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The Crusader Kings 3 beginner’s guide for the totally confused

This game is confusing, but it doesn’t have to be

A king ride to battle. Behind him siege engines assault a castle’s walls. Image: Paradox Interactive

There is a lot to do in Crusader Kings 3, and its open-ended design felt overwhelming to this genre newcomer.

The sheer amount of freedom in the game is a welcome aspect for veterans, but that’s not me. I came to Crusader Kings 3 because of the interesting stories I read about it — and also it’s free with Xbox Game Pass.

I spent my first few minutes of the game absolutely confused. The game’s fun came into full focus only when I learned that the player’s job is to direct the story.

In this Crusader Kings 3 beginner’s guide, we’ll introduce you to the series — and genre — from the perspective of a complete beginner. We’ll explain the fluid nature of the game’s storytelling system and help you make decisions that steer the narrative in a concrete direction of your choosing.

Consider the tutorial mandatory

Crusader Kings 3 is a series of systems colliding with each other. As you make decisions, the game churns out outcomes based on your actions while heaping on dozens of others scenarios that require your reaction. Think of it like playing The Sims.

Without a smartly designed tutorial to explain all the mechanics behind the scenes, trying to understand what’s going on can be a challenge. Right when you load up Crusader Kings 3, it immediately offers to lighten the mental load by running you through a starter scenario. If you want to enjoy this game, consider the tutorial mandatory.

A tutorial screen in Crusader Kings 3
There’s a lot to learn, but the tutorial makes it easy
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

Until then, grab a drink and a snack and play through the tutorial. This opening session mimics the gameplay you’ll experience, but at a snail’s pace. The tutorial slowly introduces several systems and explains their functions. Don’t worry about internalizing everything. Just work your way through. Once you’re done, you can continue playing as the tutorial character or quit and start a fresh game.

There are dozens of systems to be aware of at any given time, and it’s helpful to at least be made aware of them. Thankfully, to enjoy the game as a beginner, you don’t need to take part in all of them all the time. Once you start forming an idea of how you want to play the game, then you’ll naturally begin gravitating toward which systems are worth your attention.

Read blue text

When you hover over blue text, it displays important definitions and explanations about game systems. Read these if you get lost, and use the blue text definitions to remind you what certain keywords and ideas are. As you continue encountering concepts, you’ll understand more of the game.

Info screens in Crusader Kings 3
You can really, really dive into definitions if you want
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

Don’t expect everything to make sense within your first few hours. Focus on the game systems that seem interesting to you and explore whatever you want to learn more about. You can expand definitions within definitions until you nearly fill up your screen, which shows just how complex Crusader Kings 3 can be.

Follow the advice and issues pop-ups

As you play Crusader Kings 3, several pieces of advice, issues, and decisions that you need to make appear at the top of your screen. They represent the most pressing concerns in your kingdom. If you’re ever in doubt about what to do at any given moment, just pay attention to the icons in this area.

The arrange marriage screen in Crusader Kings 3
I didn’t realize my heir was unmarried until the game showed me
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

Advice is about important decisions, and it appears as diamond-shaped icons. These won’t always show up, but when they do, you should prioritize these immediately.

The issues list appears in a rounded cross icon with a number on it. It’ll display a list of suggestions and situations that could use your attention, though they aren’t always pressing.

The issues list in Crusader Kings 3
The game offers suggestions and situations worth taking care of
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

If the issues list is empty, click on the reload icon next to the Current Situations text, and the game will generate new issues for you. If you’re ever unsure about what to do next, reload your situations and follow the suggestions.

Other major decisions and reminders will appear in this section, so make sure to clear out whatever appears there. Important tasks that you may overlook, like remembering to pick new skills and perks, will also show up in this section.

Your lifestyle is your character’s class

In Crusader Kings 3, you can play out your legacy as a diplomatic, violent, or passive ruler. You have to choose a lifestyle option when you start a new game or when your current character dies and you take control of their successor. Your choice determines how well your character performs certain key decisions within that style of gameplay.

Think of your lifestyle as choosing a class in a role-playing game.

There are several lifestyles to choose from — Diplomacy, Martial, Stewardship, Intrigue, and Learning. Each has its own focus, which determines the stats that get buffed. In each lifestyle, you also have three skill trees that support a specific play style.

