Marriage

Marriage rarely happens to PCs in fantasy games, mainly because they are always off doing stuff - and then, when the PCs retire, their players forget about them and move on. In all of my 30 years playing, I can remember one in-game ‘marriage’ - and that was between characters that my RL wife and I played on a NWN server. Sure, there have been a few ‘liaisons’ between characters or between characters and NPCs, but they never really been played beyond a very basic level: although that, perhaps, is a good thing :}

However, many NPCs are married. Many of the knights, lords, bakers and farm labourers who make up the background to our RP games have a wife (or husband) at home. How do their marriages work? Are they all the same? And then there are all those different gods …

My thanks to Anwesh - who asked the questions that made me think about this.

The Setting …

The first version of this was written for a Pathfinder campaign set in Varisia, but since this guidance has been use as a ‘house rule’ in all of the Pathfinder games I have run.

The setting for my games is male dominated and patriarchal - partly because the Paizo Adventure Paths I use are and partly because I like my fantasy setting to have a familiar feeling to them. This not only makes it easier for me but helps the setting fade into the background and allows the Roleplay to come to the fore.

That doesn’t mean that there are no female characters in positions of authority, just that there are more males than females. Nor does it mean that female characters are banned from any faiths or professions or that the characters have to work any harder to achieve their goals – gender or sexuality (etc) isn’t particularly relevant in a fantasy game. Nor do I think that RL should be that way.

Our Understanding …

So what is marriage? In romantic terms it is a long lasting relationship between two loving people, in religious terms it include a covenant to follow a particular set of philosophies and within the law it is a contract between two (or more) people. However, it can also be a political tool to bind families together or secure an inheritance, it can be arrange, forced or of the participants’ free will and it often involves the wider family of the participants. However, it is very clear (even if you read the basic article on marriage on Wikipedia) that there have been many different versions of ‘marriage’ across the years and cultures and little agreement beyond the basic. Now I get to pick the versions that suit our setting best.

Wedding Customs and Beliefs

Some elements of weddings are cultural and have come to be included in all the weddings within a cultural group - because I like fantasy worlds that echo my RL experience, I use a list of customs that come from my own culture.

The Ceremony - a wedding is a public thing, in that it formalises a relationship in the eyes of a community. Two people making a pledge to each other in private with no other witnesses might be enough for a god, but it doesn’t have the social or legal effects of a marriage.

The Ring - something has to show the new status that comes with being married, and a plain ring is a straightforward way of doing that which does not interfere with everyday life.

The Contract - all marriages define a new relationship between the partners that is enforceable by law. However, the terms of the relationship might be different between wedding traditions.

The Feast - party, reception or wedding breakfast –the name doesn’t matter, but there is always a celebration afterwards.

The Presents - and there are always presents for the new partners. They might be designed to help them start their new life, or they might just be an expression of good luck or happiness: but it is the way that the community recognises and shares in the relationship.

The Deities

Not all deities are interested in the niceties of love, romance and contracts - and most don’t really care if their followers are married or not. However, there are some for whom it is very important. If a deity has an interest in civilisation, community or contracts - then their clerics are liable to offer marriages as a way of supporting their deity’s aims. As will clerics whose deity have a philosophical interest in love and relationships.

For my games this means that Abadar (god of Civilisation), Asmodeus (god of contracts), Desna (goddess of the Varisians), Erastil (god of the community) and Shelyn (goddess of love) are the only ones who conduct wedding ceremonies for the community at large. Torag and Iomedae offer marriage ceremonies to small groups within the community and Pharasmins may do so when they are pushed, although it will be a basic ceremony for the benefit of the community rather than for any religious need.

For other deities: marriage really doesn’t matter and, in some cases, might even get in the way of the deity’s plans for his worshippers. In that case their Clergy won’t really be interested in performing marriage ceremonies - and will direct you to a different church!

