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A Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad: Nephalia and the Undead

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Innistrad denizens interested in commerce are attracted to Nephalia, which makes for an interesting mix of occupations and races in the province. Nephalia has numerous towns in which order is maintained by Avacynian clergy and their representatives. It has a "stock" of humans to be fed upon, thus the Stromkirk line is well represented here. It has busy trade routes with caravans of merchants and townsfolk milling between the cities for the Krallenhorde to prey on. And it has the ever-present Nebelgast, the so-called "Breath of the Sleepless," that rolls in and out with the tide, bringing with it a host of geists.

Concept art by Daarken and Steve Prescott

In Nephalia, skaberen (creators of skaabs, the alchemically vivified constructions of flesh) and ghoulcallers (practitioners of necromancy) alike can find out-of-the-way places in which to practice and further their art with little or no interference from suspicious townsfolk or Avacynian authority. Both must remain highly secretive, as their trade is still feared within the general human populace, but the Stromkirk vampires and Nephalia's merchants see money to be made, so their arcane trinkets and dark services are tolerated as long as they remain only rumors at the local taverns.

The merchants, known as the metzalar, are the glue that binds Nephalia together. They keep every separate party joined together by the exchange of goods and services and, of course, coin.

Nearly Treeless

Nephalia has always been lightly forested, but in the last century its few trees have been cut down or destroyed due to the vampires' fear of them being turned on them as stakes and other weapons. Runo, progenitor of the Stromkirk line, was crafty in his removal of the woodlands. Early on, using his glamers and sizeable fortune, he turned the human populace into artisans, supporting their efforts in building fine cities, proud ships, and a vigorous, provincial commerce—all based around wood. Prosperous and plentiful humans are good business for the Stromkirk, so Runo became a kind of secret Nephalian patron, supporting master craftsmen and commissioning buildings, towers, and ships, while funding any vampire-friendly efforts by alchemists and magisters. Out of this, Nephalia has become widely known for its masterful crafting and artistry with wood. Nephalian buildings, ships, chapels, and houses all bear a distinct and inspired art that sets it apart from the other provinces.

Island | Art by Adam Paquette

Waters

This province is defined by water—by its access to the ocean (the easiest of any province), by its many rivers that lead deep inland, and by its deltas, marshes, and lakes. Water enables commerce here but also gives Nephalia a silvery, mystical character; the clouds and the moon seem to be both above and below in most places.

Silver Beach

Nephalia's coastline consists of the Silver Beach, which stretches countless miles, interrupted by rocks, sea caves, and occasional large promontories. The sands of the beach are rich in granular silver, giving them an unearthly shimmer that dazzles visitors from other provinces. This is no vacation spot, however. Threats are far too numerous, and the ocean too dangerous, to invite beachcombers. Only experienced Nephalian sailors know the spells and the land well enough to venture out into the sea and return with fish, trade goods, or treasure.

Port Towns of Nephalia

Nephalia has three main port towns along the coast: Havengul, Drunau, and Selhoff.

Havengul

The largest of the three cities, Havengul, stands at the mouth of the Silburlind River. The population consists of human craftworkers, shipbuilders, smiths, and traders. The Avacynian church has a strong presence here to take part in the burgeoning trade and marketplace, but many Nephalians are wary of the priesthood and watch them like hawks. As long as the church brings trade to and from Thraben, they are given a pass from the key players in Nephalia.

Concept art by Adam Paquette

Elgaud Grounds. A contingent of the Avacyn Church long ago established a small fort here known as the Elgaud Grounds where new cathars are trained to spread the word of Avacyn and protect the people. Once trained, these graduates are sent out in small groups (of two or three) to neighboring towns to establish an outpost. These are known as Arms of Avacyn, and they attempt to strengthen trust in the Church under the offer of protection and security. Many townsfolk are wary or outright untrusting of these "Arms" and would rather protect themselves with their own blood, sweat, traditional folklore, and superstitions.


Corpse Trade. Even with the presence of the Cathars, there is money to be made in corpses. Havengul, having the largest human population, is rife with bodysnatchers who disinter corpses and then shuttle them off using the network of underground passageways, known as the Erdwal, for high-paying ghoulcallers or skaberen.


Ludevic. The most influential of Nephalia's merchants is Ludevic of Ulm, a wheezing and reclusive alchemist. Some say that Ludevic's consumption of potions and inhalation of toxic vapors has left him no choice but to abandon his experiments, leaving him to devote his sizeable intellect to the problem of making himself and his partners filthy rich. Others gossip that Ludevic still dabbles in the alchemical arts.


