Culture of the Houses

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Greetings, all. I was talking with one of my players, and his comment about Eberron was that all the houses feel the same. Sure, he gets that they each have different economic niches and whatnot, but he doesn't feel much distinction between them.

So, how do you all think the houses differ from eachother, in terms of culture? Corporate culture, the way they do business, their philosophies, their methods of interacting with their co-workers/employees, and so on? 

Gold is for the mistress, silver for the maid

Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade.

"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,

"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of them all." -Kipling

 

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57019168 wrote:
I am a hero, not a chump.
A certain overlap seems logical since they all have their basis in the same nation and operating under the same laws and traditions. Furthermore, their attitude towards customers is more or less the same due to the influence of the Twelf and likely because there are only so many ways you can run a business. Still, I would hardly call them the same. For example, Phiarlann/Thurani are decendents of an ancient elf tradition from Aeranal organized around actual families each specializing in a particular branch of entertainment and art. They keep certain elf histories alive through ancient performances and there are hints they might still be servants of the Aeranal prophecies. Tharask is organized around three clans, each of which consists of different races and worships different traditions all from within the Shadow Marches. Deneith is mostly a military organized family with traditions in Karnath. Midani is a small close knit family run from Breland with close ties to the royal house of said nation. And there are many other minor and bigger differences between the families.
I have been thinking about this as well lately, so here's the sort of things I have determined:

House Orien is the Fedex/Amtrak House. They are the most open to foundlings (illegitimate children) and they encourage their members to have as large a family as they can. They are primarily interested in keeping the trains and caravans running on schedule, delivering their goods safely, and increasing their market share. (by opening new routes and rebuilding bridges and routes destroyed during the war) They maintain good relations with Cannith, Deneith, and Vadalis since thet rely on them for their business. Cannith works with them on the lightning rail, Deneith is hired to protect their canavans and trains, and Vadalis provides the mounts and beasts of burden to pull the carts. They try not to make enemies by providing good service to all Houses and all Nations. Their enemies are usually bandits and thieves, although Lyrander is starting to cut into their shipping business with those fancy air-ships of theirs. 

I agree w/ Madfox that Deneith would be organized like a military organization, they are the Blackwater House of Eberron. The only thing I would add is that they are mercanaries, not soliders, so while professional, they may not always be honorable to anything but their contract. The Sentinel Marshals are the Interpol of Eberron, crossing national boundaries to catch the most vile of lawbreakers. Keith Baker wrote a bunch about the culture of the House with his Dreaming Dark series, although it was colored by Daine's perspective. Being non-political and object-focused would be key Deneith traits, because if a client can't pay you anymore, you pack up and leave them to their fate. So most of the House would be pretty detached and cold-hearted (with the most passionate and zealous becoming Marshals and guards for routine Orien shipments)

I have a hard time with the whole artist/spy aspect of Phiarlan/Thuranni so I'll leave that to you.

Tharask is made up of prospectors, bounty hunters and monsterous mercanaries. They seem to be like a 19th century oil or lumber company, finding resources and exploiting them for their gain. They are not above claimjumping and intimidation to get their way. 

House Jorasco is a very interesting one. While being the major source of healing and medical care, they are completely ruthless about being paid first. They will kick you out of the House if they find you have been giving your healing away. They remind me of the big HMOs with clinics everywhere, but only to paying customers. 

So that is what I do, I find a comparable modern example and then twist that example to fit the facts from the books. I found the book Dragonmarked to be very helpful in figuring out what each House wants and how they would go about getting it.  
The Houses have such internal variations that I wouldn't want to make generalizations on their culture, but I'd let dragonheirs be influenced personality-wise by their marks: An Heir of Making might be extremely creative and fond of new ideas, an Heir of Passage might act and speak extremely fast-paced and have almost no patience, while an Heir of Healing might be overly perfectionist.
Not everyone is a dragonheir, so I'd probably have each individual non-marked member of a House be influenced more by social status, individual wealth and upbringing, choice of profession and so forth.

To make some generalizations, though:
Cannith: Meritocracy based primarily on new inventions, secondarily on reliability.
Deneith: Strong martial traditions, very strong Lawful tendency.
Ghallandra: Very service-minded, always striving to make people happy.
Jorasco: An even mix between "everything is business" (post-Last War) and "all life is sacred".
Kundarak: Tradition, stability and reliabilty are all extremely important. What "tradition" means varies between each branch of the House.
Lyrandar: Strong focus on expansion, diplomacy and alliances.
Medani: Primary focus on reputation, secondary focus on skill.
Orien: Pass any and all boundaries; shortcutting is a virtue.
Phiarlan: Life is a stage and everyone is an actor; one has to know when to play which part.
Sivis: One is judged by the range of one's spoken languages and the size of one's library.
Tharashk: Connections and results are everything.
Thuranni: Knowledge is everything.
Vadalis: An even mix between "everything can be improved" and "all life must be cared for". 
Aetharion, I think that's definitely a good start.

