Total War: THREE KINGDOMS Warlord Legends – Dong Zhuo


CA KingGobbo
February 7 2019

Disclaimer: All details included below are subject to change as development continues and should not be considered final.

We’ve already revealed the 11 starting warlords, but now we’re showing you the unlockable 12th legendary warlord who we’ve been keeping under our hats until now.

Total War: THREE KINGDOMS allows players to step into the shoes of one of a number of legendary warlords in this age of glorious conquest. Although the ultimate goal for each leader is the same – unite China under your banner and forge the next great dynasty – the preferred means and methods can differ greatly. Every warlord has their own unique personality, motivations, and experience, while all shape the way they play and the kind of conquest they favour.

Our next and final warlord is Dong Zhuo, the Tyrant, who can be unlocked as part of the Total War: THREE KINGDOMS campaign by defeating his army in battle or reaching the rank of Emperor in a campaign.

Dong Zhuo, the Tyrant

  • Hero Class: Vanguard
  • Nickname: The Tyrant

Who is he?

Despite his reputation, Dong Zhuo was a chivalrous youth with a talent for horseback archery who spent his earlier years travelling the Qiang region and befriending many great men of valour.

As an adult, he returned to his birthplace of Longxi Commandery and took up farming, inadvertently discovering a blade bearing the inscription “Slices through jade, like so much logging” that the scholar Cai Yong claimed was the blade of Qin dynasty warlord Xiang Yu.

After a very successful period of service in the imperial guard that included several promotions, Dong Zhuo was sent to snuff out the Yellow Turban rebellion – but was ultimately defeated and demoted. The Liang Province Rebellion saw Dong Zhuo reinstated and sent to suppress the rebels, and while he failed to defeat them his unit was the only one to escape unscathed thanks to a cunning deception involving damming a nearby river.

Dong Zhuo was subsequently promoted to General of the Vanguard and Inspector of Bing Province, but refused to take up his new post as he didn’t want to leave his forces back in Liang Province. With the power of the Han dynasty waning, he settled In Liang Province to build up his own, with Sun Jian’s suggestion that Dong Zhuo’s arrogance and insubordination was worthy of a death sentence going unheeded.

Following the death of Emperor Ling of the Han, He Jin ordered Dong Zhuo to lead troops into Luoyang in order to eliminate the Ten Attendants. However, the latter assassinated He Jin before Dong Zhuo arrived, with the capital falling into turmoil as a result.

The Ten Attendants took the child Emperor Shao hostage and fled Luoyang – only to be intercepted by Dong Zhuo, who returned the young emperor to the palace.

Taking advantage of the ongoing chaos in the capital to offset his lack of popularity as a potential regent, Dong Zhuo took command of the He family’s leaderless forces and soon established himself as a tyrant, ruling through fear and intimidation.


Dong Zhuo is trying to hold onto the last remnants of Han imperial power – but as his fist grips tighter and tighter, opposition from the outside grows.

It is this balance that is the cornerstone of Dong Zhuo’s playstyle: will you try to rule with an iron fist, stabilising your realm internally but creating external enemies, or will you try to – at least in appearance – be gentler, and make your enemies turn against each other?

Crucially, Dong Zhuo starts with the Han emperor – Emperor Xian – under his control.

This means that the still-mighty Han empire is his vassal, which provides him with significant income and also means he can annex and integrate Han empire territory by claiming ownership for himself (something that all factions are able to do if they control the emperor). Dong Zhuo also starts at a higher faction rank than all of the other playable factions.

Dong Zhuo also has access to a unique resource: intimidation. This measures his authority, exercised through his iron fist and his cruelty, and the amount of control he exerts over his territory and his subjects. High intimidation keeps characters under Dong Zhuo in line with increased satisfaction and reduces corruption across his realm – which is key in the later stages of the campaign. Conversely, low intimidation means less satisfaction and higher corruption.

Intimidation is increased by annexing or integrating Han empire territory, winning battles, or executing other characters. Intimidation decreases when characters are promoted, or battles are lost, as well as decaying over time. Dong Zhuo can also spend intimidation to coerce other factions into more efficient diplomacy, meaning that with high intimidation he can force other factions into certain deals.

