Crusader Kings 3 can be very intimidating to players who have never played a grand strategy game before. In this guide for beginners I am going to talk about some core game concepts, as well as your goals and some general tips & tricks everyone should know about. The most important thing that I can tell you right now is to keep playing the game, keep learning about it and eventually it will all make more sense.
When I first started playing CK3, I was completely overwhelmed but I stuck with it and stubbornly learned about it and nowadays it’s very easy to get into a campaign and have some fun, whether for 20 minutes or 3 hours. The more you learn, the faster you’ll be able to learn more.
So that’s the most important thing. Don’t quit. 🙂
How to Play Crusader Kings 3
When you first look @ the map in Crusader Kings 3, you see all these lands and kingdoms, empires etc. The first instinct of many players is to say I have to conquer all of this and make it my own. While it’s certainly possible to do so even before the campaign officially ends, this is not what the game is all about.
CK3 is all about characters, rulers, your family and your dynasty. It’s actually an RPG game as well.
This means that your goal in a campaign, in addition to conquering lands and expanding your realm, is to expand your influence, grow your dynasty and leave a mark on the known world.
Through strategic marriages, religion and politics etc.
You don’t have to worry about when the game ends because it’s irrelevant. There’s no ultimate goal that you have to reach to win a campaign. Whatever happens, happens. Just like real life.
So my tip here for you is to never worry about whether you will win or lose. Whether you’ve just lost some war and have to keep reloading that last save or your ruler got assassinated at the most unfortunate time, just go with the flow and enjoy the chaos of it all.
Now that that’s out of the way and you know what this game is all about, let’s move onto some practical stuff. Oh and by the way, you might want to fine-tune your settings a bit, these are all individual of course. But there are some nice things you can tweak such as tooltip lock-modes and the speed at which they show up, lock on etc. I show my settings in the video above.
Also, for your first playthrough, it might be a good idea to keep reloading your last save every time you seriously mess things up (I know I did many times) and then kind of learn by having a second chance at it, to see if you can do something differently.
This is a nice way of improving your understanding of the game, trying out different things in wars, understanding who to attack, who not to attack and why etc. But once you know how to play the game, get rid of this crutch and own up any mistakes you make. 🙂
Titles & Title Hierarchies
When you look at the different map modes in CK3, such as kingdom or empire map modes, those kingdoms and empires might or might not actually exist at that time in the world (they can be created or not created).
Furthermore, if they do exist, the borders might not be identical to those you see in these kingdom or empire map modes. When you’re looking at these different map modes, you’re simply seeing de jure lands and borders of those empires or kingdoms if they were to exist under perfect circumstances.
De jure simply means by law or rightfully a part of. Once you switch to the realm mode, you can see the actual situation and the different realms or rulers and their highest ranking titles on the map.
For example, if you see kingdom of England in realm mode, that kingdom might be much larger than the one you see on the kingdom map mode. But perhaps not large enough for that ruler to create the empire of Britannia and increase the rank.
The only time I switch to these map modes is when I’m inspecting certain large areas of land and I’m trying to see who holds what inside a certain title and whether that title is even created or not.
This is useful to know because you can often have two dukes holding 50% of land in a kingdom title, or maybe one duke holding 2/3rds etc.
When you want to conquer a big piece of land and maybe go on a holy war, if you declare a holy war on the ruler that holds a minority of duchies and counties inside a kingdom, you won’t be even close to creating (or usurping) that title once you’re successful.
While if you declared a holy war on the other ruler who holds 2/3rds, now you might be very close to conquering what little more land you need to actually create that kingdom title. Understanding these different map modes is very easy but very important.
Similarly, once you have an empire of your own, your empire (realm) could stretch across half of the world but it would still have the name of the highest ranking title you own (example: Empire of Russia encompassing the whole Europe).
Titles are certificates of lands and the highest ranking title you hold is the rank that you officially go by. If you have a kingdom ranking title, you will be a king even though you can own multiple duchies and counties inside that kingdom.
All pieces of land (even individual castles, cities and temples) have a title associated with them. Depending on your culture, these might be called differently.
For example, a Count inside the Anglo-Saxon culture might be called an Earl. Emperor in the east might be called a Sultan. Duke in the Kingdom of England might be called a Petty King etc.
