Total War: Three Kingdoms is firing on all cylinders. It’s already making waves as the biggest title in the entire Total War franchise, selling a million copies within the first week. Guess who also made waves back during the last days of the Han Dynasty? That’s right, it’s none other than Liu Bei himself. This guide is all about the scion of the royal bloodline and the eventual ruler of the Kingdom of Shu-Han.
Note: This guide is for the original campaign (Romance Mode/VH difficulty). You can also check out our separate guides for Liu Bei’s DLC campaigns in Mandate of Heaven and A World Betrayed. Likewise, our Total War: Three Kingdoms guides and features hub has a trove of information for you.
Liu Bei: Lord Benevolence
For those who’d like to know more about the time period and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel, it’s best to check out Kongming.net (named after Liu Bei’s strategist Zhuge Liang) and the Scholars of Shen Zhou forums. You can also check out our beginner’s and mechanics guide for more info about the basics.
Anyway, if we go by Liu Bei’s depiction in the novel — or any other related media such as shows and movies — we’ll easily come to the conclusion that he’s the nicest fellow in the world with the proverbial rags to riches story. Liu Bei, whose style name is Xuande, was a mere sandal maker and peddler who rose to preeminence in those troubled times. However, he also has a notorious reputation.
Luo Guanzhong, the author of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel (San Guo Yan Yi), was a Shu fanboy, and his views also coincided with the revival of interest in the Han during the Ming Dynasty. This was a thousand years after the actual historical events had transpired. Truthfully speaking, Liu Bei’s exploits — and his virtue and benevolence — were simply a means to an end. He was, in many ways, the ultimate opportunist.
In Total War: Three Kingdoms, you’ll see his journey take shape. His campaign is not as hectic as Cao Cao’s, but definitely not as easy as Sun Jian’s. It takes a bit of luck, but you’ll eventually get the ball rolling. When that happens, you can expect lots of territories as well as jolly officers joining your merry band.
Liu Bei: Scion of the Han
As you can see from Total War: Three Kingdoms’ faction/leader selection screen above, Liu Bei’s got some neat bonuses that are very helpful for the early game. His unique perk cuts militia unit upkeep in half, which is an absolute godsend for conquest. As mentioned in our previous Total War: Three Kingdoms guides for Cao Cao, Dong Zhuo, and Ma Teng, your retinue compositions will depend heavily on discounted units. All three of those warlords can field high-tier cavalry, or gain cavalry discounts. In Liu Bei’s case, he gets reduced upkeep for every militia unit — Ji (spear) militia, saber militia, archer militia, and, yes, even low-tier cavalry units.
Liu Bei also has a unique building, the Shu-Han Tax Collector (increases peasant income but lowers public order). He also has unique units such as the Yi Archers and Yi Marksmen. Unlike archer militia units, these are a bit more expensive.
Liu Bei: Unity And Unification
Liu Bei has a unique resource called “Unity.” This increases when you win battles and choose the release and ransom action (gain gold and 3 Unity). It also increases depending on the number of satisfied officers in your court. Remember the tips from our beginner’s guide on how to keep officers happy? Yep, the same rules apply.
Unity increases each turn up to a maximum of 1,000 points. For each stage of unity you’ve achieved, you gain increased income from all sources, extra administrator positions, and a boost to your prestige. This allows you to quickly climb up the faction ranks. By turn 50, I’m already a duke with over half a dozen administrators for my lands. Not bad, sandal-peddling, long-eared guy!
Since you gain extra administrator positions from the Unity mechanic, feel free to forego the yellow (administrator) reforms until later in the game. In my Total War: Three Kingdoms campaign as Liu Bei, I focused primarily on the blue (trade) and green (farming/food) techs.
Anyway, there are two major uses for Unity:
- Annexing Han Empire cities without a fight; costs 50 Unity.
- Sending an officer on an assignment to boost satisfaction/loyalty for five years; costs 5 Unity.
Liu Bei also has the “Unification” diplomatic deal. If you’re stronger than another faction and you have good relations, you can ask them to unite/merge with yours. He can do this very early in the game as well, whereas other lords would need to vassalize first then annex, or confederate, requiring higher faction ranks.
Friends And Family
Liu Bei’s journey in Total War: Three Kingdoms can be rough, but he’s got his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei to help him out. In fact, the Three Brothers tend to be the strongest army when the game starts owing to their weapons and perks.
You don’t have anyone else besides the loyal Jian Yong (he can boost industry income though). Liu Bei doesn’t have a wife and he doesn’t have children either. Poor guy.
Don’t worry because there will be more officers in the wild waiting to be recruited. Ideally, you’ll want to pick strategists since they can boost commerce income via assignments or administrative positions. Some, such as Mao Jie, Zhang Hong, and Mi Zhu will have fire arrows already unlocked as well.
This was my court around turn 50:
Okay, yes, that lineup already looks insane! Cao Cao, Cao Ren, Sun Ce, Zhou Yu, Gongsun Zan, Zhao Yun! Yikes! As I said, it requires a bit of luck.
When you start your Total War: Three Kingdoms campaign as Liu Bei, you don’t even have a land to call your own. First, you’ll have to take out the Yellow Turban army and the nearby mine settlement. Huang Shao, a Yellow Turban leader, is also your neighbor and he can quickly field massive stacks. It’s imperative that you take him out early in the game.
While this is going on, make sure you’ve got a trade agreement with Tao Qian and Kong Rong. These two loyal Han servants will become stalwart allies down the road.
