Table of Contents
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“When the lights do go down
Best not stay out
In old Seravia
Lest silver in seam
Best not to dream
In old Seravia
When the moon says its time
To drink or to die
When the mad mountains swallow the sun
When the toll of the bell
Chimes heaven chimes hell
My love she’ll return no more
When the lights do go down
Best not stay out
In old Seravia”
– A song whose author is now forgotten, Old Seravia was often sung by canaleers, bards, and entertainers. To this day the grandfathers and old mothers of Seravia can be heard humming the swaying barcarole when the sun sets behind the mountains that shadow the sweeping valleys.
Do not envy the Seravian people. Upon meeting them, they may appear to be some of the most well-fed and comfortable people you will ever encounter. They may appear to have purpose, employment, and supplies. They may even appear well-armored and groomed; some even educated. Yet, do not envy them, for theirs may be the most miserable state amongst humanity. Each night is a new tableau of horrors for them, and each dawn uncertain. Each action they take is constrained and stifled, bound as they are in tight chains of servitude to monstrous masters. The same lords who offer them some means of protection one night, may be the cause of their death the next – for, make no mistake, the Lords of Seravia are not human.
The intermingling of vampire and human blood, combined with the influences of numberless spawn and Malefic creatures dwelling in the dark valleys and grey coasts of the land has created a population over the years that no longer knows where the monsters within them begin or end. Many assume that everyone they encounter is at least partially tainted, and even if they are not – most everyone is in service to the monstrous Lords. It is for this reason that Seravians are a stoic and unshakeable people, for they dwell amongst horrors that outsiders would take a lifetime to recover from, and they have been desensitized for generations.
The relationship between Lords and ordinary people is a relatively symbiotic one. The people have land to farm, raise animals, clothe and feed themselves, and have some protections against the terrors that hunt in the dark. In exchange, they need only respond to the demands of their Lords. Sometimes, people go missing. Sometimes, young ones are sent to the steps of the foreboding, crumbling keeps, and are never seen by their loved ones again. Sometimes entire sections of a village awaken weak and pale. The last vestiges remain here of the feudal societies of old, but the demands on the population are dear indeed. These people have learned through hard lifetimes to conceal, to restrain themselves, to wait with almost inhuman patience; but the fire of their ancestors burns through their veins. Their cool exteriors hide deep passions, turbulent waters, and a simmering rage that yearns to boil over.
Despite all of the dangers which present themselves here, or perhaps because of them, Seravia is a place of knowledge, both old and new. Its vampiric Lords and their servants are great keepers of history as well as developers of mechanical wonders, and those outsiders who dare to enter these cursed lands do so in search of such wisdom. It is said great hidden libraries rest within the ruins of the fortress keeps of the Rogalian counts of old, guarded by horrors so ancient and powerful that they may as well be lost. Yet that does not stop seekers and would-be students from trying to beg, steal, and negotiate with those who hold the keys to such precious annals.
But the Lords and guardians of these libraries must be cautious with what is allowed to be learned and accessed, for the soil of Seravia also breeds the most skilled vampire and monster hunters the world has yet known. Ostensibly, these hunters protect the flock, killing the hordes of vampiric spawn and other monsters who claim countless lives temporarily each night. By trying to eliminate such threats at their source, they also seek to reduce the population of malefic creatures seeking revenge for their wrongful deaths. Some houses have hidden cellars, though, and some abandoned ruins have fresh footsteps… and some whispers by oil lamp hiss of sedition and uprising. For those armed with knowledge and weapons against the creatures of the night can aim just as true for the hearts of their Lords.
“You can’t kill Time. It is Time that kills everyone.”
– Seravian Saying
It is said that not one inch of Seravian soil or stone has not been soaked in blood over the centuries. Not one inch. The plausibility of this claim becomes quite high when one considers the history of this region. Vampires are not new to Seravia, nor are scarce resources, terror, and bloodshed. It may be that this land was never meant to be anything but a chessboard with the lives of the common people being the first things sacrificed. Hopeful outlooks, along with any sort of social mobility, have always been extremely scarce in the shadows of the steep mountain ranges that border the seven kingdoms collectively known as Seravia.
Long, long ago, Seravia went by another name: Rogalia. It was held under the rule of Queen Adrasteia, and her court of vampire Counts and Countesses. The land was much more united, and the vampires held their spawn and monsters in check in exchange for sustenance from the humans that lived and worked under them. The blood tax is first mentioned in logbooks and historical records from that time, and it is a concept that continues to this day. It was these first vampires who built the Rogalia that now lies as a crumbling reminder of past glory. These rulers were varied in their temperaments, but their treatment of the humans beneath them ranged from that of livestock to pets and companions. It is said that the most stable counties were the ones where the vampire lords were more reclusive, allowing their human advisors and gentry to manage affairs without the constant reminder of their inhuman overseer. This was not the standard everywhere, however, and plenty of vampiric nobility preferred to enforce their rulership through fear and cruelty. The folklore of Seravia is filled with references to people being hunted nightly for sport, children being ripped from their parents’ arms and eaten in front of them, and vast quantities of humans being exsanguinated for lavish parties and gatherings.
There was an uprising. A man who called himself the Chosen of Heaven led an insurrection in the form of a group of zealous vampire hunting knights, the Ordo Croix. They did what was thought to be impossible, and killed the immortal Lords. Most hunters know that a true vampire cannot be killed. Even when burned, decapitated, stabbed, and reduced to pieces, they will rise again and again… and yet, the Ordo Croix managed to somehow slay them with true finality. Some sources indicate that it may not actually have been the Ordo Croix themselves, but some dark power-infused tool of the Witch Kings, individuals of god-like power from times long ago buried, which was given to the Order to make them capable of such a deed. Other accounts from the time of the Throne of God on Earth, the human Empire that would be the hallmark of the Lion Age following the Age of Witchkings, indicated that it was a divine ritual or blessing conferred upon the faithful Ordo Croix and their Chosen one. Regardless, the Red Queen Adrasteia herself was ripped and torn into pieces at the hands of the Order, and fed to her Court. It was an unholy feast, and many believe that was the true plunge into darkness that was to be the trajectory for the rest of Rogalia’s history.
It was the humans’ turn to rule Rogalia, and they proved to be one of the worst things that ever happened to the country. These human lords had not given much thought to what came after the conquering and the usurpation, and with their rule, they brought famine, unrest, violence, and scarcity upon the people who followed them. The Counts of Rogalia fractured the people further, dividing them into war-hardened, opportunistic regions, and this was the norm for centuries – each county and House of Rogalia looking for ways to conquer and plunder each other. Alliances would be formed only to be broken, and even being annexed into the Empire of the Throne did nothing to quell their hunger for the land and resources of another.
It may be that to be born in these cursed lands is to be infected with a hunger inherent to the soil, air, and sea. It is part of you, and you take it into your very being. It may be the very land of Seravia that is bloodthirsty, and its history of vampires, war, and hostile humans are simply extensions of its will. Scholars and philosophers can theorize as to causation and correlation, but the cruelties of humans upon each other continued for many, many years, regardless.
When the time of the Great Triumverati war hit the coasts of then-Rogalia, the people were not prepared to unite against the common threat they faced. They were battle-hardened, yes, and well-armed, but they were easily cut off from their food sources and supply lines. Having no true and entrenched established trade routes with each other, the Houses and nobility of Rogalia had only their individual lands and resources to rely on when chaos filled the roads and cut them off from reinforcements and sorely-needed aid. Further, many Houses took it upon themselves to seize the opportunity presented to them by the weakened state of long-term rivals. Rather than band together, the Rogalian nobility took attacks of opportunity upon each other, burying daggers in backs, and using the pandemonium of war to mask their power-grabs, revenge plots, and political scheming.
Some Houses survived the Great War, and others, of course, did not. But one thing is well-recorded in the art and documents that survive the razing of Rogalia – in the wake of total war, a King stood to unite what remained beneath his banner and name. Karsus Maynard, a lord of the swamplands and ancient bogs emerged at the head of a small but exquisitely deadly army. His magicians and soldiers possessed speed and power to rival and exceed that of any of the remaining forces, but the real advantage is that they were completely unexpected. House Maynard had always possessed some of the most undesirable land in Rogalia; it did not grow much food, and its gnarled, hoary trees and dark wetlands created dense natural barriers that made travel quite difficult. The Crimson Keep, overlooking the Maynard city of Seravia, rarely cast the shadow one would expect – for the sky was so often dark. Always separate and apart from the organizations, treaties, guilds, and squabbles of the other Houses, a Maynard was not expected to suddenly rise to prominence and power. But Karsus had waited patiently; waited for the main strongholds to fall, waited for the Triumverati hordes to turn their eager eye upon what they viewed as the true prize – the heart of the Empire, and waited for most of them to move on and leave smoldering and broken bodies and buildings where they tread. With the mind of an ancient strategist, he had sent his meager numbers to the areas they would have the most deadly impact upon any of the enemy who remained, and those Rogalian nobility and gentry who survived were left with scorched fields, charred homes, and hobbled armies. They were left without much choice but to bow their heads and become part of the newly united people under King Karsus and Seravia.
It is not fully understood where Karsus Maynard came from. Most accurate historical records are kept under lock and key within Seravia’s castle keeps. It is believed that he was a prominent member of House Maynard and had been the heir apparent to Maynard during much of the Great War. Some also believe that he had slept beneath the Crimson Keep for unknown spans of years, already ancient and vampiric, but not suffering from lack of understanding of current events or practices. It is said that he kept large numbers of well-cared for and highly educated servants to ensure that he was exposed to the philosophies of the time. Regardless of his own history, it is well known that Karsus at some point succumbed to vampirism. Yet he knew what the people had become used to over the generations, and he knew they sought comfort and stability in these volatile and uncertain times. He knew that while he, as a Vampire King, would be given some space while other, more pressing, threats in the fallen Throne were dealt with, he needed to provide the people with a reason to take the easy path with docility. And thus, after his initial seizing of power, over a series of years he nurtured and developed unquestionably loyal human courtiers. He also divided his kingdom into counties to be ruled more directly and firmly than he could manage alone. Unknown agreements and concessions were made. And most accounts are silent on how the Lords of Seravia were chosen and appointed, and even which ones were vampires for a certainty. But seven regions were carved into the map, and seven crumbling keeps once again shone with candlelight as new masters occupied them.
When the Catastrophe swept the world, the weary and haunted hearts of the Seravian people quickly accepted this new reality: that their valiant dead and loved ones would not stay in the ground. They all rose up as Malefic monsters, and the soil of Seravia was churned and made soft by the tides of bodies that rose up and crashed from the ground. The Lords held an eerie sway over their home and sanctuaries, and for the most part people were safe from the masses of hollowed corpses that walked, provided they stayed within the confines of the cities and towns that lay within reach of their masters. Those who lived too far beyond the reach of the Lords, or who wandered away from the dim lights and cobblestone streets, were laid bare to almost certain dismemberment. It is these events and arrangements that set the stage for the Seravia of today, and its people who, for the most part, are willing to trade their freedom and autonomy for some protections and a more certain sunrise.
Ethics & Values
“Try not to worry too much about tomorrow. It’s not a guaranteed thing.”
– Seravian Saying
A long history of war, subjugation, starvation, terror, and feudalism in one form or another has created a culture among the Seravians of outward reserve. Regardless of your fear, anger, or outrage, one must put one foot in front of the other and carry on if one is to continue the daily game of survival. One also never knows who is a trusted confidant, and who is a bound and loyal agent to the Lords. Thus, it is safest to mask one’s emotions wherever possible until a secure outlet for the pent up rage and passion is made available. It is generally considered best to verbally get your point across in as few words as possible. Loose lips and overdone verbosity can lead to saying more than you intend. A tendency to gossip or say more than you meant to in turn can cause distrust or rivalry among your neighbors – who are often the very people you need to rely on. Displeased neighbors can lead to displeased Lords, and none of it ends well.
Therefore, the Seravian people have a reputation for being laconic; rather blunt and direct in their responses, and quite dry in their wit.
For example, a famous parable describes a wandering scholar who asked a Seravian farmer what one can do to best avoid becoming overly taxed, invaded, or conquered. The response was, “Remain poor.”
The Seravians have a somewhat stoic outlook on their lives, and they find virtue in only attempting to affect the things you have sway over. To waste energy on things that one cannot control is seen as foolish or heartbreaking. Conversely, if one does have power or means, it is considered ideal behavior to do all you can to influence events for the better. To squander a position or windfall of resources is frowned upon, for there are many who would use such fortune to beneficial ends. In fact, Seravians are encouraged from a young age to look out for their neighbors and be sure that they are cared for and living as they should. Concern for the community is how everyone eats, as well as how everyone can identify a threat swiftly.
The Lords of Seravia reinforce the message to the masses that their devotion and focus should be on fulfilling their role in society to the very best of their ability. To reach and grasp for things out of reach is a waste of time and can lead to discontent and misery.
For the most part, though, the people tend to see life as a morass of pain, pleasure, luck, misfortune, achievement, and failure. There is little one can do to prevent the realities of life, and thus all one can strive for is to be resilient and disciplined to better withstand the highs and the lows of existence.
Given this perspective, the views of those who take it upon themselves to attempt revolt against the Lords is complicated and mixed. Some think that if they have the power and ability to free themselves from their oppressive situations, they should do so. It is not natural to be in service to monsters of the night, nor should one have to barter their lifesblood or the lives of their children and loved ones in exchange for continued existence.
Some, however, think that compared to what they know of the rest of the world, and what they have been told of history, the Seravian are comfortable. No one is immune from the horrors of the world, and if they have found a way to coexist with the grim reality of the world, so be it. Things should be left well enough alone, for they have just as good of a chance of getting worse rather than better if upheaval comes once more.
Still others believe that the rule of the Lords is the best thing that could have happened to the people of Seravia. They are more protected than they ever have been, and if they were not in service to the Lords, they would be in service to the Triumverati – a far worse fate many would agree. Whatever sacrifices must be made for this continued peace is a lower cost than what would be paid should the protections of the Lords disappear, and the malice of the earth surrounding them comes rushing in.
The tension caused by these differences in opinion, combined with the danger of public debate, cause channels and rivulets of mistrust among the populace. This is turn adds to the need to bottle up opinions and outbursts, which will inevitably explode elsewhere. It is partially for this reason that other cultures consider Seravians to have a demon within them, for when a Seravian loses their temper, or unleashes a display of great passion, it has a tendency to be spectacular. Those who are educated may attempt to vent their inner emotions and thoughts as the written word – for words can be written anonymously. Those who were not granted such a gift tend to confide in only their closest relatives or take up hunting or other physical activities that can give release to a pent up way of living. Regardless of how they cope, a Seravian tends to come across to outsiders as mysterious, reserved, soft-spoken, and somewhat frightening. For all can see that set within their cool features, their eyes burn with fire.
