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
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.
Concept art by James Paick
Mountain passes. The passes through Geier Reach are few and precious; all travel into or out of the province must use them.
- Ziel Pass. 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. 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. 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. The shape of the Geier Reach creates two long valleys in the provinces, and foothills separate those valleys into numerous, isolated segments.
- Outland valleys. 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. 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.
Concept art by James Paick
The Farbogs. 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.
Ashmouth. 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.
Somberwald. 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
Sheep and shepherding. 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.
Stoicism. 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. 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.
Concept art by Vincent Proce
- Vampire Culture
Noble benefactors. 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. 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. 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. 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
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. 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. 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. 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
Cosper Lowe, Captain of the Silbern Guard. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Innistrad's vampires comprise its only nonhuman civilization and the biggest threat to humans on the plane. Their existence represents a sort of externalization of self-indulgent desire; if werewolves are a symbol of repressed rage, vampires are a symbol of repressed desire. On Innistrad, vampire manor houses, courts, and even the occasional castle exist across the plane, and vampires themselves vary considerably in aggressiveness toward their human prey.
- The Nature of Vampirism
Vampirism on Innistrad is neither a virus nor a curse, but what the vampires themselves somewhat euphemistically call a "condition of the blood." It is an anointing that persists and is perpetuated by magic alone, and few if any of its bearers consider it a curse. When reflecting on the nature of "the condition," vampires sometimes poetically call it an ablution, a washing of the self in blood that results in a new state of being. Innistrad vampires are not truly undead, although they have some undead traits (such as agelessness and skin that's cold to the touch).
Vampiric traits. The most distinctive thing about vampires' appearance is their eyes. The sclera is black and the irises gold, silver, or other colors. The skin is pale and cool to the touch. The hair is often black but is sometimes deep purple, dark magenta, burgundy, or even dark blue-green. Some vampires wear wigs, however, for variety, novelty, or to disguise themselves more easily among humans. A vampire's canines are very slightly pronounced at all times, and when they bite someone, the canines extend about a quarter inch. Vampires also tend to have long and slightly curved fingernails.
Concept art by Steve Prescott
Vampiric powers. Humans have a multitude of tall tales about the evils and wonders of which vampires are capable. In reality, though, the vampires' universal suite of powers is limited to just three things: agelessness, slightly enhanced strength (approximately double that of a human), and a two-foot-wide aura of silence that emanates from them at will.
Vampiric magic. That said, many vampires learn a uniquely vampiric form of glamer (quasi-illusion magic) that enables them to move among humans undetected. These are mind-affecting spells that alter what nearby humans think they're perceiving, rather than true illusion magic that changes the subject's appearance. As such, particularly strong-willed humans can sometimes shake off the effects of the glamer and see the vampire truly. Also, given time, power, and mana, elder vampires learn all manner of powerful magic, including flight, hypnotic gaze, transformation into other forms (such as that of a bat or a mist), and so on.
Concept art by Daarken
- Vampiric Vulnerabilities
All vampires inherit a set of weaknesses linked to the ritual that created their race. First, although they can be harmed or killed by any weapon, weapons of living wood have special efficacy—this is the so-called Dryad's Legacy (dead wood is inert, no more effective than stone or steel). Second, a vampire can't cross running water in which the moon is reflected, because of the link between water as the source of human food and the moon as the source of angelic power. Third, Avacyn herself can enchant water with the power to burn vampires like acid by touching it. But this water is scarce and becoming scarcer with each passing day.
Silver, the soothsayer. Because of the connection between Innistrad's silver moon and its angels, and because the ritual that created vampires required the drinking of angel blood, silver has special properties vis-à-vis vampires: it causes them to see how they would have been in normal, mortal life, ignoring vampire glamer and reality alike. Because of this, vampires go to great lengths to avoid mirrors (glass backed with a coating of silver), because mirrors reflect their mortal images rather than their actual ones. This is also the reason why vampires can't cross running water in which the moon is reflected. Although silver weapons aren't particularly deadly to vampires, the presence of silver unsettles them, putting them at a disadvantage.
Concept art by Steve Prescott
Avacyn's power. The archangel Avacyn is (or was) the living covenant of the balance between humans and vampires. Avacynian holy symbols can induce in vampires a paralyzing fear and the desire to flee, although their ability to do so has significantly diminished in the last year (because of Avacyn's disappearance). Despite Avacyn's absence, however, the strength of faith alone imbues a degree of continued power in the symbols of Avacyn: the silver collar and the heron crest.