Drunau

Drunau is where the Stromkirk vampires under their progenitor, Runo, have established their ancestral manor and their center of commerce outside of Stensia. If it is blood you want, Drunau is the place to get it. Humans who possess especially delicious blood are treated like the most precious livestock, knowing a life of pampered bondage but being protected from all the other dangers of Innistrad. All this takes place within the elegant ballrooms and mahogany studies of Stromkirk manors.

In Nephalia, when vampires must walk among humans, they use glamers to disguise themselves so as not to drive away their human neighbors. Occasionally, a newly sired vampire leaves the family fold of civilized decorum and goes on a blood-soaked frenzy of feeding. Often the Stromkirk deal with this as swiftly and as quietly as possible, especially if the vampire is a rogue from outside of the bloodline.

The Fauchard. These warriors are not cathars, but are a distinct order of human vampire hunters. Some have come to Drunau especially to destroy the undead and possibly Runo himself. They are a secretive group that recognizes one another through an elaborate, symbolic code, either worn, written, or gestured. Runo knows of them and tolerates them to some degree, as the Fauchard destroy the vampires whom the Stromkirk consider to be most crass and distasteful. That said, the Stromkirk vampires will relentlessly pursue and destroy any Fauchard who becomes known to them.

Merchants within Drunau. The metzalar here deal in the usual fare of ships, handcrafted goods, wares from other provinces (such as holy items from Thraben), and weapons.

Concept art by Adam Paquette

Selhoff

The foggy, quiet port of Selhoff is where the Nebelgast, the spirit-mist, is most active. The mist almost perpetually covers the town and the nearby Morkrut Swamp. Because of the spirit activity here, it has repelled some humans, but it has attracted others—namely the skaberen and alchemists who experiment with geist energy. The elite of Selhoff dwell within towers and spires that set this town apart from others of Nephalia, which is why the phrase "the spires of Selhoff" is often used when Nephalians talk of their southernmost town.

The Tide and the Nebelgast. Here in Selhoff and all along the Nephalian coastline, spirits come and go with the tide, but that isn't to say that when the tide is out, spirits are absent—there are just far fewer. Because the tide is connected to the moon, the pull of the moon brings the spirits into the world of the living to haunt. The Nebelgast consists mainly of the marei (drowned sailors and shipwreck victims) and the niblis (frost phantoms), but there are a host of other ghosts and spirits that are pulled by the moon.


The River Ospid and the Morkrut. Selhoff lies on a small river delta where the river Ospid empties out into the Bay of Vustrow. This creates a sizeable marsh known as the Morkrut. Few set foot within the Morkrut other than ghoulcallers, and even they can become lost in its mists. The Morkrut has been a dumping place for murder victims and unclaimed bodies for which no one will pay for proper burial. Because of this, the Morkrut is filled with banshees and other malevolent geists.

The Erdwal

Colloquially known as "The Ditch," the network of underground passageways and crevasses called the Erdwal originated as trenches created by Nephalians in each of the major cities of Havengul, Drunau, and Selhoff for resisting zombie and werewolf attacks. Over the years, the trenches between the three cities were connected into a network of defensible walkways for transporting goods and continuing trade even while wandering zombie hordes, demonic fiends, hungry geists, or the Krallenhorde wander about looking for victims. Major merchants of Nephalia have paid special attention to the uses of the Erdwal and have put serious resources into making it a legitimate artery of trade, thus it has developed a bustling underground economy of its own dealing in all manner of grey- and black-market goods: human blood, assassinations, counterfeit silver, necromancy, curses, and bloodsport.

Concept art by Adam Paquette

Near the larger towns, the Erdwal becomes a trench marketplace of colorful rogues, seedy merchants, filthy sailors and gaunt strangers, all doing business in dark alleyways and roughly hewn tunnels branching off the main trench. Along the clandestine nooks, the skaberen and ghoulcallers ply their trade and human blood is bought and sold by the flagon. Flesh golems are created and experiments in transmuting base metals into pure silver are carried out. Skaberen stitch together hideous monstrosities, some of which get loose and cause havoc throughout the Ditch. As long as these dark dealings do not make it above ground level, the Church of Avacyn and its cathars do not intervene. Nephalia is a province of "understandings," and this is one of those uneasy truces that, if maintained, benefits all parties concerned.

