|At the start of the Grand Campaign – 14 October 1399|
|Government type||Merchant Republic|
|Number of provinces||15|
|Center of Trade||Novgorod|
HTTT provides several additional challenges for Novgorod. Muscowy, your primary rival for Orthodox Russian provinces, gets much better missions than Novgorod (attacking, subjugating or getting cores on minor neighbors Ryazan, Yaroslavl, and Tver). Plus, they can enact the Liberum veto decision which gives them lots of free troops, and of course, Muscowy has amazing commanders from the House of Rurikovich.
Novgorod's position is stronger than in later years, with more land, including the wealthy province Beloozero which goes to Muscowy later on. Consequently, your wars against Muscowy are easier if you start in 1399. However, there is one power that is stronger in this era, namely the Golden Horde.
Instead of facing off against Kazan on your eastern frontier, you will face the Golden Horde. In this early era, they control lands that Kazan won't, like Crimea, Sibir, later era Golden Horde lands and other territories. War with Kazan was always tough, but the Golden Horde is tougher, and they will always be expanding. To fight the horde, you will need to fight smarter and harder than you will against any of your other rivals, including Muscowy and Lithuania. They will have few penalties for declaring war on you, and their armies will be huge. Initially though, they will have few borders with you until you have acquired the Muscowy lands, so you have time to prepare against them.
In the long term, Novgorod has some key advantages in being the quickest Russian power to Westernize. First, due to its status as a Merchant Republic, it gets good administrative rulers. No need to wait decades until one appears. Second, Novgorod needs fewer slider moves to get to -2 Centralization and -3 Innovative required for Westernization (and while the Liberum Veto provides extra troops, it also entails a -2 Centralization move).
You should have two priorities right off the bat with Novgorod: trade and expansion of your army. Since you are a Merchant Republic, you won't get the forcelimits bonuses of Feudal Monarchy, however, I urge you to stick with Merchant Republic. It will give you much needed bonuses to trade which is your biggest advantage in playing Novgorod over Muscowy.
Novgorod should also choose its first major victim carefully. The best choices are either Muscowy or the Golden Horde. The Golden Horde has many troops and can swamp you. However, if you attack them during a Tribal Succession Crisis, they are crippled. They will likely lose half their lands and troops to pretender rebels, making them easy prey for a focused Novgorod ruler. The low infamy gained from a Holy War means you can easily get 8-10 provinces that are reasonably valuable.
You can alternatively attack Muscowy. They have will typically have more troops than you. They will aggressively deal with the Russian minors as they typically get missions in HTTT to attack and either annex or vassalize them which means that they will get bigger, faster. The Russian minors are usually not much help. Their armies are quite small and easily overwhelmed before Novgorod forces can march to their aid should you guarantee or be allied with them. So the war with Muscowy will typically be a one-on-one affair. Your disadvantages include lower manpower, smaller armies (owing to the Feudal Monarchy bonus and the Liberum Veto decision that Muscowy gets), and poorer generals (owing to the Muscowy king). Starting a war with Muscowy can be timed by allying with or guaranteeing Russian minors; this does ensure that the war is on Muscowy's timing, though. It is better to time your attack for maximum advantage.
The plain fact is that Novgorod is a middling power set next to two stronger powers of Muscowy and the Golden Horde. The best approach is to attack one or the other after a long war (ideally, with each other). Even if it means a stability hit of -5 due to a truce, attacking a weakened power can be the best way to ensure victory.
One final consideration is infamy. If Novgorod gobbles up its Christian neighbors (even excommunicated ones) it gets a full load of 4 infamy per province. This will hurt your trade expansion. This might be worth it in the case of provinces needed to form Russia (since this includes Muscowy's capital, you pretty much have to swallow Muscowy entirely). But it is a very strong argument for going East first. The Golden Horde, Sibir, Kazakh, Nogai, Qara Koyunlu all will let you get the Holy War CB. This nets you only 1 infamy per province and they have slower technological advancement to boot.
Novgorod needs to fight dirty to have a decent chance of beating its larger rivals.
As mentioned, the best early war is one with an enfeebled Muscowy or Golden Horde. Your other potential enemies include the Teutonic Order, Sweden, the Golden Horde, and Poland/Lithuania. Sweden and Poland/Lithuania are not very good targets. Sweden starts in a Personal Union with Denmark so the Danes will also be fighting alongside. Furthermore, the provinces in Finland are relatively poor and even if it seems easy to take a province or two from Sweden, they will resent it and be ready to attack every few years. Poland and Lithuania are in a PU. It is much easier to wait until Lithuania disintegrates, which it often does or at least gets out of the personal union with Poland. Both "subject nations" are stronger than you and will fight allied with their overlord. Better to fight a smaller power.
