The Curious Case of Crusader Kings 3

And why I suck at Grand Strategy

Jackson Noel Davies
17 min readApr 5, 2021


I’ve never played Grand Strategy in the past. When Crusader Kings 3 came out, I was looking for a game to occupy my down time during lockdown and I stumbled upon something that has blown my mind. If you like any kind of strategy game, you’ll probably like CK3. It’s hardcore and that’s the problem; it’s hardcore. There are players who will laugh at that and say I’m doing it wrong, and I will concede that I enjoy the gameplay aspect far more for the character story than the combat mechanics alone.

From a lot of games if you are struggling with them you can normally devise a better strategy from watching someone else play and develop your play style to optimise but in this case. I’ve really struggled.

My Recent Anger Spill Over — Trying to do the Wily as the Fox achievement — Duke Robert of Apulia (the Norman in Sicily 1066)

I was trying to go for an Iron Man achievement for Wily as the Fox. You start as Duke Robert of Apulia in the 1066 start. This achievement purportedly can be done quite easy as long as you find a quick way to get around the Byzantine Empire. I’ve seen one strategy where you create the Kingdom of Sicily then Swear Fealty to the Byzantine Empire, roll over one of the three Kingdoms, convert that territory to Catholic and you are done and dusted.

Papacy looks nice and small in 1066, but grows like a whale’s dick on heat later on if you don’t watch your six.

I tried this. I got the Kingdom done (I’d tried this before Patch 1.3.1 and got kerb stomped by Duchess Mathilda of the HRE so clearly my skill has improved over time). This time it was looking peachy. I’d got the Succession Law up to Partition. It was looking golden. All I had to do was join the Byzantines, raise hell and be done. But then a few troublesome events happened. I was caught in a war, tried stupidly invading Benevento where the Papacy promptly death stacked me with their bottomless pit of hired mercenaries and it was sort of downhill from there. Oddly Tuscany, Burgundy, and a few others near the South coast had gained independence from the HRE, the HRE was looking really weak. But I wasted a fair bit of time trying to acquire territory (specifically Genoa who had a very big Bohemian ally) and at some point missed checking what my heir was going to come out like.

There are two rather hideous education traits that you should avoid at all costs. You should probably disinherit the heir if you see them, if you failed to route them out as the Heir’s;

Shy & Compassionate

They will fuck you right over. Trust me on this. Compassionate is bad because any intrigue or capital punishment you try and dole out will be adding stress. Murder, torture, abduction schemes and Execution will be severely curtailed. That stress causes major issues for your ruler’s health. Shy really dicks you over in a myriad of ways and causes hideous amounts of stress. It effects your Sway schemes in particular, and Sway schemes are about the most important personal scheme you can use.

In a series of bad wars and not being able to sway the court during the short reign period, the filthy vassals rose up with their pitch forks and I was dethroned. It was after my King died (a very decent son of Robert’s who’d had an impeccable run) that I was left with this twat of an Heir. He was “Shy” and this would be the beginning of the end. His name was Guirado and the story of him was quite funny. I was reduced to rank of Count and given two counties (Rossano being the principle). One of these counties was so far away in the Africa Kingdom region and barely generated any coin.

King Robert’s Son with his Beautiful Wife Queen Peronelle. The glory days, the days remembered warmly as the triumphant upswing of the achievement run. I took a screenshot because this run was going really well, little did I know that just one generation later….

Guirado lost that big crown seen sitting on his father’s head.

And the story changed.

A war was lost. I’d lost a few before but recovered, but this time it was different. This war was the beginning of the end.

I was in mega mega debt. -500 gold. I had no big prisoners to bundle off to reduce this debt so I had to reduce my Men-at-arms significantly. That’s a very painful thing to do for obvious reasons. Because the fucking AI are watching you the whole time, and when they see your troop numbers go down they start rubbing their hands together. I took my army down to as small as I could go without being considered prime target for my rather greedy fellow vassals and was generating around 7.4 gold a month with no levies raised. Because I was pissed off with my new Liege, I didn’t help in any defensive wars. I just watched the territories burn with the marshmallows out and cranked 5 speed on to pass the time.

