Ven Social Customs
From Houses of the Blooded Wiki
Host Customs - Poison
Only two things could reliably end the life of a ven - Swords and poison. Though only five poisons could bring swift death to a ven, they rarely failed. Given the anonymous nature of poison as well, it remained a favorite weapon throughout the height of ven culture.
In response to this ever-present threat of poison, many customs developed among the ven.
When a Blooded hosted a party, it was customary for all to be served out of the same bowl or off the same platter - what we might now refer to as 'buffet style' or 'family style'. Since everyone would be eating from the same communal source, targeting just one ven for poison became a much trickier proposition. A popular party food was something called the nishta, which was a long stalk, off which grew an abundance of succulent leaves. The stalk would be roasted until tender, and the ven would pull off the leaves one by one, sometimes dipping them in a savory sauce. A fondue-like dish was also very popular at times.
A half-full bottle of wine left unattended would be too easy to slip a little poison into. As a result, the custom evolved of pouring wine as soon as the bottle was opened. The host or hostess would order a servant to open a particular bottle or two. The veth would then go from guest to guest, unobtrusively informing them of his order and asking if they would also care for a fresh glass of wine. Once enough thirsty ven were assembled, the bottle would be opened and then immediately poured out, in full view of a large group of Blooded. It is assumed that wine bottles were larger than the 750 mL bottles we are used to - perhaps holding enough wine for as many as ten glasses.
Given the custom of sharing communal food, private dinners became a sign of deep trust between two ven. Accepting without question a plate of food served unseen and brought out by a servant indicated that the guest trusted his host with his very life - as, often, that was precisely the case. While the rules of hospitality were enough to prevent most ven from ever daring to poison a guest, the stories are full of nobles who were just unscrupulous enough to do it.
Ven considered the exchange of gifts to be a high art. Choosing precisely the correct gift for a host or a guest displayed insight, as well as a chance for a ven to show off their wealth and resources.
Paintings were popular choices - a ven would commission a portrait of the recipient. Not only would the recipient often be flattered, a gift allowed the giver to make certain subtle statements by including certain elements in the painting. One famous work, mentioned in A Game of Tears, featured a nude Lady Shara, a gift given her by Count Kether.