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World Building Fantasy Manorial System


The Freechoicer
Heavily inspired by the historical book, Life in a Medieval Village. There's not really many fantasy aspects in this, aside from a few parts at the beginning, and the fact that the historical term 'lord of the manor' is replaced with 'master'.

The Manor
Many highborn are well aware of the titles, ranks and customs of the nobility, knightly gentry, and peerage of this realm. They know of the great law of the Feod, of course. But feodal law is not intrinsic to the manorial system. While the way of feodalism is how knights and nobles render services to one another, the way of the manor is how the common-folk are often organized and made productive for their betters.
1. The Master & His Manor
Each village should have its own Manor. Within this manor lives the Master. The master is most often a knight
(or in churchlands, a prior or paladin [paladins are named 'protectors' of villages rather than masters, in technicality]), with feodal service owed to a higher Lord (of course, a lord could be a baron, earl, abbot, etc., or even a 'lordling' with no rank at all). The manor is usually not fortified, but is rather a large and stout house with both living spaces for the master and his family, and working spaces for the master and his staff.

Manor, village of Stoncrest

Manor, village of Clay Bailey

1.1. The Bailiff
The Bailiff is the chief employee of the master. He must be a loyal, lettered man, in charge of managing other staff and keeping track of various records in the manorial court. Since the master is not always present
(he may be involved in knightly pursuits elsewhere), the bailiff should be able to manage the village in his absence. Bailiffs are similar to squires, except they're managers and not warriors (though bailiffs can and often do serve as soldiers if needed). The bailiff must share the workload with other officials, however.

1.2. The Reeve
The Reeve is a serf, usually from one of the wealthier families in the village. They serve as deputy to the bailiff, and though unlettered, they are intelligent men who keep track of various supply records using a tally-stick, and serve as a foreman in the master's fields. Serfs that attempt to live outside the master's boundaries are usually arrested by the reeve, who is also in charge of levying fines and bringing men before the manorial court.

1.3. The Beadle
The Beadle is the sidekick of the reeve. He often helps the reeve with various tasks delegated to them by the bailiff. The beadle is often the backup quarterstaff whenever the reeve has to deal with someone troublesome. Other than that, the beadle runs errands and helps supervise the serfs' day work owed to the master.

Social Classes of the Peasantry
Men are either free, or servile in this realm.
Serfdom is the state of being servile to a master or lord. There are many differences from being a freeman. As a serf, there are daily periods of mandatory labor for the master, and the serfs are not allowed to leave the village grounds, or get married without permission. However, after paying their masters what they are due, the serfs are allowed to keep the surplus. Serfs are allowed to own money, and sell property among themselves. Not all serfs are equal, and some serfs are wealthier than freemen!

1. Villeins are a type of serf. They are essentially freemen in all respects except to their master. They typically own several acres of land, and around the village, they can do as they please as long as they abide by the master's laws and pay him his dues. They often have enough money to pay for exemptions from mandatory day labor (though most opt to just do it anyway to save money), and some can even pay to have insurance against corporal punishments and fines. Villeins can serve in various village positions, such as on the manorial jury, or as the reeve or beadle. There are usually a couple 'elite' serf families that fulfill most of these positions, however. Villeins can pay a 'quit-rent' to exempt themselves from all obligations to their lord, allowing them to do whatever they want in the village as long as they keep paying the quit-rent. Some villeins can even buy out of serfdom entirely, and become freemen.

1.1. Cotters are the poorest folk of the village, named for the fact they have no land aside from a simple cottage and perhaps a garden. They often wear ratty clothes and struggle to get by, being pitied by other villagers and often exempt from fines because they are poor. Some cotters have jobs as the servants and helpers of villeins.

A freeman does not have his person bound to another. Freemen often live on the domains of lords or masters, and thus pay them rents and protection fees, but these are lower rates compared to serfs. Freemen do not have to ask permission to move somewhere else, travel, marry, sell their property, etc.
2. Yeomen
Yeomen are the most respectable freemen, who own over a hundred acres of land. They are fully able to provide for themselves, as well as make a profit from surplus. They often have hired hands and servants to help them with harvests. Some yeomen even own manors and have tenants of their own. Yeomen are often very wealthy peasant landholders, and the elite of the rural commoners. Yeomen can often excellently equip themselves for battle in times of war, serving as elite archers or cavalrymen ranking just a step below knights (indeed, some wealthy yeomen have better equipment than poor knights).