Geography & Ruling Houses
“No place is actually empty.”
– Seravian Proverb
Waelgeuga weorold is a phrase in the old tongue which is commonly used to describe wandering merchants. It loosely translates to, “…walkers between worlds,” for it is said that to travel between the seven great counties of Seravia is to wander between worlds, distinct and strange as they are. Often called the Silent Kingdoms, each is its own small, isolated world carved out amongst a shrouded land of low valleys and towering mountains; each its own dark oasis among large swaths of land uninhabitable by humans. The nickname is believed to have come from the many silent and decaying husks of seemingly abandoned castles, keeps, and manors which remain as reminders that once these lands teemed with noble houses, families, and knight orders.
These seven kingdoms – or counties, more accurately – which nestle alongside the western mountains which separate them from the rest of the known world and stretch out to the sea are: Shadowvale, Port Melandir, Maynard, Heideveld, Underwode, the Whispers, and Ryker’s Gate. All unique, majestic, and terrible in their own right, each is connected by a vast network of pristine roads that spread out in all cardinal directions across the country providing the population with a singularly efficient method of travel found in few other places throughout the empire. At tightly measured intervals stand wrought iron posts from which braziers hang that burn with a smokey, orange glow. Oil and tallow are the most common sources of fuel in Seravia, and it is believed that these lanterns are powered by the fatty oils of the adjacent city’s final dead and from beasts. They are kept filled to the brim by troupes of prisoners and the soldiers who guard them. Few else would willingly be caught outside a city or village’s walls for any extended period of time, especially after dark.
Similarly appreciated and disquieting are the low, rounded stone walls which fortify these marvelous highways. Ground into the very mortar are said to be the bones of the fallen final dead, and from the waves of Malefic entities that had to be beaten back in the first years of the Calamity. It is hard to estimate just how many bones and visceral remains littered the earth during that time – for it is said that the mindless dead who rose were in numbers equal to the fallen in every war total that had ever been fought on the soil of Rogalia. While this may seem a rather grotesque method of masonry, no small amount of superstition and folklore has evolved out of what have become known as the “Wraith Walls” of Seravia and it is common for travelers to tell the tales of lonely, wandering spirits which seem to materialize and then vanish at different points along the road.
Much of the history of Seravia and its surrounding areas is well known, but it is known to a select small population, and most of them do not number among humanity. In airless vaults no one of mortal strength could open, it is rumored that the sum of human knowledge lies interred. For the Lords have lived a long time, and what their memories do not store, dusty tomes supplement. It is unknown how many ruined castles and imposing fortresses hold either well-guarded or forgotten lore, but the fact that it lies in sight but beyond reach is intensely tantalizing to some.
For each of the notable houses listed here there are many vassal houses that fall underneath them – as well as other Houses that are unmentioned.
Seat of Seravia, Region of Galdoreor
Ruling House: Royal House Maynard
Lord: King Karsus
Keep: Castle Crimson
Coat of Arms: Two silver cups pouring wine into a third golden cup on a red field.
Maxim: We Drink First
Once the Great War had settled, and the earth grew corpses instead of crops, and after the eruptions and cataclysmic natural disasters which destroyed Ryker’s Gate and many remaining Kuarlite forces that had lingered, House Maynard rose from the ruins and seized the crown of Rogalia. They had been playing dead for so long that no one saw the sudden, highly successful, power grab coming, like a snake in a boneyard suddenly striking. Karsus Maynard, himself a vampire of unknown age, houses his court within the ancient Castle Crimson. It is certain that the knowledge stores and memories of this place run deep, for this was also the throne from which the original Vampire Queen Adrasteia ruled millenia ago during the Age of Witchkings.
It was the oldest standing structure when this land was known as Rogalia, and the fact that it still stands today is a testament to both the construction and strange power of it.
The main city of Seravia around Castle Crimson is dense with people, as the most populous city center in the kingdom. The population fans out into smaller villages mostly made up of goatherds and farmers on the outskirts, but houses and people tighten up in the space provided the closer they are to the keep. The castle itself is the source of a complex political machine and houses hundreds of members of the nobility and their retinues. Here is where the business of running a kingdom happens, and those born or raised of House Maynard are taught to understand the complex calculus of politics as a second nature. Brutally practical and adept at making hard calls, they also have a reputation for keeping their plans close to their chest and never telling the whole truth at any one sitting. House Maynard is known more for efficiency than for making friends – not that this serves as much of a detriment to them, as the nobility of House Maynard is related in one way or another to most of the nobles of Seravia over many centuries of alliances, unions, and even deeper pacts. The head of House Maynard is nominally the King, although the day to day activities of the house are seen to by one of his Viscounts. Currently, Isabel Faulkner the Blind and Terric Maynard are the favorites who conduct most of the business of the region.
Seravia was once the name only for a town which primarily served to house the vassals of House Maynard. It must have seemed appropriate for all of kingdom to take on this name when King Karsus was crowned, and the land became united under him. There is at least one account which paints a chilling image of the nature of the power that backed Karsus Maynard and his House. It states that after the volcanic eruption which destroyed Ryker’s Gate and the surrounding villages, a chill breeze blew through the ruined halls of Castle Crimson, a breeze that quickly became a storm. Clouds appeared in the noon sky, covering the sun and transforming the day into darkness night. Those that remained of House Maynard found themselves compelled to walk down the ancient ramparts and twisted spires, deep into the dungeons beneath the massive castle.
No one knows what they found there. But the story goes on, and tells how soon after the clouds had blocked out the sun to create night from day, lightning stuck throughout the city, so often that the huddled peasants could read by it if they were so inclined. After the lightning came the flames, as each and every Benalian church that remained was burned to ash, and after the flames, came an army of the Spawn. Hungry; violent; and under the control of the new Vampiric nobility that rushed from the castle of the long-dead vampire queen – new nobility that looked like the old Maynard masters.
This vampiric horde swept through the already war-ravaged and starving lands of Old Rogalia, subjugating everyone in their path and paving the way for a new king to rise in Castle Crimson: Karsus, the Undying, a vampire king to unite the newly conquered kingdom of Seravia.
Since then, House Maynard has been the crowning glory of Seravia, a province of thousands managed by the undead court that hold reign in Castle Crimson. The area beyond the castle has no official name, but the region has taken on the name of Galdoreor over the years, a word in the old tongue which most closely translates to “blood tears”.
The great fires of that crucial night left few buildings standing, and those that survived have long since had their materials repurposed. Now, small villages lie beside massive fields that were once nothing more than swampland- converted by digging canals to divert the water and using the resultant dirt to create elevated farmland. The fields grow mostly carrots, potatoes, and chard – as the dismal and dark skies that loom over Maynard do not allow crops that love the light. Those that live there say that the land lies under an eternal fog that barely ever dissipates completely, and only does so for short lengths of time. In the crags surrounding Castle Crimson hundreds of goatherds and shepherds ply their trade, creating more than enough food to support all of Maynard. The village life would appear almost idyllic and picturesque to an outsider, if not for the strange creatures, hauntings, and lumbering shapes in the fog that is part of everyday life for those who live here.
Coat of Arms: A gold falcon bearing its talons on a green field.
Maxim: Strike to Bleed and They Shall Fall
One major city and viscounty remains in Maynard besides Castle Crimson, and that is Rookhaven, the seat of House Falkner. High atop a craggy hill in the midst of a forested valley lies Rookhaven and Talonsreach fortress, with the town built around the hill on roadways and paths so that it resembles a giant screw. Tunnels that traverse through the interior of the hill seem to have been built with expediency of travel around town in mind, though this space has been used as well for cave-like dwellings and dark shops.
At the top of the spires of Talonsreach is the ancient aerie of the Huntresses, filled with thousands of bats, falcons, and ravens bred for intelligence, war, and messages. These birds surround Talonsreach like a cloud, and often cover the buildings throughout Rookhaven – coming to rest on every possible perch. If House Maynard is the house most concerned with the practical nature of running a kingdom, House Faulkner is known for their political acumen. They are famous for their ability to wheedle information out of any source and spread news with an uncanny speed. Faulkners are raised to develop a well-honed ability to change hearts and minds given enough time.
Lord: Countess Vanessa Heideveld
Keep: Unguarded Castle
Coat of Arms: Heather flowers tightly gripped in a gauntlet on a deep purple field
Maxim: Virtue and Providence
Heideveld sits apart in a secluded valley just north of the Cragclefts. With only one entrance and exit, the county is easily controlled. Not only is it hard for outsiders to enter – but it is difficult for anyone who lives there to leave. Countess Vanessa Heideveld is rarely seen, preferring instead to keep to the so-called Unguarded Castle, but her hand and eyes are heavy upon all within her domain. Some have sworn that they have seen her during daylight hours, but that she appears sickly and sleepless. The company she keeps is primarily limited to those of her most trusted inner council.
House Heideveld is known as a repository for information about, and exhibits of, the odd and unusual throughout the realm and beyond. It is not politics and control that seem to interest the Heideveld. The Countess and her House appear to be after something very different. Those nobles within Heideveld or her vassal houses are often treated more like glorified research assistants than they are nobility, and it’s rumored that she isn’t above forcibly “adopting” any peasants she comes across that seem to have a observational mind and a steady hand.
Those that work directly for the Castle claim that the Countess has surrounded herself with books and research concerning the strange stories about the area and its history, occult practices, religious accounts, geometry and mathematics, and archaeology.
Since time immemorial, the valley of Heideveld has remained protected and safe despite the calamities and tragedies of the outside world. When the great volcano erupted and destroyed Ryker’s Gate the flow of lava fell not into the valley of Heideveld, but instead followed the mountain ranges around it- a manner of extreme luck due to the massive rocks that fell during the initial eruption. When the Great War brought swarms of Kuarlites onto the shores of old Rogalia, a dense fog filled the valley and its entrance, making battle and destruction exceedingly difficult, and most of the invaders needed to reroute their efforts elsewhere. Those critical of the Heideveld state that they have sold their souls to an old religion, and it is even rumored that they provide land for a small academy called the Ashen Lions which trains individuals of unusual abilities. It is also believed that the Heideveld still practice the old magics, and this is the source of their seemingly endless fortune. But regardless of cause, accounts of the famous Heideveld serendipity are seen over and over again throughout the centuries, and it is believed that every attack upon the area results in bad luck for whoever would try.
Of course, the Countess does not limit herself with research into the past, but is also constantly working on developing new technology and mechanical tools. For example, the houses here are mostly made of a hard stone-like substance created by mixing small pieces of rock with quicklime and volcanic ash quarried from the mountains around Heideveld, and then faced with stone or brick. This strange mixture is the result of Count Vanessa’s research, research which has resulted in longstanding structures and more buildings being built than the population of Heideveld can reasonably use for traditional multigenerational households. Thus, the population of the Heideveld region tends to spread out more than other places, and new families tend to start up a home of their own.
Despite the best actions of the Countess, though, the soil within Heideveld is not particularly fertile. As such the people of Heideveld county mostly subsist off of the grazing animals that they raise, including cows, goats, and sheep. The one thing that seems to still grow well in the outskirts of the valley is heather. The purple stalks wave and ripple in the winds that course through the valley, and create an illusion of colorful waves. Many medicines, honey, and wines come from the harvest of this flower, but there is a strict prohibition on where the wild heather can be harvested and when. Most people tend to propagate their own small heather and herb gardens in order to have more freedom of use.
Within the valley can be found a number of large standing stone menhirs that must have been erected in ancient times, each with strange writing upon it that does not match any of the languages currently written or spoken by those in Seravia. The Countess is particularly careful of these menhirs and forbids the commonfolk from interacting with them as much as possible. Those who do are often called to report to the Countess, and they rarely return.
Ruling House: Underwode
Lord: Damasus Underwode
Keep: Spinebreak Keep
Coat of Arms: Six black daggers, all pointed inward on a gold and red background.
Maxim: Victory is the Highest Law
The seat of House Underwood stretches from Cryhaven port up to the haunted forges and abandoned barracks of Doom Iron. A mountainous region near the sea, most people enter and leave the province via the port of Cryhaven rather than risk traveling overland near Doom Iron and the terrors it holds.
The Underwode historically come from a line of thieves and brigands, and not only do they not deny this history, they seem to revel in it. Murals have been commissioned in the city that depict historic heists and illicit transport. Rather than ballads of battles and depictions of glory, Underwode artistry and stories revel in poisonings, backstabbing, spying, and duplicity.
But no matter how willing they are to get their hands dirty in order to succeed, the Underwode have a strange sort of honor about them. The word of an Underwode, although extremely hard to obtain, and sometimes even harder to decode, is usually considered good. At the same time, breaking your word or failing to uphold your end of a deal to an Underwode is not recommended – and often results in seeing just how good they are at maiming and mutilation with those onyx daggers. Count Damasus Underwode is in charge of Underwode territory, and he is known as a handsome man with a large family. It is unclear who is vampiric and who is human in his court, and that air of uncertainty is carefully cultivated. It is also rumored that body doubles and stand-ins are judiciously utilized, especially for public appearances and court. The virtues of his House also have bled into the surrounding populace of vassals, and while Cryhaven is considered a good port for Hesha and other traders to call upon, no one wants to stay for long. It is said that the longer you stay in Cryhaven, the lighter your supplies and profits become.
To the north of Cryhaven lies the ruined castle of Doom Iron. Many generations ago during the times of Rogalia, this castle reigned over a war machine like no other – with smithies running day and night to forge enough iron to arm and armor the grim and formidable Blackguard army. But when the first attackers who would change the course of Rogalian history landed at Ryker’s Gate, and many of the southern counties were immediately distracted and called upon to repel the monstrous cultist invaders, the Blackguard saw an opportunity and marched north to Port Melandir. Why they marched north, and not south to take on their rivals in Cryhaven is not known, for there were no known survivors left to explain.
They never returned, and the prisoners in their dungeons, the smiths chained to their forges, the families of the armies who were left behind, were left to deal with the aftermath themselves. They were not equipped to fight the hateful and merciless Kuarlite armies, nor to withstand the natural disasters that shook the foundations of the world, nor the eventual vampiric spawn hordes that swept over the land like violent plague. The result is one of the most haunted places in all of Seravia, rich with metal materials and ancient devices – but thick with malefic creatures. Only the bravest or most foolhardy dare to loot from the ruins of Doom Iron.
