In Starkwater there are eight ducal houses, from which they select the next Archduke on those occasions when there is no clear heir to the throne. Inside Starkwater, these ducal houses are the most powerful nobles under the archduke and are generally left to their own devices with relatively little interference by the archduke himself.
Location: Austmannar is the easternmost of the duchies, bordering Nevros and the Arameian Highlands to the east and north respectively, and Longmoor and Rowan to the south, with Grey Lake forming a buffer zone between it and Kamban to the west.
History: The duchy of Austmannar was once the most powerful and largest of the duchies in Starkwater. With the Silver Theft the duchy lost its silver mines and much of its lands to the Arameians. Leaving the Austmannar with its much less valuable lands in the east to scrape a living off farming and river trade. Ever since Austmannar have always been the first to raid into the Arameian Highlands and have always been proponents of outright war with the Arameians.
House Motto: Our Enemies Can Never Rest
Coat of Arms: Three Silver Coins on a yellow background.
Capital: Silverhold is a shadow of its former self, resting almost on the western border of what remains of the duchy. It has reduced in size since the Silver Theft and has never truly regained its past glory. It is nevertheless a decently sized city, with a reputation for still having some of the best silversmiths in Starkwater.
Assets: Austmannar has a small enclave of very good silversmiths. With a large part of their border being shared with Nevros, they typically have good relations with the Nevrosi and often intermarry with Nevrosi nobility.
Currency: Austmannar produces the currency known as Serpents, they depict a serpent eating its own tail on one side, with the current duke's face in the middle and the skyline of Silverhold on the other.
Location: Grimwise lands border both on Nevros and Barbarian lands and as such face more combat than most other duchies. They are bordered to the south by Orthleikar and Volubrot to the west, with every other border taken up by enemies.
History: Grimwise lands were bought with blood. The duchy has a history that stretches well beyond the Empire. According to the legends the duchy will not fall as long as the Old Hammer, a large iron warhammer, does not leave the head of Grimwise. The duchy was one of the last to join the rest of Starkwater under the Archduke, after having fought the archduke's armies to a standstill the Duke of Heathcliff offered his vassalage in return for peace. Grimwise has always been the house least likely to follow the advice of the archduke and show up for council meetings.
House Motto: Hold.
Coat of Arms: A black hammer against a field of silver spears.
Capital: Heathcliff is a fortress. There is no other way to describe it. It is arguably the smallest of the ducal seats, but it is the most heavily fortified with every house, street and wall made with the express purpose of turning back invaders. Heathcliff is built into the ground and designed to take a punishment. Despite appearances, Heathcliff was not always built this way and the ruins of earlier Heathcliffs can be found nearby, with each new generation adding its own nasty surprises for invaders, as a result of which, it has been several hundred years since the last time anyone managed to get beyond the outer walls of Heathcliff.
Assets: Grimwise has some of the most talented engineers in Starkwater and no one is better at quickly digging in than Grimwise soldiers. Grimwise also sports a thriving trade with in barbarian furs.
Currency: The currency produced by Grimwise is known as Lines, it has two crossed spears on side and the coat of arms of Grimwise on the other.
Location: Sandwiched between the Arameian Highlands and Haven, with its borders touching on Grey Lake in the east and Rowan in the west.
History: Kamban is a remnant of Imperial Nobility which has managed to hold to its power even to this day, making it one of the few ducal houses in Starkwater that can trace its line directly back to one of the sons of Alexandrios. Kamban has always had more amicable relations with Arameia than other ducal houses and is believed by some to be partly, if not responsible, then certainly complicit in the Silver Theft, which caused one of its major competitors, Austmannar to lose a great deal of its assets. Throughout history Kamban has typically proven itself to be one of the houses most willing to deal with the Arameians, although they have never ceded land or assets to them.
House Motto: For Glory Eternal
Coat of Arms: Three gold deer running across a field of dark blue.
