About Me

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


                   CHARACTER  SOCIAL  CLASS



I am a big fan of the “Social Origin Roll” for all my player characters in all my games. In AD&D starting money? LOL. I want the player to tell me about their character and that will be the campaign canon. You tell me that you are a scion of Royal Nobility with a valid claim for the throne, so be it. Of course, you will be on the run from your evil uncle, who deposed you after killing your dad, but as you make your way across the land and meet various former feudal vassals of your father, they will host you and they will help you with men, gold and equipment far above the “starting money” table! This is good, but players all somehow end up with comfy upper-class backgrounds, which give them more chances, than they can use, so, now everyone rolls on the social origins table. Roll low, and you will end up coming from a different place altogether.

The table below is derived from studies into social class and income conducted by the De Pew research institute and the IRS. The distribution of various classes in this table is derived directly from their statistics, some of which are listed in the End Notes. You need percentile dice to roll on this one. Social Classes are explained below. The income listed is for a FAMILY OF THREE, expressed in thousands of dollars (K) per year.

The researchers only classified social class by income, but I believe that there is another important variable, which defines the middle class and strengthens the class structure, and that is Social Stability and Support Network (SS&SN). In brief, this is the extended family structure, in which money, assets, and property has been passing from parent to child for several generations. This means family relatives possessing several homes and a business or two in the family, also various members if the extended family network having inherited sums of money from their respective parents, which they keep in savings accounts or invested in property or the assets. This kind of network provides social stability, which also serves as a safety net, which can help with transportation issues, childcare, and housing, temporary or long term should a relative lose income as a result of becoming unemployed. It is often this social safety net, which makes a difference between being working poor and being in the lower middle class. Consider for example two Mexican migrants. One stands on the street-corner and works as a day laborer or a farm laborer. He may be sleeping at a church shelter, or a boarding house, sends part of his earnings home to Mexico and the other part he spends eating and drinking beer with his buddies, when not working. The other one has his wife with him and they rent a trailer to live in and wife is unemployed, or barely employed, and she cooks meals, cleans, and walks their child to and from school. Even though they make similar wages, the one with his family in a trailer is part of the community, where he can get rides to better and more stable employment, and he is part of the community that will help him. That is the safety net that is part of social stability that defines middle class.


14% of the Americans are Poor, 6% are Upper class, and 80% are Middle class, which is broken as 20 Lower Middle Class, 51 Middle Class and 29% Upper Middle Class. The differences between the Poor, the Middle and the Upper classes are not just are matter of income, but also qualitative. Middle Class has the social stability and familial informal support network, poor do not. Middle Class can afford a car and some kind of rent. If the car breaks down, the middle class can, as a rule, still get to work. The poor do not have a car, or don’t have enough money to keep the car going, or had one or more DUI’s and they CAN’T have a car. The poor do not have savings or credit card cushion to fall back on in hard times, and usually can’t afford rent to live on their own. The poor are characterized by the lack of social and economic stability and lack of community roots, that would keep them in the Middle Class. Middle Class itself can be defined as making enough money to be able to afford mortgage payments on primary residence (or at least rent own place) and car payments to get steady transportation.

The Rich, or the Upper Class, have their own characteristics, which distinguish them from the Upper Middle Class, no matter how much money the Middle Class makes. One factor is that the Upper Class does not work for a salary, but earns a return on their investments. This does not necessarily mean some college drop out living in a room in his parents house investing his dad’s 401K and fancying himself a day trader. Nor does this mean some rich kid from another country, who lives in the U.S. investing his family’s money. He is most likely Upper Class in his own country, but not here. The second characteristic of the Upper Class, which distinguishes it from the Upper Middle and the Nouveau Riche is that Upper Class are rich not because of the high paying jobs they have, but they get the jobs because of who they are, because of who their families are. Nepotism is widespread, but whereas prominent middle-class families can get their kids into civil service jobs (police, firefighters) and local businesses or local politics, being of the Upper Class can open doors to Ivy League law schools, West Point or other service academies, corporate jobs with the fast track to upper management, clerkships to judges and internships at DC. They got ties that open doors.

There are two social classes not listed in the table, but which should be described to complete this picture. We are talking about the WORKING CLASS and the CAPITALISTS. Working Class are people who live pay check to pay check and who do not have any resources and who, if they lose they job, they are two or three paychecks away from homelessness. This does not mean someone drowning in debt because of poor spending habits. This means someone who barely makes enough money to live on. It is the same division as between the working poor and the lower middle class, except one can make six figures and still be working class. IT professionals making upper middle-class salaries can be considered working class, if they came from no money and until they get savings to put them in Middle Class. CAPITALISTS are not simply rich and they are not the guy with a construction business, a tow truck or a repair shop. Capitalists by definition are the ones who own the means of production – i.e., manufacturing. Someone, who owns a factory of any kind, or a machine shop, is the capitalist, people who do manufacturing overseas can also be considered Capitalists, if they are not the go-betweens, but actually own the manufacturing facility. These guys are few, and they tend to be way above the 1% in income.