Cryhaven itself is built atop a river delta that empties into the sea, with towering cliffs at its back overlooking the lowland port and ocean. At the very top of the cliffs, in Spinebreak Keep, Count Damasus Underwode and his family keep track of the goods that enter and leave the city and offer safe passage to any who keep the peace. In some ways, Cryhaven may remind visitors of a crowded Gothic city, with an air of lawlessness and a general philosophy of anarchy, but the fact that all are welcome does not mean that there is no order within Underwode lands. Quite to the contrary, if it is determined that one of the gangs or guilds that has taken up residence on the streets of the city is causing too much harm to the general wellbeing of Cryhaven, they are swiftly and mercilessly punished… and there are no second chances. While once, long ago, the punishment might have been death from a long fall from the top of Spinebreak Keep, that was a time when death eliminated problems. Now, the punishments handed down are ones of lifelong labor, limb harvesting for trade, or a lifetime of methodical blood draining and imprisonment.
Ruling House: Ramsey
Lord: Count Grayson Ramsey, the “Pustulant”
Keep: The Ram’s Horn
Coat of Arms: A black volcano in front of a pair of red crossed swords on a gray field.
Maxim: Forward, Onward
Situated on the southern tip of Seravia, the city of Ryker’s Gate sits on a peninsula bordered on all sides by the cold waters that churn and froth within the Strait of Edges. Presiding over the rocky, blasted landscape here is the Lord Grayson Ramsey, called the Pustulant. While few would use this title to his face, the Lord seems to have thoroughly embraced his disfigurement, seeming to revel in the discomfort it causes. While Count Grayson is unmistakably gruesome, it is the scent of decay and buzzing of flies that seem to cause those invited to The Ram’s Horn the most unease. His power and grip on the area is well-seeded, for his bloodline traces back to the original inhabitants of the area, long before the blood-soaked wars that brought the death and destruction of the then-noble family of Rennet and their court. Count Grayson claims heritage to House Ramsey which firmly cements him to the history of the region. However, given that there are currently no other heirs or known family that claim the name “Ramsey”, it could be a strange tribute or joke, for those who have interacted with him report that Count Grayson Ramsey has a dark and wry sense of humor. House Ramsey was the House of Old Rogalia that was said to have never been defeated. Stories are told of their unexpected, and sometimes outright foolhardy tactics designed to repel invaders which include demolishing parts of their mountains, causing avalanches, and cave-ins. A feature of every story surrounding House Ramsey is their deep familiarity with the caves, mines, and mountains of the region, as well as their strangely close relationship with dwarves. The current business of House Ramsey is mostly in mining the ores and materials of their volcanic region, and in managing the ever-growing city of Ryker’s Gate.
Long ago, the city of Ryker’s Gate was a den of indentured servitude, if not outright slavery. While the empire of the Throne had not allowed slavery, old Rogalia had conquered the island nation of Dunland, colonized it, stripped it of its resources, and forced the country’s inhabitants to work in menial positions. The old Noble House in control of Ryker’s Gate at the time, House Rennet, had been charged with keeping the Dunnick peace and was the primary party responsible for bringing in the resources from Dunland – including the people. Due to this precious cargo, Ryker’s Gate had been immensely fortified – with massive chains in the water, miles of impossibly thick stone walls, and the city’s namesake: Ryker’s Gate. Comprised of two titanic stone arches forming the frame to two equally massive wooden doors said to have been over four feet thick, the gate served as the main entrance to the city, and was wide enough to accommodate many lanes of merchant caravan traffic. It was only openable via a sophisticated concoction of thick chains, pulleys, and machinery reputed to be of Dwarven design. Today, the gates themselves are gone, and the entryway is walled up. Now, in order to enter or exit the city, one must take the more mundane and unassuming north gate to the city.
Several hundred years ago, the eruption of Mount Ossanegra spewed lava and ash down onto the already blighted landscape, obliterating what little arable land there was, and turning the doors of Rykers Gate into a mammoth bonfire. It was something of an empty gesture, however, for by that point, Ryker’s Gate had long ago been overrun and conquered by an unlikely and overwhelming force of Dunnick warbands, saboteurs, and operatives. The bustling hub of industry and oppression had been eerily silent for many years before the lava crashed against the city walls, gate, and most of the city. The newly-small number of inhabitants were straggling survivors, and triumphant Duns trying to make a new life on Rogalian soil. Those who could flee to the sea when Ossanegra exploded survived, but the city was increasingly viewed as cursed.
Yet over time, and in an overpopulated world, every available piece of real estate must be used. And so despite the grim history of this place, new generations made it a home. House Ramsey, the nearest House to survive the wars and disasters laid claim when Rogalia was divided up by King Karsus into the new kingdom of Seravia, and its people were spread over the area to more effectively live, work, and provide food for the populace. A stigma is attached to villagers from this region, however, for a strange sickness tends to afflict a percentage of the population. Strange boils and pustules form, and the eyes tend to be bloodshot and weepy. It does not seem to cause overt discomfort or have other side effects besides the cosmetic ones, but the overall effect is unfortunate. This condition is nicknamed the “Ossanegra,” presumably due to how it spreads like lava from its namesake among the peoples of the Gate. Many superstitious people believe it is a mark of displeasure from the earth itself, as it had tried to be rid of the foul history of this place and yet tenacious mankind has still held on. Others suspect it has spread from the newcomers to this place – settlers brought here by the new Lord of Ryker’s Gate. Some even think of it as a gift – a mark that they are being marked in some way by their Lord.
The Ram’s Horn, home to Lord Grayson and his entourage, is a narrow and tall fortress keep which teeters precariously atop one of the larger peaks of the Cragclefts called the Heart of the Mountain, or Gemod se beorhstede. Well past dawn, for morning comes late in the shadow of the cliffs, but just before the sun peeks over the high point of the ridge, the large deposits of rich iron ore embedded in the mountain like streams glow a deep and blood red. It is believed that the Ram’s Horn contains a gallery filled with numerous lovingly painted renditions of this sight. Thus it is assumed Lord Grayson’s favorite view. The region is unusual in that it still contains rich and deep ore and mineral deposits within its mountains, despite such useful nodes being stripped in so many other parts of Seravia and the world at large. In addition to large amounts of precious ore, unusual strains exist that are used in smelting alloys of rare strength and density to create tools and weapons that maintain an edge like no other. The preservation and use of old dwarven forges and smithing tools also adds to the wonder and precision of the works produced in this area. For many generations ago, dwarves and humans remarkably lived side by side in a community nearby; where those dwarves have now gone is anybody’s guess.
It is believed that the main reason the Cragcleft mines under House Ramsey are still so productive is become of the careful controls placed upon the workers for mining extraction and manufacturing. Lord Grayson keeps a tight grip on how many laborers are allowed into the mines of the mountain, and for how long. It would appear he would like to prolong the inevitable depletion of this area for as long as possible.
The city of Ryker’s Gate itself is a strange combination of old brick buildings and stone structures made with combinations of the natural earth and stone, and the now abundant lava rocks. Anything that was made of wood long ago burned or rotted away. Many will swear the city is one of the most Malefic anywhere, for stories about the horrors of revenge committed here during the razing of the War continue to this day. It is believed that some of the city structures were rebuilt by the Dunnick conquerors using the pulverized bones and incinerated bodies of the Rogalian children who called this place their home. In so doing, the children were never given proper burial or rest and could not rejoin their families in the afterlife, and the victors could literally live on the broken backs of the descendants of their enemies.
Ruling House: Erinstead
Lord: The Lady, Countess Hermaine Erinstead, the “Lady of the Long Winter”
Keep: The Giant’s Glade
Coat of Arms: A gray pair of crossed morning stars on a white field.
Maxim: Many Whispers Become a Roar
The strangely varied landscape known as The Whispers contains an abundance of stone ruins and deep caves, including imposing old castles and village remnants that surround them. The sheer number of dilapidated ruins that carve up the landscape surrounding the castles tell of a time when this area was settled by many hale and hearty people with wealth, ample resources, and plenty of food. Before the War and the devastation that followed, two noble families held dominion over this area, House Strongbull and House Telford. While the former Strongbull keep of Giantstone swarms with life and activity that seems out of place against the stark, rocky and dry landscape, the castle of Riverguard is little more than a tomb now, set against a wet, verdant backdrop that should be teeming with life…which is curiously absent.
Riverguard once had another name, but it seems irrelevant now. It remains nearly inaccessible except by boat, though at night, small fires can be seen from the upper windows of the sunken towers. It seems as though even the treacherous rocks and rotted wooden beams surrounding the remaining halls and towers of the mossy and waterlogged castle are not enough to deter those in need of shelter. Though there is always the possibility of much more sinister activities.
The mostly submerged wood and stone walkways that would have once, long ago, granted access to the main gates have broken away, whether by intentional design or by the destruction of war is unclear. Riverguard sits at the junction of the rivers Quitch and Mascan, and from this position the castle would have been ideally situated for trade and irrigation for fertile crops. Being in such a highly desirable area still, it is unknown why The Lady of the Whispers has not allocated more resources and labor to restore and develop this area. Despite the fact that trees have recovered here to the point of being able to provide much needed lumber, and ample fields could be of benefit to livestock, The Lady has been notably silent on the issue of Riverguard and its surrounding semi-empty villages. Certainly people go there, sometimes try to hunt or gather there, but the mysterious death and disappearance rate is high in these riverlands, even by Seravian standards. Those who come back from death consistently have no memory of what transpired, but they are left with an unease and avoid going back for reasons they cannot name.
Giantstone Keep remains a place of awe and mystery, for the cyclopean boulders which give the keep its form are green-black behemoths that seem impossible for any man or beast to have transported. Where the stones came from and how they got there remains a mystery. Even after multiple millenia, the boulders of Giantstone remain relatively smooth and unmarred, save for the blackened fungus and deep green moss that have accumulated upon them. The ruin of Giantstone sits on the western coast of Seravia, which used to run thick with dense and rocky forests. Now, after centuries of deforestation, the land is much more arid and dry. Bony brown skeletons of brush and saplings reach upwards in a mocking pantomime of the life-giving expanse that once was. The local ruling clan of Erinstead stubbornly continue to slowly build and develop at Giantstone and around it, despite the lack of viable game animals and materials in the area.
Oral histories speak of an age when the two keeps of Riverguard and Giantstone stood fast, eidolons of hope and pride in a land shrouded in a nearly unending parade of suffering. The surrounding villages of people were happy, cultivating and reaping the bounty of the land. Then, as creatures do, they disagreed and grew resentful of one another and angry. The anger turned to violence; violence then bringing ruin and damnation as what should have been two Houses that stood together to face the onslaughts of war instead turned on each other when they needed one another most. And now, the people of these capable and proud Houses are gone, and their names are rarely spoken of. The remnants of these old bloodlines has been blended with local survivors and clans and cultivated into a wild hybrid, the Erinstead. This House holds sway over the entirety of The Whispers and its inhabitants. The province is divided up into loose freeholds that are controlled by an acting viscount, though it is likely that these individuals are selected for already having some deeper, familial connection to this place. These viscounts then answer to the Countess Hermaine Erinstead of The Whispers, though the relationship can at times be tenuous if not mutinous.
The House of Erinstead and their tributary-yet-defiant viscounts are a fierce and wild lot, tending to be large of stature and strength. They eschew many creature comforts and the vanity of castles. Instead, they settle in low homes of crude wood and pitch among the crumbling ruins throughout The Whispers. They have been relegated to the wooden redoubts and low, stone cottages of a people in transition. The loosely unified people who call themselves the Erinstead were once many; roving bands who dwelt among the trees and hills of The Whispers. These days they are led by Countess Hermaine Erinstead, or as she is also known, The Lady of the Long Winter, for she is as cruel and just as nature and as hard as the winter ice. Unrelenting in her errand to bring the entirety of the province to bear, she has begun amassing equipment and supplies at the site of Giantstone in an effort to reclaim and rebuild it.
For now, the center of power for The Whispers is the Giant’s Glade, a large village several miles from Giantstone. It is not believed that the Countess is a vampire, but it is hard to tell. Her physical strength is the stuff of legends, and some believe that magic flows through her veins. Regardless of what she is, she is not to be crossed, and the people who follow her know this. One has to be hardened and resilient to survive in the Whispers, and harder still to bring the Whispers to heel.
Shadowvale, The City of Lanterns
Ruling House: Ascalon
Lord: Focalor Ascalon
Keep: Dusk Watch
Coat of Arms: A white crescent moon in a black starry field.
Maxim: He Who Conquers Endures
At night, which comes especially early in Shadowvale, a procession can be heard. Creaky viols, lutes, and drums create ominous and otherworldly melodies that echo down the dimly flickering cobblestone streets. High collared and frocked men and women, still awake and conducting business, drop small offerings of salt in the rusted metal bucket of the collector in the rear of the musicians, encouraging them to keep playing the notes believed to keep the evils of the dark at bay. One after the other, the light of the lanterns that line the streets is extinguished.
The smallest of Seravia’s seven provinces, Shadowvale is a city built into a vast cliffside of the mountains of Highcrown overlooking a narrow valley. Perched above hundreds of meticulously bored tunnels and caverns through the mountain like an enormous anthill, this city is the most well preserved of any in Seravia. Many historic city locations were chosen specifically for their defensible position, but Shadowvale not only has its enviable site and tunnels known well only to the locals, it also has forces exceptionally skilled at night raiding and fighting.
While most other cities were razed in either the wars or the Calamity, Shadowvale of House Ascalon has maintained. They have ruled in their valley, in one form or another, for longer than anyone can remember. Count Focalor however, has only been in charge of Ascalon since the reign of King Karsus brought him back to Seravia. It is no secret that House Ascalon is tied up closely to the Church of Night, and the House supports Count Focalor in his efforts as a priest of Night. Count Focalor and House Ascalon do not take an active role in the managing of their lands, stating that “The land and its creatures bend to our will if we but let them tell us their needs.” Day to day management of the city and surrounding villages’ needs are primarily in the hands of the appointed magistrates, while Focalor focuses on nurturing the Church of Night through Seravia and beyond.
However, the city famously has been known by another title: The City of Lanterns, for it was historically always well lit and glowing from the light of hundreds of lanterns that seemed to be kept alight by magic. The reality was that a flammable gas was run through pipes throughout the city which had a source deep in the mountains. Nowadays, these same lanterns are starting to flicker and fade, and only burn part-time. Whatever source has been powering them for all these many centuries is failing. This is likely related to the increasing number of cave-ins and collapses within the tunnels of the mountain which occur with great violence. Many believe that when the Calamity hit so many years ago, the Highcrown mountains shifted and weakened the structural integrity of many things within and below them. It is as though whatever force which has been holding the incredibly old city together is starting to die.