- The Unquenchable Thirst
A vampire will starve to death in one full cycle of the moon unless it drinks as much human blood as an average human contains (about five liters). Almost any vampire will drink more than this if given the chance, however. Without enough blood, a vampire starves quickly—in a matter of several days—first desiccating before eventually crumbling to dust. Because of the source magic that created all vampires, only blood from a living human will suffice. Vampire alchemists have attempted transmutations of animal blood to human blood, but all have failed. Blood from a dead human is also insufficient; if blood from a living human is like wine, blood from a dead human is like vinegar.
Blood trade. To vampires, blood is indeed like wine. Vampires enjoy a lively commerce in blood, although the commodity is only good for a few days before it provides no nourishment—about the same length of time as wood stays alive once cut from its plant. Small castles and manor houses in relative proximity to each other trade blood via carriage and experiment with various blends. Particularly interesting or delicious samples are occasionally preserved by well paid time-mages who can use sorcery to prevent the blood from "dying" for a short time (freezing doesn't work). When a time-mage can't be secured, however (which is often), some vampires resort to slavery of the victim, shipping him or her from place to place to be supped on. Specialty carriages exist for this purpose.
Feeding and siring. A vampire will drink the blood of his or her human victim, usually until the victim dies of blood loss. Sometimes the vampire is interrupted and the human will survive and recover. Although other humans might suspect the survivor of a vampire's bite of becoming a vampire, this isn't a possibility, because siring requires an exchange of blood. The survivor will be plagued by disturbing and sometimes erotic dreams for years but will not turn.
Concept art by Vincent Proce
When a vampire wishes to turn a human into a vampire, to sire the victim, the vampire must introduce his or her own blood into the victim. The simplest way to accomplish this is for the vampire to cut his or her own cheek or tongue before or during the bite. This act will "anoint" the victim, endowing him or her with the same "condition of the blood" that all vampires have. But this is only the first step. The victim, once anointed, will begin to feel the bloodthirst, and food will become unsatisfying within one to three days. But this first bloodthirst is special; only the blood of the sire can quench it. A newly anointed victim who doesn't drink the sire's blood before the next new moon will die. But if he or she does, the siring will be complete and the anointed will become a full-fledged vampire.
Concept art by Steve Prescott
Only the gifted. Who do vampires choose to sire? Because vampires believe they are humanity's saviors, and because of their own decadence and hedonism, only the cream of the human crop is fit for siring. A vampire might decide to sire a human because of the human's beauty, charisma, intelligence, or talent, for example. In short, only the most remarkable humans become vampires.
Concept art by Vincent Proce
The bite. When vampires feed, they will sink their teeth into any exposed flesh. Usually the neck is most convenient, but an arm or even a cheek will do. But the siring bite is special. Vampires want to avoid marring the appearance of their future peers, so often a siring bite is made in some out-of-view location, such as on the upper thigh, the torso under the arm, or the bottom of a foot (although in this last case the victim must be special indeed to be worth the vampire's self-humiliation).
Not all vampires are created equal. Among the existing vampiric bloodlines, some are more common but prestigious whereas some are rare but less respected. There were originally twelve bloodlines, which originated long ago in a ritual that had something to do with the Markov progenitor, Edgar Markov. Three of these bloodlines have died out completely. Five others are relatively minor, having sired fewer vampires. The four major bloodlines that remain are:
Markov. This is the bloodline of Edgar Markov and is the most prestigious of the bloodlines. The Markov line has been fairly ambitious in its siring over the many centuries, and as a result the Markov vampires exist in all four of Innistrad's provinces. This isn't to say that all vampires of the Markov line are all high-minded or noble; a bloodline doesn't determine temperament, self-discipline, or restraint. Markov elders seem to have a talent for psychic magic.
Falkenrath. The Falkenrath line, concentrated more in Stensia than the Markov line, had a famous falconer (now dead) as its progenitor and remains associated with far-reaching activity and predation. Falkenrath vampires are the boldest in walking among humans, taking pleasure in choosing their victims from deep within human communities that consider themselves safe. Falkenrath elders are more likely to master powers of flight than those of other lines.
Voldaren. The progenitor of the Voldaren line, Olivia Voldaren, was in life a beautiful but strange, hermetic, antisocial woman who preferred to live far away from human civilization, in manor homes built for her from her seemingly boundless wealth. Like their progenitor, Voldaren vampires tend to live in the distant places, in the borderlands and edges of Innistrad's provinces. Voldaren elders can more easily master magic that enables them to transform into animal forms, especially those of the bat, cat, and rat.
Stromkirk. Unwilling to take part in the political and social machinations of Stensian vampires, those of the Stromkirk line chose to concentrate their power in Nephalia instead. As a result their disguising glamers are more powerful and more sophisticated. Stromkirk's progenitor, Runo Stromkirk, was a high priest in life who worshipped a pre-Avacynian god of the sea and storms, and Stromkirk vampires still feel a slight affinity with the coast. Some Stromkirk elders have achieved the ability to transform themselves into mist.