Crusader Kings 2 built a lot of its word-of-mouth popularity from stories of the absurd villainy and depravity you could get up to leading your own feudal realm. Torturing priests, castrating your romantic rivals, seducing your close family members, and sacrificing babies to Satan were all on the table. So when a sequel was announced, one of the first questions that came to my mind was: "It can't get any worse, right?"
It can. And it will. Here's how!
Rule by pure fear
Machiavelli presented the famous question: is it better to be feared or loved? His answer, of course, is that it's better to be feared if you can't have both—but Crusader Kings 2 forces you to kiss up to your vassals and earn their adoration if you want a stable realm. "No longer!" cries Crusader Kings 3, donning a pointy dark lord helmet and casting a menacing glare across the benighted countryside. Dread is a new character stat that represents how much your vassals feel they might end up dead and/or mutilated if they dare defy you. Your Dread will rise the more you imprison, torture, execute, crush rebellions, and generally act like an enormous dick. As a reward, your cowed vassals will be less likely to scheme against you or raise their banners in revolt. Just be careful of those pesky brave, virtuous ones who think they can get into a storybook by ending your tyrannical reign. Make sure their heads are displayed most prominently on the parapets.
Make someone fall in love with you
The fan favorite Seduction focus makes a triumphant return in CK3, with even more options to get up to no good in the bed chambers of the rich and powerful. One of the new tools under your belt is the Unshackled Lust perk—once unlocked, you'll be allowed to seduce anyone who is interested in you, regardless of whether or not you are interested in them. A straight male spymaster who discovers his liege swings both ways could wine and dine him in secret to gain more fuel for later blackmail. A lesbian queen can put her ambitions before her feelings and entrance a neighboring king to secure a powerful marriage alliance. You don't actually care about these people. You honestly think they're kind of smelly. But they seem to think you hung the moon. And while that doesn't make them any more attractive, it does make them useful.
Develop a cult of groupies
Having a small army of lovers wrapped around your finger isn't just useful for political web-weaving. The new Mortal Adoration perk means that any attempt on your life might be stopped by the intervention of one of your adoring fans. They'll leap in front of an arrow, tackle the dagger-wielding assassin, or use their body to put out the fire set by your rivals to snuff you out. It's a bit of an inconvenience to have to replace a loyal patsy, but no one wins a game of chess without sacrificing a few pieces. Better anyone else than you, right?
Make up rumours about someone
Crusader Kings 3 uses a new system of Hooks to drive court intrigue. I found out you were having an affair and your son is illegitimate, so I get a Hook on you that I can use for all kinds of leverage. But getting Hooks normally requires someone to actually have a dark secret in the first place, and occasionally you're going to need to manipulate or get rid of some goody-two-shoes who has never done a thing wrong in their entire life. Exhausting, aren't they? Well, master schemers with the Truth is Relative perk can simply manufacture Hooks on these paragons of morality. Sir Renaud the Righteous licks goats! He might deny it, but who are they going to believe? You, or some goat-licker?
Run your kingdom like a mob boss
Sometimes, you really need elaborate silk draperies for your new Debauchery Chamber and the usual taxes won't cover the ones that come with the limited edition imperial filigree. You already have a contract with your vassals saying they have to give you some amount of money but, stay with me here: what if they had to give you more money? In Crusader Kings 2, you could ask nicely for a vassal to open up their heart and their wallet to help you out of a jam. With Crusader Kings 3's Golden Obligations perk, you're not asking. You can extort your vassals for extra taxes or demand payment for any of the Hooks you might have on them at your leisure. They might not be thrilled about the situation, but if you've been keeping your Dread high enough to stop them from getting any funny ideas about defiance, they can just go home and cry about it.
Wipe your ass with peace treaties
Recent events have shown us that lavatory supplies tend to run thin during times of plague and conflict, which the middle ages certainly were. But if you need to find some useless parchment lying around to keep yourself sanitary, why not that accord you signed with your weaker neighbor after you took half of their land and murdered several of their relatives? The Flexible Truces perk makes it so you don't have to wait so long after the last war to attack the same target again. And even if you do jump the gun, you won't lose any prestige for violating the truce. Did they actually think you would be nice just because you signed something saying you would? What a bunch of losers.
At its core, Crusader Kings is really a game about being a terrible person. And with all these new options at our disposal, Crusader Kings 3 seems set to excel in that regard. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to try out this new crossbow on some peasant children.