From Breaking Worlds
The principal division in Arginese society is between nobles and commoners. Simply put, the nobles have titles and own land - nominally on behalf of the Crown - and the commoners don’t. In practice the division is not quite as great, as nobles range from fabulously wealthy dukes and duchesses to impoverished knights, and commoners can likewise be very rich and influential despite their lack of title. Claiming descent from King Estienne was also traditionally the preserve of the noble houses but the distinction is now obsolete.
Most people in Arginet are commoners. They have free movement and may own moveable property - there are no serfs or slaves in the nation - but they cannot inherit land, instead renting houses or farms from a noble landlord.
Although most commoners are peasant farmers or small-scale craftspeople, they make up the vast bulk of every profession. In a wealthy merchant’s household there might be dozens of people from the head of the house through retainers and servants to unskilled labourers, all of whom are considered commoners.
The Noble Houses are distinct enough from the commoners that they form a social and political faction of their own. They are thoroughly hierarchical, with the crown at the top and several ranks below them: dukes, counts, barons, and finally knights. (The titles are considered to be the same for any gender.) The dukes of the realm have substantial numbers of vassals, but conversely it’s not unknown for a minor noble to owe fealty to more than one duke or count.
Each noble title is tied to an estate - an area held on behalf of a liege lord or the Crown and worked by vassals and tenants. The long history of Arginet means that the larger estates are often scattered geographically, creating a sort of patchwork and discouraging any duke or count from concentrating entirely on a given region. Knights are more likely to make do with a manor and some farmland, while the poorest estates might consist of just a tower house and a couple of attached cottages.
The nobility are remarkable for their attention to heredity. Originally the rules governing how titles pass from one generation to the next were intended to preserve fey ‘blood’ within families, and although this is now known to be fallacious they are maintained as a matter of long-standing tradition. When the holder of a title dies their firstborn child inherits it. If the holder has more than one title their younger children may be granted lesser titles by will, but they are more often married off into another family, retained as part of the household, or sent to make a living in the priesthood or the army. Any non-inheriting children of nobles are technically commoners, but socially they enjoy most of the advantages of the nobility.