The only way to balance the economy might be to make realm coffers and personal coffers separate (and some ideas for how this could work).

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FormerlyUN1

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Mar 7, 2024
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Theodosian Wall of text incoming. Sorry in advance.


The CK3 Economy is (not) Balanced


From a design perspective, there are a few problems with CK3 as-is, mostly to do with balance. I think a lot of these concerns are related to money, or more specifically its over prevalence. A lot of that prevalence can be attributed to the way the economy scales: you build buildings, buildings provide income but never cost any, you gain money to build more buildings. Players aren't really making complex choices or weighing the pros and cons when it comes to the economy in CK3 because there aren't really many choices to make. Because the economy (and income) can only really improve, players never really have to think hard about what they are doing, consider whether making a sacrifice in place A is worth a bonus in place B, etc. Line goes up, and this causes issues, particularly when it comes to scaling costs and the endless race to create more money sinks.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes there is a huge disparity between what something costs in game, and what it should cost logically. Most of the time, this disparity of cost is due to the fact that money is never really a thing you have to think about long term, its just something you are constantly getting more of. The developers have to compensate for massive incomes, so they have events scale based on your income. Paradox keeps adding new money sinks (like universities, minor court position upkeep, royal courts, legends, etc.) to the game in order to give players somewhere to spend their coin, but none of these solutions really address the problem of balance head-on. The whole reason why these money sinks keep being added is because players have too much income, and they only ever get more. Again, we have optional money sinks, but these are Optional. If you choose to use these money sinks you will get buffs out of them, usually either as good as the money you put in or better, which gradually contributes to the worsening of power creep (we all know its happening, even if its not that big a deal).

I think the real issue might be that the game rewards selfishly funneling everything into your own demense without ever thinking about the stability of the realm. Your personal demense IS the realm, your vassals are just dogs, basically. There aren't many tradeoffs to doing this: you don't ever have to spend money on your vassals, you don't really need to build and garrison fortifications on a vulnerable border, etc. Its a problem, because if nothing requires the players attention / resources, then they will just spend it on improving themselves. These are resources which the AI doesn't use nearly as well as players can, meaning that the more money players can redirect into building up their own demense, the more the disparity in power between the average AI and the player grows.

Now, I'm not here to suggest a full building rework, though that may be beneficial and interesting option for development in the future. I think that before anything like that occurs, we should deal with what problems lie at the foundation of the economy, before moving onto things that rely ON the economy. Below, I've listed a few problems I think exist within the context of CK3, that I hope most people can agree on.


An Incomplete List of Problems with the CK3 Economy

There are a bunch that we could talk about, but here are a few of them listed out:​
  1. Raiding is too lucrative (probably why practiced pirates was restricted to dukes and jumped-up kings only). Tribals earn money way too quickly in relation to feudals, which means tribals snowball too fast and are overall overpowered. Changing to a Feudal government doesn't feel like an evolution of the tribal system into something more refined, it feels like a nerf.
  2. People are not incentivized to use levies: there is rarely a strategic reason to use them over MaA. A lot of people don't even bother raising them, MaA are just so good that levies aren't necessary / are a waste of money & supply.
  3. Men at arms are expensive to replenish and use because otherwise the realm would rarely ever go into debt. Currently war costs very little to the realm, so it is tuned to cost a lot to the individual instead. Acceptable, but a bandaid solution. Not ideal.
  4. Scaling event costs are absurd. Your pet breaking something can cost more than repairing your entire realm after it was ravaged by an epidemic, while sending a child to university can cost more money than rulers might ever make in their lifetime. Immersion breaking, but more serious are the consequences for the future. Imagine a future where the developers have created a system where debt matters a lot for realm stability, yet there are still random events which can eat hundreds or thousands of your gold with no recourse. How would that be fair, at all?
  5. Debt is entirely character based, yet is treated as a realm wide problem. If your character dies, his debt vanishes: it is not inherited by his successor, it is not inherited by the realm, it just disappears into nothing. Yet if a king spends his own money on building a church, suddenly the whole realm is up in arms, the kingdom cannot declare war, negative events, etc. What is our treasury supposed to represent, the realm, the character, or both (poorly)?
  6. Levies cost you personal money to maintain and reinforce, yet are supposedly provided and equipped by your vassals. Why are they treated indistinguishably from my personal retinues (MaA)? If levies were paid for by the realm coffers, then choosing between levies and MaA would be an actual strategic decision: do I rely on my vassals and my allies, which would be much cheaper (but less reliable), or do I sacrifice what little personal money I make in order to afford a professional force of MaA, just in case?
  7. Tournaments are very expensive because they are tuned to have powerful rewards. They have to be tuned to have powerful rewards because they have to be seen as worth the money investment relative to all the other decisions you are making (hmm, do I spend my money on getting stronger, or do I spend it on a hunt?). The current balance necessitates they be overpowered, because they are directly competing against more useful options for investment.
  8. There is no such thing as generational consequences for bad decisions, everything is temporary. Characters cannot bankrupt the realm by throwing lavish feasts on the realm’s coin, because currently the realm treasury is just the characters treasury. If the king is deposed, the kingdom is suddenly free of debt. Hooray?
  9. The AI is bad at forward thinking and cannot afford tournaments or activities. This increases the performance gap between the player and the AI, while also denying the player opportunities to travel and visit foreign activities (because the AI hosts them less often). If money was set aside for specific use cases, then the AI would probably be better at saving for these kinds of uses.