From a Kingdom to Ghadames and Rossano :(

Guirado was a bit of ladies man. He’d been seduced by a 50 year old Aunt of the dynasty, a Duchess who also happened to be his direct liege, of Hauteville blood. They’d had a kid together in secret but she broke it off shortly after the reduction to Count. I built up the decent little County in mainland Sicily and was generating about 9.6 gold a month with the two pieces of land. Guirado was a decent Steward at least. Because he was Shy he developed the Contrite trait due to the stress issues. This Guirado was quite the Casanova, and I didn’t instigate any of this. He had a further two women use Seduce schemes on him, one being the Queen (a rather beautiful Swedish honey) who had two bastards with but who subsequently dumped him for being “clingy”. And he had another older woman who was his soulmate. He’d also had another two wives, his first who had the primary heir died about 5 years after the loss of the Kingdom. He had a subsequent very lovely Swedish Countess (not the Queen) who died in childbirth (she was gorgeous and had seduced him to become his lover) and here’s another weird reality. She was a Countess up in Sweden while married to him in Sicily, a lot of frequent flyer miles for the medieval period no doubt. I couldn’t invite her to court owing to her already being a Countess (landed elsewhere).

Guirado died a Count. He’d gained one county then lost it ironically to the Byzantines. The Byzantines were getting girthy at this point, as they do. It’s like a sea of purple, an angry stain on the map where someone spilled a big bottle of wine on a white carpet and it won’t come out. 33K troops versus Sicily’s 10K. Not looking great. Just before Guirado shuffled off the mortal coil, he almost secured a third territory but unfortunately had taken almost immediately off him by a bigger vassal who fought a continuation war (something that really pisses me off).

Lost to the Byzantines
Lost to a big vassal. Bastard!

There was a big fly in the ointment however, Guirado’s heir was “Compassionate”. Somehow I’d failed to route out this education trait despite being extra careful this time. Somehow I’d miss clicked somewhere, regardless, I ended up with another dipshit of sorts. Eclu I believe his name was. He actually turned out pretty good other than being Compassionate. I pressed on and reclaimed some former Sicilian land that had flipped to independent status. I had a good amount of territory in Sardinia and Eclu rose to the rank of Duke. He’d climbed one rung from the bottom, legend. I felt I was going in the right place. In order to secure this Duchy I’d had to make a concession, another area that I believe unpicked my game yet further. I’d agreed to modify my feudal contract to allow me to start wars at will for an increase in my levy contribution.

I decided to get a claim on the Throne from the Pope. It was only 400 Piety and I had shit tons of that so I did it. At the time the King was a Child so the Pope agreed on that basis, slam dunk. I had a claim that I could press at any time. Nice.

I fought the war and won my claim as King. However, one of the vassals, quite a big one, was also fighting the King (King Elias II) for a Liberty War and had a mega stack that decided to gobble my decent stack. That fucked me right over from that point on. I just squeezed through and won that war with my Liege but the following war, an inherited one, destroyed my troop numbers. I’d had to employ a mercenary army to assist me as I was struggling, and I couldn’t afford the renewal fee. So I lost 2000 men, some decent Knights and their men-at-arms.

I regrouped and got my army ready once again. I’d lost a lot of good Knights so had to invite some and spend the gold. I’d also had to marry off some daughters matrilineally to gain some chunky boys for the army.

It was on again.

This war was going good up to a point.

Somehow at some point the Kingdom had split into two Kingdoms. A large swathe of land now had a new King in Africa just over the water, and they were “organised”. But I lost my shit after the narrowest defeat.

