Art by SnowSkadi
Download this Guide in Google Docs
Attraction sometimes enters the realm of courtship. If characters are on their own in a fairly open society, wooing might not be difficult, lengthy, or even required at all. Characters could meet privately, even without being properly introduced, and engage in sex without much censure. But in many societies, people watch and keep couples from being too free with each other. Families want to be involved, and friends take offense if codes of conduct are breached. If you're looking to add a sense of chivalry and lawfulness to your game, this can be a way to do it. Courtship is usually a path to marriage, but it can also be the acceptance of a lover in someone's life – and it can involve all kinds of quests and rituals.
The early stages of courtship tend to involve keeping a couple in the public eye. A suitor might be involved in a family function, which could be everything from a party to a joust. A chaperone might be sent along if the couple goes out together, and there's nothing like your Uncle Paladin to put a damper on an evening. A suitor might be expected to attend functions with other suitors, which can be highly entertaining. The point is to see if the couple and family approve of each other, and yes, to prevent sex from happening too soon. It might seem outdated to some of us, but it can be a fun point to add to a game.
Later stages of courtship allow for more private visits and a few more liberties. They might also involve challenges and quests. Parents might expect a dowry, or the head of a fearsome creature, or a magic item. They could require a suitor to avenge a slight or act as a diplomat for the family interests. Slowly but surely, so long as they pass muster, suitors should be drawn closer and closer to their love and to marriage. (For a more modern example of courtship, watch the way that Michael Corleone woos his Sicilian bride-to-be in The Godfather. Courtship doesn't just happen in knightly stories.)
For lovers who are cannot be seen together, hidden intimacy can be exciting and dangerous. It involves sneaking away from notice, meeting in remote places, and sending private messages. Skills to lie, disguise oneself, hide letters on one's person, and go unseen around can be as useful for sneaking around a city as they are for sneaking around a dungeon. Magic can be used to ensure privacy, send messages , slip past guards, and make use of out-of-the-way places. Class and race abilities can come into play, as well. A mini adventure can involve being able to spend time with that special someone before the break of day, a la Romeo.
While advanced options can make these things easier, they aren't fool-proof, and too much magic is likely to get expensive. A character can use something like a flower code, in which flowers of different colors have different meanings. These meanings will likely have local significance; trying to use the flower code of another place without knowing the ropes can impose up to a significant penalty on the character's roll. The flower seems harmless, but when delivered to a lover, they might decipher the right meaning for the color and arrangement. Without words, a lover can deliver messages about faithfulness, being wrongly accused, apologies, doubts, jealousy, initial fascination, determination to win affection, reassurance, meeting location and time, warnings, disappointment, disapproval, and offense. (For a more in-depth list, click here.)
If worse comes to worse, a couple might need someone trustworthy to pass messages back and forth. A servant is a traditional choice, like Juliet's nurse, but bards easily get involved in such entanglements. A couple might find each visit a sympathetic cleric, or an unassuming sorcerer. Adventurers might help other members of their party, not only by passing messages but also by giving reassurances. This can be a good way to get more than two characters involved in a courtship.
Those who haven't been able to find a worthy suitor on their own can call on matchmakers to find someone appropriate. Matchmakers are usually bards adept with local social customs and navigating family trees to find the most profitable matches. They are also supposed to look for partners with similar attitudes and goals, so the best long-term meshing takes place. Matchmakers are by no means perfect, so they tend to introduce several candidates over time. But if they fail too much or too often, their reputations suffer, so they work hard for amicable meetings. If a character is new to an area or is looking for an upper-crust pairing, a matchmaker could help.
Though it sounds like nothing more than a pain in the ass, there are many reasons that societies support courtship. Parents value the safety, innocence, reputations, and futures of their children. Friends will also be concerned about matches that are good tempered and friendly. The nobility have the most to lose through marriage, since they own so much to begin with, so they are likely to put extra weight behind protracted courting. And it must be said that some people just want to control others and to make demands out of selfish interests. Choose the flavor of courtship that interests you the most and go with it.
When a couple has proven themselves ready and worthy, they will often be urged to marry.