The Houses of Coin
In order to truly understand the workings of Arcish politics and society, it is essential to comprehend the power of the Houses of Coin, the banking oligarchs that even Protectors defer to. When Arc became the principle lender of coin and promissory notes across Aestis, the traders, craftsmen, ship builders and artisans of the city lost most of their political and economic leverage, and the money lenders re-shaped Arcish society to suit themselves. For the most part, they prefer to conduct their business in secret, their proxies in The Azure Chamber speak on their behalf and the scribes, market cryers and heralds who populate the alleyways, street corners and thoroughfares of the city act as their greatest propagandists. Arc simmers with a barely concealed anger towards the Houses of Coin, but there is little prospect of dislodging their power. They control many of the city’s inhabitants through debt; as living standards have gradually fallen, the Houses of Coin have lent money not only to those who can afford to borrow, such as the great ship owners whose live along the Starrander Road , but also to the poorer and more desperate. The middling sorts of Arc normally borrow from the ‘Copper Kettle’ banks, smaller lending houses that have the insignia of the copper kettle above their door, which signifies the institution’s solvency and trustworthiness. The kettle was instituted by the current Protector’s grandfather Amran Doerth, who wanted Arcites to trust the smaller lenders and to save with them (not that Arcites have much to save), and the kettle symbolised ‘hearth and home’. The Copper Kettle banks were once family run organisations with strong connections to the communities they served. They are now either indirectly, or directly owned by the Houses of Coin, and have no other function than to suck wealth out of communities through debt repayment. They are far from being the most rapacious lenders in the city, however. Independent lenders who borrow from the Copper Kettle banks cheaply and lend expensively to the propertyless poor are known as Bondsmasters. The Bondsmasters are often former city watchmen or soldiers, looking to emulate the wealthy and powerful by building an empire of exploitation. They wander the streets looking for business, taking precious items (and often people) as collateral, knowing that they can threaten those who fail to pay back with the horrors of the Oboline and the debtors district. Below even the Bondsmasters are the Keepsnuffs, who lend out a few coins here and there to those who are incapable of ever paying back the money. The point of the Keepsnuff’s activities are to ensnare the poor into unpayable debt, knowing that there is a bounty payment from the scribes of the Azure Chamber for every debtor captured and delivered. Slowly, the economy of the city is being transformed by debt bondage and free labour. The numbers of people being enslaved by debt and the lifetime punishments that are imposed upon them mean that there is less demand for ‘free’ labour. It is a brutal irony that the city of Arc,which officially claims to despise slavery, has begun to create its own system of bondage.
The House of TorresThe House of Torres is the biggest and most powerful dynasty of bankers and money lenders amongst the Houses of Coin. The Torres family loan money to shipping magnates and traders known as the Lords of the Port in Arc. They pay for riskier undertakings such as mercenary wars in the eastern Arclands but never place principles before financial returns. The family was one of the first clans to emerge in the aftermath of the fall of the Arc Empire, when the new protectors of Arc needed ready finance. The key to their wealth was the decision by Protector Ranniger to allow the family to mint its own currency, the Torrean Prince, a silver and lead coin which has immense value because only a limited number are produced each year, and each one is redeemable as long as Arc stands. The problem that the family faces is that its patriarch Kordah Torres, a foolish and weak man, has become involved with the crime lord of Arc Reyman Carth. Torres gold has been used to pay for pirate fleets that are connected to Carth and for slave ships. Arc banned slavery in its early centuries, and only Dran officially still practices the business of enslaving human beings (though unofficially, Arc does too). This means that a terrible scandal is growing silently in the vaults and counting rooms of the Torres family. If respectable Arcites flee from the biggest bank in Arc, fearing to be associated with the name Torres, not only will the Torres family fall, but the biggest bank in the city will collapse, causing Arcites to wonder what the other banks also are hiding. The scandal has come to Lord Counsel Drex's attention and he is actively working to prevent further crisis. The main seat of the Torres family is the Heldrendian estate, which perches above Arc on a huge escarpment. It is a place of palatial gardens and white marble summer houses, where Kordah Torres lives as a recluse. His daughter, Marta, has uncovered her father's lies and is desperately trying to hold the Torres family business together, while her younger brother, Deo, a spoilt and foolish aristocrat, drinks himself into a stupor in the district of Morning Hill
The House of RialaThe House of Riala is a banking family that owns the Vault of the Golden Field. Its principal purpose is to loan money to Dran, which is one of the best kept secrets in both cities. Dran's military operations are costly and require heavy investment up front (Dran's clients always pay up in the end, one way or another). Arc's protectors have tolerated the flow of gold to Dran over the years, knowing that it is a powerful tool with which to control their violent nearest neighbour and rival. The threat of cutting off flows of credit has a powerful effect on the lords of Dran. Dran's own attempts to mint their own coins have had limited success, Arcish princes are always worth more than any coin that another city can issue. Lady Dorath Riala is the matriarch of the house, having succeeded her astute father Meyson five years ago. She and the Lord Counsel Drex were once lovers and she still confides much in him about the flows of gold from Arc to Dran. Lord Sorias Varren of Dran knows about their former relationship and uses Dorath as a means of relaying misinformation to Drex. Do you want more lore? Get weekly updates on World Anvil and the Arclands Blog straight to your email inbox, PLUS our list of fifty mysterious trinkets to delight and enchant your adventuring party. Get your copy here.