Domain of the Month
Third edition: RL3E / RLPH, Gaz 5, LotB
Novels: The Enemy Within, Tales of Ravenloft (The Weaver's Pride)
Created in 682
My players are going to start a cat-and-mouse game of trying to hunt down Malken soon, and I'm not entirely sure how to roleplay him. Malken is one of those darklords that I'd like to see some other GM roleplay creepily, but I'm not sure if I can roleplay him creepily myself (and it doesn't help that his whole sexual predator streak that could come across as completely laughable coming from me since I'm a girl). Does anyone have any tips of how to play him, both as a character and in how he would react to these sorts of cat-and-mouse games? (Incidentally, he really hates the party's gnomish rogue because she used to work for Hiregaard, so he's already initiated some cat-and-mouse games with her. And by "cat-and-mouse games," I of course mean horribly murdering her father. )
Wow, the previous discussion now really makes me want to do a campaign in Nova Vaasa.
On this note, I always pictured a little of 'The Butcher' from Gangs of New York in Malken. Especially when it comes to his relations with Othmar Bolshnik. Malken can over take Othmar any time he wants, but so far playing Othmar's little game is fun, and beneficial. The minute Othmar turns 'luke warm', he spits him out. Not that there is any need for more notes on how to play Malken, mind you.
In His Good Graces
Othmar Bolshnik has done some talking with the Law Giver clergy. Seeking to finance his kingdom further, while creating even closer ties with the Law Giver clergy, Othmar Bolshnik and the Law Giver pope have instituted an Indulgence system. The way this works, by paying a sum to the Law Giver church, you can be remitted of your sins, whatever they may be. Of course, Othmar made it very clear that he was to receive some of these profits.
Indulgences become a hit in Nova Vaasa, because this means that the rich can give into their desires without fear of falling out of the Law Giver's Favor. Reluctant to allow a good idea to become stagnant, the Law Giver Clergy begin to sell indulgences for sins that have not yet been committed, but the buyer plans to do.
Tristen knows deep down inside that this is horribly wrong, however he also does not question the words of the Law Giver. Malken finds this amusing, since it ultimately makes Nova Vaasa a much more interesting place. If it ever doesn't tickle his fancy, though, he'll just black mail Othmar into withdrawing them.
Here's the Twist. Indulgences aren't the idea of Othmar, nor the Law Giver Clergy, but of a strange Barovian business man who just a few months ago accepted the job of being treasurer for the Law Giver Church. He personally designed Indulgences so that everyone purchasing them would be required to put their signature in his book. As you can probably already tell, this business man is actually none other than Inajira (Gaz 1 appendix) collecting more tainted souls. He has already collected many of the Law Giver clerics, as well as dozens of members of the five royal families. The only thorn in his side is that that pesky hiregaard family is too resiliant to this boon.
A Stallion for Strahd
This adventure begins in Barovia. The young and foppish Boris Von Zarovich, little loved by his immediate family, has decided that his fortune lies with proving his worth directly to the great family patriarch and ruler of Barovia, Count Strahd von Zarovich XI. As there can be no question of going to Castle Ravenloft empty-handed, Boris has hit upon the perfect gift: the most fearsome blacks stallion on the plains of Nova Vassa. Boris confided his intentions to the Vistani in the hope that they could be hired to find and steal the creature. Although they declined politely the insultingly small sum of gold on offer, the rauni of the tribe was kind enough to consult, “for a minor service to be named later,” her tarot deck as to where and when the stallion might be found. With a somewhat cryptic answer in hand, Boris retired to reformulate his plans.
Being a wizard, and not an especially distinguished one at that, Boris had no appetite to see to the business himself. And the more he considered spending his gold on hired mercenaries the less he liked that alternative. Instead, as a von Zarovich lord should, he would delegate the deed to adventurers. And to insure that his commands were scrupulously heeded, he would appear before them in the guise of the lord of Barovia himself.
Thus the adventurers while in Barovia suddenly find their sleep disturbed by the somewhat melodramatic entrance and presence of his exalted lordship, Count Strahd von Zarovich XI, who charges them with the recovery of the fiercest black stallion on the plains of Nova Vassa and gives them the Vistani directions as to place and time. Asked about a reward, Boris attempts his best malevolent smile and replies: “The goodwill of the Lord of the land.”
The party should have some chance of unmasking the ruse without further ado. Should they do so and visit some fitting punishment upon Boris, they will have thereby come into the good graces of the real lord of Barovia who will recompense them for their intelligence and effort. At the extreme this could be in the form of an invitation to Castle Ravenloft. Equally, they will have nothing to fear from Boris (whether they left him dead or alive) for Strahd and/or the Vistani will see to him once and for all.
Should the ruse not be uncovered immediately, the party is off to Nova Vassa. A hint that all is not well is the constant harassment of wolves so long as the party is in Barovia. In Nova Vassa the harassment is by plains cats. The adventurers will be challenged by the frontier guard and will be attacked should they be suspected of being horse thieves.
The real challenge begins when the party arrives to claim the stallion for it is a hell-blooded Nightmare. And it leads a half-dozen like-minded horses. All are likely to fight to the death and none will be taken alive save by extraordinary means.
Should the adventurers have failed in their mission, they may be loathed to return to Barovia. In any case Nova Vassa is by no means safe for they will soon be pursued for the capital crime of horse murder.
Should the adventurers put their hands on some credible alternative (or recall that nothing was said about the stallion being alive) and escape Nova Vassa with it, awaiting them patiently at the site where they were charged with returning to is Boris von Zarovich. Only he is nailed to a tree and quite dead. (There isn’t much blood on or about the tree or left in the corpse should they care to notice.) Affixed to him is a sign that reads: “Here hangs a man guilty of the high crime of impersonating his exalted lordship of Barovia, Count Strahd von Zarovich XI.”
Ideally, the players come upon the corpse by night. It is certainly dead but still slightly warm. In this case taking it down and burying it would be a dreadful mistake. First, Strahd would be displeased and second Boris would rise as a vampire under Strahd’s control, pretty much assuring a third meeting with the upstart.
Alternatively, he may rise as some other type of undead, for he still owes the Vistani a service . . . .
Horse seller's slang in Nova Vaasa:
Inspired from book "King Stahh's Battue", a brief summary.
PCs are travelling across the plains (or swamp) of Nova Vaasa. Night comes incredibly stormy and rainy. Rain soaks the land and ground becomes muddy and soft. Far away there seems to be light, on closer look it's a small manor.
If the PCs look for shelter, there is only old housekeeper and very old servant. They give dry clothes to PCs and send to meet the owner, who is 17 years old girl, Ethel Janovskaja. They live in this big house with procurator Berman.
It's a degenerated manor, everything is out of fashion and falling apart, including people. But the manor is full of past glory. Girl has some unnamed fear in her eyes, she's a wreck. Also she seems to be a bit aloof.
The problem is: they have a family curse because their ancestor betrayed and killed king Stahh during battue, who cursed the family for 12 generations. She's the last. None of her ancestors have died in natural causes, there is always either violence or mystery around their deaths. And the curse is called King Stahh's Battue: sometimes ghostly battue appears on the plains, generally in autumn. Stahh and 12 his companions ride in deadly silence, across the pains, no bridoon clangs, cheetahs/dogs don't bark. Sometimes only awful, ghostly hunt cry is heard, that freezes everybody's blood.
Now it has appeared again, several peasants have died, the cry have been heard and few weeks ago Ethel's father was found dead, trampled by horses.
However, that curse is not enough. One of her ancestors is haunting the place (the Blue Lady), also creature called the Dwarf of Janovski. The Blue Lady was sentenced to death for murdering her husband and step-son. For two hundred years she's been haunting the place. The Dwarf is also family curse: when he appears, member of Janovski family will die. Ethel's father saw him and also Ethel herself: he was looking through her window, standing outside where no mortal man can stand.
Background: King Stahh's Battue can be either true with ghostly horses etc. or neighbouring small noble Dubatovk is plotting. He is very far relative of Ethel and will inherit the manor if latter dies. He and his men have some horses ironbound with old horseshoes that are in a shape of crow claw (used during Stahh times), sometimes he wraps clothes around horses legs to make them silent, they use old fashioned cloaks to seem like Stahh and his company. They have been practicing specific hunt cry and always cover their tracks carefully. Dubatovk has two uses for the battue: kill old Janovski, Ethel's father, kill Ethel or drive her mad with fear, keep the discontent peasants humble. Recently some of them have upraised against nobles, but "battue" killed them, so there is no more upraise. Dubatovk is a good "friend" and godfather of Ethel, who suspects nothing.