The stone, brick, and earthen homes that form the modest commune of the people all sit below the gaze of the castle that still serves as home to the ruling family here. The Ascalon brood has held the keep in some form or fashion for countless generations. All have shut themselves up high above the middling homes of the countryside, looming over their domain like some great black-winged bird. They have kept the serene, isolated cliffside haven free from outside incursions and influence for as long as many can remember. The villagers beyond Shadowvale who work in the valley below have also always called the House Ascalon noble line master, tilling in their fields and terraces, tending to their stock, and hauling in bunches of the large, blue-green grapes whose juice is fermented into the heady wine for which their valley is well known. The wine is said to cause a sense of peace and relaxation, and records dating back thousands of years mention recipes and medicinal uses for this wine. Some believe that the production of this wine has been encouraged by vampiric Lords – for fear can sour blood, and wine promotes relaxation and langor, thus making one’s taste more palatable.
The region of Shadowvale, and the valleys below, sometimes seems as unchanging and frozen in time as their unbroken lineage of Lord masters. It has been described as a living monument, which can have dark implications. A monument is not itself alive, and stands more as a testament to memory. This area seems to have never lost its vampiric presence from thousands of years ago in old Rogalia, and one wonders if the people who have lived here for generations have this stasis ingrained into the fibers of their being. Are they just walking the same steps of the same dance over and over again? Or, just like the changes in the seemingly unshakeable mountains, are they destined to someday break their pattern and slowly create something new? Perhaps a sign of the changes over the centuries is the fact that House Ascalon permits the largest number of monster hunters to reside in their domain of any other House in Seravia. Small numbers of priests of other religions seem to not face the same levels of persecution here as elsewhere, perhaps due to the divided attentions of the Count.
Whatever change may come must be seditious, secret, and slow, for this land is rumored to possibly even be the birthplace of vampires. If this is true, then their blood, spawn, and essence is seeped into the foundations of every home and field.
Even when Seravia was Rogalia, and this region was in the hands of humans, vampires still would infiltrate the court of House Ascalon. Some even believe that House Ascalon has always had a close relationship with vampires. Given this, it may be a surprise that there is also a secret underbelly to the human community of Shadowvale. The Order of St. Balta has a long history of covertly undermining and sabotaging the vampiric courts. Named for Balta the Bold, a lady in waiting in the court of House Ascalon long, long ago before the world changed, she became aware of a vampire within the court and lead a group of hunters and priests to murder that vampire during the few hours of sunlight the region had. She was killed for committing the murder of a noble, but her defiant act of protection for the community inspired others, and while it is more dangerous than ever to be a secret member of this order and plot against the lords, it is not only the vampire Lords of Highcrown who know how to use terror tactics in the dark. If the taint of vampiric history is ingrained in the bones of these people, so too is a hunger. It would be wise of Lord Focalor Ascalon to not turn his sharp gaze from the City of Lanterns and the warrens below, for the night contains many teeth.
Ruling House: Unknown
Lord: The Widow
Once the shining beacon of a proud empire, Port Melandir now rots from the inside like a fresh corpse tossed into a darkened alley. From the outside, the largest city in all of Seravia still calls to those in search of ancient majesty, with its stone carved facades and streets of grey-black brick that date back far more than a thousand years to a time before any human memory. The great architectural wonders of the city on the water now remain as a reminder that while humans had also built great things once, they also had immense capacity to destroy and mismanage.
When a traveller first approaches from the west and sets eyes on this port city, the first thing they see is the Undruvian Arch – and this is quite on purpose. For whoever the great builders of the city were long ago, they knew how to make a first impression. The Undruvian Arch is a bridge which spans nearly a league and is, for all its former wonder, now little more than a disorientingly high walkway above the rushing waterway that courses far below. On the other side, the city then opens up in every direction. As is seen in other larger cities in the world, the smaller homes and shops of the city’s less fortunate take up the less desirable edges, as these people are left the most vulnerable to attack from the outside, and have the least amount of time to prepare. Those of more prominent stature or importance stow themselves away higher up among the tall buildings of the city center. Many smaller bridges connect the various crumbling parts of the city, though some are now ramps to nowhere.
A distinct air of ruin and ennui pervades the streets, as though no one sees the point in restoration anymore, and few are willing to lift a finger to try. What has not gone to ruin over the countless ages is claimed for habitation by the inhabitants of the place; shadows that stalk the streets, prowling among the decaying, crumbling edifices like mice scurrying underfoot. The most tragic ruins of all are the remains of the University and Great Library of Port Melandir.
While a fair amount of the University still stands and has been reconstructed in parts, the Great Library is mostly bare earth and cracked foundation. Long ago, the Library was burned to the ground, and nearly all of its priceless tomes went up in flames. The amount of knowledge that was lost on that day is incalculable. Many of the surrounding stones still bear discoloration from the smoke and the ground has never again been built upon. When people do make use of the space, it is to allow travelling Nemien to set up camp, or to have a small market, or to have duels fought.
The once-great University – one of the few that stood during the time of the Throne – rises up, through, and over the fog of the city. Grey, pock-marked stone converge to form graceful archways and high towers. Menacing gargoyles and depictions of angels and demons perch on ledges, alcoves, and gutters all around. Currently, the many chambers and passages within this immense former institution are now home to those who are the select chosen few of the Lord of this place. These are the people who see to the daily affairs of the city, collect taxes, and settle disputes. They are the ones gifted with a life off the streets, and offered some greater protections by the thick walls of this now-desolate temple of education.
The myriad homes, hovels, and shops that cram into every corner of city space are often eerily empty stone and wood monuments to another time, for the number of inhabitants of Port Melandir is very obviously not what it once was. While most of the known world deals with densely overpopulated cities teeming with humanity, Port Melandir seems to have difficulties maintaining their population, and the immense size of the city makes that difficulty much more apparent. While it could be partially attributed to the oppressive air of the place which discourages large families, the main culprit appears to be disappearances. Some nights only a few people go missing. Sometimes it’s dozens. And the truly disturbing thing, is that those who disappear don’t seem to come back – or at least not in a way that people recognize.
Many of these disappearances are attributed to the unnamed Lord of this place. She is simply called the Widow, for the few who have caught glimpses of her say she appears as a figure in mourning, her face obscured by veils. While she is not often seen, her presence is acutely felt. For while she is a terrorizing figure, where she walks no Malefic entity dares tread. On nights when she roams, a strange sense of peace is felt in the air, but when the sun rises, people are missing. Because of this, the residents of Port Melandir are caught in a terrible conundrum. If they are not the ones disappearing, they are quite safe in the city. Beyond the boundaries of Port Melandir are hordes of shambling Malefic, vampire spawn, and worse. Yet to stay within the city increases one’s chances on a long enough timeline of being taken. The grim uncertainty of each day creates a listless and helpless depression that settles over Port Melandir like the dense fogs that roll in from the sea.
“The people of Seravia are as actors in a play whom have no lines and for whom the curtain will never drop.”
– Harmen Rosenberg, Salgothic, from Observations of the World
On the surface, there appear to be three classes of people within the Seravian culture. At the top are the Lords and their court. These include their family (whether by birth or creation), lesser vampires or dhampirs, as well as other various counts, viscounts, barons, and landed magistrates. Then there are the artisans, traders, craftsmen, and hunters that ostensibly serve the Count and his lands. As their livelihood is not directly tied to the land and fields, they seem to possess more autonomy than other vassals. However, their movement is controlled and structured all the same by the Lords and their retinue. They often rent land from a magistrate or baron and go where their nobles tell them to go, doing what they are told to do. The final class is the peasants, or the land-locked vassals, who will often only leave the land they farm when they are presented to their local nobility as a babe and as a young child.
These presentations, once after the third sunset after their birth and once upon their graduation from petty school, are as much about control as they are rites of passage. The vampiric and vampiric-influenced Lords (more accurately, Counts) manage much of the details of their people’s lives to ensure that their population is healthy, at reasonable numbers, and well-behaved. It is at these presentations that the Count, or their representative, decide whether children are strong enough to be allowed to remain with their parents or whether they have weaknesses, mental infirmities, or deformities that necessitate them being sent to the outlands or given to the Count for other purposes.
And there are indeed other purposes. Among many of the Counts there exists a class of servants called Albusin, a group of strange looking individuals with too pale skin and little hair, with large veins bulging throughout their bodies. These servants are carefully raised by an elite group of dhampirs and are fanatically loyal to their nobles. It is likely that these characteristics have been carefully bred into the population whenever possible to ensure that this special population continues to serve the Lords.
Among the vassals, marriages are also restricted and dependent upon approval of the Count, and it is not unheard of for betrothals to be broken because the Count’s representative reveals that the family lines of the wedding party are too closely intertwined for safety purposes, or there is some other, more favorable union that the Count is aware of that would be preferred. How many children commonfolk are allowed to have is also dependent on their Lords, with some Counts demanding restrictions while others encourage fecundity.
Within these three classes, there is obviously a large amount of variability, and one example of a “class within a class” is that of the dhampirs. Dhampirs are the most human form of a vampire, being able to uncomfortably exist during the day, eat food, and perform other human activities, but they are not well understood. Scholars have not found many records referencing them prior to the Seravian dynasty, and thus they appear to be a relatively new phenomenon. Not much is known about what it exactly takes to create a dhampir, though theories abound. Some believe they are the result of a true vampire breeding with a human, others say they are the result of a hushed internal vampiric war or a ritual gone wrong, while others think that they are a natural evolution of humans in these times of temporary death and elongated lives. Some dhampir exhibit more vampiric characteristics than others, and variation is the norm, but they all to some degree possess the bloodlust of vampires and spawn. While it is a certainty that the Lords of Seravia are likely well aware of the dhampir condition, and studying the phenomenon extensively, their knowledge is not available to the public. The dhampir are thus caught between two worlds, never fully belonging to either the realms of humanity or that of the true vampires. Some attempt to leave their homes and wander, and some stay to the courts they are familiar with, but regardless of their choice or allowance, they are both lesser and more. More powerful and more restricted than humans. Less potent and more free than vampires. And never fully trusted by either.
“If you serve death, you need not fear death.”
– Seravian Proverb
While most of the average people in Seravia know little of politics beyond the organization of their city – or perhaps their county – the noble houses of Seravia have a fairly complex structure. At the very top is the King, Karsus the Undying, and his rule is absolute. He rules from Castle Crimson in the Maynard lands of Galdoreor, and his Counts control the other six silent kingdoms of Seravia. Each of them has one or two baronies, or even viscounties containing multiple baronies, underneath them. At the lowest level are the landed magistrates who handle the day-to-day interactions with the peasantry.
Each county has a very different structure, depending on their Count, but generally peasants are expected to pay a tax or tribute to their direct overlords, who pass on the majority of that to theirs. Many lords require a tax in blood, or in servants – which are generally assumed to be the same thing by the peasantry. However, there are times where the tax may take the form of salt or food or other goods, depending on the Lord’s current plans and needs.
There is very little chance for someone who was born in one role to become anything else, especially given how tightly controlled information is within the different counties. Peasants and freemen need permission from the nobility to even leave their villages, let alone changing the roles that have been planned out for them. Such restrictions can breed frustration and contempt, and it is a certainty that underground resistance movements and orders persevere in extreme secret, working hard to destroy the nobility and the vampires that support them.
One such organization is the Sons of Adam, an archaic Order of vampire hunters that is featured in histories of the area for several thousand years. It is common knowledge that the Sons of Adam – indeed, all of Addison County where they are supposed to have originally been headquartered – were wiped out shortly after the Calamity. And yet, rumors of them persist. It is said that they have artificers among them who are experts in mechanical devices far beyond those of the normal hunter, devices that allow them to fight and possibly even defeat the vampiric counts. As such it is considered the sworn duty of every member of the nobility to ferret out information about anyone who might be associated with the Sons of Adam and deal with them as quickly as possible.
Understandably, given the leadership of Seravia, if members of this Order are discovered, they are given no quarter or mercy. Generally, it is not just the offending individual that is mortally punished, but also their families, friends, and any known associates. The concern is that sedition spreads like diseased air, and concern, even fear, of the Sons of Adam runs deep among the more elderly of the Seravian vampires.
A profession that is sometimes taken on openly, and sometimes clandestinely is that of a monster hunter. The Lords of Seravia maintain a delicate balance with the allowance of this profession. While it is believed that the Lords are able to keep Malefic out of villages proper, beyond the gates, walls, or boundaries, nothing is safe. On the one hand, it is a very useful thing to have an individual around who can protect the herd from the dangers that lurk outside of villages such as overly zealous spawn, Malefic, and the myriad of strange monstrous creatures that call Seravia their home. On the other hand, the more people that are equipped with knowledge of how to fight creatures of the night, the greater the chances of a potential coup – even if those chances are infinitesimally slight.
One of the few options that is available to people who are chafing within the rigidly structured Seravian society is to petition the nobility to become an explorer. Most of the counties are desperate for outside goods like stone and metal, and many Counts collect relics from the past. It is certainly dangerous to journey within Seravia, let alone beyond it, which may be why few of these explorers ever return. Some Counts even offer a lottery for such roles, with the added privilege of being able to buy the ability for your family to go with you as well – provided you first return with enough to pay what they are worth to the nobility.
“Nothing is a right in life. You are entitled to nothing. Everything must be fought for, earned, and preserved through merit. Life itself is a perfect example.”
– Ciprian Faulkner
While individual Counts and their nobility may choose to enforce any laws they wish upon the people that are underneath them, they may not contradict any of the laws that have come down from a higher authority than they. There are a few laws that hold sway throughout all of Seravia, as they were declared by King Karsus himself.
The Law of Fidelity: No one may revolt against their betters. Any act of direct defiance or willful abandonment of duty is considered rebellion, and all are granted the power to quell such an uprising and punish any that may do so.
The Law of Tribute: All who are protected by Seravia must provide to Seravia. This is not limited to, but includes taxation of coin, goods, might, and flesh.
The Law of Stability: All those who are not of the noble caste require permission from a noble to leave their station or their area.
The Law of Violence: Any who associate with the Sons of Adam will be destroyed along with their holdings, their families, and their associates.
In Seravia, those who break the law are punished by those above them who made such law. Effectively, one who breaks the law set by the social class above them puts their life into the hands of that rank of nobility. There is no court of law, no paid defense, no councilors or advisors to help someone argue their way out of the trouble they are in. There is simply the noble that stands in judgment upon them, and whatever judgment they decide to serve. Thus, while breaking the rules of a magistrate might not necessarily come with strict repercussions many avoid it, for that magistrate is well within their rights to do what they wish with a lawbreaker. Similarly, disputes between the nobility are handled by those they are sworn to. Two feuding barons might be overseen by a Viscount, and a Count who claims insult or damage from another Count places the matter in the hands of Karsus himself.
