Epic grand strategy role-playing game Crusader Kings 3 is one of the best PC games in a generation. In our review, we described it as an elastic storytelling engine — one that rewards improvisation, while also heaving in a hefty amount of randomness. But, at its core, the game is a simulation custom-made to allow players to explore alternate histories. That includes letting them tinker with the sexual and religious norms common to the feudal world.
Crusader Kings 3 features dozens of pre-generated starting characters spread all across the world, with timelines that kick off in either the ninth or the 11th century. If none of those strike your fancy, you can head off on your own by plucking an obscure regent from literally anywhere on the map. But, there’s also a list of starting conditions — toggles that you can flip to change how the game itself actually works.
One of those toggles adjusts the game’s gender-equality settings. In the default position, the laws of the land and the tenets of the major religions all uphold a male-dominated society. Flip that toggle to “equality,” however, and the rules of inheritance, among other things, apply to women the same as they do men. There’s also an “inverted” setting, which flips the script and creates a pre-modern world where women lead and men can be married off as chattel.
The prominence of women in Crusader Kings 3 goes well beyond menu settings, however.
“Women are also more visually present in Crusader Kings than ever before,” developers wrote in an April update at the official website. “We have some awesome loading screens with a diverse bunch of characters, for example, but the biggest impact comes from the new event window. In [Crusader Kings 2] we had lovely event illustrations, but the drawback was the lack of variation when it came to characters. In CK3 we use our gorgeous character models to bring the events to life, which will showcase the rich diversity of the cast of your playthrough in the event windows.”
Crusader Kings 3 also includes a toggle labeled “same-sex relations.” This changes the game world’s view on homosexuality from the default — in which characters can be homosexual, but it’s frowned upon by the tenets of all major religions — to “accepted.” In that game mode, “same-sex relations are fully accepted by all Faiths.” In gameplay terms, that means any negative repercussions that would have previously been applied to a given character are removed entirely.
“In CK3 we’ve given sexualities more granularity,” developers wrote in April. “In addition to heterosexuality and homosexuality from CK2, characters can also be bisexual and asexual. Sexuality is no longer defined by a trait, but has its own system, which makes it easier to handle for us and more visible in the interface for you. It also means that we do not frame heterosexuality as the default in CK3, which was also important for us.”
Another toggle adjusts sexuality distribution. The default setting here distributes far more heterosexual rulers on the world map. On the “equal” setting, “all sexualities in the game” are distributed, well, equally. That includes homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality.
What that means is, if players flip the right switches, they can start a game in the year 867 where both men and women can hold titles and inherit land. They can remove the perception of sin historically associated with same-sex relationships from the game entirely. Then, before they even take their first move, they can have the engine flip a four-sided coin to determine every ruler’s sexual orientation. Using the Randomized Faith toggle, they can even mix up the starting faith for everyone in the world just for good measure.
“We are huge believers in allowing players as much freedom as possible to shape the game world in their image,” Paradox said in that April blog post. “When trying to model history reasonably accurately as we do in CK3, your starting environment might be a far cry from the just and equal Realm you wish to rule, but determined players should be able to change the mores of their society over time — if that is their fantasy.”
For a game that prides itself on letting players explore alternate-history scenarios, Crusader Kings 3 is going for broke. Be on the lookout for some fascinating player-made stories in the months and years to come.