Blue Lady is truly ghost, or Ethel sleepwalking (Berman and housekeepers have seen the "ghost" and are truly scared).
The Dwarf of Janovski is Berman's half-witted brother. Berman is also far relative of Janovksy's and hopes the same that Dubatovk. That is the reason why he came back from Bergovitsa to this lone place. He has studied family's history, found some secret passages in the manor. He dresses his brother into old fashioned clothes and lets him wonder around the castle sometimes: in secret passages he makes strange ghostly sounds that can be heard in the whole manor by some strange acoustic phenomena. Also he sometimes climbs with astonishing skill on manor's cornice and peeps into the rooms: that's how Ethel has seen him. Also, housekeeper has seen him in the manor, but when she followed, the dwarf was gone (actually slipped into secret passage). The dwarf looks hideous. Berman and Dubatovk have no idea about each other. Yet.
PCs are asked to stay in the house - at least as long as weather goes better. And as they talk with Ethel and bring news from outside (Ethel has ever been away from her small lands), they make Ethel more happy and sometimes she forgets her fear - something not good for Dubatovk nor Berman, who take their steps...
Shortly after her madness was exposed by the PC's (LotB p. 46), Illyana Hiregaard died, apparently of suicide. In the wake of her death, a flurry of underworld activity brings new threats and hints to the PC's on the hunt for Malken. It appears the crime lord has returned to his old roots as a serial killer, leaving a string of bloody deaths across the country in a veritable frenzy.
As the PC's pursue the mysterious killer, they slowly unravel the clues, usually just after Malken himself catches on. Illyana's degeneracy into evil created a psychic link with Malken, and upon her death her psychic power was added to those of the infamous killer. Fragmentary memories returned to him, but they were not Illyana's; they belonged to someone from before he became a DL. Malken now recalls that he existed before Tristen, in some form, and that his psychic energy has been spread out somehow, shared among all with Hiregaard blood. Somehow, Malken is the madness that afflicts their bloodline, and whenever a Hiregaard dies, the DL grows stronger. The effect wasn't noticeable from those who hadn't failed several powers checks themselves, but now that he knows of his connection with the Hiregaards, Malken has begun a systematic effort to corrupt individual Hiregaards as far as possible before killing them to reclaim his lost essence.
The awful truth is that "Malken" is actually Romir Hiregaard, Tristen's father, now an unusual form of reincarnated ghost. As Romir slays his own descendants, he gains such powers as closing borders, jumping from body to body, and so forth, but he also approaches his own destruction. He won't be satisfied with anything less than a single, complete body, but that would also exterminate his line and--as the body wore out--himself.
PC's fighting this war with Malken could include Hiregaards who are trying to expunge this stain from their line. By tapping into their psychic connection with the DL they might gain clues as to his nature and motives. The risks are certainly high, but this is Malken we're talking about; he plays for keeps, and the stakes can't get any higher!
I started on this over a year ago, as I wasn't to thrilled with cannon Nova Vaasa. Or its darklord. So, since I like the idea of the mid to late 19th century, I decided to change it a bit, modifying it to a combination of the wild west America, some steampunk combined with gothic horror. While this isn't anywhere near finished, I decided to finally post the unfinished piece, since I have no idea when I would ever get it completed. So, without further typing, here I introduce the new Nova Vaasa (be warned, this is rather long for an unfinished work).
Nova Vaasa at a Glance
Cultural Level: Renaissance (9)
Nova Vaasa's terrain is largely dominated by a lack of features. Save for the western most regions, Nova Vaasa is a large, semiarid to arid grassland, the monotony of which is broken up only by a monotony of a different sort - sparse forests or dull bluffs and mesas. This dry, flat plain has a fittingly arid name: it is known simply as the Vaasi Plateau. The Vaasi Plateau defines and limits both life and culture in Nova Vaasa. Since most storms break on the Balinoks or Mountains of Misery, the resulting arid climate tends to keep the grasses short and dry. Continuous grazing by the roaming Vaasi horses also contributes to this effect on the Vaasi grasses. Exceptions do exist, however, as strains of Vaasi grass have different characteristics, and one strain or another often dominates large swaths of the Plateau. The Plateau can be roughly divided into three smaller plains, each with its own name and its own cosmetic individuality.
The northern plains, north of the Borchava River, are known as the Plains of Misery, due to their proximity to the Mountains of Misery. The fertility of the region belies that name. The disappearance of the Markovian Balinoks and the coming of the Shadow Rift has allowed for a greater degree of rainfall here, and the numerous rivers in the relatively small region do much to keep the plain well irrigated. As a result, most of the grasses in the Plains of Misery are long and lush, often growing waist-high if left alone. However, the northeastern-most region, north of the South Dnar and east of the Dnar, is known as the Badlands. This is the hottest and least forgiving part of the plateau. Here almost no water can be found, and the grasses are short, dry and brown. And here there is very little grass, if any at all. In large patches the grass gives way entirely to dirt and stone.
South of the Borchava River and north of the Bloodmark Woods, is the Plains of Lost Innocence. This name was the native Al’fae name for these plains. While the plain certainly has a tragic air about it, none of the settlers learned why the Tribes called it that before the native persecution began. The grasses here are tall and thin, tending to be a natural yellow-green in color. However a peculiar fungus often afflicts patches of the grasslands here and turns them a sickly white. Folktales hold that this Dead Man’s Grass only grows over unmarked graves. It was upon this plain that the fateful peace talks between the Al’fae natives, the settler’s envoys and the army generals of the invading settlers took place.
Between the Bloodmark Woods and the Borderland Forest, the Vaasi Plateau is known as the Thundering Plains. This plain is dominated by the longest strain of grass. This grass grows as high as a man’s chest, and the galloping horse herds trample the sun-yellowed stalks into long, broken trails. Walking through the tall grass is a risky proposition; one is unlikely to spot a venomous snake or crouching plains cat until it is too late.
The Vaasi Plateau, while the most prominent element of the landscape, is challenged in importance by the rivers, the source of life and center of civilization in Nova Vaasa. Farmlands stretch for miles on either side of each of the Vaasi rivers. The grasses beside the rivers have been plowed or burned away and short stone walls erected to separate fields and make a brave show of defense to the more brazen natives. The settlers who work these farms live in square hovels of stone, with thatch roofs made from the longer plains grasses. They’re a grim, stone-faced lot, yielding rich harvests from the soil only to see most of it taken as taxes by the nearest aristocrat.
Away from the suffocating cities or life-giving rivers, relatively few prospectors live on the Vaasi Plateau. Attempts have been made in the past to settle the more remote regions of the plains, as desperate citizens driven by the strict laws and harsh taxes of the government, past and present. Crumbling stone forts and ruins are all that remain to mark most of these efforts. Few today try to eke out a life away from the rivers, even with the ever increasing burden of taxation. While there are some small communities that do manage to persist, they are very few and far between. Those that do thrive are usually centered on a freshwater spring, which can be found emerging from caves here and there along the Plateau. Most of these springs, however are occupied by the native tribes or by the plains cats. Plains settlements are by necessity as heavily fortified as they can be, for they are favored targets of the natives. Ironically, the more successful plains communities must eventually call on the Governor and his generals for protection, as the native attacks increase in size and frequency.
The aforementioned rivers flow into Nova Vaasa from nine major sources. The Vaughn Dnar flows from Lake Kronov in Tepest into Nova Vaasa, after which the Trished River joins it from the Mountains of Misery in Darkon. The enlarged Vaughn Dnar then wends its way southeast. From the Vaesen Foothills, the rugged, wooded hills bordering the Shadow Rift, come the Borchava and Little Borchava rivers, which flow briskly and somewhat eerily, oblivious to the fact that their headwaters vanished along with the Markovian Balinoks almost twenty years ago. The Little Borchava eventually flows into its larger sibling, which turns northeast to join the Vaughn Dnar. The Vaughn Dnar then continues east until it passes north of Sterling Station. At that point, the Dnar River, flowing south from Darkon, joins with it, and the combined river is thereafter known as the South Dnar. The South Dnar flows east and empties into the Nocturnal Sea, creating a deepening gorge known as the Bloody Canyon as it goes. The South Dnar is the deepest and broadest of the Vaasi rivers, wide enough to accommodate small ships, though the swiftness of its flow can make for difficult navigating. Despite the risks, vessels row up and down the South Dnar regularly, trading goods between Sterling Station and Serenity Gulf, and even small sailing ships from the Nocturnal Sea can sometimes be found far upriver.
