A Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad: Gavony and Humans
The province of Gavony is where humanity remains safest and strongest. It is home to Thraben, the plane's largest city. Thraben houses the Cathedral of Avacyn, where the archangel herself resided before vanishing. Smaller towns radiate outward from Thraben across Gavony's rocky moors. Small copses of trees dot the landscape of rolling hills and heaths. Because more human dead are buried here than anywhere else, Gavony is more plagued by the undead than other provinces, and geists are more common as well.
Plains | Art by Adam Paquette
Thraben, the High City
The city of Thraben sits on a massive mesa in the middle of the Lake of Herons, a long body of water that flows around the rock and over an enormous waterfall. The eastern tip of the rock juts out over the waterfall itself, and it is on this dramatic pinnacle that the Cathedral of Avacyn stands.
Thraben is the largest city in the known lands of Innistrad. It's the seat of the Avacynian Church, built as a city of walls and various bulwarks designed to keep supernatural threats at bay. While smaller settlements are constantly under siege by monsters, the inner parts of Thraben and the Cathedral are the safest areas in Innistrad, which sometimes gives the bishops of the church a skewed perspective on how dangerous the world outside really is.
Concept art by Steve Belledin
The Walls of Thraben are a complex system of bulwarks and defense lines. There are remnants of older walls, which have crumbled and lost their effectiveness. But even the old walls demarcate the city into sections, some which have a penal or ceremonial function.
- Outer Wall. The main defense of Thraben. A thick, high wall that rings the perimeter of the city. The church has approved the expansion of the wall several times to keep the city from getting too crowded.
- Merchant's Wall. A complex of fellowship halls that forms a substantial market square. This is the center of commerce in Thraben.
- Child's Wall. The inner wall that surrounds the grounds of the Old Cathedral. Nearly as strong and tall as the outer wall, the Child's Wall has not been altered in ages. It is inscribed with the names of every child born in Innistrad. Many parents make a pilgrimage to the wall in the year after their child's birth, believing that having their child's name written on the wall will add protection to its life.
- Fang Wall. When werewolves are caught, they are executed in front of this wall. Then their fangs are removed and shoved between the crevices of the stones.
- Bloodless Wall. When vampires are caught, they are chained to this wall and left to starve to death.
Abbey Griffin | Art by Jaime Jones
Cathedral of Avacyn
A massive cathedral with three wings and a network of cloisters, courtyards, outlying schools, and forges. There are well-kept gardens and substantial training grounds for cathars (holy warriors). Outside of Thraben, churches are quite rustic, constructed from rough planks and often containing only a single room. The Cathedral is opulent by comparison.
The grounds between the wings form a triangular courtyard that is locked from public view by high walls. Most people don't know the courtyard exists. Only the most powerful bishops are permitted to set foot in it.
The Cathedral's structure symbolically divides the wealthy and poor of the world. Each class has its own designated place to worship:
- Chapel of Noble Peers. The opulent, gilded chapel that is reserved for the high levels of clergy and titled members of society.
- Midvast Hall. The larger, less opulent hall for ordained fellows and lesser clergy.
- Common Cloisters. The covered corridors along the edges Midvast Hall where commoners stand during worship. There are only certain holy days when the commoners are permitted to enter the Old Cathedral.
At first glance, the courtyard resembles an ornate garden with stands of fruit trees and gold-and-white flowers that are cultivated with painstaking care. At the heart of the garden, the trees fall away, leaving a view of a curious object: the Helvault.
Tree of Redemption | Art by Vincent Proce
The Helvault is a huge silver mass that stands at the precipice inside the courtyard of the Cathedral of Avacyn. Its surface is rough and unrefined, and thin veins of dark mortar branch across its surface.
The River Kirch
This wide, fast-flowing river originates in the mountains of Stensia. It empties into the Lake of Herons, with murky water, high ridges bordering the bank, and depths of hundreds of feet. Great sea serpents and other creatures are said to hide in the depths of the Lake of Herons, which stretches almost 20 miles before flowing over the 2,000-foot waterfall known as Kirch Falls.
The Voice of the Moon
On Innistrad, as elsewhere, the moon controls the tides (as well as the path of rivers and other bodies of water). The River Kirch flows into the Lake of Herons, over Kirch Falls, and into the sea. The continuous roar of the water over the falls has a different rhythm depending on the season and volume of water coming down from the high lands. The Cathedral grounds are lush and fertile from the continual spray of mist.
