This is a “guide” to an intrigue playstyle for Crusader Kings 1.2.2, but it’s mostly tips and tricks for how to get the most out of an intrigue-focused game. The first part is strategies for intrigue rulers, and the second part is a very brief overview of an intrigue start in 867. It’s not meant for beginners, but for players who have already played several games. I am not a min-maxer, so this is not some sort of optimal playthrough.
I think most people think of intrigue in CK3 and think that either it’s just for dipping in to get the fabricate hook perk in the Schemer tree, or just for fun/chaos runs. On its face, it does not seem as use or as versatile as the other lifestyle trees. But I think it is as powerful as other lifestyles, if not more powerful ones if you play it well.
The most important part of Intrigue is understanding that it allows you to cheat without cheating. CK3 has set up laws against murder, imprisonment, torture, and seduction, and these rules force certain behaviour from you as player and your opponents. You are punished if you break them, but intrigue lets you ignore these laws with impunity, to play outside the rules of the game.
So remember that you are a criminal and a cheater. Forget everything the game taught you about how to play a ruler.
Part 1 – Tips and Strategies
I personally prefer to lean right into the intrigue focus, but there are certain perks which are better than others:
Truth is Relative (first perk in Schemer). Let’s you fabricate hooks, which is the bread and butter of many schemes.
Divine Retribution (second perk on left side in Torturer). Let’s you torture without penalties. Absolutely necessary, especially as you will get Dark Insights as well.
Twice Schemed (second last perk in Schemer). Let’s you have two schemes running at once. Extremely useful while waiting for schemes to fire.
There are of course many other good perks, but these three are essential for a lifetime of murder, kidnapping, and torture.
I would suggest always filling out the the Schemer and Torturer tree. Personally, I find the Seducer tree to be relatively useless, but I could see its value if you are into eugenics. It’s a lot of perk investments for very little return though, except maybe the first fertility perk, Like Weeds in a Garden. Usually I get Schemer and Torturer, then go to Learning/Medicine Focus/Whole of Body to live as long as possible.
Every intrigue run should focus on starting with the following:
Fabricate a hook to modify your feudal contract first to protect against title revocation. You are about to do a lot of evil things, so your ruler will likely hate you. Because of this, it is much easier to do intrigue as feudal rulers, and I have not tried it out with tribal/clan.
Fabricate a hook to demand a council position, or if you’re on the second generation change your feudal contract to get council rights. Become Spymaster. Because of the bonuses from this position, being a vassal is almost preferable for intrigue games (hence these first two tips).
Ruler Designer is very helpful to set up your first ruler with the right focus, and make sure to educate your children with +intrigue traits (like deceitful, impatient, fickle, etc.).
Hooks will be your bread and butter. They will let you force people into your schemes, which hopefully won’t be necessary because you’re so sly, but when your scheme is uncovered a well placed conspirator will change your success chance from single digits back up to 95%.
Ways to get hooks: Fabricate hook (duh), Abduct and negotiate release, Find Secrets. This is in order of best to worst, as fabricate is usually successful and easily targeted, while abduct is targeted but not as successful, and Find Secrets is random (essentially) and not targeted at all.
Truth is Relative lets you “buy” hooks, but still randomly. This can be useful, but I find it is often too expensive. One of the options is increase relations for free, which is okay. It can be useful however when trying to hold off an internal rebellion, but it’s so random that there are better ways to manage this.
Target your hooks. A hook on someone’s spymaster or wife or guardian is worth much more than some Knight who lives in the Keep’s cellar. They are almost always the person with the highest bonus addition to your schemes, so if you can force (or bribe) them to join, it’s almost always an instant success. You can also use Find Secrets in the court of the Spymaster if they are a ruler.
Unfortunately, you can’t identify the highest +power/secrecy target until the scheme is already in progress. For your liege, check the “Liege’s Council” tab, found on your council tab (F4) and get a hook on their spymaster. For identifying Spymasters of fellow vassals or foreign rulers, this can be a crapshoot. Generally the AI will put a landed ruler on the council if they can, but who knows if it will be the one best suited for it. The easiest method is to launch a murder scheme on their wife/husband, to see that top potential agent, and then cancel the scheme. That agent will likely be the Spymaster or at least the same for the ruler you actually want to target.
Hooks are great for helping your schemes, but they also unlock one of the most powerful tools of an intrigue playthrough: forcing guardianship and marriage.
Remember you are a criminal and a cheater. Guardianship is no longer just about culture or religion (though this is useful), you can also use it to guide rivals into ruin by teaching their children negative attributes. It is, unsurprisingly, much easier to kill a rival’s heir when they are showing up for class in your throne room.
Marriage too is yet another weapon to wield against your enemies. I would suggest in an intrigue game that, rather than focusing on rising through the ranks from Count to Emperor, you instead focus on making your dynasty the most powerful in the world and conquer by proxy.