Don’t let these different names confuse you. You can easily see under that title’s information tab which rank it belongs to. The game will always tell you if it’s a county, duchy, kingdom or empire level title.
Without listing all the possible titles in the game that you can hold (for example if you’re the head of faith), typically you will encounter the following in order of rank power:
Baronies (Baron) > Counties (Count) > Duchies (Duke) > Kingdoms (King) > Empires (Emperor).
Count is the lowest ranking title you can start off with. This might change in the future upcoming DLCs. Barons are people in charge of individual castles inside a county and they are your vassals (they pay you taxes and levies each month). All vassals do. More on vassals below.
Your highest ranking title determines who can be a vassal of yours.
If you’re a king, you can’t have other kings or emperors become vassals of yours, even if you are much stronger militarily. This is why it’s important to increase your primary title’s rank so that you can subjugate more and more rulers under your realm and make them your vassals.
To increase your primary title’s rank, you need to conquer (or inherit) more lands in order to create higher ranking titles. Or usurp them from another ruler if they’re already created.
There are a few good reasons for you to try and own all counties inside of a duchy. Which brings us to our next topic, succession and heirs. 🙂
When you die, and you inevitably will, your children will be squabbling for their inheritance and lands that you own. There are quite a few different ways of dealing with this, so I’ll try and explain as simple as possible.
This will all depend on your current setup in terms of your lands, titles, laws in those lands and even religious doctrines of your faith.
It’s generally a good idea to have multiple children because bad things happen to people in CK3, all the time. 🙂
Do not be surprised when one of your heirs is assassinated or captured in some war etc.
You always need a backup plan but a lot of players don’t want to have multiple children because it kind of messes up their succession, divides the realm and sets you back on the next ruler significantly. However, I think this is all part of the game and kind of mimics real life so just deal with it. Here are some ways.
The fastest and easiest way to remove someone from the line of succession is to spend renown currency and disinherit them. I’ll only use this is an absolute last resort when there’s nothing else I can do.
Changing succession laws and researching the required innovations will take a long time so I won’t go into all those different laws that you can have. Some of which can be very useful, especially when you can designate your preferred heir and tell everyone who you consider to be first in line even if they’re anywhere in the middle of it.
But when none of this is available and you have a bunch of children, your best bet is to stock up on prestige (more on that later) and institute voting laws or elections. Then you can simply vote for anyone eligible to inherit that title and they become the heir.
The trick here is to set up your lands in such a way that only you can vote.
Candidates are people who legitimately could rule those lands but if your ruler controls all counties inside of a duchy, then that duchy and all those counties can be left to someone only you can pick. That’s why controlling all counties in a duchy is very convenient and you can just keep leaving those lands (and duchy titles) to your preferred heir, every single time.
Another alternative, if you can’t add the voting laws for any reason, is to conquer more lands and simply hang, I mean land your children. 🙂
Meaning, you give them actual lands or their inheritance in advance but you pick what goes to whom.
The game here cares more about duchies than counties so if you have certain lands you want to give to a certain child, then you need to get more lands to give to other eligible children in advance. Or just disinherit someone to make it easier.
Typically you don’t have to worry about daughters, most religions won’t let them inherit lands anyway.
Also, you can’t give away lands that someone else stands to inherit, so the only way to influence this is to change the lands someone stands to inherit by conquering more of them. And keep in mind that if all sons have equal ranking titles once you die, then they all become independent so you might want to create that kingdom title and have your brothers become your vassals instead.
Having more duchies is great for managing succession and leaving your best lands to your heir, but title ranks are important too. Basically, you have to land your children and give them lands in advance until the succession tab in the game paints the picture you want to become reality when you die.
Sometimes you might want to just play as the oldest son even if you have a more skilled one further down the line, if it’s just not worth doing all this for a minor difference. But remember voting laws, those are your best friends early (and later) in the game.
It can be complicated but you’ll get the hang of it as you keep playing. 🙂
My usual setup is like this. I try to control 2 duchies and all counties inside them (make sure your domain limit allows you to hold them all).
Add voting laws and make sure those can always go to my preferred child (even if female).
Kingdom titles are typically not a big problem either to give to that child too, but empire titles can be problematic since many can vote inside those and many won’t vote for females (big opinion penalty). You can get hooks on them and force them to vote like you do for 5 years.
