Social class in Cerilia has cognates in the medieval period of the real world. Often two or more analogs can be applied to any given Cerilian culture, and each has its own fantastic characteristics, but attention to the historical analogs help create a baseline from which to apply other elements.
The first thing to consider is that there are two parallel social orders, the rural and the urban. Just as today, urban and rural cultures have different values and cool attitudes toward each other, in the medieval period this distinction was more distinct. Commoners might not always enjoy happy relations with the nobility, but they are all part of the same system. The city and by extension the criminal and middle class is something alien to the life of the farm and manor.
A criminal may be a vagrant, a wanderer, or even a bandit. Their home is the street, and they rely on charity and their wits to get by. Criminals are regarded as the lowest of the low, and are completely without standing among the other social classes. Their work often deals with garbage and burial of the dead, if work can be found at all. The result is that for members of this group to get by, they must on occasion steal what they need, often food, sometimes clothing or other necessities. Even the life of a serf is an improvement in material standards for the criminal. Because they are shunned by others, criminals tend to keep to themselves, only interacting with their own kind. But it is also the case that criminals prefer to avoid their betters because the slightest misstep could lead to the harshest punishment, and their position will earn them no respect compared to even the poorest laborer, as long as the laborer is presumed law-abiding.
Criminals are filthy and their clothes may be little more than rags, living in shantytowns or garbage dumps that are both home, place of what work there may be, and source of food such as it is. In larger cities these sad characters can be seen wandering the streets, begging, looking for scraps, or simply unaware of the world around them. Even serfs want nothing to do with this scum, many of whom fled serfdom for the hope of a better life in the city. To the serf, there misery serves as a bitter reminder that, although their lot is hard, it could be much worse, and that there is a natural order to things that is best obeyed.
If a criminal is to improve his situation, adventuring is one of the only ways to do so. Although some might have family that they seek to bring out of poverty, most criminals who succeed as adventurers want nothing to do with their background and former life. Rogue is by far the most common profession among adventurers of this background, although not usually by a conscious decision. Rather, these folk tend to fall into petty crime and if they have talent, work their way out of the shantytowns and dumps. Around 75% of all recorded crime is petty theft. Serious theft might make up 10% of all crime. Violence makes up about 10% of recorded crime; murder was relatively rare. Even so, people tend to have a disproportional fear of gruesome crimes than about minor theft, and color their view of this social class by the conduct of its most outrageous members.
Also known as a mechanic, the laborer works entirely for the benefit his master, either as a manual laborer or servant. The work is often dirty and exhausting, even dangerous, and life is often short and brutal. A laborer, sleeps in an attic, a shed, or on their master’s floor, as available. The little money a laborer earns is barely sufficient to supply the necessaries of life. He owns little beyond the clothes on his back, perhaps a bowl and spoon. A craft apprentice also qualifies as a laborer in terms of the respect offered by others. Laborers tend to come in two varieties, those performing labors to acquire a skill, who might expect to move up to the status of a craftsman one day, and those who are without skills.
A craftsman might represent a journeyman or a master craftsman, indeed this class is filled with men and women of every description. Their appearance will depend largely on what the character does. Merchants tend to dress according to their wealth, entertainers in garish eye-catching colors, and craftsman in practical clothing. As a general rule, where a laborer works with his physical strength, the craftsman has some skill which is the key to his efforts. Other than that, this is a broad group, including not only those who have escaped the manor for the city to practice a trade, but those who have built a successful trade over generations, passing their skills down from father to son.
The guildmaster reflects those who have reached the highest ranks in their craft within a single town. They probably sit on the town's guild council, and may even hold city-wide office. These characters not only perform a craft, they perform their craft or profession so well, they are rich enough to aspire to leadership in the city, at least amongst those of their own trade.
