Welcome to Crusader Kings II, a unique blend of RPG elements within a complex strategy game.
This guide is meant to get first-time or beginner players into the game with an idea of what to do.
 What First?
This game has a few tutorials, and they'll introduce you to some basic concepts. However, even after playing the tutorial it can be hard to get into the game.
The best way to learn is to just try a game. You'll make mistakes of course, but you'll learn from them. Additionally, this guide should help you to minimize mistakes, and get to the point where you're competently playing the game.
 Selecting a Character
Any Christian character can be played, with the exceptions of Holy Orders and Theocracies. With the Sword of Islam expansion, Muslims become playable and with The Republic and The Old Gods expansions republics and Pagans respectively also become playable. With so many options of playable characters, it can be overwhelming trying to get started.
There are two common paths for beginners. One is to play as the head of a powerful nation such as the King of France or the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The other is to play as a smaller Count or Duke and try to get a handle on the game.
While playing the head of a powerful nation can be tempting and does mean you probably will not be wiped out immediately, the vassal-liege relations are complex and probably too much to handle in addition to learning the basics of the game. Remember that, at its core, this is a game about your dynasty and the individual characters within and not a map conquest game like the Europa Universalis series.
With that in mind, my recommendation is to start as a smaller independent or vassalized count or duke, small enough where you don't have to deal with vassals above baron level (who are relatively powerless against you - though they do need to be managed), but large enough (or in a large enough realm) where you won't immediately be conquered.
For an independent, a remote location or at least not next to hungry large nations is something valuable. Ireland is a good starting location if you want to learn the basics of conquest as most of the landholders there are similarly small and the Kingdom of Ireland is probably the easiest kingdom to form. The Earl of Dublin is a particularly good choice - you stand to inherit a second county from your elderly father, and there are two duchies (Meath and Leinster) you can easily form. Iceland is also a remote 2-province location that nobody usually bothers unless there is literally no other place to expand, though nearby expansion possibilities are also extremely limited.
For a vassal, pick a large nation such as the HRE or France, and within it pick a duke or count with at least 2 counties so that if you lose one it's not game over. Though you are protected from outsiders as a vassal (the main reason to be one) - until Crown Authority reaches a certain level, you are vulnerable to internal conquests.
Though you can play a Muslim if you have the appropriate expansion, I would recommend saving it for an advanced playthrough - the pace is incredibly fast comparatively and there are many things you have to keep track of, and rule variances that if you don't know the rules to begin with will just confuse you. However, they are a very large threat and should be respected as a Catholic.
If you want to go cowboy and pick something off the wall, avoid the following as a beginner:
- Neighboring other religions - hottest areas include Iberia (Spain), Eastern Europe and southern Italy.
- Orthodox - more of an advanced choice for various reasons
- Outside Europe in general
- Small independents outside of the Isles - they will disappear quickly
 First Steps
This section will be somewhat general as the following sections are general guides to help you progress. However, in a beginner's game the first question after getting into a game will be "now what?" which this section will attempt to answer though different games will branch dramatically quickly depending on your start location and the situation you are in.
You may notice up at the top of the screen there are probably half a dozen little circular alerts. One of these is most likely a 'Ruler is unmarried' icon, though some characters start married. Depending on if you are the only member of your dynasty, this has increased urgency for obvious reasons as the game is about your dynasty.
If you are unmarried, this should be your first step before you even unpause as most of the other nobility will also be unmarried and good brides will be snatched up very quickly. Click on your portrait and below it to the right is a marriage rings icon which is incredibly handy for unmarried characters. This will open a list of brides, sorted by a general sense of desirability though you are able to marry anyone you choose if their lord permits it.
For your first marriage, avoid any landed brides as this has complications that you are at this time unaware of - these will have various thickness of rings around them. It is important to note at this point that alliances in this game are solely from marriages and being the same dynasty. At the bottom of each portrait is a flag, if it is grey then no alliance will be made, if it is blue then an alliance will be made - if you recognize any of the names such as the Duke of Next Door then feel free to target that. However if it's Baron John then it probably will be of no consequence. Don't feel obligated to make your first marriage a useful alliance as at the start most of the brides will be generated characters and not the actual daughters of your neighboring nobles.
In general, target a bride that does not have any bad congenital traits, preferably with high stats (specifically stewardship and diplomacy), preferably with good congenital traits, and has the same religion. If you can find one, lustful characters make excellent wives - they have a bonus to fertility, and having many children early in the game gives you a good foundation for building a mighty dynasty. All characters are considered adults at 16 and women can only conceive until slightly over age 40 so younger is better, though don't expect a 16 year old to immediately give a child as they tend to have children starting around 19-25. Most of them will be 16, though, since that is the starting age of an adult and most of them are generated so that is fine.