This is a dramatic result to be used in the game. The character is under permanent care of the State and will always be under State observation or surveillance. You father was Hannibal Lector or a world infamous terrorist or a major underworld figure or the character is Harry Potter, or the Antichrist or Rosemary’s Baby. In the real world, if the parents are locked up for the rest of their natural lives, the child is placed with a family via adoption or is in foster care, if unadoptable, and that’s the end of the story – the child identifies with their adoptive parents and grows up as part of that family. In Nightmares and Suburbs, there is always a possibility of parents being not of this earth and of having un-natural lives. Player characters may have been in a psychiatric or a research institution or with the special guardians, from whom the character has to escape or has escaped, or was rescued by his parents’ supporters, who now take care of the character. Think Stephen King’s Firestarter. You can also play it non-weird with the character not knowing his parents and living in foster care, because both parental sides of the biological family are unfit parents.



These are indigent non-working poor surviving on welfare and as part of their extended families, and who are allowed to keep their kids. If the parents were in homeless shelters and half-way houses, kids would be in foster care as in Permanent Ward. They may be working off the books and or by committing petty crime and drug dealing, but as a rule, their income hovers around the poverty line. See the rule about the Oddballs and Eccentrics for the possibility of the criminal background.



Researchers identify the Working Poor as full-time wage earners making at or below the poverty line (18.8K/Annum), also calling them Minimal Wage earners. Another study identifies people earning up to 2.5 times the poverty line as being especially vulnerable of sliding back into the underclass, should something happen (loss of transportation, loss of job). They also use that as their definition for the lower middle class. I split it based on the availability of the social safety net. Working Poor are struggling to get on their feet, they don’t have a social safety net save for welfare, for which they don’t qualify because of their earnings, and the job they have, for them it’s day to day you got lucky thing you are going to hold on to until your car breaks down or your rent goes up.



Defined as the income from just above the poverty line to 2.5 the poverty line. These people struggle economically and their daily lives often resemble the working poor, put they are minimally enfranchised in society, usually belong to some form of a community and they have a better social safety net.



These people carry the torch for the State. Their income allows them to support the economy by being able to purchase their cars and homes via loans, which they repay. They can carry the full burden of taxes and credit card debt. In fact, the full standard of living of the American middle class is predicated on their ability to carry debt, including student loans. Other than financial burden, the middle class is the most invested in society and as a result, they are the last to flee in wars and other upheavals, being tied by their families and possessions, they are the ones who get the most out of the hope that things will work out for them eventually. As such, they form the bulk of the civilian casualties in any war or genocide. Also, they form the client demographics for the right-wing dictatorship and during the civil war in Colombia, they formed the ranks of the autodefensas, rural armed militia that was formed to defend themselves against the Marxist guerillas, which eventually turned into Colombia’s right-wing paramilitaries and death squads.




These are professionals, who earn 100K and above. There is really no limit. If you have to work for a living, then you are in the middle class, no matter how much you earn. There are people who talk about making “their first million” but that is mostly empty boasting. There is a talk of “fuck you money” among the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, who sell their start-ups. FU money mean that you sold your company for enough money that can quit working for the rest of your life (thereby joining the upper class). In 2008, the Silicon Valley Execs bandied the sum of 8 million dollars, which is $11.4 Million in today’s money, which means that in Silicon Valley, they were accustomed to living on $342K per year. Just under the 1%.

It is very hard for the Upper Middle-Class professionals to make their wealth and retire early, because they are required to maintain the trappings of their wealth and professionalism as a condition of their success. Basically, you won’t get promoted to the next higher level on your ladder to success, unless you drive a certain type of car, wear a certain type of clothes, own a home of certain luxury in a certain location, and send your kids to a certain prep-school.  And the higher you go, the more expensive these trappings become. If you don’t follow the Joneses and you don’t wear that suit and that watch, then you won’t be seen as worthy material and the higher ups will lose their confidence in you. An upper-class professional typically carries a debt burden of five times their annual income and sometimes as high as nine times. That is why it is very hard for a highly paid professional to become a millionaire. Some highly paid investment bankers working in Hedge Funds are even required to buy a full-size yacht as a rite of their passage (and indebtedness). Consider the operating costs for the ship.



These are extended family members of the Upper-Class members. They themselves tend to have regular jobs and lead comfortable middle-class existence, however, they get the benefit of the association with a prominent family. This could mean getting into West Point or being accepted into Harvard. This can mean getting a job on the Capitol Hill as a Congressional Staffer or finding a job in the publishing industry. These people work for a living and they may not be rich in any sense of the word, but they get the maximum opportunity, social support, and good will from the upper management by virtue of their family ties.



