Embyr: The Fifth Age
This is a list of my favorite Medieval Occupations for RPG NPCs. With these an overburdened DM can avoid the knee-jerk cliche of a commoner being a dirty farmer, a blacksmith, or a tavern drunkard whenever it suites him (unless it suites him).
Occupations in Medieval Societies:
ON THE ROAD or inside THE BIG CITY
The following table is for encounters in or near an urban setting.
Roll 1d20 to find a random urban NPC’s station in life.
1: Lesser Nobility
*This bumpkin is from out of town to sell his wares at the local farmer’s market.
**Roll again to determine this deviant’s cover or secret identity. If a 20 is again rolled, he is an infamous suspected criminal who can somehow walk openly in the streets.
The following table is for encounters in more rural areas removed from larger populations
Roll 1d20 to find a random rural NPC’s station in life.
1: Lesser Nobility
Lesser Nobility (1d8)
1) Adventurer – a minor scion of a noble house who’s chosen to wander the world
2) Dilettante – a minor scion of a noble house who dabbles in various interests
3) Diplomat – a representative of his house in dealings with other noble houses
4) Knight – a well-trained warrior, skilled with sword and lance
5) Minister – a political figure appointed by the ruler to govern a specific area or to oversee a domain; also lesser but important officials, such as a reeve or judge
6) Nobleman- A member of a well-known, perhaps powerful family.
7) Page – a very young noble beginning his training to be a knight
8) Squire – a young noble progressing on the path to knighthood, perhaps himself a capable warrior
Lower level positions are available in the religious community for any devout and pious citizens. The higher levels are almost exclusively gentry.
1) Beadle – subordinate with menial duties
2) Curate – clergy assistant to the rector
3) Reeve – time keeper charged with beginning and ending services
4) Sexton – custodian for church property
6) Acolyte – entry level priest
7) Ward – a child who is under the care of the church, oftentimes an orphan
Legal & Judicial (1d8)
Professions in the legal and judicial system present opportunities for high status in society without being born into the aristocracy. Some of the gentry might hold these positions, but most of the people who hold these professions will not have a title.
1) Bailiff – presides over arrests and executions
2) Chamberlain – custodian of a royal or high noble residence
3) Chancellor – secretary to a king or noble
4) Constable – head of peace-keeping law enforcement
6) Exchequer – administrator of royal funds
Within the armed forces can be fond many classifications of professions. Soldiers have the opportunity for advancement through the lower ranks (stopping at Sergeant) if they volunteered, were drafted, or were pressed. Higher ranks are usually reserved for the aristocracy.
1) Aid-de-camp – assistant to a superior officer
4) Bounty Hunter
6) Engineer – designs and builds war machines, such as catapults, and ballistae
7) Forester – a ranger or game warden, often empowered to act as law enforcement within the forest
8) Gatekeeper or Toll Keeper
12) Navigator – special class of mariner
Academics typically only come from wealthy or titled families, although the aristocracy may reserve a place for an exceptionally gifted common citizen.
1) Alchemist – chemist
2) Architect – a master builder
3) Ascetic – a hermit or wandering monk
5) Barber – a doctor, surgeon, bloodletter, dentist, and haircutter
6) Barrister – a lawyer
7) Bureaucrat – a local functionary, servant to some more powerful political figure
9) Engineer – a builder of roads, bridges, castles, fortifications, and siege engines
10) Herald – an announcer and deliverer of news on behalf of a lord
12) Illuminator – paint manuscripts
15) Monk/Nun – an academic devoted to prayer and spirituality
19) Scrivener – scribe skilled in taking dictation or copying documents
Merchants & Service (1d8 to find ten’s range, then 1d10)
Perhaps the most diverse sector of society, merchants have the ability to interact with almost everyone. Business owners can become very wealthy and establish reputations with or without titles.
A Note About The Guild System
For merchants and craftsman, the guild was a crucial part of life. By being accepted into a guild, and particularly as Master, a craftsman earned higher social status. The guild also provided support to its members’ families in times of need. Guilds are comparable to modern labor unions.
