The first thing players in my game get to do is determine their Birth Caste. They may do this by rolling 1d6 on the following table, or they may choose from one of the six options (if they have their hearts set on playing a particular caste or ... class). The castes are listed in a rough order of their importance in society.
The character's Birth Caste provides two main game-based advantages:
- When rolling characteristics the standard method is rolling 4d6 and choosing any three, However with the indicated preferred characteristic, all four dice may be chosen.
- Membership of a caste provides the character with certain innate background skills as a result of their upbringing. These are generally represented by two discrete Expertises (one of which is the form of etiquette practised by the members of the caste), although there are collateral effects. One can, for example expect members of the Military and Aristocratic castes to be able to ride a horse, for example.
Firstly this means that members of a particular caste are much more likely to enter certain classes. For example members of the Military caste are much more likely to become Fighters, Knights, or Samurai, for example. Their upbringing particularly suits them for that role.
Secondly if someone wants to become a proper member of the indicated caste they will need to acquire the indicated Expertises. The etiquette Expertise is sufficient to convince non-caste members that you are a member of the caste, whilst the deeper knowledge of the second Experitse is required to convince caste members that you actually belong. Individuals that change caste will generally lack the appropriate Expertises to properly fit into their new social milieu and will often struggle. If they have risen in social status they will probably be considered parvenu (their children, on the other hand, have been properly brought up in the caste, will have the proper training, and will not be considered parvenu).
I've used the term "caste" mainly because the operator "class" is already overloaded in most D&D games. However there is also a certain truth inherent in considering the social class your character was born into to be a caste, for in most cultures there are very few opportunities for a character to escape the social class they were born into, even if there are not religious, legal, or social impediments to doing so. Adventurers are a notable exception to this, because they effectively represent a distinct social class of their own: they are those individuals that have formally renounced their caste obligations and position in society to advance (or fall) on their own merits.
Aristocratic Caste (Charisma)
These are the hereditary rulers of the land (or the group from which the rulers of the land are typically drawn). From an early age they are exposed to the ins-and-outs of leadership and courtly behaviour and political machinations, and so Charisma is their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Courtesy, which allows them to operate in the courtly environment, both in formal (presentation at court and proper etiquette) and informal (intrigue and gossip) situations. Their other Expertise is Heraldry, which is not just the technical knowledge of the heraldry, but the practical knowledge of what power and influence belongs to those to whom the heraldry belongs, as well as who is related to whom. Using this, an aristocrat can place their pedigree to a precise degree. Status is often everything to an aristocrat.
Of all the castes, individual members of the aristocratic caste are the ones most likely to become adventurers. This is because if one is neither the "Heir" nor the "Spare," there is little opportunity for social advancement. If the family is rich enough, then they may usually remain as Gentlemen (Noble Social Level 2), who may support the family's interests as junior managers and supervisors (or just simply live well), but many will be relegated to the Military or Religious Castes instead. Seeking to make your own position in the world was always considered an acceptable alternative, and is why adventurers are effectively considered an acceptable social class/occupation).
Important Note: Being an aristocrat is expensive. Whilst most other castes pay their cost of living expenses in silver pieces (sp), members of the aristocratic caste are required to pay their cost of living expenses in gold pieces (gp). For this reasons most aristocratic adventurers voluntarily affect membership of the military or religious castes (depending on their class). This effectively limits their ability to trade on the family name.
Military Caste (Strength)
This is the military elite of the land. They usually have the privileged position just below that of the aristocracy, for they are the mailed fist that supports the social order. The officers and leaders of the military are invariably drawn from their ranks, and they themselves form the elite troops, such as knights, samurai, and weaponthanes of the society. Their upbringing often includes rigorous physical conditioning which makes Strength their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Captaincy which is the ability to lead and organise men, especially into combat or danger, organise supplies, read maps, and have knowledge of strategy and tactics. Their other Expertise is usually Soldier, which is generally the practical knowledge of military life, especially on campaign. However nations where the Navy is the "Senior Service" may instead choose to take the Sailor expertise, which is the naval equivalent of Soldier. [However in order to be promoted to Lieutenant they will still need to gain the Seamanship Expertise.]
Members of the military caste often become adventurers because there is often little difference between adventuring and being on a campaign (except you are more likely to be outnumbered). In fact some members of the military caste can still manage to combine an active military career with an adventuring career whilst off-duty or on leave.
Religious Caste (Intelligence)
The religious caste represents the educated elite of the land. Throughout history and in many different societies this has usually been the preserve of the priesthood and clergy. Normally they play second-fiddle to the military caste, but in peaceful societies they might be the mandarins in control of administering society and ordering the troops where to go. Their formal education allows them to consider Intelligence to be their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Educated, and they may generally choose any Lore as their second Expertise (which determines their speciality within the caste). For example, Theology might be the lore chosen by a member of the priesthood, whilst Law might be chosen by a lawyer, Physician by a doctor, Scholar by an academic, Magic Lore by a mage (the theoretical knowledge of magic rather than the practical knowledge represented by class abilities), and Stewardship by an administrator/factotum.
Most members of the religious caste would consider adventuring to be a cold, wet, and thoroughly miserable way to die. However the magic using element of the religious caste is over-represented amongst adventurers because the often the only way to acquire new magic is to go looking for it in all the dark paces of the world.