The Volgis River also has its phantom source in the Shadow Rift, flowing through the Vaesen Foothills and dividing the Forest of Shadows in twain. It flows southeast, coming very close to the border of Barovia, where it is subsumed by the Ivlis flowing down from the Balinoks. The Ivlis flows past Cascade Falls, assimilating the flow of the Ulvand, which runs northeast through the Borderland Woods from further south in the Balinoks. The gorge created by the Ivlis as it drifts into the Nocturnal Sea is called the Boneyard Canyon. Large, jagged spears of rock block the mouth of the Boneyard Canyon, preventing any entrance from the sea, but the Ivlis is too narrow and twisting to make sailing feasible regardless. In Nova Vaasa’s far south, the Saniset emerges from Hazlan, just north of the forest the Nova Vaasans call the Borderland Woods, gently making its way into the sea. Further south, a river known as the East Musarde emerges from the Mists and cuts across the very southern tip of the Thundering Plains. As its name suggests, locals believe this to be a continuation of the Musarde, which disappears into the Mists south of Hazlan.
Nova Vaasa’s three major forests are the Beastwood, the Borderland Woods, and the Forest of Shadows. Each of the forests could only be considered “major” by Nova Vaasan standards, of course; none is particularly large. These forests all lie in western Nova Vaasa, on the border with other lands. The Beastwood, in central southwestern Nova Vaasa, spills over the border of Barovia; the Borderland Woods, in south-southwestern Nova Vaasa, straddles the border with Hazlan and recedes into the Mists; and the Forest of Shadows, in northwestern Nova Vaasa, grows on the edge of the Shadow Rift.
The Beastwood sits in the shadow of the Hills of Bleak Vistas in Barovia, called the Howling Hills by Nova Vaasans. The name is apt, as the Beastwood is the most wolf-infested of Nova Vaasa’s forests, and the wolves here are larger and more aggressive than elsewhere, perhaps the result of interbreeding with Barovian wolves. The Nova Vaasans have as little to do with these woods as possible; the vampires and werewolves reputed to roam Barovia at night are said to dwell in the Beastwood as well. Since timber cut from the Beastwood's trees rots quickly, few reasons exist for the Vaasi to brave its rumored dangers.
The Borderland Woods spills out from the mountains dividing the Nova Vaasa from Hazlan. Because of its closeness to both the Saniset and the trade route into Hazlan, Nova Vaasans have a better familiarity with it and its contents than they do the other forests. The Borderland Woods are home to wolves, but they are more typical of Vaasi wolves, preferring to avoid humans rather than attack them. The native Al'fae and the plains cats are known to wander into the Borderland Woods, though, so it would be ill advised to let one’s guard down even here.
The Forest of Shadows covers most of the northern Vaesen Foothills and has long had an evil reputation. Before the Grand Conjunction, the Forest of Shadows spilled out of the untamed wilderness of Markovia and into Nova Vaasa like an unchecked infection. Slavering, unnatural beasts whispered to be much worse than any plains cat roamed beneath its dark, thick canopy, and those who wandered too close were not likely to have a chance to retreat. With Markovia gone, these foul beasts have been replaced with ominously silent shadow creatures. Since these shadow monsters seem to only be active at night, the Nova Vaasans are daring to harvest timber daily from the Forest of Shadows, which provides the only trees in Nova Vaasa with wood suitable for lumber.
A few smaller forests are scattered on the Vaasi Plateau, each usually less than a few square miles. Such forests include the Misbande Forest, in the eastern shadow of the Rattlesnake Bluffs; the Briarweed Forest, roughly halfway between Sterling Station and Serentiy Gulf, south of the East Timori Road; and the Bloodmark Forest, a few miles north of Deadwood. Small forests such as these serve as havens for wolves and for tribes of the native Al'fae, who camp in these areas, coming forth at night to raid poorly defended farmlands and homesteads.
Just as the forests of Nova Vaasa are concentrated in the west, so are the hills and mesas. The Balinoks and Mountains of Misery make swift, sloping descents as they give way to the Vaasi Plateau, and the resulting foothills are steep and rugged. The foothills of the former Markovian Balinoks are known, as mentioned above, as the Vaesen Foothills, while the foothills of the Barovian Balinoks are named the Howling Hills. The foothills of the Mountains of Misery are identified as the Forgotten Hills. The origin of the name is lost, making it ironically appropriate.
Not far from the foothills are the Stony Bluffs, three large granite mesas that provide most of Nova Vaasa’s building materials. The Rattlesnake Bluffs are a pair of smooth stone hills south of Black Rock, each one 1,000 feet tall at its summit, standing side by side with a canyon between them. Quarrying of Rattlesnake Bluff has revealed numerous rooms and passages within, and many curiosities and antiquities have been found buried inside. Some suggest that the Rattlesnake Buffs were in fact once giant monuments or tombs built by some ancient civilization. Nova Vassan scholars argue over the specifics of this mysterious civilization - some belive that the Al'fae use to be one nation, who built this before some kind of civil war that caused them to split into the twelve different tribes; others believe that the Al'fae have never possessed the technology to create such remarkable monuments. Research is still being conducted over the recent discoveries.
The Coyote Mountain bluffs stand imposingly between the Beastwood and the Bloodmark Forest. Standing 2,000 feet tall, they offer an imposing view to any with the skill and determination to scale them; there are stairways carved into the granite walls, but the mesa is home to a native Al'fae tribe.
The Tumbleweed Bluffs lie just south of where the Ulvand flows into the Ivlis, northeast of the Borderland Woods. The barons quarry the Tumbleweeds, carving out stone for the walls of their farmlands and for Serenity Gulf to the northwest. The plains around the Tumbleweed Bluffs were the site of some of the fiercest, bloodiest fighting of the Wendigo Trail battles. Perhaps the Tumbleweed Bluff has come to mean a different sort of repose. Superstitious Nova Vaasans claim that the spirits of the dead still linger here, fighting and dying at the blades of imagined foes.
Four major roads cross the Vaasi Plateau, each a busy trade route. The Old Svalich Road, which connects Nova Vaasa to Barovia and the lands beyond, terminates just south of Serenity Gulf. Nova Vaasan merchants traveling the Old Svalich Road always go heavily armed, perhaps more so than the danger of the crossing actually warrants. Serenity Gulf is one terminus of two other major roads, the Silver City Road stretching north to Sterling Station and the Stagecoach Road connecting to Deadwood. Each of these roads crosses miles of lonely plain, and native Al'fae attacks are common on each.
The East Timori Road, which connects Serenity Gulf, Sterling Station and Black Rock before continuing northwest into Tepest, was once of much greater importance to the Nova Vaasans than it is today, providing quick access to the west for merchants in northern Nova Vaasa. The Shadow Rift has put a stop to that. The East Timori remains important for trade within Nova Vaasa, but for now it is a shadow of what it was. Nova Vaasa’s last major trading route is its newest: the Nocturnal Sea itself. The Plateau drops off suddenly as it approaches the sea, and the sheer cliffs look from a distance like impregnable stone walls. Rocky beaches can be found here and there up the coast, but sailing to them can be dangerous, as spears of rock lurk treacherously beneath the waters. The most popular beaches are Saltflats Beach, near the mouth of the South Dnar River, and Skeletal Coast, a few miles north of Deadwood.
The dominant plant species in Nova Vaasa are the aforementioned grasses, which cover the plateau from north to south. Besides the grasses, the Vaasi Plateau is home to numerous varieties of wildflower, including aster, spurge, bellflowers, dandelions, sunflowers, morning glories and so on in a seemingly endless parade. These flowers fare poorly during Nova Vaasa’s brief but harsh freezing winters, but they always return in the mild spring to sprinkle color on the plateau once more. A variety of shrubs and bushes cover the landscape as well, and in the drier regions cacti thrive. The Vaasi catspaw is a particularly dangerous cactus, as it secretes paralytic venom from its spines. This venom is not fatal by itself, but plains cats are thought to frequent patches of catspaw in hopes of catching a helpless meal. The cats themselves are immune to the ill effects of this poison, more evidence of nature’s base cruelty.