The Guilder is a guildmaster whose interests lie across many towns and probably several provinces. A guilder is so rich and successful that whether or not he once practiced a trade, he now manages the crafts and professions of many tradesmen in many different towns. This group also includes the younger sons of noblemen (or among the Brecht, perhaps older sons as well) who are sent into business to earn their own fortune. The guilder's perspective is markedly different from that of other groups, because everything is possible, both spectacular success, and spectacular failure. The craftsman may lose his shop to indebtedness, but he can always ply his trade as a journeyman. The landowner, whether yeoman or noble will always have his lands, whether during famine or plenty, but a guilder is always risking his fortune on the next deal. It is both the source of his strength and his greatest vulnerability.
The serf is an agricultural worker with ties of service and dependence to a lord. He may own his land, or toil on the lands of his lord, but he owes his lord labor and service. Commoners tend to be reserved when around their betters. However, these folk are lively and spirited when among their own kind, prone to dancing, making music of every description, singing, and telling jokes. Although the labor these folk do is often backbreaking, their spirit is undimmed, and the slightest excuse is reason enough to have a feast or at least a dance in time of plenty. Their tools and goods will reflect the materials available on their lord's lands. Very little of what they can afford is produced off the manor in the towns. Theirs is mostly an economy of barter, grains and other foods in exchange for their needs.
Serfs tend to have good relations with most social groups, especially the nobility. The nobles rely on these folk for the labor that feeds them on a day-to-day basis and treat them with respect, though always with a clear understanding of who’s in charge. Nobles generally take commoners for granted, but do show them a distant respect, at least for appearance’s sake. Commoners tend to dislike the middle class and the criminal classes, however. The middle class is an unknown quantity, and tales of their wealth will occasionally draw a young serf off the manor and to the city usually with disastrous consequences according to conventional wisdom. The city and its social classes are something foreign to the serf and both frightening and improper.
A yeoman is a farmer who owes no service to a lord, pays no rents for his lands, and pays little in taxes. Typically the yeoman's forebears had either bought their way out of serfdom, or never were in need of the lord's protections in the first place. Yeoman often range from subsistence to landholdings so great that they have tenants and could be ranked among gentlemen if only they bothered to live with the expenses of being a gentleman. Most yeomen farmers have servants or laborers with whom they work in their fields. Another distinction between yeoman and gentleman, aside from the cost of maintaining status, is that the yeoman works his lands, while the gentleman does not.
Yeoman are generally hailed as the best soldiers from among the common classes. Unlike serfs who are raised by a levy, yeoman fight out of loyalty to their sovereign, to protect their homes and families, or earn pay as a soldier. Many fight for some combination of these three, and their practical and ideological reasons to take up arms make them far better than the feudal levy of serfs who only fight out of obligation and fear, or the mercenary who only fights for pay. Yeoman lack the melee training and skill of the gentlemanly and noble classes, but are often excellent scouts, irregulars, or archers.
While not properly yeomen, other independent types, such as woodland hermits, and manorial craftsmen have a status equal to yeomen, somewhere between that of the serf and gentleman.
The lesser nobility is made up of knights, baronets, and the younger sons of higher-ranking nobles whose own rights and lands are not very extensive. In addition, some prosperous yeoman farmers are wealthy enough to live in the same style, with considerable lands, and many dependents. Gentlemen own extensive lands, necessary to support their fine standard of living, have tenants or serfs, and spend their time supervising their lands, in offices for temple, guild, or crown, or preparing for war. This class prefers the knightly style of war, with close melee style combat. In Brechtür, the swashbuckling style of melee is very popular, though it has not entirely displaced the practice of the heavy knight.
The most common kind of gentleman is the knight with no estate, the bachelor knight, landsknecht, or huskarl. Unable to support himself, he adventures, serves as a free lance, or swears loyalty to a great house that maintains many armed men. Their social standing is based on their military service in the knightly style. They are considered the least desirable for marriage prospects of the nobility, and many end up marrying daughters of the great yeoman who may be much richer, but lack the status of knights or the ancient dignity of service.
The elite of any medieval society, these characters are well off, surpassing everyone else in riches except the wealthy guilder. Nobles are used to being obeyed and can back up that assumption through the force of the law. From an early age, the elder sons of the nobility are taught to negotiate and obfuscate, maintaining the interests of their family through guile and deception as well as force. Appearance is important to the nobility, to create an atmosphere of deference and authority. Most characters will dress in keeping with their station. Nobles, along with guilders, tend to dress a little better than they can afford, to present the proper image. Nobles are generally either very aware that good relations makes getting their way easier, or they are insufferably arrogant. Either way, others tend to view the nobility with some suspicion.