Paraselene | Art by Ryan Yee
A sect of clergy sing prayers according to this changing rhythm, believing it puts them in better connection with the moon. Others in the church believe that you should commune with Avacyn herself, not the symbolic power of the moon.
The mist from the waterfall is collected in long banners of heavy, white cloth. The water wrung out is considered holy, but once it is gone, the shrouds still have magical properties. Skaberen will kill for these shrouds, as they give extra stamina to their undead skaab creations.
Thraben lies in on the northern edge of the province of Gavony. It's the largest walled city in Innistrad, although parts of Nephalia's seaports are more densely populated. Thraben's population is mainly clergy, merchants, and artisans. With the church's influence, the city maintains a high standard of cleanliness and order. There is a standing militia and the church pays a host of workers to keep the streets swept, the public gardens and grafs tended, and the riff-raff off the street. Begging is strictly prohibited, and there is a street curfew enforced by the militia. Several alms houses exist just outside the main walls of Thraben, and the church regularly sponsors "caravans" to take the needy to the sea ports, where they will ostensibly be able to find employment or trade work more easily.
Clifftop Retreat | Art by John Avon
Parishes are an administrative designation used by the church. Gavony has five parishes, including Thraben. There are three in the area called Nearheath: Videns, Wittal, and Effalen. The region known as the Moorland is a single parish of the same name, although it is larger in size than the other four combined. Each parish may have multiple priests, chapels, and small altars.
Within a few miles south of Thraben's walls, there are several medium-sized towns. This area is called the Nearheath and is inhabited mainly by artisans and farmers. Being so close to Thraben affords a good deal of protection to these towns. Most have fortifications or walls in case of a ghoul attack or some other threat, but there are many outlying farms as well. Nearheath is composed of several parishes:
- Videns. A region of vineyards and rolling hills with small castles with walled estates. The River Kirch runs through this region.
- Wittal. This is the most thickly forested area of Gavony. Although small in size, the forest is dense and dark, with ancient pines trees that dwarf the deciduous forests in the neighboring parishes. The forest has become particularly dangerous now that the infamous werewolf Skaharra and her Leeraug cohorts have moved to the area.
- Effalen. This is the rockiest area of Gavony. A vicious coterie of vampires have taken to preying on the periphery of the parish for sport.
Two of the main villages in the Nearheath are Estwald and Hanweir. Estwald is the center of woodworking in Gavony and part of the Wittal Parish. Hanweir is the agricultural jewel of Gavony. Hanweir is the site of the largest open-air market, the place where livestock are traded and trappers from Kessig bring their wares. Hanweir is in Videns Parish, and the River Kirch runs through the village, making it a bustling port where goods are brought in from the other provinces before being transported up to Thraben by horse and cart.
Hanweir Watchkeep | Art by Wayne Reynolds
Beyond the Nearheath is the Moorland. This has always been a more desolate region, filled with stories of spectral wolves and wandering spirits. There are few trees in the Moorland and the ground is covered with coarse grass, bracken, and violet heather. There are boulders and standing rocks, and the countryside seems to be covered in perpetual mist. The area is rife with geists, many of them dangerous, and travelers are constantly at risk from them as well as other things that wander the countryside.
Gisa and Geralf
There used to be more towns in the Moorland than there are now. Two rival necromancers—brother and sister, both quite insane—moved into the area in recent years. The siblings were scions of a noble family and distant relatives of the current Lunarch. They were banished from Thraben in a hushed scandal and have since moved to the Moorland, where they wage war against one another by raising armies of undead. Their battles have prompted many of the Moorland's inhabitants to move to the Nearheath, leaving the area even more desolate than before. Now, marauding ghouls range freely through the moors, lost playthings in the mad, epic battles of Gisa and Geralf.
This was formerly a village of trappers on the border with Kessig, which has been entirely overrun by Geralf and his undead creations. His sister constantly lays siege to the village, seemingly for no purpose other than to best her brother. Geralf has grander ambitions and has been sending armies of undead into the Nearheath and raiding villages there.
Gavony Township | Art by Peter Mohrbacher
There are more graveyards—known as grafs—in Gavony than anywhere else in Innistrad. Thraben in particular has many mausoleums, graveyards, and even paupers' gravesites, because people bring their dead from all over Innistrad to bury them in the perceived safety of the holy city. There is a gate, the Arch of the Dead, through which pilgrims bring the bodies of their loved ones into the city.
