Barstoi is one of the counties of Ustalav within the Soivoda region; it is a land of low lying foot hills and rocky fields, inhabited by people widely reputed as some of the least friendly and suspicious in all Ustalav. The county lies in the north-east of Ustalav and has Numeria on the other side of its eastern border, over the West Sellen River.
Despite the foul reputation of the land’s people, Barstoi could be seen, at first sight, to be one of the best counties to live in: its fields are well managed if not particularly fertile; the people are well fed; its militia is strong and well trained. In Barstoi a man’s wealth is determined by the sweat of his brow. However, Barstoi is no utopia.
Barstoi has one of the best governments of the Ustalavic counties even though it is run by the cultured tyrant Count Aericnein Neska. Neska drove Barstoi to civil war, the so-called War without Rivals, with its neighbouring counties in 4689 AR. The count enforces a harsh policy where every crime is punishable by death; his laws are policed by persistent Pharasmin inquisitors and by Neska’s own soldiers distinguishable by their black armour.
Barstoi’s land may be harsh but agriculture is possible, though difficult. The county also mines salt. The people are hard working and can make money so long as they keep out of trouble.
In Barstoi the religion of Pharasma is the only one tolerated. The Government and Church of Pharasma are united. Any other religion in the county is not tolerated.
Only divine magic of the Church of Pharasma is tolerated in Barstoi. Any casters of arcane magic are deemed Witches and hunted.
Since rule of the land came to Count Aericnein Neska, hope has no home in Barstoi. The region has never been fair: Poor soil and rocky heaths typify the lands between Lake Prophyria and the orchards of Varno. Kellid barbarians and Numerian raiders threaten the eastern borders. Forgotten tales of ghosts and gremlins intrude upon the present in the shapes of rugged cairns and the shadows of depthless caves. The land has long faltered under the hands of weak leaders, but no more. Today, Barstoi’s people know the face of their fears all too well, as the count’s callous knights enforce utter obedience at the point of their razored lances, defending a land that, in a generation, has risen from unbreakable hinterland to a heartless utopia. Barstoi has always been the backwater of Ustalav. Where both Canterwall and Odranto stand against threats from abroad, they do so in defense of rich country. Barstoi, on the other hand, has traditionally been held as a matter of national pride, cementing the country’s hold on all the lands from the Tusk Mountains to the West Sellen River. Up until recent decades, the rocky earth and sickly fields hid myriad dangers, from prowling monsters to Kellid zealots claiming scattered caves or stones as holy ground. In the past 40 years, the land has undergone a shocking transformation. With the death of Count Bieryce in 4665, Barstoi’s ruling line ended.
Prince Valislav Ordranti sought to raise several favored nobles to rulers of the land, but all declined, not caring to inherit the destitute, perhaps cursed land. Unexpectedly, after the county had spent months without an administrator, the tin mogul Aericnein Neska, a member of a lesser Versex noble family, entreated the princess for a provisional term as its administrator. He promised that, given a term of 3 years, he would wrest the crown a profit from the harsh land. With no other candidates daring such claims, Prince Valislav accepted. Neska swiftly implemented massive social projects in the region, financing them with his own wealth and attracting droves of workers. Mountains of scattered rocks were moved; new Pharasmin monasteries were constructed; barbarians, goblinoids, and drakes were slain; and fit mercenaries won titles as knights of the land. Exploration into the pits and caves riddling the county also revealed a wealth of salt in its northern hills. Before the end of Neska’s 3-year term, Barstoi’s reputation had changed from that of a worthless, dangerous heath to a safe countryside rich with potential. Princess Maraet herself bestowed the title of count on Aericnein Neska 4 months before the end of his challenge. True power brought a swift change to Neska’s rule. Determined to see Barstoi rise beyond other counties, the count continued vast building projects, constructing new border forts, roads, towns, and county-owned farms and salt mines. He also instituted a host of strict new laws, reaching beyond criminal sanctions to enforce authoritarian moral sanctions, absolute forbiddance of arcane magic, and the countywide worship of Pharasma. Punishment for “deviancy” proved harsh from the outset, but as the count aged his mandates grew ever more draconian, finally resulting in a single punishment for all crimes: death.
In 4687, Neska’s intolerance of incompetence and corruption ignited a 6-year-long civil war between his county and neighboring Ardeal. While his crusade ultimately proved fruitless, it reduced the once-rich region of Furcina into the trench-riddled wasteland now known as the Furrows.
Today, Barstoi is one of the fittest counties in Ustalav, a police state of uniform townships and even fields where oppressive knights clad in Neska’s gray heraldic condor and dark-robed Pharasmin witch-hunters endlessly scrutinize a fearful populace. While toil, obedience, and mercilessness cloaked in patriotism see individuals rewarded with land and gold, whatever wealth Barstoi’s people find in their pockets they counter with the hopelessness in their souls. Notable Sites While strictly run and largely identical hamlets cover the heaths of Barstoi, several locales stand out from the others.
Chapel of Guilts: Of Barstoi’s triad of Pharasmin monasteries—including the Vault on Tears and Mother of Skulls—the Chapel of Guilts holds the most fearful reputation. The fortress-like cloister overlooks and stands partially amid a salt mine maintained by the order, its dim halls featuring statues chiseled from salt crystals and catacombs carved into the coarse rock. Devout adherents to the tenets of the Pharasmin Penitence, the monks follow the severe philosophies of Abbot Phavad Nholinarm, stringently obeying precepts of evangelism,
flagellation, and inquisition in both their daily routines and in many members roles’ as missionaries or witch-hunters.
Sturnidae: Within sight of the f lame-scoured expanse of the Furrows, the town of Sturnidae suffers for the sins of the past. With every strong wind, ashes blow across the dead expanse, cloaking the town in veils of gray and tainting every crop and meal with the taste of decay. Those who remember the War without Rivals—many veterans of which were granted land in the region—claim to see ghosts of peasant soldiers amid the frequent haze or whole charges of spectral knights riding before billowing dust storms.
Vische: The de facto capital of Barstoi, Vische rises as the exemplar of the county’s greatest accomplishments and bleakest hardships. Here suspicious, gray-clad residents do their best not to attract attention, as the count’s knights watch constantly for deviancy, and everyone knows how well informants are rewarded. All commerce halts at dusk so that none risk breaking the nightly curfew, renewing again an hour after dawn, at the end of the compulsory morning worship at Pharasma’s onion-domed House of Solace.