Background Traits (D&D 5th Ed.)
Social rank is an important defining feature of characters in the Ancient Lands. I tried a couple of things with the Backgrounds in the current D&D Playtest rules (10/29/12) and selecting four skills for each social ranks turned out to be too restricting and creating a background for every possible upbringing and profession would get far too cluttered.
Instead, I think I will go with only a Background Trait and a couple of suggested skills that would be appropriate for a character of that background, but not neccessary. A person of the Highborn class would be likely to have the Persuasion and Knowledge (Heraldry) skills, but if this specific character also has the Knowledge (Warfare) and Ride skills, or rather Profession (Scribe) and knowledge (History) is left entirely to the player. Background Skills are a a suggestion anyway and players who want to get through this stepp quick are already presented with a selection of five or six skills, from which they can chose four and leave it at that.
Since social rank is somewhat fluid, characters can change their Background Trait at a later point, but even if Skills were selected from the suggested Background Skills, these don't change.
Highborn is the highest social class in the Ancient Lands. It includes the chiefs of the clans, their sub-chiefs, and their immediate families. They are the people with power and who grew up in previleged families. Rising up to the highborn class is usually achieved only by marriage into a highborn family, or when a member of a clansmen family is raised into the inner circle of the chieftains most trusted warriors.
Highborn Station (based on the Knights Station Background Trait): As a member of the highborn class, you can expect to recieve accomodations and food for yourself and your companions by the leader of any community you are passing through. This previlege is denied only to enemies of the clan, but even those might be granted hospitality if they are on their way to negotiations with the local chief or king. Most clan leaders make sure that all of their subjects also treat visiting highborn with the respect appropriate to their station. As members of the ruling families, the actions of a highborn have a very high effect on the clans reputation so abusing this previlege might lead to repercussions by your chief, which could include paying for gifts send to the other clan as signs of gratitude for their hospitality.
Suggested Skills: Intimidate, Knowledge (Heraldry, History, Warfare), Profession (cook, herbalist, scribe, tailor, woodcarver), Persuade, Ride, Sense Motive.
The Clansmen are the old and powerful families of a clan that often make up between one third and one half of the clans members. The clansmen families make up the vast majority of a clans warriors and landowners and the leaders of each family has a say in the politics of the village or stronghold. To rise into the clansmen class, individuals have to either marry into a clansmen family or be adopted into it by the leaders of the family. Sometimes warriors who have proven their worth and have performed a great service to the clan are adopted by the chief and either become part of his family or a given a small home in the clans lands.
Clan Loyalty (based on the Salt of the Earth Background Trait): Loyalty towards the members of ones own clan is not based on personal relationships or if one even likes one another, but a matter of survival and safety against hostile clans and raiding bandits. In times of danger, a clansman can always count on the help an protection of his fellow brothers and sisters of the clan. Showing outsiders that the clan does not always stand together as one only makes it a target for enemies who would think they can assault warriors or raid farms without repercussions. When threatened by outsiders, clansmen always stick together, even when at other times they might be trying to kill each other. Allowing outsiders to attack fellow clansmen or even assisting them in it is considered a crime against the clan and could even lead to exile or death if found to be commited for personal gains.
The duties and benefits of this trait also apply to Highborn characters and most Shamans.
Suggested Skills: Handle Animal, Intimidate, Knowledge (Nature, Warfare), Profession (brewer, cook, farmer, herbalist, hunter, miller, sailor, woodcarver), Ride, Survival.
Shamans are a special group within the society of every clan. They are the priests who maintain the peace between the people of the clan and the spirits of the land they inhabit and as such they have a great amount of power and respect regardless of the wealth and power of their families. When speaking on behalf of the spirits, even kings can not refuse the advice of their shamans.
People who have a talent for communicating with the spirits and being aware of the spiritworld often become apprentice shamans at a young age. While they usually tend to life somewhat removed from the rest of the clan and mostly keep to each other, some gifted people who are not druids or clerics themselves live with them as their assistants and servants and might also be treated as members of the shaman class.
Spirit Advisers (based on the Researcher Background Trait): Shamans know how to cummune with the spirits to gain access to their knowledge and wisdom. The words of spirits are often cryptic, but they can tell shamans what to do or where to look for clues that will help them get the answers they need.
Suggested Skills: Heal, Knowledge (Arcana, Forbidden Lore, History, Nature, Religion), Persuasion, Sense Motive, Survival.
