The Nobles of Amber
The nobles of Amber are long-lived and powerful in their own right; many have magics in their own bloodlines, and they are as real as anything or anyone in the universe. (See the policy on age for more details on the lifespans of the nobility.)
The Great Houses
The Duchies of Amber are the most powerful of the noble families of Amber, and are titled as dukes and duchesses. The rank of these dukes is comparable to that of the Princes of Amber, and their families are only a step below. Members of a Great House are addressed as Lord or Lady, by courtesy.
There are only four Great Houses of Amber at present: Chantris, Feldane, Karm, and Mandrake. (We are no longer accepting proposals for new Great Houses.) See the player wikis link above for more details on the Great Houses.
If a man does not know what port he is steering for, no wind is favorable to him
Chantris is a house of scholars, known for its intellectual pursuits and patronage of music. Onthe practical end, Chantris has their hands in the length and breadth of the shipbuilding business - Chantris wood goes to Chantris mills and Chantris shipyards where they are worked on by Chantris shipwrights. There is some rivalry as to whether the finest ships on the sea are made in Chantris or Minos.
Like most of the great houses, Chantris is as old as Amber, and its tradition of scholarship extends back to those roots.
The magic of Chantris is the magic of language, of words upon the wind. Their gifts include great understanding and communication. The House guards words of power, and is forbidden to allow them loose into the world.
Let Others Rest
Feldane's are traders, first and foremost, so much so as to be a little crass in comparison to the other noble houses. They seem to enjoy that reputation,a s it gives grounds for duels, which they seem to relish, and which are often more deadly than they should be - the Feldane definition of "first blood" is often a single killing stroke.
Feldane is also reknowned for her gardens, which showcase flora from many different shadows.
it is whispered, by those who know, that Feldane also traffic with the dead, but for all that, their name is one spoken of with dread by any necromancer foolish enough to find his way to Amber.
Feldane guards the threshold between life and death, and the power to do so comes with a great price.
We Are The Lock
Vendetta marks the history of Karm, from its unpleasant history with Osric up until the present day. The Karm temper is a thing of legend, given to a long, slow burn.
Despite being one of the great houses of Amber, Karm's reputation is surprisingly pedestrian. Their holdings and dealing involve foundries, mines and the mundane ends of construction and craft. Where other houses offer patronage to artists and performers, Karm offers patronage to craftsmen, engineers and chemists. Even the house's dabblings in Alchemy are surprisingly pragmatic.
All this practicality is the wrapper around a core duty. Karm has been entrusted to making sure certain seals never break and certain doors never open; theirs is the magic of gates, locks, wards, and illumination. Ultimately, everything they do is in service to this grand duty, and while they do not advertise it, they have the knowledge and capability to perform their duties quite well.
Death Will Wait
Mandrake is a house fallen upon hard times. It is a house of ranchers, holding great swaths of land in the Amber countryside, renown for its pride and its horsemen. These assets were translated into a dominant position in the Arms trade, rendering it the single largest purveyor of arms in Amber and beyond. Today, their ranches barely get by, and their other holdings are either sold off, claimed, or mortgaged to the hilt. They're still a major arms producer, but the bulk of their profits now go into the pockets of their creditors. For all that, Mandrake has clung to its position with a single-minded determination that speaks to the relentless dedication, sometimes ruthlessness, that made this house great, and may yet return it to glory.
The Duke of Mandrake disappeared in shadow centuries ago, and was reported dead. With no clear heir within the house, the remaining members refused to acknowledge his death in an attempt to keep house assets from falling under the control of another noble house. This act of defiance may have saved the house, but since that time it has been dying by inches. Without strong leadership, Mandrake's fortunes have flagged, and they have found themselves struggling a growing mountain of debt and creditors more than willing to use that to seize pieces of the house.
Still, Mandrake's drive was such that they would not go down easily. They're well aware of the precariousness of their position, but they're also aware of how much each of the other great houses does not want Mandrake to fall to someone besides themselves. Mandrake has juggled their debts as best they can, distributing it, playing creditors against each other. It's a losing game, but it bought them time.
And time may have been exactly what they needed. A man came to town claiming to be Duke Mandrake, and bit by bit, the House's position has become less precarious, and it now holds its own with the other Great Houses.
