Oh, you mean money! We only receive money from the generous donations of our patrons through Patreon. If you like what we do and want access to things like our development build of the mod, you can join our Patreon for as little as $1. What a deal!

I was paid by Paradox for my freelance content design for CK3.

Normally I ask about getting sued around this point, but in your mod description on Steam you mention you are part of the Dark Pack, which seems to be “officially sanctioned Word of Darkness Fan Activity.” How did that come about?

Dark Pack agreements are older than Paradox’s ownership of White Wolf Publishing and the World of Darkness. It was originally created, I believe, when the intellectual property was owned by CCP Games to allow fans to continue to use and create content for their own production such as LARPs and text only online games. White Wolf and Vampire the Masquerade has always had a robust community of homebrew content creation that has always been shared on the internet. I am glad that subsequent owners have found ways to not only allow that community, but even given them tools to help it thrive like the Storyteller’s Vault that allows anyone to publish a World of Darkness tabletop RPG content, but even to monetize it.

I made the decision to ask permission when the mod went from only being available in the Paradox forums and a Dropbox link to being available on Steam Workshop. Subscription numbers climbed into the thousands, and I thought eventually someone at Paradox might notice! I started the mod in January 2014, before Paradox bought White Wolf Publishing in October 2015. From my perspective as an elder, I’m not in their World of Darkness universe… they are in mine (LEGAL: PLEASE NOTE, THIS IS NOT A LEGAL CHALLENGE TO COPYRIGHT). I sent Paradox and White Wolf an email begging them not to sue me. As I have mentioned earlier, it worked out very well for the mod and me personally. I encourage all modders working with intellectual property they do not own to at least try to contact the owners for permission to mod. Some owners of IP have standing public statements of what is acceptable in terms of using their IP for non-commercial.

Recently the World of Darkness brand team and Paradox had a very successful Game Jam where they allowed anyone to make a vampire game in a single month. After the success of the Game Jam, they expanded that so that anyone can make a Vampire: The Masquerade game with World of Darkness Unbound agreement and publishing with Itch.io. For Princes of Darkness, we are keeping our elder status with Dark Pack and the Paradox Modding policy. Unfortunately, not all intellectual property holders and game developers are as generous with their content as Paradox is.

Is there anything Paradox could do better to help the modding community?

Paradox already does a lot to help the modding community. They even add things to their base games that modders want but have no utility in their game, like character immortality. Paradox might be the most supportive gaming company in terms of modding period.

They could expand the Beta access program for Stellaris to give modders early access to their builds to other titles in their catalog. Probably true for any programming effort ever, they could always expand their documentation–though Paradox does do a fair amount of documenting their code. If PDXCON returns to a larger event, they could add a track to their programs for modding. While they already promote some mods on their Twitch channel, YouTube, and Twitter such as Princes of Darkness, there are other mods they could promote.

For Crusader Kings 3, my pet issues are: I would like secrets to be easier to create than editing a half dozen files, I’d like AI war calculations to include champion prowess and Men at Arms impact not just the total levy size, and I’d like to see an elimination of gene index numbers and easier acceptance of loose files in terms of adding 3D portrait aspects. The current gene index method requires tedious work on the part of modders to make their various portrait clothing editions compatible with each other. Ideally, a player should be able to select from a variety of clothing mods and only add what they want, similar to how players of Skyrim or Fallout 4 can add a mixture of clothing mods to suit their tastes.

What is the best thing about being a modder?

The joy of getting your creation to be actualized in play and seeing that other people enjoy what you have created.

What is the worst thing about being a modder?

Updating things that were already working because the base game has changed and broken your mod.

Why did you pick the World of Darkness universe to mod into CK3?

I’ve loved the game since I was a teenager (which was a long, long time ago). My connection to the World of Darkness goes back to first edition Vampire: The Masquerade in the early 1990s and included many an evening of table-top RPG play, text only World of Darkness Multi-User Shared Hallucinations (MUSHes) and Live Action Role-play (LARP).

Why did you pick Crusader Kings 3 as the game you wanted to use for your mod? Were there any other games out there that you thought about using as a platform instead of CK3?

