A dynasty is a set of characters considered as members of the same family. In Crusader Kings II, the playthrough revolves around the survival and growth of the player's dynasty. Thus, it is the most important aspect of the game.
The icon above a character's portrait designates their level of kinship toward the player character:
|You||The current character controlled by the player|
|Heir(ess)||The player character's immediate successor to their primary title.|
|Close relatives|| Siblings and half-siblings, parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces. |
If the player character's spouse belongs to the same dynasty, (s)he also has this icon
|Other dynastic members||Cousins and distant relatives|
|Bastard children||Recognized but not legitimized children. Appears only for your illegitimate children, the ones of other members of your dynasty won't have this icon.|
Nobles vs lowborn
In general, characters in CKII belong to a dynasty. The dynasty gives the character a coat of arms and a surname.
Characters without a dynasty are referred to as lowborn. Technically, Lowborn is itself a "dynasty," as seen in marriage negotiations as "Marrying into House Lowborn". It lacks any coat of arms or surname, always grants no prestige, and does not give rise to opinion modifiers or alliances. A lowborn character who receives a feudal county or merchant republic is raised to the nobility, becoming the founder of a new dynasty whose name and coat of arms will be chosen in an aleatory way according to the culture and the religion of the character. For instance, Bedouins and Persians will use often the [Name]+id syntax for dynasty names, while Greeks will prefer an already existing last name, such as Kekaumenos, Philagotos.
Historical dynasties which have not already appeared can also be created in such way, if the character meets the cultural requirements. Their coat of arms will be their historical one. Their name will still be able to be used by later dynasties, but these will use an aleatory chosen coat of arms in order to mark the difference between the families.
Lowborn courtiers, while receiving a barony (under Feudal / Iqta governments only), will create their dynasty following a slightly different mechanic: Christians will use the of [Name of the Property] syntax, meanwhile Muslim baron-rank characters will use the [First name]+id or [Name of the Property]+id syntax.
The coat of arms shape will remain the same for a dynasty, even if at the time of the creation the shape would depend on the religion or culture of the founder (shield for Christians/Persians, octogonal for Muslims/Bedouins, round for Pagans (except Zunbil), Buddhists, Taoists and Hindus).
Children of a legal marriage, or born from a concubine, are of their father's dynasty. However, in a matrilineal marriage, the children are of their mother's dynasty, as well as unacknowledged Bastard children. Unacknowledged bastards will have a custom dynasty name, most of the time created following the [Name of the Property where they're born] or of + [name of the Property where they're born] syntaxes. A noble's children are never lowborn, so if a noble woman marries a lowborn man, the marriage must be matrilineal (and vice versa).
Having a large, powerful dynasty brings many benefits. The player can negotiate non-aggression pacts and alliances with close relatives of their dynasty for free, and all dynastic members get a small bonus to relations with each other. The non-aggression pact is automatic between a child and his parents.
Every dynasty has a dynastic prestige determined by the titles of all their members, both living and dead. A tenth of this is given to new dynasty members upon birth. A smaller amount is given to their spouses upon marriage (depending on the two dynasties' relative prestige), which affects how likely characters are to accept a marriage request from members of the dynasty. Very large and influential dynasties thus tend to have very easy marriages, and to replace (progressively) other dynasties. Due to the prestige gain, a ruler can arrange easily a good marriage with a courtier-ranked or distant relative, as the AI will be impressed by the amount of prestige it will be able to receive, even if it will mean the end of their dynasty.
Other rulers of the player's dynasty will be much more willing to marry when it would result in consolidating titles. In particular, sharing a dynasty removes the groom's demand for a patrilineal marriage ("[Groom] is too high in the line of succession") or the bride's strong preference for a matrilineal marriage.
Muslim dynasties living under Iqta / Tribal governments have to deal with decadence, which can be disastrous if left unchecked. As such, a merciless hunt of decadent characters is necessary, in order to protect the ruler from a decadence revolt and to have crucial bonuses to the demesne (up to +20% morale, +50% income with 0% decadence).
Having a large dynasty gives the player more choices for succession:
- Under elective-type succession laws, the player has more choices of heirs. It is possible to choose a character who possesses excellent traits, claims, or titles
- With feudal elective, the player can choose a child, claimant, or existing elector. It is also allowed to grant an elector title to any dynastic member the player wishes to nominate. Furthermore, electors of the player's dynasty are more likely to support the player's chosen candidate or, at least, someone of their dynasty;
- With elective gavelkind or tanistry, only dynastic members are allowed to be nominated. Vassals are not especially likely to listen to the player's desire, but they will usually pick someone with high diplomacy, the pretender they like the most, ensuring that the new ruler won't have problems with rebellious vassals.
- With Imperial elective, appointing competent dynasts as commanders and the marshal can rig the succession in the dynasty's favour. As imperial commanders must be landed, this strategy also involves revoking titles from non-dynastic vassals and redistributing them.
- Under gavelkind-type succession laws, one strategy to avoid realm-splitting is to forgo having several children. If the player has a large dynasty, this option is more palatable
- With elective gavelkind, the player's sole heir will be the winner of the election; the other eligible sons or daughters will receive parts of the player's demesne, with the winner inheriting the primary title. If the realm covers a duchy or a kingdom that has not yet been created, it is likely that it will be created upon succession and granted to a secondary heir (cannot be of higher rank than the ruler's primary title)
- The primary heir will be granted a claim on all top-tier titles that left the realm, but not on the lower-tier titles it may have lost in the process. Going down the succession line, any son or daughter (if the succession law allows it) will have claims on all titles inherited by those that came before (s)he, and only on the top-tier titles inherited by those after (s)he
- With gavelkind, the player's sole heir will be based on a fallback similar to primogeniture.
- Under seniority, all titles held by a ruler pass to the eldest member of the player's dynasty (based on gender laws)
Finally, if the player character becomes unlanded, another dynastic member will automatically become available to the player rather than facing game over.