Capital: Coldwater is tucked onto a small island in the middle of a lake. While it is easily accessible by crossing the ice in the winter, for the rest of the year the only way to gain entrance to the city is to get one of the four ferries into the town. The lake on which it is perched supplies an almost never ending fog across the city, giving it the nickname the Misty City. Despite being one of the smallest ducal cities, the city is known to be home to a college of Eirwinian monks known as the keepers of mysteries and their libraries are said to be the best in Starkwater. According to legend, the master of Coldwater can control the fog so as to make the city impossible to find when he chooses to. Of course, given the city is linked to the mainland with rope operated ferries this is believed to be an old wife's tale.
Assets: Kamban enjoys relatively good relations with Arameia, lacking any major rivers and sources of income though the house of Kamban has never been among the most prosperous.
Currency: House Kamban produces the currency known as Hunters, with a strung bow on one side and a deer on the other.
Location: House Orthleikar's holdings are the most central of the duchies.
History: Orthleikar is the second noble house to hold the ducal title over this land, with the first being obliterated at the end of the Snake Wars for collaborating with the enemy. It has since proven to have a strong leadership with very few squabbles over power. This is partially due to a tradition of killing off any offspring of the duke except the firstborn son. This has also led to a tradition of having strong female leaders on those occasions when the firstborn son has been killed or otherwise died before being able to produce a heir. As such, the lineage of house Orthleikar is generally considered to be somewhat less pure than those of others as it hasn't continuously passed from father to son. Historically house Orthleikar has demonstrated a harsh sense of justice, with those found guilty of crimes often being sentenced to spending the remainder of their lives working in the house's iron mines. When these coins have been treated badly, they're sometimes referred to as Rustysides.
House Motto: Steel is strength.
Coat of Arms: A crown of silver above a pick axe and a spear crossed on a background of blue.
Capital: Jarnheim is perhaps one of the weaker of the ducal cities. It served as a headquarters for the Naga during the Snake Wars and has since never been rebuilt to its old standards. It is, nonetheless, a fairly impressive fortified town, with cast iron an important part of the architecture. It is reputed that very few wizards and elves set foot in the city due to the prominence of iron and the disruptive effects this has on their magic.
Assets: Orthleikar controls the majority of the iron mines in Starkwater.
Currency: House Orthleikar is unique in Starkwater for adding touches of iron to all of their coins, earning them the nickname of Ironsides and occasionally Rustysides. The coins depict the current duke on one side and a pick axe on the other.
Location: Northeld is located south of Spire City, in the westmost part of Starkwater. Because of its location it is one of the houses which contributes the most to trade and the only ducal house to have a capital with a harbour.
History: Northeld has a long history of holding power in Starkwater. It was the third house to ascend to the status of Archduke and has since held the position more often than any other ducal house. Through their power broking they've made staunch allies with the other western house, Volubrot. And they remain among the most powerful of the houses even when they do not hold the Throne.
House Motto: The power of the cliff.
Coat of Arms: A pair of silver axes crossed over a field of red.
Capital: Fairhollow is the capital of Northeld and it's the only ducal city located on the sea. The majority of it has been hollowed out of a seaside cliff, with very little of it appearing above ground. As a result of which, the city has never become very popular with scholars or others needing light to read by.
Assets: Northeld is usually the wealthiest of the ducal houses, and has a lot of income from trade. Its close ties to Spire City also means that Northeld has had more archdukes than any other ducal house.
Currency: Northeld's mint produces the coin is generally known as the Crown. It has the crown of Starkwater on one side and the face of the current duke on the other.
History: The Rowans were originally but Eorls sworn to the Dukes of Blackrock. But when their overlords sought to march against Greylake a century ago, Rowan offered shelter to the rebelling host only to murder them whole. It is said that the last Duke of Blackrock fled from the castle only to stumble into to death after getting caught in the treacherous wood that gives Thornegrove its name. For this, the Prince rose Rowan to dukedom.