Jenrik's Tower

Along a particularly bare stretch of the Silver Beach looms a tall tower. The mortar has been mixed with sand from the Silver Beach, making it glitter in the moonlight. Within the tower, Jenrik, the astronomer, mysteriously conducts his work studying the stars, eschewing all contact with the outside world. He is making observations of the moon, charting its path across the heavens with excruciating detail. Wards keep away werewolves, and the Stromkirk actually fear his knowledge, for anyone with such a vast understanding of the moon is holding great power indeed. Some say he is predicting the future of Innistrad, or that he is a spirit trying to get home. Others say he is an angel attempting to restore Avacyn, or that he is a demon plotting to destroy the world.


Two distinct kinds of corporeal undead creatures plague Innistrad. The first are ghouls, sometimes called "the unhallowed," which are necromantically animated corpses. The second are the skaab, beings alchemically constructed from the dead.

Concept art by Steve Prescott

The Unhallowed

Necromantically animated zombies are more commonly called ghouls or "unhallowed" on Innistrad, because they're drawn forth from unhallowed graves. One of the duties of Avacynian clergy is blessing the final resting places of the dead to try to ensure "the Blessed Sleep." Now that Avacyn is no longer present, the dead can be more easily stirred.

Ghoulcallers

Necromancers on Innistrad are usually referred to as ghoulcallers, the black-mana mages that call forth the dead from graveyards, or "grafs." There are several varieties of graf, each of which draws forth a unique mix of the walking dead.

Fengraf. A fengraf is one of the many flooded lowland graveyards. These sites were once hallowed ground, but have remained untended for many years. Fengraf ghouls are usually smiths, cobblers, brothel workers and other common and poor folk.


Seagraf. A seagraf is a "fisherman's graveyard." Much like minor nobles, fishermen are often buried with their most prized possessions, such as nets, long harpoons, and large hooks for getting hold of a slippery catch. Seagraf unhallowed have not completely forgotten their trade even in death, and they will pursue victims using the tools and deftness they had in life.

Diregraf. A diregraf is the site of a particularly gruesome battle. Unhallowed awakened from a diregraf carry the armor, weapons, and fatal wounds from their last bloody battle. Diregraf ghouls carry this lust for an unfinished battle within their fogged minds, and they often attempt to fall into military formations as they were trained to do in life.


Once the dead have risen, the ghoulcaller then supplants all other addled thoughts of the dead with one single driving purpose in their minds. The near-mindless ghouls will call on what skills they have left to carry out the task, and the results are a grotesque parody of their lives. Blacksmiths attempt to "reforge" their opponents, fallen warriors emit rasping pseudo-cries, and undead murderers reawaken their taste for killing. Occasionally, fallen mages even show a limited ability to weave spells, but this often results in some aberration of the spell's original purpose.


The Skaab

Necro-alchemy is much more of an art than ghoulcalling. One who practices the art of creating skaabs is called a skaberen. The true goal of the skaberen is to create life, an undertaking which usually produces malformed "offspring" rather than true life.

Concept art by Steve Prescott

There are four steps to producing a skaab.


  1. Corpus Creare, also known as "corpse cobbling," is the collecting of various anatomical parts from corpses from which the skaab will be constructed. This is usually performed by paid grave robbers or homunculi under the skaberen's charge. In some cases, even the limbs of beasts are used for the construct; if a human arm is not available, a horse's leg can suffice.
  2. Patin Ligitus, or rune-bonds, are the "binding plates" used to join various anatomical features together. These are plates of copper and/or brass, with silver-inlaid runes scribed on them. They provide an arcane bridge of sorts between disparate parts gathered by corpse-cobbling.
  3. Viscus Vitae, or vital fluid, is the key to the skaberen's art. Viscus vitae is created by mixing a large quantity of lamp oil with the slightest pinch of the dried blood of an angel. Once a perfect mixture of viscus vitae is created, any blood remaining in the corpse is replaced with vital oil, via transfusion. As a result, skaab are often highly flammable.
  4. Vox Quietus, translated as "the silent word," is the final step in creating a skaab. The skaberen whispers a fairly lengthy incantation over the corpse which awakens the creature, but in a much calmer manner that that which is used by ghoulcallers. Once awakened, the skaab is in a calm, "tabula rasa" state, which allows the alchemist to begin the long task of re-educating the creature. In the eyes of a skaberen, the technique used by ghoulcallers is crude, heretical, and provides unacceptable results.

Concept art by Richard Whitters and Steve Belledin

Skaberen usually ply their trade in remote and inhospitable places, since they are viewed as blasphemers by commoners and clergy. Skaberen often become obsessed hermits who surround themselves with ancient scrolls and books, phials of rare noxious liquids, glass jars full of pickled organs, anatomical charts for both human and beast, rune-engraved skeletal remains, and small anvils and hammers for inscribing runes on brass and copper plates.