Use a hook to force a ruler’s daughter to marry your son. Kill all other heirs to ensure your wife and children inherit the title. Or force matrilineal marriages with the 2nd or 3rd son (often even with hook can’t do first born). Again, kill all other heirs until your son-in-law and your dynasty children inherit.
If the ruler children are married, kill the husband/wife/betrothed. If they don’t have children, click on their title’s flag/shield and see the line of succession. Sometimes a distant uncle will be just as useful after a few years of murdering your way down the successions.
Be careful about killing the ruler to force inheritances, it is much more stable to leave the ruler alive until your chosen heir is directly next in line. Sometimes killing the ruler will shift the succession line due to marriages / parents of different dynasties inheriting from children.
Best to do this with your own second and third borns, so that you aren’t pushed into suddenly managing a large kingdom or empire. Keep your line of the dynasty small and powerful, but push out siblings to take over surrounding realms.
If you are running your eugenics program for the most beautiful, smart, and strong children, why not keep a twisted branch of the family tree filled with ugly, inbred, idiots? Force your opponents to marry these genetic trojan horses. This does less than you might think, but it’s fun if you really hate the Karlings.
See a queen in a neighbouring dynastic realm who doesn’t have a matrilineal marriage? Kill the husband and force a matrilineal marriage.
Marriages and playing the long game can be an alternative to conquest. Obviously, you should find out if this style of playing is for you. Sometimes it means marrying your grandson to a 3rd cousin of the Italian King, spending a few decades killing men, women, and children, until that cousin inherits, and then a generation/ruler later, watching your 2nd cousin rise to the throne with your heraldic shield on their breast. Start to finish, about 50 years maybe. Clearly, there are faster ways to conquer Europe.
But the advantage is that, if you are living as a simple Duke under the King of East Francia or what have you, it is a very safe playthrough. As a vassal, foreign rulers will generally ignore you. With your feudal contract protections (always update this every generation with a new hook), you are essentially untouchable by your liege. With your circle of fellow dynastic vassals and kings around you, you will always have easy alliances. Just keep an eye on liege’s wars to make sure you’re not going to be given away to rebels or some Karling bastard.
The bluntest and most fun tool in your arsenal will be the many many assassinations you conduct. I think I hit 83 kills on one ruler, all from assassinations and torturing, almost all landed rulers or their immediate family. Once you get twice schemed and other intrigue bonuses, you can really plow through a line of succession (2 murder schemes at a time, 12 months each, means after a decade you’ve taken out about 20 people).
If you have two schemes running, and start a third one, it will cancel one of your running schemes. It says so at the bottom of the Scheme screen, but it’s easy to miss. If this is a murder scheme, you will have to wait 10 years to start it again so be careful.
Here’s some fun things to achieve by murder/torture:
Kill a ruler to force partition inheritance to dilute their power. The tooltip over the Title Shield/Flag will show the sucession laws, or you can click on it and find it at the bottom.
If it is Confederate partition, that means NEW titles are created on death, so watch to see not only if they have multiple dukedoms/kingdoms, but also if they have the de jure land of another one.
Kill wives who are not producing heirs for someone married to your chosen heir. Or maybe the AI married someone to a close-to-infertile woman. Or maybe they are just producing daughters and you want a young wife to give it another go.
Kill husband or wife that are the lynchpin of an alliance to break that alliance. Put your cursor over the alliance shield with the blue flags (on F1 screen) and a popup will show who’s married to form that alliance.
Kill good generals (15+). This is less effective for larger realms, but a small one might only have one good general in their ranks. A single good general can change a battle’s outcome. I also tend to target military engineers.
Good council members (10+)
Kill friends/lovers/children to drive someone into depression or death from grief.
Just kill rulers or heirs until someone worse is in charge or an heir, like a child or someone with bad stats.
Sometimes, even when you are very powerful, your murder schemes won’t work or you will accidentally cancel them. Abduct and torture is a great backup to muck up with some poor soul. Torture sometimes hastens death quite a bit, so I usually ransom them back right away.
Remember to torture / execute people regularly to keep your Dread up.
Kill a Bishop who is not endorsing you or has low learning. First one is way less important now because as of 1.2 you can now fabricate a hook (costs money usually) to get a strong hook that will force them to endorse you. Sometimes you want a new Bishop with better learning though, as only 10+ will fabricate a duchy claim.
Most of the above is a great way to dismantle large powerful empires, like the Byzantines, which often die from many small cuts. Basically you’re aiming to destabilize them by ruining alliances, generals, powerful council members, etc., and enticing people to join factions against the Emperor. Nothing is guaranteed, but there’s lots of small things you can do to push it in your favour.