For an empire level title, just go for absolute crown authority and designate your heir. Then your primary title goes to that one and it’s a done deal, no voting needed.
So to recap, duchies and counties get voting laws, kingdom titles as well, but primary empire title goes with designated heir option via last level of crown authority.
Result? If all goes as planned, all lands left to the child I want to. Any child. 🙂
Then later change the succession laws to prevent the game from creating new titles (empires for example) for other children if enough land is controlled. You could get a brother that’s an emperor and he’s independent, but it’s not that big of a deal, you will have claims on that title as well and can just go to war and take it easily.
Then you can destroy it since there’s no point in having two empire titles and will just mess up your succession later again. But don’t forget to change that law to avoid those little inconveniences.
Claims & Wars
In Crusader Kings 3 you can’t just go to war with anyone for no reason at all. You need to have a Casus Belli which simply means cause for war. Fortunately there are many different types of Casus Belli that you can posses and I’ll talk about the most important ones.
Holy wars with hostile and evil faiths is one of my favorites for quick expansion. This means that as long as two rulers are of sufficiently different faiths to the point of those faiths considering each other either hostile or evil, you can declare a holy war by spending piety.
If you’ve paid attention to the map modes explanation above, you can quickly identify which rulers to go for, in addition to their military strength, alliances etc.
If your faith supports it, or if you’re playing a tribal government type, you can also use a Conquest Casus Belli. It’s possible to create a religion with this doctrine and switch between the two. Difference being, one requires piety, the other prestige.
You can alternate between using these two resources when going to wars. However, conquest cause of war is possible only with neighboring rulers so you might not always be able to use it.
Apart from custom Casus Belli such as those given by innovations and research (which we’ll cover below), there are also other ways to get some via lifestyle perks. Innovations typically give you options to conquer de jure lands such as counties & duchies that are rightfully part of your title(s) de jure structure.
But most of the time, you will be going to war by using claims that either you or other characters who are a part of your court (or vassals) have. These claims can be implicit, pressed & unpressed.
Characters will often visit your court and many of them might have claims that you can press to make them into a vassal of yours if successful in the war. Just be careful not to press someone’s claim if the war would result in that person becoming a ruler of the same rank as you. That’s pointless because they’ll become independent if you win the war for them.
Also, be careful with women that have claims because if that land is currently ruled by a male and that land does not support a woman being on the throne by default (having equal rights with men) then you won’t be able to go to war for that woman’s claims.
This is important because when you see a woman with even a pressed kingdom claim visiting your court, you might not be able to press it so always check that title’s current ruler. If it’s a male, don’t recruit her. You will spend a lot of gold recruiting her to your court and often they’ll be very old too.
If you’re a lady reading this, I’m really sorry but that’s just the way it was back then. 🙂
If however, a woman is on that throne, then you will be able to go to war for that land regardless of the land’s laws, and install your courtier with the claim. But you have to act fast before another man takes over.
The difference between an implicit, pressed and unpressed claim is the following. Implicit claims simply show a character’s future right to certain lands while the current ruler of those lands is still alive. It can be a good way of identifying marriage candidates for future expansion.
For example, you can marry your daughter to someone’s 2nd son matrilineally and just assassinate the 1st one in line. 🙂
Since the marriage was matrilineal, their children will be part of your dynasty and therefore when one of those kids inherits those lands in the future, it will be your dynasty controlling them from now on.
To get back to implicit claims. If I have eligible children as my heirs, they’ll get implicit claims on all lands I currently hold while I’m alive.
They can’t go to war with me for those lands, I’m their father and I’m still alive and they might not even have any lands of their own in the first place. But if I lose some land, their implicit claim to that land goes away too. Once my ruler is dead, those implicit claims convert to pressed.
Pressed claims are strong and can even result in factions appearing that want to install a specific character on the throne.
Unpressed claims are inherited by eligible children from their parents who had pressed claims.
Pressed claims simply convert to unpressed for eligible children of that person.
After that, if you don’t go to war for those unpressed claims, they disappear. If you want to save some claims, go to war even if it results in white peace and they will convert back to pressed on that character.
You can also fabricate unpressed claims for counties (and even duchies) with your bishop or realm priest. The likelihood of getting duchy claims depends on your bishop’s learning skill.
