- "It was a dreadful place; a land perpetually shrouded in gloom and mist, where abandoned castles glared down like hungry ogres on the dismal roads; where sullen villagers, some bearing obvious stigmata of mutation, mumbled dark warnings against going abroad by night; and where, one evening, a red-eyed, pale-faced nobleman studied us hungrily through the curtained window of his night-black coach, for all the world like a Bretonnian epicure inspecting his next meal... Of all the awful lands that I had then journeyed through, I have no hesitation in saying that Sylvania was easily the most dire."
- —From My Travels With Gotrek, Vol. IV, by Felix Jaeger. Altdorf Press, 2505
The County of Sylvania is a formerly independent realm that had its territories absorbed by the Grand County of Stirland of the Empire of Man. But perhaps the greatest feature about this backwater region of the Old World is that it is considered the rightful domain of the Vampire Counts of the Von Carstein bloodline with the current reigning ruler being Mannfred von Carstein, disputed by the Counts of Stirland.[1a]
As far as most Empire folks are concerned, the county of Sylvania may as well be a different country all-together. Despite its proximity to the Moot and Zhufbar, Halflings and Dwarfs are virtually unknown there. Technologically, it lags behind the rest of the Empire, and gunpowder is treated as a frightening marvel. The emergent middle class of the Empire scarcely exists, and an unbridgeable gap between the peasantry and the nobility persists, even more so than in Bretonnia.[1a]
- "Sylvania is a foreign land, and they do things differently there."
- —Krause Kroner, Stirlander Mechant[1a]
Not much is known of the Fennone tribe who lived in the area that would later become Sylvania. They were a strange and secretive people who spoke their own language and had little to do with the other tribes or the Dwarfs of Zhufbar. They did not join Sigmar’s Empire until the “Drive to the Frontiers” encroached onto their land centuries after its founding. Their tongue persists as a second language, usually reserved for use around suspicious strangers.[1a]
When Sylvania was incorporated as part of Stirland, there was a mingling of the two peoples, though Stirlanders often say the Fennone blood won out in their dour Sylvanian cousins. Dark rumours circulated about the people dabbling in magic. The Winds blow strong in Sylvania, and not just the cold winds that whip down from the World’s Edge Mountains. Sylvania’s nobles built their homes on the points marked by ancient Waystones, nexuses of magical power, though what they used it for is uncertain.[1a]
Although still not prominent and in many ways struggling, Sylvania suffered a terrible blow in the twelfth century. The Black Plague boiled up from seemingly nowhere, sweeping across the Empire, wiping out entire communities and leaving anguish and despair in its wake. Nowhere was as hard hit as Sylvania, though, for what records remain of this time, nine out of ten people perished from this insidious plague.[1a]
It wasn’t until later in that same year that Sylvania’s character would become known throughout the Old World. On Geheimnisnacht, Morrslieb seemed to glow, and a rain of Warpstone fell on Sylvania. Naturally, this phenomenon attracted the Skaven, who came into this land to collect the coveted treasure. The foul lords of this land were ready, though, and they called up the plague victims from their graves to defend their country. Under the command of Frederick van Hal, who would later be known as Vanhel, the Undead horde crushed the Skaven menace and drove them back to the warrens and tunnels of the Under-Empire. Ever since then, the dead have refused to rest long in the cursed, thin soil of Sylvania.[1a]
This was to have an unexpected benefit. During the Night of the Restless Dead in 1681, the Sylvanians were uniquely placed to battle the Undead, being more accustomed to them than most. Some even fought necromancy with necromancy, and corpses battled through the streets. Whilst Stirland was ravaged by the Undead, much of Sylvania escaped unharmed and used this to its advantage, buying its independence with the aid it offered during the recovery.[1a]
The Von Draks were amongst the dark wizards who rose to power in Sylvania, a family of brutal rulers despised by all. When Vlad von Carstein took control, the people were glad of it, and many did not change their minds when he revealed himself to be a Vampire. As the Vampire count went to war, the Sylvanians willingly went with him, damning themselves in the eyes of the Empire. Only when Konrad replaced Vlad, demanding exorbitant rents and feeding with such gluttony and abandon that it was hard to find a living soul in the lands around Drakenhof Castle, did Sylvanians begin to regret the Faustian pact they had made. However, Konrad did not last and was replaced by Mannfred, a ruler more in the vein of Vlad. Once again, the people willingly joined his army. After Mannfred’s defeat, the cursed Sylvanians were hated by the common people of the Empire for their part in the wars, an attitude that survives to this day. Those who dare leave the province often claim to be from elsewhere to avoid persecution.[1a]
