Kenshi – Beginner’s Guide and Some Tips

A guide for new players to the complexities of Kenshi. Also includes a tips and tricks section.

So It Begins

Simply put, Kenshi is a deceptively complex and difficult game that can easily frustrate and turn away most players. I’m putting this guide together to help players who have either heard the game is hard, or who have played a bit of the game only to find themselves maimed, enslaved, eaten, or otherwise beaten by the game’s many denizens. If I give any spoilers throughout this guide, I’ll be sure to let you know they are coming.

Choosing Your Start

Before you begin the game, there are two things you need to decide, though they are both related. 1) How you want to play, and 2) What start would work best for that. I’ll go through and detail the different starts and some examples of play styles that would work well with them.


You start in a city called The Hub, near the western middle of the map. You have 1000 cats (currency), a club, and no special stats. This start works with basically every play style, and since it begins near the middle of the map, it’s a good starting place to explore.

The Wandering Trader

You start in an outpost called Trader’s Edge, near the eastern middle of the map. You have no cats (currency) but you have several trade goods, you have a pack animal, some food, no special stats, and an improved relationship with the Traders’ Guild. Most play styles would work well with this, except those that want to wander alone. I’d say to choose this if you want to be a trader.

The Holy Sword

You start with an amazing weapon (a nodachi), but with -100 relations with the Holy Nation (same if you play as a skeleton in other starts) and the Noble Circle (wandering nobles). You have 100 cats, but a bounty of 20,000 cats on your head. You also have some clothing and a first aid kit. This is a hard start that limits where you can go for most of the game, keeping you from easily moving through the middle of the map. But, if you can make your character stronger and set up your base outside of the Holy Nation (read the section about base locations), having such a strong weapon can be really useful later on. Plus, you can always sell it, if you find a vendor with enough money.

The Cannibal Hunters

You start completely screwed. You have two characters, but you’re surrounded by cannibals (with more on the way). You have a little money, random gear, some medical supplies, and a little bit of combat stats on both characters. This is a very hard start that I don’t suggest. Most likely you’ll lose or at least one of your characters will get eaten. Makes for good RP for people who are into it, though.

The Hive Exile

You start as a Hiver in a zone called Dreg, that’s between the coast and Fog Islands. There are no major settlements in Dreg, and the area not a good one to build in. You have no money, no equipment, and no special stats. This is a hard start, but survivable if you can carefully manage your way to a city, avoiding hostile wildlife, bandits, and the like.

Son of a Captain

You start in a city called The Hub, like in the Wanderer start. You have a good katana, decent gear, no money, some points in combat stats, poor reputation with the Holy Cities, and good reputation with The Empire. This isn’t a hard start, but it does have some challenges. Most play styles work with this one.

The Slaves

You have two characters that are slaves of the Holy Nation in the slave camp Rebirth. You can be any race except Skeleton (because Skeletons are viewed as demons and executed on the spot). You have no special skills, no weapons, and basic clothing. I don’t recommend this start for new players. It can take a long time to escape.

Rock Bottom

You start off in the Great Desert. You have no food, no weapons, no clothing, no money, and you’re missing an arm. You have no special stats, and you are hungry. This can make for a very interesting playthrough, but is very punishing for beginners, so I don’t recommend it.

Empire Citizen

You start in the city of Sho-Battai in the Great Desert. You have 750 cats, basic equipment, and no special stats. This is a pretty basic start, and can work with all play styles.

Holy Nation Citizen

You start in a city that is either Bad Teeth or Stack. You have basic equipment, 200 cats, no special stats, and improved relations with the Holy Nation. This is a pretty basic start, and can also work with all play styles.

Guy With A Dog

You start in Bast, a territory in the northern part of the island, not near any settlements. You have a bonedog, a small amount of cats, an iron club, and no special stats. The dog has good stats but is a puppy. This is a pretty decent start, but early on the dog will slow you down, and since you start in a harsher area, that can get you killed if you aren’t careful. Fits well with most play styles, especially if you want to RP as John Wick.