Whenever you want to greatly expand your realm, consider holy wars and kingdom level claims (if you’re already an emperor yourself). The larger you grow, the less county (and even duchy) claims will be worthwhile going to war for.
They’re still worth it of course, but it just becomes a bit insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Unless you’re ready to do some serious micromanagement. 🙂
If you really want to play hardcore, once you’re a larger realm with a huge military (and no longer a beginner player) start 5-10 wars and try to win them all at the same time.
I’ll usually do this when I want to conquer a bunch of land fast and it’s very chaotic. 🙂
Lifestyles, Character Traits & Perks
Picking the right lifestyle is all about maximizing your character’s potential. Taking advantage of your child’s childhood trait, giving children good guardians and making sure they all get the best possible education trait is very important.
Ideally this should be you for the most important ones (your heirs), if you have the necessary skills of course.
If you have a child that’s going into the martial lifestyle, provide a guardian that has high martial skill as well as learning as the secondary factor. But always try to educate your children yourself in order to determine their personality traits as they grow up.
In addition, introducing beneficial physical traits into your dynasty such as genius which gives 30% more lifestyle experience per month and +5 stats for all skills is huge.
When it comes to picking your lifestyle focuses, depending on your current situation, you might want to deviate a bit here and there.
Meaning, if you’ve built up a large kingdom and you’d like to construct a bunch of new buildings or holdings in it, it might be worth going into the stewardship lifestyle even if your ruler has no predispositions to it.
Maximize the architect skill tree and make it much easier (faster and cheaper) to construct (or upgrade) buildings & holdings.
Getting more perks faster is essential.
To give you a bit of an idea what each lifestyle is all about, let’s start with diplomacy.
Diplomacy is all about making people like you and improving overall diplomatic relations. All lifestyles have some perks and bonuses that kind of overlap a bit and do similar things, but if you’re ever unsure about which one to go into, diplomacy is never wrong.
Martial is about commanding armies and getting military buffs. It’s arguably very useful early on in the game but even late game it can be helpful when it comes to raising control in your counties and preventing rebellions etc.
Stewardship is about gold and economy. Arguably the most useful lifestyle when your realm is large (you will exponentially generate more wealth). However, even early on it really helps to secure those extra counties and expand your domain limit.
Collecting taxes, constructing and upgrading buildings and holdings is much easier once you’ve maxed out stewardship.
You can also extort your subjects and demand payments for hooks that would otherwise expire with no benefit at all.
Intrigue is about seducing, scheming and assassination.
Fabricating hooks, increasing fertility (other lifestyles do this also) and having a bunch of lovers and children is super easy with intrigue. It’s probably the most fun lifestyle to play if you want to kidnap other rulers, torture or simply murder from behind the scenes.
Learning is about increasing development growth, improving your health, generating piety and reforming or creating new religions. It also helps a lot with researching innovations faster.
If you want to create a new religion, learning lifestyle is a must. Another interesting thing is that your rulers will (on average, unless assassinated) by far outlive all other rulers that are of similar age but not spec’d into learning. 🙂
You can change your lifestyle focus once every 5 years. This makes it possible to mix and match perks from different lifestyles.
I tend to go with the focus that gives me bonuses which I happen to need the most. If I’m into learning and I want more piety to declare more holy wars, theology focus is a no-brainer.
Similarly, if you’re into diplomacy and you need more prestige, majesty focus all the way.
Economy, Currencies & Wealth
Having a great economic situation is probably the most important thing you do have control over, for the most part.
If you’re playing a feudal government type, gold is king. When you’re making more gold, you can recruit better men-at-arms, pay for them when they’re raised (or unraised), hire mercenaries, ransom your heir if he gets captured etc. Levies also cost a lot of gold when raised (none while unraised).
The best way to make more gold early on is to go into the stewardship lifestyle and increase your overall domain limit. Get a spouse with high stewardship and put her on manage domain task in your council. Hire a competent steward and have him collect more taxes.
You won’t benefit too much off of that early on because it’s based on a percentage of your total income (it does add up though), but if you have a really good steward, then every now and then you will also get extra taxes as a positive side-benefit from his high skill.
Switch between different stewardship focuses depending on whether you need a higher domain limit or more gold upfront.
Once you’ve raised your domain limit, you need to conquer smaller rulers and add their counties to your own. When you hold counties yourself, you get full benefit from county capital castles.
