Tribal leaders have a number of unique features that distinguish them from feudal lords and merchant patricians. Tribal leaders can only hold tribes without penalty, regardless of religion. Tribes can raid and have concubines even if they're not pagan (e.g. Irish Catholics).
Tribal rulers have a number of special council missions which can spawn event troops, and they can also raise a large (2500-troop) army by decision when at war for 500 prestige. This army costs some money to maintain but will not disband if the ruler is bankrupt, unlike a mercenary company. All of these special troops are disbanded as soon as all wars end. Declaring another war before concluding the first will allow these armies to be kept up indefinitely.
Nomadism is a similar, but distinct government type which is introduced in Horse Lords.
Government style and succession laws
They are limited to elective gavelkind succession if Pagan, while Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Indians have access to regular gavelkind, and Muslims use the standard Muslim open succession. Tribes with Celtic culture group can also use Tanistry succession. The Mongol Empire, if Horse Lords expansion is not in use, is also tribal at start and begins with ultimogeniture. The succession law cannot be changed while the empire is still tribal. If Horse Lords expansion is in use, the Mongol empire uses nomadic succession law.
Tribes have a special Tribal Organization law in place of Crown Authority. With Conclave, higher levels of Tribal Organization gradually enable various Council laws and allow a ruler to depower the council by passing them, whereas Absolute Tribal Organization is required to reform government.
Tribal leaders get a -30 opinion modifier from non-tribal vassals (of count-level or above), as do non-tribes with tribal vassals. On the plus side, tribal vassals don't count towards their non-tribal liege's vassal limit.
If you're a tribe, some of your councillor missions are different.
- Organize a Raid replaces Research Military Tech. If this succeeds (must be at peace for it to succeed), an army appears in your capital. This army must be used to raid, or it will disband after a while.
- Settle Tribe replaces Raise Taxes. If this succeeds, the county's culture changes to yours.
- Build Legend replaces Research Economy Tech. While this mission is active, you get an extra 0.1 prestige per Stewardship point of the councilor, per month. If it succeeds, an army appears in your capital. They will disband if they don't fight anyone within a year.
- Court Chaplain:
- Build Zeal replaces Study Cultural Tech. While this mission is active, you get an extra 0.1 piety per Learning point of the councilor, per month. If it succeeds, an army appears in your capital. This army must be used to fight in a religious war, or it will disband after a while. (Religious enemies aren't enough - the CB has to be religious.)
Changing government type
An independent tribe can become a feudal realm or merchant republic by decision. Both decisions require Absolute Tribal Organization and significant investment in the capital. They also require an organized religion, so Pagans must first convert to another religion or reform their Pagan religion. Your realm must also be at peace for the decision to be unlocked.
Independent tribal rulers who wish to adopt feudalism must build a Stone Hillfort in their capital, or gain a castle and make it their capital.
When you first convert to feudalism, all demesne tribes are immediately converted to castles, even in provinces of the wrong religion. Converting tribal settlements later (by right-clicking) requires that the province shares your religion.
Your tribal vassals will be able to join you in feudalism as long as they follow an organized religion. Vassals are now required to construct a stone hillfort to take the decision. AI tribal vassals are more likely to adopt feudalism if they share your religion and culture.
Whenever a tribe is converted to a castle, a city and temple can be created in the province as well. The tribe must be owned by the county owner and the province must have two empty slots (even if only creating one due to the other already existing).
Founding a merchant republic
The decision to found a merchant republic requires a Large Market City and the technology Trade Practices 1. Building the Large Market City requires Town Infrastructure 1. For players, it has the additional requirements of a coastal capital and The Republic DLC, in order to ensure the resulting realm is playable.
In addition to upgrading your capital to a city, it creates a duchy-level title (if needed) and creates family palaces for you and four vassals of different dynasties.
Being a republic unlocks the convert to city decision for you, which creates a holding of each type in the chosen province (if a temple already exists it will not be created).
Although reforming a tribe will make its ruler stronger in the long term, in the short term it can catastrophically weaken him. A newly upgraded holding will generally have fewer levies than the tribal holding it replaced, since it no longer gets a bonus to levies from empty holding slots. Your income will increase a lot after converting to feudal, and even more after converting to merchant republic thanks to the automatic creation of a holding of each type upon conversion in every province in your demesne. Tribal vassals will be unhappy (-30 Wrong Government Type) until they convert, and if you convert into republic this penalty will never go away because vassals can only convert to feudal. Event troops from council missions and decision will no longer be available. If you are a king, you will switch from Absolute Tribal Organization to Autonomous Vassals (minimum crown authority), losing the ability to revoke titles. With conclave, the absolute tribal organization empowers the council, so it could be useful to become feudal while being a vassal of feudal king in order to keep absolute rule. For these reasons, it is advisable to obtain some combination of powerful allies, trustworthy vassals, and money to hire mercenaries before taking the decision.
Economics of upgrading
The cost to upgrade a tribal holding in a county with a low level of construction technology is about 500 gold. Raiding goes a long way towards paying for the upgrades. Non-tribal lieges should consider building another holding instead of directly upgrading, as the cost is about the same and the vassal holding's income will allow the tribe to be upgraded more quickly.
Every two levels of tribal building will convert into one level of the equivalent city or castle building, except for ship builders, which convert one-to-one.
Building forts in a tribe that will be upgraded to a city is a poor investment: 225 gold worth of buildings (for the first two levels) or 300 (for the last two) will turn into a mere 75-gold wall. Building towns in a tribe that will be upgraded to a castle is still not efficient, but not as bad: 225/300 gold turns into 150 gold structures. If the tribe will be held for a significant period of time before upgrading, the extra income may be worthwhile. On the other hand, the level 1 shipbuilder is an excellent investment: this 75-gold structure turns into the 150-gold city or castle shipbuilder.
By swearing fealty to a feudal liege, or being a vassal to a tribal ruler who converted its government type into feudal or merchant republic, you can use the adopt feudalism decision. It does not have any requirements, and can be done as soon as liege converts into a new government type. (Swearing to a republican liege does not let you convert to republican government)
If you die with a feudal heir, your heir will remain feudal as long as his feudal title is of equal rank or higher. Conversely, inheriting a feudal realm of higher rank may allow you to become feudal.
Tribal holdings may occasionally be baronies, if the temple holding (which some tribal provinces have) becomes the county capital, or if a non-tribal liege who owns the province builds a different type of holding in that county.
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