Mandrake keeps alive those who must survive. They have the secrets which manipulate life forces, flesh, and bone. They can be formidable healers, but their price is steep.
The Lesser Houses
While there are numerous minor titles of nobility, the heads of the lesser houses are typically Barons (or Baronesses). Lesser Houses still have their holdings directly from the Crown, but are below the Great Houses in prestige and scope. Members of a Lesser House are addressed as Lord or Lady, by courtesy.
Adding New Lesser Houses
The game's noble houses are almost purely player-authored, and we very much welcome the continued proliferation of Houses, especially those that are centered around a playgroup of multiple people (though you can be a noble house of a single PC, plus implied NPCs, if desired). We encourage players, including new players, to create Lesser Houses. Lesser Houses can be independent, or they can be cadet branches of Great Houses or other Lesser Houses.
All Lesser Houses can have something distinctive that they can do. This may be a particular Duty, or a particular field in which they excel, or both. Custom RPG gift support will be provided if necessary.
Please note, when thinking about what your proposed noble house does, that every House in Amber is involved in trade, and no one house will ever control shipping or any broad element of trade. Dominance in a narrow field or within a broad segment of a single market (such as a Golden Circle shadow) may be appropriate, but try to remember that the other Houses need to be cool too, so aim for something distinctive that doesn't choke off the cool for everyone else.
Bayle is a House of vintners. Their reds are outstanding; Bayle's Best is frequently accorded one of the best wines in Amber. Their whites are not, and are often derogatorily referred to as Bayle's Piss.
A house with a strong streak of Begman blood, they are one of the primary importers of Begman goods.
House Dare contains practitioners of Begma's artificing magic.
Gozar is a House of builders and architects, known for their great stone edifices.
Gozar's baronial line was once thought wiped out in the Sinking of Lyonesse, but has proven more resilient than expected.
House Gozar is exceptionally talented at the manipulation of stone, in all its aspects.
The Sound and the Silence
The Karanis are the finest glasscrafters in Amber (a title challenged only by the mirror-makers of Rebma) , and hold the secrets for many exotic formulae for distinct blends of color, texture and style. The quality of Karanis work is instantly recognizable by its quality and by its distinctive tone when struck.
Karanis is a cadet house of Chantris, which still maintains close ties of blood and alliance with that great house.
Karanis magic is a tightly held family secret, but those with reason to know say their power comes from sound.
Lethem is best known and most feared for a tradition of supplying Amber's Royal Executioners. It has a strong military tradition, with its members serving primarily as barber-surgeons and interrogators.
Lethem is a cadet house of both Mandrake and Feldane. It was created in ancient times during an inheritance dispute between the two Great Houses.
Lethem has elements of Mandrake and Feldane's grasp on life and death respectively, along with their own House secrets, which concern pain and altered states of consciousness.
In All Directions We Seek
Marlowe was once renown for its gem trade and dealings in the curio market, but it has been a mere shell of a house for years. The recent return of the heir seems to have cast some doubt on the inevitability of the house's demise, but he is young, and has long been absent from the court.
House Marlowe suffered a tragic blow when its heir, his Sukhoti wife and their young son all disappeared and were presumed dead in Sukho over a decade ago. Recently, the heir returned to Amber, having spent the intervening years living among the Sukhoti. He was recognized, and he is now lord of the house, but little remains after years of neglect.
House Marlowe was known for their skills in gemcutting, but those skills are believed to have been lost along with the last heir. It is possible the new lord knows some Sukohoti magics, but barbarian witchcraft is the last thing his house needs now.
Words Above Reproach
Solaris is a cadet house of Chantris, and are renown as the finest luthiers in the Golden Circle (makers of stringed instruments), with a Solaris violin or guitar considered a mark of pride for any musician who knows his business. They are somewhat more militant than their Chantris cousins, and Solaris training and fostering has produced some of the the finest army, navy and diplomatic officers of the Golden Circle. As befits their roots in Chantris, they have also produced a number of eminent bards and historians.
Roughly 1,000 years ago, Otto Chantris, a cousin of the then-Duke, was awarded his own barony for valor and services rendered the crown. Since that time the two families have re-cemented their ties with further intermarriage and are now closely allied.
It is rumored that their magic is no different from that of Chantris, perhaps with some element which gives the house a leg up in military affairs.
