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The Chartered Houses – The Steam Barons

by T.S. Luikart

The Chartered Houses are great mercantile families from Back East, chartered to operate in the Periphery and beyond. Colloquially (and none-to-kindly) referred to as the Steam Barons. Chartered Houses are given a free reign to operate, and often have their own settlements and even their own military. There are Chartered Houses that specialize in weapons production, Chartered Houses that run railways, Chartered Houses that are agricultural giants, Chartered Houses that run
mining operations, etc.

Three of the more famous Chartered Houses are detailed below.

House Laers

When most folk look beyond the borders of the Empire, they fail to see anything other than dangerous barbarians and untamed wilderness. They regard the Periphery as barely civilized and its people as being but a short step from savages. When Osten Laers first travelled into the west, he thought the same, but what he saw were opportunities. At that time, a booming economy was rising in the Periphery to handle legitimate businesses of every stripe and within that growth were openings for corruption, smuggling, opiates, gambling, extortion, and more. A crime for every occasion, opportunities in abundance, oh yes indeed.

Laers certainly wasn’t the first to look with larcenous eyes into the Periphery, but he was the first with a grand sweeping vision of what could be accomplished, along with the right connections within both the Bureaucracy and several key Noble Houses to set his plans into motion. Laers’ agents soon cornered markets most didn’t know existed or created new ones whole cloth for exploitation if the prospects looked good. Laers soon moved to establish a “legitimate” front for his many ventures and shipping foodstuffs was perfect for his needs. With his many business contacts and a few hefty bribes, his House’s charter was easily secured.

Laers’ schemes went mostly unimpeded in the Periphery, but he swiftly found a frustrating enemy in the implacable (and unreasonably unbribable) Rangers of the Far West. Though it has never been proven, Laers, or at least his money, is widely believed in the West to be one of the reasons for their downfall.

After many years of growth in both fortune and family, House Laers became a power to be reckoned with in the west. While nominally a family of “grocers” most folk from the Periphery have heard rumors otherwise about the Laers and give them a wide berth. Indeed, after the passing of the Rangers, the Laers enjoyed many years without true rivals until their operations began to encounter “interference” from members of the Family Jade…

Osten Laers, now in his 70s, remains the patriarch of his House and he still oversees a few particularly sensitive ventures personally, handling trouble with Marshals for example, who he is finding to be almost as difficult to deal with as the damn Rangers ever were. The sheer number of the Laers’ interests necessitate that family members and trusted agents run other aspects of the “family business”. The Laers have a wide number of holdings, from main street stores to gambling dens, throughout the Periphery, but the center of their operations is Osten’s palatial mansion on a large ranch an hours ride northeast of Sevenfork.

An agent of House Laers can be encountered almost anywhere as they are involved in a myriad of clandestine enterprises and even a few legitimate ones. The Laers don’t typically ascribe to any particular philosophy other than a sort of ruthless pragmatism, nor do they hold loyalties to much beyond their House and their own fortune, and not necessarily in that order.
In their dealings they strive to be practical, constantly calculating the potential profit of a given venture against the costs of maintaining it. When dealing with opponents, they usually prefer seduction of all varieties to bribes, and bribes to violence, but if they believe there must be bloodshed, they will hire professionals to handle their foes quickly and quietly. If defeated, they pull stakes and move on, there is seldom any profit in revenge. They have a faultless reputation for always doing exactly what they say they will do, it’s just good business, after all – even if most folk find many of their “businesses” deplorable.

Symbol: Two sacks of grain propping up a third with a stylized “L” embossed upon it. Some folks feel obligated to point out that the grain sacks strongly resemble the money satchels commonly used by most banks.

