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Mount & Blade: Warband Power Start Guide
This guide has been written to provide Mount & Blade: Warband players with an alternative to the "traditional" method of beginning a new campaign. I define traditional as following the tutorial quest with your starting city's merchant and/or immediately recruiting as many troops as affordable and doing quests for lords of your preferred faction. Although this is a fine way to learn the mechanics of the game, I feel it is rather lacking in its ability to make you powerful quickly.
I have worked out a system that, although unorthodox, is most likely already known and used by some veteran players of the game. I've decided to flesh out and publish it for any newcomers or intermediate players looking for a different way to go about playing the campaign.
In brief summary, the Power Start involves recruiting no troops and focusing on levelling up your hero by fighting bandits. The secondary goal is to acquire a healthy sum of denars to be invested in your ideal loadout of weapons, armour and steed. Once you have reached a comfortable level and are satisifed with your inventory, the regular game commences with you enjoying a considerable advantage.
I realize this strategy may not appeal to everyone since it appears to diminish the challenge of a new game. I feel, however, that it replaces the challenge of struggling to raise a small army while poor and weak with that of single-handedly defeating two dozen men in hand-to-hand combat.
And now, the details!
I'm not going to go into great depth about character creation. Essentially, you can make pretty much any build you want even after character creation is complete. Don't worry too much about making mistakes, since you can alter your hero without crippling them too severely. However, since this guide deals with a fair amount of solo play (as in, no army) there are a few considerations you may wish to make:
Attributes: You're going to start the game by getting into fights, and lots of them. I recommend placing all four starting points into strength for the additional HP and combat abilities. You may wish to alter this and pour them into agility instead if you are planning to be a ranged fighter, but a high starting strength is still a good idea. I say this because arrows are a finite resource, and you will inevitably end up fighting hand-to-hand at some point unless you're a crack shot. I am ignoring intelligence and charisma because party-based skills are useless when your party consists of one angry hero riding around picking fights with dozens of men at a time.
Skills: Since you'll be doing a lot of fighting, you may wish to maximize Iron Skin for the added HP. This could mean the difference between life and death when a Sea Raider plants the eigth consecutive axe into your ribcage. Place the remaining points into your preferred combat skills.
Weapon Proficiency: Place all points into your favourite weapon.
Slaughter the poor fool who seeks to end your life in the alley and then graciously ignore the merchant's business proposition. It's unlikely you can afford anything, so don't worry about shopping. You now have two options at your disposal. The first is to amass a small fortune and buy the best equipment you can afford. The second is to simply dive right into the fighting and work on your levels. Why do that, however, when you can take a brief detour and come back fully loaded?
The strategy for getting rich quick makes you a bit of a jerk, but the repercussions are negligible. What you want to do is ride to each of the nations you aren't planning to join, locate the King, and ask him for work. If you're lucky, he'll offer the tax collection quest. Accept, and go collect the taxes from his town. Once done, fart in the King's general direction and ride off to the next kingdom a richer hero. The chances are slim you'll get all five tax quests, but with a little luck and about half an hour of your time you will come away with anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000+ denars in your purse. There is no time limit on the tax quest, and if you fail to pay back the King there are no consequences. Telling him you can't do the quest after all will result in a slight relationship decrease that can easily be made up for later on (and is irrelevant if you plan to be at war with his faction). You can even do this to the King you plan to serve if you're truly desperate, but that would make you a scoundrel.
Ride back home and visit towns spending like mad on sturdy armour, strong weapons and a faster horse (if you can ride one). Once you are sufficiently transformed into an engine of destruction it is time to wreak havoc on the surrounding countryside. Ride around until you find bands of looters and warm up by soliciting demonstrations of the proper application of medieval weaponry. As you level up, continue to focus on strength/agility and combat skills. If you missed Iron Skin during character creation, now is the time to bring it up to 3 or 4. The extra 6-8 HP will be a lifesaver (literally). Power strike/shot/throw and shield are worthy of bringing up depending on how you fight. Nothing else is really neccessary, but you may wish to consider a point or two in spotting to help locate victims and a few points in trade to increase your profits when selling bandit loot.
Now that you have a few levels under your belt, it's time to start hunting bigger game. Which bandits you target is largely a matter of preference, but I suggest avoiding Steppe and Desert bandits since they tend to ride horses and are a real pain to deal with alone. Mountain bandits in the Rhodok Kingdom aren't too tough and are my typical victims until around level 8. Their hideout is usually up in the mountains and you'll be chased around constantly by roving bands. Start out small (4-6 bandits) and work your way up until you can comfortably best a dozen or more.
At this point you'll probably be tired of mountain bandits, so head down to Swadia by Uxkhal and locate the forest bandit hideout. Forest bandits are lightly-armoured, but wield bows. Keep your shield up and charge them. Once in the thick of things they won't pose much of a threat, and if you wear heavy armour half of their attacks won't even damage you.
