6 Alternatives To The Vistani
The Vistani (and by extension The Carnival) are the default “traveling band” for the setting, but there are many travelers who brave the Mists using safety in numbers. One of the greatest advantages of using such a group in a campaign is that they can appear in a wide variety of domains, whether in the Core, island or cluster. For those times when you need to have the adventure come to your players, here are a few ways to have hell (or heaven) on wheels.
1) Professor Arcanus
Since the events of CotN: Werebeasts, Arcanus no longer has the luxury of being a one man show. On the night one of his exhibits came back to life, he was saved by a band of traveling adventurers, but he was revealed as a lycanthrope, and one of their number become a carnivorous ape. They now travel with him under the guise of fellow performers, secretly seeking a cure for both Arcanus and their friend, who has been trained to perform and assist. His new allies have taken on his penchant for showmanship and exaggeration, and they include an anchorite of the Erudite tradition who has had some success navigating the Mists.
The Book of Sacrifices tells the tragic story of a group of musicians who “just wanted to make music.” They now travel from place to place, compelled to do just that or suffer horrible consequences. The undead musical troupe cannot navigate the Mists, but they are generally content to let fate decide their path. Despite their nature and circumstances, they tend towards benevolence, and uniquely suited to survive anywhere, including places the others cannot, such as the Necropolis or Keening.
3) Black Avlyhn
First described in the Notes on Doppelgangers, this annis travels with over thirty of her own murderous doppelganger children, who believe that they are immature hags. They use their talents to play the part of Vistani, but are basically just roving thugs. The ones that have gone through puberty can appear as male or female, but visitors may note that all the children in the band of “Vistani" are female...and identical except for their ages. Recently, the band forced a mist ferryman to bargain for its life with passage through Mists. Since then, Avlyhn has prepared a magic circle to capture the next ferryman they encounter, in the hopes that they will be able to trap it and use it to truly travel like Vistani.
Stranded generations ago in the Greyhawk setting where they learned to ply the Nyr Dyv, the barge folk may adapt to sailing Lake Kriegvogel or Lake Zarovich. Their distinctive customs and unusual magic are similar to the Vistani but with a few memorable contrasts. Obviously using barges instead of wagons is a significant difference, and PCs expecting a Vetha to break out the cards for a fortune telling might see her pour a bucket of bird entrails off the back of the barge instead. A grim Darkhagard’s distinctive weapon and combat style will make an impression whether he's an ally or an enemy.
5) The Dreamspoken
Forbidden Lore introduced the Ildi’Thaan, and the first Gazetteer expanded on the Thaani ethnic group associated with them. But while many Thaani are troubled by dreams of Bleutspur, not all of them follow where the dreams lead. The Dreamspoken are Thaani with budding psionic powers who flee the lure of the Ildi’Thaan, developing their powers themselves while traveling the world. Coming from Barovia where Vistani are so well respected, it’s common for them to run away with with the Vistani for protection. Some of them return to Immol every few years to pick up new Dreamspoken, growing into larger bands that adopt Vistani dress and customs, mimicking Vistani magic with psionic powers. This has resulted in false reports of Vistani boys with the Sight, or Vistani with other unusual powers.
6) The Soldiers Of Truth
Warden Cyrus Townsend is a powerful anchorite who leads this band of Ezra’s faithful. With planning and precision, they Mistwalk to a theocratic domain such as Pharazia, astound the locals with a practiced barrage of miracles and proselytizing, and disappear back into the Mists before the authorities can muster a response. Most locals are grateful for the food, water, and healing, but a few risk their lives to hide and read the forbidden texts, hoping to be rescued back to the Core at the next visit. Townsend’s “wonderworking" is an extremely risky enterprise, but its success has spawned imitators, especially among the Nevuchar Springs Sect. The latter, of course, don't always bother to ask people if they want to be rescued….
When looking for a traveling band to play a role in your game, consider the role you want them to play, whether rescue through the mists, a source of information or goods, mysterious foreshadowing, entertainment, healing, or just ambiance. Many of the above can fill those roles while creating a sense of a much larger world, with room for many varieties of travelers braving the Mists to see where fortune brings them.
Leyshon Campbell has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, from the Kargatane's Book of S series, playtesting D&D 3E in a Ravenloft campaign, to the ill-fated Masque of the Jade Horror. He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently running the “Queen of Orphans” Ravenloft campaign on Discord.
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