As I was driving home, i was ruminating on this, but about all I got was that Jorasco would be very polite (from all the practice saying, "Yes, I understand that you love your father very much, but regulations forbid us from raising him without significant money for....") and Ghallandra would be very service-oriented. 

Gold is for the mistress, silver for the maid

Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade.

"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,

"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of them all." -Kipling

 

Miss d20 Modern? Take a look at Dias Ex Machina Game's UltraModern 4e!

 

57019168 wrote:
I am a hero, not a chump.
I'd make a note that Thuranni's spying and assassination activities are likely more direct than Phiarlan's. They're both quite good at what they do, but Phiarlan usually acts in more stable areas of Khorvaire, like Breland and Aundair. While Thuranni acts in the Lhaazar Principalities and Karrnath. Phiarlan has to tread lightly, I imagine that they prefer a soft touch, to keep themselves on the good side of their various clients and avoid drawing too much attention to themselves. Thuranni doesn't likely have such problems. Their clients are pirates and warlords, by and large. Phiarlan is dealing with political entities as strong or stronger than itself, the various national governments and powerful Churches. Thuranni is more powerful than any individual pirate lord, and the Karrnathi politcal landscape is much more cutthroat than the western nations. As well, given the youth of the House, I doubt Thuranni has quite the network Phiarlan does. They possibly expect their heirs to be more individually capable and self-reliant than Phiarlan.

I also recall that Phiarlan's artistry is focused more on performing arts and Thuranni more on crafting. I think it was in Dragonmarked, though I could be recalling something else.
Sure, Thuranni and Phiarlan differ on what arts they practice, but how does that translate into portraying the Houses? I have a Thuranni in my party, and every time she sees her handler, he's making pottery.

But, it begs a different question. Thuranni, Phiarlan, and Medani are all intelligence-based houses. The player who sparked this put it best: They're all spies.

So, how do you differentiate spies? 

Gold is for the mistress, silver for the maid

Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade.

"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,

"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of them all." -Kipling

 

Miss d20 Modern? Take a look at Dias Ex Machina Game's UltraModern 4e!

 

57019168 wrote:
I am a hero, not a chump.
So, how do you differentiate spies? 



There was a game a while back called Alpha Protocol in which you played an agent and got to decide what kind of agent you were. The creators made the distinction in interview as saying you were chosing to be one of the "Three JBs." The JBs are James Bond (suave), Jason Bourne (professional), and Jack Bauer (agressive). If it were me, I would make Phiarlan the suave, Bondesque type of spies, Medani the skilled professional Jason Bourne types (maybe with a focus on unarmed combat?), and Thuranni the highly agressive killers a la Jack Bauer.

Another option for the Medani in my opinion would be to focus on them as an organized guild of inquisitives and take inspiration from Sherlock Holmes.

Sure, Thuranni and Phiarlan differ on what arts they practice, but how does that translate into portraying the Houses? I have a Thuranni in my party, and every time she sees her handler, he's making pottery.

But, it begs a different question. Thuranni, Phiarlan, and Medani are all intelligence-based houses. The player who sparked this put it best: They're all spies.

So, how do you differentiate spies? 

Technically the Medani are not spies, but counterspies, law officers, food tasters and analists. They are about protecting people by gathering intelligence and sorting it through. I say they are much more caring about people, having a somewhat protective attitude then typical spies. IMO they are also much less likely to resort to some of the cold-hearted underhanded tactics we see all too often in modern day spy thrillers, if they use those at all (especially things like assassinations and sabotage). I see them as the sleazy albeit caring detectives from Film Noir or the computer guy from Person of Interest, the person who flinches at some of the tactics his ex-Thurani assassin uses to help him solve the cases ;)

