The War of Night
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.
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 southwestern 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.
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.
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.
Since this time, the land has seemed cursed. Night time has become dangerous for any not safely behind runed walls. The undead appear as night falls and kill any who are not safe. Those that die join the armies of undeath and the daytime peoples fight a losing battle each night. Shortly after the undead started rising each night, the boundaries of the land have become shrouded in a thick mist. Very few people come out of this mist, and certainly no undead have been seen leaving Ustalav through the mists. The mist doesn’t stop people travelling into Ustalav, however, at each border check point, people are warned away from doing so, knowing that it is most likely a one way trip.
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 travelers, Desna. Their long occupation and enslavement at the hands of the lich, however, also left its marks. The worship of Pharasma, who abhors undeath, and the Pallid Princess Urgathoa, who reveres it, are common in the nation as well.