Immediately after Mannfred’s fall, Sylvania was brought back under Stirland’s control and given over to a new nobility made of impoverished noble houses, younger siblings, and bastards of the Stirland line. Bitter at being sent into what was essentially exile, these new rulers treated their people no better than the Von Draks of old and were worse at protecting them from the Undead and other inhuman scavengers. Ghoul attacks on the villages became more common without the Vampires to hold the flesh-eaters back and point them at targets outside the province.[1a]
In 2158, Gottlieb the Stern lead the “Cleansing of Sylvania,” and Witch Hunters scoured the land, eradicating many who were deemed collaborators in the Wars of the Vampire Counts. This only cemented the resentment towards Imperials felt by Sylvanians, who see themselves as a separate nation. When the mortal family who bore the name Von Carstein went public to show they were the true heirs of Sylvania, they won much support amongst the peasants.[1a]
- "This land is my home, my birthright. The wind and rain are my allies. The trees and stones are my foot soldiers. The very earth will rise up against you should you try to take it from me. And my people will feast on your bones."
- —Mannfred von Carstein, the Lord of Sylvania
To the east, Sylvania is bordered by the Worlds Edge Mountains, but in the other directions, its borders are less well-defined. The line between Sylvania and Stirland to the west has been redrawn every time independence has been declared; it has ranged from the edge of the Haunted Hills to the abandoned village of Murieste, and it currently stretches from the ruins of Mordheim down to the edge of Bylorhof Marsh. [1a]
In the north, the River Stir provides a border with Ostermark. To the south Sylvania stops at a barren region historically claimed by Averland, but currently held by Stirland; however the haunted reputation of that place’s stinking marshes and fallow hills results in both Grand Provinces largely ignoring the area. The south-western corner of Sylvania edges onto Mootland, a narrow border that is steadfastly patrolled by Halfling Fieldwardens.[1a]
The jagged shadows of the mountains stretch over this land of night, and cold winds blow down from the peaks. It is a land of harsh winters that paint the ground blindingly white. To go out after dark in such a winter is almost certain death, but to go out at night in a Sylvanian summer is little safer.[1a]
Storms frequently come down off the mountains along with the winds and snows. This makes for damp land with many bogs and lonely moors: Dark Moor, Grim Moor on the southern edge of the Grim Wood, the Bylorhof Marsh, Morrfenn, and the twisted Hel Fenn that witnessed the fall of Mannfred von Carstein. The Fennone people disposed of their dead in these bogs for hundreds of years, and many of the Von Carsteins’ Undead troops come from there. Though the unstable ground and threat of Undead makes them dangerous places, the Sylvanians are forced to visit them as they are the source of the peat that fertilises their fields and fuels their fires over the winter, and the area is also home to edible berries like the sweet cowberry.[1a]
It is in Sylvania that the woods of the southern Empire become dense forests, shadowy places patrolled by packs of large, perpetually hungry wolves. In the northwest is Verhungern or Hunger Wood, where the canopy of trees is so tangled that a permanent night is created underneath them in which many strange fungi grow. In the northeast is Grim Wood, which is haunted by an unseen monster that takes only maidens who dare to tread there. To the south is Ghoul Wood, said to be ruled by one of the Strigoi who has thrown in his lot with the Von Carsteins and lent them the aid of the flesh-eaters.[1a]
Bisecting the land is a string of chalk hills that make good sheep-herding country if nothing else, the Warten Downs in the northeast stretching down to the Haunted Hills in the west. Even when it isn’t chalk, most of the soil of Sylvania is a thin and useless stuff on which the people struggle to eke out a living.[1a]
- "They are stronger than us, smarter than us, live longer than us, and are far better looking than us. They are our superiors in every respect, and the taxes are lower when they rule. When they come back I will be the first to welcome them."