In 191 AD, barely a few turns into your Total War: Three Kingdoms campaign, your faction dilemma/event will fire. A former bandit who’s part of Tao Qian’s force has killed Cao Song, Cao Cao’s father. The son seeks vengeance, declaring war on Tao Qian. You could help out Tao Qian, or you could choose not to be embroiled in the conflict.
You don’t need to worry too much since Cao Cao might still be busy with other warlords. If he does attack, make sure you can defend Tao Qian. In 194 AD, Tao Qian will die of old age, and he will bequeath his lands and officers to you. Just like that, Lord Benevolence has got the ball rolling.
Note that Tao Qian might end up dying before 194 AD. This event might not fire since it’ll be his son Tao Ying who ends up leading his faction.
More Officers And Distant Relatives Dropping By
After holding off Cao Cao, I then expanded southeast taking out Ze Rong and Zhang Chao (two forgettable chaps). I also ended up recruiting two female officers — Liu Huimin and Liu Pingmin. Notice the surnames? Yep, they’re part of the Liu family and a little icon on their court portrait will even tell you that they’re Xuande’s distant relatives.
Since they’re related to your leader by blood, you can use the “receive marriage” diplomatic deal to grab an officer that you like. Heck, I could even get Lu Bu if I wanted to, but that meant making peace with Dong Min and the Han Empire (and I wanted the latter’s territory).
I talked to Sun Jian, and he let his son and heir Sun Ce join my forces. Now that Sun Ce married a distant relative, he got counted as a distant relative as well. I could then assign him as my heir since Liu Bei doesn’t have kids yet. This will allow Sun Ce to equip ancillaries that have faction-wide effects.
Why Sun Ce? Because this was around turn 40. If you remember our Sun Jian guide, the renowned Wu strategist Zhou Yu ends up joining around this time. Since he’s best buds with Sun Ce, he ended up joining my faction as well!
A couple of turns later, and Yuan Shao, the KING IN DA NORF (ahem), managed to eliminate Gongsun Zan’s faction. Well, guess who knocked on my door? It’s Gongsun Zan and Zhao Yun!
Do note that there’s supposed to be an event that fires wherein Zhao Yun automatically joins you. This event did not occur for me. Instead, Zhao Yun was just a recruitable officer.
Liu Bei And Cao Cao: The Great Rivalry
Admiration and enmity exist between Liu Bei and Cao Cao, and that resonates in Total War: Three Kingdoms as well. After our short-lived conflict, I was able to unite my faction with Liu Dai’s (another minor lord and also a distant relative), and Cao Cao was surrounded on all sides.
Rather than go to war, I did the unthinkable. I vassalized him, and then I annexed on the same turn! Now, all of China thinks I’m no longer trustworthy (which does make sense considering how rival lords viewed Liu Bei). Hey, he’s an opportunist after all.
This is a little bit too gamey, and it does have some dire repercussions. On the flipside, I have control over the central plains, and I’m still good friends with Kong Rong, Sun Jian, and Liu Biao.
Speaking of Liu Biao, one of the campaign missions you get is to confederate/unite your forces. This is next to impossible for me given that Liu Biao still holds a lot of territories and Liu Bei is now considered one of the most dishonest people around. Oh, well, I can live with that.
The Lords Of Shu-Han And The Three Visits
Much later in the game, you’ll even get the Three Visits event where you get to recruit the Sleeping Dragon Zhuge Liang, and maybe even Pang Tong as well. This event chain starts around 206 AD. The strategist Xu Shu will join your faction and he’ll tell you of wise men in need of a liege. Sadly, Xu Shu won’t be in it for the long haul. Shortly after he joins, a new event will fire where you need to give him up to Cao Cao if you want to continue the story. If Cao Cao is no longer in the game as a separate faction (such as the case in my playthrough after I annexed him), then this decision is skipped and you can start the Three Visits event proper.
From 206 to 207 AD, you’ll be notified that Liu Bei is visiting Zhuge Liang. Don’t worry, Xuande can still lead an army while he’s doing that. Kongming, the most brilliant mind in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms setting, will end up joining you by 207 AD in Autumn (turn 86). Around turn 90, there’s also a chance for the Fledgling Phoenix Pang Tong to get recruited via another event.
Note: Also in 207 AD, Sun Ren (Sun Shangxiang) will come of age. Watch out for this since Sun Jian might end up marrying her off to some random lord one turn later. Try to have good relations with the leader of Wu so that Sun Ren can be married to Liu Bei instead. In my playthrough, I had Liu Bei divorce his wife. He spent one turn being a bachelor again until he met a new partner in SSX.
In any case, as long as you can hold off Cao Cao and Yuan Shao early on, you’re on your way to succeeding as Liu Bei in your Total War: Three Kingdoms campaign. Keeping your generals loyal and happy, and therefore increasing your Unity gains each turn, will rapidly boost your prestige and income, all while gaining new administrators. Using low-tier militia units, owing to huge upkeep discounts is also imperative. Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei can hold their own in battles, dishing out a lot of damage in return. Likewise, you’ll have more officers as you continue progressing and, naturally, you’ll want to recruit the remaining Five Tiger Generals (Ma Chao and Huang Zhong) down the road.
We hope this Total War: Three Kingdoms guide has helped you show your virtue and benevolence as Liu Bei. For more guides, check out our handy features hub as well.