Artisan Caste (Dexterity)
These are the craftsmen that make the goods that are often treasured by the higher castes. As a result they have bought themselves a higher role in society. Because most members of the artisan class make stuff, Dexterity is considered their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Merchant, which is the ability to run a business, whilst their other Expertise is Craftsman. The crafts known by artisans are generally jealously guarded family secrets like weaponsmithing, bowyer, armoury, apothecary, artificing, and even architect. Artisans are much more likely to know how to make magical items than common craftsmen (who have neither the time nor customers to investigate doing so).
Whilst technically and officially still members of the peasant caste, rich merchants and bankers have also managed to parley their services to the higher castes (and wealth) into an elevated caste status for themselves and are considered to be members of the artisan caste even if they don't manage to produce anything and just move it around. They are considered to have the Merchant Expertise and Banking Expertise.
Very few members of the artisan caste turn to adventuring. Some may wander, looking for a place to set up shop, but skilled craftsmen are always in demand.In fact some trades, such as the village blacksmith, are so important that the craftsmen are crippled if there is a hint they might "run away." Although in truth, given their elevated status in a rural community, there is little incentive for them to do so. Generally the ones that do become adventurers are the n'er-do-wells, who have parleyed their mercantile and mechanical abilities into more dubious pursuits.
Peasant Caste (Constitution)
These are the other 95% of society who toil to support the other castes. The result of all this hard work is to make Constitution their preferred characteristic. Their Etiquette Expertise is Folklore, which is not only knowledge of local superstitions and legends, but local history, law, customs, people, and gossip. While you typical peasant may not travel further than a half day from his village, they know every blade of grass within that half day. As a result the Expertise is generally tied to where the peasant lives. Travel far enough, or encounter people of a different culture, then the two Folklore Expertises will be effectively different (however it can still be used to validate your caste membership to the other party).
The other Expertise known by a member of this caste is generally Peasant, since about three-quarters of the caste will be engaged in purely agrarian pursuits. However members of the peasant caste have a wide-range of secondary Expertises available to them, including the Expertises of the other castes. For example:
- A servant of the aristocracy may take the Courtesy Expertise. And yes this does mean they can readily pretend to be nobles themselves.
- A common soldier or sailor may take the Soldier or Sailor Expertise.
- A clerk may take the Lawyer or Stewardship Expertise.
- A merchant may take the Merchant Expertise. A craftsman may take the Craftsmen Expertise, although it will concentrate more on those trades common to the countryside, such as blacksmith, mason, weaver, and carpenter (and the common craftsmen will almost never have any access to the recipes required to craft magical items, even if they may eventually develop the capability to do so).
- Not to mention all the other common trades and careers, like Hunter, Fisherman, Herdsman, Labourer, etc.
Despite the fact that members of the peasant caste vastly outnumber all the other castes combined, very few members of this caste have the opportunity to take up adventuring. Often there are legal and social constraints (for example the ability to bear weapons or even leave the land), as well as the economic constraints of outfitting the character for an adventuring lifestyle (as opposed to becoming a simple bandit). Usually members of this caste become adventures through the direct sponsorship of a member of a higher caste.
Important Note: Being a peasant is as cheap as being an aristocrat is expensive. A peasant can pay his living expenses in copper pieces rather than silver. However as the lifestyle that results will be that of a poor serf, most members of this caste prefer to pay their living expenses in silver pieces if they can afford it. Note that since the daily cost of living is paid in copper pieces, peasants away from home gain no benefit from living cheaply. The benefit is only gained when paying cost of living expenses monthly or annually (and thus, only applies when the peasant can pay their cost of living in such a manner).
Some cultures will have an explicit outcaste of untouchables, such as the burakumin or Japan and the dalit of India. However these individuals can never rise to the level of adventurer within their native societies because of the restrictions put on them. If they acquire the Folkore Expertise then they can pretend to be a member of the peasant caste, but their lack of an "acceptable" secondary Expertise to support themselves will often give them away. Still this is always an option for adventurers coming from this social class. However the main adventuring members of this caste are those who already exist outside of society. In effect, they are already adventurers without the formal declaration that makes them what they are. Surviving and prospering as an Outcaste requires considerable tenacity in the face of opposition, which is why Willpower is the preferred characteristic.
The Etiquette Expertise is either Untouchable (for those societies that have an explicit caste of untouchables) or Outlaw (for those who exist outside society's protection for other reasons). Both of these Expertises are effectively disadvantages when used outside the context of the subclass, so all members of the outcaste who are adventurers also get the Folklore expertise for free. One of the advantages of this Etiquette Expertise is that the outcaste is often ignored by the authorities and it is easier to disappear into it. [Although when the authorities do take notice, the repercussions are often extremely brutal.]
Certain classes may only be taken by members of the Outcaste. In particular the class of Cultist can only be taken by members of the Outcaste, in which case the Etiquette Expertise becomes Heretic and the Etiquette Expertise normally associated with the character's Birth Caste (or roll randomly), and the secondary Expertise is Dark Lore or Cult Lore. Access to this class, and the increased Willpower characteristic, are the general reasons why someone might choose to be an Outcaste.
Membership of the Outcaste also allows characters to ignore societal restrictions that may be placed on them. For example in a society where peasants are not allowed to touch weapons (and not just the serfs and slaves), becoming an Outcaste might be the only way to become a Fighter. Admittedly an outlaw or bandit, but that at least allows you to acquire the class.
[That was exhausting. My primary game notes were basically the listed table. All the rest was addenda and explanation which I just added to explain the table.]