The province of Stensia is the darkest both literally and figuratively on Innistrad, but also the most dramatic, the most storied, and the most unexplored. Its valleys range from pastoral (albeit dusky) range-lands to black bogs into which dead conifers slowly sink. Its black-pine-forested midlands, riddled with wisps of thick fog, show colors from deep green to purple to orange-grey. Its far-flung indigo and black mountains disappear into the clouds, and humans can only imagine what dwells among the shrouded peaks.
The sun never quite seems to break through the oddly colored clouds in Stensia. The ruling power of Stensia, the vampire bloodlines, prefer it that way. Innistrad's moon is more seldom fully seen here, and the Z-shaped mountain range that dominates the province, the Geier Reach, separates the valleys from each other, making them easier to monitor and control. The long-suffering humans of Stensia, for their part, hold an illogical loyalty to their homeland. Truth be told, most have little choice; they are trapped between the province's narrow mountain passes and bound to their time-honored lives of herding and gathering.
Geier Reach Edit
The mountain range that dominates Stensia, the Geier Reach, defines it utterly. This chain grows steadily higher in elevation as it moves from the borders with Gavony and Kessig toward the province's outer edge. Inland, the mountain peaks are forested, whereas in the chain's middle the tree line gives way to bare rock, and at its verge, the peaks disappear into the clouds. The highlands are dotted with caves and crevasses where vultures, bats, and other, larger creatures reign.
Mountain passes. Edit
The passes through Geier Reach are few and precious; all travel into or out of the province must use them.
Ziel Pass Edit
Only one pass crosses the final zig-zag of the Geier. Ziel Pass is the only way to reach the sea from Stensia's inland valleys. The cliffs at the end of Ziel Pass descend for 1,600 feet, and the only way to get to the churning waters is to jump... or to trek by foot or mule down a treacherous path of endless switchbacks plagued by the geists of those who have died trying to do the same.
Hofsaddel and Needle's Eye Edit
These two passes connect the inland valleys to the outland ones. Hofsaddel is a wide and well-trodden pass, and one that the vampires leave alone. The reason: human interaction is good for the long term, as long as it's among Stensians. Needle's Eye, however, is a narrow, treacherous, and deadly path because of the presence of vengeful geists on the route as well as its proximity to Ashmouth and its devils. Humans will take the Needle's Eye path only in the event of emergencies in the neighboring valleys.
Getander Pass and Kruin Pass Edit
Two passes lead from the adjacent provinces into Stensia. The pass from Kessig is Getander, a long, zig-zagging route watched by the rapacious Falkenrath vampires. Gavony must use the Kruin Pass, which is just as long, but in vertical elevation rather than horizontal turns, and is lackadaisically watched by the well-fed Markov vampires.
Stensia's valleys Edit
The shape of the Geier Reach creates two long valleys in the provinces, and foothills separate those valleys into numerous, isolated segments.
Outland valleys Edit
The outer valley is divided into eight pieces by terrain, three of which are noteworthy: the human village of Shadowgrange, the abandoned Maurer Estate, and the human rancher community of Lammas. Shadowgrange and Lammas are strange places populated by humans that are fiercely passionate about their lifestyles but also paranoid and fearful. Few other humans of Innistrad ever see these distant places.
Inland valleys Edit
The inland stretch houses two significant human communities with a prominent vampire holding: Silbern, a tiny stone watchtower manned by fatalistic cathars and surrounded by several family farms, Wollebank, a large village of shepherds and their families, and Markov Manor, a hilltop estate that towers over both. Markov Manor is the home of Edgar Markov, grandfather of Sorin Markov.
The Farbogs Edit
Twin bogs, one in the inland valley and one in the outland, blanket the center of Stensia like two puddles of ink. Both were once groves of pines, but those trees now sink into the peat muck at odd angles, creating a tangle of dead trunks. The peripheries of both bogs are home to ancient grafs, and as the graves dissolve into the slime, geists proliferate. A few ghouls wander here as well, most of them products of the young, self-taught ghoulcaller Rinelda Smit, an irresponsible teenager trying to make her mark on Stensia by creating her own force of beings to defend against vampire attacks.
In the middle of the Geier, in between the Hofsaddel and Needle's Eye passes and cloaked by forest, lies Ashmouth, a huge chasm deep enough to glow with magma from below. Ash-ridden smog rises from it, mixing with the dark clouds above. Ashmouth is an infernal gateway, and perhaps the most important one. The demon Shilgengar emerged from this pit, which also spews out bands of devils according to some eldritch pattern only the demons understand.
Despite its darkness, Stensia still holds places of beauty. Between its contested valleys and savage peaks, the Geier is forested with a winding, melancholy, drooping pine wilderness. These woods are home to some of Innistrad's most noble and pristine creatures: bears, stags, and other things that have fled here over the centuries for safety and seclusion. Many of these creatures were once found in Kessig, but the spread of hunters, trappers, and werewolves there have driven them here, where they're safe in the shadow of the vampires.
Human Life and Culture Edit
Sheep and shepherding Edit
Because not many crops will grow in Stensia's rocky soul and dim light, humans are reliant on sheep for wool, leather, milk, and meat. Shepherding traditions are ancient here, and Stensian wool is considered the finest in the world. Vampire dominance has prevented werewolves from gaining a foothold in the province, so the flocks are safer from predators than they would be elsewhere. In Stensia, humans depend on sheep and vampires depend on humans—an irony not lost on the vampires.
Stensia's humans are not an expressive or demonstrative bunch. Countless generations of hardship and proximity to the vampire strongholds—lost children, lost neighbors—have taught Stensians to guard their hearts. They are proud and fervent in their beliefs but seem brusque or even cold to humans from other provinces.
