Irrisen – Witch Queen Enclave
Irrisen at a glance:
- Alignment: NE
- Capital: Whitethrone (24,900)
- Notable Settlements: Algidheart (6,720), Hoarwood (8,970)
- Ruler: Queen Elvanna, Fourtheenth Daughter of Baba Yaga
- Government: Monarchy
- Languages: Skald, Hallit
- Religion: Lamashtu, Zon Kuthon
Almost every youth in Avistan fears the White Witches of the North, who dwell in palaces of ice and steal wicked children in the dark of winter and imprison their souls in eerie porcelain dolls. More terrifying still is the legend of the queen of all Witches, Baba Yaga, who came to Golarion, conquered a nation, and then suddenly left. Some say she will one day return to seek larger spoils—perhaps slaves and souls instead of land.
Nearly 1,400 years ago, the territory that comprises present day Irrisen belonged to the mighty Linnorm Kings. During one particularly harsh winter, an innumerable host of blue-skinned trolls and cold fey marched down from the Crown of the World, led by the ghastly crone Baba Yaga, an incredibly powerful witch from a distant world of the Great Beyond. The self-proclaimed Queen of Witches quickly subjugated the region, killing any who resisted and enslaving the rest. The fighting ended just 23 days after it began, and the nation of Irrisen was born. The nation has been locked in the heart of winter ever since.
Strangely enough, after carving out her kingdom, Baba Yaga seemed uninterested in ruling it and instead installed one of her cruel daughters to govern in her place. Every 100 years, though, the Queen of Witches returns to reclaim her child and install a new daughter to rule for the next century. The previous daughter, along with her children, then leaves with Baba Yaga to explore strange worlds, times, and alternative dimensions. The new daughter quickly goes about installing her own children into positions of power throughout the kingdom. Males assume the leadership of the queen’s fighting forces, marshalling squads of ice trolls and packs of winter wolves to protect the realm, while females see to the government and administration of the land, often regardless of age. These granddaughters of Baba Yaga, collectively known as the White Witches, command a level of respect and obeisance from their subjects that borders on worship, either from fear or as genuine adoration.
Irrisen has few friends beyond its borders. The Lands of the Linnorm Kings to the west have not forgotten the Winter War that birthed their neighbor, an insult aggravated by the frequent raids into Trollheim and nearby fiefs by fey and trolls who steal supplies, weapons, and — occasionally — children. Few of the superstitious Ulfen warriors are brave enough to venture far into Irrisen. Small huts dot the borders of Irrisen. Resting atop closely grouped trunks of trees, which closely resemble the queen of Witch’s chicken-legged hut, these huts sit atop their perches with a single open doorway facing the lands of Irrisen’s neighbors. Those who approach the huts tell of an unnatural stillness that pervades the area and a feeling of dread. Within the small single room of each hut, a porcelain doll depicting a gray-haired crone stares unblinking out the door from its perch atop a small chair—the hut’s only furniture — as if watching for trespassers into Baba Yaga’s lands. Popular belief is that the dolls contain the corrupted souls of stolen children and that they leave their huts during the night to hunt and murder travelers foolish enough to trespass into their mistress’s kingdom and doubly foolish to be caught near the dreaded huts after dark. Worse than these tales, told over campfires and to unruly children, is that every bit of it is true.
The Realm of the Mammoth Lords to the east have an uneasy truce with Queen Elvanna at present, but with her time as Irrisen’s ruler nearing an end and the inclinations of her replacement unknown, the future might bring new conflict on this front. Growing numbers of the queen’s monstrous soldiers and conscripts have been seen patrolling the border between the two nations.
Perhaps the most notable distinction of Irrisen that sets it so drastically apart from all other nations is the palpable feeling of dreaded expectation that pervades every aspect of society. Baba Yaga’s reputation; indomitable, godlike mastery of witchcraft; and supreme force of will have left a lasting mark upon the memories and folklore of her people. This dread goes even further than simple folktales and superstition, though. Visitors who brave the dangers of Irrisen return haunted by the memory of the Witch Queen’s supernatural patina covering her lands like an unseen fog that reaches into a man’s very soul and freezes it with her horrid touch.
Irrisen is subject to a supernatural cold that cannot be effected by most mundane spells or spellcasters. Most magic protecting against cold weather or inflicting cold weather work as normal, but spells that change the weather or climate are severely hampered. It is said that even the fiery breath of dragons can not conquer the snow in the lands of eternal winter. Just as fire and heat has lowered potential in Irrisen, the powers of cold and those who claim it are amplified, creating powerful spellcasters such as the rimewitches, who often become allies of the Winter Witches and their daughters.
To herald their mistress’s return every century, the Three Riders appear throughout Irrisen to remind her subjects who their true ruler is. The White Rider, a ghostly, gaunt humanoid figure in white robes riding a sleek white destrier is only seen in the early morning hours. The Red Rider, dressed in crimson robes with a golden sunburst on his breast, rides a reddish-gold stallion and is only seen during the day. The Black Rider wears coal black robes and rides a black warhorse. He is only seen during the night. It is rumored that the riders each represent a different aspect of Baba Yaga’s sorcerous mastery and can sense her subject’s loyalty or lack thereof, providing boons to those that remain true and a curse or destruction upon those with traitorous hearts. Baba Yaga’s children refer to the riders as Day, Sun, and Night. Of them, very little is known.
Symbols play an important role in Irrisen in warding away bad luck and the ire of Baba Yaga and her children. Cat, dog, gate, and tree motifs can be found throughout all of Irrisen adorning its peoples’ doors, lintels, tools, clothing, weapons and armor, and hearths. Cats and dogs are common pets and living symbols of good luck in nearly every settlement and no home is ever lacking a gate through which one enters. On the other hand, crows are seen as bad luck and are hunted and killed on sight.
Rumors have spread far and wide throughout Golarion about Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut. Stories claim the strange hut is filled with treasure and collections of vast knowledge plundered from hundreds of different worlds and times. Citizens claim to spot the hut throughout Irrisen. Brave souls who dare to enter the Witch Queen’s extradimensional demesne are advised to observe strict forms of polite behavior and respect to the old crone—those who do might gain some kind of reward from her: boons, magical trinkets, the answers to life’s greatest mysteries, or simply making it out alive! A slip up or failure to observe all of the forms she demands of visitors ensures the visitor never leaves her hut.
With the backing of her powerful mother, Queen Elvanna rules Irrisen with an iron fist uncontested by any. She rarely, if ever, leaves her palace in Whitethrone, but with her numerous sons and daughters acting on her behalf in each of the settled areas of Irrisen, nothing transpires in her kingdom without her knowing of it sooner or later. With her rule coming to an end soon, she and her offspring work furiously to leave their mark on Golarion long after they leave — erecting massive statues of themselves, siring and birthing hordes of children to carry on their names, and imposing the harshest taxes ever known in the history of Irrisen.
Sources: Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting