Soivoda

Amaans – Crouched between the western and eastern  peaks of the Hungry Mountains, Amaans stretches from the tops of Ulcazar to the forested hills of Gorscha Passage. It is a land of dense mist, secluded vales, violent storms, and intense beauty.  The hearty residents coax the land for some sustainable food or resources from the cold mountain streams and steep shale or granite walls.  All the while grim spirits creep through the twilight of the old-growth and undead servants of the fallen lich find their way into this land, occasionally terrorizing the inhabitants. Consequently, Ammans nobility has taken it upon themselves to patrol the Virlych wastes, occasionally causing some friction with Lastwall patrols.  While they consider each other trespassers, this rarely results in violence, and more often in insults thrown across a hillsides. Residents identify, largely, in one of two groups: Kavapestans and vale folk. Kavapestans are a stern folk who mistrust worshipers of other faiths, artists, lighthearted visitors, and even vale folk, fearing moral pollutions and “the temptations of the quick.” Vale folk keep to themselves and try their best not to offend the innumerable spirits, fairies, hags, and dragons of their colorful folklore.  In such lands, it’s not uncommon travelers—especially non-humans—to be mistaken
for mischievous fey in disguise. To such ends, vale folk often carry neck pouches of iron dust, old horseshoes, or bent nails to cast at strangers to prove their nature, as local superstitions say that iron burns treacherous spirits and forces them back into their true shapes.

* artwork by Joakim Olofsson

Ardeal – Once the seat of nobility in Ustalev, but now the remaining families wrap themselves in tradition and formality to hide their bitter nostalgia.  The peasantry eek out an existence, half-starved on distance memories.  Abandoned serfs work subsistence farming, band together against banditry, or migrate to cities. In the larger communities, industries and shops decay, fairly regularly closing and leaving their families in poverty.  Even the nobility find themselves hawking precious heirlooms in an effort to retain the semblance of a royal lifestyle.  Nonetheless, some of Ardeal's former glory can still be seen if one squints and does not look to closely.  Some of Ustalav's most bountiful land lies in Ardeal.  The grasslands hold fields of wheat, flax, and beans, interrupted by colorful orchards of pear and plum, quince and berries.  Numerous ranches dot the landscape raising sheep, boar, goat, the region's distinctive shaggy cattle, amongst other things.  In recent years, the failing farms have attracted predators such as cougars and wolves.

* artwork by Scott Duquette

Barstoi – The land in Barstoi has never been forgiving, and mercy is even more rare since Count Aericnein Neska took control of the county  45 years ago.  The lands between Lake Prophyria and the orchards of Varno have always been dense and rocky – land to chip your shovel on.  Folk still see gremlins and haunted spirits in forgotten cairns, wind-blasted rocky heaths and caves as black as pits.  The callous knights enforce utter obedience by the points of their razored lances, forcing a heartless utopia from the people just as they have the land of Barstoi.  Their discipline has succeeded in creating an organized and productive county – with many roads, towns, salt mines.  Arcane magic is absolutely forbidden and Pharasma is worshipped county-wide.  Deviancy is punishable by death – and its diverse forms are hunted relentlessly by Pharasmin witch hunters.

* artwork by Joakim Olofsson

Caliphas – "Trust no friend in the fog of Caliphas." – a local proverb. Home to the current seat of power, Caliphas draws immigrating nobility and aspiring merchants, often seeking extreme decadence as well as influence.  Its rivalry with with the late capital, Ardis, continues to this day, exacerbated by the disputes between the Caliphvasos and newly crowned Ordranti lineages. Dramatic landscapes dominate the county: The Hungry Mountains rocky slopes, woodlands and fertile river country, and the rocky coast of Avalon Bay and Lake Encarthan.  The majority of the populace clings to coastline, leaving the dense forests largely untouched or dotted with superstitious hamlets.  Bats and ravens fly over the county in wide clouds.  In more populated areas, folk medicines and whispered tales of the supernatural transmute to racial prejudice and "traditions" as superstitions.

* artwork by Joakim Olofsson

Odranto – Since its inception, Ordranto has defended itself against invading barbarians, leaving abandoned castles, forts, crypts, and chapels scattered all over its county.  The true border of what was once Ustalav and Sarkoris has shifted dramatically over the ages, leaving remnants of it defenses behind. During the rule of the Whispering Tyrant, deathless nobility ruled from many of these ruins and fortified them in with their own necromantic devices, and so these defenses and traps remain for unwary explorers.  When the Worldwound opened in Sarkoris, countless Kellid refugees were massacred as they fled in an effort to protect Ustalav from demon-corruption, in what became known as the Demonskin War,  Somber residents warn invaders and evil spirits of their vigilance and erect gargoyles of stone, wood, clay, and ceramic; their leering expressions haunting every gable, lintel, post, and eave.  Odranto stonework and soldiering  are well-known through-out Lastwall, Ustalav, Sarkoris, and the River Kingdoms.  Odranto piping echoes among rocky cairns, and it is said that wraiths of long-forgotten heroes crawl from their graves on full moon nights just to hear the pipes once again.

