Class and Station
Just as nine out of ten Vanyans live in small villages and freeholds in the countryside, roughly nineteen out of twenty people are of common birth and ordinary means. They rarely accumulate any great amount of wealth – a prosperous innkeeper or skilled artisan might be able to set her hands on a few hundred gold pieces, but most common farmers and tradesfolk are lucky if they have more than forty or fifty silvers to their name.
In many lands, common-born people are bound by law to defer to their betters, the lords and ladies of the nobility. Even if the law does not require deference, it’s usually a good idea. Nobles enjoy many protections under the law and in some cases can escape punishment for assault, provocation, or the outright murder of a commoner.
The typical noble is a rural baronet or lordling whose lands span only a few miles, ruling over a few hundred common folk in the king’s name. She collects taxes from the villagers and farmers and is vastly more wealthy than all but the most prosperous entrepreneurs in her lands. With her wealth and power come certain responsibi1ities, of course. She is answerable to her own feudal masters for the lawkeeping and good order of her lands. She can be called upon to provide soldiers and arms for her lords’ causes. And, most important, most nobles feel some obligation to protect the people in their charge against the depredations of raiders and banditry.
Realms of Vaniya have developed an enlightened feudal system over centuries of strife and warfare. Lords hold lands in the name of their king, raising armies and collecting taxes to defend the realm. They are expected to answer their king’s call to arms and to defend his interests to the best of their ability. This reasonably effective system supports independent warbands in the defense of far-flung territories.
Common farmers and simple laborers make up most of the human population of Vaniya’s kingdoms and cities. The lowest class across all of Vaniya, the peasantry forms the solid base upon which the power structures of nobles, merchants, temples, and kingdoms all rest.
Most Romaran peasants are not bound to the lands they work and owe no special allegiance to the lord who rules over them, other than obeying his laws and paying his taxes. They do not own their farmlands but instead rent croplands and pastures from the local lord, another form of taxation normally accounted at harvest time.
In frontier regions such as the Northerond, many common farmers own and work their own lands. These people are sometimes known as freeholders if no lord claims their lands, or yeomen if they are common landowners subject to a lord’s authority.
Tradesfolk and Merchants
A step above the common peasantry, skilled craftsfolk and merchants generate wealth and prosperity for any city or town. The so-called middle class is weak and disorganized in most feudal states, but in the great trade cities of the Southern Sea, strong guilds of traders and companies of craftsfolk are strong enough to defy any lord and protect themselves from the monarch’s authority by the power of their coffers.
The wealthiest merchants are virtually indistinguishable from mighty lords. Even if born from peasant stock, a merchant whose enterprises span a kingdom might style himself “lord” and get away with it.
Clergy and Cultists
Existing alongside the feudal relationship of a rural province or guild organization of a trading city, the powerful temples and cults parallel the king’s authority. The lowest-ranking acolytes and mendicants are rarely reckoned beneath the station of a well-off merchant, and any cleric or priest in charge of a temple holds power comparable to that of a baronet or lord. The high priests of a faith favored in a particular land are equal to the highest nobility.
Many of Vania’s temples and Cults are implacable enemies or bitter rivals. In most rural regions, folk tend to follow one or two beliefs that are particularly active or actively supported in their immediate locale.
Descended from warriors who won land to rule (or valuable hereditary positions with handsome stipends) in service to their homeland or king, the low nobility is the backbone of the feudal realm. From their sons and daughters are drawn the knights and officers of the king’s armies, and from their house guards and vaults come the manpower and gold necessary to field the kingdom’s fighting power. They administer the king’s justice within their demesnes and collect his taxes.
Low nobles hold court to settle disputes that occur on their land or under their responsibility, and are expected to try cases of low justice – just about any crime short of murder or treason. They claim a tithe of any wealth in food or gold generated by the commoners who work their land, and may levy local taxes as long as they do not interfere with the monarch’s taxes. In return, they are expected to see to the defense and prosperity of their fiefs. Regrettably, more than one local lord is nothing more than a thief in a castle, wringing every copper he can from the people he rules.
A new breed of low noble is rising in prosperous lands, the so-called merchant prince. A merchant establishes an enterprise or industry of great and lasting value, and then passes it to his heirs. Over time these upstarts may hope to purchase with gold the noble title otherwise won only by valor in days long past.
Knights, lords, baronets, and barons are accounted low-landed nobles. Lord-mayors, sheriffs, commanders, wardens, and seneschals are low nobles who hold titles but no lands.
Frequently related by blood or marriage to the ruling family, high nobles are those who are due allegiance from some number of low nobles. Unlike low nobles, who frequently carry noble titles without lands, high nobles are usually landed, commanding great fiefs that could be considered small kingdoms in their own right.
High nobles hear disputes that lower nobles cannot settle, and dispense justice for all but the most heinous of crimes. Like low nobles, they collect taxes in the ruler’s name and levy additional taxes as they see fit. They maintain personal armies sometimes numbering in the hundreds and use them to vigorously police and patrol their lands.
The high counselors of a kingdom or realm are often accounted high nobles, even if they are not rewarded with lands. The stipends and royalties associated with their titles make them some of the wealthiest people in a kingdom.
Counts, viscounts, dukes, earls, and marquises are high-landed nobles. Lord-governors and high counselors are high-titled nobles. Grand dukes, archdukes, and. princes are considered royalty, even if they are not immediately related to the ruling house.