Varra (pronounced /ˈvɑrə/) is a world of Zien that has long ago been decimated by the rapacious inhabitants of a great floating castle called Thamarand. On the world's surface remain few pockets of civilization, most of the world now wasteland and wilderness ruled by powerful undead "bonelords". However, magical crystals are plentiful on Varra, and many of them hold miniature worlds within, worlds where civilization retains a foothold, and where some peoples prepare to end the ravaging of Thamarand and the dominion of the bonelords once and for all.
About sixty percent of Varra's surface is covered by water. The land can be divided roughly into three unequal parts. One, comprising roughly half of the world's land surface, is the part of the world that was either untouched during the Ravaging or, more likely, has since recovered, and that is still covered with more or less natural terrain. These areas may contain some overgrown or half-buried ruins of ancient cities, but have no major modern civilizations, though there may be some small settlements. Most of the remainder is made up of the deathfields, barren expanses blasted by the Ravaging where nothing living grows. It is here that the bonelords are most powerful. Finally, a significant proportion of the land surface is taken up by the Smeltery, a vast area riven by a network of chasms filled with magma that flows from the great volcano Smishadrar.
Fewer people now live on the surface of Varra itself, however, than within the world crystals that dot it. Found all over Varra's surface are giant angular crystals, sometimes occurring singly and sometimes in patches of varying sizes. These crystals have absorbed and transmuted various magical energies that were used nearby, and have developed various magical powers. Among them are some that now grant access to separate, self-contained worlds within, and thence have retreated many people to escape the horrors of Thamarand and the bonelords. The natures of the worlds within the crystals vary widely, and do not seem to be readily predictable from their external appearance.
Though most of Varra's inhabitants live within the world crystals, there are still a few who dwell outside them within the world itself. Those few either live underground, or gather in small enclaves or villages or wander nomadically, seldom erecting any long-term settlements larger than a small village, and most of them not building any permanent structures at all. There's good reason for this: any larger communities are likely to attract the attention of Thamarandi marauders or the bonelords, or both, and won't last long against their assault. Underground, permanent structures are somewhat safer, but there are few subterranean chambers or passages wide enough to allow the construction of large edifices.
Within the world crystals, almost anything goes; each crystal may contain a very different milieu, and be subject to a very different government, and have very different wildlife. As a matter of fact, even the physical laws within a world crystal may be somewhat different; some æalogists consider each world crystal to compose a cosmos (or at least a subcosmos) of its own. In any case, some world crystals are densely inhabited; others may be even more hospitable than the blighted deathfields.
The majority of Varra's ellogous inhabitants are human. Other species do, however, exist. The igus are creatures spontaneously animated from the bones that cover the deathfields—not undead, though they may appear to be. The azraryazen are mineral beings apparently born somehow of Varra's manifold crystals; they exist in plentiful varieties (not all of which, by any means, are intelligent, however). Rarigs seem to be somewhat more common on Varra than on most Zenni worlds. Furthermore, some types of creatures originating in one or the other of the crystal worlds have since spread outside their home crystal and colonized the world's surface, other crystals, or both.
While the Ravaging has led most of the world's ellogous inhabitants to either flee to the crystal worlds, die in battle or from want, or become prisoners of Thamarand, the parts of the world that escaped the worst of the destruction still have thriving ecosystems, covered with lush forests, grassy meadows, and all sorts of other terrains, and populated by all manner of wild beasts. In fact, in many places the world is far more verdant now than it was before the Ravaging, as the ellogous races have deserted it and their old works and cities have been retaken by nature. Not everything, however, has returned just to how it was. Some side effects of the Ravaging and works of the bonelords have spawned new creatures, such as the many-eyed thutton and the ossifying haualdi.
The deathfields, however, have been largely depopulated of all life, not just of intelligent beings. Undead of many sorts thrive there, and the yixan and certain other unnatural creatures find it hospitable, but most ordinary animals and plants cannot find a foothold there. But even the deathfields are not wholly devoid of life; some tenacious plants and fungi do manage to grow there, though they never become very large, and a few hardy animals such as lizards, rats, and jackals find enough there to subsist on. The same is largely true of the Smeltery, though it's not quite as barren as the deathfields, and it enjoys the additional distinction of being home to some thermophilic (or even pyrophilic) organisms such as the lava reed and the blue salamander.
The same system of vital magic that obtains throughout the cosmos of Usm works in Varra itself, though not necessarily within all of the crystal worlds, some of which have their own arcana and in some of which functions no known system at all. Conversely, the magics unique to a crystal world do not necessarily work outside it. However, in some cases magics can cross the boundaries between the crystal worlds and the surface of Varra, albeit often in altered form.
An arcanum has been developed by the very few inhabitants of the Smeltery that draws upon the flow and the heat of the lava streams that permeate it. Called thmissery, this type of magic is poorly understood by outsiders, and does not seem to function outside the Smeltery, though it may work in other highly volcanic areas. There is evidence that at least some of the inhabitants of Thamarand practice their own form of magic, as well as some of the bonelords, but very little is known about either of these arcana.