In most games, the main character dying means you need to reload or start from scratch, but death is not the end in Crusader Kings 3. Much of the game revolves around the system of succession — your land, gold, and men-at-arms passing down to one of your family members, who becomes the new player character until their own untimely royal death. There are lots of ways that your land can be divided, and dealing with the repercussions of a ruler’s death provides a lot of the fun of the game. In this CK3 succession guide, we’ll break down all the different types of succession that the game provides, and offer some insight into each type of succession and when you might want to engage it.
Let’s get started!
Types of Succession
The first place you’ll want to pay attention to is the “Succession” area inside your “Realm” tab. Here, you can change the method of succession for 500 prestige, provided your powerful vassals approve of this change. Avoid letting your own secondary heirs become powerful vassals so they can’t prevent you from making a change that would cost them territory after your death.
The three earliest, most accessible forms of succession always lead to your realm being split up between all of your oldest, generally male, children. Some cultures will differ in this, with some of the African realms starting the game with matrilineal lines instead. By default, especially in the earlier start-time, almost every culture will only have access to Confederate Partition. Various traditions will grant you access to more, better formats to distribute your lands.
The default form of Confederate partitioning is also the only form available for tribal governments, encouraging you to switch to a Feudal or Clan system as soon as possible. The Confederate partition law will split your lands among all your eligible children, granting your realm capital and direct “de jure” titles beneath it to your Player Heir. In practice, this typically means only the realm capital and the county it sits on will be granted to your heir, with the rest of your lands being split evenly among the rest of your children. All three forms of partition also have minor differences and requirements, broken down as follows.
The main difference between this and the other forms of partition is that it will also create new titles for children that otherwise wouldn’t inherit anything, which can force your realm to splinter into unmanageable pieces upon the death of an expansionist ruler. This includes “Kingdom” or even “Empire” titles, causing massive problems for the most powerful of empires. Get out of the Confederate partition as quickly as possible. Some of the most ideal starts for CK3 let you bypass this completely.
This form of succession is unlocked by the Hereditary Rule tradition that becomes available when your culture reaches the Early Middle Ages and will likely be the main format of succession for a lot of the game. This distributes your land evenly among your children, but doesn’t make new titles that don’t already exist. It leaves you with two options when it comes to holding Duchy-or-larger sizes of land.
You can choose to not create titles that would splinter your land among multiple eligible children, at the cost of lost tax revenue from not being the “De Jure” ruler of an area. Or, you can create the titles and use devious methods, detailed later on, to consolidate as many as possible into your most eligible heir.
This succession law is enabled by the “Heraldry” tradition and is a superior format for partitioning your nation. It works similarly to the Partition law but saves you some time and resources that you’d usually need to spend consolidating your realm by guaranteeing that your primary heir gets at least half of your titles.
That sort of power balance between your primary and secondary heirs will allow your next character to start off significantly stronger than their sibling vassals while still allowing your house to spread across your realm.
Later in the game, you’ll get the opportunity to bypass a lot of the internal civil conflict between your primary heir and your secondary heirs that usually are sparked by the death of your ruler. You’ll be able to give all your land directly to one heir with these systems. Additionally, you’ll also get the chance to select a “Designated Heir” if you’ve maxed out your “Crown Authority,” potentially letting you pass up some children in favor of your best kid.
The downside is that each of these systems raises the possibility that an unsuitable heir gets to be in charge of the entire realm at once. If they’re particularly unpopular, unskilled, or unfit in other ways, you might actually be better off temporarily splitting the realm among your children.
This is the first of the single-heir systems to unlock and comes with the “Heraldry” tradition, just like the High Partition law. You’ll want to use this law when the oldest members of your house are relatively young, or if your current ruler has no viable children that can take over the realm. If you’ve cultivated a strong house that you can trust not to stab you in the back to take power, this law can be superior to High Partition, but in most cases, you’ll want to stick with High Partition since you can raise your next ruler more directly. Some cultures begin the game with the “Table of Princes” tradition that unlocks this system from the start of the game.
Later on, you’ll unlock two more single-heir systems, the most advanced and also the system that most fans of medieval media are actually most familiar with. With the “Primogeniture” tradition unlocked in the Late Medieval period, you’ll be able to pass your entire realm down to a single one of your children, and in the case of Ultimogeniture, it’ll be whichever one is the oldest. This saves you all the trouble of managing your inheritance and lets you just keep the whole thing directly in your family tree. However, it can mean you have a series of older rulers taking charge, and in CK3, a short reign is a dangerous time for your realm. Mitigate this by disinheriting unqualified or too-old children.
