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A Beginner's Guide to playing Dominions 5

Hello my friends. This is Maerlande. I started this guide in January 2020 and got very stumped. But it's mostly my work. I have some collaborators that will hopefully join in. The hard part is that I have played Dominions for over a decade and it's not easy to remember the new player challenges. There is a talk page and you can find me on Steam or many of the discords with your questions. We will try to add them into the guide. Please see the talk page for the scope and goals of this guide.

Recently new players have been commenting that it's hard to find the lingo and slang used a lot discussing the game. This wiki page is a good start and feel free to post questions in the discussion page. Commonly Used Shorthands

Game settings and setup

Your first step will likely be to decide if you want to play alone, in single player (SP), or with other human beings, multiplayer (MP). A common idea is try playing the game on basic difficulty in single player with a nation you like to get a feel for the core ideas of the game. There are many long time, even expert players, who only play SP. Preferably, our community does not disparage that choice as it's fully valid and includes players who helped in the beta test of Dominions 4 and 5.

Let's get started with single player.

Your first step is start Dominions 5 and choose "Create World."

Map Selection

That leads to choosing a map. A few maps are included with the bare install of the game but not many. You may want more maps. There are two ways to add maps to your game.

  • You can download maps from the steam workshop. The workshop automatically installs the maps to the correct folder in your steam installation.
  • You can also manually install maps you find on forums or other sources. To install maps manually you can locate the directory using the built in function within the game. From "Tools & Manuals" on the title page, select "Open User Data Directory." Maps and mods have folders within that section. I find it helpful to set a shortcut on my desktop to that directory in file explore (or your system equivalent) to help manage mods, maps, and saved games.
  • You can also generate a random map. The options for that deserve another page and discussion.

The common choice for size of map is 15 provinces per player for multiplayer games. In single player you can clearly choose smaller or larger, although the game has trouble with the start location finder algorithm with less than 10 provinces per player. If you're worried about meeting rival nations too early, then go with 25 provinces per player and fewer sea provinces in the random map selection.

For more information on the details of map choice try this section Map Selection Details

Select Era

The choice of era determines which version of each nation group you will play although there are a few single age nations. The choice has the following general effects:

  1. Early Age: Magi have higher levels of magic power (on average) than in other Ages. Magic sites are more common, and nations start with high Magic Gem income (at least 6 a month). Iron is somewhat common, but many areas have only bronze or other primitive materials to work with, resulting in lighter weapons & armor on average. Short bows, spears, and javelins are more common here than in other Ages. Troop quality varies wildly in the nations, too, but you will generally have an easier time expanding in this Age than in the other two.
  2. Middle Age: Magi have average levels of magic power and magic site frequency is average. Nations start with less Magic Gem income (typically 5 a month), encouraging site-searching. Bronze has been fully phased out in most human communities in favor of iron & steel, and most troops will have at least medium armor. The crossbow, the longbow, and the fully-trained Knight make their first appearances here, making expansion more difficult than in the previous Age, but you'll also be more likely to find Scouts and usable troops in provinces you conquer.
  3. Late Age: Magi have the fewest levels (on average) and sites are rare. Nations start with paltry Magic Gem income (typically only 4 a month). Crossbows are very common, along with breastplates or heavier armor, making expansion into unowned lands far more difficult than it was before. As a trade-off, most nations tend to have a better and/or more diverse array of troops and Magic at-hand than before.

This is mostly your taste or something that grabs your interest. Know that the Late Age plays somewhat differently from the other two, however, since it has much fewer nations and much tougher expansion (for most of its nations) than the other two Ages.

Nation Selection

This is largely a matter of choice although it's possible to sum up a few basic recommendations. Some types of nations and magic are significantly more difficult and beginners may want to leave them for a while. It is a large topic to list nations by ease of play and popularity and is a issue with a lot of subjectivity that generates many long discussion in the community. I have a couple rules of thumb for nations that are easier to play as a beginner.