If there’s no counties you can conquer right now, see if there’s secondary castles in any counties you control and revoke those titles for yourself (no tyranny when revoking from barons) to max out your domain limit as much as possible.
It’s better to control more counties in order to create duchies and increase your rank, but when there’s no opportunities, getting those secondary castles under your control is great.
When you organize your wedding, collect the gold and if you’re into stewardship, get the perks that let you extort your subjects, as well as demand payment for hooks you’d otherwise completely neglect (if those characters have gold).
Maintain a highly positive relationship with your realm priest to maximize taxes & levies, and then also get all additional stewardship perks that will increase your overall income. Go easy on recruiting met-at-arms, they can be a big drain on your gold early on.
Also avoid constructing a lot of buildings early on, even though you might have the perks that make it easier. Typically you should focus on building up your castles later on when there’s sizeable income already at your disposal (gold is inherited by your next ruler once you die).
Another good tip to get an extra infusion of gold (and potentially get rid of a bad bishop), at the cost of your devotion level and some negative opinions, is to imprison your bishop once he has a couple of thousand gold stored up (if you have a good chance of succeeding) and then banish him from the realm, effectively seizing the assets (gold).
Don’t make a habit of doing this all the time, you can often benefit a lot from your bishop and temples in your land, but every now and then check the situation and judge for yourself if it’s worth it.
Ransoming prisoners from war is also a nice little way to offset army maintenance costs. In addition to having a good martial on your council. Just make sure never to ransom someone who actually contributes to the war score (someone’s heir for example) unless you can siege and take more castles and loot associated with them. It really depends on the circumstances of that war.
If you have access to raiding, go on raids before declaring a war on someone. You can weaken them by lowering their county control and also get a nice amount of gold at the same time.
There’s many other events and decisions that you can take to help you improve your gold situation, but these are some of the basics that you should know.
To make more prestige, you need to have a good chancellor to put him on the 1st task where he improves foreign opinion and nets you prestige.
Increase your primary title’s rank, try to hold two duchies and you should be good to go. If you have a lot of gold, you can also organize hunts and feasts and this will all help improve people’s opinions of you as well as provide another source of prestige.
Prestige is important if you want to manage your succession easier (voting laws), as well as declare wars and call allies (offensively).
Piety is the next resource that can be just as important as prestige. If your religion has one, you can spend piety to ask your head of faith for gold every few years. You also use piety to declare holy wars, hire and create your own holy order etc.
Getting more piety is fairly easy if you don’t have any negative traits that will reduce it. Make sure to go on a pilgrimage at least once in your lifetime (preferably early on).
Renown is the most difficult currency to get. The way to get more renown, in addition to a perk that you can get via the diplomacy lifestyle (commission an epic decision), is to have a lot of children and increase the number of living members in your dynasty.
Then also increase the rank of your primary title and try to marry your daughters to other rulers. You can do this with sons too but typically there’s many more rulers in the world that need a wife than vice-versa.
If you conquer some lands and you want to give them to a dynasty member and make them independent, that will help a lot too. But generally speaking, having a lot of dynasty members and marrying the female ones to rulers is where you’ll be making most of it.
All of these currencies (gold being the exception) will also increase your level of fame (prestige), level of devotion (piety) and level of splendor (renown) which then gives you even more bonuses to secular & religions opinion, more prestige for children born in your dynasty, higher long rule opinion modifier etc.
When you learn how to manage your economy, the game truly opens up. 🙂
Innovations Research & Progression
Innovations are basically what you would call technologies in other strategy games. There’s a few important thing to remember here. Sometimes you might not be the cultural head and therefore not in charge of selecting which one to prioritize (or be fascinated with).
This is not necessarily a bad thing early on because the progress of research depends on the cultural head’s learning skill.
If your character has a poor learning skill, you’re better off leaving someone else in this position temporarily.
There are also innovations that are exposed to other cultures and as a result have a big buff to their chance of being discovered faster (all innovations have a chance of progressing each month).
You won’t have much control over this but if you really want to get a certain innovation faster, then click on it (if you’re the cultural head) and you will become fascinated by it.
If you stack that up with the cultural fascination, and you go into the learning lifestyle to max out your learning skill, you will get that specific innovation super fast.
