Become a master of skulduggery with this Crusader Kings 3 Intrigue guide

ck3 intrigue
(Image credit: Paradox Interactive)

Constantly getting betrayed? Then you need a primer on Intrigue in CK3. Scheming, skulking about, and assassination are all major pillars of Crusader Kings 3. While it’s possible to succeed as a forthright and humble ruler, you’re likely to end up like Ned Stark if you don’t at least watch your back for some shadowy schemers. And getting up to some skulduggery of your own is not only savagely effective if done correctly: It’s also a lot of fun. 

So, here are some things to keep in mind as you use your new CK3 Intrigue skills to plot and murder your way to the top.

CK3 Intrigue: How does it work?

If you fancy some backstabbing—literally or figuratively—consider taking on the CK3 Intrigue lifestyle. You’ll gain experience in this faster if you're educated as an able plotter, so sending your potential heirs to be tutored by the person in your realm with the highest Intrigue skill will help them eventually rule from the shadows. 

Intrigue comes in three flavors. Picking one to focus on is wise, though a long-lived character should be able to finish two or even all three trees: 

  • Schemer: Boosts the success chance of your plots, as well as protecting you from hostile ones.
  • Torturer: Focuses on the new Dread mechanic, allowing you to keep your vassals in line through fear, even if they don’t care for you much.
  • Seducer: Lets you to inveigle your way into the bedrooms of the powerful and keep them wrapped around your finger.

What CK3 Hooks are, and how they work

'Hooks' are at the heart of Intrigue in Crusader Kings 3, and they are the leverage you hold over other characters. Maybe they owe you a favor, or you discovered their dark secret. If they’re just too damn noble or cautious for you to get any real dirt on them, the Truth is Relative perk from the Schemer tree lets you fabricate a hook—making up some vicious rumors about them they’ll have a hard time debunking. 

Hooks allow you to coerce a character into anything from accepting a lopsided marriage offer (such as marrying into the Byzantine imperial family as a lowly count, which would normally be rejected outright) to joining one of your murder plots as an accomplice. Holding onto a Strong Hook (typically acquired through blackmail) also prevents characters from taking hostile actions against you, such as assassination or joining a rebel faction. As the head of a noble house, you will also gain a Hook for free on anyone born into your house. 'Because I said so' apparently carries some weight among the feudal elite.

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Choose your spymaster carefully

Your greatest ally, and potentially liability, is your spymaster. Choose this councilor very carefully, as their Intrigue skill will directly affect the chances of your schemes succeeding, and reduce the risk of you being discovered. Using the 'Find Secrets' action with your spymaster is also the best way of digging up dirt you can use to get Hooks on others in your realm and beyond. 

But, beware: Your spymaster can also grant a huge bonus to hostile schemes against you if they can be secretly conscripted by one of your enemies. Who better to do you in than the very person trusted most to protect you? In other words, make sure they like you more than your potential rivals. Also keep in mind that other characters could use a Hook against your spymaster to make them betray you, so avoid handing the job to a drunken womanizer with plenty of secret love affairs that could be used as blackmail.

It’s not all cloak and dagger

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Hostile Schemes, such as murder and kidnapping, are only one aspect of the Intrigue system. Personal Schemes are the other, and some of them are (potentially) innocent. Sway will try to persuade another character to like you more. Seduce and Romance can gain you a harem of lovers or even a soul-mate. These paramours can be manipulated to nefarious ends, sure, but they don’t have to be. 

The Befriend scheme available from the Diplomacy lifestyle will let you ostensibly become platonic pals with another character, which can be great for bringing a surly vassal around to your way of thinking or preventing your ambitious brother from starting a succession war.

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Watch your back

A dagger in the dark could come from anywhere. A skilled, loyal spymaster is a great shield against this, but a passive protector is never as effective as a proactive one. Keep an eye out for unhappy vassals or relatives who may stand to benefit from seeing you dead. Especially if they have high Intrigue skills, a low opinion of you, and traits like Ambitious, Greedy, and Deceitful. 

You can also dissuade them from undue hostility by making friends, cowing them by raising your Dread, or sending your spymaster sniffing around them for incriminating secrets. But some problems can only be solved by slaying them before they slay you. Just be careful not to get caught, because your other subjects will see you as a tyrant if they find out that convenient roof collapse was your doing.