I did something I promised myself I wouldn't do - I reloaded a previous save to replay a section of failure for hopes of a better result. I suppose it's not technically cheating. I've often reloaded action games when a particularly difficult sequence resulted in my untimely death (hell, reloading was like, 75% of what I did during Dark Souls), and I didn't even have to do anything special to unlock the option, so it's not as if it's an unintended mode of play. . .
But I can't help feel like it goes against the spirit of my intention to play the same realm through all three Paradox grand strategy games. Like, if, by the end of Victoria II, I'm a Great Power, bestride the world, meddling in the affairs of lesser nations and indulging in my vast wealth, is that not possible only because I once put an unnatural thumb on the scales of fate?
On the other hand . . . I had started a war to get revenge on the Duke of Anjou, whose family had tormented mine with an unprovoked war every single generation since the very start of the game (and in one generation, they attacked me twice). I knew I had the numbers to win the war. I'd calculated it very precisely. . .
And then I made a strategic blunder. I laid siege to a castle when I should have met the enemy in the field, and this allowed the Duke's allies to consolidate their forces right around the time my mercenaries abandoned my cause for lack of pay. It was obvious, as soon as it happened, what went wrong. And that would have been the end of House Strawberry.
The Duke would have imprisoned me and revoked my title on account of being a traitor, I'd have survived briefly as the Gelre Strawberrys, and then the pagans would have eaten me alive. A terrible, ignominious end where the villain triumphed and my project ended in humiliation.
I couldn't go out like that. Crusader Kings II is just a game, but it was also a powerful enough experience that by the time I got to my showdown with the Duke of Anjou, I loathed the man, and his entire family. Living under the axe for so long (about 15 hours) had set my nerves on edge. I felt like I needed the catharsis of his ultimate demise.
And I was okay with that at first. I played the game for another 5 hours in this timeline where Strawberry survived (the 20 hours above does not count the time I spent in Europa Univeralis IV's or Victoria II's tutorials, it's pure Crusader Kings II). But as I write down my justifications for the act, I realize that while it's not technically cheating, it does feel like cheating, and my "justification" feels more like an excuse.
So, do I benefit from the fruits of my unholy legerdemain or do I act like an adult (for certain definitions of "adult" that include "taking video games way too seriously") and admit that my attempt at an "ironman" playthrough failed?
I think I'll try a third way. I will go back to the latest save I have before my save-scumming (which is about 5 game years before "the incident") and deliberately make the same error as my original game. If, by the grace of the RNG, I survive, I will continue on with my current timeline (because it is about 25 years advanced and in a game that has taken me 20 hours to advance 150 years, with more than 400 left to go, I am not wasting any more time than I have to). If I don't survive, but resume play as the Count of Gelre, then I will continue on in that timeline. If I'm wiped out, so be it.
That was the game I intended to play when I set out on this project, and that is how I intend to finish it.