If a law has been broken, but the believed perpetrator or their whereabouts are unknown, a Noble Hunt is called. Those who have witnessed a hunt do not like to talk about it, as they are one of the few chances that those of the nobility in Seravia get to drop any pretense they have at humanity and take what is theirs by right of blood. Stories say that sometimes it is so difficult to contain the blood rage once unleashed that it is unusual for a hunt to only catch the guilty party – and so the commonfolk in Seravia will do whatever it takes to avoid such a monstrous event, including hunting down lawbreakers themselves.
Government & Politics
“Apotheosis is achieving absolute and total control over one’s life. If no one has power over you, or a say in your existence… are you not a god?”
– Anonymous author, The Natures of Vampire and Man
Nominally, the seven kingdoms are united under a single King, and thus should be at peace with each other – but the nobility of Seravia are exceptionally long lived and slow to forget an insult. In practice, there is a constant undercurrent of strife between houses, baronies, viscounties, and even counties that requires monitoring and intervention. For some of the Lords of Seravia, their grudges span generations, and the rage lies beneath a thin veneer of humanity.
While matters of law vary between the counties, each landed noble is expected to hold court once every sevenday in order to stand in meditation between their vassals. It is at these courts that any of their vassals can bring a case of insult or injury against another vassal, and for most of the lower landed nobles these courts are fairly mundane. People ask for mediation for arguments between families, while still others ask for a ruling about livestock or land rights between neighbors.
But in the higher courts, these matters are much more serious. It is here that the accusations of rebellion or invasion are settled and punishments dealt out. It is in the courts of the Counts or the King that political battles are waged and the tolls are no less severe in the battle of wits and words than they are on the field. Those who have been honored to observe court at Castle Crimson often say that they felt as if an entire conversation was happening between the lines of the courtiers, as if there were great insults being thrown in the slightest change of the syllables or dropping of obscure names.
One of the greatest points of tension among the Lords of Seravia is adherence or lack thereof to the beliefs of the Church of Night, a religion that continues to grow especially within the kingdom of Seravia, though there are outcroppings of it elsewhere in the world. Some of the Lords view any religious belief system as a crutch or tawdry distraction, and that what matters most is power on this earth – power that vampires possess, which makes them godlike creatures. Others believe that the mysteries of religion are to be studied like a puzzle for unlocking the deeper truths of the world. And others believe emphatically upon the teachings of their religion, two notable examples of this being Count Focalor and Ornais, a vampire who has taken no title but who currently resides in Ascalon lands. While their faith in the Church of Night is strong, it places them at extreme odds with some to many of their peers. What could be a matter for philosophical debate has instead over the centuries turned into bitter rivalries and hostilities as differences in fundamental beliefs and goals have grown more apparent.
“Shrouds have no pockets.”
– Seravian Proverb
Seravia is known as the Silent Kingdoms for a multitude of reason, not least of which is their interaction with other peoples through trade. The policies of trade laid down by King Karsus have kept the Seravian economy on an isolationist lockdown for the last several hundred years as the Lords secured their power locally and gained a complete understanding of the people’s economic ability. In recent years that is starting to change, though, and the current century has seen a period of slowly increasing openness in areas of trade. Trade is still strictly controlled, the more local nobility suspicious of outsiders and their intentions in Seravian lands, but the Counts seem to have met some consensus regarding how coin and goods flow past their borders.
Imports are the most strictly controlled, in many cases finished goods are banned outright from being brought into the kingdom for sale. There are a few exceptions to the rule, such as Hesha glass products and Salgothic silk clothing, and even the trade of these goods is restricted to a few recognized and respected families and trading companies. For the most part, Seravia imports stone, hard wood, and iron from other lands with any to spare, most often on Nemian caravans or Hesha merchant fleets. Even in these cases, the imported goods are usually purchased at the ports of entry or the border line, then brought across Seravia by local traders.
For outsiders to travel through Seravia, trading their wares and services, they need to obtain a Lord’s Boon, a rare and valuable piece of paper that only a few can honestly claim to have. It is believed that dhampir can smell the difference between a true Boon and a forgery, so attempts to falsify them are few and far between. Though it is known that obtaining a Boon often requires meeting one of the Lords in person, little else is known of what bargains must be struck to gain one, and those that hold them never speak on the matter, if only to maintain their monopoly. The Lords seem far less strict about their exports, and gladly sell food and textiles abroad alongside a wide array of finished products. Arms and armor flow freely, as do leather goods, textiles, and tools for all manner of trades. These they gladly sell to anyone who wishes to buy them, though their strongest trade relations remain with the Salgothics.
Though Seravia does still mint its own limited coinage for certain transactions among the nobility, the influence of trade with the outside world has made salt the de facto currency of the lower classes, while those in the direct employ of the Counts trade in copper and gold. Silver coins have been almost entirely removed from the market, more valuable as silvered blades against the Night Malefic than useless disks. Hesha traders have repeatedly capitalized on the desperation with which Seravians scrounge for silver, bringing sacks of silver ore with them to bribe their way to finer treatment by Count’s men and locals alike.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the intensity with which the nobles control their markets, a vibrant underground market structure thrives in Seravia’s hidden places. Goods typically forbidden to the populace, such as guns and gunpowder, clockwork devices, new technology, drugs, and artifacts dredged up from the ruined depths of the old Rogalian world are traded for information, favors, and salt. Books, scrolls, and relics are most prized, and can fetch an incredible price in these low places, for it is known that in many markets, the resale value is high. Smuggling is so lucrative that novice monster hunters sometimes act as guards for these underground operations, saving up for their first silver sword so they can truly take their fury to the night. Alternatively, they may turn to grave robbing, an activity that has become something of an art among their kind and is no less richly rewarded by those who would buy the left hand of a hanged man or the jewels of an ancient Rogalian Lady.
Inside Seravia, trade takes on a different flavor, though is no less tightly managed than it is with outsiders. The Counts use trade between their lands as a public statement of who is friendly with who, and humans belonging to one Lord or another may find their routes change after a gathering of the nobility. For example, currently Countess Vanessa Heideveld seems to have a feud of unknown origin with Count Focalor Ascalon, and will permit no Ascalon goods within her domain and vice versa. The Widow of Port Melandir also seems to periodically dash trade agreements to pieces as caravans and travelers suddenly and brutally tend to be butchered. Those who rise again swiftly retreat and no longer wish to pursue that particular route.
Currently, what remains an unchanging fact, though, is that every Lord trades with King Karsus. This has made the city of Seravia a veritable economic hub, the wealthiest city in the kingdom and it’s largest population center besides. That suits the King just fine, all the better for him to keep a close eye upon his herd.
And make no mistake, the Seravian people are cattle in a true sense. There is no easier way to make a Seravian lose his enigmatic smile than to mention the infamous Blood Tax. In the middle of the night the vampires arrive, seemingly choosing homes at random and rapping four times upon their door. When they ask to be invited inside to refuse is to invite death instead, for to refuse a Lord and his minions is rebellion in the purest sense. Once inside they take their pick of those that dwell within, drinking deeply at their throats until they are sated. This rarely leads in the death of those chosen, for the sanguine humors do eventually rebalance themselves in the living, and to kill in the act of feeding is considered wasteful in high society. Still there are occasionally accidents, particularly when frail or sickly children are involved. Worried mothers frequently try to hide their sons and daughters on nights such as this, though those efforts rarely end in anything other than tragedy.
It’s said the Lords know when you evade the Blood Tax, for they have intimately detailed records of every individual who has ever lived in Seravia. They know where they were born, who they married, who their children were, their trade, their friends, their greatest accomplishments, their darkest hour, the hour of their death and where they were buried, among other things. It is said that no action in Seravia goes unseen, no word unheard, no transgression unreported. These artifacts of every life are dutifully recorded, logged, and placed within the endless libraries of Seravia’s undying elite, secrets guarded by legions of dhampir and spawn among other monstrosities. There are those who doubt this, however. For if this is so, it would mean that the seditious cults and orders that are believed to exist within Seravia would be known at once. And that is the question that sometimes nags at the minds of the populace. What do their Lords know? Are the Sons of Adam even real? Are the Lords as powerful as they claim? It is the allure of these secrets and the unknown risk that so often draws the people of Seravia to serve their Lords dutifully, turn on their disloyal neighbors, and pay the Blood Tax willingly. For those who give good and true service are not forgotten and may even be elevated in status the one way that is known in Seravia – by the sharp, cold, and bloody mouths of those they serve.
“The land of Seravia runs rich. If you’re still enough you can hear the wealth pulsing – propelled by thousands of beating hearts.”
– Count Damsus Underwode
It has been centuries since natural trees have graced the steep hills and sudden valleys of Seravia. Millenia of wars, suffering, and disasters had stripped the land of nearly anything that grew for a long, long time. What remained was imposing and barren volcanic mountains seeping ash and sulfurous vapors into the shadowed valleys at their feet. In the valleys, the greasy smoke of fat fires burning in the villages desperate for light blends with the dense coastal and mountainous fog to create a cloying smog that covers everything in an eerie blanket of muffled isolation. The air of Seravia is disposed towards cold and heavy with moisture, and it can seem at times as though the mists themselves are malevolently sentient as they creep through the cracks of doors and windows to invade even the warmest home.
While the land was resource poor during the end days of Rogalia and the beginnings of the new kingdom, those desperate times necessitated a resurgence of forest cultivation, and many forests of useful wood today stand as a result of those efforts. But these are not forests fostered by the hands of nature, but by man. These are not inviting woods. Instead they are perfectly spaced and ordered labyrinths of trees, generally all growing at around the same height and width. With lumber being a necessity for continued trade and for production in the Seravian economy, it is forbidden to spend too much time in these forests. Those who do take the risk and try to enter these woods for shelter or poaching are likely to fall prey to its endless rows of identical trunks- reaching branches obscuring the sky. To be found wandering the forest is often a severely punishable offense in these lands, but to wander without being discovered risks a slower, more painful death – lost among the trees.
Where there is a will, there is a way; and when the will of the ruling Lords is the maintenance of a relatively healthy group of subjects, much of that will manifests in dedication to the cultivation of food. As such, agriculture is the backbone of the Servaian natural resource system, though whether that is crops or livestock varies from region to region. While the ash-filled cold air is unconducive for the lungs of Seravian people, it does wonders for the previously depleted soil. Within the last century, a wide variety of crops have begun to be cultivated across the region, both food and textile plants (such as cotton and linen) have seen moderate prosperity. Additionally, in part due to its ability to produce surplus grain and grass yields, Seravia boasts the ability to raise livestock for food, wool, and leather. While these herds are most often hearty goats and sheep which can eat almost anything, occasionally farmers have been known to dabble in the rearing of cattle.
In contrast, the coast of the region boast a far richer bounty than even herds of meat animals – salt. The salt trade is a staple in the Seravian economy, and it is not uncommon for the availability of salt to set the base price for trade goods in the region. As such the coastal lands are considered to be the home of some of the ‘wealthiest’ individuals in the region. Although those not fortunate enough to find employment in the salt trade make due with the unpredictable lives of fishermen and dockworkers.
Where the eerie maze forests loom, a young logging trade is coming into being. The tight regulations placed upon the harvest and maintenance of these meticulously cultivated forests make working them a predictable, though minimally lucrative profession. Many are willing to sacrifice the prospects for personal advancement for security and the betterment of the greater collective. The more daring – or desperate – inhabitants of this region have begun a fur trade, carefully trapping animals living on the edges (or within) the forests, or even venturing out to the fringes of civilization to the few remaining truly wild forests. This is a high risk, but high reward means of making a living and is preferable – in the eyes of some Seravians – to the tedious work of logging and maintaining the forests. However, the only individuals who seem to be able to keep at this for very long are trained monster hunters and slayers.
Despite its ash rich soil, Seravia is a tightly controlled monoculture. While plants and trees have taken root, in most of the kingdom it’s only those that have been introduced through agriculture that have survived. As a result of their lack of availability of many species of herbs and wild plants, the Seravians have developed a penchant for the alchemical transmutational sciences, and it is said that some of Seravia’s greatest natural resources are its alchemists themselves. After all, why grow or mine that which can be created through the careful application of science and philosophy?
Diet & Dining Customs
“Nothing is permanent, and only a fool asks anything to last. But we’re even more the fool when we take no pleasure in what we have while we have it.”
– Seravian Saying, though the first part is more commonly used
With its long-ago ravaged landscape shrouded in smog and shadows and bleak mountain peaks, Seravia’s diet is less varied than those of her neighboring regions. While her volcanic soil is rich in some areas, the years of destruction on the land have left a lot of it untenable for a variety of crops. Some different assortments of food are traded for at Cryhaven, but it often does not travel much farther into the heart of the valley.
What little farming can be done is generally nearest to the Mount Ossanegra volcano. The constant rain of ash from Ossanegra renders certain places somewhat fertile, and the Seravians must take full advantage of this. The Seravian diet of vegetables consists mostly of underground roots, tubers, and shade-loving vegetables. Potatoes, radishes, beets, and onions are popular, and grow rather well. Wheat and flax have also been able to grow in certain soils, though the more popular and hardy grains are rye and barley. Many of the fields that have difficulty growing anything can at least take passingly well to oats, which are a common feed for livestock as well as people. Leafy greens such as lettuces can sometimes be grown in village window boxes or side gardens, but they are not cultivated on a widespread basis, as pound for pound they provide less calories than root vegetables. Sunshine-loving vegetables and fruit are much rarer prizes, and if they are brought in from other countries, they are often wilted or rotten by the time they arrive. Preserved lemons and other citrus sometimes come in as a luxury items from the Heshan region, and they are highly prized.
The various Seravian counties have attempted to reforest their regions as they can, as lumber can be scarce, but the trees need to be carefully cultivated. They are grown in orthogonal grids, carefully spaced so ensure optimal growth. In these forests, few animals have returned to inhabit their depths, but the ones that have are highly sought after. A breed of pale, red eyed deer have been known to wander about, but their numbers are small. Only the heads of noble families are allowed to hunt them, and even that is a rare occasion. Anyone else caught trying to enter or poach in these woods is punished to the fullest extent. More standard deer and small game can be found in the wild, if one is diligent, but the difficulty of hunting is what has made it a sport.
The majority of the meat in Seravia comes from livestock, farm animals, and sea creatures. Pike and cod are readily available in the ocean, as well as a wide variety of shellfish. Cows, sheep, and goats are popular, and kept mostly close to the coast where some grass grows, though feed can also be traded inland. Like much of the rest of the world, the Seravians salt their meats, allowing it to travel farther and keep for a longer period of time. Meat is the main source of protein, and is important to the populace. These animals also provide milk, which is a popular beverage, as well as butter and cheese, which keep for longer and are easier to transport .