Village moats, cottage trees, and welcome mirrors Edit
Humans have adapted as best they can to life surrounded by vampires. Almost every Stensian village is surrounded by a shallow moat from which the sheep drink, because although clouds often obscure the moon here, while the moon is out, the moat will keep vampires from trespassing. In small villages, the cottages are usually arranged around a small grove of hawthorn trees for centralized access to living wood. In larger villages, the cottages themselves are often built around a hawthorn, with the tree's trunk in the center of the common room and its leaves above the roof. Caring for the cottage tree is the oldest child's responsibility. Lastly, almost every Stensian cottage features a mirror on the outside of the front door to dissuade vampires from approaching.
Vampire Culture Edit
Noble benefactors Edit
Vampires' attitude toward their own role and the role of humans is predictably self-centered and skewed. Vampires believe themselves to be the saviors and keepers of humanity. The "sacrifices" they made—surrendering their mortality and their relationships with human kin—are to them proof of their beneficence, and their demeanor toward humans is similar to that of a rich philanthropist toward a pauper (except they occasionally drain the pauper of blood).
Social creatures Edit
The social lives of vampires are every bit as treacherous and debauched as those of royal courts. Vampires visit each other to conduct parties, feasts, romances, entertainments, and so on. Grudges and betrayals are as much a source of amusement to them as they are a serious matter, and keeping track of vampiric trysts and enmities would be a full-time job.
Demand for finery Edit
Vampires want only the finest clothing, the finest weapons and armor, the finest furnishings and transport. Sometimes these desires can be met by a vampire artisan, but once in a while a human achieves a level of artistry that surpasses anything among vampires. In these cases, the vampire finds a way to acquire the thing in question, whether by arranging a deal through intermediaries or paying a visit to artisan(s) directly. Usually the humans in question can tell easily enough that their clients are vampires, because vampiric tastes differ so sharply from humans'. But whether because of profit, blackmail, or simply fear for their lives, most artisans comply.
Court of the Vampire King/Queen Edit
This disturbing three-day holiday was invented by Olivia Voldaren. A human is identified, kidnapped, and brought to a large vampire estate or castle, where they serve as "King or Queen of the Vampires" for the duration of the event. The mock king/queen, always utterly terrified, of course, is served the best food and drink and is theatrically supplicated. The vampires will follow any order the king or queen issues, except any attempt to abdicate the "throne." At the end of the three days, the king or queen is killed and all present share the blood.
Important Vampire Locations Edit
Some of the major vampire bloodlines have their most important strongholds in Stensia. All are on high ground, away from the prying eyes of the humans below.
Castle Falkenrath Edit
In the middle strip of the Geier Reach, between the Hofsaddel and Getander Passes, lies Castle Falkenrath, a towering, menacing Gothic masterpiece that houses scores of vampires of the Falkenrath line. Although the bloodline's progenitor is long dead, the castle is meticulously maintained. Smaller manor homes exist around the castle and along the border with Kessig, but Castle Falkenrath is the home base from which Stensia's most dominant vampires conduct their ambitious predations.
The Voldaren Estate Edit
Four miles from the end of Ziel Pass, cloaked in mist and surrounded by jagged peaks, is the huge estate of Olivia Voldaren, famous eccentric, bon vivant, and progenitor of the Voldaren bloodline. Olivia travels often, visiting the far-flung Voldaren manors and fortresses that are scattered across the four provinces of Innistrad. The elite among vampires know that Olivia throws the best parties, and the nobility will happily make the trek out to the estate for her seasonal ball.
Markov Manor Edit
In the corner of Stensia closest to Gavony, Edgar Markov's manor home overlooks Kruin Pass, and the High City of Thraben is visible in the far distance from its balconies. Although the Markov bloodline is the most prestigious and perhaps the most widespread, Edgar lives in comparative simplicity relative to the other vampire elders.
Personalities of Stensia Edit
Cosper Lowe, Captain of the Silbern Guard Edit
The small community of Silbern arose because of Silbern Tower, a lodging and base of operations for the local cathars. Although the Silbern cathars have grown fatalistic since the disappearance of Avacyn, their captain, a classically handsome young man named Cosper, continues to command admiration. He is good with a horse and blade, but his main skill is his ability to calm and inspire—his charisma. Only one thing plagues Cosper Lowe: Every young woman who has taken a shine to him has disappeared. It has just started to dawn on Cosper that this means he's the target of a vampire's infatuation.
Kastinne, the Demon Killer Edit
A young and insane woman from Shadowgrange who considers herself a wandering monk. A demon killed her three children, and she has vowed to slaughter it and every other demon until her children's souls find rest.
Traft and his attendants Edit
In life Traft was a living saint who fought demons alongside the host of Avacyn. Traft's ghost and those of a few of his attendants linger on to continue the battle, waiting for the demons' return. Traft has manifested in several locations in Stensia, including Ashmouth, and his attendants inhabit the Shrine of Traft in Thraben and give aid in the form of prophecy and omens.
Rem Karolus, Blade of the Inquisitors Edit
Some problems can be resolved only by the most feared and revered of the inquisitors: Rem Karolus. Rem, now in his late 30s, wanders Innistrad on his dappled gray horse armed with his trademark rapier and poniard at his side and bastard sword across his back. The Elgaud Grounds have courted Rem as an instructor more than once, but he has no interest. He takes orders from Thraben when he agrees with their goals, but he often simply wanders, dealing with crises as he encounters them, and Stensia has at least as many crises as other provinces.