Nova Vaasa, situated on a plateau in the southeastern Core, is a land dominated by sweeping grasslands and crushing urban poverty. The plains are rocky and trackless, but the grasses that cover them are short, tamed by the constant grazing of horses. The wind whistles eerily across the steppes, which are dotted with rocky uplands and copses. For the most part, however, the domain is exceptionally flat, stretching from the Balinoks Mountains in the west to the Nocturnal Sea in the east. Crumbling stone ruins and humble horse ranches break up the landscape. Broad rivers meander across Nova Vaasa’s steppes, cutting deep gorges through the plateau where they reach the Nocturnal Sea. The domain enjoys access to numerous important waterways, including the Dnar, the Borchava, the Ivlis, and the Saniset. The eastern coast is rugged and adequate natural ports are rare; the flat plateau drops down to treacherous bluffs and narrow, rocky beaches.
Near settlements, the plains are cleared for vast farms needed to feed the domain’s swelling population. The cities are nightmarish scenes of dreadful urban squalor. The streets throng with beggars, and the ditches are piled with refuse and plague-bloated corpses. The press of people and beasts of burden is positively suffocating. Buildings are constructed of reddish beige brick on foundations of rough gray stone, with tiny windows and gabled roofs of golden-yellow shingles. Nova Vaasa’s weather can be brutal during winter, but spring always brings mild warmth and wildflowers.
The class divide in Nova Vaasa is wide and deeply entrenched. The poor make up the vast majority of the population. These impoverished masses are truly destitute and miserable, afflicted with hunger, disease, and crime. The aristocracy, meanwhile, is comparatively tiny in size but extremely wealthy. Five families — the Bolshniks, Chekivs, Hiregaards, Rivtoffs, and Vistins — own nearly all property in the domain. A very small middle class has begun to emerge in recent years, composed of civil servants, tax collectors, merchants, and clever thugs. Despite its wealth and size, Nova Vaasa has the feeling of a society on the brink of decline. Vice and violent crime are rampant in the overpopulated cities, while the nobles become wealthier each day on the backs of the poor. The commoners are concerned only with surviving and drowning their misery in vices, and each town has an inordinate number of gambling houses and taverns. Most nobles dwell in their own arrogant, anodyne world, believing that commoners are subhuman beasts of burden to be used and abused at whim. Surprisingly, rebellion and unrest are unheard of, due primarily to the doctrines of The Lawgiver’s church.
The Church of the Lawgiver is the state church of Nova Vaasa and the only religion with a significant presence. The Church is the true glue holding together Nova Vaasan society. Its teachings about law, obedience, and the divine right of rule are ingrained into every citizen at a young age, and without this stabilizing dogma the underclass would assuredly rise against the aristocracy that oppresses it. Church attendance is not legally mandated, but significant social pressure encourages it, and those seen as impious are ostracized and avoided.
The domain’s aristocracy consists of five families. Four of these families (the Hiregaards, the Chekivs, the Rivtoffs, and the Vistins) live in castles on the grasslands and have the right to tax the peasants who live along the Dnar, Little Borchava, Volgis, and Ivlis rivers respectively. Each family pays tribute to the fifth family, the Bolshniks, who live in a castle in Kantora and control the Borchava River farmlands.
Prince Othmar Bolshnik, the patriarch of the Bolshnik family, is the current political leader of the domain. Traditionally, Nova Vaasa’s leadership passed from the head of one noble family to the next every five years. Unfortunately, Othmar has not relinquished his mantle in over twenty-five years, a fact that has caused undeniable tension among the five ruling families. The other noble families pay their tribute to Othmar, though some grudgingly. The Hiregaards and Chekiv families support Othmar’s rule; they feel that if Othmar did not have Bane’s blessing, he would not be ruling. The Rivtoffs and Vistins are less pleased with Othmar and wish to return to the traditional rotation system. Such is Othmar’s military and political power, however, that neither dares attempt to oust him. He is however advised by The Council of Lords.