House Grunbremoch

In the later days of the Secession Wars, a valiant young colonel lost his arm to an “impossible” rain of blades that a savage called down upon him. His standing was such that two of the most promising of the Emperor’s Imperial Engineering Corps were assigned to craft him a replacement. Two months later, the young colonel gazed in wonder at the mechanical marvel that had been grafted to his shoulder, at the workings of its gears, cogs, and most astonishing of all, the intricate mechanisms of his new hand. As he flexed and unflexed his shiny metal fingers, he came to a revelation: the Empire was the greatest civilization the world had ever known, capable of miracles. The foundation of the Empire was order and obedience, each part working in harmony to achieve something greater than the mere sum of their parts. In order to maintain civilization, order had to be enforced; a strict order guided by a firm hand, lest all fall to barbarism.
In his mechanical fist, Colonel Sond Grunbremoch saw his destiny and that of the Chartered House he was fated to found: civilization guided by a steel hand. As the Secession Wars drew to a close, the young Colonel requested a charter for doing business in the Periphery and beyond into the Far West. The grateful Empire readily granted the heroic young commander’s appeal. Parlaying his connections, modest fame, and spoils from the war, Grunbremoch had soon built a respectable business importing goods from the East to the Periphery. Friends in the Imperial Army were among his first customers, but his business swiftly expanded far beyond its modest beginnings.

Now, over three decades later, the “Colonel” (as he is still called though he has long since retired from active duty) is in his robust Mid-50s and House Grunbremoch is effectively in the business of extending the influence of the August Throne on a yearly basis. As Grunbremoch train lines stretch into the Periphery and on into the Far West, they bring civilization with them, civilization and order, whether those on the path of their rails like it or not. Settlements along Grunbremoch lines are orderly affairs, as House-paid troops guard them against marauders and sedition with equal fervor. Those disinclined to agree with House policies generally move on if they are wise or end up at the end of a rope if they are not.
Colonel Grunbremoch draws his agents and factors from his pick of the top ex-military men and women mustering out of active duty to the August Throne. He prefers that they be righteous as well as exceedingly competent and he pays them exceptionally well. It is widely rumored in the Periphery that the able bodied only leave the Colonel’s service to become Marshals. House Grunbremoch, as a policy, detests secret societies and House members will generally only tolerate any dealings with them under the most dire of circumstances. The Colonel still enjoys excellent relations with the Imperial Army and can call upon their aid if necessary to his cause.

Symbol: A mechanical hand grasping the profile of a “flanged T” railroad rail.

House Marghul

Of the many Chartered Houses, there are few held in higher regard within the Empire and abroad than House Marghul. The Marghuls are at the forefront of the Empire’s expansion into the Periphery and beyond into the Far West. Their trains are marvels of engineering, some of the fastest and quietest in the west. When settlers learn that House Marghul intends to run a line through their town, they’re absolutely jubilant, for Edstal Marghul is widely known to be a soul of honor, and every settlement that his House has partnered with has greatly prospered.

The Bureaucracy points to House Marghul as an example of what every Chartered House should strive to be and it is generally held to be a truism that there is no House more loyal, nor more steadfast in defense of the Empire than the Marghul…

Too bad it’s a lie.

House Marghul was founded on a secret, one that each generation has held dear, and every endeavor that the House undertakes all serves to bring about their ultimate purpose: reestablishing the kingdom they lost.

Well over a century ago, the Realm Jononzul was considered one of the more enlightened of the Empire’s western tributaries. Like many other territories, they took their chance to break away from the Empire at the beginning of what the Throne’s historians now refer to as the Secession Wars. The royal family of Jononzul had many allies for they were, even then, known for their sterling honor. Their ambassadors were accepted in many halls of power and members of the royal family were given the rare honor of being invited to study at the University of Alsdolan in Orinost, fabled birthplace of the Circle of Iron.
Alas, there were no allies in existence strong enough to protect them forever from the vengeance of the August Throne, and eventually they were brought low, their beloved home laid waste by the siege engines of the Imperial Army. Their loyal people, though, smuggled what members of the royal family they could into the Far West and claimed that they were killed in the fires that swept through the royal palace during the final siege of Jononzul. The nearly decimated house watched sadly from a distance as their allies, friends, and rivals all eventually fell before the wrath of the Empire… Watched and began to take notes for the future.

