Menzoberranzan currently has 73 noble houses, though usually it has only 50-60. The upper 18 noble houses are the most stable and influential (they are traditionally known as the "Upper Third" since they composed about 1/3 of the city's noble houses), those who have not managed to rise this high (known as the "Lower Two-Thirds") simply cannot get the same respect in the city (though any non-noble will always give a healthy amount of respect to a member of any noble house). Menzoberranzan's nobles are estimated at about 1000 while the troops of the noble houses number approximately 12,000. However, their distribution is not equal with about 1/2 the city's population of nobles and 2/3 of house troops in the upper 1/3 of houses (in this case, the upper 25 houses). The eight first ranked houses (ranks 1-8) are the Ruling Houses, i.e., those houses that comprise the city's Ruling Council.
"The Upper Third":
Baenre: The most powerful noble house in the city, House Baenre dominates its trade, politics, military (its forces are reputed to be able to match any other 5 nobles houses combined), and even the schools (with the heads of both Sorcere and Arach Tinilith members of the house).
Barrison Del'Armgo: The second house of Menzoberranzan is also the strongest in magic and and mages, or so it is said.
Oblodra: The city's third house is known for its strange mental powers, such as those born by duergar and illithids. Whispers often link them with one or both. They are also the principle overseer of patrol groups.
Faen Tlabbar: The fourth ranked house of the city's power is based on trade and its innumerable trade contacts in the city. They even seem to beat out House Baenre in this regard.
Xorlarrin: The members of the 5th house of Menzoberranzan are known as paranoid recluses. They always travel wearing a veil and concealing robe that hides both identity and gender. Several of the masters of Sorcere are members of this house and they can be hired to arbitrate business and house disputes.
Agrach Dyrr: The 6th house is known for both its magical power and its warlike stance.
Mizzrym: The 7th house is known for its double-dealing ways but also maintains power through trade (an unusual combination). They are one of the largest employers of mercenaries in the city, proving they have great wealth as well as making them much more dangerous than their rank and house forces would indicate.
Fey Branche: The 8th house is also the primary founder of the Brown Mushroom merchant company. The house has a long history, including numerous rises and falls in the city's hierarchy, while surviving the entire time. Common wisdom is that they will suffer some mishap and drop in status again soon (within the next few decades), making room for another house to join the council.
Tuin'Tarl: The 9th house of Menzoberranzan is a great success story: a merchant clan that made the leap to nobility and became a very powerful house all in a relatively short period of time. Their power is still based on trade.
Duskryn: The 10th house is militarily powerful and many wonder how they can be ranked so low with so many more finely trained troops than some higher placed houses.
Srune'lett: The 11th house's position is considered extremely precarious as they are weak in both arms and magic and the trustworthiness of their troops is open speculation even among commoners.
Horlbar: The 12th house is known for its long memory as well as its unique rule by two matron mothers. Since the death of one means the death of the other, however, this unusual situation does seem to work (from the outside, at least). They have numerous prosperous farms in the mantle and run regular caravans into the underdark.
Kenafin: The 13th house of the city is known for its involvement in trade, though this almost all occurs within the city and never beyond the mantle. Their priestesses have been working on a giant sculpture of Lloth for years, apparently in an effort to gain the Spider Queen's favor. Whisperings in the city alternately say this is a good house to find employment with or an extremely harsh one, even by drow standards.
Druu'giir: The 14th house's influence is spread by its domination of almost all money lending in the city. This also makes it extremely wealthy, and able to hire any mercenaries it requires on a moment's notice. The house is feared for its powerful magic, especially spells that open portals between two places or planes, bypassing all defenses.
Hunzrin: The current 15th house is in charge of the city's farms and answers to House Baenre and the ruling council in this. They have long held this duty and most drow suspect it has distracted them to such an extent that they have not been able to focus properly on military growth.
Shobalar: The 16th house has a reputation for double dealing as well as magical might, though its wizards are almost exclusively female! The members of the house are very reclusive but are always obvious when traveling as they use specially bred spider mounts rather than riding lizards.
Vandree: The members of the 17th house are known for their surface world trade (many say raids) which has given them riches and unusual magical might beyond the expectation of such a weak house.
Symryvvin: Symryvvin has been 18th house of Menzoberranzan since its founding, or so it is said. Despite its ranking, even Matron Baenre calls on Matron Mother Symryvvin for advice. Some whisper that Matron Symryvvin is the true power in Menzoberranzan, not Matron Baenre or the council. To date, such whispers have not been punished. The house is referred to as "the eyes of Lloth".
Some of "The Lower Two-Thirds":
Alaenrahel: This house has a branch in Ched Nasad which it is said to be trying to establish a trading partnership with.