Dining in Seravia is a rather intimate affair. It tends to be done only with close family or alone. This may be a way of offering privacy to those who do not wish to eat food, or who may have a need for a singular item of sustenance, but Seravians will tell you it is because they don’t have time for meals to be long, drawn-out production. Servants are not often employed, and so the family takes their meals from the communal serving bowls, and each person receives a cloth on which to wipe their hands. Despite living in such a smoggy, labor-intensive environment, it is a point of pride to keep oneself clean. Seravians are rather strict about being neat when one eats, and slurping, burping, and other noises of boisterous food consumption are frowned upon. In upper class households, a basin of perfumed water is set just outside the dining hall so one may wash their hands prior to dining.
Fermented drinks such as ale or beer are rare because grain has other uses of importance, and the fact that grapes still grow and are cultivated in the valleys makes wine the alcoholic beverage of choice. For special occasions, desserts are served, and tend to feature nuts, dairy, and apples. Place settings are minimalistic, with simple but well made plates, iron utensils, and stoneware goblets, though among the high status glass may be used as well.
Fashion & Dress
“Hurry, hurry the toll of the bell. Though from no belltower in this world does the terrible cacophony emanate. We still believe in God, though perhaps it can be said that God no longer believes in us. I ask what manner of lord have ye? Be they benevolent? Be they cruel? Our gods are the masters of this domain, a smog-choked cobblestone street in the back alley of the world. An unremembered nightmare upon whose recollection do children cry and hounds wail. Ours is a loathsome play whose curtain has long since drawn. Grey, tattered. A rotten velvetine mended too many times by wrinkled hands, purple-veined and dessicated. We come and go, to and fro, heels click-clacking; leather, hob-nailed, brass-buckled. We are the forgotten, the shadows of a low evening, hidden and hiding; the gloaming. The blood here is thick and curdled, black with the curses of time and memory. In our veins is written the history of the damned and damnation; of betrayal and bitter salvation. Upon our flesh are scrawled the secrets of empire, ancient, crumbling and decadent. For we are the stone. We are the blood, the flesh, and the bone. We are the hunters and the hunted, for as we give chase so too do we flee.”
– Edward Odist, celebrated author, from The Hob-Nailed Harlot
Seriousness, practicality, and sumptuousness are the defining characteristics of Seravian garb, as due to the easy access to textiles, velvets, and leathers, clothing can be made to be durable and withstand the cold and damp, while also looking elegant.
Deep jewel tones and charcoal blacks match the gloomy atmosphere of valleys, thick with volcanic ash and the greasy smoke of tallow and coal. Burgundy, dark emerald, and deep, dark blue are popular shades for men and women alike. Blacks and browns are also common, as most fabrics take these dyes easily, and black wools and leathers are relatively easy to come by. Whites and light colors tend to be worn by those who work in professions where they do not expect to get dirty.
Favored fabrics include leather, wool, and flax for linen. Leather is easy to clean, and wool is insulating. Linen holds up well to moisture, but needs to be layered in the cool weather. There are some labor-intensive luxury fabrics, such as velvet and brocade, for those who can afford them.
The fashion of Seravia is often defined by its characteristic silhouette. The women wear fitted bodices that tuck in at the waist, flaring out into voluminous skirts that hit at the ankle. It would be impractical if their dresses were to drag through the filth of the streets. Sleeves are narrow and button at the wrists, while a high collar buttons at the throat. For men, straight trousers and tailored frock coats are the current look. Waistcoats are often worn underneath, as well as button up shirts with high collars similar to women’s fashion. Hats are common for both men and women, as protecting one’s head from the chill and rain are highly desired. For those who find themselves hunting Night Malefic, spawn, and other monsters, thick leather boots, bags, and gloves are essential for their safety. Tricorn hats of wool and sheepskin are used to shed rain and shield from the sun, while scarves can be pulled up over one’s face in an effort to protect oneself from pestilence or dust.
Seravians enjoy adding small, tasteful accessories to their outfits. Simple rings of various metals, tasteful drop earrings, and pendants with symbols to ward off evil are often seen. Jewelry is often passed down from previous generations, and many of the stones fastened to the jewelry are obsidian. Living in such close proximity to a volcano allows for an abundance of obsidian, and has become an affordable way to adorn oneself with shiny trinkets.
Very few Seravian ensembles lack neckwear. Cravats are often fastened at the throat with pins, from simple brass to silver covered in small gems. Velvet or cotton chokers adorn the necks of many of the women.
It is believed the high collars are themselves a way to afford a measure of discretion and privacy if one was recently visited for a blood tax, and it also is historically just the way things have always been. Fashion innovation does not happen often in Seravia, as isolated as it is behind its towering mountain ranges.
“The quieter you become, the more your can hear.”
– Cassius the Blind
Expectations, education, and discipline are instilled in Seravian people at a very young age. Most children follow the path of their parents unless countermanded by their nobility, and trades tend to follow familial lines. Coopers beget coopers, blacksmiths beget blacksmiths, hunters beget hunters, and so on.
As soon as children are able to walk on their own they start spending their mornings at petty school, learning the basics of socialization, manners, and hand-eye coordination while their parents get a welcome respite and can focus more on their work. Most children are not necessarily taught how to read, write, or do math right away, but what might appear from the outside to simply be supervised play is actually much more than that.
Through songs, rhymes, and structured games children are actively taught about their place in the world, and encouraged to find meaning and purpose through living up to their role. Individuality isn’t welcome, rather collective work and leadership within the scope of the nature of their birth is encouraged. Those children who struggle with this are subtly punished and snubbed, while the opposite are rewarded and treated as celebrated examples. It is believed that this peaceful appreciation of one’s life helps to temper the emotional turmoil the population can face, as well as more often bring final peace and release when death finally comes.
As they grow older and learn basic literacy, Seravian children are often taught about the horrors of the world outside of their borders, especially about overcrowding, starvation, and the monsters of the Triumverate. They’re encouraged to be grateful to their powerful nobility for keeping them safe from the monsters of the lands beyond Seravia.
After several years in petty school, children are typically called to court and presented to the local nobility by their headmaster or mistress. These audiences are lavish affairs, and seem to be designed to awe and overwhelm the children who are presented. While most children logically understand that the Count, or representative of the Count, was likely heavily briefed by their teachers beforehand – it’s hard not to associate omnipresence when someone you have never met is able to relay much of your history back to you.
It is at this audience that children are placed in the roles that they will follow for the rest of their life. Typically they are given back to their families to learn the trade of their parents but that is not always the case. Sometimes children are chosen to join other vocations, sent to different cities to help add to their populations, or even brought into the Count’s household for special training – as it is determined is necessary for the continued prosperity and success of the county.
Naming & Greeting
“A friend says what hurts”
– Seravian Proverb
Among the Seravians, names are a clear indication of a person’s place in the world. The peasant folk typically receive a given name from their family at the third sunset after birth, when they are presented to the Count’s representative in the area. It is after this sunset that the child is examined for deformities, weakness, or other issues which may cause the child to be denied a name and given to the Count instead. Common Seravian names include Geoffrey, Peter, Simon, Walter, William, and Robert for males, and Agnes, Alice, Margery, Matilida, Beatrice, and Emma for females.
Secondary names are typically professional in nature, and are only granted to those who are raised in families who carry on a craft or trade. Such family names include Smith, Baker, Spicer, Thatcher, Mason, or Fowler among others.
Only those who are in a Count or Countess’s household or specific service are permitted honorific titles. The highest rank below the King is that of Count or Countess, and these individuals rule areas in which they have absolute control. They decide whether to give additional titles to those beneath them, and some have Viscounts or Viscountesses who manage large swaths of land for them, or Barons and Baronesses who control smaller areas of land and the surrounding countryside. Beneath them are magistrates, noblemen or ladies who have dedicated their life to the higher ranking nobles above them, and their position is typically over a small parcel of land and the men and women who live upon it. A Count or Countess may also decide to appoint honorifics to individuals such as artisans, monster hunters, and mechanics who particularly impress them with their achievements. Examples may be “Esteemed”, “Master”, “Professor” or “Venerable”, and the use of these honorifics denotes that the person has the special favor of the Count while not being granted land or titles. A popular theme in fairy tales of the kingdom are hardworking, honest and content people who rise in status and power due to catching the eye and earning the favor of a Lord.
Those who are not among the nobility are sometimes referred to as Goodman or Goodwoman.
Science & Medicine
“Love is a heart-shaped wound.”
– Seravian Proverb
One of the many contradictions of Seravia is how it handles knowledge and innovation. Most people would describe Seravia as almost frozen in time, and there are few places where knowledge is as tightly controlled as it is among these people. It is considered untoward to know or collect information that is not directly related to your immediate needs or your role in society, and exceptionally impolite to discuss such knowledge with others. However, given the history of dwarven technology in the area, the relative lack of concern about where food and the basic needs of survival are coming from, and the fact that many of the Lords are eternal and prone to experiment, there is unlikely to be anywhere in the world as technologically advanced as Seravia.
Clockwork and gear-driven dolls, music boxes, timekeeping devices, and even key-cranked automatons are highly prized by the nobility. Firearms are also more common in Seravia than elsewhere, and at times they are heavily modified to shoot different kinds of bullets, multiple bullets, or even stakes or cartridges of holy water. Hunters in particular tend to have an assortment of lethal and ingenious traps and weaponry upon them such as spring-loaded blades, time-delayed traps, snares, glues, bladed fans, modified crossbows, and so on. Their profession partially depends upon innovation. However, since the relationship among the nobility with hunters is a complicated one, individuals who seem to own complex machinery or weapons tend to be viewed with suspicion, and might be monitored closely. There can be a thin line between being a service to the community and an agent of anarchy and dissent.
Generally, if one has an issue they can’t find the remedy for, they might petition the most proximate noble or overseer and ask for a technological solution or medicine you don’t have access to. These problems can be as expansive as “my crops have stopped flowering” or as small as “I have a cough that won’t go away.” It can then be decided if it is best to summon or hire an expert to come to the village, or if another solution is more readily apparent. As issues with livestock, farming, and illness can affect everyone, it is treated as a community problem.
When it comes to matters of medicine, the overseer may arrange for a healer or doctor to be sent to you; perhaps someone who can balance your humors, fix your minor maladies, or prepare an alchemical concoction. Or they may decide that the issue with you is excessive or bad blood, and recommend that you be sent up for bloodletting from one of the nobility. Bloodletting is a common practice of fixing illnesses, with members of society often being sent to the Lords for minor issues. While this leads some to hide any sickness that they might have for fear of being taken by the Counts, others argue that those who do return from these bloodletting sessions often do appear to be healed of their sickness and often seem stronger for the experience- including being able to go without sleep.
There is some folk practice of medicinal herbs, as well as superstitions about what might cure some illnesses, but this practice is heavily discouraged. Areas used to grow herbs could be better used for crops and wandering in the wilds is considered a beyond dangerous and foolhardy mission. Those who do practice such herbal medicine do so in secret and try not to call attention to themselves. Most medicines are created by the alchemists of Seravia, who claim to have developed all kinds of panaceas. A common theory is that the key to an elixir of immortality lives within the blood of vampires, and that they, themselves may represent a type of Philosopher’s Stone. A widely-held belief among professionals and scholars is that most of the world has been gifted to at least some degree with vampirism, and this is why it is common for people to come back after death, for nothing is harder to kill than a vampire. This theory also makes monster hunters who specifically focus on spawn particularly frowned upon by many people. For if everyone is at least a little vampiric, where will they stop? The Ordo Croix historically brought ruin down upon the people of Old Rogalia by their fervent vampire-hunting, and the people are leery about this sort of tyranny and unrest ever falling upon them again.
Cure-alls involving quicksilver are common, and it is often used to topically treat skin conditions or mixed into a stiff paste called “blue mass” that is taken internally to cure all kinds of maladies. Blue mass usually combines liquorice root, rose water, quicksilver, sugar, rose petals, and honey. It is expensive to make, but it usually rolled into tiny little pills that are taken when the need arises.
Some alchemists also double as religious scholars and/or practitioners of the Cult of Night – for many believe that the missing ingredient in many alchemical preparations is faith, but they must be cautious in how they advertise such. While the Cult of Night is at least tolerated by most of the Kingdom, many regions frown severely on anything that looks like an organized religion. Religious zealotry is associated with the Old Empire and war and civil unrest. Therefore, religious healing is not commonly done, and if it is, only in secret. There are rumors of Lurites, living as hermits out in the borderlands, but no one dares set out to find such forbidden creatures without strong cause.
“Out of darkness and into the light, and then again to the lands dusk and night. And as the moon rises to paint the verdant fields of this twilight land in its glow of ivory and pearl, illuminated are the crumbling arches of forgotten cathedrals where the whispers of secret religions are still kept by grey, wrinkled men and somber, veiled women. Shining spires, towering and sharp against the night, keep vigil over hushed shadowlands like ancient guardians in armor of grey-black stone.”
– Excerpt from “To My Celia Beneath the Earth”, a prose poem by Emily Norbrook
It is hardly surprising that the overwhelming majority of the Seravian populace eschews the thoughts of gods and angels entirely in favor of a more practical mindset focused on the here and now. Religion has the insidious tendency to breed hope and its partner, discontent. It also shifts the focus from what a person themselves may accomplish, and attributes successes and failures to an outside force. In a land not only plagued by monsters, but also ruled by them, hope and prayer are rarely, if ever, worth the cost they bring. Too often the concerns of providing for the community, appeasing their Lords, keeping their loved ones safe, and surviving to the next rising of the sun are too much weight for a pious soul to bear. Who dare believe there is a merciful god when children disappear in the night, when nothing and no one stands in the way of those that take them, and when one can see the god-like power of the Lords of the night? Far better to be practical. Far better to be emotionally and physically prepared. Far better to see the world for what it truly is.