House Motto: Where Man May Bleed
Coat of Arms: Iron vines on green, thorns tinged with red
Capital: Thornegrove located to the south of Grey Lake, is a fortress even without the stone keep that’s overseen the area before the coming of the empire. It’s backed by the Sault , to which the only bridge stems from the fortress itself. To its front is the grove itself, a small wood whose trees are entwined by vines that the peasants call dukebane. Dukebane too hard to cut even with steel swords and its thorns are large and sharp enough to tear flesh off a horse. Treacherous terrain, even for those aware of the right paths to take.
Assets: The lords of Thornegrove maintain an unusually large host of personal retainers even in times of relative peace, ostensibly for the use of protecting its borders. The more cynical, however, whisper that those borders would not be near so volatile if the lords Rowan didn’t take to financing their vassals by way of frequent raids into Arameian and ogre territory.
Currency: House Rowan makes the currency known as Thorns, depicting a hand with a drop of blood under it on one side and a thorned vine on the other.
Location: Tarnell is located on the border between Teslan, Arameia and Starkwater.
History: Tarnell is and old house steeped in history, the descendants of one of the generals of original archduke. It has since leveraged its military might into becoming one of the most paranoid of the houses with spy networks that almost equal those of the archduke. Ever since the inception of the Red Guard the house has enjoyed a tight working relationship with them.
House Motto: Loyalty demands.
Coat of Arms: A white hand clutching a black dagger by the blade, on a field of red.
Capital: Hamgeld is a city of contrasts, drawing in influences both from Arameia and Teslan. The result can make the city seem somewhat schizophrenic. Despite this the city is known for its creative approach to city defence, with walls only surrounding the central keep. Instead the city itself is filled with murder holes, hidden tunnels and traps, the streets twist and turn leading enemies entering to have to fight their way all around the city to get to the keep. Getting into the city is said to be relatively easy, but leaving it is nigh impossible.
Assets: As a result of their location, the house of Tarnell usually has close relations with the Red Guard and a lot of their agents are placed in their area, keeping an eye out for spies, rebels and saboteurs. They are also among the houses known for keeping mercenaries employed on at least a semi-regular basis, on the general philosophy that if the mercenaries are working for them, at least they can't be working for the enemies. The size of their retinue can also change depending on the current tides of battle as the nobles living on the border often change their minds as to whether they back Arameia or Starkwater, leading their southern borders and accordingly their income to be fairly flexible.
Currency: Tarnell produces the coin known as Oxen, with the a dagger on side and a hand lacking one finger on the other.
Location: Situated at the northern border of Starkwater is House Volubrot, it's usually closely allied with house Northeld.
History: Betrayal is at the heart of the history of House Volubrot, the ducal family of Holbark was slaughtered during the a particularly large barbarian raid into Starkwater in the spring of 3814 when the gates of Sweetgrove were opened by traitors, the city was razed to the ground. Every single member of house Holbark was killed in the attack, leaving the ground fertile for up and coming house Volubrot to ascend to take over as the new ducal house of the north, with the aid of house Northeld and the sitting archduke. Volubrot rebuilt the city of Sweetgrove and gave it the name Cairnhome in honor of those who had died there. From there it rebuilt allegiances with most of those who had once served Holbark, though it ceded some of its lands to the Archduke as payment for the ducal title.
House Motto: The dead steady our hand, the dead clear our minds, the dead bring us victory.
Coat of Arms: The coat of arms of house Volubrot is a triangular pile of rocks over which is a broken staff on a field of ash grey.
Capital: Cairnhome is the capitol of the duchy. It is built on the ruins of Sweetgrove, the former capitol that was razed in a barbarian raid. The House of Volubrot vowed never to let this happen again and reconstructed the city, giving it the new name of Cairnhome, for all the dead that are buried beneath it. The very walls themselves are inscribed with the names of people who have died defending it.
Assets: House Volubrot has a close connection to the Witchfinders and will often use them as spies and scouts. Of course, house Volubrot is also one of the few houses without a wizard as an advisor.
Currency: Volubrot produces the currency known as Skulls, it has a fortress on one side and a skull on the other.