The Freedom Seekers

You start in a waystation. You also start with 6 characters in total, some building materials, wooden backpacks, some wheatstraw, and 4000 cats. One character has higher combat stats, but a 20,000 cat bounty on his head. The rest have no special stats. You also start with some researches already done. This is a good start, but I don’t recommend it for your first playthrough. It’s better to start with a solo or duo start, and build your way up from there. I’ll go into why later in this guide. This start is better suited for play styles that want to build up a base right away.


You start in a random town. You have 5 characters, basic first aid kits, basic equipment, no special stats, and no money. This is a good start for most play styles. Unlike the Freedom Seekers start, it doesn’t point you at making an early base, and you also don’t have someone with a high bounty in your group.

Whichever start you choose, most of them allow you to pick between the various races. Human is the most normal, with no detriments. The rest all have bonuses and negatives. I’d suggest human for your start, though most races are fine. Skeleton is much harder to understand and play, but can be one of the strongest characters later in the game, highly suggested for a second playthrough.

Getting Your Bearings

Once you start the game, if you’ve chosen one of the easier starts, you’ll be dropped into the world with no hand holding. As you do things or things happen to you, you’ll get little bubbles of tutorials on the left side of your screen. Read all of those, as they are invaluable information to know what’s going on.

First thing’s first: pause the game. You can look around your character at the city and some of the surrounding area while the game is paused, and you won’t lose daylight. It’s a bit harder to see at night, so it’s best to have plenty of time to look around with the sun shining.

Now, you should have started in a city, and while you are within most the city walls, you are protected from any bad guys or animals. The issue is that some cities won’t protect you from slavers, especially if you don’t have much (like if you’re naked), because they might assume you’re a run away slave.

That brings me to the first warning: stay away from roaming groups of animals or people. At least until you understand who is hostile to you and who isn’t. One group of slavers or bandits might leave you alone, but another one could think you’re easy pickings. Even after you’ve recruited several people, that doesn’t make you safe from bandits, though slavers will likely leave you alone. It’ll take some trial and error to see who is “good” and who wants what you’ve got. It is likely best to test these groups as they come closer to a city, so you can run to the city guards for help.

Now, open your map. Get a feel for about where on the island you are. Remember the name of the city you’re presently in. You might need that information later. Plus, it’s always good to know where you started, especially after you’ve explored most of the map.

Taking Your First Steps

Now that you know roughly where you are, it’s time to take a step out into the world at large. You’re going to need food and gear to get anywhere, and the best way to get those things is with money (for now). There are three paths you can take for this.

The Hard Worker

With this, you’ll want to find a copper mine nearby (or an iron mine, though iron isn’t worth nearly as much). You’ll spend most of your first few days mining copper, traveling back and forth to town, and selling it to get yourself kitted out. This will have the benefit, also, of getting your laboring skill up, as well as some athletics and strength.

The Hit and Run (To The Guards)

Tried and true, this method has you goading bandits into attacking you, fleeing back to the nearest city to have the guards deal with them, and then looting their unconscious/dead bodies. Be careful, though, as some bandits will be faster than you, in the beginning, and you can’t take too many hits (nor can you repair them yet, if you’re a skeleton). Don’t leave the bandits on the ground for too long, though, as the guards will arrest them all, and you won’t get loot from them then.

The Sneaky Yoinker

Simple and {eventually} effective, you’ll be going into stores and bars and taking whatever you can, to sell elsewhere (do not sell to the same place, or city, you’ve stolen from). This can be harder, at first, especially since you start with no real skill in thievery. Sneaking can be trained by toggling sneak and moving through a city, though, so that can help you get prepared. If you get caught, you’ll have to leave the city (or spend time in a cage). Bounties are no joke. I once got a 30k bounty just because I wouldn’t let the city guards search my bags. You can save scum this, but for the full experience, I would suggest letting things play out if you decide to go this route.

Once you’ve gotten some gear and food, it’s time to decide how you want to play the next bit. Most people set out for one reason or another. You have quite a few options at this point, and I’ll list a few.

