Everything to Know about the Great Holy Wars

Paradox Interactive put the word “crusade” right in the title of the Crusader Kings 3 game, so it’s clear that they need to include crusades in the game and make them unique in the way they work. However, as players can now mix and match principles to create their own beliefs, the developers came up with the generic term “Great Holy War”.

A Great Holy War works very differently from any other type of war in Crusader Kings 3 and has many restrictions on who can summon it, when, and who benefits from it. But because of the way they work, the Great Holy Wars are likely to be the biggest conflicts players will see in the entire game (at least until Genghis Khan appears).

How to access the Great Holy Wars Crusader Kings 3 GHW Trigger

The first thing players need to embark on a Crusade or other Great Holy War is a Faith that can support such a massive undertaking. Faiths of any Religious Family can call Great Holy Wars, but only if they have the right Principles. These Principles are:


Religions with Access

armed pilgrimages

Christianity Judaism

fight and submission

islamic dualism


All Pagan Religions All Oriental Religions Milete

In the base game, only Catholicism has Armed Pilgrimages, while Ash’arism, Maturidism, Muwalladism, Almohadism, Mu’tazilism (Sunni Islam Faiths), Isma’ilism, Nizarism, Zayidism, Ikhtilafism, Hafizi (Shia Islam), Azraqism, and Sufrism (Muhakkima Islam) all have Struggle and Submission. Tengriism and Asatru (Norse) have Warmonger, but they lack other traits needed to conduct a Great Holy War. If players want to play a ruler of a different faith with access to the Great Holy Wars, they will need to create their own faith or use a mod that adds those faiths to the game.

The next requirement is to have an active Faith Chief, because only a Faith Chief can declare a Great Holy War. This Faith Chief can be Spiritual (and therefore a theocratic NPC) or Temporal (and quite possibly the player’s ruler). The way a Great Holy War works is different in each case, and this guide will go over those differences below. The Faith must also be Organized, which is what Asatru and Tengriism must do to gain access to the Great Holy Wars.

Finally, the Great Holy Wars must be “unlocked”. This is to prevent the Crusades from starting immediately if players choose the 867 start date, unless something terrible happens in Catholic or Muslim lands. For a Faith to unlock Great Holy Wars, it must exist in 35 counties across the entire map, have 65 Fervor or more, and have an active Faith Chief.

Christian Crusades can be unlocked when:

The date is at least 900 and the main sovereign of Cologne, Halberstadt, Paris, Toulouse or Venaissin is not a Christian. The date is at least 1000 and the Byzantine emperor or chief ruler of Constantinople, Ankyra, Athens or Corinth is not a Christian. The date is at least 1095 and the main ruler of Jerusalem is not a Christian. At any given date, the main ruler of Rome is not a Christian.

Islamic Jihads can be unlocked when:

The crusades have been unlocked and a non-Muslim controls a county that a Muslim faith leader considers a holy place.

The Great Holy Wars of any religion can be unlocked when:

The date is at least 900 and a hostile or evil faith controls two holy sites. Both Crusades and Jihads have been unlocked and a hostile or evil faith controls a holy place. The date is at least 1100.

Great Holy Wars don’t unlock immediately even after the conditions are right, but they usually unlock a few years after the activation condition. Also, if one religion unlocks Great Holy Wars, other religions have to wait at least 10 years to unlock theirs.

There is one other situation that can unlock the Great Holy Wars. If a ruler who adheres to a Hindu, Jain or Buddhist faith fully unites India and chooses the decision to “Become Chakravarti”, his faith will gain the special Doctrine “Rightful rulers of the world”. This allows your Faith Chief (assuming there is one) to call Great Holy Wars, even if one of his Principles is Dharmic Pacifism.

How to Conduct a Great Holy War Crusader Kings 3 GHW Setup

There are a few more restrictions on calling a specific Great Holy War. First, Great Holy Wars have a cooldown timer of 30 years, and the timer starts when the last Great Holy War ends. Second, the Fervor of Faith must be 75 or higher. Third, the Head of the Faith must target a title realm that is ruled at least in part by characters from a hostile or evil Faith. NPC Heads of Faith tend to target realms that contain holy sites, but any realm can be a target.

During a Great Holy War, the usual rules about vassals staying out of their rulers’ wars are thrown out the window. Vassals of all levels and their rulers can join the same war, creating huge, chaotic piles of armies that roam the entire realm. This rule also applies to defenders, and just like other holy wars, neighboring rulers of the same faith (of all levels) can join the defense.

If that weren’t enough, a Great Holy War isn’t aimed at just one ruler, but all rulers of hostile or evil faith who own land in the de jure realm. This means that the Great Holy Wars can be declared in several religions at the same time.

If the Chief of Faith is Temporal, they can immediately declare a Great Holy War on any realm title in the game. The game calls this a “directed” Great Holy War, as the target is set in stone.

If the Head of the Faith is Spiritual, they declare an “undirected” Great Holy War. All rulers of the same Faith are warned of the upcoming war and asked to help the cause by joining the war, sending Gold, or both. Sending Gold gives the ruler a full amount of Piety. A timer is then started and the faithful have a year and a half to prepare for war.

The reason this is an “untargeted” war is because players have a chance to change the target. During construction, a new icon will appear in the lower right corner of the screen, right where the game displays War Scores. Selecting this icon will open a special menu where players can see who is leading which side, the relative strength of each side’s forces, and a War Chest full of Piety, Prestige, and Gold. Any gold donated goes into the War Chest and is distributed to winning combatants based on their contribution to the War Score.

Underneath all of that is a button that lets players join or leave the war, one that lets you donate gold, and one that lets you redirect the war. To redirect the war, players must select a new kingdom and pay 500 Piety. A second redirect costs 1000 Piety, then 1500, and so on. NPC rulers can also redirect Great Holy Wars, but they almost never do.

Players can choose a beneficiary for a Great Holy War, and this is also true for directed GHWs where the player’s ruler is the Head of the Faith. A beneficiary must belong to the player’s ruler’s dynasty, must be landless, and must not be one of the ruler’s heirs. If the attackers win the war, their beneficiaries will receive one or more titles to the land conquered based on contributions from their sponsors.

For example, if the player’s ruler does more to win the war than anyone else, his beneficiary will receive the title of the kingdom. However, this assumes that the realm does not yet have a claimant of the right Faith ready to take the title. On the other hand, the ruler who contributes the most in a directed Great Holy War will receive the title of kingdom, and if not an emperor, that ruler will become independent, assuming he was no longer independent.

Relative military strength can also influence whether or not an undirected Great Holy War proceeds. If the defenders have a 4 to 1 strength advantage against the attackers, the Chief of Faith will cancel the war.

Here are some other ways the Great Holy Wars break the rules:

White peace is not an option. A Great Holy War can only be completely won or completely lost. Each character who appears in a contested county during a Great Holy War, even as a knight in an army, receives a special Warrior of Faith trait. However, if the character leaves the realm before the end of the war, he loses the trait and some Prestige. Capturing the enemy ruler or any heirs has no impact on the War Score. As they are not the ones declaring war, players can raise their armies and place them in place for the moment an undirected Great Holy War begins. NPC armies are most aggressive during Great Holy Wars. Great Holy Wars do not increase the Offensive War Opinion penalty, even for a Temporal Faith Chief. The Fervor of the attacking Faith decreases whether they win or lose the war, and the Fervor of all defending Faiths increases if they lose. If the player’s beneficiary obtains the kingdom’s title in a Great Holy War, the game will allow players to switch to the beneficiary instead of staying with its current ruler.

Crusader Kings 3 is available now for PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S.

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