When I saw the screen I cried out in anger. I was fuming to see the patronising “To my vassal…”. I just lost my shit. I poured everything into that and lost to this Duchess in her leopard skin outfit. I straight up declined the invitation to the council. I was fuming so bad, I was the embodiment of livid. I immediately put a murder scheme on her. I wasn’t thinking straight, it was the red mist. The thing is that if you take it personal, you lose your objectivity and make some daft choices. But I started my claim war again, but pushed through with the murder during it. Something weird happened and the Kingdom changed from a Kingdom to a Grand Emirate even though the religion stayed the same. This heir was a lot more capable, and used the foil of a Great Holy War in Mesopotamia to kick the shit out of my lands when he had beaten me to hiring the holy order. There was another war going on for the Duchy of Alger that was part of Sicily, that war interacted badly with what was already going on. We pursued white peace after that and I’d lost the energy to carry on. It was 1247 and after watching the Papacy grow like an erect whale penis in size right next door to the ever shrinking Sicily I knew the end was near. Apulia’s Duchess at the time decided she wanted Palermo and beat the shit out of me for it so I immediately fought a war for the claim in a tit for tat move and won it back but my enthusiasm had sagged at that point.

Eclu was a rosy cheeked drunkard, forced that way by the Compassionate trait. It was one of the only ways to overcome the hideous stress gains other than following the Education > Whole of Body path to reduce the stress. He was athletic and he did have a very good female friend who chilled him out (nothing more than biblical, I swear) but at the end of the day the “last round” bell had sounded. I’d taken my final beating and had decided that was enough.

I looked back at the lineage and took a moment then promptly deleted the Ironman save.

Two Decent Kings, One bell-end of a Count, and one try hard Duke who almost redeemed himself. This wily fox was more like a dead weasel run over by a convoy of horses and carts.

Also, I forgot this, but Croatia did me dirty. They normally get absorbed by the Byzantines next door, but somehow the Byzantines had a slow start this time out and Croatia hung on for ages. Somehow they had infiltrated my line of ascension and gained some territories by inheritance that I’d worked my dick off to get. I managed to get a few back, and eventually Croatia was inevitably swallowed by the Byzantines on one side and the HRE on the other. But they’d already inflicted a severe wound. Bastards, I’ll remember that for next time and give them a good clogging.

Fucking fuck!!!

I mean, you could say I had a lot of fun with that run. But no, it was hideous. It’s not the first hideous I’ve had, and not the first time that I feel the AI has fucked me over Royal.

I’ve played as the Count of Dal in Sweden, before the Northern Lords update with the turbo Asatru. Dal was a lot of fun. I actually conquered Ireland, turned it Swedish and made the fool move of making men and women equal. Don’t do it until you have Primogeniture/Ultimogeniture. You only want a primary to take your titles. In that playthrough, I swore fealty to Sweden, and managed to go independent before joining them again and going independent a second time. It was awesome. I remember that the end times came because the heir in Ireland, had 3 children set to inherit that were not of the house. I should have disinherited all 3, but it was already too late. That heir came from the line that had come from the Jerusalem Kingdom that had been formed because I was a successful Crusader King. This was pre Northern lords, before the Varangian Adventure option was a thing. I enjoyed that one. I particularly enjoyed the butter wouldn’t melt blonde dwarf who was beautiful. She was quite the honey, but also a ferocious spymaster (with 26 in the stat). Not to be crossed. Already I was starting to see England creep in on the Kingdom of Ireland. Sometimes you are up against it.

Normal difficulty for me is fucking impossible. I’ve only had one fairly decent game. I’ve never successfully painted the map. A lot of people crow about that, but I’m not there. I haven’t played as the big boys because I feel like I wouldn’t get much out of it. It’s almost too easy to start as the Byzantine, Seljuk (Abbasids in 867) or HRE (East Francia in 867). Other than pain in the arse Vassals and wars on many fronts the real steps of achievement to that Empire title were not earned.