What I think: Split the Treasury


With those criticisms in mind, I think that any attempt to fix the CK3 economy needs to begin with two very specific goals:

  • Make Debt (and Spending) Matter
No debt means no depth. If debt is never a long term problem, then spending will never require long term thinking. Players can never inherit a bad financial situation because debt disappears on death. Sometimes realms should be forced to run deficits, sometimes they should be forced to try and recover from a costly war by any means possible. Realm finances should be something you (and your enemies) take into account and think seriously about.
  • Separate Realm Coffers and Personal Coffers
The logical inconsistencies mentioned above, as well as the balance problems of players funneling money into personal holdings are reason enough as to why this is a decent idea. If realm coffers are a thing, then players will suddenly have to deal with an entirely new level of economy worthy of consideration. The money may exist, but it might not always be within your reach. Bear with me for a moment.

We take the total realm income including all vassal contributions, shave off a percent of the total (say, 20 to 30%) and give that percentage to the top-level liege. The rest of the money goes into the realm coffer, where it sits as a separate balance. The ruler can use it for certain things, but not for everything: there are limitations to how it is used, and how vassals expect it to be used. Some uses of this realm money is acceptable to vassals, while other uses are seen as selfish and are looked down on, perhaps even seen as tyrannical. Whatever money goes to the monarch is theirs to keep and do whatever with, however. Suddenly, the player is making less money, but its ok because they are not required to pay for everything out of their own pocket anymore. Some buildings could be constructed with realm funds, tournaments, feasts and other public activities could be bankrolled on royal dollar (pilgrimages are personal and probably should not be) etc. Some events (like plague reconstruction) might be paid for using your realm coffers, while other events (dealing with personal matters) could be paid for with personal funds. There are plenty of new decisions to make just by adding limitations to how money is used.


  1. Oh no, the king is being blackmailed by an ex lover, and he can't afford to pay! But the royal coffers are full.... If he just borrowed a little without asking, he could pay it back in the future.... eventually...
  2. Oh no, a costly war has dragged on far too long and the royal coffers are running dry! Maybe the king could fund the war himself for a little while longer...
  3. Oh no, the realm is in danger of running out of money, and the king has nothing left to give! Maybe the king could take out a loan with the holy order.... it could keep the crown in the black for a few more months! But the holy order would hold the king accountable for repaying the loan, not the crown..,

And so on. Furthermore, I think that tying debt to titles AS WELL AS characters is good for the roleplaying side of the game, since it encourages players to interact with (and indebt themselves to) other characters in order to pay off the debts of the realm. Problems can be caused by characters and solved with characters, but they don't necessarily need to be tied to characters. The whole point is to section off some money so that the player gets less of it, so that when he does get access to it, it feels like a worthwhile decision with pros, cons, and actual strategy behind it.

And above all of that, I think this kind of mechanical change is important because of how limited the current system is. I think that we are missing out on a lot of potential mechanics, content and depth that just cannot exist in the current system. Thus if we want there to be depth in the economy, we need to change the economy framework first.


What are we missing out on?