Alurdobluth: The branch in Menzoberranzan is minor but a larger branch resided in Ched Nasad until they were recently exiled. The local house, of course, is still active and accepted and has disavowed their Nasadan brethren for which they are said to be fearful of attacks of vengeance. The Ruling Council has warned all merchants and houses to be wary of supply raids and infiltration by the exiles.
Archak: This house had a most unusual beginning, it was founded by one of Menzoberranzan's leading sculptors (of the time) who was also a priestess of Lloth and a mage. The house still produces some of the finest sculptors in the city. All Archak [drow] troops are trained in magic (either as priest(esse)s or mages).
Darketh: This old, withering house (they've been steadily dropping in size and power for two centuries) makes its money from dealing in exotic drugs and occasionally exotic monsters and slaves. They have a reputation as brooders but recent rumors indicate they are looking to establish long term trade deals with non-noble merchants to improve their wealth and standing.
Driin: This is a relatively simple house with little to recommend it or make it exceptional. It has few troops, a decent slave force, and only 8 nobles besides the matron mother--2 male warriors, 2 female warriors, 3 priestesses, and 1 high priestess (note the lack of a Head House Wizard). The house dabbles a bit in everything to make money and is seen (by commoners) as easily manipulated by any ruling house in its bid for station.
Drii Upoth: This house is famed for leading some of the best hunts in the city. The house has a number of powerful nobles (though it only accepts three males at any time: the head house wizard, his head assistant, and the house patron) but relatively few troops. Instead the house insulates its power by using trustworthy, capable commoner hirelings. They lead only the most dangerous hunts, taking clients to a variety of the most dangerous locales in the dark dominion. It is said that participating in a Drii Upoth hunt is the best way survive a raid on the drider rift for those who aren't archmages. The mortality rate among the house's nobles is relatively high but those who survive gain power and experience quickly. The house adopts most of its nobles due to this turnover, including a female weaponmaster and priestesses.
E'eendar: This house is an offshoot of House Xorlarrin and still has many ties to that ruling house. They wear robes in the same fashion as the members of House Xorlarrin. The house was founded by a daughter of House Xorlarrin and two powerful mages and is known to maintain two Head House Wizards to this day.
Elistreev: This young house makes much of its money by selling its engineering and construction services. In addition to skilled slave workers the house has both drow and duergar engineers (who are either employees or members of the house--not slaves!).
Etser-ligoth: This house is known for training exceptional fighter/mages, which is does to support itself (it trains troops for merchant houses and clans and wealthy commoners and even, sometimes, for another house). They are well known for training in longsword and shortsword specialization. The house has many nobles, two of which are said to be female fighter/mages. The house has many debts, very low rank, and few soldiers and slaves. Their symbol is a three-taloned claw with a spider head on top. The house weaponsmaster is also the head house wizard. The house has a branch in Ched Nasad which is also of low rank.
Feyala Keem: This moderately old house has long made its money from renting secure storage areas of all types (for goods, animals, slaves, monsters, and magic) and has maintained a good magical standing, being especially known for duplicating spells after merely observing their effects (their release into general knowledge at Sorcere of the spider leap spell is believed to have been in repayment of a debt to House Baenre and prevented a small magical war at the academy). Recently the house's fortunes have improved with the construction of the newest and one of the best mills in Menzoberranzan's area. Like all water mills of the city, this one lies outside the city itself. The mill was constructed with drow magic and duergar engineering and is fortified and guarded by hobgoblin mercenaries and run by goblin slaves. The disappearance and assassination of several of the contractors on the project has caused most of duergar Clan Keel (a small duergar clan said to have left Gracklstugh after conflicts with more powerful clans) to relocate to the mill compound permanently. House Baenre controls most of the mills in and near Menzoberranzan directly or through proxy and is suspected of being behind the attacks. Not only is the mill very profitable (its efficiency and ability to handle very large quantities at once has allowed it to undercut the prices of all the other major mills in the area) but during the construction of the mill and its fortified compound a large vein of high quality clear crystals was discovered. Magic workers in the city have been buying up the crystals as components as fast as House Feyala Keem gets them to market.
Gonn'al: This house uses derro slave troops as well as goblins and has an elite unit of ogres led by an ogre-mage. Its drow troop force is weak, however, and is whispered to be of suspect loyalty. The house is poor with only least quality drow items and little magic. The house makes money leading hunts and bringing in exotic creatures. It is said that the matron mother is trying to gain too much power too fast and is spending the house's wealth faster than it can be replenished.
