Several thousand years ago, the land of Steymhorod disappeared from the surface of Eldura.
What had once been a mountainous region with fragrant springs, moderate summers, and colorful falls descended into the Shadowlands, its borders separated from the rest of the plane by impenetrable mist.
At all times, Steymhorod remains under gray clouds, lit only by weak sunlight even at the brightest points of the day. The forests linger on the cusp between autumn and winter, a state of living death.
And over the land, a dark vampire lord, Draego, rules.
This post gives an overview of the history of Steymhorod as well as the major cities, cultures, groups, and organizations that characters might encounter in the Land of Vampires campaign as well as in the Age of Azuria epic fantasy series.
A Lost and Fallen Realm
Those who live on the prime plane—several thousand years later in Azuria—are unfamiliar with what happened to the land of Steymhorod. Over the millennia since the region descended into the Shadowlands, few have ventured across its borders. For non-vampires, such a visit is impossible save through the use of a portal.
The muddled history of the years before the flood obscured the history of Steymhorod further still—its very memory has left the prime plane.
Back when Steymhorod was still a prosperous land in the northwestern reaches of Eldura, major and minor nobles from across the realms arrived, hoping to win the fancy and hand of the young Lord Draego, the noble ruler of all of Steymhorod. To everyone’s surprise, a minor noblewoman, Elena of Palais, captured the lord’s attention. The captivating Elena left Palais behind, and she remained with Lord Draego and became his wife.
You’ll find a recounting of this story in Story Magic, “Legend of the Black Oak Forest.”
Unfortunately, the couple’s happiness would be short-lived. While pregnant with their first-born child, Elena became ill and needed a blood transfusion. One of her trusted servants agreed and offered her lifeblood for her mistress—but the blood was cursed. Elena’s condition worsened. Large, seeping pustules covered her skin, keeping her in a constant state of agony. She could often be heard screaming late into the night of the fire licking her skin and rushing through her blood.
combating the curse
Draego became obsessed with the blood curse. He waged an all-out war against surrounding kingdoms, thinking that by collecting blood he might find a cure for his ailing wife. It was said that in the Killing Fields of Steymhorod, the earth and the grasses drank more blood than water and developed a taste for wet red death. But despite all of this loss of life as Draego expanded the reach of his kingdom, no cure could be found.
Lord Draego was desperate. He called upon his allies, the Four Fae Sisters, powerful Archfae tied to the land. Since their rule began, he and his family had shared influence, love, and control over all of Steymhorod with the Sisters. Though he begged, they refused to help him save Elena or the child. Draego attacked as they turned their back on him, destroying those who had been his allies for so long. The Sisters died alongside Elena, and the land fell into the Shadowlands, cursed.
A small flicker of light remained. The child lived, delivered as his mother passed on to the realm of Astralei. The distraught father did his best to raise his son and rule his land, but further tragedy awaited Draego. A few months into his young life, the healers discovered that Cadogan also had the blood disorder that had killed his mother.
The Sisters having failed him, Draego turned to a new set of powers, crying out for aid from any who would listen. Xarmev, god of undeath, answered him. The god promised to heal the boy and vowed that he and Draego would live forever. Draego agreed, and the first vampire came into being.
Adventures in Steymhorod
You can explore Steymhorod for yourself in the Land of Vampires: Falling into Shadow duet 5e campaign.
Steymhorod’s Major Cities
There are three major cities in Steymhorod: Saint Sebastian, Barasov, and Rasonov. The Witchwood is home to the witches and their servitors, and the town of Willowhold rests inside the forest’s borders. The village Umbra sits at the base of Castle Cadogan; a pack of werewolves make their den at Wolf’s Head Peak, and a collection of fae and druids secretly dwell within the Green Vale. The desecrated temples to the Four Fane Sisters lie in the heart of each natural element—the mountains, the rivers, the forests, and the fields.
The walled city of Saint Sebastian is the first the adventurers are likely to come across upon their arrival in Steymhorod. The population of Saint Sebastian is aging rapidly, most of their young residents leaving to join the Ring of Light, a cult that surrounds the city walls, or traveling to the city of Barasov for greater excitement and opportunity.