  • You can be a trader. Buy as many expensive goods as you can carry, I’d also suggest a good backpack, and trade between cities. This can be dangerous early on. You don’t have much strength, so you’ll be easily encumbered. You also don’t have much athletics so you’ll be moving slower than most bandits while you’re carrying things. Be aware of this and try to manage your carrying capacity. I’ll have some tips for this later in this guide.
  • You can stay near the city and look for bandits to actually fight. Instead of simply letting the guards fight everything, you can take part and begin to get your combat skills up. Sometimes, if you’re knocked out during the fight, the guards will even take pity and heal you. Try not to get knocked out if there are slavers about, though. Some cities don’t care if slavers grab people even within its walls, you’ll have to figure out where that can happen on your own, though.
  • You can set out exploring. This is useful for discovering more cities, way stations, villages, ruins, etc. Finding some ruins can be lucrative, while others are filled with danger beyond what you can handle right now (i.e. game over). Knowing where other cities are can be useful, especially if you need a nearby place to resupply/heal up. Another thing exploring can do is show you where some nests are, where animals or bandit camps are set up.
  • You can stay in the city, buy a house (if one is available), and set up shop. Citizens of most cities will wander from day to day and buy things from stores. You’ll need to do some research first, though, so keep that in mind. Having a house within a city means that you will likely never have to fear bandits raiding you. Whereas…
  • You can leave the city and look for a place to build your own base. I wouldn’t recommend this early on, though, as you’re likely by yourself and have little combat capability. This means that bandits will successfully raid your base regularly. You’ll never have food, and they’ll wander about your base/buildings for a time, causing any production to stop. It’s better, early on, to get a building or two in a city. You can still produce things and make some money, and you won’t get raided. It’s up to you, though. One thing to note: you can’t farm in a city (at least until you research future technologies).

The Way Forward

At this point, you’ll have decided on how you’ll be making your footprint in the world of Kenshi. Now you can decide how what you want to do from here. Do you want to build a huge base with lots of recruits? Do you want to build a few smaller bases that each focus on different things based on the region they are in? Do you want to gather an army and capture a city, conquer a nation, or take on the whole world? Do you want to explore and loot every ruin in the world? Do you want to steal from everyone and amass a stockpile of wealth guarded by an elite group of fighters? Do you want to trade good back and forth until you’re rich enough to hire mercenary guards 24/7 and never worry about raids? Do you want to wind up dying on the side of the road because you made the mistake of thinking you could take on that group of hungry bandits alone?

The possibilities aren’t endless, but there’s a ton to do. It’s up to you what you decide on. My last warning is this: save often. Your first (or second or third) playthrough will be rough. You’ll make a lot of bad decisions while getting the hang of things. You don’t want to lose too much progress.

Tips and Tricks

This section will have some spoilers.