Nova Vaasa has its own strains of oak, fir and pine trees, all of which have the unfortunate habit of rotting quickly once cut down. Thus, only native trees are seldom sought for their lumber, with most of those being found in the Forest of Shadows.
Any discussion of Vaasi fauna must begin with the horse - the quality, quantity and diversity of the horses in Nova Vaasa are astounding. Nova Vaasans have a saying: "Gestalt meant for Nova Vaasans to ride, and he provided a horse for each of us." Though most Nova Vaasans are not wealthy enough to actually own a horse. The average Vaasi horse is a deep black in coat and tall at the shoulder, usualy 16 to 18 hands, but distinct breeds amoung the horses vary from this description. Vaasi horses can be divided into five major bloodlines - A'haith (heavy horse), A'lxayx (light horse), Zranii (heaavy war horse), Mistatim (light war horse), and the Dagaii (riding horse).
A'haith (heavy horse) mainly range in the Brambled Plains and are the largest of the Vaasi horse breeds. Considered the strongest horses in the Core, they also tend to be relatively docile and thus are suited mainly as draft horses and pack animals. A'haith are taller and broader that other Vaasi horses, usually standing between 17 and 21 hands and weighing 2,000 pounds or more. They have thick feathering on their fetlocks, which match their manes and tails in coloring, being some shade of blonde.
Zraii (heavy war horse) are most often found in the Plains of Misery. Strong, intelligent, spirited and radiateing a noble beauty, they make superior warhorses and calvary mounts. Many who speak of Vaasi horses are thinking of the Zraii. The Zraii do not get their name from their fiery spirits alone; they haave distinctive reddish manes, tails and fetlocks. Zraii with unusually brighter manes command higher prices at market. Zraii usualy stand between 16 to 19 hands.
Dagaii (riding horses) run across the Plains of Lost Innocence and are famous for their speed. They are the most popular horsses for racing and are favored mounts for the wealthy nobles despite their notorious ill temper. Dagaii often have white manes, fetlocks and tails A few are closer to blue than black. They are average in size for a Vaasi horse.
Mistatim (lite war horse) arer the smallest breed, but also the surest of foot, and some swear they are the smartest and the most loyal of the Vaasi horses. Though not as swift as Dagaii, many riders insist Mistatims make better mounts. They are found in the rocky western parts of the Plains of Lost Innocence. The Vistani in Nova Vaasa prefer the Mistatim for their own mounts and pack animals. Mistatim stand from 13 to 15 hands and have gray or silver manes and tails.
A'lxayx (lite horses) range across the Plains of Misery and into the Badlands. A rough, rugged breed, they have proven unpopular in the Core since they lack the beauty of the other Vaasi horses, but they are nearly tireless, can go long distances without food or water, and are little bothered by extreme temperatures. Merchants from G'Henna or the Amber Wastes who manage to find their way through the Mistways have paid handsome sums for A'lxayx horses. A'lxayx are colored in a unique revers bay pattern, with a black body and brown sock, mane and tail.
While the horse is the cornerstone of Vaasi pride, the plains cat crouches at the center of Vaasi fears. Plains cats are large midnight black felines, superficially similar to panthers in appearance, yet larger and far thicker in muscalature, with bobbed tails. Only as a cat ages will its pelt start to change color, fading through silvery gray to an eventual white. Plains cats rarely reach such an advanced age, and those that do are highly valued by trappers for their rare coloration. Very rarely, a plains cat with dark red fur will be born in a litter. These "blood cats" are rumored to be larger and stronger than their kin, and some say they can hypnotize prey with their golden eyes, fade into invisibility, or even imitate human speech.
Snakes are the other signficant thret to a traveler in the Vaasi wilderness. In fact, snakes are probably a greater danger overall than the cats, as ther are so many more of them. Most are harmless or nerly so, but it is a narrow majority. The most common serpent is the Vaasi garter snake, more frequently known as the Underboot, a name that should give a sense of how widespread they are. About 18 inches long when fully grown, the Underboot is nonvenomous and dangerous only to insects and very small odents. Other harmless snakes include the kingsnake, which is immune to the venom of other snakes and hunts them voraciously; the Bluffsnake, so called because of its ability to imitate the distinctive rattle of more dangerous snakes; and the Whipsnake, which is as long and thin as its name implies.
More dangerous snakes abound. Nova Vaasa is home to many diamondbacks and sidewinders, both of which use rattles to warn off attackers. Unique to Nova Vaasa, the ironwhip, which appears at a glance to be a harmless whipsnake, is in fact quite venomous; a single bite is severly debilitating and multiple bites can be fatal and several bites can kill a horse in minutes.
After the above, animal life in Nova Vaasa becomes more mundane. Small, timid wolves roam wooded areas, while jackrabbits, groundhogs, coyotes and numerous lizards live on the grassy plains. Avian life is typical of the climate.
When the lands that would be named Nova Vaasa were first discovered, they were called an endless paradise by the first explorer - Ripley Puckett. Puckett was an adventurer, sent out by the Crown of Vaasa, his home nation. The Vaasan nation had advanced far enough, both culturally and scientifically, to wisk away the old myths about the sea - both its extent and creatures. So, when Puckett proposed an ocean expedition to determine how large the sea was, the Crown quickly agreed. The Royal government funded Puckett's project and outfitted him with six top of the line galleons, complete with crews and supplies. After a long, harrowing sea journey, a new land was discovered.
Puckett and his crew had arrived at majestic sea side cliffs. As they sailed north, along with these cliffs, the intrepid adventurers discovered a large bay. Landing to explore these new lands, Puckett and his crew discovered beautiful plains stretching out in all directions from the bay. One of the first things that they noticed, besides the swaying grasses, were the exceptional horses that roamed freely across the great plains of this new land. The second thing they discovered was the plentiful silver. It was so plentiful, that small nuggets were just laying along the river banks and in the creek beds, just waiting to be found.
Two ships were restocked and sent back across the ocean with news for the Crown of Vaasa. The rest remained behind and began construction of their base camp for exploration operations. The ships arrived back at Vaasa to deliver Puckett's message to the Crown. With his message, Puckett had sent two chests full of the rough silver ore - proof of his claims. Once the Royalty witnessed the riches that this new land possessed, they decided that it had to be theirs. In an attempt to get their peasants interested in this plan, the crown offered free land, tax free for the first ten years, to all that wished to cross the turbulent sea and help build the settlements. This propaganda campaign, heralding the new lands, or Nova Vaasa as they were soon named, spread across Vaasa and brought legions of the destute to sign up for the return voyage.
Back at the newly named Nova Vaasa, the original crew discovered that there were other beings that called these plains home - strange creatures that resembled the elves of lore from their homelands. These savages had reddish tan skin, with straight black hair and dressed in simple garments. The pioneers soon discovered that these elvish creatures called themselves the Twelve Tribes of the Al'fae. Many of these native elves took great offense at the foreigners invading their lands, while some approached the settlers baring gifts and messages of welcome. The other problem that the settlers discovered was that all of the timber surrounding the bay was worthless for construction. To compensate, they dismantled the galleons to use the wood for construction.
After the first settlement began to grow, a principality government was established by the Vaasan Crown. The king's own son, Prince Tristen, was sent to rule over the established settlements. Calling himself Prince Governor, Tristen installed an imposing government that dealt with any problem with the small, but strong military under his command. His rule was anything but benificent. The military treated all other, except the aristocracy, as mere peasants, lording over them any chance they got. Prince Governor Tristen ruled with an iron fist, secretly using and abusing the populance as he so desired. But this would eventually be the country’s downfall, as Tristen developed a secret identity to allow him to publically indulge in his vices - Malken.
During this time, a ingenious craftsman arrived from Vaasa - a Krayle Strauss. He immediately meet with the Prince Governor to demonstrate his new invention - the steam powered mining cart. Strauss told the governor that with his new invention, the silver mines could double their production. While the governor was skeptical, Strauss managed to get him to attend a demonstration of this new invention. After a brief display, the governor commissioned Strauss to install these miracles of technomancy in the mine shafts at Sterling Station.
Coal was needed to power the steam machinery for the mines. Since there wasn't much in the area of Sterling Station, Tristen was debating if it would be worth the trouble trying to locate the necessary minerals. The inventor assured him that he knew of a location prime for the needed minerals, the area that came to be known as Black Rock. This renewed the tensions between the military and the native tribes. With the government pushing further into Al'fae territory, it was the military's job to try and secure the areas. The steam powered mining cart was modified into an early type of locomotive, to help transport the coal and anthrocite from the mining town of Black Rock to Sterling Station. Not long after that, another track was laid to transport the silver ingots from Sterling Station to the port city of Serenity Gulf.