The mayor of Saint Sebastian is an ancient human male named Sebastian. He maintains strict rules about who may or may not enter the city as well as who may remain after the gates are shut at dusk every night to protect the residents from the dangers beyond the walls.
The Ring of Light
A little over twenty years ago, a middle-aged, bald man with dark brown skin asked for admittance to Saint Sebastian after sundown. Sebastian refused, which was functionally a death sentence. Between the witches, wildlings, werewolves, and vampire spawn, the man would surely be devoured in the dark. The man sat in front of the gates, a lantern by his side.
Dawn rose the next day, and the man remained. He walked through the city streets, preaching a message of hope and light, of safety beyond the walls, so long as the residents remained in his care. Many joined him.
After the first year, a wave of refugees fled from Barasov to Saint Sebastian, and they too joined the Ring of Light. They built wooden shelters around the city, leaning them against Saint Sebastian’s sturdy walls.
Barasov is the largest, most developed city in all of Steymhorod. Though officially ruled by Lady Divine Odalyde, functionally, it is divided into three sections: that ruled by the nobles, the Bloodletters, and the Watchers. The nobility’s portion of the city is the wealthiest, and each of the five families has ties to either the Bloodletters or the Watchers.
A sharp line runs through the city between the Bloodletters’ and the Watchers’ territory. Residents pay for protection depending on which of the two sections they call home, though for the most part, the citizens of Barasov try to remain separate from the inter-guild conflicts.
Twenty years ago, the fighting between the two guilds intensified to the point that blood ran through the streets and many innocents died, caught in the crossfire. Those who could fled the city and made their way to Saint Sebastian and Willowhold.
A mysterious fog hangs over the minds of those who leave Barasov, slowly erasing their memories of the city, making recollection more difficult the longer they are away.
Not much is known of this city to the east of Draego’s castle, but groups of hooded riders occasionally burst forth from its gates, quelling disturbances in the countryside before returning to their homes. No one in Barasov or Saint Sebastian has had contact with a citizen of Rasonov for several decades.
Nevertheless, several rumors persist about the place and its formidable walls. Some say that Rasonov is populated by sentient, isolationist ghouls. Others claim that Rasonov is the home of a mad wizard who protects incredible treasures in the labyrinth within the walls. The most improbable claim is that it is within Rasonov that resistance to Draego’s dominion over Steymhorod gathers strength.
The Witchwood is a vast forest that spans the region of Steymhorod. Like all the lands of Steymhorod, the fall to the Shadowlands corrupted the wood and its residents. A single path, the Spindlewood Road, curls through the forest, connecting the vast woodland to the other elements of the region. The Witchwood is ever-expanding, slowly encroaching on neighboring cities and towns as well as the fields and rivers.
The small settlement of Willowhold sits in the middle of the Witchwood, its residents protecting themselves from the horrors of the forest as best as they’re able. So far, the residents have managed to beat back the ever-encroaching Witchwood and ward off the many horrors of the wild.
Lord Draego and his son Cadogan live in Castle Cadogan, a towering structure built into the region’s tallest mountain, and the village of Umbra lies at the castle’s base. The vampire lord has few interactions with the villagers below, though they dwell always beneath the castle’s shadow.
Wolf’s Head Peak
Far to the north, a pack of werewolves have made their home in Wolf’s Head Peak. Their alphas, Tavion and Solane, have led the pack for the last decade, but a rogue member of their pack, Vicq, vies for power.
The Green Vale resides in the southern reaches of Steymhorod and is the sole remaining fae forest in the land. The first several acres of forest are disguised by a false Witchwood, but within its borders, a conclave of fae and druids remain in harmony with the land of Steymhorod. They are divided as to their responsibility to the rest of the land. Over the years, a few different groups have attempted to revive the Sisters’ Fanes while others have made pacts with the vampires, werewolves, or the witches.
While they would say that they are unaware of whether or not Lord Draego knows of their whereabouts, the wisest among them would hold this as a certainty—when he destroyed the Sisters, Draego became one with the land. He knows of all within its borders.