- —Hanskarl Denk, Sylvanian
Sylvanians often have a blasé attitude towards death and the dead that is at odds with their neighbours. They take a perverse pride in the harshness of their life, seeing others as “soft” for living in warmer climes, using blackpowder weapons, or associating with the other races. Sylvanians believe in the worst stereotypes, and it is common to find they believe Dwarfs drown cats, and Halflings routinely eat each other. This attitude goes all the way back to the Fennones of old, who refused to deal with the Dwarfs they encountered in the foothills of the Worlds Edge Mountains because they ignorantly believed that they came from the same place as the marauding Greenskins who raided their land.[1a]
The largest towns of Sylvania are still considered rural backwaters by the standards of cultured Empire folk, half-empty places where everybody wears codpieces that haven't been fashionable for over fifty years. These towns support only a few burghers, as few can afford their bills, and most are merely overgrown villages that happen to be built on better land. Since Sylvania’s population never truly recovered from the Black Plague and the contagions that followed, overcrowding had never been a problem.[1a]
In addition to disease, mutation is rife amongst the peasants. The thin soil has been riddled with Warpstone since 1111 IC, giving Sylvania one of the highest rates of mutation in the Empire. The most deformed Mutants are cast out into the woods or sent to Drakenhof, but many who would be burned elsewhere are accepted in Sylvania. Hunchbacks, walleyes, and those with additional digits are treated no differently from others.[1a]
With the low yield of crops, starvation is a constant threat, and most accept hunger pains as a normal part of life. Turning to “sweet pork”, the Sylvanians’ euphemism for Human flesh, is considered distasteful but not evil. Desperate times can call for desperate measures, and the Ghouls that raid the villages often lived amongst their victims the winter before.[1a]
All this has led to the Sylvanians becoming an insular people. They harbour resentments towards the Empire, especially Stirland. They avoid all contact with the outside world, and many know embarrasingly little about it. It is not uncommon for Sylvanians to not realise they are a part of the Empire, and many could not name the current Emperor if asked. Those who do know a little of the lands beyond their own know that they will not be accepted there, and Empire folk have as low of an opinion of Sylvanians as Sylvanians do of the Empire folk.[1a]
The life of a typical Sylvanian is as harsh, brutal, and short as that of any Old Worlder, and they see the Vampires as merely another aspect of that. Sometimes the crops fail, sometimes the winter is harsh, sometimes Greenskin or Chaos Warriors raid from the mountains, sometimes the plague comes, and sometimes the Vampires come. They keep garlic and other herbs around their windows as a matter of course, yet they willingly give up the children they cannot afford to feed for the blood tax and turn over foreigners foolish enough to spend the night in their inns.[1a]
The blood tax is the only tax paid by many Sylvanians, a tradition dating back generations. The amount paid differs from place to place, depending on the Vampire who controls the land. In Nachthafen, Countess Gabriella refuses to feed on the lowest peasants and only taxes the relatively affluent townspeople who can afford more than one set of clothes. She prefers to leave them alive after feeding, most of the time, to increase their loyalty to her. In Eschen, the tax demands the firstborn daughter of every family, who is never seen again, leading to some parents attempting to disguise their girls as boys to avoid payment. The smaller villages are typically only taxed once per year, though the amount varies based purely on whim. Those few who are foolish enough to hide from the count’s men when they come to collect are dealt with harshly, and the blood tax is raised in those places where they are found. This leads to situations where neighbours turn in their neighbours to avoid offending their masters.[1a]
- "What of the peasants residing in Sylvania. They are in your charge. Do you abandon them to this Necromancer?
That's what I've been trying to tell you. They are serfs, enslaved to the Sylvanian nobles, and I cannot vouch who still breathes among them. We scoop up the refugees that make it out, of course. But going into Sylvania is a costly offensive. I've tried."
- —Karl-Franz and Alberich Haupt-Anderssen discussing the plight of the Sylvanians.
Despite their general dismay for the horrible circumstances of their lives, and the cruelty of their undead masters, some Sylvanians have been both brave and lucky enough to escape westwards, into Stirland proper, becoming refugees. As Sylvania is de-jure part of Stirland, Alberich Haupt-Anderssen, the current Elector Count of Stirland, has showed concern for the well being of the Sylvanians. Despite this he has refrained from marching into Sylvania to liberate his would-be people, as he knows how costly open war with the Vampire Counts would be.
- 1: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Night's Dark Masters
- 1a: pg. 84-91
- 2 The Prince of Altdorf (Short Story) by Andy Hall