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Building Cultures: Weddings

Wedding Bells One of the most iconic ceremonies is the wedding ceremony. In this article we’ll look at weddings throughout history and see how you can create weddings that reflect the traditions of your world– or even glance slantwise at our own. Along the way, I hope you find yourself incorporating a wedding into your upcoming games and worlds.

Weddings and marriage have consequences. Some researchers suggest that marriage came about when inheritance switched from a women’s children to a man’s. In matriarchal cultures (like amazons), marriage and weddings are less likely– because it’s completely obvious whose children they are. Once you switch to men holding the wealth and land, it becomes important to ensure which man a child belongs to. A good way of doing that is to swear a woman to one man– marriage, solemnized by a wedding.

Marriage was the only way a woman’s children could inherit any status– even if it is the mother’s land or title that the child stood to inherit. Children born outside of marriage often had an uphill battle for acceptance throughout their life: bastard remains an insult with power through the modern day.

Modern Era

I’ve been a part of several weddings, and while there are several differences in the ceremonies, there were a lot of commonalities too. For many people, their wedding is the biggest, most expensive party they’ll ever have to coordinate. It’s a stressful time for the bride, who feels responsible for everything– many go overboard, spawning bridezilla stories.

Bridezillas Pictures, Images and PhotosDepending on the exact year, weddings have different goals and consequences for the participants. Today, marriages are primarily for love, the match selected by the wife and groom– though sometimes it’s a consequence of youthful lust (shotgun wedding ahoy!) or meddling parents. As you travel further from America and further back in time, arranged marriages are more frequent, but love is still idealized.

Challenges:

Fantasy and Medieval

Ironically, this era often involved more rights for women; for most classes business took the full efforts of both halves of the couple. In medieval Europe, other than Jews and the moors in Spain, religion was rarely an issue until the reformation. Arranged marriages were so common that courtly love and other romantic forms came into being to channel the passions that marriages weren’t designed for.

Renaissance WeddingIn a fantasy world, particularly with the pantheons common to many games, marriage can be tricky. Is it the purview of the goddess of nature and increase, for the children that marriage brings? Is marriage a sacrament of the god of civilization, for the alliances and blending of separate families into a greater whole? Or is it the goddess of love whose priestesses marry couples? Maybe it’s something stranger: what if your world’s marriages are presided over by the god of death? That gives “til death do you part” a different feel, no?

Marriage is a great opportunity to acknowledge several gods in one ceremony. While this is more common in history, it’s pretty unusual for most game worlds. Marriage could be a sacrament that all gods offer– which encourages you to consider the difference that comes from being married in the Sun God’s church versus the God of Strength’s shrine.

Modern marriage problems are just the tip of the iceberg in fantasy and medieval worlds: all of the problems listed under modern marriages can also apply. Below are additional challenges unique to fantasy and medieval worlds…

Challenges:

Science Fiction

In science fiction, weddings can have any of the complications of the modern day, plus analogs to all of the fantasy issues (alien races instead of fantasy, unifying stellar empires or ending a galactic war, settlers from different colonies worshiping divergently, etc.). In addition to all of the above, a few additional complications are common in science fiction.

Further Challenges:

Worldbuilding, all wrapped up

Weddings and marriage fill useful roles in the real world: defining lineage, uniting enemies in peace, providing an opportunity to display wealth and style, or even advertising important skills. If you don’t have weddings and marriages in your world, what fills their roles? Is it all a matter of custom contracts?

If your world does have weddings, what are they like? Are they exactly like ours, or has the different history and setting altered what they are? Is the wedding a week long celebration, a ritual kidnapping and hiding of the bride for a month, or something else entirely?

In your game

Weddings are a great excuse to gather people together. An ally marrying an enemy is a great way to get the PCs in the same room as their foes– and on good behavior to prevent spoiling their ally’s big day.

The stress of preparing a wedding can explain a great deal of odd behavior from either half of the happy couple. The need to acquire money for an extravagant ceremony could spur a gentleman robber to activity, or turn a mild woman into a cunning bank robber.

Weddings can be a great time to show the differences in cultures; a Hindu wedding will be much more colorful affair than a Victorian styled white dress ceremony.

So, have you used a wedding in your game sessions? Was it everything you imagined: knights marrying their loves and beginning the next generation of the saga? Have you had a great wedding fight, with stray explosions spraying wedding cake over guests? Tell us about great wedding moments in your games in comments!