Ultimately, if you’ve read this far, you realize that intrigue is a safe, far-seeing way to play the game. You are always looking a few decades ahead, checking out inheritanes, keeping an eye on surrounding realms, etc. If you are directly involved in a war where you are outnumbered, something has gone wrong. Although you can play as an independent ruler with intrigue, it is actually better to be the hand behind the throne, meddling in affairs across the realm and across the continent. Have a plan that will take decades or centuries, like reducing the Karlings to mumbling idiots, or extending your dynasty to every surrounding kingdom or empire.
Remember, you are a criminal and a cheater, and the rules don’t apply to you. Lesser rulers have to worry about being caught, but you just have to worry about not striking first.
Part 2 – Brief Playthrough Guide
If you’re interested with this as a play style, then I have the perfect starting ruler for you: Count Gundakar of Innbruck in 867, vassal to Prince Karlmann of East Francia.
I am not sure if this is the best ruler for this style, but it’s definitely a good example of what makes a good ruler for Intrigue:
You have a solid and secure income. There is a mine in the county of Innsbruck (takes 400 gold to build) that will soon give you an extra +3 gold. This money is a great resource base for your early schemes without needing to expand.
Dynamic liege-kingdom and neighbours. Karling Kingdoms will be rising and falling around you so you can kinda choose your adventure and intrigue is very handy to help guide the successions in them. You can push your dynasty onto Bavaria, or East Francia, or anywhere. Lots of moving parts.
You are small but protected by your liege and isolated. Generally other vassals in Bavaria or in East Francia will leave you alone. Italy to your south will usually be busy with other things. No one else will really care about you. I also like that there is a lot of room to grow into a Duchy or two.
You have a defensible (mountain) capital. You can build Hill Forts and Outposts, and really ramp up your Defender advantage (using that Mine gold). No coasts to worry about, everyone has to slow walk through the Alps to get to you. I have beaten armies double my size while they were besieging my capital.
FYI defender advantage kicks in when you are attacking enemy armies in your territory. A bit counter-intuitive, but the AI will generally being siegeing Innsbruck while you gather your armies, and you can choose the site of battle with a hefty +20 or +40 advantage.
If you didn’t catch my note above, you are Feudal. Feudal contract modifications is absolutely essential (1st title revocation protection, then council, then whatever).
If you choose this as a start, here are the three things you need to do in the first 10-15 years:
Modify your Feudal Contract to get Title Revocation Protection. You are about to do some terrible things. The first thing you will want to do is choose Intrigue focus, then the Truth is Relative perk under Schemer. You can start finding secrets on your liege, the Duke of Bavaria, but likely you won’t have a hook until you get this perk and you can fabricate one.
Have a King as liege. You can’t become a Duke until this point. Sometimes your liege will naturally inherit a kingdom (lots of shifting titles in the first 50 years) and make you a Duke, but you should aim towards creating this title for the power/security. This means clearing the way for him to inherit a Kingdom, or killing him so a King inherits the Duchy of Bavaria which you are under. Serving as Spymaster to a King also gives better bonuses.
Build your mine. I usually save up for 10+ years to get this ASAP. In a sense the game doesn’t start until this happens. Next I start building Hill Forts/Outposts and Barracks/Military Camps. You should be relatively safe, but you don’t have many levies, and you will need them to keep the AI off of you.
After this point, it’s hard to provide a detailed guide as literally anything could be happening. Haesteinn invading, or Louis the Bald in France reaching east for his claims on other Karling kingdoms, or some other buckwild thing. Use the strategies I’ve listed above and make things happen! Choose a goal and work towards it.
Here are some general tips:
I generally don’t worry about stress, as spending money on Hunt/Feasts can be better spent elsewhere. It feels wrong to just ignore it, but every time you die you get also get a new chance to modify your feudal contract with your liege.
There’s also a perk in the Torture tree that let’s you get bonuses from stress. Going full stress is a real chaos run though, so try to manage it a bit if you can.
There’s a Stewardship perk that lets you use hooks to get money. Obviously this is very powerful with the fabricate hook perk, so you may want to dip in there, but I don’t like spending the 5 years out of Intrigue focus to get it.
I generally move north to similar culture counties (Bavarian), but keep an eye on surrounding duchies with vulnerable inheritances.
It will take a few decades to get really powerful in Intrigue. Once you do however, almost every murder / hook fabricate scheme will be successful. Abduction will always have some penalties, but a careful preparation of hooks for potential agents will help out a lot there.
Use Ruler Designer to get a better start and ensure you have an Intrigue focus. I have tested out going full evil tyrant, with Albino, Scaled, Sadistic, etc., but with this play through it is very hard to survive when you are so hated as a mere Count.
Remember to educate your children with appropriate Intrigue traits, including sinful ones like deceitful or sadistic, but be careful about going full evil until you have a better foundation of power.
The best advice, for anything in CK3, is to just try things out and make mistakes. Get angry, start over runs, and see what the roll of the dice will bring. I think this style is a really great change from the normal conquer your way to Empire style that is the default for CK3, so I hope you give it a shot.