The Vistani are one of the truly unique elements of Ravenloft, but the familiar tropes of their wagons, evil eye, and card reading can become stereotyped and stale, getting in the way of making an encounter with them a truly memorable and unique experience. To make matters worse, their association with the real-life Roma can lead to unfortunate stereotypes of a people that have suffered from cultural appropriation and marginalization. Below are some options for bands taken to the edge of what it means to be Vistani, stretching the limits to create truly unique encounters far from any real-life association.
1) The Caliglia (Kamii)
Vistani normally travel in cyclical routes, but what happens when one of those routes refuses to stay still? In 590, one band had just caulked their wagons to ferry themselves across the Musarde when the Grand Conjunction hit, and they were all swept out to sea! Reading the cards for their fate, their Raunie declared that they must remain on the water until their former route returns to them. The Caliglia traded their wagons for sloops, with which they escort ships between the various seas of the Core and beyond. To avoid static burn, they refuse to set foot on land for longer than a few hours, and always return to the sea before the sun sets. As part of the Kamii tribe, they have turned their metalworking trade to maritime crafts: nails, braces and other ironworks that protect vessels, compasses that predict the weather, and magic cutlasses that draw power from the sea.
2) The Valstike (Corvara)
The Valstike tribe roam the lands extolling the virtues of the asylum of Dominia, selling crafts created by inmates, and offering to relieve families and communities of the burden of caring for the feeble minded, insane, or incorrigible. They don’t openly offer outright kidnapping as a service, but some have read between the lines and struck a private deal. If an individual is violently mad--or inconveniently sane--the Valstike excel at live capture, even before resorting to their potent poisons or powerful magic. Their padded vardos have a mild pacifying aura, a variety of restraints, and coffin-sized hidden compartments if necessary.
3) The Biskrem (Vatraska)
Only in the topsy-turvy chaos of Vechor could the land change so quickly that Vistani can fulfil their obligation to travel by staying still. The Biskrem run a popular rural inn called The Sundowner (good quality food and rooms, fair prices), that generates a shared unreality wrinkle* among guests that drink their unique brandy. The radius varies depending upon the number of guests, and causes the surrounding landscape to resemble guests’ homelands. The Vistani fix native dishes for the guests out of local flora and fauna that appear when the land changes, and frequently speak of having “traveled,” even though the “camp” is a stationary building. Such an island of sanity is even more popular among outlanders from beyond the Mists, who frequently have vivid dreams of visiting their homelands, and even learn about current events.
4) Lunadd (Canjar)
Scholars have wondered, if Vistani are compelled to move in fixed cyclical routes, how do new domains get added to the routes? The answer is found in a rarely mentioned family of the Canjar, whose strange fate allows them to visit each new domain as it appears, BUT at the cost that they can never go back to a domain after leaving. They sell their information to other Vistani during Lunaset, brokering for the supernatural power to add the new domain to routes. Lunadd cannot navigate the Mists per se, being locked on a course to visit each new domain as it appears. To compensate for this loss, and to assist with their mission, they have the gift of speaking the language of anyone they touch.
5) Kruug (Equaar)
Hinted at in Van Richten's Arsenal, this singular family of Vistani are tied to the lost royal family of Velkaarn, and seek to restore the Bloodknife to its reincarnated owner. Like other Equaar, they have no wagons, but also stand out for only training truly wild animals, such the wolves and raptors that accompany them. Kruug trained animals despise the undead, and never fall under the sway of an undead darklord even if their creature type would normally be subject to a lord’s control. It's said that once the vampire lord Velkaarn is no more, the Kruug will return from isolation in the Mists. If these legends are correct, the Kruug may be the first Vistani family to willingly undergo ritual static burn.
6) Golurn (Naiat)
As the domains on their route became increasingly urbanized, one clan left their vardos behind as they prowl the streets of Paridon, Nosos, and other large cities. Upon arriving in a new city, the Golurn spread out fast, darting through alleys solo, or in groups no larger than four. They find good places to perform, or do small chores, using the subtle charm of their heritage to ingratiate themselves. Golurn children and elders are always accompanied by adults who look after them and involve them in the task at hand. Anyone who threatens one of them finds the others are never far away, but those who indulge their presence find their spirits lifted, their minds awakened; far more value than that of any coin they leave with.
Perhaps one of the most important elements of any encounter with a people as mysterious and unique as the Vistani is that it should fulfil multiple roles in the story. Atmosphere is always one of those roles, but the above are also intended for situations where the heroes need a challenge, or refuge, or information, or encouragement, or tools. If the heroes really do just need their fortunes told, or passage from one domain to another, consider alternatives to the Vistani from time to time, to help avoid making these powerful and mysterious people into a backdrop for the scene change.
* Unreality wrinkles are a feature of Vechor described in the Nocturnal Sea Gazeteer, a netbook hosted by the Fraternity of Shadows.
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.
Picture Reference: http://thecampaign20xx.blogspot.com/2016/09/curse-of-strahd-running-final-battle.html
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