About  Scott Martin

Scott is an engineer turned gnome and game store owner. He lies awake at night building intriguing worlds and plotting your character's demise.



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10 Comments To "Building Cultures: Weddings"

#1 Comment By Noumenon On May 24, 2010 @ 6:53 am

Interesting that jus primae noctis is a myth. I guess it spread more because our culture thinks dominant males should get more sex.

#2 Comment By unwinder On May 24, 2010 @ 10:26 am

I had this one bizarre mutated semi-cultic anarchist PC playing in one of my games. He married a woman who had the head of a horse. If I recall correctly, he tried to cause all the guests to mutate as a part of the ceremony.

I think that a funny thing to do with a fantasy marriage would be to make it magically binding. You cheat, you die, or something like that. It’d be pretty interesting to have such marriages as a part of an in-game culture, and see how differently the culture developed because of it.

#3 Comment By Roxysteve On May 24, 2010 @ 10:41 am

If you look at the history involved in Europe (where the word was coined), the term “bastard” only has weight of an insult (classically) when used by someone in the insultee’s peer group who isn’t one.

As evidence I offer up no less authority than Her Majesty’s College of Heralds who would (and still will) happily denote you as a distaff son (women didn’t count as they didn’t bear arms in the period we’re discussing)upon the heraldic device on your shield. Bastards were proud of their ancestry, or why would they announce to the world they were one? In a highly class stratified society such as Wars of the Roses era England the line of descent was important, even when it traced into the world of the wrong side of the sheets.

As for Matriarchal societies, I’ve often wondered why, if they have so much to offer a culture, they are virtually non-existent in this day and age. I don’t say that to be confrontational, just to point out that the benefits of such a society are apparently so volatile they don’t withstand contact with patriarchal cultures well.

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On May 24, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

@Noumenon – I was pleasantly surprised too. I guess it’s hard to live up to all of the worst we imagined. (Though, as the article pointed out, it’s not like they couldn’t get away with outright rape– no need for a law.)

@unwinder – The binding marriage is excellent– in fact, the great Skeeve of Possiltum presented rings linking the lives of two monarchs in Hit or Myth.

@Roxysteve – Being a bastard nobleman was better than being a commoner…

Matriarchal societies are interesting, and make great fiction. Ursula LeGuin has many novels setting up sex and society in interesting ways– if you haven’t already read her short story The Matter of Seggri, you might enjoy its take on a matriarchal society.

#5 Comment By Razjah On May 24, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

I wish that I could use things like this in my world. Often things like marriage make great world flavor but do little for the PCs. I’m trying to get my group to stop making loners and adventurers who love adventuring. People do not want to spend their lives being nearly killed- but I just can’t get my players to learn that.

#6 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On May 24, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

Thanks for focusing on an oft-overlooked aspect of culture and tradition, Scott. I think a magical “mark of infidelity” would replace the pre-nuptial agreement as a source of much debate and negotiation before a fantasy wedding…

It hasn’t come into play yet, but only 25% of the Dwarves in my campaign are born female. Instant matriarchy (and polyandry)!!

Rationale: Dwarves are greedy and hard working so they can earn enough fortune/fame/talent to marry into a good family, and hopefully spread their seed.

Twist: Not every female Dwarf looks forward to the life of an (admittedly well-treated) brood mare. More than a few have ‘gone Yentl’.

#7 Comment By Roxysteve On May 25, 2010 @ 10:29 am

@Scott Martin – *Anything* was better than being a commoner. I think you’re missing the point 0 – being a bastard is only a problem if it buggers up your inheritance or is being used as a class taunt. Commoners of the age I was talking about didn’t care about either since they couldn’t own anything.

The modern insulting use of the term is probably just that – a modern usage, born of modern sensibilities to wedlock.

#8 Comment By Scott Martin On May 25, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

@Razjah – You can slowly work things like this into the world; sometimes it just takes some play to dig deeper. Or you can just use a wedding as the event going on when the goblins raid next….

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – I like the “mark of infidelity” idea– makes perfect sense in a world with active priests and magic.

My Empire of Iron game also messed with dwarven culture and reproduction. I guess there’s just something about dwarves and sex in world building…

#9 Comment By BryanB On May 25, 2010 @ 10:04 pm

@Scott Martin – “Dwarves and sex in world building…”

Now there’s an image I’m going to have to burn out of my skull with a flamethrower. 😀

#10 Pingback By Encounter Idea 27 – The Wedding Party | of Dice and Dragons On September 23, 2011 @ 11:15 pm

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