Total War: Three Kingdoms has been breaking franchise records. Already the most pre-ordered game in the series, it also managed to have the most concurrent number of players when it released. People are pursuing this game, even if they don’t want to pursue Lu Bu. If you do plan on getting the mightiest warrior in China and play as his adoptive father, the tyrant Dong Zhuo — aka The Big Dong — then this guide is for you.
Note: This guide is for Romance Mode in Total War: Three Kingdoms with the campaign and battle difficulty set to hard. For Dong Zhuo’s campaign in the Mandate of Heaven expansion, head over here. Likewise, our Total War: Three Kingdoms guides and features hub has a trove of information for you.
Unlocking Dong Zhuo And Lu Bu
Dong Zhuo’s faction won’t be playable if you’re just starting Total War: Three Kingdoms. There are two ways to unlock him:
- Defeat his army during the campaign.
- Win the campaign by becoming Emperor of China.
The first option is actually a lot harder to do due to a strict turn limit. Roughly around turn 10, an event will fire that will automatically kill Dong Zhuo. The closest warlord who can rush him would be Ma Teng or Zheng Jiang, but it’s going to go down to the wire.
The second option is lengthier, but you don’t have to rush things. It’s as easy as playing and learning the game itself. Dong Zhuo’s campaign can be quite tough as well. You might want to learn the basics via our beginner’s guide while progressing through your playthrough.
Dong Zhuo: The Tyrant
What exactly can you expect once you’ve unlocked Dong Zhuo? Almost the entirety of China is against him due to his tyrannical actions. You do have the Han Empire (a passive AI) as your vassal. Technically, their territory would be something enemies have to chew through before getting to you.
Dong Zhuo’s unique perks include the recruitment of Xiliang cavalry. These shock cavalry pack quite a punch and are deadly when flanking. Complementing your play style would be the Enforced Conscription unique buildings that boost public order, unit recruitment ranks, seasonal deployments, and mustering time at the cost of population growth.
When capturing settlements, Dong Zhuo also has a fourth option: Raze. This will completely depopulate the settlement, turning it into an abandoned wasteland. Doing this, however, will increase your intimidation.
Intimidation And Coercion
Just like Cao Cao has “credibility” as his unique resource, Dong Zhuo also has his own, “intimidation.” Intimidation has a maximum value of 100 points. At high levels of intimidation, public order also increases and corruption is lowered. If intimidation goes below 30 points, that’s when bad things happen.
You gain intimidation via the following actions:
- winning a battle = 10 intimidation
- executing an officer in your court = 20 intimidation; officer satisfaction/loyalty will go down so try to avoid beheading people
- colonizing an abandoned settlement = 4 intimidation
- razing a settlement = variable, depending on the settlement’s value
- executing prisoners during a battle does not increase intimidation
However, it also decays each turn. You lose 4 intimidation per turn at lower levels, and 8 intimidation per turn when its value is above 80. Losing a battle also deducts 15 intimidation instantly, and promoting an officer to keep them satisfied will use up 4 points.
The best use of the intimidation resource, however, is using the “Coercion” diplomatic deal. This unique action is only available to Dong Zhuo, the Tyrant of the Han Empire in Total War: Three Kingdoms. When you make diplomatic proposals, you can also use the coerce command as part of the deal.
This will have a corresponding value, say, +17.5 points. This means you can request for a trade up to the extent of that value. You can mix and match from a lump sum of money, ancillaries, trade agreements, and even marriages. For the Han Empire, each coercion deal for payment would net you roughly 3,800 to 4,500 gold in the early game.
Coercion cannot be used in conjunction with a peace deal. Likewise, it does not seem to be affected by your trade influence, and it also does not affect your actual diplomatic relations. For the most part, I’ve used it to bully the Han Empire into giving me lots of gold every so often. I’ll talk more about this later in the guide.
Friends and family
Before you start moving your armies around, check the lay of the land first. Dong Zhuo is at war with a dozen warlords from all over China. The good news is that you start at a higher rank — extra assignments, trade partners, council positions, and administrator jobs are in order.