During the annual masquerade ball, held by Prince Governor Tristen, the host was murdered at the stroke of midnight. In the wee hours of the morning, the Prince's murder was discovered. With no suspects, an emergency meeting of the aristocrats was called. With the Prince Governor dead, what was the principality to do? The technomancer, Krayle Strauss, suggested that first they needed to send an envoy back to the Royal Crown telling them about Tristen's murder and the ensuing investigation. But instead of waiting for a replacement to arrive, Strauss stated that they would need a functional governing body during the interim. So, why not form their own parliament? This newly formed parliament would be composed of high ranking military officers, wealthy merchants and other selected aristocrats. This group of aristocrats could then draw up a legal charter of the land and elect a new governor from within their parliament. Then the governor could appoint three judges to rule over important cases. The other aristocrats readily agreed, but a fellow aristocrat, Victor Summers, interjected a suggestion - elected terms. He suggested that the governor have an elected term of five years. At the end of the five years, they would elect a new governor. The others at the meeting seemed very happy about this idea. So it was that the new government of Nova Vasa was born.
The stage was set - mammoth tension between the settlement colonies and the native Al'fae tribes had finally reached a boiling point. Government envoys had been sent to all the different tribes in order for the Vaasan government and the tribal councils to reach some kind of understanding. After a long period of debate, an agreed upon date was set, in a neutral area, for peace talks between the two parties. As the various leaders gathered under a flag of truce, and drew near the designated meeting area, a tremendous explosion rocked the vicinity. With the tremendous plume of smoke and debris, went the hopes of ending the strain between the different peoples.
With the dawning of a new year, 739, an unexpect thing occurred. A strangely cloak figure glided into the Governor's office and proclaimed herself the voice of the one true god, the Voice of Gestalt. A new section of track was built - it ran into the forest that would soon be known as the Beastwoods.
It was during that winter meeting, the final term of Governor Roger Channard, that the skies over Nova Vaasa reportedly darkened, the earth shook, and a terrifying thunder echoed through the air. In what the Voice of Gestalt dubbed the Second Judgment, Nova Vaasans claim their homeland was wrenched from its proper world and cast into hell, with “howling fear to the west, stone death to the north, shapeless nightmares to the east, and nothing but ominous swirling to the south,” as Governor Channard recorded in his famous journals a year after the Second Judgment. The Church of Gestalt claims the Second Judgment was the work of the clockwork god, done as punishment for the pride and materialism of the people of Nova Vaasa. This unexpected, unplanned event was what caused this new religion to spread like wildfire all across the country.
Given that Nova Vaasa has remained a land of aristocrats and traders, it would appear that the lesson has not taken. In fact, while the first decades in the Core were one of fear and uncertainty, as the Nova Vaasans found themselves with inhospitable neighbors such as Bluetspur and the Nightmare Lands, they quickly adapted and even began to thrive once more.
Nova Vaasans are strictly divided along economic lines. The wealthy aristocracy holds all the power, while the impoverished settlers provide the labor. One might look to the Church of Gestalt as the third pillar of Nova Vaasan society, but the clergy are all aristocrats and the actions and teaching of the Church serve primarily to support the interests of the wealthy. Instead of forming a third piillar, the Church serves as the foundation of the first.
Given the vast seperation between the wealthy and the poor, most aspects of their culture and lifestyle must be twice examined, as what holds true for one side may have no reflection on the other.
Nova Vaasans are a varied populace, that seem to have adapted well to the Plains. The slightly bow-legged swagger of the Nova Vaasans is a frequent target for mockery. Nova Vaasans are little concerned by these insults, as comparisons to horses bother them not at all, and they take no shame in the gait that marks them as experienced riders.
Nova Vaasan skin is as varied as the people that make up the population. While the original Vaasan settlers were tall and slender, with fair hair and blue or green eyes, this is no longer true of the people. The old Vaasan's blood lines have mixed with emigrants from just about all other Core domains. However, most Nova Vaasans are often tanned from long hours working the fields or riding the plains. Their eyes can be of any color, as can their hair. Women grow their hair exceptionally long, often past the waist, and young girls work these tresses into two long braids. Men generally prefer to keep their hair cut to just below the shoulder, although some noblemen grow their hair much longer and tie it back into a tail.
Nova Vaasan clothing, predictably, varies greatly between the social classes. Most settlers’ clothing is drab, practical and of poor quality. The clothing of the poor is hardly ever dyed, and is usually dirty white or light brown. Brown is preferred, as it helps to hide the stains of the dirt fields or the smears of urban squalor. Men wear long, homespun shirts, with the sleeves rolled up, and sometimes add thin leather vests as a second layer. Trousers are of heavy cotton, tied off with a belt of rope or cheap leather. Most also wear inexpensive straw woven hats.Women wear cotton blouses and culottes, and plain, unadorned kerchiefs cover their heads. Most commoners wear some type of cheap leather footwear, usually work or riding boots.
In contrast, aristocratic vestments are brightly colored and cared for meticulously. Males wear thick, finely tailored coats over shirts of thin cotton or imported silk. Tall black polished riding boots and brightly colored, intricately embroidered kerchiefs round out the typical ensemble, with all men wearing somekind of leather hat. Noblewomen wear velvet riding skirts, billowing blouses and black polished boots. They favor long, thin scarves trimmed with bells and coins. Gold bracelets and earrings are the most popular pieces of jewelry among the women. Men and women prefer rich shades of red, blue and purple, though any bright color might be found, save green, which is worn only in mourning.
Needless to say, the predominant language among Nova Vaasans is Vaasi. Nova Vaasans insist that their dialect of Vaasi is purer than those of Kartakass, Hazlan or Valachan, and none care enough to argue. Nova Vaasans take great pride in their language, and by law it is the only language that may be used in legal proclamations and historical records. The Church of Gestalt has similar laws, requiring that all religious recitations and holy scripts be in Vaasi. While Vaasi is the official language of Nova Vaasa, it is far from the only tongue spoken there. Commerce brings merchants from all across the Core to Nova Vaasa. Balok and Darkonese are the next most commonly heard human tongues, while the Gnomish and Halfling tongues can be heard in the few small neighborhoods and communities dominated by those small folk. Still, anyone planning to spend any significant amount of time in Nova Vaasa had best be prepared to learn at least a smattering of Vaasi.
Lifestyle & education
Nova Vaasa is a land where the aristocracy taxes the peasantry into abject poverty, beating and imprisoning those who cannot afford to pay. An aristocrat has the legal right to strike a settler for the crime of insolence, and few think twice about exercising it. Many in the settlers, meanwhile, throw themselves into every vice with abandon, steal from their neighbors and stare daggers into the back of every aristocrat who passes by. In short, a wide gulf stretches between the professed values of the Nova Vaasans and the lives they actually lead. They act as if the true purpose of their values was not to promote the health and security of the community and the individual, but instead to give their dark side something to rebel against. Only the constant threat of temporal punishment (among the settlers), the fear of public humiliation or censure (among the aristocrats), and the promise of eternal damnation by Gestalt (for everyone) hold matters in check. Even those powerful disincentives do little to stem the corruption and decay in the oppressively crowded cities. The renowned Nova Vaasan alienist Dr. Gregorian Illhousen most evocatively stated this duality, which he termed the Rider’s Dilemma.
Some few of these settlers own the fields they work, but most have been forced to sell them to the aristocrats to make up for shortfalls in lean years. These unfortunates end up working the land they used to own as “tenant farmers." Just beyond the farms are horse ranches, owned by horse barons or wealthy merchants. Because of the threat of theft or raids, workers on these ranches are always armed and aggressively curious toward strangers. As hard and tiring as the lot of the farmers is, they live in a virtual paradise when compared to the hell endured by those living in Nova Vaasa’s cities.
Given the wide expanse of the Vaasi plains, one would think that the Nova Vaasans would have open, loosely packed communities, taking full advantage of the space available to them. However, the opposite developed because of the native population. The cities have factories and buildings that are oppressively close together, streets surprisingly narrow, and virtually no escape is to be found from the press of the crowds. The density of the population is well suited for the industrial and mining aspects, but combines with poverty to create nightmarish scenes of urban squalor. Common urban buildings are usually constructed of reddish beige brick and built on granite foundations. Windows are unusually small, almost resembling arrow slits at times. Shingled roofs are brown or golden yellow.
