Social Class and Status in Greyhawk
For all its cosmopolitan character, Greyhawk has a clearly understood ranking of its population by social class, which is strongly but not entirely related to personal wealth. As wealthy as the Beggarmaster of the Union of Beggars might be, he will never rise above the lower class. His Solemn Authority, Nerof Gasgal, arguably the most powerful, wealthy, and skilled Lord Mayor of Greyhawk since Zagig Yragerne, will never gain acceptance among the nobility of the city because of his lowly birth. Several times in the past, city nobles have been reduced to penniless states by disaster, but they were still regarded as nobles.
Race can enter into the social ranking as well, though only rarely among humans. Rhennee keep themselves as outsiders and are not well integrated into Greyhawk’s ongoing life, and so will never rise above lower class status, which is fine with them. Other than this, a Baklunish or Flan citizen is as likely to enter the upper or lower class as an Oeridian or Suloise. It simply makes no difference to most humans, who share a world with numerous other intelligent and social races and so tend to minimize differences among humankind.
The story is different when considering nonhumans. Almost any of the better-known elves in the city, such as Fioranna Aielestriel (the former ambassador from Nyrond), are instantly placed in the upper class on a footing at least equal to the most elite and longest established nobles around, even though the elves might not have a tenth the personal wealth of their social peers – or even, as in Fioranna’s case, if they are not citizens of Greyhawk. Halflings are perceived as passive but hard-working members of the low middle class; dwarves and gnomes are seen as good warriors (always with secret hoards of gold and gems) of the middle to upper middle class; and half-orcs are viewed as untrustworthy and brutish lower-class scum.
Exceptions to the above always appear. Not a sane person in the city will dare exclude Glodreddi Bakkanin, the dwarf Inspector of Taxes, from any social function; even nobles defer to him, entirely out of fear of his wrath. Selczek Gobayuik, the long-time guildmaster of embalmers and gravediggers, is clearly a half-orc, but he is so well established and has such a forceful (if unpleasant) personality that he will hold his middle-class status to his death. Demihuman beggars are very rare but not unknown, but none were ever elves; even the poorest sylvan elf hunter gains respect worthy of a landowner.
The Upper Class: At the top of the social register in Greyhawk are the “old nobles,” the few families who can trace their ancestry back to the days when Greyhawk was part of the Great Kingdom and had its nobility appointed directly by the Overking. Most of these families live just outside the City of Greyhawk in the Domain on large country estates, surrounded by the cottages and huts of peasant laborers and servants. The Gynarch (Despotrix) of Hardby is unquestionably a part of this group, and she commands more social attention even than Lord Mayor Nerof Gasgal, which irritates him much. Other old nobles include the Wainwrights, who still work at wagonmaking on their estate outside the city’s east wall, and the Wheatsmills of the High Quarter, who have little day-to-day interaction with the mill they own in Clerkburg. Many foreign nobles are accepted as equal to the old nobles, such as Count Reichart Petrides, the ambassador from the Duchy of Urnst, who lives in Zagig’s old summer home in the High Quarter. Old nobles are accepted on a level equal to most foreign nobles when they travel because of their history, wealth, attitudes, manners, and family connections.
Next are the “new nobles,” those who were brought into the town’s nobility from the time of Zagig Yrageme or later. Zagig himself appointed most of these for services rendered to the city during his reign as Lord Mayor. Few Lord Mayors have bothered with noble appointments since his time, but some nobles from foreign lands have moved to Greyhawk and managed to officially retain their status by writ of the Directing Oligarchy. These nobles are much like the old ones in habits.
New nobles include the Lockswells of the Gnarley Forest, the Blackfairs of the Ery River, and the Silverfoxes and Henways of the High Quarter. Lord Yrag, formerly of Mordenkainen’s Citadel of Eight (see Fruit of the Mill, in the Artisans’ Quarter), is still a new noble, though he was away from Greyhawk for many years. Jallarzi Safavarian has a tentative hold on “new nobility,” being a cousin of Duke Karll of Urnst, but she has no interest in social status. Otto, a wizard who, like Jallarzi, is of the Circle of Eight, is well-placed as a new noble, having elected to live in Greyhawk after his homeland of Almor was ruined a decade earlier. Lord Robilar, who joined the archmage Rary in attacking the Circle of Eight, was once of this status, the last of his family line; he is now branded a traitor and criminal. Tenser, who has his own castle, a small army, and connections beyond counting across the Flanaess, is usually considered equal to a new noble.
In theory, the Lord Mayor and Directing Oligarchy should be the leaders in social status. In actual practice and public perception, this is not so. The Directors are seen as upper class, certainly, but not on the level of the old nobility and barely on a level with the new. Nerof Gasgal is on equal footing with the Magister of Dyvers, currently Larissa Hunter, the former captain of that city’s Free Army, but neither Nerof nor Larissa have any interest in meeting one another. Nerof has never personally met Duke Karll of Urnst or King Belvor of Furyondy, either, and doesn’t believe he would like the experience of being someone else’s inferior.
Other members of the non-noble upper class include the high priests, male and female, of the major religions of the city
- beyond those priests who sit on the Directing Oligarchy (Ravel Dasinder, a priest of Boccob; Jerome Kasinskaia of Rao, Stakaster Villaine of Zilchus; and Eritai Kaan-Ipzirel of St. Cuthbert). Other major priests and their gods include Sarana (Pelor), Janziduur (Trithereon), Mathilde Dessenter (Istus), and Talrand Quehris (Xerbo). As a general rule, most priests who can cast spells of fifth level or higher (thus being 9th-level or above) are of the upper class, and every priest who can cast 6th or 7th-level spells is accorded such respect. The few local druids, however, are seen as rustics, having low social status.