The ace up your sleeve would be your adopted son, Lu Bu. The mightiest warrior in the land leads your armies, and he may, eventually, lead your own faction. Your wife Dong Peishan and your heir Dong Min are able to boost peasantry income via assignments. That’s great because Chang’an and Anding would need help. Your generals, Li Jue, Guo Si, and others can hold their own. The redoubtable Zhang Liao is also part of your faction. Later down the road, consider getting Sentinel and Strategist subclass characters who can provide commerce and industry boosts.
I chose Guo Si as the administrator for Anding (peasantry income bonus). I picked Xu Rong as my temporary administrator for Chang’An. I would eventually replace him when I found an officer who provided an industry and commerce boost.
Get Lu Bu to capture the settlement in Anding on the first turn. You can get some extra trading partners, so I’d suggest enacting a trade deal with the Han Empire, Liu Biao, and Han Sui. Feel free to use coercion since you’ve got a lot of intimidation when you begin the campaign. Do not start any deals yet with Ma Teng.
On the next turn, recruit some troops for Lu Bu’s and Niu Fu’s armies, and slowly park them near Ma Teng’s territory. He will likely lose his battle with Gong Du. Likewise, within the first five turns, Ma Teng will stupidly leave his alliance with Han Sui. Go ahead and declare war: He may be a Ma, but you’re his daddy.
Next up is Gong Du. The Yellow Turban veteran just trounced Ma Teng, and he’s raring for a fight. Show him the error of his ways. You can actually take out both their factions within the first eight turns.
Han Sui is the crux of this plan. Sometimes he might declare war on you, and sometimes he might not. Getting embroiled in a war with him will complicate matters in your Three Kingdoms campaign, especially if he’s one of your trading partners. You could also consider taking out Zhang Lu so you have the entirety of the Han Zhong commandery under your control.
Also, build a Confucian temple (level 2) as early as possible. You’ll need it for a reform down the road that’ll reduce character salaries.
In Total War: Three Kingdoms, Dong Zhuo has a fairly lengthy faction dilemma that involves the love triangle of him, the beautiful Diao Chan, and the lovestruck Lu Bu. Here’s the event chain:
- On turn 10, the first event fires. This lets you recruit Diao Chan to follow the story. Alternatively, you decline the offer, and you can even kill her father Wang Yun.
- On turn 15 or so, you have a choice between having Dong Zhuo marry Diao Chan, much to Lu Bu’s chagrin (storyline path), or letting the two young lovers kiss, hug, and make babies (alternate story).
- On turn 21, if you let The Big Dong marry Diao Chan, well, tough luck. Lu Bu will end up skewering him like pork sausage. Dong Zhuo dies, and his heir Dong Min replaces him.
- Much later, if Dong Min dies, a civil war between your generals — Li Jue and Guo Si — might trigger. I haven’t experienced this since Dong Min is still alive in my campaign. It seems Dong Min’s death would also lead to Lu Bu taking control of the faction, but I can’t be certain.
Note: In one of my earlier playthroughs, while I was reviewing Total War: Three Kingdoms, I may have discovered a way that would prevent the entire event chain from continuing. I did it by sending out Diao Chan as a spy. For some reason, even though I had already acquired half of China by then, daddy Dong and kid Bu remained chums.
Defending Luoyang and Chang’An
Defending Luoyang will be a big “no.” You’ll get swarmed easily by Coalition armies there. Instead, funnel them down to Chang’An, which has a decent garrison, forcing hostile troops to move down a narrow path or sail down the Yellow River.
This will be the toughest part of your Total War: Three Kingdoms campaign as Dong Zhuo. You’ll have Cao Cao, Yuan Shu, Yuan Shao, and even the bandit lords Zhang Yan and Zheng Jiang barreling down on you. If you can hold them off with Lu Bu’s army, along with an extra army in support (mainly archers led by strategists who’ve unlocked fire arrows), then you have a chance of surviving.