You should start considering placing points into other attributes and skills. You'll want to bring up leadership and possibly persuasion in preparation for gathering an army and serving as a vassal. Most other skills can be handled by companions (which you may wish to hire one or two of at this point to share in your levelling). Some to consider are training, looting and any of the medical skills.
Once you reach level 10-11 it's time to change up again and ride out to the Vaegir lands by the coast (near where they border with the Nords). Take your pick of Taiga Bandits and Sea Raiders and go nuts. Sea Raiders are tough and heavily-armoured, but they usually carry the best loot.
The Rest of the Game:
By the time you hit level 15-16 you should be a god-like figure on the battlefield, capable of effortlessly defeating twenty strong men in personal combat. (You'll also be thoroughly bored unless you are extremely patient)! It's now time to start the rest of the game. Ride back to your faction of choice and proceed as you will. Keep in mind that, by now, you should be fairly wealthy and have 200-400+ reknown: more than enough to become a Vassal without doing a single quest.
Tips for Solo Fighting:
Anyone who has played Mount & Blade: Warband for a while has likely become a skilled fighter with at least one or two forms of weaponry out of sheer necessity. Anyone who plays online is likely much better than I am, and will need no advice for fighting the AI (which is widely held as far inferior to even novice human opponents). New players, or anyone used to commanding from the rear may need to make some adjustments to their playing style to stay alive.
The ideal solo battle involves your hero delivering as much damage as possible while remaining out of reach of the enemy. If you are specializing in ranged combat you may be able to eliminate or cripple the enemy before they ever close with you, allowing for an easy mop-up with a melee weapon. Even if you don't enjoy ranged weapons you should still bring along a light crossbow or bag of throwing axes (personal choice, since what's cooler than having half a dozen axes strapped to your body?) at first to soften up the enemy before your charge. Once you are ready to engage up-close it is best to ride at the group of enemies at a diagonal (don't charge into the center unless you're really confident). Try to use a long weapon (my weapon of choice is a Great Long Axe) and slash away as you ride past. Rince and repeat until either everyone is dead or there are few enough foes to allow you to wade in and finish the job. When facing archers keep your shield up until the last possible second.
One annoyance is keeping your horse alive. Against ranged opponents you may find your horse being killed from under you as arrows and javelins turn it into a pincushion. If you can afford to buy and have the skill to ride a heavily-armoured horse this will become less of an issue. If you're a skilled horse archer it likely won't matter since you won't ever be in the same place as their arrows and bolts.
If you prefer to fight on foot rather than horseback you will have a tough time of things. Make sure you have the heaviest armour possible along with a powerful two-handed weapon and a decent weapon proficiency in it. I have the best luck running backwards while taking side swipes at the nearest enemy. If you have a moment to breathe try an over-hand chop at your opponent's head. Even if wearing a helmet they'll likely pay the ultimate price for challenging you.
Don't worry too much if you get overwhelmed and wind up a prisoner of your intended victims. Since you have no troops morale is not much of an issue. You'll just lose some denars and perhaps an inventory item or two (hopefully not your expensive equipment) and wind up escaping after a couple of days at full health. Feel free to attack your captors and teach them a lesson. You should be able to re-claim any lost items of value this way (not confirmed if this is 100% of the time).
The benefit of following this strategy is that you will be very strong, well-equipped and have more than a few denars to rub together by the time you become a Vassal. You can immediately begin building an army and not have to worry about being accidentally KO'd while helping them fight. You can get two dozen recruits and take on two dozen bandits with little worry about being overwhelmed if things go poorly. For example, in a recent game as a Viking-style warrior I hired a companion (Artimmener) and 13 Nord recruits then went to work on Sea Raiders. I didn't lose a single recruit (although Artimmener got knocked out in about 10 seconds), and all 13 were ready to level up to Nord Footmen after the battle. I continued this trend until I had 13 Nord Veterans with several ready to become Huscarls. (As an aside, I chose not to promote them to Huscarls as I had not yet joined a faction and was not of noble birth. I figured that, for role-playing purposes, Huscarls would likely not serve with some common-born warrior. I promoted them once I gained a fief and a banner).
Something else to consider after levelling up is to invest in some properties in the cities of your favoured faction. This added income will come in handy once you have 60+ warriors to feed and pay.
You'll want to find some companions, of course. I recommend Lezalit for his training skills and Artimmener for his architectural knowledge. They get along well and will not cause any problems in your party. Alayen makes a good knight and is a prime candidate to hold a fief if you become King. Any other companions are up to you, but I recommend training one of them in medical skills to keep your army alive and well. Remember to keep non-combat-oriented companions at the bottom of the list to lower the risk of them being knocked out in battle. Artimenner can't effectively oversee construction of a manor at your fief when he's lying in a tent with an axe in his face!