Most guild masters, high commanders in the Greyhawk Militia, and famous wizards are in the upper class. Paladins gain the regard due the upper class because of their extensive education and connections; Greyhawk has several small religious orders of knighthood, each with no more than a dozen members, and all are well regarded though they rarely work together. The heads of the large human and demihuman towns around Greyhawk are also in the upper class, though sometimes marginally so. The mayors of Elmshire and Grossettgrottell (a halfling and gnome, respectively) get less attention and respect than the dwarf clan heads of Greysmere and Karakast, who get less respect than the Greyhawk appointed military rulers of Narwell, Safeton, and Hardby. The Gynarch of Hardby — as noted earlier — outranks them all in the minds of many, including the minds of Greyhawk’s own upper class, the Directing Oligarchy excepted. The Oligarchy’s attempts to ignore the Gynarch or diminish her influence have only served to give her enormous sympathy in the eyes of many. The leaders of foreign orders of knighthood (Knights of Holy Shielding, Knights of the Hart, and soon) who visit Greyhawk are also accorded upper class privileges.
Upper class citizens of Greyhawk make up about 2% of the total population. This group controls about half to two-thirds of the wealth in the city and nearly all the land, which is rented out or given as fiefs to those who vow their loyalty and tax money in the usual feudal manner. The upper class is very resistant to the idea of anyone but another upper class citizen owning land outright, a concept they feel would lead to chaos.
The Middle Class: The middle class of Greyhawk is a mixed bag of merchants, expert craftsmen, landowners, non-noble community leaders, military officers, minor city officials, intellectuals, and low- to mid-level spellcasters. Most of these citizens bettered themselves financially through their businesses, though some inherited money from wealthy relatives. Mid-level clerics of the major religions in the city, sages and scholars consulted regularly by government officials and private individuals, experienced bards, and wizards who sell their services at spellcasting or potion-making are important minor members of this group, the craftsmen, merchants, and traders being in the dear majority. A key element shared by almost all is that they participate a great deal in the day-to-day economic life of Greyhawk, putting their hands on hard cash and making it move and work.
Recent additions to this group are the petty nobles created in 584 CY for tax purposes. Ten such titles were created at first by the Oligarchy, but now almost two dozen exist Though they put on airs worthy of princes, these petty nobles have almost no political power and have never been accepted into the upper class, as they so clearly purchased their titles to sate their egos. However ,several petty nobles have managed to parlay their titles into money making ventures.
Village leaders in the Domain of Greyhawk fall into the middle class, too, including rulers of such places as Two Ford, One Ford, Five Oaks, Tricaster, and Carnakh. At the bottom of this social level are professional soldiers in the Greyhawk Militia, minor merchants and craftsmen, and petty landlords.
One career category (if it can be called that) that generally falls within the middle class is that of professional adventurer, a catch-all title for treasure-seekers, spellcasting mercenaries, and others who can be hired to perform dangerous missions for high pay. Adventurers often fall outside the normal social-class structure as they can be incredibly rich one day and broke the next; they are also unreliable as a rule and prone to travel so much and possess such rude manners that they do not fit into society.
Greyhawk’s long-established middle class is open to nearly anyone of the lower class willing to put forth the effort to gain the respect and wealth required. “If Selczek Gobayuik can do it, anyone can," is a common expression (though it is never stated within the half-orc’s hearing, of course). In total, the middle class of Greyhawk hovers around 15-20% of the population, and it controls about a third or more of the wealth and land available.
The Lower Class: The majority of Greyhawk’s citizens (80% or more) are in the lower class. Most could be considered “upper lower class;” meaning they have homes, adequate clothing, and a reasonable certainty of getting food everyday. On the other hand, they have little leisure time and must work very hard for the few necessities they manage to get.
The easiest life is probably had by students, whose tuition is mostly paid for, though many students must work for their tutors in addition. Typical lower-class citizens who manage to make do through hard work and long hours are the bulk of all guildmembers in crafts and service guilds, those whose skills and experience are insufficient to lift them to master levels, as well as mercenaries and hired guards, professional thieves, minor bards, woodsmen, farmers, herders, trappers, fishers, hunters, common laborers, and guild apprentices. All Rhennee are regarded as lower class, as are nearly all half-orcs (even if unrecognized), who tend to be short-tempered, dictatorial, argumentative with co-workers, and poor at financial matters. Foreign barbarians and nomads makeup a small but interesting number in this class, coming from all over the Flanaess.
Greyhawk has no system of slavery or indentured servitude; it abolished slavery in all its forms across the domain in 588 CY, to the annoyance of many in Safeton who owned slaves taken in Wild Coast raids years earlier. However, Greyhawk abounds with beggars and vagrants in the Old City and along the River Quarter. Many are native-born, but a large number are unskilled immigrants from Tenh, Nyrond, the Wild Coast, and other places that suffered greatly during the Greyhawk Wars less than a decade earlier. Some are former slaves freed by Greyhawk’s government but unable to find work.
Roger Moore. Greyhawk, The Adventure Begins. 1996