The close-knit people of Varno flourish in a land of scattered lakes and dense forests, where fickle weather and land can sour the people against their even closest friends.
Dark things soar on shadowed wings between the chilling moon and the rolling orchards of Varno. Here legends take on existences greater then the living, and peasants cling to centuries-old traditions, fears, and superstitions. Amid misty pastures and groves the heritage of the Varisian people still flourishes, and furtive arts passed down through centuries reveal power in cards, song, and blood. Yet amid such mysteries also lurk the memories of ancient terrors, dread secrets, and the names of sleeping evils against which the modern world is all too vulnerable.
Time means little in Varno. Generations are born, life passes, and death eventually touches servants and princes, the just and unjust, all the same. Such has been the philosophy of Varno’s people since the Kellids were driven from the land, and such remains their mantra today. When legions of the dead rose in envious war against the living, most of Varno’s people held their lives at greater value than their land, departing Ustalav to settle among the people of the neighboring Arch-Duchy of Melcat, rejoin their wandering kinsmen in distant Varisia, or seek new vistas exploring Taldor’s vast empire. After the dead returned to dust, some wandering Varisians resettled Varno, bringing with them their ancient ways and the reminder that a land holds no memory—only its people can do that. Yet for all the resilience and wisdom of Varno’s populace, their stories are less akin to fairytales and more like grim epics, rife with tragedy, warnings, and righteous suspicion. Few in eastern Ustalav don’t know of the hardships faced by their people or the suddenness with which paradise might transform into pandemonium. Thus, the people of Varno live by the timeless Varisian maxim, “Welcome your sister, but never let her keep her knife.”
Mild slopes roll across Varno in a gentle surf of emerald orchards and golden fields. To the west, the Forest of Veils knots in a tangle of dense cypress, laurel, and alder, its boughs rising high like the buttresses of some grand cathedral, a sanctuary that burns every autumn in a riot of crimson leaves. Predators are scarce in Varno, with bats and wolves ranging through forests and fields, occasionally joined by bear and cougars. Snakes, catoblepas, tatzlwyrms, and stranger things also occasionally cross the border from Versex and Numeria, while caverns exposed by crevices or sinkholes often reveal breeding grounds of vermin and more monstrous lurkers. The peasants of the land also spread innumerable tales of vampires and their hosts of deadly kin, immortal witches, children of shadows, malicious faeries, fiends wearing the skins of humans, and countless other predators seeking to make meals of mortal lives and souls.
Varno’s people are a hardworking lot who embrace life even as they remain mindful of death. While devoted to Pharasma just as faithfully as worshipers in other counties, most supplement their weekly worship with prayers to Desna for fortune, Gozreh for good weather, and Shelyn for joy, as well as a diverse array of regional folk beliefs, traditional wisdom, and superstitions. Yet for all their dependence on talismans and rhyming charms, most in Varno harbor an abiding trepidation regarding arcane magic, with even fortune-telling, alchemy, medicine, and traditional dances being acts of mystical power that could draw the attentions of evil spirits. Most of the county’s population work modest farms, orchards, and vineyards, or on the estates of the region’s few noble families, but several still keep to the ancient Varisian wandering lifestyle. Even among their own people, these wanderers attract suspicion. While many clans are comprised of freewheeling lovers of life—following the ancient customs of dance and fate-reading Desna taught their ancestors—others are Sczarni, traveling wolves, conartists, and brigands who prey upon settled Varisians and strangers alike in a bitter cycle of suspicion and hate.