Othmar is a vain and ruthless ruler focused on cementing the Bolshniks’ dominance among the noble families and maintaining the status quo in Nova Vaasan society at large. He commands a sizable cavalry, consisting of fighters equipped with ring mail and clubs. In addition, he has recruited dozens of mercenaries that serve as his special enforcement squads. Each noble family governs its lands independently, however, and Othmar only rarely steps in to collect tribute. Nobles rule harshly and without pity, though the Hiregaard family treats the commoners in its lands relatively fairly. For the most part, law and justice do not exist in Nova Vaasan society as they do in other realms; there is no recourse for those who have been wronged criminally or privately. Nobles care nothing for issues that do not directly involve their interests. Thus, the streets and plains of Nova Vaasa are largely lawless. Settlements have only weak civic government, run by those who have proven themselves loyal to the local family. Each noble family maintains a small private army that includes cavalry, though the Bolshnik forces are by far the largest and best equipped.
Othmar’s only rival as the master of Nova Vaasa is not a fellow noble at all, but a mysterious criminal overlord known only as Malken. This shadowy figure is rumored to control all that occurs in the underworld of Liara and a good deal of illicit activity elsewhere in the domain as well. Malken is practically a bogeyman to the poor of Nova Vaasa. In the darkest alleyways of the domain, it is Malken’s word, not Othmar’s, that is the law.
Nova Vaasa’s resources include wheat, corn, millet, barley, oats, rye, cabbage, beets, potatoes, apples, pears, sunflowers, hemp, flax, horses, chickens, cod, herring, wine, gypsum, amber, chalk, salt, leather goods, furniture, and ships. The currency of Nova Vaasa is a gold piece is known as the bridle; the heads side shows a horse head in profile, looking to the observers left. The silver piece, the spur, shows a rider’s boot, with the toe pointed to the observers right. The copper piece, the horseshoe, shows exactly that, a horseshoe with the open end pointed downward.
Nova Vaasan leatherwork is among the most prized in the Core, both for the quality of the horsehide leather itself and the skill of the Nova Vaasan artisans. Saddles, boots, gloves, jackets and other goods made from Vaasi leather can be found in lands throughout the Core. In the western realms, pistol holsters and scabbards made from Vaasi horsehide have become de rigueur.
Nova Vaasa is a significant economic power, though the wealth generated from its resources benefits only the five noble families. Thus, while trade with other lands expands, the crushing poverty that most Nova Vaasans endure only gets worse. Gambling, liquor, and flophouses have also begun to take their toll on the domain’s productivity. Under the direction of Malken, underworld activity has become organized, and it may be only a matter of time until the nobles begin to feel its pinch.
Most trade is conducted with Barovia, Tepest, Hazlan, and the islands of the Nocturnal Sea. Demand for Nova Vaasan goods, however, spurs merchants to trek through the Balinoks each spring from the western Core. Nova Vaasa’s most famous exports are its horses, prized throughout the Core for their strength, speed, obedience, and beauty. Although the noble families have legendary stables and lineages, the finest horses seem to come from tiny rural ranches.
Nova Vaasan law states that any male Vaasi horse sold to a foreigner must first be gelded; the Nova Vaasans are very protective of their monopoly. This condition has made the outside demand for Vaasi stallions very high, both to horse breeders and to soldiers or noblemen who desire more spirited mounts. The high prices these stallions command has accelerated the growth of the black market for Vaasi steeds.
Nova Vaasa has regular contact with other lands. Merchants travel to and fro by all available routes, and young Nova Vaasan aristocrats often garner their education abroad. There are few civilized parts of the Core where a Nova Vaasan is nowhere to be found, and thus many relationships have been established and opinions formed of other lands.
Barovia is viewed mainly as a stepping stone to the riches of the west. While demand for Barovian timber, spirits and metals does exist, trading for them unfortunately involves dealing with Barovians, something that few Nova Vaasan merchants savor. Barovians remind Nova Vaasan traders of the lower classes they avoid at home, with the additional unpleasantness of superstitious atheism thrown in. The secularism of the average Barovian greatly bothers most Nova Vaasans who encounter it, and the few religions that do have a foothold in Barovia bother them even more. The Cult of the Morninglord is seen as particularly pernicious; its message of temporal hope for the downtrodden is as opposite to the dogma of The Lawgiver as anything could be.