Nobles all share a common outlook on the world because of their shared experiences. They exercise feudal rights over a single, small estate, or something much vaster, but these privileges tend to unite the nobility in a common set of duties and benefits, risks and rewards.
The lesser nobility includes all lords and most counts and their equivalent throughout Cerilia. They own more than one estate, and can be very important within their own province, though typically are not very significant at the domain level. Their bloodlines tend to be weak, including minor, tainted, and even unblooded houses.
Greater nobility include those great houses which are known widely, exercise considerable influence at the domain level, and have the major bloodlines to control powerful domains. Distinctly below the royal houses, they are likewise distinctly above the lesser nobility. The greater nobility includes many of the domain regents, and those others houses which are able to freely mingle with them, marry them, and have ancient and prestigious histories behind them.
The term "royal" is derived from the same Andu root as "regent" and refers to the great houses that control domains, included realms. Royalty lies at the top of feudal hierarchy and is composed of the regent and his immediate family. Royal houses will tend to be ancient, possess the greatest bloodlines, and rule the greatest realms. The Boeruine family, the Danig family, the House of el-Arrasi, and the House of Halskapa all reflect the great royal heritage.
Since the death of Michael Roele and the end of the Imperial office, there have been no nobles of Imperial status. Their descendents were common enough in the Royal lines of the great houses of the dukes.
In Anuire, the people accord slightly more respect and status to members of the gentry and noble classes than they do to the urban ranks of guildmaster and guilder, though they might have similar wealth and power. The storied legends of the Empire, the glory of battlefield victories, and the teachings of Haelyn's temples all create greater reverence to the knight and the noble.
Another factor that can cost or perhaps increase one's status is honor. In Anuire, the honor code comes from Haelyn, and is known as chivalry. Those who aspire to greater prestige are well advised to give attention to the role of honor in society.
In Brechtür, the urban classes of every type earn more status and respect than do rural classes of similar wealth and power. While yeomen and gentlemen might earn the same incomes as the craftsman or guildmaster, the Brecht respect for skilled craftsmanship, for commerce, and for risks taken in the marketplace simply cover the city dweller in a cloak of prestige. The yeoman seeking prestige is much less likely to seek entry to the class of gentlemen, rather he would be advised to invest in bakeries and market his produce in town.
Additionally, the attitude of Brechts is colored by the Anuirean occupation, in those lands once conquered by the Anuirean empire nobility may be shunned as outsiders (Berhagen) or honored as amongst the Anuireans (Müden) with all variations in between. In the quasi-bandit realm of Grabentod nobility does not exist beyond the king and his cronies, while in Danigau nobles trace their lineage back beyond Deismaar.
Rjurik society itself is divided between those who accept the settled towns, where craft specialists and commerce dominates, and those who remain entirely hostile to the towns. Certainly among those who reject urbanization, status up the urban social hierarchy doesn't compare to the ranks of the rural classes of equal wealth and power. But even urban Rjurik are more likely to give greater respect to karls and jarls, when they embody Rjurik values of cunning, strength, and endurance. Among the urban classes, those who are able to perform their crafts with artistry and beauty are liable to be more respected than those who have only money to show for their troubles. The Rjurik ambivalence to wealth generally elevates the role of values in questions of prestige. The honor code of the Rjurik is strong, and its values of self-reliance, individual prowess, and direct honesty has an important impact on the social status of an individual.
The Khinasi tend to ignore distinctions near the bottom of the social scale. Peasants, fishermen, laborers, and shopkeepers are all commoners. The merchant who is noted in his town, the guildmaster, stands a bit above the commoners. Next in status are those families with the right to carry a family name, the ajazada. Whether they own herds of fine horses, and might be thought of yeoman standing, or whether they practice a craft or profession, possession of a family name is a great honor that can only be bestowed by the ruler of a city. The ranks of the ajazada extend through the gentlemen and guildmasters, as described by Anuireans or Brecht. At the highest level of Khinasi society is the tamounzada, who share the ruling family's name. These relations of the ruling family fill the highest offices, own many lands, herds, and tents in the bazaar.