Around this time, you’ll also start bleeding funds since your trade agreements have been blocked. There’s a chunk of land in red that’s blocking trade between you and the Han Empire, as well as other partners. This is when you start farming Yellow Turbans for gold and intimidation points.
Yellow Turban farming
Wait, what’s that? Farming Yellow Turbans? Yes, you read that correctly. Go and increase taxes to gain more gold and lose a bit of public order. At the same time, let those Yellow Turban rebellions start popping up.
While Yellow Turban armies are mustering, they’ll gain more troops and even extra officers or retinues. On the flip side, you gain public order while that’s going on. You want two smaller armies (each led by a general with four archers and two spearmen units) roaming across your lands.
Whack the mini Yellow Turban rebellions to gain 10 intimidation from each victory. If some survivors escape, whack them again and you’ll have an extra 10 intimidation. Sometimes the peasant armies would throw themselves at your cities even if they haven’t fully replenished, and your garrisons can defeat them with ease.
Every time you’ve got over 70 intimidation, ask the Han Empire for some gold using coercion. Again, never let intimidation go below 30 points or corruption starts increasing. These Yellow Turban rebellions will be your means of “getting the bank to approve a loan.”
Battle tactics and army composition
In Total War: Three Kingdoms, Lu Bu remains the single deadliest foe for any army. His skill, the “Rage of Lu Bu,” will make hostile units ragequit. By that, I mean they’d get shattered by a massive AoE attack that causes dozens of casualties, leading to those peasants quitting the battlefield altogether.
Most of my battles involved spearmen and archer lines waiting for the enemy to get closer. Then Lu Bu would simply pounce to wreak havoc on the entire opposing army. In tougher battles, when my troops have routed, Lu Bu can stand alone, soloing anything in his path. Just be careful because he’s not completely invincible. Some mis-clicks and the usual carelessness could lead to his doom, just like in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel.
Zhang Liao is a stalwart defender, but he’s also not invincible. Use of a mix of spearmen (or swordsmen) plus archers. He’s already got fire arrows unlocked. Li Jue, Fan Chou, and Niu Fu are your cavalry generals; give them some extra spearmen or archers. Guo Si and Xu Rong, meanwhile, should have retinues consisting purely of spearmen. Random strategists that pop up — such as Zhang Hong, Mao Jie, and Cai Yong — might have fire arrows automatically unlocked as well.
As for units, Xiliang cavalry troops are great for flanking, taking out archers, and ramming beleaguered troops stuck in a melee press. The problem is that they’re quite expensive, and you’re not likely to use them in the early game. Similar to Ma Teng’s campaign, though, you’ll probably find yourself grabbing numerous horse pasture settlements that will provide cavalry discounts.
Tyrant and son
Once you’ve weathered the storm, the Coalition will devolve into infighting and the warlords will be distracted. Push onward and seize the opportunity! Recapture the trading port at Luoyang and expand from there. Everyone gets funneled down the narrow pathways, leading to the same meat grinder as Chang’an. Also, Yuan Shao can be that jerk who ends up vassalizing everyone, which means you could be in for a tougher slog.
When you’re swimming in cash, don’t forget that you can annex the Han Empire’s territories by sending an army to those settlements. Major settlements (towns and cities) cost 5,000 gold, and minor settlements cost 2,000 gold. There are also abandoned areas in northwest China that you can colonize — major settlements cost 8,000 gold, and minor settlements cost 4,000 gold.
As far as storyline/dilemma choices go, you can follow the historical (or novel’s) route and still come out on top. Dong Zhuo’s a fairly expensive lord to field anyway, so you might not even use him in battle. I have not tested the alternative choices, or even what transpires in Records Mode.
Whatever the case may be, you’re sure to experience a challenging but highly rewarding campaign when playing as Dong Zhuo and Lu Bu. It’s time you see why the mighty warrior should never be pursued. As the saying goes: “Among men, Lu Bu; among horses Red Hare.” You’ll realize why he is a warrior without equal. For more guides and features, don’t forget to check out our Total War: Three Kingdoms hub right over here.