The Immortal Principality of Ustalav (pronounced OO-stah-lahv) is a fog-shrouded realm of countless horrors, and a once-proud realm that was shattered by the clawed hands of the Whispering Tyrant.
Cursed with a history of tragedy and faded glory, Ustalav clings to its legendary past even as it tries to forget centuries of horrors. This fog-shrouded land of gothic horror bears an infamous reputation as a place of birth and rebirth for tyrants.
The modern history of Ustalav began around 2361 AR, when numerous Varisian families settled the unclaimed land north of Lake Encarthan in the shadows of the Hungry Mountains. Ustalav did not become a true nation, however, until the ancient hero Soividia Ustav united the disparate Varisian settlements, creating the land that would bear his name. These clans gradually began to drive out the native orcish, Numerian, and Sarkorian inhabitants. For five centuries after Ustav’s conquest, the country existed in a state of near-constant feuding among the clannish Varisian families, who quarrelled with each other over various small issues. To prevent a civil war, Princess Carmina Ustav split the nation into sixteen counties in 2862 AR, parcelling up the land, and assigning it in perpetuity to the various noble families. Each county’s ruler possessed significant autonomy, but they in turn owed their allegiances to the monarch (descended from Ustav). This change eased tensions and led to a golden age of growth and prosperity.
Rise of the Whispering Tyrant
The golden age of Ustalav was tragically cut short by the revelation that a dark secret had been festering under its very soil since before the first Varisian settlers had arrived. Unknown to the rulers of the land, the remains of the immortal warlord Tar-Baphon had been buried beneath the soil. In 3203 AR, Tar-Baphon rose from death as the Whispering Tyrant, a lich of incredible power. He quickly set about creating vast armies of undead, and through careful diplomacy united the orcs of the neighboring Hold of Belkzen under his command. With these two great forces, the Whispering Tyrant easily conquered Ustalav and turned its people into his slaves.
The Shining Crusade
For over 600 years the rotting remains of proud Ustalav languished under the despotic rule of the Whispering Tyrant. It was not until 3754 AR that the first glimmer of hope appeared. Finally deciding that the necromantic nation presented a significant threat to its continued expansion, distant Taldor launched the Shining Crusade. Warriors from all over the Taldan empire rallied, converging on the Ustalavan town of Vellumis as a forward staging area. There they were joined by dwarves from the kingdom of Kraggodan and the well-known Knights of Ozem. It was not until 3828 AR, however, three-quarters of a century after the crusade began, that the Whispering Tyrant was defeated and the shadow over Ustalav was lifted. The Tyrant was imprisoned in his haunted capital of Gallowspire, and Ustalav lost four of its counties: two were declared uninhabitable, and became the haunted wasteland surrounding Gallowspire known as Virlych, the others were given to the crusader army to create the nation of Lastwall as a permanent guard against any resurgent horrors.
The Slow Recovery
Ustalav reestablished itself after the Whispering Tyrant’s defeat and was renamed the Immortal Principality of Ustalav, but the kingdom could not recapture its former glory. The royal line of Soividia Ustav had died out during the country’s long dark age, and the few surviving nobles who now clamored for the throne only had tenuous ties to the former ruling family. The crown was eventually given to House Ardeav. This contributed to greater infighting among the nobility, and slowed the country’s already stuttering recovery. Ustalav now finds itself a strongly divided country, struggling to reclaim a semblance of its former greatness and burdened with a history of darkness few nations can equal.
In recent years, the country has once again been fractured by two civil wars which overthrew the governments of three of the western counties, and a fight for royal succession after the last prince left no clear heir to his throne (see below).
Since the ancient days when it was first unified, Ustalav has been ruled by a single king. Unfortunately, the line of kings was broken during the Whispering Tyrant’s reign, and the current rulers are but a shadow of their predecessors. Leadership of the land has become particularly contentious since the death of the so called “Eunuch Prince” Valislav Ordranti, who left behind no official heir when he died in 4674 AR. His brother, Prince Aduard Ordranti III, stepped into the mantle of monarch, a role he was ill-suited for. The whole affair was complicated even further when the Eunuch Prince’s longtime companion, Millaera Caliphvaso, gave birth to a bastard child she claimed was the son of the Eunuch Prince. The claim caused a huge scandal and Millaera disappeared under mysterious circumstances shortly after making these claims. Her child, Reneis Ordanti, was adopted and raised by the child’s devious and conniving aunt, the Countess Carmilla Caliphvaso. Rumour has it that the Countess has her eyes firmly set upon the throne as soon as Reneis reaches manhood. Other darker rumors whisper that she may have her incestuous eyes set on becoming queen, willing to marry her own nephew to get it.
Beneath the scheming and squabbling of the decadent royal family, the actual running of the country falls (for the most part) to its lesser nobility. Ustalav was split into sixteen counties centuries ago to stop squabbling between various factions. Of the original sixteen, only twelve remain, not including the undead-haunted wasteland now known as Virlych. Of these, nine are governed by their noble families, while the remaining three are ruled in a more unusual, although no less exploitative way. In 4670 AR, the northern province of Lozeri overthrew their hereditary duke, placing a council of prominent citizens in charge. This approach caught on, and soon two of the neighboring counties had also thrown off the rule of the nobility in bloodless coups. These three states, Lozeri, Canterwall, and Vieland are together known as the Palatinates.
Ustalav lies on the very northern tip of Lake Encarthan, surrounding much of Avalon Bay. Ustalav’s position is precarious, as it is located next to two hostile nations: the orc-inhabited Hold of Belkzen to the west and the demon-infested Worldwound to the north. It neighbours to the east are not much better. They may be human nations, but include the tyrannical land of the living god Razmiran, the constant chaos of the River Kingdoms, and barbarian kingdom of Numeria. Considering the nature of its neighbours, it is no wonder that many of Ustalav’s inhabitants are insular and distrusting of foreigners. Only along the south-western border does Ustalav find a friendly (if highly suspicious) neighbour, the country of Lastwall. The geography of Ustalav is hugely varied, split into thirteen different counties, each with its own unique geography. If there is one geographic feature that dominates the entire country, it is the Hungry Mountains that encapsulate an entire county in their stony reaches.
Split into twelve different provinces, each of Ustalav’s counties is a unique realm ruled by either a family of nobles or a council of ruling citizens. The ruler of each realm has to answer to the monarch, Prince Ordranti, but is allowed much independence. The counties are generally divided into two different types, the Soivoda and the Palatinates. The Soivoda are ruled by the hereditary noble family that has ruled them since they were created millennia ago. They are the most numerous and take up all of Ustalav except for its north-western corner. The other set of counties are known as the Palatinates which are not ruled by any sort of feudal nobility, but are instead run by councils of prominent citizens. Finally there is Virlych, not technically a county, but the remains of two counties, Virholt and Grodlych, that were left a wasteland nearly a millennia ago. Now the forsaken land of Virlych is not inhabited and is part of Ustalav in name only.
After centuries of abuse and exploitation, the people of Ustalav are a highly suspicious and superstitious lot. Descendants of Varisian wanderers who immigrated there millennia ago, many still hold to their traditional beliefs. Among these are the worship of the goddess of travellers, Desna. Their long occupation and enslavement at the hands of the lich, however, also left its marks. The worship of Pharasma, who abhors the undead, and the Pallid Princess Urgathoa, who reveres it, are common in the nation as well.