Code of the Plains Riders
In the cities, poverty is even more rampant than in the fields, but ironically the urban peasants have much greater freedom to pursue their personal interests and entertainment.
There are too many people to be adequately policed, and the only elected position with official power over the cities is the Governor himself, who generally has larger matters to concern himself with than the temperance of the underclass. Thus, in the cities vice has been crowned Prince, and he rules with a trembling fist in a wine-stained glove. By day the peasants eke out a living however they can, be it via petty crafts, unskilled manual labor or the provision of cheap services. At night they spend their earnings in a whirlwind of self-gratification. Gambling is by far the vice of choice, with bets placed on games of skill and chance, races of horses or dogs, or caged combats between beasts or even men. The consumption of alcohol and narcotics is not far behind in popularity; opium from Hazlan is a particularly valued commodity.
Amidst this storm of iniquity, violent crime flourishes. Robberies, assaults, rapes, murders… each are daily occurrences. Perhaps only in the remote settlements is Nova Vaasan life led in something approaching peace and balance. No Nova Vaasan is beyond the yoke of one of the aristocratic families, but they do not bother to exert much influence on those communities far from their castles.
The aristocrats, living in luxury’s lap and almost entirely free from legal restrictions, living as they please. Their lifestyles are paid for by the labors of the settlers, and while this arrangement frees them from responsibilities, it also leads to a fair amount of boredom and restlessness. One thing all aristocrats are expected to master, regardless of sex or birth order, is horsemanship. All nobles own at least one horse, and often many more, and numerous sports and games are played on horseback. Races, hurdles, tilts and even jousts and melees are common and the results heavily wagered upon.
A middle class is slowly emerging as shrewd traders, landowners and criminals are able to gather enough wealth to elevate their status and exert influence over the commoners. A few particularly successful farmers, for example, have bought the farms and lands adjoining theirs and employed the former owners as hands and workers, while particularly skilled artisans in the cities have parlayed their talents into successful and profitable businesses. This middle class is currently small and thinly spread, however, and in the eyes of the aristocrats they are still commoners, only with larger tax revenues to provide. A few merchants are trying to remedy this situation, increasing their political power by forming guilds and trading companies, but these efforts have yet to effect any real change.
The Nova Vaasan diet is well varied when it comes to breads and vegetables, and much more uniform when it comes to meats and dairy. Pork, chicken and fish are the staples, supplemented with a variety of breads, fruits, roots and greens.
Art in Nova Vaasa is not nearly as developed or beloved a pursuit as it is in western lands. The peasants have no time for art, and the aristocrats rarely have the inclination. Still, the Nova Vaasans are not entirely without artistic traditions. The Church of Gestalt has driven the growth of most other art forms. The Church has vested interest in architecture, sculpting and music. Hymns and choral pieces dedicated to Gestalt are the most prevalent forms of musical expression in Nova Vaasa, followed by drinking songs. Instrumental pieces are centered on horns and percussion. Education in Nova Vaasa ranges from informal to non-existent. Settlers are too concerned about teaching their children practical skills such as farming or stone working, to spend time imparting more academic matters. Literacy among settlers is almost unknown. Aristocrats hire private tutors for their children or send them to study in the west. A university stands in Sterling Station, but it is small and not particularly popular or well regarded. The Church of Gestalt provides education to its clergy, teaching them how to read and write and other necessary skills, but otherwise focuses on theological teaching of dubious value.
Attitudes towards magic
Nova Vaasans have developed a deeply rooted distrust of arcane magic. Anecdotal evidence indicates that they were far more accepting of it in the distant past, but the Second Judgment changed that. Their early years in the Core were spent with a chaotic wasteland called the Nightmare Lands on their eastern border, where the Nocturnal Sea is today. The terrain of the Nightmare Lands shifted constantly, and travelers there reported encountering horrific creatures born of their deepest fears.
Fortunately, the Nightmare Lands vanished in the wake of the Grand Conjunction. Few folk profess to remember the Nightmare Lands today, but they still seem subconsciously to associate arcane magic with the chaos and instability of that wasteland, and they want no part of it. The Church of Gestalt in Nova Vaasa has banned the practice of arcane magic as blasphemy, claiming that its spread was one reason Gestalt handed down the Judgment. Suspected practitioners are frequently imprisoned or worse.
Divine magic is accepted if and only if it flows from Gestalt. When the Church of Gestalt deigns to admit the existence of other gods, it places them in subordinate roles, labeling them as servants of Gestalt and essentially powerless in their own right. Both Ezra and Hala, for example, are officially codified as Gestalt’s concubines. Therefore, according to Church dogma, any cleric performing miracles in the name of a god other than the Gestalt must be a liar and a heretic, drawing his magic from arcane or even demonic sources. Imprisonment is the kindest fate a “heretic” can hope for, so servants of other gods would be wise not to call attention to themselves with flashy displays of divine power.
The Church of Gestalt is the state church of Nova Vaasa and the only religion with a significant presence. The Church is the true glue holding together Nova Vaasan society. Its teachings about obedience and order, and their place with the great machine are ingrained into every citizen at a young age, and without this stabilizing dogma the underclass would assuredly rise against the aristocracy that oppresses it. Church attendance is not legally mandated, but significant social pressure encourages it, and those seen as impious are ostracized and avoided. Devotions to Gestalt are a daily observation, often done in a spirit of avoiding consequence rather than genuine reverence.
Although technically still a principality, Nova Vaasans often refer to their realm as a nation. Originally it was governed by the kingdom of Vaasa, across the sea. After the First Judgement, their ties to the land of Vaasa was severed. The Prince Governor ruled that Nova Vasa was a country unto itself.
During the original settlement days, the government was a feudal monarchy, with an appointed governor named by the Crown of Vaasa. The self titled Prince Governor turned the territory into a military state. The military was used not only to quell the upstart Tribes, but to police the settlers as well. During this time, while the settlers did get free land grants, they were treated as peasants and lorded over by the military.
After the Second Judgement, an emergency council was held to construct a new government. It was decided that the first step would be to organize a Parliament. Then, after the parliament is organized, a Governor would be elected from the august members. The Governor would then submit three nominees to the Parliament, for their approval, for the Triumvirate of Judgement. The parliament is formed of high ranking military officers, wealthy merchants and other selected aristocrats. This group acts as an advising council to the elected Governor. The Governor is the elected executive, picked from the members of Parliament, enforcing the laws of the country. The Triumvirate is three judges, selected by the governor and approved by the parliament, to rule in legal cases. Each city, in turn, has their own elected mayor, judge and sheriff, chosen from the local aristocracy.
It should surprise no one to learn that the Nova Vaasan economy is centered on the horse. Vaasi horses are renowned for their strength, speed and intelligence, and are highly desired as riding horses, warhorses and status symbols among the wealthy all across the Core. Since there is no shortage of horses on the Vaasi Plateau, the Nova Vaasans are all too willing to share their most valuable resource with others, at a tidy profit of course. Nova Vaasan law states that any male Vaasi horse sold to a foreigner must first be gelded; the Nova Vaasans are very protective of their monopoly. This condition has made the outside demand for Vaasi stallions very high, both to horse breeders and to soldiers or noblemen who desire more “spirited” mounts. The high prices these stallions command has accelerated the growth of the black market for Vaasi steeds.
The Vistani in Nova Vaasa have a unique part to play in the horse trade. While Nova Vaasan horse trainers are often highly skilled, the best of them pales in comparison to the better Vistani trainers, and the Nova Vaasans grudgingly realize this fact. Thus, the Vistani are permitted to take and raise horses from the Vaasi Plateau, the only foreigners so privileged. This privilege comes with a restriction, however: the Vistani, by law, are permitted to sell horses of Vaasi bloodlines only to Nova Vaasan merchants. The merchants then sell these Vistani-trained horses at even higher prices to nobles both inside and outside the domain. Though undoubtedly some Vistani caravans flout these laws, most choose to obey them rather than risk souring a profitable situation.
