In the Feudal System as we’re using it in Erldworn, the nobility work as anyone familiar with Feudal Fantasy RPGs might expect.
The human realm we’re starting in, known as Braxis, there is currently a monarch, King Ambrelon II, High Seat of Justice. The Kingdom is split into six duchies, each ruled by a duke or duchess. Each duchy is split into between two and five counties, those being served by a count or countess. Those are split into various baronies, ruled by barons and baronesses.
Beneath barons are noble knights, but more correctly, knights serve at all levels of the nobility, so while a knight who is pledged in service to the King is outranked by any petty baron, woe be unto the foolish baron who treats such a knight poorly merely as a response to their difference in station…
Knights are usually children of the nobility, but commoners may be knighted for several causes, bravery in defense of the realm chief among them. Below the knight are various squires and pages, who, though they be of noble blood, have yet to earn themselves a noble title. Knights, and the nobility as a whole, follow a code of conduct:
The Knight’s Code –
Noble service cheerfully rendered
Courtesy to all ladies
Courage and enterprise in obedience to rule
Honor to all above your station
Respect for all peers and equals
Obedience and respect from all beneath your station
Scorn for those who are ignoble
Prowess exercised in service to your lord
Glory above all in battle
Defense of any charge unto death
Defeat to those who oppose your cause
Death before dishonor
Noble Titles, Heritability, and Primogeniture
Titles of nobility are generally passed down through the oldest child, with other progeny gifted lesser titles as happens with girl children married off to other noble houses to seal political and social alliances with sufficient titles and dowries as to mark significant investment in the relationship.
Because only the oldest child inherits the lands and titles of the parents, the other children of the lower nobility often find themselves serving as mounted knights and other men-at-arms for landed nobles. It is tradition for a landed noble to provide a stipend for any knight who serves said noble, but if a knight has no patron, it would be quite easy to starve to death or turn against the Code.
Knights may be members of Knightly Orders, unions of knighthood that espouse a particular ideal that runs in addition to the Knight’s Code. Knights may join mercenary companies as long as they continue to follow the Code, although policing such a thing is difficult if one is far enough from civilization. Knights, if they are down enough on their luck, may also become bandits, or worse, adventurers. The nobility tend to see the choice of an adventuring profession as an abandonment of the Code (and all good sense).
Nobility and Noblesse Oblige
A Noble’s first duty is to King and Country, the defense of the Realm, its Ruler, and its Laws. Knights and nobles are required to uphold the law even if it means their deaths. This is not expected of the commoners. Commoners are expected to run and hide and cower.
Knights protect. Peasants work the soil.
Knights and nobles, when acting as such, are given much deference. They’re entitled to upkeep by other local nobility as they travel.
Every member of the belted nobility (knights and above) has the right to bed any member of the peasantry that takes their fancy. “Sire” as a means of noble address often means exactly that. Note that, for the most part, this doesn’t lead to anything like a rapacious community, and those nobles who abuse this privilege are often ostracized by the peerage.
Nobility, Honor, and The Spoils of Battle
When armed conflict happens, there’re often valuable commodities left among the dead. The nobility has set up a means of allocating that these things.
All property of the dead on the winning side goes back to the families of the fallen. If the fallen have no families left, their property escheats to the lords to whom they swore fealty.
The property of the dead from the vanquished side of the conflict is divided among the victors. One third goes to the lord whose land the fight took place in (the local baron or count). The rest is split amongst the noble warriors who took part in the conflict. If peasant levees participated, their liege lord may grant them a share, but it’s not required (if peasants get rich, they tend to lose their desire to work). Nobles who do reward their peasant levees this way, though, tend to have higher morale among their populace. It is also customary to pay the families of peasant levees who are killed between 100 and 500 silver tiels.