Abadar

Abadar is a Lawful Neutral god of civilisation, merchants and aristocrats and in his eyes marriage help to define and strengthen civilisation. Because of this weddings conducted in his name are often politically expedient (or arranged) marriages that link noble houses or merchant families together. They always culminate in the signing of a series of contracts that bind the bride and groom into their relationship.

The Ceremony is a way of showing off the wealth of the families involved and the more lavish and expensive the ceremony the better it looks. If you are invited you should wear your most expensive clothing and jewellery and wear court or aristocratic dress if you have it. Armour and weapons are frowned upon, although a tastefully jewelled dagger at the belt is acceptable.

The Rings - Each partner has a ring engraved with the names of the partners and date and location of the wedding. They not only act as a reminder of each person’s commitments, but also serve as a link back to the vault which holds signed copies of all the contracts.

The Contract - is different for every wedding, and may take months of negotiation before the ceremony. The contract may include dowry clauses, penalty clauses, annulment clauses, clauses detailing wider family co-operation, clauses concerning children’s upbringing and sub-sections that define how any wills should be written. Other sections may well define who actually owns what or the penalties for marital transgressions. Marriage contracts between couples from different social strata (or wealth) can appear quite lopsided to the outside observer.

The Feast - Depending on the wealth of the families involved there might be more than one feast. A basic buffet for the lower classes to come and express their respects, a buffet and ball for their peers and a sit down dinner for the wealthiest and most influential.

The Presents - As you enter the feast you will be formally greeted, by a senior servant, a herald or the couple’s parents, depending on status. There will be an open chest there for you throw a handful of coins in, to help the newly married couple on their way: but remember everyone will see what you throw in and that platinum has that very special glint.

Notes

This is the closest thing you can get to a civil marriage. While the marriage contract can be exceptionally complicated there is no requirement to make any commitment to Abadar, just a commitment to adhere to the contract. Marriages of this type are most common in cities and, because they are expensive, are normally favoured by the better off.

While Abadar has Justicars, Paladins and Inquisitors amongst his clergy, marriage ceremonies are normally conducted by an ordained cleric before a consecrated shine of Abadar.

In Short: Formal, conventional marriages. That are heavily contractualised affairs suitable for arranged, financial and political marriages - although they can be used as an almost ‘Civil Ceremony’ if you are prepared to pay the price and keep the contracts simple.

Asmodeus

Asmodeus is the lawful evil god of contracts and slavery, among other things.

His clerics will conduct wedding ceremonies although most people do their level best to avoid them. With portfolios of slavery and trickery Asmodean wedding contracts are always unequal, with one partner gaining some measure of control over the other. Some, indeed, are little more than slave contracts and might even be sealed with a collar rather than a ring.

A wealthy patron can have any number of ‘slave partners’ just as long as he (or she) can trick them into signing the contracts. However, even the most powerful must take care when signing contracts drawn up by representatives of Asmodeus, for if they are not careful; they will find a contractual clause or codicil that damns their soul to serve Asmodeus after their death.

The clergy of Asmodeus include Clerics, Blackguards, Thaumaturgists, and Wizards – and any of them will conduct wedding ceremonies.

In Short: very formal and contractuialised - but often seen as unconventional. Good for Dominant/Submissive relationships and slave marriages - but be very careful and make sure you have a good lawyer.

Desna

Desna is a Chaotic Good deity of luck, travel and personal freedom, who has a community like responsibility for Varisians. She understands that her followers must travel to fulfil their potential, and she recognises that sometimes people move on together and at other times they need to travel alone.

She recognises the need for companionship on journeys, the desire for a period of stability to raise children and the desire to maintain relationships over long times and distances. However, she also recognises that a person might care for more than one other person at a time and that feelings can be difficult to control when one is exploring the world.