They don’t have to work for a living, unless they choose to. The trappings of wealth, which bankrupt the Upper Middle-Class is painless to them. Partly it’s associated with the corporate image they are projecting. Not all of course. South Asian millionaires, who control dozens of McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts franchises will not be wearing $100K watches or prance around in leer jets. Those, who are CEO’s Fortune 500 Companies will ride around in a luxury leer jet, but the jet will be bought and paid for by the corporation and they are projecting the company’s corporate image of wealth and power, and everything they say or do represents their company. There is one other fallacy that surrounds the Rich. Everyone assumes that they invest their wealth in a mythical portfolio on Wall Street. They have assets on Wall Street and they have Portfolio Managers working for them, it is true, but they also tend to hire several Business Managers. These look for investment opportunities in local economy – trucking companies, stores, sometimes even medical practices, and they go in as silent partners – they front the money in exchange for a percentage of the profit, usually around 15%, and some rich families have most of their disposable income come directly from small businesses they invested in. In essence their family fortune becomes a business empire.



These are people who are heirs to great American fortunes. They are wealthy, but often they do not have control over their wealth until they reach the middle age, say around 50, and everyone is sure that they will not lose or give away their wealth. Until then, they live on a stipend and their fortune is overseen by a Board of Trustees, which are very conservative with their money and some times they control the lives of the heirs, whose fortunes they administer – what they study in college, who they sleep with (supposedly) as well as financial decisions. If they want to buy a house, they have to apply to the board of trustees who may deny the request, because the house is too expensive, too extravagant, or for some other reason.

They have certain traditional aristocratic values, which reflect on their lifestyle. They have to build character, which means that they take to sailing (sports yachts) or they climb mountains, or they serve their country, typically as a military pilot, in intelligence, or as a diplomat. At times they also strive to live a simple life, as Henry David Thoreau, living in the woods or on the ranch, and doing manual labor there. This is in stark and sharp contrast to the Upper Middle Class, which tend to establish themselves by showing how much money they have. Rich foreign students in Manhattan all have their parents’ Platinum American Express cards, and everyone is invited to go hanging out with them, they tend to go Dutch and cost for the evening racks up thousands of dollars. Regular American kids sometimes tag along and end up burned with what they charge on their credit cards, and to talk about the money, id of course, vulgar in that company.



Not everyone conforms to values and traditions of their social class. You got professional criminals collecting disability and welfare dads working off the books. You have trust fund babies from the old money teaching in the inner-city schools and living with room-mates. You have respectable doctors living as bohemians and single mom secretaries centering their lives around the healing powers of crystals and unicorns.

When people are isolated and under stress, they tend to go off the deep end and invent strange and wonderful alternative belief systems and conspiracy theories to explain the complexities and patterns of their world, not to mention the real force of the supernatural in Little Fears’ setting. People who can’t afford health care will believe in alternative medicine. Societies evolve. Like serpents, they cast off their old skins, moving forward and leaving the past behind. When the past is left on the dust-bin of history, it leaves behind people whose jobs, ways of thinking and ways of living become obsolete. These people often end up becoming eccentrics, once the experience of their entire lives becomes invalid and obsolete. The rest of the worlds experiences these changes every 60 or 80 years. In the United States, these changes are GENERATIONAL – every 20 or 30 years, and coincidentally, United States has the highest concentration of people whose job skills and industries become obsolete after they invested their adult lives into it, about 22-24%.

To account for this in Nightmares and Suburbs, if you roll a Prime Number on your Social Class Roll, your parents can be considered to have been non-conformists to their social class. Prime Numbers are given below the table.


+/- $18.8K
UP TO $47K
18.8K TO 47K
$47K TO $100K
$100K +
$200K +
$390K +


Prime Numbers to 100:




- $18.8K is the Poverty Line.

- If your salary is $100K and above, you are in the top 10% of the highest paid individuals in EARNED INCOME.

- Upper Middle Class income range is $100K - $150K.

- 6.1% od Americans claim to be living off their investments.

- 10% of Americans claim to be millionaires. Current annual sustainable interest off a million-dollar investment is $30K. Not enough to live on. To live at the Upper Middle-Class level off your investments, you need a fortune of 4 million dollars or more.

- 14% of Americans are living at or below the poverty line.

- $390K per year is the minimum income that would classify you as being “The One Per-Cent”

- According to the IRS study done in 1992 and adjusted for today, the cost for providing for an upper middle-class household with a mortgage, a single car, and two school age children, where reasonable thrift is practiced and all the needs are met, and no credit cards are used, is $140K. The rest can be reliably banked into savings.

No comments:

Post a Comment