Shadows of Absalom
The vast size of Absalom creates unusual familial and political links. Cousins may live only a mile apart but spend a lifetime without ever meeting. Further, two women who are at best distantly related may discover they have interests in common at least partly as a result of their common heritage. As a result, Absalom has developed a system of noble Houses. Each house is a political entity similar to a clan, with most maintaining strong connections to their original homelands. Houses have a set number of minor titles (granting their holders the right to be called lord or lady), which are bought from the Grand Council or other houses. Each house also has a Scion, a senior and respected lord of the house who decides who within the house is granted each title. Most also employ a Seneschal, or secretary, to run the House's affairs. The children and grandchildren of anyone with a title are automatically enrolled in the house (though they do not automatically inherit the title), while the Scion of the house may add others. Such enrollments are normally offered to a family member too distant to be automatically included; some houses grant enrollment to heroes who aid them, while others sell them when short on coin.
There are hundreds of houses within Absalom, most of which lack the power to be immediately recognized by common citizens. Further, many powerful individuals either claim no house or are from a house that does not itself have great influence (indeed, Lord Gyr is the most powerful man in Absalom, but House Gixx remains a small house with no particular influence). The rise and fall of a given house often corresponds with the rise of the concerns of their homeland, though some houses are loyal only to their internal needs. Some houses are so powerful that use of their name immediately grants a level of recognition, privilege, and (if encountered by rivals) danger.
In most cases a person’s house takes the place of a surname. Those without a house may select to add their nation or district of birth, a nickname given by family or friends, or the appellation “of Gyr,” to indicate a loyalty to the primarch himself. Most houses claim a very strong cultural link to the nation of their forefathers. In some houses this is nothing but an affectation of style and dress, but for many it is more than that. Most houses sympathize with the nations of their genealogy, and may still have blood-relations in those lands or be in contact with influential nobles in them. Though these houses are dedicated to Absalom first, they aid their countrymen wherever they can without betraying Absalom. A few Absalom houses are actually more loyal to their old origin country than Absalom itself, while others have only internal loyalty and take the side of whoever seems most likely to grant them wealth and power.