Titled Ruler: Annointed King
Governance: Hereditary Monarchy
Law: Mandate of Heaven
Economy: Landed Elite
Common Folk: Humans
The Kingdom of Istan is the darkest both literally and figuratively, 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 mankind can only imagine what dwells among the shrouded peaks.
The sun never quite seems to break through the oddly colored clouds in Istan. The moon is more seldom fully seen here, and the Z-shaped mountain range that dominates the kingdom, the Geier Reach, separates the valleys from each other. The long-suffering humans of Istan, for their part, remain loyal to their inhospitable 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.
The mountain range that dominates Istan, the Geier Reach, defines it utterly. This chain grows steadily higher in elevation as it moves from the borders with Kryta and Eternia toward the kingdom'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.
The passes through Geier Reach are few and precious; all travel into or out of the kingdom must use them. Only one pass crosses the final zig-zag of the Geier. Ziel Pass is the only way to reach the sea from Istan's inland valleys. The cliffs at the end of Ziel Pass descend for one thousand, six hundred 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.
Hofsaddel and Needle's Eye connect the inland valleys to the outland ones. Hofsaddel is a wide and well-trodden pass. Needle's Eye, however, is a narrow, treacherous, and deadly path because of the presence of monsters on the route as well as its proximity to the Infernal Eye 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 lead from the adjacent kingdoms into Istan. The pass from Eternia is Getander, a long, zig-zagging route lackadaisically watched by the Knights of the Chalice. Kryta must use the Kruin Pass, which is just as long, but in vertical elevation rather than horizontal turns, and is watched by the rapacious knights of the same order.
The shape of the Geier Reach creates two long valleys in the provinces, and foothills separate those valleys into numerous, isolated segments. 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 mortals ever see these distant places.
The inland stretch houses two significant human communities: Silbern, a tiny stone watchtower manned by fatalistic Knights of the Chalice and surrounded by several family farms, and Wollebank, a large village of shepherds and their families.
The Farbogs are twin bogs, one in the inland valley and one in the outland, blanketing the center of Istan 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 battlefields, and as the graves dissolve into the slime, undead proliferate.
In the middle of the Geier, in between the Hofsaddel and Needle's Eye passes and cloaked by forest, lies the Infernal Eye, a huge chasm deep enough to glow with magma from below. Ash-ridden smog rises from it, mixing with the dark clouds above. The Infernal Eye is a planar breach, and perhaps the most important one. The pit spews out bands of devils according to some eldritch pattern only they understand.
Despite its darkness, Istan still holds places of beauty. Between its contested valleys and savage peaks, the Geier is forested with a winding, melancholy, drooping pine wilderness. Somberwald is home to some of the Mortal Realm'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 Eternia, but the spread of Eladrin, Elves, and werewolves there have driven them here, where they're safe in the shadow of darker things.
Because few crops will grow in Istan's rocky soil and dim light, humans are reliant on sheep for wool, leather, milk, and meat. Shepherding traditions are ancient here, and Istani wool is considered the finest in the world. For the most part, the flocks are safer from predators than they would be elsewhere. Istan's humans are not an expressive or demonstrative bunch. Countless generations of hardship and proximity to the Infernal Eye—lost children, lost neighbors—have taught Istani to guard their hearts. They are proud and fervent in their beliefs but seem brusque or even cold to humans from other provinces.
Humans have adapted as best they can to life surrounded by monsters. Almost every Istani 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 Istani cottage features a mirror on the outside of the front door to dissuade vampires from approaching.