Opposite Ultimogeniture, you’ll gain access to the Primogeniture law under the same tradition. This gives your entire realm to your youngest eligible child, typically a much bigger gamble than handing it to your more experienced older children. This law works well if you’ve built a culture with health bonuses that are regularly letting your rulers live into their 80s or 90s, since it will let you run the realm with a single character for significantly longer. However, it also raises the chances that your intended player heir gets murdered by jealous older siblings, or that you have a new heir born right before you die, forcing you to try to manage your realm as a child for a long period.
Another alternative way to manage succession is with elective laws. These are a smart way to consolidate power if you own multiple kingdoms early on in the game before you’ve had a chance to unlock the stronger forms of succession like High Partition. It’s important to be careful with elections since there’s a chance you’ll end up losing your capital stronghold and all of the expensive buildings you’ve established there if the heir that has been selected via more localized succession laws ends up being different from whoever is selected via your chosen election method.
You can add these laws to individual titles by choosing “add laws” at the bottom of the title menu for the steep price of 1500 prestige. Your choice of laws is limited by your culture, but the most basic of them, the Feudal Elective, is available to every feudalized culture. Savvy players like to apply these electives to the one or two duchies they want their main character to control throughout the game. Holding most of the land within these duchies makes it easy to rig the elections your way.
The feudal elective is available to most cultures in the game and allows the ruler and all of your direct, de jure vassals of one or two ranks below you to put their own candidate up for election. These candidates are limited to the stated vassals, along with the close family of the current ruler. Voting strength is determined by the rank of the voters, with an extra point for powerful vassals.
This election type is available to any culture that takes on “The Witenagemot” cultural tradition, by default only applying to the Anglo-Saxons of England. It also only applies to Kingdom or Empire titles, and has a wider pool of applicants than other elections, allowing powerful vassals, the ruler’s children, and any other claimant to run.
Scandinavian-style election laws are in place in many Nordic realms where the Ting-Meet cultural tradition is part of the culture. Eligible heirs for this election include the non-criminal extended family of the ruler and claimants, with voters getting more power based on their total domain development and the popular opinion in their capital barony.
This elective system is only available to cultures with a Brythonic or Goidelic heritage like Scotland, Ireland, Wales, or Brittany. The candidates are picked from among members of the ruler’s dynasty, with more obscure, older relatives being weighed more heavily. With many houses vying for power in these areas, this elective can be a smart way to keep your most capable family members in power.
The last form of election is exclusive to the Holy Roman Empire. It differs from feudal elections in that only certain vassals are able to vote. According to the tooltip, these are “the counties of Cologne, Mainz, and Trier, and the duchies of Bohemia, East Franconia, Ostfalen, and Ostmark.” If any of these falls away from Catholicism, they lose their voting rights.
Even if you’ve taken all the precautions you can, the most fragile, most dangerous time for your holdings will be right after the death of a ruler. New rulers must prove themselves, often fighting an internal war or using devious methods to keep their own siblings or older relatives from seizing power.
One way to make things much easier on your children is to make sure your absolute best kids get into power. You’ll notice right away that the most straightforward method of outright murdering your own children isn’t available — for most rulers. A sadistic ruler may still do murder plots on their own kids. Of course, just because you can’t plan a death directly doesn’t mean you can’t force it to happen.
Knighthood is Dangerous
One trick is to force your male heirs — or your most difficult and rebellious vassals — to join the army. Chances are, they’ll end up in a hopeless battle and that will likely see them killed or captured. Early game, you might be able to accomplish this by sending them in a very small raiding party into enemy territory.
Another great time to dispose of the weakest branches from your family tree is during a crusade. These battles are often incredibly hopeless and result in slaughter as soon as your troops get off the boat. It can be a great time to run a purge on your kingdom.
Send Them to Church
Another option is spending some piety, and possibly a hook, to turn your kids into monks or nuns. This will be available to Catholic rulers, and it’s a great way to both improve your relationships with the Pope and send your least viable kids away from succession.
This can lead to some interesting outcomes where you might see your own lineage end up in positions of power in the church, even possibly becoming the Pope themselves!
Lastly, the brute force method of removing children from succession is just to spend Prestige and Renown to remove them from the line. This will enrage them but often strips them of their legal right to do anything about it at all.
It costs quite a bit, so it’s best to do it sparingly. You should save your Renown for unlocking dynastic legacies, lest you weaken your too much dynasty over time while trying to prune the tree.
Join the High Ground!
That’s it for our CK3 succession guide — thanks for reading! With these boosts in mind, you’re sure to keep your heirs in line and your empire strong. If you want more advice for ruling your realm, make sure you subscribe to our newsletter for more content like this.