I managed to get the Empire of Kanem-Bornu but that was painful as fuck. I got Bornu faith reformed and the empire to Feudal. No easy task. But came unstuck losing the Empire title in 1252. My biggest mistake was changing the gender to equal. It produces too many title claimants and general fucknoses. If you are doing Africa for achievement as Daura (not that I was, I started a bit lower down on the map) don’t change that part of the religion, go Female or Male, don’t go both. Male or Female priests is fine however.

Learning Points that I’ve built up over time

  • Do not play as Compassionate or Shy rulers. (Murder scheme them, put them “Forced” in the army for losing battles, make them take the vows or at worse case disinherit).
  • Try not to make more than one Duchy / Kingdom / Empire Title if that is your highest Title and you don’t have Primogeniture or Ultimogeniture enacted. Obviously you’ll need to make some titles, just be careful what and where and who has what. Ideally a Duke should have the county with the Duchy building, but their vassals shouldn’t so that they A: make an income that sustains an army and B: are able to build the special duchy building.
  • Only make changes to religion that affect inheritance when you have Primogeniture or Ultimogeniture researched and enacted.
  • Don’t risk battles with armies from other Rulers who are sitting on fat stacks of gold (Papacy is a good example). They will zerg the fuck out of you guaranteed. If you ever look at the Mercenary list, you’ll notice just how many of the companies are hired out already. A lot of the enemy rulers opt to hold big holdings of gold for last chance recovery. You should hold your own reserve. You do get a lot back from buildings but it is actually better to grow in width rather than in height in this game as the levy increases alone are worth it. Improving buildings is more of a mid to late game strategy but recommended early if you are stuck as a Count or Duke and don’t have an obvious method to increase your levy numbers because you are boxed in.
  • Periodically make sure that your army’s Knights (or equivalent such as Faris etc) are Delta level arse kickers. If you have too many around the 12 or below prowess, you need to send out the herald for some more. Also, don’t overlook using additional female children to matrilineal some chunky boys with lots of prowess. They could be lifesavers later on. In religions that have male and female warriors you get a bigger range of knights to choose from, but be careful not to lose too many baby carriers along the way.
  • Remember to disallow the Heir serving in the frontline if he (or she) is a good potential for serving on the throne. Disallow any people you want to live. Force anyone you want to die. The Physician can’t save them all. If you have troublemaker vassals, force them to serve and then fight a battle you have no chance to win. Their deaths on the battlefield avoids the tyranny potential and running costly murder schemes, abductions or imprisonment.
  • Don’t waste money on vassals that can’t be swayed. You are probably better to put in a claim through the realm priest and kill them and reassign to someone who does like you.

Game Shit that Paradox might need to look at:

Marrying populist leaders of uprisings (these people get killed pretty quickly). They shouldn’t be on the list of people you can marry unless they are landed but for unknown reasons they sometimes appear.

Polygamous marriages that share the pool of women/men from your vassals (including those men and women married to your vassals) leading to fornication/adultery issues. It’s dumb.

Continuation/Zerg Wars — The double fist pound as I like to call it. Not fair, not fun. Fucking AI shit. Its where one nation tags on a war whilst another is being fought. Sometimes you get a popup telling you the war focus/antagonist has changed, other times you inherit a title war.

Holy Order shenanigans — (specifically using the foil of a Great Holy War such as a Crusade to dispense unfair insult and injury on same religion territory in parallel domestic wars). In my eyes, if you are using Holy Order troops in a domestic war of same faiths, you should suffer a penalty if they were used during the war. I realise that is difficult to police. Yes, you as the player can use the same loophole by starting a holy war with someone else but fighting your corner in a current war, it’s not sporting. It feels like cheese to me.