When I saw the dynastic mechanics and heavy character focus of Crusader Kings 2, I knew it was going to be a great platform for showing all the World of Darkness universe with its thousands of interconnected characters. When Imperator Rome came out, I thought it might be possible to convert Princes of Darkness to play in that given that it does have some character mechanics; but when I learned about Crusader Kings 3, I knew it was going to be the future of the mod.

Other Paradox titles like Hearts of Iron, Europa Universalis or Victoria won’t work so well for a World of Darkness themed grand strategy role-playing game. Crusader Kings 3 took the RPG elements of Crusader Kings 2 and leaned into them more heavily. Princes of Darkness goes even further into emphasizing the RPG elements. About the only game that I would think would work better for Princes of Darkness would be one that was built primarily for the World of Darkness.

What do you think of the Royal Court DLC?

It’s a great expansion in general, and particularly for Princes of Darkness because it expands the role-play and immersion. We put a lot of work in adapting World of Darkness into the new artifact system. The 3D elements of the court themselves are great. We were also able to modify their minor court positions to have a nice depiction of the Vampire primogen system. One element that I like from Royal Courts was the culture rework allowing for cultural traditions and hybridization. We largely do not make much use of the culture system in Crusader Kings 3 for Princes of Darkness except for mechanics because of lore reasons: vampires are parasites in society and are not its innovators. But making cultures more modular and dynamic like the CK3 approach to faiths was a great innovation; similar how origins, governments and selectable traditions makes Stellaris so replayable.

What do you think of the Fate of Iberia DLC?

It’s a solid flavor pack! I like these flavor packs that also bring with them large game mechanics like the struggle system. We’ve already implemented two struggles for Princes of Darkness, one with the Shadow Reconquista in vampire Iberia, and another in Persia representing the intra-clan conflict of the Banu Haqim.

What are the biggest challenges of adding World of Darkness to CK3?

The largest challenges are trying to make the character vs. character nature of combat of World of Darkness into a combat system that primarily revolves around massing levies and marching them around the map with terrain modifiers. While in the lore some vampires did lead small armies; usually fights between vampires are between dozens of characters or even just two. The addition of the duel system was a great addition to helping us show the kind of fighting between vampires we wanted to emphasize.

World of Darkness also hasn’t always been consistent in that depiction of combat, check out this promotional art that was also used with the Dark Ages Vampire storyteller screen!

The World of Darkness is a shared fictional universe with more than thirty years in the making. No one knows all of it. Trying to show even a fraction of that universe in a game is a monumental undertaking that may never actually be completed. Beyond the sheer size of the universe, we have an appetite for 3D models for our monsters that will likely always exceed our capacity to create or acquire them. If you can picture a monster in your head, it could probably exist in the World of Darkness. If you’d like some nightmare fuel, try doing an internet image search for “tzimisce vicissitude.”

How many counties are there in Princes of Darkness?

We use the same map as Crusader Kings 3, so exactly the same number as in CK3.

Even with the huge amount of lore available already in World of Darkness universe, how much did you have to make up? For example, Pack Leader Valborg “Crooked-Eye” is my favorite vampire to play and she starts with a magic hammer. Is that sort of detailed lore already in the World of Darkness books?

There are at least 2,467 canon characters from the World of Darkness universe in the mod so far, completely with their relations to each other like ancestry, friendship, rivalry, and lovers. A smaller portion of those are available with bookmark or sub-bookmark entries including in game lore and character specific content–about ten for every Vampire clan or major bloodline. Valborg “Crooked-Eye” and her magic hammer are canon. She also appears in the Unofficial White Wolf Wiki.

There are a ton of new mechanics in this mod compared to vanilla Crusader Kings 3. Since getting in to each one would be take till sunrise, what are the top three new players need to know about?

Vampire powers called disciplines make use of the lifestyle perk system. You use most of those powers by either doing a right click interaction on a target character’s portrait, or a right click character interaction on your own character’s portrait. To grow the power of your disciplines your vampire needs to find and drink blood with a particular kind of resonance associated with that power. Blood resonance is based on the ideas of medieval humorism.

Development is treated much differently in Princes of Darkness. Vampires are parasites on society rather than great builders of civilization. So, if you want to play tall (and the mod encourages that with a low domain limit), you want to move your vampire from a low development county to one of our high development duchy capitals based on cities with the highest population. Once your vampire has acquired one of the special duchy capitals, you’ll want to prioritize building the Prince of the City building chain. Buildings in Princes of Darkness represent more vampire influence over society than actual buildings themselves. In some rare cases, like our wonders, they do represent actual buildings.