Two other criteria serve to boost or diminish one's social status: magic and sayim. The Khinasi fascination with magic means that one can always improve one's position by mastering arcane talents. Second, just like the Anuireans and Rjurik, adherence to an honor code wins respect as well. Called sayim the Khinasi code of 'face' values both doing the right thing, and being seen to have done it, with the relative importance of each varying from realm to realm, one can easily lose status or painstakingly cultivate it by right conduct and obedience to the code.
Among the Vos, might alone makes status and prestige. Power other than might is generally thought to be much less valued, and possibly even corrupt. Money, magic, or honor codes are at best a distraction and at worst a dark path best exercised from the tribe. Further, individuals without a tribe have no standing. The ranks of socio-economic stratification identified above have little meaning to the Vos and are foreign to their culture.
Traders, merchants, and producers of food serve warriors as necessary functionaries who must be tolerated, if never truly respected. Those weak fools who serve landowners or merchants are the lowest of the low, the servants of servants. The strong dominate the weak through demonstrations of their combat prowess against monsters, outsiders, or rivals in the tribe. Even a common warrior in the tribe would have more status than a rich guilder. Likewise the son of a great tzarevo starts at the bottom, like everyone else and must earn respect by victory.
Birth theoretically means nothing to the Vos, although they watch over their children fiercely, and it is rare for the chieftain of a tribe not to have been a child of a great warrior - such ties of blood lead to alliances and the opportunity for glory that pass another by - unless the other is truly exceptional. Unlike Anuire however simply being the eldest son is not enough - no Vos warrior would champion a weak child as their heir, and few battles are as bloody as those between Vos brothers striving to prove which of them should lead a clan.
The Nona (new) Vos are marginally more likely to recognize power other than simple might than the Torva (traditional) Vos, although the difference appears slight to a non-Vos. Nevertheless a Nona Vos warrior will generally allow non-warriors a certain measure of respect as long as the non-warrior excels at their function, and that function betters the clan - so long as the non-warrior never presumes to glory beyond that of a warrior.
Applying Social Class
The easiest way to apply social class is in role play. But there are various mechanics that have been devised to represent one facet or another of a socio-economic class system in a role-playing game.
Using Variant Rules
Instead of determining starting money by profession, use social class instead.
|Social Class||Starting Money|
|Criminal||2d6 x 10gp|
|Peasant or Laborer||3d6 x 20 gp|
|Yeoman||2d12 x 20 gp|
|Craftsman||3d6 x 30 gp|
|Gentry or Guildmaster||5d6 x 40|
|Noble or Guilder||6d8 x50|
Generally, anyone who wants to track honor can do so, those who wish to be invisible to the world of honor can likewise forgo tracking honor, unless they begin to accumulate dishonor. Using honor allows the DM to set up honor paradoxes, which is very much in keeping with the literature of chivalry.
There is a perfectly good honor system in Unearthed Arcana, which nicely accounts for increases and decreases in honor. However, instead of using alignment to establish starting honor, use social class.
|Social Class||Starting Honor|
|Peasant or Laborer||0|
|Yeoman or Craftsman||5|
|Genry or Guildmaster||10|
|Noble or Guilder||20|
The terms most often used in Anuire to describe Chivalry are Honesty, Courage, Compassion, Humility, Nobility, Faith, and Duty.
For the Khinasi, Honesty, Integrity, Compassion, Hospitality, Grace, Sincerity, and Obligation might be the preferred terms, but the principles are very similar.
Rjurik warriors would express the code in terms of these related words: Honesty, Courage, Mercy, Hospitality, Honor, Loyalty, and Duty. The shift in emphasis reflects the culture of the Rjurik. Among the Rjurik, only the warrior class, the Karlar, and the nobility, the Dryten, judge a man by his over all conformity to the code. Rjurik commoners tend to judge warriors and nobles by how they are treated, and take less interest in how nobles and warriors treat one another. Likewise the druids of Erik judge by conformity with Erik’s teachings, not Haelyn’s law.