2.1. Free Peasants
Common freemen are simply peasant farmers, just like serfs. They're likely to have more money due to being exempt from various fines and taxes that are typically imposed on serfs. They are exempt from a serf's day labor owed to the master, which is time freemen can work for themselves or have leisure. Though freemen enjoy many privileges and are often reasonably wealthy compared to serfs, one thing that they are often subjected to are military drafts (usually imposed by a lord higher than their master). They can often afford basic armor and weapons, after all. Freemen are not expected to serve as soldiers for long periods of time however, and are usually returned in time for the harvest. The poorest freemen sometimes opt to sell themselves to serfdom.

2.2. Vagabonds
Landless peasants, vagrants, and itinerant poor men. Though they are sworn to no master, they are not truly 'free' as they are constrained by crippling poverty. In fact, many wish they could be serfs, because at least under a master there is protection and security. They have no wealth or homes to their names, and typically wander from place to place in search of work or pity. If they are lucky, they can cobble together enough money to become a poor cotter after swearing himself as a serf. Most of the time, the landless poor are doomed to lives of begging, thievery and banditry, with their short lives ending at the cold hand of starvation, sickness, or the hangman's noose.

These are various restrictions that are placed upon commoners, usually serfs. This also includes several rights, practices, and concepts.
(pronounced 'domain'): The master's personal farmland. The master technically owns the serfs' farmland too, but they are allowed to keep some of their produce for themselves. All crops farmed on the demesne go directly to the master, however. Serfs are required to do 1-2 days of labor on the demesne a week (working directly for the master's benefit and not their own), unless they pay the censum.

The Censum: A serf can give regular money payments to the manor if they want to be exempt from toiling on the demesne. Usually, a serf saves more money by just doing the work, though.

Wardship: If a child is left orphaned with nobody else in his family able to take over his property, the master of the manor is permitted to take the child into his custody, while also gaining the property of the deceased to add to his own demesne. Some wards are simply treated like servants, some masters raise them like children of their own.

Harvest Duty: Also known as boon work, everyone in the village has to work in the fields during the most important harvest times, even if they are on the censum, even if they are a freeman. This is to ensure that no crops go to waste.

The Ban: The master usually owns the village's mill and ovens. His serfs have to pay him a small fee for these 'banalities'; every time they grind their grain, or bake their bread. The ban is notorious, and the village millers and bakers are sometimes the most hated men in the village. The reeve or bailiff sometimes have to arrest millers and bakers if they stop charging the ban, or start taking bribes to exempt people from it.

White Tax: The tax paid by a serf father to wed his eldest daughter. It is usually in money, crops, or a good animal. Only the most depraved, backwards masters will attempt to take the bride's virginity as payment; this act is also technically illegal among nobility, but it's not unheard of.

Black Tax: Upon the death of a serf father, the eldest son must be blessed by the master if he is to inherit his father's possessions. The son must give the family's 'best beast' to the master. It might be a cow, pig, sheep, or nothing if they are poor and the master takes pity on them. Sometimes a master will accept another gift, such as money or crops.

Green Tax: A fee exacted for when the serfs wish to use the master's sheepfold. The master often owns the largest pasture in the village.

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to Chaos
This is really great! So, are most of the classes here hereditary or is it possible to move from one to the other? Could a serf become a freeman in any circumstances?

I feel like most of the time in fantasy rp commoners are just forgotten about or considered to be all the same, so I love that you've put a lot of thought into the ordinary folks lives, and made a really good easy to read guide about it.


The Freechoicer
I added another section showing a few different taxes, rights and duties.

This is really great! So, are most of the classes here hereditary or is it possible to move from one to the other? Could a serf become a freeman in any circumstances?

I feel like most of the time in fantasy rp commoners are just forgotten about or considered to be all the same, so I love that you've put a lot of thought into the ordinary folks lives, and made a really good easy to read guide about it.
I updated it a bit, freemen can sell themselves to serfdom, and serfs can buy their freedom. The most well-to-do serfs are the chief servants to their master and usually dominate local positions on the jury and such, so they often have no reason to become freemen anyway.

Land is hereditary. Some families will rise and fall, with villeins becoming cotters over time, and vice versa. Land usually passes to the eldest son, though a peasant can pay to have a will written for them by someone who is literate. The manorial court deals with succession disputes.

Though it's highly unlikely that commoners will ever become knights or nobility, there is some social mobility among different ranks of commoners.

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