 Starting Out
Starting a game in 1066, as most people do, the game will be slow as there are few actual families and more dynasties starting out as yours probably is. In addition, tech levels are low and most of the holdings are not upgraded at all. Income is low and troops are few.
Early focus should be on making sure you have as many children as possible to continue your legacy and upgrading your holdings for more income (or troops if you feel threatened). The alerts at the top of the screen will more or less keep you informed of the most important happenings in your life.
The game will significantly change later, the early stages are typically slow and relatively peaceful as nobody has any money or troops that they can afford to lose. It's a good opportunity to learn the game with few consequences for mistakes before the carnage really starts.
There are two main ways to expand your holdings - marriage and war. Marriage is usually a complicated way to expand that involves checking succession orders and removing inconvenient people in the way through various tactics.
War is a much simpler way to expand. There are many ways to declare war, however you must have a reason. These reasons are defined by Casus Belli, or CBs. A Casus Belli is simply a valid reason in the eyes of other nobility to declare war.
The simplest way to declare war is to "Press a claim", which simply means you say 'this is rightfully mine' and then take it. Claims are shown on the character page underneath your actual holdings. Claims can be gotten in many ways but the simplest is through the 'Fabricate Claims' chancellor mission. If you are a duke (or higher rank) then you may also have a 'Can Press De Jure Claims' alert at the top which means as long as you hold that duchy (or higher title) you may claim a county as rightfully yours.
Once you have a claim you can go to war. Ensure that the defender has no major allies (visible by clicking their character's Portrait and checking the Allies tab. It displays the names of their allies and the ally's relationship to the character. A relationship in green letters indicates that the ally is available to be called to war - though may not necessarily join - while red lettering indicates that the ally cannot be called to war), then declare war via the diplomacy menu. Now raise all your levies, gather them together, and march into their land. As long as you significantly outnumber your enemy, victory should come easily. If your armies are close in size, however, ensure that you appoint the best generals you can to lead the army and try to ensure that the armies engage in favorable (to you) terrain. After defeating his army in battle, you just need to siege his holdings, and victory will be yours.
Continue this way and you'll eventually forge yourself a powerful realm, and be able to take on more major powers. Upon achieving your goals, simply set new ones. If you end up defeated you can simply start a new game in the same area or another, now armed with a decent understanding of the game. Also remember that if you lose an offensive war, the most you stand to lose is that claim and some prestige, so it's not game over if you don't succeed.
 Setting Goals
The Crusader Kings series, like many Paradox games, do not have a defined endgame goal in mind. As long as a single landed member of your dynasty survives, the game will continue going until 1453 and at the end you will receive the same screen as if you resign with your dynasty score compared to historical dynasty.
With that in mind, it's important to have some idea of a general game goal in mind, even if it drastically changes later and it probably will. The most common goal naturally is simply to expand, which can be done in a variety of ways.
If you follow the recommendation to start as a smaller count or duke, a good first goal is simply to unite the duchy you are in. At the top of the minimap (on the bottom right of your screen) is a series of mapviews in 2 columns (you may need to click the "+" button to show the mapviews, but you can then select your favorites and drag them into the boxes to the right of your minimap) - the third button from the right on the top column will show you de jure duchies. If you are a duke, take note of where your duchy is and make your first goal to get any province within it that you don't currently have. If you are a count, make your goal to be the duke of whatever duchy you are in.
As your game progresses and you become more powerful and options open up for you, you can set larger and more expansive goals for yourself such as becoming the King or Emperor of whatever area you're in. If you are doing extremely well it can be fun to make huge ahistorical goals such as bringing Catholicism to the Byzantine Empire or conquering Hungary as a Serb.
In summary, the game is less about the score than what you want to do with your game.
 Your Dynasty
Remember that your dynasty is the most important thing and what the game centers around. Though you play individual characters within that dynasty, it is extremely important to remember that at some point, maybe tomorrow and maybe decades from now, you will die. And that's okay and should be expected. You may currently be playing a genius character who is good at everything and everyone loves but his son may be awful and everyone hates him.
The best goal you can have is to ensure that your heir always is of your dynasty, and that your heir is as prepared as you can possibly make him - whether that means removing potential threats or possibly removing the heir in favor of another by succession law changes or just the classic dagger in the back.
This concludes the Beginner's Guide, for related gameplay guides see: Advanced Small Start, also browse the Guide Category for more specific concept-related guides.
 See also
For more information about how to play the game, see the guide category.