The Vow is a binding pact between humans and Pokémon created sometime in Pokéarth's prehistory. It is what allows trainers to train mons, and (for the most part) keeps humans off the menu.
While the exact origins of The Vow are uncertain, as it seems to predate written history, they are known to be tied to the legends and myths found in the Canalave Library. The myths essentially speak of Pokémon having a purpose and living in harmony with humans; Man takes a Weapon and goes slaughtering Pokémon with it for no particular purpose, until he eventually finds himself alone. Then a mysterious figure appears (out of the void?) and chastises Man for having deprived himself of the presence of Pokémon by his side. Man, distraught, forsakes the Weapon, and with it the mysterious Pokémon figure disappears into whence it came. It also talks of how Pokémon have committed to appear before humans in the tall grass of their own accord.
For almost as long as the Vow has existed it has been represented by a symbol - two halves of a circle, joined together by a straight line and another circle in a center, representing two disparate sets of beings agreeing to work with rather than against each other. This symbol was later used as the base of the design for modern Pokeballs.
The terms of the Vow are what prevented the Seven Jerk Dragons from rising against humanity after the events of the Scolemis War in AU. They find a way to loophole abuse by turning most of mankind into Pokémon. Before them, an ancient Alakagross Civilization had been severely punished for endangering many species, among them the early humans.
It is believed that the Armbands, in particular the Human→Pokémon ones, were created as ways to explore The Vow.
Legitimate and Illegitimate Captures
These are what counts as a fair capture under the rules of the Vow:
- The mon agrees to go with a trainer via non-battle based negotiation.
- The mon challenges the trainer to ritual combat in full expectation of possibly being caught and does. (Ex. The typical "A wild Pokémon appeared!" type scenario.)
- The mon was trying to attack or steal from the trainer directly and gets caught in the process, as those are taken as fair challenges.
Illegitimate captures include but are not limited to:
- The mon was in some way directly coerced. (Ex. They were poached or otherwise forcibly taken from their original environment.)
- The capture is done by surprise. (Ex. A Poké Ball thrown at a Pokémon from behind so they can't see it and consent to capture, or they're caught while already sleeping, not to be confused with induced sleep during a battle, or are otherwise incapacitated.)
The second tenet breaking tends to be done most often by accident by inexperienced trainers, though there is nothing stopping a Pokémon from later on deciding they want to stick around anyway, retroactively making it legitimate, though it most likely will make the initial relationship fraught with issues. Conversely, mons caught this way are just as likely to attempt abandoning their Trainer at the first opportunity, and would not be considered Vow Breakers for doing so due to the illegitimate nature of their capture.
If a human wearing a human to Pokémon Armband is captured in a Poké Ball, the Armband mode locks them into their Pokémon form due to being instruments of the Vow, even if they take off the armband. However, Pokémon to human armbands can still work on them. The mode lock effect can be broken by the humon being released, or by an agreement not to be bound into a Vow-based relationship between the wearer and the trainer catching them, spoken or unspoken. Weremons don't have this restriction due to their transformations being independent of the Vow.
Effects on the World
The Vow is not a psychic compulsion, as there are Pokémon who live outside of it, most often those in areas inhabited by few to no humans. Since they have no knowledge of the Vow, it can make them more dangerous to humans as they are more likely to attempt permanent harm on or directly predate humans if threatened or hungry enough, which tends to be avoided by Vow-aware mons due to the societal consequences of Vow Breaking; save for cases of desperation and/or self-defense of themselves or others. If they are caught through legitimate methods, however, they do become subject to the Vow, unless it's agreed otherwise beforehand.
Revived Fossil Pokémon tend to have issues wrapping their heads around the Vow, as they were born, lived, and died long before humanity, and so they have the tendency to be overly aggressive in what is supposed to be friendly competition, as their reference of battle tends to be life and death struggles. However, given time they are capable of understanding the Vow the same as any other mon, and bred Fossil Pokémon tend not to have the same issues.
Its exact interpretation can differ from region to region, or even in individual partnerships. While in regions under the auspices of the Pokémon League Vow-based partnerships tend to last until death or until the trainer decides to break it and can be between multiple Pokémon, within the regions of the Ranger Union, humans tend to make one or at most two or three permanent partnerships, with others only lasting until a certain goal is complete. In terms of interpersonal relations, while the trainer and their Pokémon being friends is considered the most ideal state of affairs, it is not unusual for trainers and Pokémon to view Vow-based partnerships as more akin to purely a mutually beneficial long-term business deal, and nothing more. The latter view tends to be particularly common in the competitive circuit. These two camps have often come to blows over the centuries, though the former is currently ahead in mainstream thought, and most Trainer-Pokémon relationships tend to have aspects of both, leaning more in one direction or another depending on the Trainer or Pokémon in question.
There are arguments between Pokémon on what it means to truly follow the Vow, with some believing that it means following their Trainer's orders without question as long as their needs are being met, while others believe that the Vow is no excuse for doing things that can be considered morally wrong, such as helping their Trainer commit murder or other serious crimes. There are also arguments on whether the Vow equalizes humans with Pokémon as intended, as most Pokémon are far stronger than most humans, or if it merely makes it easier for Pokémon to be abused.
Some Pokémon view their partnership as solely with the Trainer in question, while others will bind themselves in service to a family line or organization. (This tends to be particularly common in mon species with lifespans measured in centuries or more) In the case of the former, the original Trainer dies before the Pokémon does, some Pokémon will try finding a new Trainer, whether next of kin of not, or they will return to the wild and stay wild till their dying day or if they end up getting caught again.
As for inter-Pokémon relations, the safety given by being part of a Trainer's team means that species that might be natural enemies in the wild can see each other in a different light, though this is primarily a side effect of its protections between humans and Pokémon, as the Vow does not directly govern intermon relations past making sure Pokémon in a trainer's team don't hunt each other.
In Other Universes
In PMD-A, something at least similar to the Vow is believed to govern the reasons why feral Pokémon will join Rescue/Exploration Teams if defeated in battle.
In PMD-B, the Vow is considered roughly defunct due to the near-extinction of humanity, though similarly to PMD-A its remnants seem to govern ferals joining Rescue/Exploration Teams through battle.