Thurani and Phiarlan have been the same family until fairly recently. I would say their methods and culture are virtually the same. There are in fact whispers the whole split up was planned by Phiarlan leadership and that there are no hard feelings at all. They are true spies, with Thurani being a bit more specialized in assassination and Phiarlan in sabotage (that specializations was already in place before the split if I remember correctly). Most are actually artists, only a minority are active agents (as opposed to simple observers who send through things they might accidentally observe). The active agents probably operate a lot like the CIA in those spy thrillers, except that might feel they are following a higher order to a much bigger degree. After all, they serve a prophecy and are the care takers of the history of Aeranal and maybe even Galifar (it really wouldn't surprise me that they expanded their role from Aeranal to include Galifar once they made their home on that continent). Mind you, I like the idea of both houses still serving the Aeranal prophecies, but that is because I am not an overly big fan of true mercenary assassins, thieves and soboteurs. It doesn't match very well with their artistic side and their historical role amongst the elves (elves being highly traditionalistic) in my eyes.
House Phiarlan's artistic side (in my eyes at least) come to play much more when it comes to deceit: They are known first and foremost as entertainers, and professional entertainers always alter their own appearance in the eyes of their audience to fit certain goals. To me, it would make sense for them to have carried this tradition from the artistic part of their lives to the more shadowy part. If a Phiarlan assassin is to kill someone, he doesn't just kill the target at their most vulnerable - he kills the target where it's able to make the biggest impression on other would-be enemies.
House Phiarlan is divided into five demesnes - one for each of the hydra's heads - and each has a certain part when it comes to making a play: Memory (writers, poets), Motion (dance, gymanistics), Music (duh), Shape (costumes, props, sets) and Shadow (illusion, acting). But the hydra also has a shadow - the Serpentine Table - which is the elite part of the House that most closely resembles your typical secret spy agency, including assassins (hence why many members of the Serpentine Table are former members of the demesne of Motion).

Thuranni seems a lot more focused to me than Phiarlan does. While Phiarlan at least have the theatre-like appearance of a proper business, House Thuranni would be like Phiarlan had the hydra only had a shadow and no heads. Everything is secret with the Thuranni, even to their own members.

Like posters before me have noticed, House Medani seem more like the typical film noir detective than either of the other two intelligence-based houses, and this is probably on purpose. While reading the beginning of Taint of the Black Brigade, where you follow a member of House Medani on bodyguard business, it feels more like a film noir than a typical fantasy book. While Phiarlan and Thuranni both have plans and plots, Medani gather intelligence in order to thwart those plots, if need be. House Medani is to the Twelve Houses as the Batman is to the Justice League.
Thurani actually does have artistic desme, namely that of shape. They are sculpters, painters, pottery, etc..

Mmm... if the assassin/spy part is a big secret for the world at large, how is the whole split-up of the two houses explained to the outside world? I mean, you can hardly tell the Thurani slaughtered one Phiarlann family and that caused the divide without going into details on how apparently Thurani and that murdered family were into spying, plotting and assassination ;)
Just to look at a few... with Sivis you have the fact that while they are a dragonmarked house, they are also Zil gnomes and hold to many of the cultural traditions of their nation (as noted in the Eye on Eberron about the Trust, there's even the possibility that they are actually running Zilargo). Among other things, family line is even more important than it is in Phiarlan/Thuraani. You're not just a Sivis; you're a Lyrriman or a Torralyn. While all lines place great importance on the overall stability of the house, you still have a lot of internal influence jockeying between families and between people who hold the multitude of minor offices and titles. This comes with a complexity to internal interactions that outsiders may not even realize - from the Bearer of the Thirteenth Word defering to the Bearer of the Fourteenth Word, to the use of subtle perfumes to indicate mood. In dealing with Sivis generally you do have the fact that linguistic education is very important, from common languages to the languages created by Tasker's Dream; as such, Sivis heirs may use different languages in conversation to make certain points, shifting casually from Elvish to swear in Dwarvish or making a crude joke in Goblin. Once they know the languages those around them understand, two Sivis gnomes may also switch to a secondary language as a way of having a private conversation about their comrades (which could prove embarassing when it turns out that the fighter actually DOES speak Draconic...).

Tharashk also places tremendous value on family, to the degree that many heirs don't actually identify themselves with the house name - You'll see Daric d'Velderan as opposed to Daric d'Tharashk. Competition between Tharashk lines is far less subtle than with Sivis, and as has been noted, there's stronger cultural differences between the lines themselves... with the 'Aashta and their allied clans' ties to the Cults of the Dragon Below and the Torrn holding to the old faith of the Gatekeepers. Tharashk are also one of the most aggressive houses, which trickles down to the attitude of its heirs in daily life. Tharashk has plowed into the previous monopolies of Deneith and Vadalis through its alliance with Droaam, and their attitude is essentially "What are you going to do about it?"

So with Sivis you have subtlety, tradition, complex etiquette and social manuevering; with Tharashk you have brash and impulsive behavior, pushing boundaries, a belief that those in power need to be able to earn the respect of their office.
I've found that one of the most important things I can do as a DM is to define groups and places so that they feel different and important to the players. Eberron is amazing because it has so much of that to work with. Sometimes you have to add your own twist to things. I decided that I needed to do something to separate the three branches of Cannith in my player's minds. They had no feelings about their schism until they were cheated a few times by Cannith East. They had great luck with them in Sharn, until they realized they had been used as part of an insidious plot involving illegal warforged. By giving them a little definition, even if only to the PCs, it was possible to get them to care about what Cannith was all about.
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