Cursed with a history of tragedy and faded glory, the Immortal Principality of Ustalav clings to its legendary past even as it struggles to forget centuries of horrors. From the fog-shrouded cliffs of Lake Encarthan to the tangled maze of the Shudderwood, the fractious nation bears an infamous reputation as a place of birth and rebirth for tyrants.
Although Prince Aduard Ordranti III rules as Ustalav’s sovereign, his will is far from the only one that directs the fate of his nation. In the west, the three Palatinates assemble local councils of the region’s wisest and most influential, even though their frequently-changing representatives hold depressingly little sway in meetings of the royal court. The counts of the realm’s heartland hold the most immediate and forceful influence over the nation and its people. Able to act without oversight or reprisal, Ustalav’s ruling families have each transformed their corner of the nation as befits their ambitions or their petty vices. Although each count is sworn to serve the throne, generations of courtly manipulations, incomprehensible laws, concessions, and exceptions bind even the Prince’s hands against interference in all but the most outrageous county edicts.
Three distinct regions comprise the country of Ustalav: Soivoda, the Palatinates, and Virlych.
The largest of these realms, Soivoda, includes the nine counties of Ustalav: Amaans, Ardeal, Barstoi, Caliphas, Odranto, Sinaria, Ulcazar, Varno, and Versex. Forming the central and easternmost parts of the country, these lands are each ruled over by a noble family bearing the hereditary title of count. The count of each realm holds the power to govern as he sees fit, with all lesser noble houses and peasants owing fealty to that lord, second only to the nation’s prince. Largely independent, the counties harbour generations-old bitterness and rivalries that often lead to bickering or, in the most extreme cases, armed disputes, such as the War without Rivals between Barstoi and Ardeal that led to the creation of the cinder-covered wasteland known as the Furrows. While the prince holds considerable power to effect change and administer laws across the country, the counts’ wealth, influence, and pride makes forcing them to acquiesce to agendas they don’t favour—but will ultimately be relied upon to enforce—a fruitless effort. Thus, each county stands as a state unto itself, defending its people and maintaining a culture wholly reliant upon the county’s traditions and the will of its single unshakable ruler.
The northwestern third of Ustalav holds the lands calling themselves the Palatinates: Canterwall, Lozeri, and Vieland. Nearly forty years ago, dissatisfaction with the weak rulers of these counties led their people to rise in brief, consecutive, and largely bloodless revolts, putting an end to the hereditary rulership of these lands. Replacing their lords, the new palatinates each organized a unique ruling council with the same mantle of responsibilities as a count. What the people of the Palatinates gain in rulers mostly divested of dusty enmities and flagrantly self-serving agendas, they’ve lost in decisive action and efficacy in affecting national changes, with the dismissive nobles of the court taking umbrage at the intrusion of the oft-changing commoner representatives.
Virlych owes fealty to no lord, save the dreaded memory of the Whispering Tyrant, the arch-lich locked away beneath this accursed expanse. Tainted by foul magic and the curse of undeath, Virlych possesses no government, and only outcasts, sentinels from nearby Lastwall, and servants of the fallen lich dare the broken land and its haunted ruins.
Three other counties also once existed within Ustalav’s borders. The county of Janoyt once stretched along the eastern banks of Avalon Bay, along with the southern reaches of Varno. After the country’s refounding, these sparsely populated lands lay primarily under the control of the Arch-Duchy of Melcat, to which Ustalav’s new government peaceably ceded control. After Melcat’s transformation into the fanatical theocracy of Razmirian, continued incursion upon Ustalavic lands met subtle but fearsome resistance from Varno. The realms of Grodlych and Virholt were also destroyed during the reign of the Whispering Tyrant, their lands now under the control of the neighbouring country of Lastwall or merged in their shared ruin as the no man’s land of Virlych.