There are some that still dare, though, to believe in things beyond themselves, and while small pockets of various cults can be found if one looks hard enough, there are a few that have risen to greater prominence. One of these is the Followers of Duraniel, an archangel of Justice, Law, and Equality revealed through analysis of very old scriptures. Some religious scholars believe that this archangel was what the archangel Sepharian was supposed to represent, but something was lost along the way. The patron saint of this order, St. Cordelia the Inheritor was martyred in Gotha long ago, but she was made a prophet in Seravia. The Cordelians and their Duranihim priests never profess their faith openly, but meet in secret, conspiring to punish the vampiric Lords and their servants for their sins against mankind. Sins that they believe they have been empowered to cleanse and correct. However, their gaze does not just fall upon vampires. Cordelians view humans who do nothing with the same contempt as the direct servants of the vampires. They believe themselves to be surrounded by the evil of action and the evil of apathy, and if they cannot change hearts and minds, they must take whatever violent means are necessary to restore power to all people. Though silent under the veil of night, they strike in the day to hold nobles, in particular, accountable for their sins. They have had to learn over time to proceed with caution and creative means of removing threats. For they have destroyed many, only to see them rise again to continue their atrocities. When captured, the Cordelians are frequently punished under the Law of Fidelity for fomenting rebellion, but the cell-like nature of the cult and their spread-out pockets of influence make it extremely difficult to get useful information from the captured to root out the core of the insurgency. Indeed, nearly half the rebellions in Seravia since its inception have claimed to have Cordelians at their head, and it is rumored the Seravian Prime Justice, the highest priest, is the last of the Sons of Adam.
This may be propaganda, however, as the populace is quite convinced that the Sons of Adam are alive and well and active. Though if given the choice, many vassals might choose to interact with the Sons of Adam rather than the Cordelians, for at least the Sons of Adam limit their violence to vampires.
Little is known of the mysterious rangers at the edges of civilization. Few people have ever seen them, and the glimpses have been fleeting. Hunters occasionally will have stories of finding themselves fighting alongside these mysterious allies in their battles against Night Malefic entities. It’s unclear where they are staying or where they come from, because everyone knows that those who venture into the woods do not come back. Some believe that these rangers themselves are the people who had fled – that they are the ones who ventured into the woods looking for freedom from their vampiric lords and that while they never came back as they were, they re-emerged from those black forests changed. Mostly ignored by the Lords for their hesitance to interact with cities and polite society, they are sometimes hunted for their attacks on the dhampir and their violations of the Laws of Fidelity, Tribute, and Stability. These hunts are always reported as successful, but the bodies and evidence of success are not meant for the eyes of the common people. And whatever happens in the wild forests is apparently not meant for those eyes either.
The most prominent and widely accepted religion in Seravia is known as the Cult of Night. Brought to Seravia by the Sanguifex Count Focalor upon his return from many centuries abroad, the Cult has flourished in his county. Several vampiric allies and siblings in faith claim adherence to this faith as well, notably Ornias, an ancient vampire with no land claims. Together they have spread the teachings and cultivated Priests of Night throughout their Counties. They believe that the force behind the Night Malefic, what the call the Nachstrom, is essentially an embodiment of the natural law of balance and justice. When a wrong is committed in the world, this force rises up and imbues beings with the power, the Nachstrom, to set things right. In this way, Vampires are holy, being the ultimate creatures of the Night, baptized in and intimately changed by the Nachstrom. Some believe this is why they also bear the divine right to rule by virtue of the Vollmacht, the power over the land and the beings within it. The religion contains liberal elements of old faiths in it as well, as relics of the Benalian scriptures are revered, as well as some of the teachings of the Vecatran faith.
King Karsus generally allows this practice, as on principle it supports their right to rule over their mortal subjects, turn vampires and make dhampir. However, his tolerance for it is short, and he forbids its discussion openly at court. Its incorporation of some Benali practices is offensive to him. Most of the Counts and his court are firm atheists, believing that religion blinds its followers and imbues its believers with a sense of power and values that may be out of sync with the nobility. Additionally, there are concerned whispers that this is all a precursor to a coup – that Focalor, firstborn son of Queen Adrasteia, Sanguifex, and pious Avenger of the Blood is actually the rightful heir to the Seravian throne. It is whispered among adherents and detractors alike that perhaps the deeper secrets of the cult hide the means for Focalor’s ascension, though if that is true it remains a mystery why he’s not yet risen to take his seat from Karsus and seems instead content to serve as a Count in service to him. The Cult of Night continues to serve as a source of tension and distrust between the Lords, though this has not yet stopped its steady spread throughout Seravia like a fungus, below the surface but ever present.
Interestingly, there is one central pillar that unites all the cults and beliefs of Seravia, even that of the atheists, and that is a deep-seated and intense hatred for the Triumvirati. Everyone, for their own reasons, knows that nothing good comes the Thorned Gods, and Seravia is a figurative island isolated from the rest of the world where the Triumverati hold near absolute power. If Triumverati cultists are found in Seravia, they are treated in the same way as a Son of Adam, a Cordelian, or any other threat and are sought out for capture. Be that as it may, Triumverati do send agents for potential trade, and cultists do hide among the populace. King Karsus has no tolerance for dealings with the Triumverati, but it is likely that at least a few Lords occasionally treat with them, as discretion permits, for their own reasons. However, by contrast to a large portion of the world, Seravia finds itself remarkably untroubled by Kuarlites, Lazarines, and Tarrantists alike. For powerful Triumverati may have met their match in eternal Lords of Night, just as they did so many hundreds of years ago.
Finally, it is worth noting that not all physical remnants of the ancient Benali faith have been destroyed. Though most obvious churches and cathedrals were burned down and demolished in the founding of Seravia, some are believed to have not been destroyed. The old, crippled shrines and obscured churchyards of an ancient lionine god dot the landscape, oftentimes hidden amongst the ruins of abandoned cities or in the depths of a haunted keep. Some stories even hint at a large church or two that simply could not be burned down, and that perhaps somewhere in these old places the secret of how to destroy a vampire permanently rests, simply waiting to be discovered.
Folklore & Superstition
“The mysteries of the night are written in the smoke of the hearthfire.”
– Seravian Saying
The Seravian people may be somewhat jaded when it comes to the denizens of the night, for they have seen the monsters and known they dwell among them. That being said, being familiar with terror does not make one immune to it. While their Lords may say that they will protect them from the night malefic, werewolves, and spawn, no one knows just how safe they are from the horrors of the dark nor how to protect themselves from becoming prey to their own lords and masters. Instead, the Seravian comfort themselves with tales and superstitions that they believe may keep them safe or warn them against the potential dangers in the night.
It is said that those people who are in the thrall of a vampire will often develop a strange mole or mark on their shoulder or face as the result of repeated feedings and the consumption of vampire blood. But at the same time they grow younger and prettier, their skin translucent, their hair luxurious. As such, any one who is considered comely and attractive except for one small disfigurement is called Bloodmarred, and often thought to be in direct service to one of the nobles.
The Wild Hunt
Throughout all of Seravia there are tales of the Wild Hunt, a fearsome pack of supernatural hunters that chase down anyone and anything they come across. Led by an ancient malefic creature in some stories, or a member of the Fae in others, none who are hunted by it live to tell the tale. Some say that the Wild Hunt gathers up the restless dead and malefic creatures of the night, others say that their only prey is the living. It is firmly believed that even seeing or hearing the Hunt is a terrible omen of catastrophe. Therefore, when strange shapes obscure the moon, and the sounds of hunting horns and hooves and unearthly shrieking fill the night sky, most people flee indoors to make use of their bolts, locks, and shutters.
Vampires, especially vampire spawn, unconsciously count everything they see, and so can be distracted by pouring beads, seeds, or anything else difficult to count in front of them. Often times people will hang fishing nets on the outside of their houses or cast them over their doors, believing that their multitudinous knots would distract spawn long enough that they could get away.
Wherever the vampire lords go, it is believed by the commonfolk that so too does a darkness with the power to change and twist. Trees that are planted in the courtyards of the nobility will twist and change, and animals near them will grow monstrous. This is why any tree or plant that has darkened roots is believed to be also vampiric in nature – either it was created by a vampire or it has grown thick and rich on blood.
Husk or Straw Doll
It is believed by some Seravians that crops have a spirit and that spirit can be contained in the very last stalks or leaves taken from a field. In order to keep that spirit alive until the next planting season peasants will take those last stalks or leaves and turn them into a small doll that they hang inside their house until the next planting season. Often these dolls represent the members of a family, and they are routinely kept safe, offered water, and bits of food, until it is buried in the newly plowed fields in the next season. To harm these dolls is thought to bring injury and doom upon the person in whose image it has taken shape, while keeping the effigy safe confers that same safety upon the person.
Babies born during the dark of the moon attract malefic creatures and can hear the words of the restless dead, and mothers and midwives will do anything they can to delay any births during this time to sunrise. These moon folk, as they are known, are considered to be under a terrible curse and are often left to the elements to perish at a young age.
It is said that any creature that roams the paths and fields at night and has jet black eyes are associated with vampires. These creatures sometimes glow with fae-fire, and are larger than they should be. That said, it is no good to try to shoo them away, for all that they see is known by their vampire masters and if they bite you, who knows what dark infection they will cause.
Stories and fairytales in Seravia are a common pastime, whether sung or told by firelight before bed. Several themes are seen again and again in these stories. It is not uncommon to hear tales of the terrors that people who are not Seravian experience, such as the plights of the Gothics – who are said to suffer starvation and horrors at the hands of their Triumverate masters. In addition, children and young adults are told of the regions beyond the safe borders of the Counties where witches of the Forgotten Ones, and the cannibalistic slavers of the Hesha roam freely.
Another common story is that of Jordan Redsmile, a no-good, very bad child who did everything he could to antagonize his siblings, his classmates, his parents and his teachers in subtle and awful ways. But he was strong for his age, beautiful, and charismatic and would often get away with the making the lives of those around him miserable. But upon his interview with the Count at the end of his schooling, the Count saw through him, and instead of giving him back to his family struck him down and murdered him right there in the audience chamber.
Within some communities, the story of Agnes Tailor is told. Part of a family of tailors, she had not talent for the loom or stitching herself, and was worried that her nobles would send her to till the fields rather than keep her within the trade she was so terrible at. Then one day she woke up and had none of her previous problems, and was able to make a sheath of cloth so beautiful that it amazed even her elders. When asked how she managed to learn the trade seemingly overnight, she said that she had gone to the crossroads when the mist curled around the doorways, and the stars were hidden by the clouds, and met a man made of fog and starlight at the crossroads. She traded him a lock of her hair, the breath from her kiss, and her childhood nickname in return for the skills she now possessed. But it was not for long, as she died merely two years later after falling into a strange deep sleep from which no one could wake her.
If she had not been so full of pride, and simply asked her community or nobility for assistance, things might have been different.
“Out of the fires of desperation burn hope and solidarity.”
– Seravian Saying
Each province or Silent Kingdom has their own local holidays that they celebrate, but there are a few that are celebrated throughout Seravia as a whole. All of these holidays are opportunities for the people to reflect on how they have re-emerged from the chaos and violence of war into more peaceful and stable times. The entertainment, the food, the gifts and parades are there to reinforce unity. To be outside, to be different or separate is unfortunate and should be observed closely.
Peace Day happens at the height of summer, when the days are at their longest. During the summer it is believed that the Counts’ abilities to monitor their population is strained. The days are long, and some much celebrated sunlight cracks through the smog and mists as the sun sits higher in the sky. While some of the Counts may not be as present in the people’s direct lives as much during this time, this is a time to celebrate the goods things in life and the relative peace and stability of Seravia.
On this day, the Counts will publicly exchange gifts with one another, often with meaning that is debated and discussed quietly among the populace in the weeks following. This gift-giving is to remind the human vassals that due to their strong leadership, they do not live in a warzone. It is also common for some of the nobility to provide gifts to their loyal subjects and encourage gift giving between the common folk. It is a day to put away grudges, to end a feud honorably and to unify. In the weeks leading up to Peace Day, there are ballads sung about those who ignore or abuse the day. If you continue a feud, steal or turn down a gift, then it is strongly believed that your next year will be filled with disaster.
The Harvest Festival is celebrated in almost every community throughout Seravia. It is celebrated on the day of the Harvest Moon, which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. The day begins with people gathering together to harvest the last of that years crops. Around noon, they break from their labor and gather together in the town centers. Volunteers cook food for the entire town, usually a simple vegetable soup. They eat together, making sure every last person in their community is fed. Everyone takes the time to be thankful and appreciate the bounty at hand, as well as their families and community.
That night, the families close their doors and talk quietly while they build their straw dolls from crop or grass stalks. When they are done, they hang them to store until the next season. Many make dolls to resemble or represent family and friends. It is believed that if the dolls are kept safe and secure, the people they represent will be as well. Tampering with these dolls, or intentionally harming one is seen as an act of great ill intent. While they work, the best hunters and fighters for the area band together to protect their community, as this night also tends to bring with it stronger Malefic attacks closer to the village. Some communities are lucky and have blissfully quiet harvest festivals; unfortunately most are not. It is a rewarding day, and a violent night, where death and rebirth are expected.
Night Lord's Feast
The Night Lord’s Feast occurs in mid-Autumn. It is a holiday that many people fear, but most pretend that they are looking forward to. If they do not, there is the fear that a neighbor may report them as a nonconformist.
On this day, everyone dresses in their finest clothes and carry casks of red wine into the town square. All night the Seravians drink, sing and celebrate boisterously. Talented bards risk the travel to major cities to entertain the crowds. To an outsider, it would appear it is a joyous occasion. Laughter, something few Seravians freely do, echo through the streets, and music is heard at every turn. Many drink heavily to decrease their apprehensions and lower their inhibitions for, as all Seravians know, it is also the night where the Lords walk amongst them deciding who they are going to take for their meals over the coming year, and appraising their subjects for signs of trouble.
Most Seravians try not to draw any attention to themselves this night. It is expected for them to party, so they act and force merriment into their voices. They pretend to be having the best night of their life, but in reality they are terrified that this is the year that they will be taken. Many families, in an effort to protect the vulnerable, will hide their children and older relatives inside secret compartments built into the walls of their homes.
Remembrance Day occurs at mid-winter. The Seravians take a day to bring their entire family together to remember the truly dead and the missing. Vassals are rarely permitted to move and leave their province, so it is easy for them to come together. The agents of the Counts, artisans, and specialists do occasionally travel, however they make a special effort to be come home for Remembrance Day.
The entire village will meet and exchange well wishes for the next year and give condolences or well-wishes if there have been any losses over the last year. For a loved one to have finally achieved a final, peaceful death is considered a joy by many, for it means that they are not stalking the night as a Malefic entity in torment and tormenting others. Those who can recall any details of their own deaths share, and discuss what they are grateful to come back to. If someone fails to arrive back for Remembrance Day, it is noted by the community.
Many will try to make peace with this uncertain loss, but it is hard to stop the whispers of what might have happened. Were they carried off into the night? Taken in service to a Lord? Did they try to leave without permission? There is always the fear that something scandalous will be reported to the nobility labeling the disappearance as something other than a death. In regions where the nobility and Lords are particularly involved in these sorts of matters, families will be very cautious and quick to explain to everyone why their family member could not make it. There have been rumors over the years of entire families disappearing after one of their family members failed to return for Remembrance Day.