There are four fanes, or sacred sites of the Sisters. In Draego’s rage at the Sisters’ betrayal, he destroyed the fanes, and the records of their locations were lost over time. Each Sister had a fane at the heart of her element: Diannan, the Forest Fane; Arduenne, the Mountain Fane, Eronia, the Field Fane; and Lena, the River Fane.
People Groups of Steymhorod
Steymhorod is a primarily human plane that is ruled by a vampire lord and also home to werewolves, witches, fae, and saudad.
Lord Draego, the first vampire, created several others in the early throes of his immortality. His deal with Xarmev inflicted his son with his curse, and he passed the bloodline on to a few others, most notably his military commander Malthael and his chief political strategist, Hugo. All vampires remain under Draego’s thrall and are connected to him on some level, but he cannot directly harm them, just as he cannot harm himself.
Draego’s blood flows through the veins of all vampires. The further they are from the original, the weaker they are in their cursed state. There are two remaining vampires of the elder bloodline: Malthael and Hugo. Malthael’s servants are violent and bloodthirsty, wreaking havoc on the prime plane with large-scale slaughters. Hugo’s descendants are more conniving, selecting their targets with care and concocting intricate schemes to avoid detection.
Nassarq’s transformation occurred with the help of an ancient relic that he discovered from Xarmev’s servants. He directly imbibed Hugo’s blood, reviving the elder line and amassing great power to himself over a short period of time. Three vampires—Rodian, Olya, and Anya—owe their souls to Hugo, either through their transformations or on behalf of deals they made with him, and they are likewise bound to serve Nassarq, Hugo’s blood-reincarnation.
With Steymhorod’s fall, the curse of lycanthropy worsened in Steymhorod. The pack originally served Arduenne, the Fae goddess of the mountains, but without her presence, their wolf side was corrupted alongside all the native wolves of the region. They remain loyal to Arduenne, worshipping an aspect of her spirit, the Wolf Mother. Lycanthropy in Steymhorod cannot be healed save for the intervention—and therefore resurrection—of Arduenne herself.
The witches were once the devoted followers of Diannan, the leader of the Sisters and the Archfae ruler of the forest. When their fae goddess disappeared, the witches’ magic twisted, the spirits they called warped by shadow. Their desire to protect the Forest Fane remains, and they hunt trespassers through their lands, especially those who stray from the Spindle Path that winds through the woods, crossing rivers and valleys.
The witches hold sway over two other groups that roam the lands of Steymhorod as well: the wildlings and the wights. The wildlings roam the forests, hunting creatures and travelers alike. If called upon, they will do the witches’ bidding for a favor or a fee, though they are also willing to work for the vampires.
The wights travel in a mounted herd, roaming the fields between the forest and the city of Barasov in ghostly armor. Several rumors circulate through the lands as to the nature of their hunts, be they for food, vengeance, entertainment, or another cause. Their leader is missing her right hand, lost in a battle long ago.
Fae from both the Bright- and Shadowlands reside in the Green Vale, teaching a conclave of druids and green witches their ways. A few other fae roam the lands of Steymhorod in disguise, disrupting the habits of the other people groups save the saudad, for whom they have a fondness.
The saudad are interplanar travelers, displaced from the city of Orison after it was swallowed by the ocean as Ruka’s sacrifice to Alessandra. A small enclave of saudad were traveling through Steymhorod when it fell into the Shadowlands, and they have been trapped ever since, unable to venture the multiverse. The saudad are storytellers and maintain much of the lore of old, down to when Lewellyn and Pandora brought the planes into existence. They travel freely across Draego’s lands unhindered by vampires, his responsibility for their plight resulting in a rare moment of compassion on behalf of the vampire lord.
Their extensive cultural memory helps to protect them from the evils that walk the land as well. While many of the townsfolk and those hiding behind the walls of Steymhorod’s cities remain unaware of how to protect themselves from the wandering undead, witches, and werewolves, the saudad remember, passing the knowledge down through generations. Their leaders have ties to the Sisters, and many saudad have a close relationship with the natural world as keepers of her stories.
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