Moan of the Unhallowed | Art by Nils Hamm
Thraben has city blocks devoted to burial sites known as Blessed Grafs. These are a grid of tombs and mausoleums under heavy guard from Elgaud soldiers and tended by horticulturists to keep trees and flowers blooming around the tombs. In Thraben, these are the equivalent of parks, and people visit them recreationally. It is considered relaxing to spend time in a place where kin are enjoying their Blessed Sleep.
The Estwald Murders
One of the most notorious cases in recent years involved a series of murders in the Wittal Parish. In Innistrad, murder is not unusual, but these deaths were particularly gruesome. The murderer left mauled body parts from the same victim at various chapels and priests' houses. The church sent a renowned inquisitor named Thedis, who was found dead in the same manner, his head mounted on a post near the outer wall of Thraben. Additional inquisitors and a small force of cathars were sent to the area, and it was eventually determined that it was the work of the newly arrived Leeraug werewolf pack, who were making a territorial claim with the grisly leavings. The battalion is still there, having been unable to roust the werewolves from the forest, although they have contained the murders.
The everyday life of a human varies dramatically according to one's class. The wealthy families and clergy live in comfort and safety. Thraben clergy, in particular, have every need met by the church. The middle classes—artisans and merchants—are also quite comfortable. But the working class and farmers have a much shorter lifespan; they are more at risk from the dark things of the world, and they suffer from more sickness and famine as well. A farmer lives an average of forty years, while a bishop lives closer to seventy.
Concept art by Steven Belledin
Safety is the main commodity in Innistrad. The wealthier you are, the safer you can make yourself. The high walls of Thraben protect the well-to-do who live inside. Titled families in Gavony have fortified manor houses, while the farmers must make do with the wooden walls of their farmhouses.
Because of the lack of physical safety, the poor spend a larger portion of their income of enchantments and non-physical means of protection. Tithing is required for everyone, and the church charges a small fee for every blessing and spell. Even at unstaffed little altars, payment is expected, and many of the faithful diligently pay even when there is no one to enforce it. Not unexpectedly, there is resentment among some for the amount of money required of the poor to uphold their faith. This resentment increases dramatically as the effectiveness of the Avacynian blessings diminish.
Concept art by Steve Prescott
The sense of community is very strong among humans in Gavony and in other provinces as well. Little altars and crossway chapels aren't as common in Gavony as in the other provinces because of the strength of the parish churches. The parish church is the focal point of any community in Gavony. Most people worship several times a week, and many pass by the church on a daily basis for a blessing of safety.
Concept art by Richard Whitters and Steve Prescott
The roads in Gavony are best in the four northern parishes, although there are adequate roads in the Moorlands as well. It is easy to hire a soldier to guide you along the roads between Thraben and the Nearheath, and if you can make your trip during the daytime, such guides are usually not needed.
A few terms to know:
- Chapel. An enclosed space of varying size devoted to worship. There are many chapels built along the crossways of Innistrad. Most have resident clergy who attend them. These sometimes serve has hostels for travelers.
- Parish. The equivalent of a county. Each parish has its own chapel.
- Crossway. The name for roads in Innistrad. Most are just dirt tracks for horses and carts.
- Crossway Altar. An open-air altar along a crossway somewhere in the wilds.
Thraben Sentry | Art by David Rapoza
Martial prowess is highly valued among humans. Cathars, particularly inquisitors, are highly revered. Poorer families have a harder time getting their children accepted to train at the Elgaud Grounds. When children show aptitude for spellcasting, however, they are accepted at the Fal Seminary no matter what their parents' status.
Slayer of the Wicked | Art by Anthony Palumbo
The Church of Avacyn
Why there is evil in the world really isn't a question on Innistrad. There always has been, and no one expects it to change. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, spirits, devils: these are part of the natural order of the world. Humans have always battled the forces of darkness and had their back to the wall in the fight of good versus evil. At times the prospects for the continued existence of the human race have seemed grim indeed.
The Blessed Sleep
For the humans of Innistrad, the purpose of life is not to live forever, but to have a restful "sleep" after death—tranquil oblivion, or perhaps oneness with everything, rather than becoming a tormented spirit, mutilated corpse, or undead abomination, as so often happens on Innistrad. The Sleep is considered a reward for a virtuous and vigilant life. "May you spend an eternity in the ground" is a common blessing among the people of this plane.