Liberty cannot be bought with gold
House Sorgo has a reputation for producing able negotiators, and as a result has many friends, but few allies so close as to disrupt their impartiality. Their primary strength lies in their hold over the salt trade throughout the Golden Circle.
Sorgo's origins comes from the salt trade, a fact that might cause some to dismiss them as a simple mercantile interest with delusions of grandeur. Sorgo has risen to this challenges, and excelled. Their children are well schooled in social graces, foreign languages and all the fine details of aristocracy, and it would be a foolish man indeed who would call into question the nobility of this house.
Recently, the youngest of the main branch of the family de Sorgo, Raphaela Lucrezia became Lady of the House, and has taken control with a firm hand.
Sorgo has no personal magics of note, but they have ties through the Golden Circle, and may have some capabilities as a result.
The knights of Amber are all associated with a Great House, or a particular Prince or Princess. They are addressed as Sir so-and-so, or Dame so-and-so.
The Dukes of the Great Houses can knight someone, as long as the Crown does not object to it. When a Duke knights someone, it's almost akin to adopting them into the House; the knight is not in the line of inheritance, but is thereafter considered a member of the household.
A Prince or Princess can knight someone at their discretion (even if the Crown doesn't approve). Thereafter, that Prince or Princess serves as the knight's patron, though the degree of formality of that varies. Some of the Princes and Princesses have well-organized, formal orders of knighthood, while others maintain looser or more distant relationships with their knights.
|Lesser House||Baron/Baroness or Count/Countess||Lord/Lady|
There are some further subtleties that are less commonly held to. Whether a lord or lady should be referred to by their given name or their house name is a matter of some debate. By the most formal of measures, the house heir is referred to as Lord (housename) while other members are Lord (given name), but that practice is loosely followed at best.
As a matter of setting, we explicitly reject English-style formality as being non-canon (although in practice, many players follow its etiquette nevertheless, but that's a personal thing and not a setting thing). Precision of titles in actual address is basically non-existent in the books. The princes are often referred to as "Lord so-and-so", as are their children, and their nobles, and even Oberon gets called "Oberon, Lord of Amber". You can use "Your Highness" to address a Prince, for instance, but "m'lord" works just as well in the books. (Canonically, "Your Highness" never actually appears in the books until it's used by Chaosians in the second series.)
As a result of this, proper address for the children of the princes or princesses is somewhat loose. Whether or not they've been formally recognized, it's generally safe for someone to politely address them as Lord or Lady so-and-so. Protocol is a loose thing in Amber, given its melting pot of cultures. In-character attempts to formalise rules have met with mixed results.
When a character is of more than one bloodline, their actual house membership is determined by marriage, law, tradition, negotiation and a number of other factors. For peers this can be very complicated, but otherwise, rank trumps. If a knight is found to be of ducal blood, and is taken up into house, he becomes Lord such and such, and leaves the previous title behind for everything but wedding invitations and incredibly intricate seating charts. For these purposes, the royal house is just like any other.
House Origins and Land Holdings
The noble houses, for the most part, have histories that date back to the early days of the kingdom. Every noble house is associated with a Crown-granted parcel of land, generally deeded to the house in ancient times. This is a duchy for the Great Houses, and a barony or county for Minor Houses. This parcel forms the base of the house's income, and the people who live there are beholden to the house, which accepts responsibility for their governance, including the right of justice for them.
Most arable land in Amber is used for subsistence agriculture, with the remainder going to cash crops. Thus, most noble houses realistically have to seek additional sources of income. Indeed, most of them depend on some form of trade, rather than their land. The larger houses, especially the Duchies, have over time brought additional lands into their demesne, expanding their territories in a way recognized by the Crown.
By the time of Flora's birth (Dybele's era as Queen), it was rare for new houses to be created, and past Random's birth (Paulette's era as Queen), it was virtually unheard of. By Rilga's era, most houses were already being created not from new land parcels, but by existing houses ceding land to the new house, as the Crown had no more land to grant.
The Princes and Princesses of Amber all have small land holdings, but these are scattered, and essentially trivial — a farm or ranch or mine or vacation estate here and there, for the most part.
Oberon sometimes granted courtesy titles to those in particular favor, or as a gift to his children. Courtesy titles are usually named after some piece of land, but do not have any actual holdings associated with them; they might be named for a particular landmark, river, mountain pass, or the like.