This is just a list of some problems that are directly caused by the fact that personal treasury and the realm treasury is combined. While none of these issues are game breaking, I think we can all agree that these are at least noticeable issues that exist within the game right in some form or another. But there is a whole other set of problems that we would have to talk about too.

What about all the problems that are indirectly caused by the lack of a realm/character treasury split? What about all the potential gameplay options and decisions which the game cannot support because of this split not existing?

  1. There is rarely any moment where the player is forced to make tough decisions about how money is used. This means the player will never get the interesting long term consequences of being financially irresponsible.
  2. There is never any moment where the player is forced to make tough decisions about how money is used. A player will never have to make a choice to risk tyranny and dip into the realm treasury in order to pay off their own personal debt to another (i.e., blackmail, loans from holy orders, etc). This means the player will never get the interesting gameplay consequences of being financially irresponsible (vassals might hate you for dipping into the realm funds to better yourself, but that is a choice you have to make)
  3. The player always has to fund buildings from their own pocket, meaning they are incentivized to invest only in themselves, instead of their vassals. With no realm treasury, why would players ever bother trying to improve the realm, instead of just their own personal demesne? This greatly contributes to the problem of players getting too strong too quickly.
  4. Realm laws don’t really factor into the realm economy at all, other than determining how much tax vassals pay (on an individual contract basis). There are no laws determining how money is to be used: this means no laws to break, no tyrannical use of funds, no requirements to pay out spoils of war to vassals, no laws about the distribution of ransom money, etc. Potential depth and nuance is lost by omission.
  5. Characters with the greedy trait are only ever greedy in events and personal life, but are rarely greedy in matters of state. Avarice is just a modifier to income for the most part, not something that is actually dangerous to the realm. A greedy character will never have to lie awake at night stressing out over the fact that the realm treasury is full, but their personal coffers are not. After all, no one will notice a little bit missing, right? It’s mine by right, it should be mine! (Greedy characters lose roleplay opportunities, all characters lose strategic decisions and consequences)
  6. There are rarely any moments where foreign kings, claimants, etc will attempt to denounce you on the basis of you being a bankrupt, lecherous king. If the kingdom of France is bankrupt, but the king of France's family has grown fat and rich by sucking the crown dry, then why would the pope (or other rulers) not excommunicate or denounce the king of France? Again, debt is character only, which means it only exists within the context of your character.
  7. Because tournaments are always held with your own personal money, the game is designed so that there isn’t really any obligation to hold them. Legitimacy mechanics were added to the game, which is a great addition: but wouldn’t it be nice if you ever had to make a tough decision to indebt yourself to a vassal in order to keep up legitimacy by hosting a tournament (that the realm cannot afford)? There could be times where your realm is in dire straits financially, but you have to just keep taking on debt in order to publicly pretend everything is going fine. (Don’t worry, my liege, I will pay for the upcoming tournament. For a hook, that is…but surely that is just a trifling cost in the grand scheme of things?)

Etcetera, I’m sure you see where I'm going with this. The current, weird hybrid of treating the treasury as belonging to the character-but-sometimes-realm-who-cares causes a lot of problems and removes a lot of potential depth from the game just by virtue of how simplified it is. Characters matter less, roleplaying matters less, traits matter less, laws matter less, vassal opinions and traits matter less, decisions matter less and have only temporary consequences (debt is wiped out on death, remember? Just rope yourself to solve debt forever. Infinite money glitch 867ad working NO VIRUS, LEGIT).


So what is the solution?


Well, I have some suggestions for how this system could be reworked, none of which (I believe, correct me if I am wrong) would be impossible to implement. I have not seen the CK3 source code, I have no idea whether it would be possible or not, or even if there is the will to do so if it was (I swear one of the devs posted on this forum about their desire to expand banking and the economy through holy orders before, am I crazy?). I can only really offer suggestions and critiques based upon my own subjective concerns. Regardless, I have tried to keep my suggestions low key, in order to create concepts which at least appear to be doable within the context of the systems of CK3 we have today. My suggestions are divided into three sections: Essential, Beneficial, and Optional.
  1. Essential - The basic mechanics or systems changes which I believe are required in order for everything else I have suggested to function properly. If the devs ever decide to do anything like this, something like these would need to come first.
  2. Beneficial - Anything which will add depth to the systems / changes suggested above, such as new ways to interact with the new system, or changes to old systems to match with the new. The point of these suggestions is to add new opportunities for players to make strategic decisions with the resources the have (or don't have, ha).
  3. Optional - Anything which would add to the systems and changes suggested above, but which are flavor based or lean more towards roleplay. Low priority.