Apprentice – In the early teen years, an apprentice began studying under a Master for a period of 5-9 years. No wages are earned, but food and the Master’s family provides a home. They are not allowed to marry.
Journeyman – The Journeyman earns wages. A “masterpiece”—evidence that the Journeyman is skilled in the trade—can be presented to the Guild. If it is judged well, the Journeyman becomes a Master.
Master – Only Masters are able to own their own shops and train Apprentices. It is difficult to reach this status. It requires as much charisma as skill to earn the acceptance of the other Masters.
1. Apothecary – seller of herbal remedies
4. Artist – a painter of portraits
8. Beadle – subordinate with menial duties
10. Boatman – travel by lake or river
12. Bowyer – bow craftsman
13. Brazier – brass worker
14. Brewer – a maker of beer and ale
15. Bricklayer – a laborer skilled in the building of walls and ducts
17. Carpenter – an elite tradesman, skilled in math as well as woodworking
18. Cartographer – map maker
19. Cartwright – a maker and repairer of carts and wagons
20. Chandler – candle maker, sometimes soap maker
21. Chapman – a travelling peddler
23. Clothier – a garment-maker
24. Coachman – driver of a coach
25. Cobbler or Shoemaker – makes and mends shoes
27. Cooper – barrel maker
28. Curate – clergy assistant to the rector
29. Draper – cloth merchant
30. Dyer – a maker of inks, paints, dyes, and stains
32. Farmer – local, small yield
33. Farmer – regional, large yield
34. Fisherman – netman
35. Fisherman – specialist (shellfish, lineman, craber)
38. Fortune Teller
42. Glazier – glass worker, including windows
43. Goldsmith or Silversmith
46. Groom – one who tends animals
48. Herdsman – a keeper of livestock
49. Hunter – large game
50. Hunter/Trapper – small game
51. Innkeeper or Tavern-keeper
53. Joiner – a maker of furniture
56. Link Boy – carries lamps at night
60. Mercer – textile merchant
66. Ostler – cares for horses
67. Painter or Limner
68. Peddler – an itinerant merchant of goods
69. Porter – carries baggage
71. Reeve – time keeper charged with beginning and ending services
75. Servant – maid, butler, attendant, steward, etc.
76. Sexton – custodian for church property
77. Shipwright – a builder of ships
78. Spinster-yarn and cord maker
79. Stevedore – one who loads and unloads goods from sailing ships or caravan
81. Tanner – leather maker
82. Tax Collector
83. Thatcher – roof repairs
84. Tinker – a traveling craftsman who repairs tin pots and other small items
86. Trader – by land or by sea
87. Usurer – a moneylender with excessive interest rates, different from banker
88. Vintner – a maker of wines
The backbone of society is its agriculture. Even before the feudal system, the land was owned by the crown or nobles and worked by commoners in their employ. Typically, everything living in the realm is considered property of the crown, including game.
1) Cooper – a keeper of poultry and fowl
2) Farmer- a worker of the fields
3) Falconer – a hunter who uses trained birds of prey*
6) Herdsman- a keeper of livestock
7) Houndsman – a keeper of dogs
9) Ostler – cares for horses
- Falconers may also be in the service of nobility
Although entertainers themselves may not hold prestigious positions in society, they nevertheless have the opportunity to stand beside the most illustrious company at court if they are well received. If not, then they are likely to perform on street corners and in taverns.
7) Musician/Minstrel/Poet (a ‘bard’ without the good stuff)
8) Player – actor
9) Prestidigitator – stage magician
Scoundrels and the Underclass (1d12)
1) Bandit, Mugger, or Thug – steals by force; often part of a gang of thieves
3) Burglar – steals by breaking and entering
4) Fence – finds buyers for stolen goods, may serve as a pawnbroker
6) Pickpocket or Cutpurse – steals by stealth
7) Procurer – streetwise specialists in finding whatever their client might be seeking
10) Smuggler – moves stolen or illegal goods
11) Usurer – a “loan shark”
12) Wanderer – a “barbarian” nomad, drifter, or rover