Inixor: This house is known for producing and selling many minor, useful spells. Because of this all the male nobles have training as wizards, even if they aren't particularly skilled at magic. The house must also possess some powerful magic, however, since they've successfully foiled attempted thefts by archmages in the past. The house will produce minor spells under contract for busy mages but if it does so it will not keep them secret (ie, they'll also sell them to other to any other that comes asking), though they wait at least a year to put the new spell on the market since the original contractor paid for all materials and time to research the spell in the first place.
Intringa: This house is best known for the blend of 'shrommberry wine that it produces. The house is also involved in brewing, fungus farming, and alchemical pursuits (developing new drugs, poisons, and potions).
Julimbror: This house has recently (in the last decade) begun dealing in flying creatures of all sorts (flying snakes, giant bats, etc.).
Lek'nartoth: This house deals in glassware, glass-blowing, and other glass work. They are known to be able to provide any number of specialties such as leaded glass, glassteel, and so on. They are famed for their "glass swords". The house has reportedly recently discovered a sand pit in the dark dominion that will provide them with exceptionally fine sand for their work.
Lucrath: This house invests in clothing and fashions as well as massage parlors. Employees at the latter wear the former to help set city-wide fashion trends (which helps the house sell more of its designs).
Millithor: The 25th house recently lost its Head House Wizard to a duel with the Head House Wizard of its long-time rival, House Nurbonnis.
Naibo-Chabor: This young house is stronger than its size suggests (and is ranked accordingly) because its drow troops are all lizard mounted. Not surprisingly, much of its wealth comes from lizard and rothe breeding.
Nehexthor: One of the most recently founded houses, the matron mother and her Head House Wizard have decided to train a number of slaves in the use of magic (magic-user magic, not as priests since that would be against Lloth's dictates) to increase their power. Some of these troops are being trained for or supplied to various mercenary companies, so the rumors say. The house is also known to have a number of simulacra of the Head House Wizard about in order to improve its might and training programs. The house is out of favor with the council for its attitudes toward lesser races but continues to enjoy Lloth's favor, for now.
Nonrothir: Matron Mother Xendala Nonrothir leads this unusual house but it is the house's eccentric weaponmaster, Vend Nonrothir, that is its best known member. The house is known for its use of a formal dueling code and, under its current weaponmaster, the adoption of the falchion sword and hook fauchard as its favored weapons.
Nurbonnis: The 21st house's Head House Wizard recently got himself killed in a duel that also claimed the life of House Millithor's Head House Wizard.
Pelum'Tith: This house is extremely poor and is trying to build its wealth by getting into the spell component supply business. In pursuit of this they've adopted three young male mages of low power (bringing the total number of lesser noble mages in the house to eight) to help run the business. The house has also started dealing in magical potions, primarily fire resistance and magic resistance though potions of the latter type sold to non-drow are said to be weaker than those sold to drow, regardless of station (the price remains the same, whatever the truth). The Head House Wizard is the highly respected archmage Quild Pelum'Tith, the matron mother's grand uncle. The current matron mother is rumored not to even be the most powerful of the house's priestesses of Lloth, instead that distinction seems to belong to her aunt.
Strale: This ancient house claims to be as old as House Baenre, and none have ever disputed it (it was apparently formed by a high priestess when the city was founded). The house makes money from taverns, games (especially gladiatorial events), and gambling.
Tiamyn: This house makes its money through mining but has an unusual side business: drow items. Since most drow items can only be sold to other noble houses and few houses are willing to sell items and the skilled craftsmen who can make such items are in short supply, the Tiamyn are a primary source of drow items for a number of other minor houses. Of course, there are always whispers that they also have deals with certain smugglers and black marketeers. House Tiamyn deals openly with any house without favoritism and as such is thought to either be free of influence by greater houses or is controlled by House Baenre who keeps them neutral and honest in order to avoid massive disruption among the city's houses.
Ti-kundtl: Known as the Old Spiders or the Crusty Spiders (even to their face, if one is of a sufficiently powerful house), this house is very old. They are known for constantly plotting dangerous gambles that never seem to get them much for long. They have a very fecund nobility (lots of children) and few but expertly trained troops. Every new matron of the house always takes the name Tikundtla or Tikundlin (no last name).
Tinpoa:This house makes money through ranching almost any animal it can (lizards, rothe, beetles, even cave pigs). To support this they also have a large slave force which they breed just like their other animals and then sell off the excess.
Triem'lokth: This house is well known for the quality of its unit of female priestesses and warrior priestesses of Lloth (estimated at about 40 troops).
Ulanthaloth: This house deals heavily in gems at all levels, mining, trading, and cutting. They are reputed to have several unique spells for enchanting gems as well.
Urenkon: This house provides financial backing and security for several minor magical item manufacturers in the city. They seem to have access to a great amount of minor magical items which they equip their troops with, presumably from these same businesses.
Use the following links to learn more about Menzoberranzan, the city: