The Game of Four Houses is one of the most common card games in Santharia. In fact it's a game which varies strongly depending on the rules which you use to play it. It is also often simply called Four Houses, Cards or just the Game.

The Game of Four Houses
View picture in full size Image description. A typical Santharian card deck of the Game of Four Houses featuring important and/or well known personalities of the United Kingdom. Deck designed by Bard Judith, pictures drawn by various Santharian artists.

History. The Game, as it is often known, on account of its complexity, popularity, and widespread usage, has been around for Santharian centuries. Some very early decks painted on thin slips of whitened bark have survived to give us an indication of what its origins might have been. Characters do not appear to have been in the initial conception of the game; numbers and elements were used alone (thus, the Three of Earth, the Ten of Air) and no cards higher than ten. Shortly after that the top four character cards were added as Mage, King, Queen, and Prince/Princess, and the game played as "Elementals".

We can surmise this last from a variety of references to a card game known as "Elementals" in Derragin the Mad Monk’s memoirs, "A Tale of Two Townships", a ribaldly satirical manuscript which has survived in many copies from the Age of the Blood. It seems that the rest of the characters began to appear several centuries later, and the division of the houses into masculine and feminine also occurred at that time, with their relevant colour-coding of red and blue. The cards have always been tall and slim, a natural shape for the depiction of human figures, and, as has been noted before, the creative names inspired a wide variety of artists to create customized decks.

Lord Swarrathorn of Elsreth (large central city name) is noted for his interest in the Game and has the most extensive collection of Four House decks known anywhere in Santharia. We have been privileged to examine a number of the decks to ascertain the information above, and are duly grateful for Lord Swarrathorn’s time and patience with our questions! Among his treasures are a pack which consists only of supernatural characters, with the High Gods serving as the top kings and queens (Baveras as the Water Queen, for example) and a variety of sprites, demons, faeries, and elemental spirits as the lower ranks. Also surviving from an interesting time in history is the Thalun Deck; an ironical retelling of Miranna’s Story. Miranna is portrayed as the Healer for all four elements (a definite break with tradition) and the corrupt Regent in various vulgar poses as the four Rogues. The Kings and Queens are the actual reigning sovereigns of the area at the time, although their faces have been elaborately caricatured. Some of the midrank characters are said to be well-known Thalunnese who testified at Miranna’s trial or petitioned for her sake.
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Equipment. One deck, or pack, of Four House Playing Cards. The cards are thin rectangles of hand-painted pasteboard, approximately the height of the average human hand, with their names and pictures displayed on their faces, and a plain back. More expensive sets sometimes have solid-colour brown or golden backs, and elaborately detailed characters, often local celebrities or past rulers.

There are four ‘houses’, or types of cards, and fourteen different cards in each house. They run from a value of 14 down to 1, but the numbers are rarely given, the cards being referred to by house and name, thus: "Earth King", "Air Farmer", "Fire Healer", "Water Mage" and so on. The variety of names thus achieved can give rise to great artistic creativity in many decks; for example, the Water Merchant shown as a fearsome pirate, the Fire Tapster as a lower demon dispensing flames from a barrel of R'unorian brandy, or the Earth Knight as a horse and rider built out of stones, sticks, and bones, with a horse skull and human skull perched atop the conglomeration!

There are also two to four wild cards per deck, known as "Mad Toms". Their use varies depending on the game. Air and Water are considered "feminine" houses, while Earth and Fire are considered "masculine". They are sometimes so distinguished by the use of colours on the house symbols in the corners of the cards: blue for Air and Water (the colour of purity and cleanliness) and red for Earth and Fire (the colour of energy and aggression).
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Game Set-Up. Many variants of Four Houses exist: "Great House" (poker rules), "Full Cottages" (rummy), "Mother’s Rue" (strip poker), "Alliances" (euchre), "Four Mansions" (bridge), "Under the Tower" (whist), "One Man’s Lord" (solitaire), and so on. Rules are given below for three of the most popular, but in general four players are required and the entire deck is shuffled and then a specific number of cards dealt out among them. The full complement of cards held by a player is referred to as a "town"; the remainder of the deck a "county". If betting is involved, the amount of money on the table is called "the pouch".

Note: For reasons of space and simplicity, I have simply given the ‘alternate universe’ title of the game in the list above rather than try to detail the rules for every type of card game possible!
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Rules. Rules for the Game of Four Houses depend on the specific game you prefer to play. However, the values of the specific cards remain the same in each of those different games.

Game of Houses Card Values






14 Air Sorceress Earth Mage Fire Wizard Water Spellcaster
13 King Air Earth King Fire King Water King
12 Queen Air Earth Queen Fire Queen Water Queen
11 Prince Air Earth Prince Fire Prince Water Princess
10 Air Healer Earth Healer Fire Healer Water Healer
9 Air Lady Earth Lord Fire Lord Water Lady
8 Air Paladin Earth Knight Fire Rider Water Horseman
7 Air Merchant Earth Merchant Fire Merchant Water Merchant
6 Air Artificer Earth Craftsman Fire Builder Water Weaver
5 Air Alewife Earth Brewer Fire Tapster Water Bardame
4 Air Sower Earth Farmer Fire Reaper Water Fisher
3 Air Peasant Earth Peasant Fire Peasant Water Peasant
2 Air Knave Earth Rogue Fire Knave Water Rogue
1 Air Beggar Earth Beggar Fire Beggar Water Beggar
0 Mad Tom Mad Tom Mad Tom Mad Tom Return to the top

Information provided by Bard Judith View Profile