Declaring and winning wars is the only way to grow your empire in Crusader Kings III. The larger your lands, the bigger your army. The bigger your army, the more lands you can conquer. You’ll repeat this song and dance, beginning as a lowly count in a far-off land and ascending to the emperor’s throne in a few hundred years. Still, your armies are only as good as their commander (and we don’t mean the NPC who’s actually in charge of them).
To win wars in Crusader Kings III, you must consider several minor details before ever raising your armies. If you’re struggling with world domination, you may be missing a few of these preliminary steps to warfare. Let’s dive into how to win wars in Crusader Kings III and all the pre-war steps you should take to give yourself an edge on the battlefield.
Preparing for war
Before declaring war in Crusader Kings III, you have to obtain a Casus Belli or a legal reason/claim on that ruler’s land. The easiest way to obtain these, especially in the beginning, is by having your religious leader use their Fabricate Claim task on the county you want. This, however, costs gold once they finish. If you can’t afford it (and don’t want to go into debt), they can start the task over, allowing you to accumulate more wealth.
If you can afford it, go forward with the claim fabrication. Then, have your religious leader use Fabricate Claim on the neighboring county, effectively killing two birds with one stone while you declare war on the first county.
Alternatively, you can scroll through claimants when selecting a Dutchy, Kingdom, or Empire to see who in the world holds a claim on that land. If you convince them to join your court, you can push their claim. However, winning installs them as the holder of that land.
Once you assume control of a Duchy, Kingdom, or Empire, you can declare war on rulers who still hold land in that domain. If they’re an independent ruler, you can offer to become their liege. You can always declare war on them if they’re not into that.
Finally, you can declare Holy Wars on hostile religions, even taking control of an entire Kingdom if you have the army and piety. However, you can only declare a Holy War on a whole Kingdom once per lifetime.
You’ll encounter a few other Casus Bellis by leaving up different skill trees. However, those mentioned before are the most common.
Understanding war outcomes
Sometimes, you may have a few different Casus Bellis you can push. That’s why it’s important to understand your war objectives and the different outcomes of war. For example, in the image above, we have a claim on the County of Alencon, currently controlled by King Charles of West Francia. Obviously, his army is superior to ours, so we’d never declare this war. However, if the tables were turned, our character would gain control of the county. Then, we could give it to a Vassal or keep it as part of our domain. You’ll find that information under Outcomes in the bottom-right of your Declare War screen.
When you push other people’s claims, they gain control of the contested land. If their new title is lower than yours, they become your Vassal. If it’s higher, they become independent (which you never want). You gain a hook on them and some renown at best, but it’s not worth the time and gold investment if you’re not getting a new vassal or control of the land itself.
Save your game!
Perhaps the quickest yet most important tip of all when declaring war: Always save before you start the war. Random events can completely derail your conquest. Sometimes, the AI forms alliances mid-war, suddenly boosting their lousy army to an unstoppable machine. You won’t notice until it’s too late, and by then, your armies are probably crushed. If this happens, you can always reload your save (before you declared the war) and make a new plan.
Even if things go completely sideways or you die halfway through, saving and reloading will save you some severe headaches. There’s no shame in going back in time, especially in a single-player game. If you’re playing online or on ironman mode, you’ll have to commit to your choices.
Research your opponent
Sometimes you can crush somebody in Crusader Kings III. Other times, you’ll come up against someone with similar military strength to yours. You never want to declare war on someone with a bigger army. However, you may still be hesitant to fight someone on your level. Here’s where research comes into play and why it’s crucial to winning wars in Crusader Kings III.
Before you declare war on someone of similar strength, you should look at:
- Their Men at Arms
- Their Allies
- Your Allies
Counter Men at Arms regiments
To view an enemy’s Men at Arms, select their character and hover over the Army icon (it’s right underneath their faith). Here, you’ll see which Men at Arms regiments they have and how you can organize yours to counter them. Think of them like rock, paper, scissors.
Unfortunately, the counters are a little convoluted. Every culture has different names for its Men at Arms regiments. You have to go by the type, not the name. So here’s a general breakdown of Emperor Damiano’s Men at Arms (pictured above) and how we’ll counter them.
- 300 Cataphracts = Heavy Cavalry
- 200 Light Horsemen = Light Cavalry
- 100 Armored Footmen = Heavy Infantry
- 10 Mangonels – Siege Weapons
- 10 Trebuchets = Siege Weapons
In the Men at Arms screen, you’ll see which type counters which. So, if we were to build counter regiments, we’d enlist:
- 500 Pikemen (Spearmen) to counter Light and Heavy Cavalry
- 100 Light Footmen (Skirmishers) to counter Heavy Infantry
As for the Siege weapons, there’s nothing you can do to counter those aside from upgrading your castles to increase their fort level. You can tell a holding’s fort level by selecting it and looking at your current castle. In the image above, Messina has a fort level of 14, which will fend off Damiano’s Mangonels but fall to his trebuchets.
The best way to increase your fort level is by upgrading the castle itself. However, you can also invest in buildings like Forest Forts or Walls and Towers. If all your holdings have fort levels that exceed the capabilities of their siege weapons, they’ll have a hard time taking control of your land, thus losing the war. On the other hand, look at their fort levels to see if your siege weapons stand a chance. You don’t need siege weapons, but you’ll win wars in Crusader Kings III with them.
Check on allies
Forming alliances is crucial to winning wars in Crusader Kings III. However, your opponents form alliances too. You have to keep tabs on who’s got their back versus who’s got yours. Alliances factor into the total military strength depicted on the Declare War screen. To view alliances on both sides, select Allies.
The effectiveness of allies depends on if they’re fighting their own wars. When an ally is at war, they’ll still agree to help but in a limited capacity. Before declaring war, pause time and check to see if your allies are at peace. You’ll see their status right under their army and domain size.
Now is not a good time to call on them if they’re at war. On the flip side, if your opponent’s allies are at war (and yours are at peace), now’s an ideal time to declare war. If your opponent and their allies are already at war, now’s the perfect time to wage one of your own.
Finally, you can render an opponent’s allies useless by forming your own alliances with them. Allies won’t attack allies.
Here’s a quick anecdotal example: During our conquest of Italy, we kept getting crushed by The Pope. But it was like taking Rome from a baby when we waited for him to go on multi-year crusades. Strike when the time is right for easy wins.
Set rally points
Don’t overlook the usefulness of your rally points in Crusader Kings III. When you set custom rally points, you can raise your entire army from any location within your realm. This makes traversing land much faster (and the sea much cheaper). To set a rally point:
- Open the Military tab.
- Scroll down to Rally points.
- Either create a new one or move an existing one to a more strategic position.
If you don’t manually raise your army at a rally point, they’ll automatically raise in your realm capital. Consider this when you hold land closer to the county you’re looking to take. We have two rally points set in the image below: One in Messina (red) and one in Lecce (green). If we were going after the County of Avlonas, on the west coast of the Byzantine Empire, it would make more sense to raise the initial army in Lecce than in Messina.
Automated or manual war: Which should you use?
On console, Crusader Kings III players are slightly handcuffed regarding how much control they have over their armies. It’s harder to select and maneuver your armies, making manual control less attractive in large-scale battles. So, after you’ve declared war in Crusader Kings III, should you set your army to run automatically, or should you take command yourself?
We’ve let the AI control our armies 95% of the time and rarely run into problems. Of course, we’re always saving before each war if things go sideways. Sometimes, especially during more significant battles, you’ll need to “nudge” the AI by quickly switching between manu