  1. Be careful with nations that focus on Astral and Blood Magic. Both are extremely powerful, but both add a lot of complexity to research, spells, and scripts for combat. Astral Magic at least functions similarly to most of the other Magic paths, but Blood is very different and requires special attention to work.
  2. Look for nations with a few strong types of magic. Having variety is fun, but you don't want to get distracted and unfocused by having too many options, and you'll want high levels in whatever path you choose. Early Age Agartha comes to mind, with one of the best and simplest magic choices in Earth.
  3. Look for nations with strong troops. Nations with giant troops can be easy to learn with, and nations like Middle Age Ulm with excellent basic troops are simple to expand with.
  4. Try and save Underwater nations for later, especially mainly-Aquatic nations like R'lyeh & Pelagia. These nations are cool, but their on-land tools are significantly different from (and far worse than) their underwater tools, and managing both dynamics can get complicated.
  5. Some nations have a Dominion that kills their local population. Save those nations for later, too.
  6. Early Age Mictlan & Late Age Mictlan have a strange mechanic that requires Blood Sacrifice to keep playing them once you start to see other Dominions. Save those two nations for later, too.

Some simple suggestions may help for beginners. A list of nation categories (archtypes) has been prepared which will help to choose. The list of types is at the bottom.

Game Settings

Here I'll quickly cover the settings that really matter for a new player.

  • I'd recommend to play with random events set on rare for a beginner.

Events are affected by many factors and it can prove fatal under certain circumstances. Let's agree that, to begin, you might want to focus on the game itself, and not lose by turn 4 (or turn 2 with Early Age Mictlan) because you played with fire in the settings. :)

  • In the same light I'd recommend to keep the story events disabled. Story events often lead to disastrous ends if not handled correctly.
  • Thrones of Ascension: Clicking on this will enable to choose the victory condition, the most common being victory by Thrones of Ascension. For this victory setting, you need to claim Thrones, which appear on the map for you. Although there are other settings, going with the classic victory setting of the game can never go wrong :)
  • In this pop up, you'll want to ensure that the Cataclysm is disabled. Although it is a setting often used in multiplayer to avoid games that never end, let's just say that you don't want the end of the world to just end your very first playthrough.
  • Last-but-certainly-not-least, this is probably the most important aspect of this section: The number of Ascension Points required to win, and the number of thrones of each level present in the game. The game defaults to 7 Level 1 Thrones and 1 Level 2 Throne (if there's space for them), and requiring all of the Level 1 thrones (or the Level 2 Throne & all but two of the Leven 1 Thrones) to win. I'd recommend to have a better mix of Level 1 & 2 Thrones, have as many thrones as the total nation count for the game, and divide the total point value of all those thrones by the nation count +1 for the required number of Ascension Points for winning. It'll ensure a fairly doable game condition for you, and a defeat that won't come too fast either. Most multiplayer games go with requiring a simple majority (half +1) of the Ascension Points in a game to win.

Review your Nation

The game includes a nice feature to make reviewing each nation quick. From the "Choose Participants" screen in starting a new game, after you have set your nation, click "Ok" and a screen opens with your nation shown with the lore, a summary of it's key features and icons for all the commanders, units, and sites. A feature many do not know when new to the game is that each of those icons has a tool tip giving most detail about the unit. Click on any icon to open a detailed description. And most of the listed statistics or attributes can be clicked for more detail. Try it out.

Nation Complexity

Dominions is a rather asymmetrical game - and perhaps the biggest strategical choice you'll make is your choice of nation. Most game rules are adhered to by each nation, but some have particular rule-breaking features which make them particularly difficult for new players to understand.

For your first few games I recommend picking a nation that is both non-underwater (check the tooltip in the nation select window), and does not use blood magic/sacrifice. ~~ avoids most(?) special-rule nations such as Mictlan and pop-kill Bone White

Important Unit Features

Inspecting each of your units is important for you to understand what your nation can (and can't) do. There are hundreds of different abilities, stats, weapons and armour that individual units can have, but the important ones for new players to consider are:


A sacred commander or unit can receive your Pretender's bless. Sacred units are often the most powerful, and the most expensive units your nation can recruit. A few nations have really cheap Sacred units and/or far-better troops for expanding, however, so check that carefully.


