[ Note: This has been revised to account for the changes in the economic system inspired by attempting to write the subsequent parts of this post. ]
The Noble Hierarchy
Direct advancement within the Aristocratic Caste is nearly impossible unless one is either the acknowledged heir (or the "spare" that is maintained just in case something should happen to the heir). The exception to this is if some major disaster overtakes the family (such as a peasant rebellion from which the immediate family do not manage to escape), in which case it may be possible for a collateral line (a cousin) to inherit. However most members of the caste will only have a limited ability to directly progress above the status of Lord [Noble 4]. In particular, it is assumed that player characters have no such opportunity to directly inherit.
The other approach is to distinguish yourself in service to the Crown and be awarded a title (and the estates required to maintain it). The normal approach to doing so is either through the Military or via the Royal Bureaucracy. The other alternative, of course, is to find your fame and fortune as an adventurer – which is why despite being one of the smallest castes, the members of the Aristocratic Caste are equally represented amongst adventurers.
The Noble Hierarchy of the Aristocratic Caste is as follows:
|17||Emperor (Great Empire)||6||20||240 sp|
|16||Emperor (Major Empire)||6||19||228 sp|
|15||Emperor (Minor Empire)||5||18||216 sp|
|14||Great King||5||17||204 sp|
|13||High King||5||16||192 sp|
|11||Sovereign Prince||4||14||168 sp|
|10||Sovereign Duke||4||13||156 sp|
|9||Marquis / Earl||3||11||132 sp|
|6||Baron* (Large Barony)||2/3*||8||96 sp|
|6||Baron* (Medium Barony)||2/3*||7||84 sp|
|6||Baron* (Small Barony)||2/3*||6||72 sp|
|5||Baronet / Knight Bannerette*||2/3*||5||60 sp|
|4||Lord / Manorial Knight*||2/3*||4||48 sp|
|3||Courtier / Household Knight*||1/3*||3||36 sp|
|1||Provincial Gentleman / Bastard||1||1||12 sp|
|* In the traditional feudal society the lower ranks of the Aristocratic Caste are usually members of the Military Caste who have been gifted or granted holdings in return for military service. As knights they are considered elite soldiers, and thus default to being 3 HD creatures.|
Hit Die: If the noble is not an exceptional character they are treated as being a creature of the listed HD. Note that those nobles who are feudal knights default to being 3HD because they are considered to be elite soldiers (usually using a d10 because of their combat training).
Social Status: Nobles automatically socially outrank the members of all other hierarchies of equivalent Social Status. The increase in Social Status for high level Nobles is die to the fact that the Aristocracy control the social hierarchy and purposefully rig the game in their favour. Not that Social Status is equivalent to Level in Social Situations, so any character with a Social Status above 12 is considered to be exceptional.
Monthly Expenses: This is the minimum monthly expenses required to maintain this status for the individual. It does not cover anything other than the personal monthly expenses of the character (such as maintenance of servants or holdings). For most nobles it is normally provided by the appropriate Noble Asset (for example a Baron requires a Type F Castle). Characters simply wishing to live like a king can expect to spend 180 sp a month (assuming that they are allowed to by sumptuary laws). Incidentally, when expressed in gold pieces (ie as an annual expense), this is also the accepted ransom for an honourably captured noble (although unfriendly or hostile individuals might demand two or three times that; an enemy wouldn't accept the character's ransom). Thus capturing a Count on the battlefield is generally worth a ransom of 120 gp to the lucky soldier.
Note that knights are generally considered members of the Military Caste as well as the Aristocratic Caste, although, depending on the cultural context, they may not hold an explicit position in the Military hierarchy.