So a Desnan marriage recognises that people are individuals and have their own personal rights and freedoms. Desna believe that married people are individuals with their own goals, property and agendas. Desna believe that marriage should last for just as long as the partners think it should, and that it should not be restrictive. If your partner behaves in a way that you don’t like, you are free to leave …

The Ceremony - is very straightforward. The couple come together in front of a member of the clergy to affirm, in front of all their friends and travelling companions, that they want to be married. There are no specific dress requirements, but out of respect you should make sure you are clean and presentable.

The Ring - the bride and groom exchange gifts, normally of jewellery or some other item of portable wealth, to pledge their vows. Traditionally, the wedding gift includes a ring of some sort, although that is not compulsory. That gift can never be given away or sold so long as the marriage exists.

The Contract - is very limited and merely states that each partner will provide companionship and support for the other. A partner can dissolve the marriage, and the wedding contract, by returning the wedding gift they were given.

The Feast - is normally very informal and depends on where the wedding is held.

The Presents - give something small and portable. A favourite present is a gold or silver charm that can be attached to a charm bracelet. Lucky symbols, butterflies, stars, moons and suns are all favourite gifts. Many a Desnan (male and female) has a charm bracelet, and will sell off a charm if they are really broke.

Notes

A marriage can be dissolved by either party returning the wedding gift they were given - and each person goes their separate ways. However the person who has been ‘left’ now has both wedding gifts that they can sell and use to start a new life. That wedding gift forms a dowry, divorce settlement and inheritance all agreed (and paid for) up front.

A person may also have more than one spouse at a time, so long as all other spouses agree the marriage and the initiator can afford the new wedding gift, but it doesn’t mean that everyone has to live in the same house or even travel together all the time. It could be, for example, that a woman spends a large part of her time travelling, but has a husband in every port. There are no strict rules that frown on sex before, outside of, or in between marriage - it all comes down to what is right for that individual at that time.

Desna’s clergy include Clerics, Spherewalkers, Bards and Adepts - and any class can conduct a marriage ceremony: just so long as they have a holy symbol dedicated to Desna to use as a temporary shrine.

In Short: Semi Formal marriage that last as long as both parties want them to, with more than one spouse and different formats permitted.

Erastil

Erastil is a Lawful Good deity of rural community and family, whose clerics minister to the everyday hunters, farmers and traders of the countryside. Erastil is a traditional deity who cleaves to the old ways. In his eyes a man and a woman make a commitment for life, the man swears to love her, guard her and protect her, while the woman swears to love, honour and obey. The marriage is normally recognised by the exchange of rings between the partners and the signing of the matrimonial contract. The rings are generally plain and undecorated and act as a symbol of the relationship and the partners’ new position (married) in society.

The Ceremony - always conducted by an ordained priest, often in the local temple or meeting hall. This is seen as a special day, and one should smarten up and look decent for the wedding - but that means best ordinary clothes, no court clothes and not too much jewellery either. Armoured and bristling with weapons is considered poor taste.

The Ring - The couple exchange simple rings as a sign of their commitment.

The Contract - the happy couple signing a short written contract that binds their lives together. All of their property becomes jointly owned, although the man is the senior partner and has the final say in any business or financial dealings. There are understandings that say that the woman is expected to keep the home and raise the children, while the man is expected to provide a decent living for all of them. There are other understandings that limit physical punishments and prescribe what should happen in cases of abandonment or on the death of one of the partners. Erastil expects the marriage to last for life.

The Feast - often takes place in the same hall as the ceremony and the whole community is invited to take party in simple hearty fare.

The Presents - give something practical, almost the traditional ‘bottom drawer’ gifts. The couple are starting out in a new life and this is an opportunity for the community to help them along the way. Most people will give blankets, rugs, linen, cutlery, crockery, a cook pot - all the things they NEED to start a life together. Furniture and tools are seen as lavish gifts. A gift is considered even more special if you have made it yourself.

Notes

The church of Erastil frowns on married people not wearing their rings. While pre-marital sex is (officially) disapproved of, it is amazing how many marriages produce their first child after seven or eight months.