We have greatly reduced the importance of levies in determining the outcomes in battles. The prowess of your champions is the most important single detail to winning a battle in Princes of Darkness. Secondarily, over time, you might unlock powerful Men at Arms units that are groups of supernatural creatures–but your champions will always be your biggest damage dealers. Keep them loyal to you at all costs and mourn their passing when they fall in battle.

What are your long-term goals for the mod?

To put as much of the entire World of Darkness as we can into the game. We would definitely like to cover the six core monsters of World of Darkness: Vampires, Werewolves, Mages, Wraiths, Changelings and Demons.

What are the differences between the different mod starts? Do the Inquisitors spawn in the Dark Ages: Vampire start? I have never seen them, but maybe they are just staying hidden as that is their whole deal.

If you want to play a hunter of the Shadow Inquisition, its best to start on the Dark Ages Inquisitor bookmark because there are seven landed and bookmarked realms of hunters. The first bookmark “War of Princes” does not have those characters existing. Instead, there is a big narrative event of an Inquisition from the lore that happens in the 1400s.

We have a development diary for the Shadow Inquisition and a guide to playing them.

Is there a tutorial for Princes of Darkness somewhere?

There are several guides in the wiki.

Vampires have a very low domain limit compared to vanilla CK3. What is the best way to improve your domain limit?

It’s very difficult to do so in Princes of Darkness. Our intention is encouraging players to play tall. That said there are lifestyle perks, dynasties legacies, decision rewards, house modifiers, etc.… that impact domain limit.

How does torpor work? What causes vampires in torpor to wake up?

It’s an under-used mechanic in the mod at present as most players prefer to play a single vampire through their entire campaign. We don’t have a whole lot of incentive for a vampire to enter torpor right now beyond role-play reasons. A vampire can be awakened from torpor through a scheme to find them and then choosing to awaken them (or maybe… DIABLERIZE THEM).

I read that if you chow down (diablerize) on powerful vampires they have a chance of consuming you from the inside out. How worried should I be about that because good old Valborg “Crooked-Eye” seems to hunger for ancient vampire blood?

The lower in generation (more powerful) the vampire you consume the greater chance your character will be in a fight with your victim over control of your body.

How do people report bugs?

The #bugs channel in our discord. You might also try searching the channel before reporting as someone may have already reported any particular bug.

Because of my Animalism abilities I can call animals on a regular basis. Is there a way to combine the animal men at arms into one large group or is that a base CK3 limitation?

Originally, we were not able to lock special Men at Arms units to something like traits or lifestyle perks; so instead we created that Spawn Army character interaction to do so. This had that negative of not being able to combine spawn units when their numbers began to dwindle. Recently, Paradox expanded the triggers for Men at Arms, so we will likely be sunsetting the Spawn Army interaction to instead use the standard Men at Arms interface. We are already allowing the purchase of some special Men at Arms through the Men at Arms purchase menu if you have unlocked certain dynasty perks.

Will the change to the Men at Arms break my save game?

It may well break your save game or break the Men at Arms in your save game.

I should probably ask this of the CK3 developers but is there a way for them to make updates that don’t break the save game?

Not really. We don’t have a comprehensive list of what causes an update to break. Changing anything with an index number will definitely break a save, such as change gene index numbers. Crusader Kings 3 caches a lot of things with internal indexes in a save game and adding new things can often cause that cache to interact in strange ways.

And finally, I heard there are dirty filthy werewolves in Princes of Darkness? Is such a travesty true?

There is no such thing as werewolves!

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That is it for this interview! Thank you to Sparc for taking the time and blood to answer these questions!

Princes of Darkness is available in the Steam Workshop, and it is also compatible with a number of other mods.

If you want to join the Princes of Darkness community, learn more about them, or just keep up on their development you can find them on Discord, Twitter, a Wiki and a website!

As for me, you can find me on Discord, Twitch, YouTube or Twitter!

My next series of interviews will be with indie game developers so if you are an indie game developer hit me up!

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Lord Haywire

Lord Haywire

I am a nobody streamer on Twitch and I also sometimes write articles. https://www.twitch.tv/lordhaywire