Besides the horses themselves, byproducts of the horse have also become important elements of the Nova Vaasan economy. Horses that are too old or infirm to be sold, bred or worked are slaughtered, and their constituent parts are sold toward various ends. Horsehair is dyed and woven into baskets, bridles, ropes and similar items. Horsemeat is sold as food for the hounds of the rich or the children of the poor. Horse hooves are valuable to “chymists” for the creation of adhesives. Organs such as the heart, liver, eyes and testicles are powdered and sold as medicines or aphrodisiacs to the gullible or as spell components to the wise. Horse dung is gathered and sold as fertilizer at markets up and down the four rivers. Nova Vaasan leatherwork is among the most prized in the Core, both for the quality of the horsehide leather itself and the skill of the Nova Vaasan artisans. Saddles, boots, gloves, jackets and other goods made from Vaasi leather can be found in lands throughout the Core.
It will perhaps be more surprising to discover that the feared Vaasi predator, the plains cat, is also a significant element of Nova Vaasan commerce. The pelt of the plains cat is actually quite soft and fine, and garments trimmed with plains cat fur fetch handsome sums. The silver and white fur of an aged plains cat is even more in demand, but none is as valued as the fur of the blood cat. The claws and fangs of the plains cats are prized by Nova Vaasan noblemen as pieces of bracelets or necklaces, and this cultural fashion trend is catching on in adjacent lands such as Darkon and Barovia. Ear tufts are valued as lucky charms, while powdered organs are even more valued than those of horses.
From an agricultural standpoint, Nova Vaasa is quite wealthy, with wide expanses of farmland along the banks of the realm’s three major rivers. Grains, especially wheat, barley, oats and rye, make up the majority of the crop, but a variety of other foodstuffs are grown as well. Orchards of apples account for most of the fruit produce, followed by pears, peaches and plums, though local plums have slowly fallen out of favor with the import of more flavorful Barovian varieties. Cabbages, potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, turnips and beans make up the majority of their roots and vegetables.
Nova Vaasa also has rich yields of fiber crops, including hemp, flax and kenaf, which contribute to the burgeoning textiles and paper industries. Livestock consists mostly of chickens and hogs, with sheep and cattle being relatively scarce; the Nova Vaasans are reluctant to take ranging space from their horses. The Nova Vaasans instead import most of their red meats and cheeses from Darkon and Tepest. This is all supplemented with steady fishing of cod, herring and mackerel in the Nocturnal Sea, and smaller catches of pike, trout and bass from the Three Sisters.
Silver is the most prevalent mineral resource, followed closely bt granite. There are silver mines dotting most of the hillsides, bluffs and mesas, with the largest silver mine being at Sterling Station. Granite is quarried from the rock bluffs in the southwest. It is likewise the most-used building material. Demand for granite nearly meets the supply and thus little ends up as export. Besides granite and silver, the few minerals found in quantity include amber, gathered from river beds; limestone, gypsum and chalk, found in the same rock mesas as the granite; and salt, mined from deposits in the foothills of the Mountains of Misery or harvested on the shores of the Nocturnal Sea.
Despite the wealth of its resources, Nova Vaasa is by no means a self-sufficient kingdom. Vaasi timber is of dismally poor quality and sparse quantity. Thus imports from Barovia, Tepest and Darkon are vital, more so now than ever with the growth of the Nova Vaasan navy. Metal resources are also scarce. The foothills around Serenity Gulch and Black Rock yield small amounts of iron and copper ore, far too little to meet the kingdom’s demands. Imports from Barovia, Borca and Darkon make up the shortfall. Nova Vaasan coinage is becoming an increasingly common sight in lands throughout the eastern Core, and merchants and townsfolk will usually accept it in even exchange with few reservations.
Nova Vaasa has regular contact with other lands. Merchants travel to and fro by all available routes, and young Nova Vaasan aristocrats often garner their education abroad. There are few civilized parts of the Core where a Nova Vaasan is nowhere to be found, and thus many relationships have been established and opinions formed of other lands.
Native Tribes: The government of Nova Vaasa is attempting to subjegate and educate these "heathens" in order to make them enlightened citizens. However, during the interm years the Twelve tribes of the Alfae has been whittled down to only five known tribes.
Barovia: Barovia is viewed mainly as a stepping stone to the riches of the west. While demand for Barovian timber, spirits and metals does exist, trading for them unfortunately involves dealing with Barovians, something that few Nova Vaasan merchants savor. Barovians remind Nova Vaasan traders of the lower classes they avoid at home, with the additional unpleasantness of superstitious atheism thrown in. The secularism of the average Barovian greatly bothers most Nova Vaasans who encounter it, and the few religions that do have a foothold in Barovia bother them even more. The Cult of the Morninglord is seen as particularly pernicious; its message of temporal hope for the downtrodden is as opposite to the dogma of Gestalt as anything could be.
Darkon: Though the ties between Nova Vaasa and Darkon were only recently forged, Darkon has already become one of Nova Vaasa’s most respected neighbors and the latest focus of its mercantile pursuits. When the lands of the Core shifted in the wake of the Great Upheaval, the Mountains of Misery no longer barred all traffic between the two lands. Nova Vaasans were eager to take advantage of this new opportunity for trade, and it has paid handsome dividends on both sides. Nova Vaasan aristocrats also admire King Azalin and his firm control over so widespread and varied a kingdom.
Hazlan: Nova Vaasans aren’t quite sure what to make of the Hazlani. The commonalties of language and religion would seem likely to draw the two peoples together, but the Hazlani culture is too alien to be easily overlooked. Indeed, the few similarities between the two cultures appear only to accentuate the differences. The Governor Naeve would like nothing more than to increase unity between the two realms, but despite his efforts it seems unlikely that the two lands will ever become more than uncomfortable neighbors and lukewarm trading partners.
The Nocturnal Sea: Serenity Gulf and Deadwood were wealthy ports before the Mists rose, and the disappearance of the sea had left them as shadows of their former wealth. When the Nightmare Lands vanished after the Great Upheaval, the sea reappeared, but the mists did not recede. Intrepid Nova Vaasan mariners boldly attempted to sail and chart the enshrouded waters, with few successes and many tragedies. When the mists finally did recede and reveal the waters of the Nocturnal Sea, it was seen as a miraculous blessing, a reward from Gestalt for the good faith and service of His people. Though neither port is anywhere close to as powerful as they once had been, each has begun to boom with the return of marine commerce. Serenity Gulf carries on a brisk trade with Nevuchar Springs on Darkon’s coast and with the island of Liffe to the northeast, while Deadwood does the same with Graben Island. Though the Nocturnal Sea is treacherous and turbulent, Nova Vaasans continue to view it with a certain fondness, their own special gift from Gestalt. There is no shortage of volunteers for trading vessels or for the Nova Vaasan Navy, and the Nova Vaasan reputation for riding the waves is slowly growing to match their reputation for riding the plains.
Tepest: Tepest is something of a thorn in the side of Nova Vaasan merchants, who are always seeking to increase their trading opportunities with the western lands. The wild and fey creatures of the untamed Tepestani forests make for a perilous journey for merchant caravans. In an effort to improve matters, Nova Vaasans would like to see the East Timori road extended north into Keening, with the hopes of eventually meeting the Darkonian Strigos Road and thereby hastening the completion of the trade route. Plans have been laid to construct guard outposts along the way; that this is an egregious violation of Tepestani sovereignty has been pointedly ignored. This has thus far been a doomed effort. Every labor team sent into Tepest for this purpose so far has disappeared, even those under armed guard. Such events have increased the frustration of the merchants, and support is growing for a campaign to invade and “civilize” Tepest. A recent build-up of government troops in the north suggests Governor Naeve may be taking heed. The Tepestani themselves are considered barely worthy of notice, as they have little interest in fine horseflesh. Their “pagan” zealotry does little to help. It is mainly the vast stores of Tepestani timber that keep Nova Vaasan merchants coming back. What other barter occurs is usually of an agricultural bent.
Sites of Interest
The Rider's Dilemma
The late Dr. Illhousen imagined a hunter preparing himself to chase down a dangerous beast. Having appropriately girded and armed himself, the hunter must now choose a mount on which to ride the creature down. He walks out to his stables, intending to saddle his strongest and swiftest stallion, when he sees a huge plains cat sleeping in the sun, and indecision afflicts him. He knows he is foolish for considering it, for the cat would surely turn and devour him should he attempt to ride it, but he still cannot help but be tempted. The cat is swifter, stronger and fiercer than any horse could ever be. If he could only tame it, rein in and harness its ferocity, no quarry could stand before him. His horse is strong, loyal and dependable… but it is no cat. This, then, is the Rider’s Dilemma: the safety and surety of the “horse,” which represents the path of honor and propriety, or the seductive yet dangerous power of the “cat,” the path of ruthless and uninhibited self-interest. Illhousen stated that most men choose the “horse,” but he believed they do so out of fear rather than genuine preference for that way of life. If the “cat” could be rendered harmless to the rider, Illhousen claimed that nearly all men would eagerly ride it.