You can also unlock the scientific perk which gives cultural fascination another 35% extra chance of making progress every month. This is a must, needles to say. 🙂
Get a spouse with high learning and put him/her on the patronage task (last one) in your council. Do everything you can throughout your life to increase your learning and you will be researching innovations much faster.
Innovations are very useful when it comes to raising your domain limit, instituting different laws and crown authority so try to prioritize something that will really benefit you over the long run.
Once 50% of them are researched and a new era is reached, you can move on to being fascinated by the newer ones.
A lot of them repeat and belong to the same categories. Meaning that the new ones simply provide extra bonuses, but a lot of them are unique and strong on their own. I can’t give you much advice here, but I typically go for things such as higher domain limit and realm laws.
Avoid minor bonuses like naval and/or movement speed, those won’t mean that much in the grand scheme of things.
Vassals are smaller rulers subjugated by you that provide gold & levies each month in exchange for protection. This means that when an outsider ruler (someone not a part of your realm) wants to declare a war on one of them, they have to go through you (declare war on you) in order to take that vassal’s land.
This is also true when you declare war on someone who is someone else’s vassal, so keep that in mind.
You can have many vassals depending on your primary title’s rank but you can never have other rulers that rival your rank as your vassal. Kings cannot have other kings or emperors as vassals, only dukes, counts and barons.
Powerful vassals are simply rulers that contribute the most gold and levies compared to other vassals you have.
These rulers expect a position on your council and will have a large negative opinion penalty for not being there. The reason why they want to be on your council is because the position provides them with significant bonuses while there.
Similarly, if you have a liege, you always want to re-negotiate your feudal contract and try to get the option that guarantees a council position, which you can then use to demand you be put on the council (and get those nice bonuses for yourself).
Be careful when modifying feudal contracts and giving away more power to vassals. If a vassal grows in power, he or she may even challenge you directly for the throne.
Typically vassals are easy to manage when your crown authority is low. Once you increase your crown authority and you take away some privileges, as well as increase the taxes and levies they must provide, they will start getting higher negative opinion penalties.
In addition to the council position not being granted, this situation results in them really disliking you and even starting factions against you.
To prevent vassals from starting factions, you generally want to maintain a higher positive opinion or alternatively make them your friend if you’re into diplomacy lifestyle.
Child vassals can never join factions. You also want to make sure when giving away land and making someone a vassal, that it’s a person that already likes you and matches that county’s culture and religion to avoid populist factions rising due to that new ruler not being seen as someone who belongs there.
Early in the game I tend to avoid having a lot of vassals and try to focus on increasing my personal domain. But as you grow in power and become a king or even an emperor, you will have a lot of vassals and you’ll have to start paying attention to them, their feudal contracts (more on that in another guide) etc.
What I like to do at this point is try to give away vassals to other larger vassals (the game will prompt you when you can do this) and let other people deal with some of those problems. For example, as an emperor, it’s much easier for me to deal with 10 kings as my vassals than 40 dukes and counts.
Yes, you might lose some gold and levies but you’ll also lose some of those problems with factions and people being upset at you (they can always plot to kill you behind the scenes).
When making family members into vassals by granting them lands you conquer, you can also negotiate alliances with them (if they’re either a house or dynasty member). This is useful because by default, vassals aren’t required to come aid you in your wars, they already fulfil their obligations by honoring the feudal contract. This is quite accurate historically. And they can’t join factions if they’re your allies.
If you have problems managing vassals, consider swaying them, sending them gifts, making them your friends and even getting rid of them by revoking their titles and giving those lands to someone else who likes you more. Any chance you can.
It’s a delicate game and while there’s many more things I could be talking about with regards to vassals, here’s one little tip to remember.
When your current ruler dies and you start playing as a new one, this is when a lot of people might start plotting against you, or try to install someone else on the throne via a faction. One of the ways of helping yourself in this situation is to always keep your prison populated from previous wars with people belonging to religions that your own considers hostile and evil. Make sure they’re in house arrest so they don’t die in the dungeons.
Once you take over, before you even un-pause the game, simply execute all of them (if your ruler doesn’t gain stress from doing so) and max out your dread.
This will make a lot of people intimidated and even terrified of you. They can still plot behind the scenes, but they will never directly oppose you or join factions against you etc.
This might not always be possible for you to do, but it really helps if everyone fears you. 🙂