Concept art by Steve Prescott


Geists

Innistrad is a world filled with the ghosts of the human dead. These spirits, called geists, take many forms. Some are protective spirits of ancestors. Others are vengeful creatures bent on resolving conflicts they couldn't resolve in life.

Malevolent and Benevolent

Geists have always been a presence on Innistrad, but before Avacyn, all such spirits were malevolent, manifesting on the plane only because of a grudge or regret powerful enough to disturb the Blessed Sleep of the body to which they were connected. In Avacyn's absence, the malevolent spirits were counterbalanced by the appearance of many benevolent and neutral geists, from nurturing apparitions of family members who have passed on to inscrutable ghosts who seem to want to continue whatever duty they had in life.

Concept art by Richard Whitters

Avacyn as Psychopomp

This new balance in the spirit realm resulted from Avacyn's function as psychopomp for the dead; her existence shepherded the souls of the departed back into the plane's Æthereal space. This metaphysical guidance from Avacyn enabled geists to elect to turn away from reunion with the plane's essence—a phenomenon that previously occurred only when a geist's anguish or regret overcame the pull toward the Æther.

Concept art by Daarken

Material and Immaterial

Geists exist in the space between the material and Æthereal realms, so to varying degrees they possess qualities of both worlds. Thus some are able to walk through walls and then slash open throats. Others use the beliefs of the living against them; victims believe in the spirit so completely that they harm themselves with the power of their own mind. Some use fear to literally scare the victim to death. Some spirits use cold to freeze opponents or reduce their temperatures down to hypothermic levels when humans become lost on the moors or wander too far into the bogs. Other, more powerful ghosts use their force of will or emotion to condense matter (called ectoplasm) around their hands or weapons for a split second when they attack. Some use psychokinetic power to wrap objects around them (e.g., brambles, chains, spikes, glass, etc.), and then wield them against their foes.

Concept art by Steve Prescott

Faith's Power

Even in Avacyn's absence, divine magic is not impotent. With a combination of powerful faith and mana, clergy can banish geists in various ways, from dispersal of the geist's essence to functioning as a surrogate psychopomp to guide the geist toward its rest in the Æther.

White-Aligned Geists

Many white-aligned geists are harmless or even protective spirits of dead family and friends who haunt the living out of a sense of duty, fealty, responsibility, or love. Malevolent white-aligned geists do exist, however, and are usually twisted by guilt, feelings of failure, or unrighted wrongs. Some are ghosts of fallen soldiers that still patrol the moors, looking for their vanquishers.


Blue-Aligned Geists

Some geists are projections of the animating principles of the mind. Vicious or obsessive thinking as well as collective human memories come to life by attracting enough latent aether around them to become autonomous entities. They carry on as obsessive ghosts—repeated knocking, patterning, arranging, stacking, marking, etc. They can also possess one's mind and cause repetitive movements, speech, epilepsy, obsessive behavior, schizophrenia, and other such maladies of the mind. These are also the geists most drawn to the water, storms, frost, and mist—even the mist of the breath.


Black-Aligned Geists

These geists eternally hunger for life, power, or the settling of a wicked grudge. These are spirits that must be appeased by offerings of food, goods, and even blood. If not appeased, these geists can be responsible for disease, accidents and death. Whereas geists associated with other colors of mana might be benevolent or neutral, black-aligned geists are almost always dangerous and malevolent.


Red-Aligned Geists

These spirits have attached themselves to rampant emotions, unfulfilled desires, and thirsts for revenge that were frustrated during life. They can manifest as blood dripping from statues, whirls of dust on roads, minor rockslides on hillocks, cliffs, and mountainsides, and, in the case of possession, as sudden mania or murderous rage. The ghosts of the unavenged are some of the most dangerous geists on Innistrad, sometimes appearing as living fire or as "blood mist" entities that engulf a hapless victim and inflict cuts and welts that are slow to heal.


Green-Aligned Geists

Some geists long to be reconnected with the nature they revered in life. Energies within the woods that have been called into being by druids or other nature-mages take on form by entwining roots and brambles around their Æthereal bodies. Some of these spirits attach themselves to animals, plants and landforms, imbuing them with special power or mutating them into strange, otherworldly entities. If the spirits that inhabit landforms are not appeased, it can often result in blight, crop failure, and famine.




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