Essential:


  • Realm coffers and personal coffers should be separated. Because I already explained above, I won't repeat myself here. Here is a basic example of how the UI for this split could look, made quickly in photoshop. Realm treasury is indicated by the gold ducats with the dangling crown, while the personal treasury is marked with silver coloured ducats.
    Fake Money Divide.png
  • Funds made by the realm are automatically divided, with the majority going to the realm coffers while a percentage goes to the ruler. What percentage goes where could be determined by realm laws, either separately, or just through crown authority. This would allow more levers for vassals to oppose the king, and more laws for the king to customize and centralize their realm.
  • Characters should be able to take from the realm treasury, at a cost. Obviously this would require some kind of drawback, like tyranny or negative opinion modifiers as a tradeoff. While vassals may strongly disapprove of this kind of conduct, sometimes its just necessary to get the job done. And really, who is going to miss a few ducats? Concept below.
  • Fake Withdrawal Decision.png
  • Characters should be able to deposit into the realm treasury, or pay for the deficits of their realm with personal funds. The easiest way to implement this would be to automatically start paying from the personal treasury of the ruler if the realm treasury is negative and dipping in the red. Could also be handled by event that pops up on a deficit with an empty treasury, to allow different kinds of characters to choose how they want to respond (greedy might refuse, charitable might help to their own detriment, etc).
  • Titles must be able to hold debt: Realm debt must be passed down from ruler to ruler, going away if the debt is paid off or the title is dissolved. This will make the realm economy actually meaningful, and will require characters to deal with the consequences of the previous ruler’s reign. hell or high water. It also means that the fall and decline of empires could occur more naturally in game, if, for example, an empire was poorly run, got caught in some bad wars, or was run by several hedonistic spenders in a row. Perhaps we could do something interesting here: decrease the likelihood of dissolution factions by default, but greatly increase the likelihood of them forming when the realm is in serious debt (IE, the likelihood scaling based on how much debt the realm is in). A bloated, indebted bureaucracy could encourage opportunistic vassals to want to abandon ship.
  • Personal debt must be passed down to characters within the same family. This has to be done in order for the economy to feel meaningful (which is incredibly important, because it encourages players to take action and make tough choices like steal from the realm treasury, take loans, exploit people for money, raid your neighbors, etc.) If you can just die to delete your debt, then debt feels frivolous and consequence free. Becoming landless (which is coming up at some point) should wipe personal debt, so that players don't get stuck in an endless debt spiral where they can do nothing and just keep losing more and more.

Beneficial:


  • Maybe levies could be paid for by the realm, while MaA could be paid for from the ruler's pocket. Early on rulers may be more reliant on their vassals and alliances to defend their realm due to little personal income, while having a professional army of MaA later on (funded by your profitable demense) will feel much more like an accomplishment. Concept image below, showing an levy army (left) which costs the realm money, and an MaA army (right) which costs the ruler money.
  • fake-armycost-divide-png.1102543
  • Realm / Title Laws which determine how much of income goes to the realm and the ruler. This can be tied to crown authority, so that rulers at high crown authority are allowed to change the laws in order to receive a larger cut from the realm’s income.
  • Some activities (tournaments, feasts, weddings) should be able to be paid for with realm funds or personal funds. Why not? Some events are relevant to the stability of the realm, whereas others are a needless expense that the king can afford to pay for. There could even be realm laws that prevent the king from using royal funds for activities, seeing it as a waste. Anyway, this basic feature could be done through a simple checkbox or button on the ‘host activity’ screen. Tournament rewards should probably be reduced/balanced as a result, since players (and the AI) will likely have more money set aside to use on them. Concept image below, also photoshop.
    Fake Activity Divide.png
  • Events that require the character to pay for something should be refactored according to who/what the event effects: paying for repairs after a plague should draw from the realm treasury, while paying for your child to go to university (or for damage caused by your cat) should come from the characters pocket. This means that cost scaling could be different depending on where the money is coming from. Sending your child to university might only cost a few hundred gold instead of a few thousand, since you are only getting access to a fraction of the money that the realm is getting.
  • Buildings can be built with either personal funds or realm funds. Vassals will approve of using realm funds to build up vassal domains, but will disapprove of the ruler using realm funds to build up themselves.
  • The ruler should be balanced around getting less money than the realm does. If personal coffers are hard to replenish, then players are more incentivized to steal from the realm coffers, extort vassals with hooks, beg the pope for money, go on taxation tours, be conservative with their funds, etc. (pressure creates new situations and new gameplay challenges, while encouraging players to use existing mechanics in creative ways).
  • Players currently can't host tournaments / activities (or do a lot of things, actually) when they cant afford the full price up front. This needs to go away. Stop putting up baby gates around every potential bad choice I could make. If I want to make a bad decision and put myself in short term debt, then let me do it. Don't refuse to allow me to do something because it is against my own interests: If I want to do it, it is in my interests.
  • Tribals should be forced to distribute raid loot among their vassals, while higher tribal authority could decrease the amount you are forced to give away. This would decrease the absurd amount of money that tribals make while naturally slowing down their growth: as their authority increases, so does their economic strength / ability to profit from raids.


