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Confessions of a ‘Crusader Kings’ war criminal

February is here, and the semester is officially back in full swing. Obviously, this means it’s the perfect time to pick up a video game to whittle the time away playing while your growing piles of essays go unwritten and your fast-approaching midterms go unstudied for. For me, however, I like to have a thin excuse of education whilst I procrastinate. Thus, as a history major, my video game of choice is Crusader Kings 3, where I get to live out my murderous, megalomaniacal fantasies as a medieval ruler. In my nearly 200 hours of playing this game, I have had some pretty eye-opening learning experiences, though I never thought to share them until I read Zach Duvel’s ’26 recent Hoot article, “Lessons of a Sims 4 Homewrecker.” His words inspired me, so thus I have generously deigned to share my own lessons with you peasants.

(This is where I was going to put a disclaimer warning you, the reader, not to engage in such obviously immoral actions in real life, but honestly how would you even go about that? With that much power I’m not sure what a puny disclaimer would do to stop you. Go forth in your villainy, just please show mercy to me and my family.)

My personal strategy begins before the game even begins: on the settings screen. I change it so that bisexuality becomes the dominant sexuality as opposed to heterosexuality. HOWEVER, (and this is essential!) I do not remove the homosexuality taboo unfortunately present in most religions. This creates a setting in which most of the population is having gay sex, all without the consent of the religious authorities. This creates a lot of potential blackmail material, all of which I take full, cruel advantage of. Of course, as a queer woman I personally understand the fear of having one’s sexuality being used against them, but this is a video game, baby! We’re starting off bad and we’re only going to get worse.

Next, it’s time for character creation. There are a lot of fun characters from history available to play as (my personal favorite is Matilda di Canossa, a genuinely fascinating historical figure that I suggest you all read up on), but for maximum chaos I recommend making a custom ruler. Make your ruler a 16-year-old woman with a high intrigue stat and some good inheritable traits (those related to increased beauty, intelligence, or fertility will all work wonderfully for this playstyle), and set her up on an island with an easily formable kingdom (Iceland is the easiest for this, but Sicily is better since you’re within the diplomatic range of more places). Then begin your game!

Find yourself a husband with a nice inheritable trait (don’t worry about marriages of alliance just yet—that’s what your children are for) and begin forming your kingdom as soon as you can. Being a queen will give you the prestige needed for the best marriages possible. I recommend starting as Catholic so you can petition the Pope for money, but don’t worry—you won’t be staying Catholic for long. Start going on pilgrimages as soon as you can afford them in order to begin racking up piety, which you can use down the line to eventually reform your religion. When you do, it is essential that you make your faith female-dominated so that your daughters are the ones who inherit. Don’t be fooled by the progressive veneer, however—this playstyle is far from feminist. Removing the incest taboo is also a good addition, but not strictly necessary.

This is when the “Bene Gesserit strategy” begins, a term coined by a fellow Brandeis student who wishes to remain anonymous. While you’ve been forming your kingdom and reforming your faith, you will also have been going down the seduction lifestyle tree. You will be seducing and sleeping with ANY man with a positive inheritable trait, be they married, sworn to chastity, or otherwise a taboo match. Hell, start kidnapping men from foreign courts and seducing them as well. You must have NO LIMITS. The reason you’re playing as a woman is so that your many, many little bastards will be born into your family instead of another’s.

A small aside on the downsides of this particular lifestyle: at one point while playing the Bene Gesserit strategy, Pope Alexander II (who really existed!) began a seduction scheme against me. He got me pregnant multiple times, but every time I decided to abort because the Pope didn’t have any good traits that I cared for my children to inherit. I never told him about this. Awkward!

 

Anyways, continue doing this for several generations and soon enough you’ll have a family tree full of amazing traits. I suggest attempting suicide as soon as you hit 45 in order to make sure the family head is always capable of pumping out babies. You may then begin marrying cousins together to produce children with even better traits. Keep seducing those outside the family regularly, though, too much incest and you’ll end with an heir who’s inbred to incapacity. If that happens though, don’t fret! Simply make them a knight and send them off to die in a war so you can kill them without the stress gain that child-murder brings. If you’re diligent about this, after enough generations you’ll have created the perfect heir, the kwisatz haderach. From there, you may continue on as you choose or simply close CK3 knowing that you’ve achieved the pinnacle of what is possible in this game.

Of course, I do also enjoy playthroughs with more traditional goals: such as a grueling campaign I’m currently playing where I’m attempting to create a massive mediterranean empire. I started by conquering all of Iberia (while continually funding Jewish sciences because I’m no Isabella of Castile), then moved my way across North Africa, and have finally established a foothold in the Levant. It is there, however, that the campaign I’ve spent dozens of hours on has ground to a troubling halt.

See, my usual strategy for military-focused playthroughs is pretty simple: when conquering a region, start by taking out the small one-or-two-county principalities before tackling the major empires. This was a simple enough strategy until I made it into the Middle East. See, most of it was under the incredibly strong Abbasid Caliphate, which would take many hours of my life to completely defeat. There were a few small one-county states that I could still easily take, though. A quick siege and Antioch was mine! The only easy target left—a target that would take just a week or two of in-game time to completely subjugate—was … Gaza.

That’s when the game ended and the philosophizing began.

In all my hours playing this literal game of thrones, the thought of the politics behind my decisions had never once crossed my mind. I had gleefully toppled empires, ruined marriages, and assassinated innocents—all without consideration of anything but my own immediate reward. If my serfs didn’t like what I did, so what? I reveled in brutally squashing pesky peasant revolts. But all of a sudden, this incidental crossover between a silly game and real-world current events made me rethink my whole playstyle.

The rose-tinted glasses had been cruelly ripped away. I could no longer lose myself in the fantasy of being the all-powerful leader of a feudal dictatorship—my actions had consequences, for God’s sake! I had no good reason to go in there and steamroll the place. What kind of message would that send to my fellow medieval rulers? Fine, perhaps I could leave Gaza alone and just worry about the Abbasids, but wouldn’t that be even worse? I’d be pulling the whole region into a massive war with another superpower! Perhaps I could bribe surrounding leaders until they willingly and peacefully joined my empire. But that’s the kind of corruption that leads to instability and suffering in the first place! Ugh! Curse my newfound video game conscience!

Ever since, I haven’t had it in me to return to good old CK3. Perhaps I’ll return to that save file once I’ve figured out the answer to world peace. Until then, I think I’ll start studying for my midterms.

(To future employers: the strategies expressed in this article do not reflect any real beliefs I have about foreign policy. I, for one, think seducing world leaders to create a super baby is in fact, a Bad Idea.)

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