The Houses bear many similarities. They each employ people from nearly all walks of life, maintain small standing military legions, indulge in trade and political maneuvering, and keep roughly the same internal social structures. In addition, each House tends to specialize in a particular field of expertise as the result of decades of recruitment and training. House Kaivan, for example, specializes in fiscal and economic manipulation, from gambling to shareholding to usury. In this fashion, the House illustrates its political strength through its monetary influence; to cross the Kaivani is to find your business ventures in peril. This isn’t to say that other Houses don’t also practice monetary manipulation, but rather that House Kaivan tends to be the largest player in that particular field. Likewise, the fact that House Lorain is known as a House specializing in mounts and exotic animals doesn’t keep other Houses from breeding their own horses, but it does mean that Lorain has a reputation as the best and most prolific.
As one might imagine, this leads to no small amount of competition among the Houses. The first Oligarch, Zanril the First, knew that this would happen, and knew that unless something were done about it the competition would come to blood. To prevent this, he set up a way for the Houses to compete and blow off steam without violence. Each House is required by law to contribute in their own fashion to the public arts, ostensibly as a way to enrich the lives of the commoners. This culminates in the Winter Festival, in which the various Houses come together to compete in a grand show. Unsurprisingly, the Houses all do so in their own ways.
The social structure of the Houses is largely the same, with some exceptions. Each House maintains three castes: Kin, Kith, and Servants. Membership in a House conveys certain benefits such as guaranteed income and a certain amount of both respect and authority. On the other hand, members find their fortunes and reputations bound to the House; not only do their words and deeds reflect on the House, but any injury to the House’s name or assets tends to trickle down.
Those in the Kin caste are of the noble family of the House. This doesn’t necessarily indicate racial unity, though breeding may not be possible between some races. For the most part, the Kin of any given House tend to fall into a handful of races dependent on the house. The Kin of a House bear the strongest ties to the House, for good or ill.
The Kith of a House are those friends and associates held in the highest regard. This includes the most trusted servants, boon companions, foster family, and those whose blood ties to the noble family are too weak to merit full status as Kin. Sometimes defectors from other Houses, if proven trustworthy, find themselves in this category.
Servants of a House are, of course, those who work for the House in some official capacity. Servants may include legionaries, cooks, pages, stablehands, messengers, and anyone else who draws their pay from the House regularly and wears the House’s crest.