Optional, but Fun:


  • A new event for the Greedy trait, where a ruler lies sleeplessly thinking over their personal funds, tempted to steal from the treasury, gaining stress if they refuse to do so.
  • A new event for the Generous trait, where your advisors confront you over the fact that you have been giving away realm funds too liberally.
  • A new event where rulers can ask their vassals to help bankroll an activity in exchange for either a promise of future payment or a hook.
  • Schemes where the steward or regent can steal from the royal treasury.
  • Schemes where the RULER can covertly steal from the royal treasury, without being noticed or gaining tyranny. Be careful though, your steward might notice the missing funds and start looking into them. This could lead to a fun event chain where you try to frame someone else for your own crimes, to take suspicion off yourself.
  • A new scheme for intrigue characters to forge evidence of a regent stealing money. Useful if the player wants to unseat a regent and take the position for themselves.
Your Thoughts?

If you have anything to add or say about the economy in CK3, please do so. I'm kinda hoping this thread will start a discussion about stuff like this so that we can get an idea of what people broadly want for this game, and figure out an idea of what the playerbase wants from a CK3 economic system. If you are a dev, then give me attention oh my god I love attention aaah I NEED IT I'd like to hear your thoughts about this kind of stuff as well. There is a lot that we (the playerbase) don't know about how CK3 works behind the scenes, what is feasible and what is not, etc. You guys have a pretty decent track record of showing up in threads and sharing your own insights, ideas, etc and we all appreciate that. Also I did NOT write up this whole post and make concept art just to be left on read.

TL;DR


I think the game might be better off if kingdoms could go into debt, not just characters.
 

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Only at the end of game's timespan the concept of crown as entity different from the patrimony of the ruler has emerged so I don't think it would be historical to separate both.

However it would be very much useful for all the reasons you have described. It is nonsensical that a cat may cost as much as buying equipment for hundreds of heavily armed footmen.
 
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I think the main problem is that the economy is not properly based around the production of goods/population in the realm. In my opinion, the core idea should be that the population creates resources and the rulers manage to extract some portion of it to themselves.
But there are no population numbers, county development modifier is not nearly as impactful as it should be and modifiers given by buildings are a bit arbitrary.

Now we have a building system that allows for insane income growth during the game, that forces scaling of feast/tournament etc.costs by era to work as money sinks. Economic growth was far slower in the middle ages than what the game money flows suggest.

What we need is a system that makes current domain taxes and levies be a portion of domain gdp and domain adult male population.
Economic buildings and innovations could boost gdp growth, administrative innovations wouldn't make the "cake" bigger but help you get a bigger share out of it.

This economy would serve as a grounding, in relation to which reasonable event/activity costs could be assessed.

We don't need a vic3 pop system, but some proper estimates of how big a portion of your adult male population were massacred in the latest battle could help make levy recovery rates and long-term impacts of war and plague more historical.

One of the first things to do could be the following: like vassal contracts have low/medium/high taxes & levies, similar rate system should be applied to our own domains.