* artwork by Merl1ncz

Sinaria – Sinaria has always been a land of song.  Its downtrodden peasants sing full and lively ballads to brighten their toil. The mysterious swamp folk sing lilting tunes and dissonant but enchanting chants, and Karcau's operas echo far beyond Ustalav's borders of a rich, bittersweet history.  On the shores of Lake Prophyria and Graidmere Swamp ancient Kellids (known locally as "leechfolk" or "swampers") perform their most holy rituals under the guidance of their witch-queens and seers.  Elsewhere, peasant farmers work plantations and flood plains perfect for mustard, rice, and olives. Sometimes Swamp pigs, sharp-eared vine cats, hosts of marsh snakes, giant bats, fungal crawlers, and gloomwings creep from the swamp to disturb the common folk. In the dry season, streams and swamp lakes shrink to smaller ponds, where fierce gar, crimson-flecked Prophryian eels, and poisonous river moccasins prey upon captive populations of catfish and stickleback, as well as the occasional unwary angler.  In settlements, large and small, witch wards hang off window frames and doorways throughout the county to guard the wary residents against the swampfolk hexes, as well as chicken feet with the toes pointed away, and mirrored wind chimes to weaken or deflect curses and vengeful swamp spirits.  Sinarians retain a healthy respect for their neighbors.

* artwork by Susan Zeder and Hat Co.

Ulcazar – Ulcazar was originally constructed as a prison for long-dead Nuilivisso Ulca, second-cousin and field commander to the first king, and infamous betrayer.  A county in name only, it lies in the highest reaches of the Hungry Mountains, isolated from Amaans by its natural fortress of peaks.  It contains little arable land and few resources worth exploiting.  It is said a great library, the Monastery of the Veils, lies  on the site of the abandoned estate, established by Pharasmin monastic scholars in service to the Lady of the Graves.  The few remaining settlements are terribly isolated, poverty-stricken, and secretive.  Residents warn of the "stone sick," where people become as rocks, silent, detached, and eventually cracking. Those brave enough to venture into the forgotten crevices of Ulcazar tell of runes and ancient mysteries left by its past masters, the Kellid.

* artwork by Joakim Olofsson

Varno – Centuries' old traditions, fear, and superstitions live between the chilling moon and perfumed orchards of Varno.  Peasants pass down furtive arts in cards, song, tea, and blood; framed by emerald orchards and golden fields which give way to the Forest of Veils, a dense snarl of old-growth cypress, laurel, and alder reaching for the skies.  Varisian influence is strongest in Varno, where the migratory people resettled after battling Kellids, and then again after the upheaval that resulted in Razmiran. Residents boast few nobles and often continue the migratory habits of their ancestors, and made modest livings on farms, orchards, and vineyards. Settled inhabitants frequently worship Pharasma on official ceremony, but often supplement with prayers to Desna for fortune, Gozreh for good weather for crops, and Shelyn for joy.  In characteristic Varisian resilience, their rhyming charms and songs hide stories which are less akin to fairytales and more like grim epics, rife with tragedy, warnings, and righteous suspicion. They regard all arcane magic with fear – even traditional practices of fortune-telling, medicine, and traditional dances possibly drawing the attention of evil spirits. 

* artwork by Jon Pintar

Versex – Many scholars and arcane practitioners take pilgrimages to this land in order to work with the occult forces. Some say that otherworldly creatures seek to pull back the fabric of Golarion and crawl into this world, wearing the border thin at Versex. Rocky slopes give way to faerie rings and rubers grow wild in the forest, but when rested from the ground reveal suggestive shapes. Wild animals and livestock are frequently afflicted by “phage,” a starving affliction distinguished by unnatural paleness, starved appearances, erratic violence, and horrifyingly deformed progeny.  The county breeds reserved, if civil, people. Work to elevate station is the concern of most of Versex’s citizens. Honest life in commerce, seamanship, and simple agrarian labor earn respect as opposed to “immoral” and “questionable” arts. Thus, when such “sensitives”— the regional catchall encompassing all artists, authors, magic-users, and lunatics—behave erratically, as proves somewhat common across the county, none are surprised.

* artwork by Christian Bravery

 

 

 

Soivoda

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