A question of Balance that Paradox needs to consider:

Religion and Reformation — Why do you need 3 holy sites to reform? It’s a huge hurdle for moving to feudalisation (which is why Duke Hæsteinn starts Feudal in the County of Montaigu because the developers realised that if you go on a Varangian adventure as a tribal, you’re going to have some issues being as far away from the holy sites as you are). You have to what in the parlance I’ve heard is “blob” over a large area to if your holy sites are distant. This is a problem for Pagan faiths in particular though those in the African continent have it easier (Siguic, Bori, Roogan, Bidaic, Akom, Orisan & Kushite) as well as the Hindus and Jainist faiths in the Indian Subcontinent. There is a mod that lets you reform religion without this stipulation but this mechanic could have been better from the off. It makes playing some religions difficult. There is a sense of achievement getting them somewhere but it adds a lot of micro to your game, a bit too much in my opinion.

Troop Organisation:

Is really shit. I often have to re-organise the army (especially big ones) to make sure one stack has the men-at-arms and knights present otherwise you get torn apart by the opposition. Its never nice to send levies to their maker.

In addition, when your ranks really swell and you have 20–30K+ troops, there is a method to cut off when you have enough troops but it should be improved. It would be nice if I could specify the levy number. E.g 5k. Obviously raising a massive army for every battle is overkill, and drains the income quickly. You can raise local armies which is useful, but sometimes the opposition has additional allies that will outnumber that local army and you have to go through some nausea of having to raise additional troops and disbanding a number you don’t want to keep the costs down. I know you can shift click when an army is raising to cut off their production and start them moving in a direction but I often forget.

It’s good that they divide armies to reduce the effects of a supply limit (and not be under supplied) but sometimes you need presets. Such an example is a sieging army. Say if you want to invade a kingdom but swallow all of the non de jure lands as well, you need to divide your big army but make sure each one has some kind of siege presence. Otherwise you’ll run into fortresses that are impregnable with your basic levy stack (wall type, garrison strength, building types with bonuses).

Having varying raising spots is useful, but not if you press the button to raise your army and your armies raise all over the place in your lands. You actively have to remember to raise the core army at a certain raising point. I can’t count the number of times I’ve raised the troops and had someone in the wrong place on a different continent. It’s very annoying.

That sometimes a separate army may lose their commander, or not be provided one in the first place and they are certain to fail against a professional army. I wish there would be a mechanic that would fill that slot automatically, even if the commander is an idiot riding on the back of a donkey.

Finally, during crusades; It would be useful to initially set the liege as the commander, even if they are a dunce, and do that with a popup where if you are not happy for them to be the commander, you select another, rather than rolling with your default commander. You get the Crusader King/Queen trait if your liege fights in enough sieges and battles during the great holy war, so it is very advantageous to have that person leading the charge but if a death stack rolls in, swap out your leader quick to prevent them being captured.

There are still 44 achievements I don’t have.

And Finally…

To try and wash away the salt tears of my hideous defeat. I tried doing a Montaigu run. On the first attempt the Duke died on his first battle and his son was kerb stomped. In the second I successfully made it to Maghreb and took over Fez, but the son wasn’t up to the challenge of defending the Kingdom (The decent heir died in a battle). All of the Isma’ili forced vassals were after Bersi’s gizzards for a scarf. I could have stayed around and played that latter one a bit longer but it wasn’t working out so well. It was taking the 17 education realm priest over 10 years to convert just one territory from Islam to Asatru. The Culture war was going better though with three counties converted. I just couldn’t be arsed after two of the vassals rose up. I took a defeat in the mountains and knew I was on the back foot. Funnily enough these two twats started up while I was raiding outside the Kingdom. Kind of typical bullshit really, wait until you are far enough away that you can’t disband and warp back with refreshed troops but hit you when you are down and force you to walk it back through hell while on low supplies. King Bersi had a bad injury because he’d grown accustom to duels. He was already a murderer from a hunt that went bad.

And calm….



Jackson Noel Davies

Blogger, Writer, Hero, God, Modest…