For tribals, the ability to tax money would be poor, ability to mobilize men better compared to feudals.

Higher tax/levy demands for your domain would hinder development and pop growth and lower popular opinion, but be still lucrative in the short term. Extortionate rates could give county control maluses.
 
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No comments on the broader idea, but it's worth noting that Imperator did have separate realm and personal wealth (with the realm being used for things like building buildings or armies, and the personal being used for things like bribing fellow senators), so it's an idea Paradox has played around with elsewhere.

But in addition to the public/private distinction not really fitting most of the map, the CK3 economic system has much bigger issues.
 
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I really like that. Could also work with money inheritance better too, for example with partition succession and only one highest tier title, the realm finances all get inherited by the title heir while personal finances are split between heirs.

How would it work with cases where there are multiple highest tier titles that get divided on inheritance or there is confederate partition though? Splitting it evenly seems pretty clunky when you have significantly different size kingdoms such as Brittany and France, but having each kingdom have its own finances when ruled by the same ruler would make things really convoluted, both in terms of seeing that and determining where expenses go.
 
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As was said above, Paradox familiar with concept of personal wealth, Imperator: Rome even have some good and fun stuff you/your characters can do with money like acquiring holdings and buying personal armies. And as i can remember Imperator: Rome don't have this absurd inflation value of 100000% several years after game start, which is the case for CK3.
 
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Ugh, raising a hundred dudes with armor and sword shouldn't really be beggering a duke but unless you modify your vassal contracts towards taxes instead of levies or make some buildings, by defeault replacing losses is really a blow to your income. There are a whole lot of other things regarding the prices (though not the economy itself in soem cases) as well, you can build an entire castle with the amount you gift to some people just for +15 opinion bonus. The amount you give a vassal asking for money in exchange for his county (court event) is also ridiculous when compared to building prices and for 300 gold you can give away barony level land with instant castle holding built for free. Seriously, 300 gold for an entire barony when there are many tier 1 buildings costing 75-100 gold?

Although not strictly related to economy, having mentioned holdings I must add holding system is also flawed entirely because currently holdings themselves act as buildings. It is, partially, true but a temple holding really isn't just a church or a castle holding isn't a castle that has no villages/towns attached to it or perhaps even surrounding it and with absolutely no church anywhere within it. Constantinople is a castle holding but during the time period of the game it is one of the most populated cities in the map if not the most populated city. And if you just turn it into a city holding, well, it doesn't exactly reflect the reality either, although doing it better than just being a castle holding.
 
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That is one hell of a write up. Good job. Interesting takes. I agree, but will Paradox be able to get close enough for modders to go the rest of the way.
 
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I like these ideas, although I do question the historicity of separate coffers.

That said, while I do like all this stuff, the biggest problem underlying everything is that realm building is incredibly dull. It’s much wiser to spend gold on more buildings to increase your income to spend gold on more buildings than anything fun - before anything like these suggestions get implemented, that core loop has to change.

I don’t think CK is served well by having a particularly deep realm building mechanic either, so I’m not calling for more complexity there, this isn’t Vic 3. I think the entire generation of money needs to be overhauled to come from the kind of core character-based systems the player is supposed to be interacting with instead of this weird and shallow realm builder minigame.
 
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I like these ideas, although I do question the historicity of separate coffers.

That said, while I do like all this stuff, the biggest problem underlying everything is that realm building is incredibly dull. It’s much wiser to spend gold on more buildings to increase your income to spend gold on more buildings than anything fun - before anything like these suggestions get implemented, that core loop has to change.

I don’t think CK is served well by having a particularly deep realm building mechanic either, so I’m not calling for more complexity there, this isn’t Vic 3. I think the entire generation of money needs to be overhauled to come from the kind of core character-based systems the player is supposed to be interacting with instead of this weird and shallow realm builder minigame.
Something like certain techs increasing the base stats of your holdings? And then the character stats and traits further modify those? Maybe with some additional decision like interactions to provide some pro/con province modifiers.

There should probably still be some buildings the player is responsible for. But maybe limit them to great works like cathedrals, palaces, and fortifications. Basically the kinds of things that monarchs directly commissioned. It also "feels" more "realistic" than King Richard or Ghengis Khan dictating exactly where farms and quarries should be built.
 
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