Can you guess what country this is meant to resemble? Yeah, Russia. Mostly similar to Russia during the time of the Tsars, with a little Napoleonic influence too, what with Montaigne recently invading (and that’s not going well, surprise, surprise). It’s in the east, vast, cold and harsh, and is considered by most to be backward and uncivilized.
”In Ussura you share the warmth or die from the cold.”
Late at night when the wind wails down from the mountains and rushes through the thick trees, families gather around the fireplace and tell stories of “Matushka” (Grandmother Winter). She stalks the forest with a broom in her hand, and if she finds young children wandering out of their homes, she sweeps them back with a quick “Tisk, tisk”. If they don’t treat her with the proper respect, she pops them in her black pot and turns them into stew.
Ussura is not a kind land. It is not a gentle land. But its people have kind, gentle and humble hearts, made so by the harsh lessons they’ve learned from Matushka.
The Lay of the Land
Ussura is cold. It is covered in snow and ice nearly year round. When it isn’t covered in snow, it’s covered in mud. One visiting scholar wrote, “The Ussurans do not live in the present, but five hundred years in the past.” There are no working roads, dams, or any other structure resembling modern architecture – or even antiquated architecture for that matter. Even their huts and hovels are primitive compared to the shacks of Théah’s more fortunate peasantry.
But if you talk to the Ussurans, they don’t feel like they’re living in a wasteland. In fact, they look well fed. If you look closely enough, Ussura isn’t the wasteland it first appears to be. The people produce crops in land that should not support them, have surprising luck with their traps and haul up catches big enough to make any Avalon fisherman turn green with envy. It is as if Ussura looks after her own, as if she really is the Grandmother they speak of.
Added (21 Dec 13, 2:57 PM)
Ussura’s Gaius is technically the ruler of Ussura, but since he comes from the peasant class (the muzhiks), he is guided by his council, the Knias Douma. The council is made up of Ussura’s merchant class, the boyars. Traditionally, the boyars control Ussura’s political efforts while the Gaius remained a figurehead.
We said “traditionally”. That isn’t the case in modern Ussura. The current Gaius, Ilya Sladivgorod Nikolovich, is not a pleasant man. In fact, the boyars have come to call him “Ilya Grozny”, or “Ilya the Terrible”. Despite their dislike, Ilya is beloved by the people. He is not, like his predecessors, a Gaius on strings. The last boyar who crossed him was fed to his own dogs while his family watched. Ilya is his own man, forging his own destiny and making decisions based on the welfare of his people, not the boyars’ pouches.
Ussurans are a short, broad people, and the commoners typically possess dark hair and eyes. Only the nobility – specifically those chosen by Grandmother Winter – bear the emerald green eyes of the Gift. The men usually grow long beards and wear their hair long. The women pull their hair back, with the married women covering their hair with a cloth wrap known as a babushka.
How do the Ussurans survive so well in a snow-covered land? “The question is a good one, but the answer is better,” said a famous Ussuran traveler. “The land cares for us, and we care for the land.”
The statement is more true than the rest of Théah may imagine. In Ussura, the land itself is alive, rippling through the seasons with joy and fertility and fighting alongside its people in time of war. The ancient spirit which resides in Ussura’s high mountains and snow-covered lakes is a beneficial one, and it respects honesty and integrity as much as hard work. No man who pulls his weight is allowed to starve. For as long as the Knias Council stands, the land will stand with it.
This is not to imply that trees bring fruit on command or that an Ussaran farmer’s life is less difficult than farmers in any land. Rather, it shows that the land listens to her people – and rewards them for good deeds, as well as punishing them for bad. If an Ussuran farmer works hard throughout the year, and strives to place his duties before his own selfish desires, he will be rewarded. No matter how harsh the year, his crops will grow and his family will be fed.
The Ussuran people (even the boyars) live in close connection with nature, often choosing to spend winters in the high mountains surrounded by wilderness. Their love of the land is shown in their powerful magic: Grandmother Winter chooses to enfold them in the shape of animals, allowing them to know the world through the eyes of a beast.
No invasion of Ussura has ever made if farther than first river. Barbarian hordes from Cathay died of plague and starvation. Enterprising warriors of Eisen often speak harshly of General Johann von der Velde, who led them in attack on Ussura’s southernmost province in the year 523. The army was found after the snows melted – buried by an ice storm that began in the middle of summer.
The Ussurans address the mighty soul that inhabits the land around them as “Matushka”. She is said to appear as an ancient, matronly woman with iron teeth and nails. She brooks no impertinence, but generously rewards those who treat her with respect. Children are warned to be polite if they encounter her, for she devours rude little boys and girls. The Ussurans feel very strongly that Matushka serves as a guide to proper behavior, and visitors who don’t understand this aspect of their religion often find themselves utterly confused by some of the Ussuran customs.
Standing beside Matushka in Ussuran faith is the First Prophet. The Ussuran Orthodox Church teaches the lessons the First Prophet taught, but ignores the second and third Prophet. “If the First one got it right,” an Ussuran might say, “why do you need another one?”
Practical, honest and forthright statements such as this are the bread and butter of Ussuran philosophy. “If it works, why meddle with it?” could be their national slogan.
Added (21 Dec 13, 2:58 PM)
Common Male Names: Aleksei, Alexandr, Boris, Busla, Dmitri, Erema, Fyodor, Georgi, Ignati, Ilya, Kirbetei, Mikhail, Nikita, Pyotyr, Sergei, Staver, Timofey, Vasily, Vladimir, Vyslav.
Common Female Names: Afaila, Anna, Bogna, Chenka, Coika, Darya, Elina, Era, Galina, Godava, Irina, Katerina, Marusia, Marya, Nana, Natalya, Natasha, Sofia, Tamara, Zabana.
The magic of Ussura, known as Pyeryem is considered a gift from Matushka, who enables Ussuran sorcerers to transform into, and communicate with, animals.
Ussura does not have a Swordsmans’ Guild nor a specific swordsmanship school.
Some Character Ideas to Get You Started
- A wild Cossack warrior who has seen much of life and will stop at nothing to see a little more.
- An educated adventuress, the shame of her family, who has now turned her hand to piracy.
- The distant neice of one of the boyars, who is supposed to be abroad studying to be a true Théan lady, but is instead using her scholarship money to explore archaeological ruins.