A Priest commander has a priest level of 1 or higher, and can bless sacred units in combat. This gives them the same bless you choose in Pretender design (below), making them quite powerful. Level 3 Priests can also claim Thrones of Ascension and lay down powerful Smite spells.


Commanders can also have one or more levels of magic, also known as paths. These commanders allow them to cast Combat Magic during combat, and Ritual Magic from the safety of their Laboratories. Not counting the Priestly path, there are eight different Magic paths to keep your eyes open for: Fire, Air, Water, Earth, Astral, Death, Nature, & Blood.

Magic users can also Research, which is important to increase your nation's power over the course of a game.

Other Key Features

Some races are adept at flying, others can travel across rivers or underwater. Your nation summary will likely brief you on the key features of your nation.

Further Reading

Each nation's strengths, synergies and weaknesses are subjective, and if you wanted to know more detail about your chosen nation, then find a guide for your specific nation, either on this wiki, or ~~ list other guide locations here ~~

Pretender design

  • Pretenders Archetypes There are a few main options for competitive Pretenders you can choose from. Scales builds, Bless builds, Expander builds, Specific Spell builds, and Rainbow builds.

Your first game Pretender

Awake Pretenders with an Expander build are a good choice for your first game. This allows you to have a combat-suited Pretender from turn 1 that can help you expand and explore more of Dominion's mechanics from the start, such as Thugs and Supercombatants and Combat Magic.

You can find many suggestions for your Pretender's build on individual guides for that race, but in general a Dominions 2 Monster Chassis is usually a simple and effective start. Pick one you like, give it some magic and add a Bless or two.

Note that your pretender will only receive your bless if you are attacking or defending a province with your Dominion.

Subsequent Games

For later games, feel free to mix up your Pretender design. This is often done in consideration with a nation's Power Curve – for example, if your troops are good against early-game opponents, you might want to pick an Imprisoned pretender, with more magic levels to cover your weaknesses in the mid-to-late-game, or with a ton of beneficial Scales on your Dominion to make more troops right away!

First turns

Your first priority will be [expansion] – capturing land from independents (indies) – and setting up basic infrastructure.

Almost all nations start with a scout plus a commander with a small army. If you've chosen an awake pretender, you will start with it, too. On your first turn, you will generally want to recruit more troops and designate one of your starting two commanders as your prophet.

On your second turn, once you see what the indies around your capital are, you can start expanding.

There are essentially three ways to expand; you should pursue all of them that your nation is capable of:

Pretender expansion: Many pretenders, such as dragons, are capable of taking many indie provinces solo. If you have chosen one of these and it is awake, it can clear provinces on its own. Beware of Barbarians and Heavy Cavalry; these things do enough damage to threaten even pretenders. Don't dump your pretender on Lizards, either, they have Shamans that can afflict your pretender with an annoying, permanent Curse.

Sacred expansion: If your nation has powerful sacred troops, and you have chosen a strong bless, they can often clear indies even if they are heavily outnumbered. Since the limiting factor for sacred troops is often holy points, rather than resources (which are in short supply very early), heavily-blessed sacreds can be excellent early expanders. In particular, sacred cavalry and centaurs are excellent at this.

Troop expansion: If your nation has strong troops in general, especially those that do not cost too many resources, you can use those to expand. This is easier with good scales, in particular production. If you are expanding with troops and are at all limited by resources, it is a good idea to clear the provinces adjacent to your capital quickly to get more resources.

As you begin expanding, you will generally want to begin producing mages from your capital as soon as possible and setting them to research and/or search for magic sites. If you are new to Dominions, the magic system may seem intimidating. The best way to learn is to experiment with it!

Joining and Playing Multiplayer Dominions

More info!

beginner-s-guide.txt · Last modified: 2020/10/31 21:46 by fenrir