Though the ties between Nova Vaasa and Darkon were only recently forged, Darkon has already become one of Nova Vaasas most respected neighbors and the latest focus of its mercantile pursuits. When the lands of the Core shifted in the wake of The Great Upheaval, the Mountains of Misery no longer barred all traffic between the two lands. Nova Vaasans were eager to take advantage of this new opportunity for trade, and it has paid handsome dividends on both sides. Nova Vaasan aristocrats also admire, even envy King Azalin and his firm control over so widespread and varied a kingdom.
Nova Vaasans arent quite sure what to make of the Hazlani. The commonalities of language and religion would seem likely to draw the two peoples together, but the Hazlani culture is too alien to be easily overlooked. Indeed, the few similarities between the two cultures appear only to accentuate the differences. The Himmelsk Naeve would like nothing more than to increase unity between the two realms, which would increase the Churchs influence, but despite his efforts it seems unlikely that the two lands will ever become more than uncomfortable neighbors and lukewarm trading partners.
The Nocturnal Sea
Egertus and Arbora were wealthy ports before the Mists rose, and the disappearance of the sea had left them as shadows of their former wealth. When the Nightmare Lands vanished after the Great Upheaval, the sea reappeared, but the mists did not recede. Intrepid Nova Vaasan mariners boldly attempted to sail and chart the enshrouded waters, with few successes and many tragedies. When the mists finally did recede and reveal the waters of the Nocturnal Sea, it was seen as a miraculous blessing, a reward from the Lawgiver for the good faith and service of His people. Though neither port is anywhere close to as powerful as they once had been, each has begun to boom with the return of marine commerce. Egertus carries on a brisk trade with Nevuchar Springs on Darkon’s coast and with the island of Liffe to the northeast, while Arbora does the same with Graben Island. Though the Nocturnal Sea is treacherous and turbulent, Nova Vaasans continue to view it with a certain fondness, their own special gift from the Lawgiver. There is no shortage of volunteers for trading vessels or for the Nova Vaasan Navy, and the Nova Vaasan reputation for riding the waves is slowly growing to match their reputation for riding the plains.
Tepest is something of a thorn in the side of Nova Vaasan merchants, who are always seeking to increase their trading opportunities with the western lands. The wild and fey creatures of the untamed Tepestani forests make for a perilous journey for merchant caravans. In an effort to improve matters, Nova Vaasans would like to see the East Timori Road extended north into Keening, with the hopes of eventually meeting the Darkonian Strigos Road and thereby hastening the completion of the trade route. Plans have been laid to construct guard outposts along the way; that this is an egregious violation of Tepestani sovereignty has been pointedly ignored. This has thus far been a doomed effort. Every labor team sent into Tepest for this purpose so far has disappeared, even those under armed guard. Such events have increased the frustration of the merchants, and support is growing for a campaign to invade and civilize Tepest. A recent build-up of royal troops in the north suggests Prince Othmar may be taking heed. The Tepestani themselves are considered barely worthy of notice, as they have little interest in fine horseflesh. Their pagan zealotry does little to help. It is mainly the vast stores of Tepestani timber that keep Nova Vaasan merchants coming back. What other barter occurs is usually of an agricultural bent.
Climate/Terrain: Temperate forests, hills, and plains
Races: Humans 91%, halflings 5%, gnomes 3%, other 1%
Human Ethnic Groups: Vaasi 88%, Barovian 4%, Darkonian 2%, Falkovnian 2%, Tepestani 2%, Rashemani 1%, other 1%
Languages: Vaasi, Halfling, Gnome, Balok, Darkonese, Falkovnian, Tepestani
Religions: The Lawgiver
Government: Hereditary aristocracy
Ruler: Prince Othmar Bolshnik