The lifestyle screen in Crusader Kings 3
Think of your lifestyle as your character build
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon
  • Pick Diplomacy as your focus if you want to be a leader who cares more about the relationships between other realms and your own people.
  • Martial is a good lifestyle if you want to build a successful empire as a strong military tactician.
  • Stewardship-focused players are concerned with an empire that builds wealth for personal gain and the betterment of their people.
  • Pick Intrigue as your lifestyle if you want to root out secrets and manipulate others to grow your realm.
  • Learning is a great choice if you want to build a dynasty based on knowledge and studying religious texts.

Each character you play as will have an innate disposition to one of these lifestyles. However, you aren’t locked into one course of action based on your lifestyle. In fact, no matter which style of play you choose, you’ll still need to use other skills to progress in your game. For instance, if you choose to excel in Intrigue, you’ll still need to flex your Martial muscles when fighting wars.

No matter what lifestyle you pick, the ruler you control will be deficient in some areas. To make up for your shortcomings, you can rely on your council to pick up the slack.

Pay attention to your council

Even though you make most of the key decisions in your kingdom, you won’t rule it alone. To assist you in several aspects of running your domain, you’ll have six council members focused on different areas of your realm.

At the start of your game, you’ll have each seat filled with a member of your kingdom best suited for the job. Your council plays an essential role in your rule, providing you with passive support and management in areas like religious development, diplomacy, schemes, and more. Each member’s efficiency in their role is dictated by the associated level of the skill required for their function.

Excluding your spouse, each member of your council has three options to choose from. These tasks will increase in effectiveness based on certain factors like the level of skills or even their opinion of you.

As these characters die or simply leave your domain, you’ll have to replace them. When choosing replacements, make sure that you inspect the skill level of each potential replacement. Choose new council members based on the the associated skill level that’s relevant to the seat you’re filling.

A screenshot of the council seats in Crusader Kings 3
Your council supports you passively
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon
Spouse

You spouse can assist you in a range of different affairs. Your spouse is the only council member with the flexibility to assist in any role. When you first assign them to a role by clicking on the Assist Ruler icon, you’ll choose between involving them in court politics, military chivalry, managing the domain’s finances, courting intrigue, or supporting patronage. To make the most of your spouse’s support, choose the task that gains the most support based on the level of their skills.

Bishop

The bishop helps you develop piety based on the level of their learning trait. Piety can be used to gain loans from the church and must be used as a spendable resource in several actions that the church must approve of. Bishops can also help you fabricate claims on counties if you’re looking to grow your kingdom. Plus, the higher opinion your bishop has of you, the more money they will passively earn you.

Chancellor

Your chancellor manages diplomatic efforts in and outside of your kingdom based on the level of their diplomacy. They are mostly a passive member of your council, automatically increasing the opinion others have of you which will make your life easier.

Steward

The steward manages your domain, helping collect taxes, speeding up development, and promoting culture. The higher their stewardship level, the better they perform.

Marshal

Your marshal is in control of all your military affairs. Based on the level of their martial skill, they can increase the effectiveness of your armies, lower military maintenance costs, and even help you grow your army’s size.

Spymaster

Your spymaster can either passively or actively support you. Based on their intrigue level, they can disrupt schemes against you, boost the effectiveness of any active schemes you’re engaged in, or even find secrets on other domains. Any secrets on someone can be used as leverage against them in the future.

Embrace bad moments

No matter how well you play, your children will die before you, your spouse will divorce you, you’ll lose a few wars, and you may even get unceremoniously murdered. Many bad things will happen to you in Crusader Kings 3, and it’s all a part of the design.

History is messy. The story that you create while playing will be messy, too. Every setback — even your own death — is not the end of the game. The point is not to see a single character succeed, but to build a legacy.

Crusader Kings 3 is meant to be played through several in-game generations. The decisions you make as your current character will affect the life of their successor and the many successors after them. It’s worth keeping in mind which choices help your current character in the short term and which decisions will affect your lineage in the years to come.

The death screen in Crusader Kings 3
Death isn’t a game over. It’s just the next level.
Image: Paradox Interactive via Polygon

The inner workings of Crusader Kings 3 allow for grand, absurd, and lengthy stories to be told. There are so many systems at play that it can be overwhelming to keep track of them all. Thankfully, the game’s design will always present you the most pressings situations to focus on.

Once you determine the play style you want to attempt, you’ll have a better sense of what to pay attention to. In time, Crusader Kings 3 becomes the game you want to play, whether that means being great military leader, a master manipulator, or a champion of the people. There’s so much history to make in each playthrough of the game that each session can be a memorable occasion, so long as you know what to focus on.

For a more advanced players, check our Crusader Kings 3 beginner tips guide.