Overall, Dong Zhuo’s playstyle revolves around juggling internal control with external threats – much like the historical Dong Zhuo himself. You have a lot of power, and the ability to make a lot of different things happen, but the reins are slipping away from you and all the other warlords want a slice of the pie. And there’s only one way to know how to maintain the upper hand: to rule with intimidation, tyranny, and an iron fist.


Dong Zhuo relies on the handful of strong generals at his command but he also counts a number of important faction leaders as his rivals from the start, meaning that diplomacy with them will be difficult. Additionally, thanks to the events preceding the campaign, Dong Zhuo also starts with reduced diplomatic trustworthiness.

Lü Bu (his foster son, who Dong Zhuo convinced to kill his original foster father Ding Yuan) considers him a friend, but he has personal rivalries with Sun Jian (who has been actively fighting against him), Yuan Shao (who led the alliance against him), and Cao Cao (who Dong Zhuo has declared a prime enemy of the state).

Dong Zhuo’s faction also includes other such noteworthy figures as Zhang Liao, Li Ru, and Guo Si.

Starting Position

As Dong Zhuo, time is on your side. If you can consolidate your immediate situation, you’ll be in a good position for the mid game.

However, the situation is difficult, mostly hinging on your success at stabilising your starting situation and preventing the former coalition from reuniting against you.

Dong Zhuo’s enemies are primarily to the east: Yuan Shu, Cao Cao, and Yuan Shao are all within striking range, and can become a threat early on if you are too bold.

To the north and south there is a lot of Han Empire territory that you could claim for yourself, but such actions will draw a lot of attention and might make other factions more aggressive towards you. However, it might still be the most efficient strategy to be as aggressive as possible in order to get an early advantage.

Equally, you can try to remain relatively defensive, consolidating your situation and letting the other warlords turn against each other. However, with this strategy you risk falling behind in the race to establish a strong mid-game power.

Initial Dilemma

In each playable warlord’s campaign, they will face a unique dilemma after fulfilling certain prerequisite actions. These dilemmas will position the player at a fork in the road, marking a pivotal moment in that warlord’s story. One of the options available to you is a choice reflecting what happened in history, and the outcomes will follow the events of the period. The other lets you forge a tale of what might have been. Total War is all about giving players the freedom to create their own stories in some of the most exciting periods in human history, and these initial dilemmas epitomise that spirit.

Dong Zhuo’s dilemma primarily concerns his relationship with – or alienation from – Lü Bu.

However, it’s up to you to decide how best to handle the situation and keep the famous warrior in line. Depending on your choices, it may very well turn out that you meet an early demise and end up being succeeded by the culprit himself…

Unlike the other warlords, this outcome is dictated by not one but a chain of dilemmas and events, each of which depends on the selected game mode.

In Romance Mode, Dong Zhuo’s dilemma chain focuses around Diaochan, the beautiful serving girl who turned Dong Zhu and Lü Bu against each other with their jealousy (which eventually led to Dong Zhuo’s death).

As Dong Zhuo, you can influence these events by giving up on Diaochan in order to gain Lü Bu’s approval – or confirming his affection by marrying her, thus leading to a more difficult outcome.

In Classic Mode, this dilemma chain is based around personal differences between Dong Zhuo and Lü Bu, as well as the political scheming of Wang Yun.

Campaign Progression

As with all the warlords, Dong Zhuo’s path to victory depends on you.

If you opt for a more passive, defensive strategy, the other warlords will eventually turn against each other, meaning Dong Zhuo will need to strike out in the later stages of his campaign. He will then find himself facing steadily stronger warlords and realms, and will have to battle it out with the other warring factions on equal footing.

An aggressive strategy early on will allow for quick expansion but will also result in a lot of opposition from various sides right from the start.

Dong Zhuo will also want to take Han territory wherever and whenever appropriate.

Whatever his approach, Dong Zhuo will want to do his utmost to “protect” Emperor Xian and make sure he exploits his position – and his role as tyrant – to the fullest

What kind of player is Dong Zhuo for?

Dong Zhuo is the warlord for anyone who’s up for the challenge of keeping a crumbling realm together, ruling with authority and by inciting fear – for those willing to step into the shoes of a true tyrant.

Further Reading

  • A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23-230AD) by Rafe de Crespigny (Brill, 2007)
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms, chapters 1 to 10
  • Kongming (