When the time was right, several decades later, a man who called himself Taren Marghul approached a small group of merchants with a magnificent design for a new train engine. After swiftly securing backers, Marghul quickly made a name for himself as a useful man to know and an excellent partner for business. The Marghul family soon secured a charter from the Empire and House Marghul speedily rose in fortunes as they began running rail lines into the West.

Edstal Marghul now runs the House under the advisement of a counsel of senior members and trusted retainers who have served the Marghuls “for generations”. The House still holds a number of engineering secrets and advancements researched from what their members learned at the University of Alsdolan, which they occasionally unveil in order to stay one step ahead of their competitor Houses. They mostly deal in bulk goods, several of their lines carry livestock, including bison and thunderbirds. House Marghul is the only Chartered House with “Ice Cars” on their trains, engineering marvels, Ice Cars keep their contents at a temperature just below freezing, allowing them to transport meats and certain valuable medicines great distances at speed, which would otherwise be impossible.

The Marghuls and their agents are relatively honorable people, that is no lie, the upper echelons of the House are just far less fond of the August Throne than they will ever let on. In the Far West, they are regarded as one of the best Steam Baron houses to deal with, as they do treat people well… because loyal peasants are useful. Their manner tends to be a bit aloof but friendly, with more important or powerful House members acting in distinctly “aristocratic” fashions; however, there is little “suspicious” about this character quirk, as many scions of the prominent Chartered Houses act in similar fashion.

The Marghuls long term plan is to build a kingdom of their own in the Far West, one powerful enough, and far enough away from the August Empire to be left alone. To that end, they subtlety gather allies against that day, investing in various secret societies and bankrolling promising engineers. They have many enemies, but these are, in the main, rivals and competitors jealous of their business acumen. They are as noble as their circumstances allow them to be, but completely merciless in covering up or eliminating any information that may compromise where their true loyalties lie or what they are planning.

Symbol: A circled “M” made to look as though it were forged from roughly riveted iron and rimmed with ice.

5 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    In the third sentence didn’t you mean to use ‘rein’ instead of ‘reign’?

  2. Doomedpaladin says:

    Very nice Mr. Lulkart. I very much like the Marghul’s concept, I haven’t actually seen a map of the Far West world, but I certainly hope there IS a place where this House might try to re-establish itself. I question the symbol though. It seems heavy handed for such a subtle house. It doesn’t reflect the innovation reflected in the description with “roughly riveted iron.”

    House Laers seems too unfocused for my tastes. Cut-throat business practices are something that an old-west environment will have plenty of. Something villainous to make Laers stand out more for might have been good to include, make them capital B bastards. Slave trade under the guise of “Mail-order Spouses”, smuggling of a particular drug on the rise, buying up water rights (like in Rango), or raping the Far West of some valuable resource and shipping it back East for example.

    House Grunbremoch left me feeling meh. A little too much background (did like the “rain-of-blades” bit though), not enough of current status. Mention of the goods they bring other than law, more on life in one of their settlements, how secure their lines are (VERY, I’d imagine), or complicity they might have with atrocities done in the Empire’s name would be nice. “Atrocities?” you might ask, but really, a House favored by the Empire, in bed with its military, and financially successful? I can easily see this House stamping out savages like Custer, aiding in other unpopular military actions, and acting as law unto itself (which I understand that it IS, but still).

  3. Ben says:

    I don’t mind that they’ve left room for us to fill in the blanks. It seems they’ve left the Houses above open enough for us to be able to mold them to our tastes, which I like. As far as House Grunbremoch goes, it may be in bed with the Empire and its military, but I don’t see it as untouchable. The Periphery is obviously vast (from what we’ve read so far), so it stands to reason that the further it goes West, the less power it will have. This makes it easier for up-and-coming heroes to pick away at its flanks.

  4. Jehosephat says:

    I’m thinking there may be more details about the Houses when the RPG is finished.

    I had been considering a character who’s a son of one of the long-vanquished Rangers. Now I’ve got the perfect House for him to hold a grudge against. 🙂

  5. Dan says:

    Hmm, I wonder if House Marghul still has some undercover students or researchers at the University of Alsdolan?

Leave a Reply to Ben