Purify the Grave | Art by Drew Baker
Faith in the church of Avacyn actually works, but there are no formulas that are consistently successful. Saying the mystical words in the right combination will result in protective magic, but some days it works better than others. And sometimes the evil it's warding against is more powerful than other times. The unreliability of the wards and blessings has led to disagreements over dogma. Although there is still only one church, sects have emerged over disagreements about the right way to do things. The goal of the church is safety, not perfection. Humans want to live in reasonable safety until they die, and then they want to remain peacefully in their graves. Cremation is forbidden because it is believed to result in a restless, angry spirit.
In the Church of Avacyn, there is no conception of heaven and hell. The humans of Innistrad do not believe in a heavenly afterlife to reward their past deeds. And their equivalent of hell is a very literal thing: there are actual cracks in the ground where demons dwell. Avacyn is not expected to eliminate evil in the world or to create a perfect life for everyone. Instead, she is the font of safety and protection. She is the authority to whom the faithful must go before something bad happens, to help ward off those evils that have always been a part of the world.
Concept art by Wayne Reynolds
Church and State
In Innistrad, church and state are deeply interdependent; there is virtually no separation of the two. Local governments rely on the power of the Church to keep order and maintain public safety. Often the rule of law is adjudicated by the prelature, lawyers and judges ordained by the Church. All education is handled by the Church, although different sects sometimes establish their own schools and training grounds. Except for merchants and artisans, all professions are part of the Church. Even merchants and artisans are governed by fellowships, which must be sanctioned by the Church.
The archangel Avacyn is the focal point of the human's worship. She is believed to be the source of all protective magic. It is thought that she controls the seasons and is the force that brings an end to the long and bleak Hunter's Moon. Adherents to Avacyn are called Avacynians, and their church is the Church of Avacyn, or the Avacynian Church.
The archangel Avacyn has a host of angels who serve her.
The Flight of Goldnight. These angels are associated with the sun, in contrast with Avacyn herself. Once a year during the Harvest Moon season, the sun will not dip below the horizon for two full days, and during this time the moon isn't visible. Known as the Feast of Goldnight, this is the holiest day for the humans. It is the time when the Avacynian enchantments are strongest throughout Innistrad.
The Flight of Alabaster. These angels personify the Blessed Sleep and are associated with the Hunter's Moon season. They provide magic that wards against the desecration of dead humans.
The Flight of Herons. These are the angels of birth and purity and are associated with the New Moon season. Their magic is said to ward humans against harm in life (as opposed to the Alabaster host, which wards against harm in death).
Angelic Overseer | Art by Jason Chan
Lunarch. The head of the church. This is a position elected by the council of bishops. Currently, it is held by a man named Mikaeus, who is searching desperately for the reason behind the decline of the church's power.
Bishop. The highest order of clergy. They reside in the cathedral at Thraben as members of the Thraben Council, the governing body of the church.
Mayor. Sometimes called the elder, this is the political leader of a parish. He or she has a mix of administrative and religious duties, but the day-to-day administration is left to the priests.
Priest. Priests oversee the church and attend to parishioners' needs. They all use mana to weave spells, but with varying degrees of skill.
Monk. These wandering priests are the lowest order of clergy. Some have been sanctioned by the church to seek out people living alone in the wilderness. But many are fanatics who are no longer formally part of the hierarchy, having said the wrong thing or enforced the wrong dogma and been cast out.
Concept art by Steven Belledin
Lunar-smiths. Blessed weapons are an important part of Avacynian magic, and these clergy are trained in the art of weapon-making. Certain blessings must be said at certain times during the forging process to make a weapon magically effective against a particular foe. Silversmiths are particularly revered because of the difficulty in imbuing the silver with strong magic, especially anti-lycanthropic magic.
Inquisitors. Inquisitors are cathars who can be hired out to come help a parish if they have a particular problem with vampires or devils.
Parish-blades. Cathars stationed in parishes serve as escorts along roads or protect the cathedral in Thraben. This is an ordained military force that assembles whenever the clergy demands.
Runechanters. Runechanters are a specialized branch of the clergy that specializes in engraving blessings on material objects, including weapons. Everything from swords to axes to children's toys has words written on it in an effort to protect its owner. The best runechanters can write so small that hundreds of these blessings can be squeezed into a small space.
Concept art by Wayne Reynolds