The Teutonic Order is a decent target, depending on their allies (you do not want to fight Bohemia) or Poland, if they ally with the Teutonic Order). Generally, the upside is greater by attacking either Golden Horde or Muscowy, but they are harder fights absent extenuating circumstances like high war exhaustion or a succession crisis.
Another decent option is to ally with Muscowy and make sure that they do the bulk of the fighting against the Horde. This will ensure they will not stab you in the back while they run up their war exhaustion. You can walk away from a fight like this by enlarging your domains while hopefully limiting the gains of Muscowy. Remember that any province Muscowy takes must be retaken, most likely with a 4 infamy hit.
Novgorod's rivals after Muscowy include Lithuania and the Golden Horde (Kazan on later starts). Both nations are well suited to war and will likely field armies larger than yours with better Generals. They are to be feared but they can be defeated.
Novgorod's advantage in war is not superior troops. Your manpower policy slider will likely be far over towards Quantity anyway, and that's its own advantage, but your troops will not fight as effectively as those of other nations without other bonuses. The Military Drill National Idea can help you win the fights when it counts, and even though it won't help your troops fight any better, it's still a big advantage. Technology will also help, but your discipline penalty will still hurt.
Novgorod's main advantage masquerades as a weakness: lower supply limits and higher attrition. Your lands are more sparsely populated than those of many of your rivals, and large armies will be subjected to horrible attrition, especially in the winter. This has been Russia's advantage since before there was a Russia (like, er, now), so use it. Lure enemy forces onto your lands (this will not be hard) and watch them lose half their army. With large manpower reserves, you should be able to fight a war of attrition against any larger rival, eventually wearing them down until you can focus your forces against their remaining stacks and eliminate them.
Novgorod should not fight with one large stack, but should instead bring multiple stacks together to fight large one-stack armies. All but one army should be lower than 10 in strength, to ensure you do not suffer the same attrition penalties as your rivals in your own lands. Once you have worn down an opponent, move into their lands and take territory. Refuse peace until you have something to show for it, unless you're at war with more than one nation (always a bad thing, twice so when you're a smaller nation like Novgorod).
Beware of war on two fronts, but always be prepared to exploit a larger rival's wars against other powers. Their misfortune is your gain. Just be sure to lure any armies that may be sent your way toward your fortresses instead of your armies, and let attrition do most of the work for you. The smaller Rus states can help with this. Ask for Military Access with them, and if an army is in danger of being annihilated, retreat them into the small state. Your opponent won't be able to pursue.
Sweden is also a threat, but a manageable one. That border is rife with low supply provinces, so you should be able to hold them off, though this will be harder if you have any other wars! If you're feeling ambitious, you might even take Finland from them, though it's arguable that this is more trouble than it's worth. If you do fight Sweden over Finland, make sure that you force them to revoke cores as a result of defeating them in a war. The last thing you need when you embark on adventures elsewhere is an embittered Sweden wanting back some rugged bit of Finland. They will always be there wanting Savolax back.
Above all else, remember that the Golden Horde is your biggest threat. Avoid war with them unless they are in a succession crisis. Every war against them will cost you, and your other rivals may exploit this weakness. It may be worth it if they take one of the smaller Rus states or if they beat up on Muscowy. War is winnable against the Golden Horde, but only if you fight smarter than them or if you fight them when they are weak (after a war or during a succession crisis). Let them suffer attrition, break sieges at the last minute, and take down one enemy stack at a time. Their manpower reserves will always be larger than yours, so exploit any small gains you can get. Pound them hard when they are down.
The Holy War CB in HTTT is very powerful against the Golden Horde. Seizing 5 provinces from Muscowy will net you 20 infamy but only 5 from the GH. When you fight the Horde, whip them soundly. Kicking them when they are down is the best path to power. Beating the Golden Horde will also give you the income and manpower to overcome the manpower advantages of Muscowy.
Lithuania is a special case. Any peace deal is not made with the junior partner of the Personal Union but with Poland, the senior partner. So if you have a core on a Lithuanian province, you will get the full 4 infamy for taking it from Poland. Lithuania will be a strong power until the Lithuanian state implodes. Often Ukraine and Polotsk will be formed from rebellious bits of Lithuania. Since Poland and Lithuania are outside of the HRE, they are often attacked by a number of powers all at once: Bohemia (especially if Bohemia is also the emperor), Brandenburg, Teutonic Order, Hungary, Muscowy, Golden Horde and the Ottomans. If one of these "dogpile on Poland/Lithuania" events occur, Novgorod would be well served to have troops ready to siege the best bits of Lithuania (especially their Orthodox provinces and this includes Kiev and Chernigov, which are part of what is needed to form Russia).
Workshops also boost your national forcelimits significantly, so take advantage of those when you get them.