Most of Estaril’s clergy are clerics, but a small minority are adepts, druids, rangers, or paladins. Marriage ceremonies are normally only carried out by clerics or adepts.

In Short: A very formal and conventional Man & Woman “til death us to part” marriage, with man as the boss.

Shelyn

Shelyn is the goddess of the arts, beauty and love - and her priests will marry any true lovers who approach them for the ceremony. However, the Priest will want to speak with the couple to ascertain that their love is true (probably using sense motive and various enhancement spells) before they will carry out the wedding ceremony.

The Ceremony - consists of the couple declaring their true love in front of Shelyn and exchanging rings as a token of that declaration.

The Rings - it is traditional that the rings are a matching pair and are decorated with the names of the participants and Shelyn’s long tailed bird symbol.

The Contract - there is no contract - true love does not need pieces of paper to define it, it is in the heart.

The Feast - varies from wedding to wedding. The food could be anything, but is often a selection of light tasteful pastries and delicate wines.

The Presents - anything beautiful or artistically crafted, even better if you have crafted it yourself. A poet might write a poem as a gift, a composer might write some music, a potter throw a special bowl. The monetary value of the piece isn’t important, but the artistic value is.

Notes

Shelyn’s priests are prepared to recognise same sex relationships, relationships between unusual races and multi-partner relationships - just so long as the cleric is convinced that the love is true.

Shelyn’s clergy consists Clerics, Rangers, Druids and Adepts - although only ordained clerics will conduct marriage ceremonies.

In Short: Informal marriage for anybody who is in love: regardless. There are no binding legal contracts that affect either party - everyone loves and trusts each other.

Torag

Clerics of Torag rarely take a leading role in marriages and weddings. In Dwarven society, that sort of thing is left to the priests of Bolka and Folgrit - who make all the arrangements. Priest of Torag and Kols often pay a visit to one or the other partner, just to make sure they understand the seriousness of what they are doing. And they are there to witness the ceremonies of course - although generally in a minor capacity in the background.

Dwarven marriages are similar, in many ways, to the marriages of Abadar. In such a clan, family and guild oriented society - there are always agreements to be reached between each participant’s parents and sponsors. However, for dwarves those are the background things that smooth the way for the relationship between a loving couple, rather than an important thing that defines the wedding. Dwarven marriages are all about caring, sharing and having baby dwarves.

In short: A very formal, contractual, conventional wedding for dwarves.

Iomedae

Iomedae is the Lawful Good Goddess of rulership, justice and honour and is the patron of warriors and paladins who fight for just causes. However, she does not get involved in marriages except between people who are her avowed followers - and her clerics never conduct wedding services for ‘The ordinary people’.

These avowed followers of Iomedae find marriage a difficult concept. Many warriors, fighters or paladins cannot, honourably, make long term commitments to a partner when they have given vows and pledges of service to either liege lord or church. Their vow of service might well force separation and may well take the life of one, or both, partners. Iomedae certainly doesn’t approve of children while one or both parents are at extreme risk of death …

Yet, more than any others perhaps, warriors needs a soul companion to comfort them in the deepest night when fear of the battlefield, and the memories of death, come to visit.

Weddings conducted through the grace of Iomedae are normally very quiet, private affairs where each partner makes a statement of intent that is private between themselves and the officiating priest. They are often limited in some way because honourable the fighter or paladin cannot take another vow that weakens his (or her) vow of service. Iomedian marriage might be restricted until the end of a particular posting or will have other ways that the marriage vows might be annulled. Because of the transience of life in military service Iomedian marriages can be annulled at the request of the parties, although only after a proper discussion with a priest. However, they will not annul wedding arrangements presided over by a different church.

The clergy of Iomedae include both clerics and paladins and either are prepared to bless marriages as soon as they are able to cast the ‘bless’ spell. They will consecrate marriages between same sex couples if asked.

In Short: A way of sanctioning relationships between the faithful in a way that does not compromise any other vows.

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