Once the well wishes and memories have been exchanged, the families will visit the gravemarkers of peacefully deceased family members. The closest kin will share a small fact to remember their dead family member. It is usually short, no more than a hundred words, and is simple; like “Here lies Peter. He enjoyed eating apples and caring for the rabbits.”
After that, the family will retire to the largest of the family homes, frequently piling in beyond it’s comfortable capacity. Together, they will list the names of those who have been lost. If they have disappeared, and their death has not been proven, the family will light a candle and leave it burning overnight. It is believed that if the candle is still burning come dawn, that the missing may still be alive.
“A walnut drops to the bottom of its own tree.”
– Seravian proverb explaining that people are the product of how they are raised
Seravian traditions, much like every other facet of their lives, are heavily influenced by their Lords. Their traditions revolve around what their Lords want and require of them. From their name days to their marriages, everything is guided and directed for them. Only at their funerals are they left to their own devices.
In Seravia, they do not celebrate the actual birth date, they celebrate the rough estimated time they were presented to a representative of their Lord and were named. Traditionally it happens three days after their birth, when they are considered strong enough to travel away from home for the first time, but still not giving their families time to grow too attached. On that first name day, they are considered to be at year one, and every year after they are one year older. Therefore, Seravian ages are usually different than the rest of the world.
There are no name day parties. If they do gather, it is usually in small groups of family and trusted friends. They are there for support, and to provide safety over the night during this somber tradition. The ceremony begins the night before the name day, and the individual will stay up all night to greet the dawn. When they are young, they usually do not make it the whole night, but as they get older it becomes easier and easier to stay awake. It is a point of pride the first year they stay awake for the full night.
During the night they will write down difficulties, or fears that they have had over the last year. Wealthy families will write them on small slips of paper, while poorer families will have dried pale seaweed, small cloth scraps, or flattened bark that they write on. At dawn, they burn the material, so their past difficulties and secrets cannot be used against them in the next year. It is believed, if done correctly, that it will protect them from deformities, mutilations, or unwanted attention, allowing them to stay with their loved ones.
The area Seravians feel the power of their Lords most distinctly is in their weddings. In order to marry someone, you need to have permission from a member of the nobility who is representative of the Count or the Count himself. If you do not have it, you cannot get married. Additionally, if you have been denied permission, you cannot continue to court each other, and in some instances are required to cut all ties. The uncertainty over whether or not a union will be permitted has caused many Seravians to have cautiously extended courtships.
The wedding ceremony itself is very short. The two petitioning parties go before the nobility and request the union. If it is approved, they sign the marriage forms and pledge to continue to fulfill their duties, including a promise to present any children, to the Count of their region. Some couples end the ceremony there, but most continue on to a celebration.
Due to the difficulty in getting married, it is usually a grand event when it does occur. Family and friends will gather, dressed in their finest. Both the bride and groom tend to dress in either white or red, to symbolize the purity of their intentions or the blood they would shed to protect each other. A single bard is hired to sing or play the strings, and they spend many hours dancing and socializing. The celebrations, while long, still tend to be demure. While happy, they do not want to draw too much attention to themselves in case they attract one of their Vampire Lords and give them cause for concern or a change of heart.
Death & Funerals
Death is a part of their everyday life, however even if it is not final death, it is still observed very seriously. Whenever a Seravian dies, the community will gather around the deceased. They will take careful note of all of the deceased’s belongings, and how they perished. If the cause is unknown, they will try to try to call a physiker in to perform an autopsy before the body turns to ash. While resurrection is the norm, it is still important to know how and why someone died in case there is a murderer or an unknown monster among them that could create more malefic over time. The Seravians investigate every death, because to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Their death investigations are one of the reasons they tend to be more successful in their hunt of malefic.
If the body does not turn to ash and they remain dead, the community will conclude their investigation and hold a funeral, hoping fervently that the final death was a peaceful one. Funeral rites vary province to province, but the most common funeral rite is to wrap the deceased body in cloth and burn them. The ashes are then gathered, and buried in a small plot under a gravestone. It is believed that if the body is reduced to ashes, there is less of a chance of the person coming back to haunt their village.
“There are no endings.”
– Seravian Proverb
For the vassals of Seravia, time tracking is mostly kept by natural seasonal indicators and the moon. It is common for a birthday to be described rather than given as an exact date. Therefore, namedays, anniversaries and the like are celebrated roughly, and it is not uncommon for someone to know that they were presented to their lord during the second crescent moon of fall – for example – and to celebrate accordingly.
The magistrates and nobility that need to keep track of time in a more precise manner for the dating of contracts and recordkeeping use the year with twelve months model based off of the Old Empire’s manner of tracking the days. The months themselves are basically the same, though the names have changed slightly over time:
Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis, Augustus, Septiember, October, Noviember, Deciember, Ianuarius, Februarius.
Each month has roughly 30 days.
The current year is Cinis 319, marking the era of the current political climate and the 319th year of Karsus’ reign.
For scribes and those in care of official documents, the dating style is Month, Day, Cinis Year.
Art & Recreation
“One bad move nullifies an entire game of good ones.”
– Peter Goodman, famous Draught player
Artistic expression still thrives in Seravia, nurtured by eternal patrons who tend to be highly opinionated on such matters. The various Counts take talented artists into their homes, but with that benefaction, any vestige of freedom they may have had is gone. They spend the rest of their years toiling away creating beautiful pieces of art for their Lord. While they are well taken care of, and given any art supply they could want that is available, it seems for many that once they enter the service of a Count, they never leave the Count’s castle ever again. For many, that price is too high. Those folk artists who wish to create for their own pleasure tend to do so surreptitiously.
Traditional art in Seravia is dictated by the landscape. It is a mountainous region with a long coast, dotted with quarries. Stone, in some areas, is still plentiful, making stone carving the medium of choice. During petty school, children are given small pieces of soft soapstone to carve. Most can’t create anything more complicated than a simple draught stone; however, if they show an aptitude, after they graduate they may be apprenticed to a mason or directly to an artist giving them access to larger and larger pieces of stone. Only truly talented artists are allowed to work with stone slabs. While quarries are still common, most of the high quality pieces of stone have already been ripped from the earth.
The majority of the stone carvings are morbid and morose in content, such as reminders of the horrors of life and war before the rise of King Karsus, although plenty that are on display are of the Lords of Seravia appearing heroic and timeless as they shepherd and protect their vassals. The more complicated pieces can take years, if not decades, to complete, but it is common practice to have a new artist take over where the last one left off if the work proves to be too much for one lifetime.
While sculpture is an artform that is almost exclusively appreciated by the Lords, Seravian ballads are appreciated by the masses. The Seravian people, in their everyday speech, tend to be laconic and brief, if not outright terse. In their ballads, however, they are verbose and expressive, showing the full range of Seravia’s expansive vocabulary. The ballads performed in court are very traditional, and tell the audience about great deeds, great wars, and great Lords. Ballards performed at local taverns tend to be more playful and ribald, as well as shockingly violent. For instance, a common favorite is the Tale of the Drunken Tailor wherein the selfsame tailor creates increasingly ridiculous vestments the further he falls into his tankard. The deeds, creations, and number of verses varies bard by bard. It is rumored that some secret organizations will use bards and these variable songs to pass along messages to their members.
The bards that sing the ballads are usually trained, or accompanied by someone who is trained, to play a string instrument. Small harps and lutes are the most popular. The smaller versions can be packed away, and transported easily. Some singers accompany themselves only with a simple drum, but it is generally agreed that song is much sweeter when accompanied by some sort of stringed instrument.
While easy to learn the basics, they are difficult to master. Most musicians don’t touch the larger version of the instruments unless they are invited to perform at court. At court, the larger harps and wind instruments are used. A new instrument, the piano, has increasingly been appearing in the households of landed nobility, but many consider them to mostly be for instructional purposes for recognizing notes and music. Overall, they are considered to be too simplistic and easy to be regarded in the same light as the guitar, lute, or harp.
Seravians are very rarely idle. When they are not working, they are usually passing their time crafting useful items, like obsidian or other stone-tipped arrows, darning and weaving, and otherwise repairing items that have broken down. Seravia has a few man-managed forests, which gives them some access to soft wood. It is still a precious commodity, so wastefulness is discouraged. They repair and rebuild furniture and storage containers, reusing as many parts as possible and supplementing soft wood and clay in where they cannot. While there are artisans who specialize in making furniture, most families do not utilize them for the repairs. Many families, after purchasing an item, will install a hidden compartment or lock to hide weapons, valuables, or even people they don’t want their overlords to know about. If they were to utilize an artisan for repairs, then their secrets and protections might be discovered.
Along the mountain ranges, herds of goats, sheep, and even llama are easy to rear, and Seravia’s somewhat unique ability to raise large amounts of livestock such as cows due to the large swaths of grassland in the stripped valleys means that wool and leather are common materials. Weaving and knitting are common pastimes, and the warm knit clothing and accessories of Seravia are one of the things foreigners think of when they imagine life there. Blankets, clothing and door covers are often made out of mountain goat wool, but any wool helps against the chill, damp nights.
Along the coasts, many Seravians fish and make use of driftwood and shells in their crafts. It is also common to gather seaweed, both for its nutritional value in soups and stews, but also to dry out and wrap together to make ropes. They tie the seaweed ropes together to make nets, and leave them hanging over doorways and windows. The official reason for leaving the nets hanging over doorways and windows is that they dry better due to the breeze. Unofficially, it is believed that vampire spawn must stop to count the knots – which can provide a family a few extra seconds to run or to hide if they are attacked.
There are many sayings within Seravia and beyond that reference how the repressed, secretive hearts of the Seravian people conceal a violence and fervor. While the Lords have small armies of trained soldiers and hunters, most Seravians must satisfy their inner predators by hunting. The most common game animals are rabbits, birds, and deer.
Along the mountains, hunts are usually performed on foot, while in the plains and coastal regions they are frequently done on horseback if one has the means. The horses owned by the commonfolk tend to be beasts of burden, and are not suitable for hunting. In the off season, to keep up their skills, hunters will practice tracking and improving their trapping devices.
Bare-knuckle boxing is also a popular sport, both for participants and spectators. It helps to train in defense, stamina, and fighting techniques as well, which are forever useful skills to have.
Additionally, sports involving leather balls and athleticism, such as football and cricket are popular team sports to pass the time.
When they are unable to give physical outlet to the body, Seravians still like to give their minds a workout with strategy. Draughts, a deceptively simple game of moving draught stones diagonally across a board, is perceived as a game of war. Almost every house with a large family owns at least one draught board, and the pieces are generally lovingly personalized stones, decorated and painted by hand with symbols or imagery that is meaningful for the family.
It is an 8 by 8 checkered board, with 12 pieces per side. The pieces move and capture diagonally forward, until they reach the end of the board where they flip to the Lord side and can thereafter move and capture in both directions. The players alternate moving their pieces. A player wins by capturing all of their opponents pieces or be leaving their opponent with no legal moves left.
The View of Others
“My lord, our mercenary company will gladly die fighting for you. None are braver!”
“I’d rather hire ones that kill for me.”
– Exchange between the Black Badgers mercenary company and Count Damasus Underwode
The population of Seravia is raised on the idea that they have it best, that they are safe and protected from the horrors that stalk other peoples. They are told awful stories about the lives of outsiders in order to reaffirm these stereotypes and to encourage the population to remain where they are and content with their position. The relationships among craftsmen and those of the nobility are a bit more nuanced, as those who practice a trade do engage with the merchant guilds from other land, but those who remain in Seravian lands know that at the very least their loyalty to their vampiric lords needs to appear unwavering. The nobility and gentry, even while they deal with the outside world on occasion, know that they are at home here in Seravia, the seat of their power. In the lands beyond the kingdom, the Triumverati hold sway, and the Lords have no need of the waters being muddied with that distasteful lot. When the last of the Kuarlite invaders were routed from Seravia in the wake of the rulership seizure of Karsus, they have not been welcome back.
The Gothic people do not interact often with the Seravians, but when they do they are often met with a mix of pity and terror. After all, every Seravian child knows that within Gothic lands hoards of starving people lay in wait, so desperate to eat that they soothe themselves by chewing on wood and masonry. But that’s not the worst of it, it is also common knowledge that the majority of the Gothic leaders are in thrall to the Triumverate- monsters that demand everything, and give nothing in return.
Meanwhile the Salgothic are common trading partners with the Seravians, and Seravian cities are common destinations for young adults on their Vagaries. However the thing that the Salgothics want most is the hardest to find, relics of the ancient Throne and their odd religion. Books, records, and relics from that time are heavily guarded by the Counts and their servants and any members of the Salgothic who wish to interact with them must offer things of considerable value. However most Salgothics look askance at anyone who does not follow their strange faith and the Seravians tend to find their devotion to an outdated religion antiquated and backwards.
Perhaps the outsiders which the Seravians deal with the most often are the Nemien. While the Counts do allow Nemien past their borders they are often heavily restricted in their movement and instructed to avoid interacting with commonfolk. Their ability to survive beyond the borders of Seravia is lauded, along with their bravery, but they are also often considered touched in the head for even wanting to travel as they do. Why wander when everything you could ever need is provided for you already? There is also the matter of trade – it seems distasteful to many Seravians that the Nemien place their lives and that of their family in danger among the wilds for the prospect of simple wealth.
There are rumors of others, living forgotten in the wild places around the borders of the Counties in the few remaining wild forests. But most consider them to be near malefic creatures and not human at all. They are described by most to be violent followers of an ancient religion that demands that anyone who damages their woods or lands be sacrificed to their dark god, and that anyone caught trespassing on their lands will be treated much the same. But while the Lords discourage any interaction with these monstrous people, there are stories that any who wish to escape the clutches of their noble masters might find safe refuge among these children of the woods – if only they could be convinced to take you in.
The Hesha do trade occasionally with the Seravians, especially along their expansive sea border, and particularly in Cryhaven, but are often treated quite poorly. While not everyone believes the stories of the cannibalistic Hesha slave ships, their exuberance, selfishness, and lack of respect for authority do not blend well with Seravian culture. The Hesha, meanwhile, are quick to question anyone who would willingly decide to live under a vampire or his servants and often run their mouths off in a way that is hardly endearing.
As for the Outlanders, well, they’re hardly worth thinking about. If Seravian children are sent to the outlands they are sent at an exceptionally young age, typically during their presentation at the third sunset after their birth. But vampire lords have uses for those of their people who are unique or strange and often will claim those children for themselves rather than sending them abroad. This does mean that Seravians tend to assume that any Outlander who makes their way into their region are in service to the Counts, which means that Outlanders who visit Seravian areas tend to be treated with much more respect than they would typically receive.