  • Hold the ALT key to see any items that have dropped on the ground. Sometimes a ruin might look barren, but holding the ALT key can show you what’s hiding. Works especially well for areas that are slightly underwater…
  • Shift right click on a machine, turret (ballista, harpoon, etc.), farm, building, etc. to set it as a job. Having someone set to the job of manning a turret means they will head to it when combat starts.
  • You can sell to any shop in a city and receive the same value for what you’re selling. The difference between the shops is just in what they normally carry, as well as how much money they have on hand to buy your goods.
  • Do not underestimate the strength of bulls. A small group of bulls can easily decimate a group. Their charges can be terrifying.
  • On that note, if you find an animal trader, it might be worth it to buy a few bulls to keep as guard “dogs”.
  • You have two weapon slots for a reason. The big slot can hold two handed weapons (as well as one handed), while the smaller slot holds one handed weapons. If you lose an arm, or at least have it crippled, you won’t be able to use your two handed weapon anymore. Always have a one handed weapon equipped.
  • Try to avoid wearing heavy armor while your stats are low. The negatives can be hefty, the armor will slow you down, and most heavy gear you get early on will be shoddy quality, meaning not very good anyway. I suggest wearing light/cloth armor. Won’t do as much for you, but won’t really hinder you, either.
  • Bandit Bosses/Leaders have better gear than their minions. Their gear will sell pretty well, or even make for decent early equipment. Plus bosses typically have a decent bounty on their heads.
  • Once you have some money, hire yourself some guards at a bar, get a crossbow and some bolts, and find some bandits. You can use the guards to kill the bandits while you take pot shots at them. Then loot the bandits, sell their gear, buy more bolts and guards, and repeat. Eventually you’ll have really high skill with crossbows, high perception, and you’ll have a good understanding for using a crossbow with any character.
  • Martial arts is a hard skill to train (no weapon equipped), but at higher levels, you become incredibly powerful. It’s worthwhile to have at least one martial artist in your group.
  • An easy way to train sneaking is to sneak through town. Even if you’re spotted, your skill continues to improve as long as you are moving.Squin is a great city for this as it’s basically a long hallway. It also improves athletics, and, if you’re over encumbered or carrying a body, it can improve your strength as well. 2-3 birds with one stone 😀
  • Skeletons are arguably the best race in the game. The first benefit is they require no food. Other benefits are that they have the highest HP on each body part, are immune to weather effects (including acid), are immune to self damage from martial arts strikes (hurting your fists), and their fists do more damage with martial arts. But they don’t heal like other classes do, requiring repair kits that are harder to find than medical supplies and over 30x more expensive. And you’ll eventually need a skeleton repair bed to counter the very gradual damage (wear and tear) that robots accumulate over time.
  • If you have a bunch of stolen goods and are trying to leave or enter a town, put them in a backpack, then unequip the backpack. The guards won’t search the unequipped pack.
  • If you’re being chased by some bandits, run them past (or through) a group of animals. That might take the heat off of you. For example, a group of walking garrus will attack people that come near them.
  • Sandals are your best friend. They give you a bonuses, but no armor. You almost never get hit in the feet, though, so armored boots really only apply negatives for almost no defensive benefit.
  • You can sneak while doing most things, especially mining. This keeps you from getting snuck up on. When the eye turns yellow, you’re being noticed, when it’s red, you’ve been seen.
  • There are people in the world that have really high bounties. Some examples areThe Bandit King, several holy nation outlaws in The Hub, and a particularly interesting character in the bottom right corner of the island. That said, you could keep an eye out and try knocking them out and bringing them in, if possible.
  • Once you’re ready to build a town, here’s what to do for defense: Only have one entrance with a gate, then have several turrets aimed at it. Eventually you’ll want a two or three gate set up, where you keep all but the outer gate open. As enemies are about to break through the first gate open it and close the next gate. By the time they’ve broken through the gates, most/all of them will be dead, and then there’s just clean up.
  • For an easy way to farm leather: If you keep a dead body or two outside your gates, you’ll attract animals like bonedogs. You can use your turrets/crossbows to kill them from the safety of your walls.
  • Earning good money through assassination. Train up your sneaking skill to the point you’re really hard to detect (60+), try to find some gear that will increase your ability to sneak, as well. Once you’ve done this, go out at night and sneak up behind some hungry bandits. Try knocking them out one at a time. You’ll likely miss a few times and have to run, but each attempt will increase your ability to knock people out. Once you’ve gotten your assassination skill up high enough, you can start looking for bandits with bounties, knock them out, and drag them back to the nearest city for your reward. But this doesn’t stop there. You can knock out anyone and steal all of their equipment, weapons, and anything else they have. As long as no one detects you, this is an easy way to make money even in some cities. Don’t rob all of the guards, though, as they’ll stop being able to protect the city and the shop owners could die…
  • …Unless, of course, you’re preparing the city to be conquered. And easy way to conquer a city is to knock out the guards and steal all their gear. They likely don’t have much in the way of martial arts skills, so will be easy pickings for a strong raiding/conquering party.
  • There’s a trick against turrets. If you stand directly next to a wall with turrets mounted on it, the turrets won’t be able to hit you. What’s better is that you can use a crossbow to shoot up at the person using the turret. Keep in mind that enemies can use this against you, too, though they almost never do.

There are a lot of other tips and tricks, but I don’t want to spoil everything the game has to offer. Go have fun and enjoy exploring this amazing and complex game 😀

Written by Talrose

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