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Three tips for getting started in Crusader Kings 3

Slow to anger, quick to war, and other aphorisms that actually apply

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The Crusader Kings 3 tutorial does a decent job of getting you up to speed with the game’s most basic systems. It spends a lot of time focusing on how to manage those closest to you. But, sometimes you need to widen your view a bit. Getting tunnel vision — focusing solely on your local wars, your council, and your court — is a good way to get blindsided.

Here’s three things we wish we would have known before setting out on our quest to conquer the Medieval world.

Know the family tree

A pop-up box showing the Dynasty di Lucca of Italy.
Click on a portrait, bring up the individual. Click on the individual’s heraldic pattern to reveal their entire lineage.
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

One way we’ve found to see more of the game at one time is to think of it all in terms of familial relationships.

Say that your leader in France is at war with Spain. From our modern perspective, that’s a regional issue — France versus Spain. But, in feudal times, there is no France or Spain. There are simply the people in control of the various counties and duchies that will one day make up what we think of as France and Spain.

A line of members of the du Lucca Dynasty.
The full list of the Canossa line will include well more than just the children and parents of the leader of that line. Additional heraldric patterns — including the ones shown on this page — will reveal similar relationships all over the feudal world.
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

For the most part, conflict isn’t nationalistic in Crusader Kings 3. It’s personal — one person against another, one family against another, or one dynasty against another. France isn’t at war with Spain. France is at war with the person, the family, the dynasty in charge of Spain.

To see who those people are, click on a relevant leader, and note the heraldic shield to the right of their stat line. That will let you know what family — what dynasty — they’re part of. Clicking on that shield brings up a new menu, and on that menu, there are buttons that say Number of Members (Number of members Living) and Open Dynasty Tree. From here, you can get a good look at the people you’re actually fighting. Who’s really in charge? What other kingdoms and lineages are attached? Where are the lines of succession? And who can you exert pressure on to cause an outcome most beneficial to the people you care about?

This is also a good way to watch your own back. Make sure that those closest to you are set up for success, and that they have a good opinion of you. Otherwise, they can easily get distracted.

Focus on currencies, but not just cash

The tenets of Catholocism, as depiected in the game, include armed pilgrimmages, communion, and monasticism.
There are empty holdings in Cona, in the County of Bologna. It would be the perfect place to honor Christ with a chapel in the name of our buddy, the Pope.
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

Early on, you’ll likely be quite poor in Crusader Kings 3. A quick way to rectify that situation is to go to war, capture some high-profile targets (see below), and sell them off. Barring that, you can always ask your liege or the head of your religion for some cash — but don’t expect them to think very highly of you once you do. Focus on finding a good Steward among your courtiers and, when possible, build improvements that increase the quantity and consistency of cash flowing in from taxes.

But there’s more to worry about than just gold. There are three other currencies you need to keep track of: Prestige, Piety, and Renown.

The thing is, Crusader Kings 3 isn’t all that clear about telling you when you’ve hit the jackpot in either of those three categories. You’ll need to keep tabs on them all to make sure they’re heading in the right direction.


How do you gain more Prestige? By doing things that advance the status of yourself and your family. Forming friendships and alliances with big players will help. Winning wars and increasing your holdings will do wonders. So will hosting a feast or a hunt — those options are on the right side, under Decisions. But beware that those events are on a timer, and you’ll only be able to host so many parties over the course of a single ruler’s life. Keep an eye out for narrative events as well. Crusader Kings 3 does a decent job of showing you how you’ll benefit in terms of Prestige if you take one option over another.


How do you gain more Piety? By aligning your actions with the Doctrines of your faith. On your character sheet, next to your stat line, you’ll see your faith listed. Click on that faith, and it will take you to a tab highlighting its Tenets and Main Doctrines. Ensure that your actions align with those goals, and slowly but surely you’ll begin to pile on the Piety.

Building a religious building won’t hurt either, but they are extremely expensive. To see if you have any open land to build on, head to the Realm tab on the right side, and then the Domain tab within that menu. Then scroll down to see if you have any Empty Holdings.


How do you gain more Renown? This currency is a bit trickier. It gets shared by your entire dynasty, but it is earned by all of them as well. Basically, the larger your list of currently living members, the more Renown you’ll gain over time — and the higher up the food chain those members are, the better. Play the long game, and try to set your relations up inside other kingdoms either as rulers themselves or as the spouses of rulers.

Make your wars quick

A battle showing 75% victory. But only with 100% can you actually grasp what you desire.
After 16 months of war, our attempts to capture Lombardia are thwarted by an allied army from the north. Best to declare a White Peace before putting our Knights — including our heir — at risk.
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

Raising an army is an expensive proposition, and keeping it fed and watered while on the march is more expensive still. If and when you go to war, keep it short. Have a plan ahead of time to do the most damage possible, and if things aren’t going your way, then sue for peace as quickly as possible.

To declare war, you’ll first need a reason why — a casus belli. Once the troops start marching, you’ll be able to note the war’s progress in the lower right corner. Click on the shield of the house against which you’re fighting, and you’ll pull up a new menu overlay that tracks the progress of the conflict. The goal is to get your war score all the way to 100. Only then can you Enforce Demands — that is, secure the goal of your casus belli.

What increases your war score the fastest? Winning battles, taking fortresses and territories, and capturing high-profile prisoners.

Want to win more battles? Stop chasing armies around the map. Instead, focus on pinning them up against terrain like mountains or water. To do this, stop your armies periodically and split them using the buttons in the upper right corner of the army tab itself. Now you’ve got two forces that can perform a pincer-like maneuver. Once you’ve laid siege to a fortress, you can even split off just enough soldiers to keep the siege going while placing another army in the field to run interference.

An army on the march, raised for war alongside the Holy Roman Emperor, is no longer needed... now that he’s dead.
Your armies will show up in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Use the buttons along the top and bottom of the box to split them up as needed.
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

Play your cards right as you’re pursuing your enemies, and you’ll even be able to select favorable ground — places on the map where you have a defensive or offensive advantage. Check your Martial’s and your Knights’ character sheets for details on where they fight best.

Want to take more fortresses and territories? Build siege weapons, but take it easy once the walls are breached. Pouring your troops through the gap will cost many more lives than just sitting it out. But, sometimes, speed is of the essence. Siege weapons give you more flexibility.

Want to take more prisoners? Know where your enemies live. Use the dynasty menu to locate your enemy’s husband, wife, or heir. Then push hard and fast into the city where they live for a chance to capture them alive.

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