Hermits are people who have forsaken their former lives as members of their clan and instead have isolated themselves from society to follow a higher calling. While people without a clan are usually regarded as suspicious and unworthy of trust, hermits face none of these resentiments and are instead highly respected throughout all society. Many hermits are wizards or druids who are not shamans of a clan, but some are simple scholars or monks who seek out solitude to persue their spiritual development.
Free Passage (based on the Licensed Fool Background Trait): Hermits live outside the normal rules of society and are respected and wellcome among all social classes. Even if they spend the last night sleeping in a cave or cared for the sick and poor they will not be seen as unfit to be invited into the homes of even the most wealthiest and respected families. Hermits can go everywhere and talk to anyone without any damage to their reputation, and those with sufficient charisma can even get away with refusing the invitations and wishes of chiefs and kings. Hermits are sacred men and women wherever they go and whatever they do, as long as people regard them as sincere in their removal from daily life. A hermit who is seen acting without dignity or being rude and offensive, might very soon lose the respect of people from all classes.
Suggested Skills: Heal, Knowledge (Arcana, Forbidden Lore, History, Nature, Religion, Sciences), Persuasion, Sense Motive, Survival.
The Freemen are people who don't belong to the old families of a clan but are still granted permission to live and work on the land of a clan and recieve some form of protection. While freemen are not granted the previlege of protection against outsiders that is given to members of the clan, simply living on the land of a powerful clan provides a great amount of safety and many clansmen families do not approve at all of any troublemakers near their homes, even if they don't target members of the clan. Freemen are basically guests of the chief or one of his sub-chiefs and as such have no say in the politics of the clan, but they are also treated as being trustworthy if a chieftain allows them to live among the people of his clan.
Since they have no own land, freemen usually work as servants or farmhands, or sometimes as craftsmen or even advisers to the chiefs, which can make them quite wealthy and respected and is a good position to be elevated to clansmen one day. Some trade towns exist outside the lands and control of any clan, and these are usually ruled and governed by wealthy and powerful freemen.
Background Trait: Still open.
Suggested Skills: Gather Rumors, Knowledge (Folklore), Persuade, Profession (any), Sense Motive.
At the bottom of society are the commoners. In theory they belong to the clansmen and freeman classes, but most are poor, uneducated, and work as servants and farmhands for the wealthier families. Even though they have the right to take part in descisions that affect the village, those who have their own small farms and workshops usually have no influence in the councils at all.
Common Ground (based on the Salt of the Earth Background Trait): Life for commoners is pretty much the same everywhere and in all clans, and most commoners are not nearly as commited to their clans and chiefs as the clansmen would wish to believe. Instead, most commoners regard each other as equals regardless of their clans and masters. While commoners are lacking the power and influence of clansmen, they have good chances to find shelter or even a hiding place among commoners of any clan, even hostile ones. Most commoners will be reluctant to extend such favors to any of the commoners companions who are clansmen or even highborn, as it puts them at a much higher risk than sheltering mere commoners nobody really cares about anyway, but some might be persuaded to do so.
Suggested Skills: Drive, Gather Rumors, Handle Animal, Knowledge (Folklore, Nature), Persuade, Profession
At the very bottom of society, even below the commoners, are the outcasts. Outcasts are people who have no clan and are forced to survive on their own or in small desperate groups at the edges of civilization. People who are without any clan are considered inherently unworthy of any trust as they have either done something terrible to be exiled from their clan, or at the very least their parents did, and no child of such parents could be trusted either. As a result, many outcasts eventually resolve to becoming thieves or bandits, or even more dispiseable things, which only reinforces the bad reputation given to all members of their class. Outcasts have to hide their status at all time when traveling to civilized areas and usually can't stay long before they are expected to petition the local sub-chief to be granted permission to live on his land, which would only expose their irreputable background.
Underworld Contacts: As outcasts are always hiding and have to avoid being detected, they are familiar with all the secret signs and customs of the underworld that exist in almost every larger settlement even if most locals are not aware of it. Outcasts can make contact with local smugglers, thieves, and other criminals in any given town or city without putting them on allert and getting potential doors closed in front of them. Outcasts who have gained the trust of any traveling companions of higher status usually have to make the initial contact alone as members of the underworld are always weary of being exposed.
Suggested Skills: Bluff, Gather Rumors, Intimidate, Sense Motive, Sneak, Spot, Survival.