In need of a CK3 guide? Paradox's grand strategy game does a better job of teaching you the basics than its predecessors, but it features a fair few unclear things that you should know before you can lead your realm to glory.
But before you take up your cloak and sceptre, here are a handful of CK3 tips to give you the edge against your enemies. And your friends. And your own family. Basically don’t trust anyone—that’s a good rule of thumb if you want to keep your head. Anyway, for that and all the other pearls of wisdom to help you realise your royal ambitions, here's how to get started right in Crusader Kings 3.
Keep the big picture in mind
This isn’t so much a suggestion to make you better at the game so much as it is to help you enjoy it more. Crusader Kings 3 stretches across about six centuries, and you’ll see dozens of rulers born, die, and give way to a new generation if you play all the way through. In one lifetime, you may have a magnificent and wise warrior queen who unites all the disparate tribes of the region into a mighty nation and is much beloved. The next, her dull and uncouth eldest son might end up in a succession war with his more cunning younger brothers and see the once-great realm fall into chaos and division. In other words, it might be your first instinct to get frustrated and start over... but that’s just Crusader Kings.
As long as your dynasty doesn’t die out, and you don’t lose your last county, you can always rebuild. And with the addition of dynastic Renown, you’ll unlock perks for your whole dynasty over the years that you get to keep forever, no matter what your house’s current fortunes hold. Unlocking new legal innovations in later eras will also allow you to create more stability by, for instance, getting rid of that pesky partition succession and letting your main heir keep all your land when you die. You’re always accumulating progress in some way, so try enjoy the story even if the borders of your kingdom fracture or shrink.
Check on your vassals’ happiness regularly
Crusader Kings 3’s pop-ups tell you a lot, but not when your vassals are unhappy. You’ll usually only be informed about this when they’ve created a rebellious faction close to presenting you with certain demands: Invariably it's lower taxes, independence, or a different leader on your throne. And by then, it’s often too late to really do anything about it except fight a bloody civil war against the malcontents.
Regularly open your realm or faction screen to find out if any of your vassals are unhappy with you, and why. Hovering over the little red or green opinion number will present you with a useful list of their grievances.
Focus on one county, especially early on
Almost all realms begin with the Confederate Partition or Partition succession law. In layman's terms that means when you die your lands will be roughly divided between all your eligible children. Unless you play as a culture that has a different succession method, such as Celtic Tanistry, you’ll be stuck with this state of affairs until at least the 1200s.
The only lands your primary heir is guaranteed to keep (short of murdering all of their siblings, which is also a valid playstyle) are your primary Empire, Kingdom, Duchy, and County titles—one of each. So it doesn’t make sense to invest in anything else until you’re sure you’re going to be able to hang onto it across the generations. Instead, spend your money on buildings and founding new cities, castles, and temples in your capital county only until you have no room to do so any more. Then start improving the surrounding areas, if you want to.
Don’t stress too much about stress
CK3 guide (opens in new tab): Beginner tips to get you started
CK3 console commands (opens in new tab): All the cheats you need
CK3 Intrigue (opens in new tab): Become a master of the dark arts
CK3 religion (opens in new tab): Control your population through faith
CK3 war (opens in new tab): Vanquish your enemies
CK3 mods (opens in new tab): From tweaks to total conversions
Helpfully, Crusader Kings 3 slaps your character with Stress if you pick decisions that go against their character traits. Greedy characters don’t like giving to charity. Brave characters don’t like backing down from a challenge. Don’t get too hung up on always having to play to your instincts, though. The first level of Stress only gives you a small fertility penalty, which is only really a concern if you have no heir and are already having trouble producing one.
You’ll get to choose a coping mechanism to keep your Stress in check, like becoming a drunkard or habitually buying lots of expensive clothes. These, for the first level of Stress, usually have benefits that match or outweigh their drawbacks. Binge drinking can be a great way to make friends with other drunks, including your own vassals. They come with some pretty entertaining events, too. The second level of Stress gives you a small health penalty, which makes you slightly more susceptible to disease or death from old age, but not by much. It’s only at level 3 that Stress becomes truly crippling as you might lose your mind. Admittedly, though, even that can be entertaining.