The Church of Gestalt
The Church of Gestalt was originally a fictitious idea, created by Krayle's apprentice - Adrianna. During her theology class in college, she had to develop a unique religion, to show the social dynamics that a religion can have upon a society. Late one night, while Krayle stressed over his current predicament, he found Adrianna's paper. Reading over it stirred his imagination into a frenzy. He then took the paper and expanded upon the ideas, finally developing his master plan. Since he had being studying the idea of biomancy for sometime, he decided to use it to create a physical icon for the new religion - the Voice of Gestalt. And for the body he would use, Krayle looked no further than his apprentice - Adrianna.
The church was designed with technomancy at its heart. The religious text for this religion states that all of creation is akin to a great machine, with the church being the caretaker there of. Therefore, Order is of paramount importance and Chaos is the bane of existence. This is to reinforce the place of the church and the government, raising them to almost equal importance. There is also a sacred text that Krayle created for the religion - the Nine Books of Gestalt. The first book tells of how Gestalt created the world and everything in it, giving all a special function in this creation. The next seven are morality tales, each devoted to one of the Vices of Chaos (greed ,gluttony, lust, pride, sloth, vanity, wrath). The last is a prophecy of how the world will be rebuilt, being exceedingly ambiguous in details. The original text was created on large sheets of polished metal, engraved using the Old Vaasi language.
The Voice of Gestalt
Azteca 1/2 mechanical golem - a miraculously divine, and horribly cursed, creation by Krayle Strauss
Adrianna grew up the youngest child of seven siblings, and the only one that showed any talent in the art of magic. After graduating college, she was surprisingly accepted as Krayle's apprentice. The surprising part was that Mr. Strauss had been practicing for eight years, doing all kinds of government work and was producing all the original plans for the technomany transportation for the whole country. He had done so without having an apprentice for all those years. Then, suddenly, a month after she had graduated, Mr. Strauss began accepting applications. Two months after she turned her's in, she was greatly surprised to have been accepted. Within two days, she had moved her meager possessions into he new apprentice quarters to begin learning from a true technomancy master.
Five weeks after that, things abruptly changed - Krayle had finished his work on the clockwork religion and needed his divine messenger. The last memory Adrianna had was the excruciating pain Krayle inflicted while she was on his operating table. Right after he began drilling into her forehead, Adrianna was forever lost - now only existed Azteca. Days later Krayle was finished with his beautiful masterpiece, the 1/2 mechanical golem that would assure his rise to power.
Azteca was programed with complete knowledge of the clockwork religion, including the Rites of Gestalt, the Seven Vices of Chaos, and the proper holiday ceremonies. She isalso programed to defer to Krayle's orders. Her role is also to be a figure head for the church and a public voice for the church. Lately, Azteca has been having conflicting thoughts.
The Claws of Sehkmaa
The claws are a secret organization of paka
The Darklord of Nova Vaasa
Krayle Strauss, male gnome Technomancer/Illusionist
Being the runt of his family, Krayle was always pushed around and made fun of. Add to this that his family was intensely matriarchal, Krayle decided at a young age that he would do something about that. For the first few years of his life, he was bullied by his sisters, constantly punished by his mother and almost completely left out of his family. But Krayle had one gift that the rest of his family didn't - he had a innate talent for magic. He discovered this at a young age, but was punished and denounced by his mother for his ability. The matriarch of his family banished him, hoping that he would perish alone.
As he grew older, he became the apprentice to an old wizard.. His teacher was far from kind, with Krayle having to do all kinds of loathsome chores and constantly being berated for only being a "stupid, motherless cur." None the less, Krayle excelled at his studies. After learning all that he thought he could from the crotchety old mage, Krayle brutally murdered his mentor one night. And, remembering part of a forbidden book he had once read, Krayle ate part of his mentor's body - in order to further his own mystical powers, by absorbing some of his mentor’s.
For years he indulged in his vices, while learning about the new break-throughs in technomancy, namely steam-tech. While learning he new theories and mantras for this new field of study, Krayle began his own criminal underground. Some of the illicit activities included extortion, theft, smuggling, bookmaking and kidnaping. As his criminal empire began to grow, the services offered also included assassinations, poisonings, prostitution and slavery. While Krayle's black market business was making him wealthy, it didn't go unnoticed by the city's police - the Church Inquisitors. For the next four years, Krayle played a game of cat and mouse with the Church's Inquisitors. When news of the freshly discovered land of riches hit the streets, Krayle was attempting to expand his criminal web there.
Things had finally reached a boiling point - Krayle could either stay put and be apprehended by the Church's Inquisitors, for crimes against crown, country and church. Or he could pack what was absolutely essential and stow awayon one of the galleons bound for these newly discovered land of riches. Abandoning his lackeys to be discovered, he gathered his resources and set out for a new life. Soon after his arrival in Nova Vasa, he set up a small laboratory and began scouting out his new surroundings. This being the land of silver, he fancied on the idea of entrenching himself in the local government. Krayle then started working on his plan to do so and soon gained an audience with the Prince Governor.
The night after Krayle had finished installing the first mining track system, a fierce storm shock all of Nova Vasa. Lightning dance all along the horizon and thunder repeatedly shook the earth, as a thick fog rolled in from the sea. Nature’s fury subsided after a few hours, but the miasma cloaked the land for three days and nights. When the fog finally lifted, Nova Vasa was land-locked, cut off from the rest of the world.
During his exploratory journeys, he wandered into the blasted lands of Bluetspur. Making several trips over an extended amount of time, he came back with the basics of a new focus of magic; magic that effected living creatures by using technomancy upon them - biomancy.
His progress impeded by the state church, Krayle was sulking in his library one evening, when he happen to chance upon an old college paper of Adrianna's. It was a theology thesis about a make-believe religion and a fictitious clockwork god, named Gestalt. "This," he thought, "this is how I'll topple the state church." Sacrificing his young apprentice, Adrianna, as the major component in his latest plan, Krayle started applying his latest experiments in biomancy to construct his greatest invention yet - the Voice of Gestalt.
Krayle made his gambit for power on the night of Tristen's formal masquerade ball. Strauss had embedded himself as a very necessary component of the Nova Vaasan government. He had wealth and power - but he want more. His greed for wealth and his lust for power knew no ends. Late that night, as the Prince Governor's guests slowly dwindled home, Strauss killed Tristen, consuming part of his dying body. With that act, Krayle knew what Tristen had been - a split personality! Now he knew the secrets to Malken's criminal underground. During these few moments, a fierce storm appeared from nowhere. A torrent of rain unleashed from the malignant clouds, with lightning striking and the thunder crashing loud enough to violently shake the ground. To add to this violent chaos, a thick mist rolled in, obscuring everything.
Unaware of what the storm herald, Strauss then attempted to finish his coup de gras. During the wee hours of the morning, the Prince's murder was discovered. With no suspects, an emergency meeting of the aristocrats was called. With the Prince Governor dead, what was the principality to do? Grinning to himself, Strauss suggested that first they needed to start an investigation. But since there were no royal heirs to take over, Strauss stated that they would need a functional governing body during the interim. So, why not form their own parliament? This newly formed parliament would be formed of high ranking military officers, wealthy merchants and select other aristocrats. This group of aristocrats, would draw up a legal charter of the land and elect a new governor from within their parliament. The other aristocrats readily agreed, but this is when Strauss' plan started to go awry.
A fellow aristocrat, Victor Something, did agreed with everything that Strauss had said, but he interjected only one small suggestion - that the governor have an elected term of five years. At the end of the five years, they would elect a new governor. The others at the meeting seemed very happy about this idea. Then the church representative voiced his opinion, that the governor should only be an elected human. And since the majority of the aristocrats were human, this idea gained much favor.
The new government swiftly, and almost seamlessly, came together, with a parliament formed in just days, a new governor elected and a triumvirate in place to rule on the new articles of government. Krayle was rather surprised that all of this came about, with lots of help from him, in a matter of weeks. And since the population was in religious doubt, with a new governor and government, this would be the prime time to introduce the country to Gestalt.
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