The Rjurik man of honor seeks to find esteem in their clan, standing in their town, to be regarded as worthy by the good people around them, and to create pride in the community that they can claim the man of honor as one of them. A Rjurik believes he can know the honor of a man by asking who his friends are and his enemies are and how he treats them.
If a druid asked an eorl to attend a celebration and the eorl swore he would attend, but failed to do so because of goblin attacks in his territory, the druids would understand. Erik calls on warriors to defend the people from the humanoids. That is their function. Among the karlar and hersir, the eorl had dishonored his word, and has to make amends for failing to do as he had said he would. While the extenuating circumstances are understood (it's far better to fail to keep your word because of a good reason like defending your realm than because you were lazy and just laid about) it is not sufficient to wipe away the stain of dishonor. The eorl must take responsibility for his failure and redeem himself by some act. This might mean a gift, but more likely it means some act of service.
Honesty: The honest character is primarily concerned with keeping one’s word. The character believes that his word once given, is a solemn obligation. If an honorable robber-knight approaches a hunting party and declares that no one will be harmed if the party’s horses are surrendered, then he keeps his word unless someone attempts to attack or betray him. Further, the honest character is not a liar.
Courage: The brave character does not shy away from a fair fight, especially if formally challenged. It is not courage to seek battle unnecessarily, but it certainly is not courage to avoid a battle that must be fought. The brave character takes the risks that need to be taken.
Compassion: The compassionate character takes pity on the weak and needful and grants mercy to those who have been defeated fairly. Compassion might mean charity to the poor, justice to the wronged, or generosity to followers who have earned reward. The compassionate character does not have a bleeding heart, but does have contempt for the weak, and will not kill surrendering foes who are honorable, nor will he cheat.
Humility: The humble character has manners, knows courtesy, and treats both those above and below her appropriately. She follows the forms and duties of one of her station. Even when she comes to announce her liege’s declaration of war on a rival king, she bows, acknowledges his royal office, and respects his dignity. Treating someone of higher rank with open contempt is dishonorable unless the person is contemptible.
Nobility: The noble character has grace, dignity, honor, and is worthy of respect. He is responsible for his duties and his actions. If he has an obligation, he wants to fulfill it. If he has erred, he wants to correct it. Nobility is about the motive to do right, while the actions of doing right lie elsewhere (duty, for example). If a noble character is invited to a wedding but cannot attend, he expresses the desire to have done so.
Faith: For those who are devoted to Haelyn, faith includes devotion to Haelyn and his teachings. To those whose patrons are elsewhere, faith means loyalty and commitment to the code. The faithful character is sincere in motivation and loyal to his companions, and especially any to whom he is sworn.
Duty: The dutiful character puts his obligations to others ahead of his advantage, convenience, or comfort. Some duties will be formal, such as the obligation to serve in her lord’s court. Some duties will be understood, such as the duty to come to the aid of her brother. Duty is largely determined by the social connections the character has. Family, friends, religion, liege, and homeland all impose duties on a character.
Tracking Social Class
There are three mechanisms one might consider for tracking social class, as the PC's rise in stature: Reputation, Honor, and Social Class. Each one could be the core mechanic of your choice, modified by one or more of the other conditions.
There is an honor mechanic above, and as characters improve their station increase their honor by +5.
If you use one of the reputation systems, honor and social class could be modifiers. Higher social class improves reputation, while either significant honorable or dishonorable acts tend to increase reputation. Getting into a minor duel after a wedding might not be the stuff of reputation, but if it was provoked by an insult to your liege, you estimated yourself more powerful than your opponent so fought without your shield, and then after defeating your opponent you forgave him his insult, that might well be the stuff of reputation.
If social climbing is a key part of your campaign you might elect to use a Social Class mechanic similar to either of these, but focused on whether a character spends upkeep to maintain his station (this might include court costs as well for rulers), how well he commands deference from inferiors, while avoiding giving insult to superiors.