A Light in Darkness
She had very red lips and very black eyes, she was built like a greyhound, and had the tongue of the devil.
— F. Marion Crawford, “For the Blood is the Life”
The Vistani are the most enigmatic of Ravnloft’s inhabitants. These wandering gypsies somehow seem to be both separate from and intertwined with everything that goes on in the Land of Mists. They are secretive and insular, keeping themselves isolated from the giorigo, yet provide services and entertainment to those same giorgio when the price is right. The mystery that surrounds them, and their notorious power to curse those who wrong them, cause them to be feared and hated by many, yet their independent spirit and ability to travel the nighttime wilderness without fear lead them to be respected and even admired by many others. They are a people composed of contradictions, and it is unlikely that anyone not of their blood ever fully understands them.
The appearance of the Vistani can be as varied as those of any other people, but certain characteristics are prevalent among them. Their complexions are naturally dark and are often made darker by exposure to the sun. Their hair is usually dark. Their eyes are usually dark as well, with brown being the most common shade, though hazel and green are not infrequent.
The Vistani are a people without a home. They gather in caravans, the members of which are all part of a single extended family. These caravans wander the Land of Mists, their belongings carried y pack animals or loaded into covered wagons known as vardos. The master of the caravar is called the captain, an adult male Vistana who decides when the caravan makes camp, how long it stays and where it travels to next. He also delegates responsibility to the other members of the caravan and has the final word in all matters of trade and commerce. Even the captain, however, is subservient to the raunie, the matriarch of the caravan. The raunie is often the oldest female Vistana in the caravan,though this is not always the case. The raunie passes judgement and gives sentence when crimes are committed within the caravan, and her voice is listened to and respected in all matters. The raunie is always a seer of some ability and is usually quite adept.
The Vistani do not tend fields and so have learned to take what food they can from the land itself. They are able to identify plants and animals with remarkable facility and have little trouble locating sources of drinking water. They are not able hunters, preferring to herd cattle and to fish to provide meat. They barter and purchase whatever else they need from villages and are not averse to stealing or rustling when times are lean.
The Vistani keep to themselves unless they have something to gain by associating with outsiders. They refer to non-Vistani as giorgio, a word that means roughly “one who is not of the blood.” Its usage varies from harshly insulting to mildly patronizing to merely factual. The Vistani as a whole do not hate or even dislike giorgio, but they rarely accord them much respect. They simply feel that the giorgio have little to offer besides their coin. To be a giorgio is to be ignorant of the world’s mysteries, fearful of the unknown, limited in experience and dependent on others for survival. To be a Vistana, in their view, is to be none of those things. That the giorgio often fear and hate them is testament to their unenlightened natures. Not every Vistana is capable of being so dispassionate in the face of prejudice, but most Vistani recognize that Vistani are Vistani and giorgio are giorgio, and the two are and always shall be separate. The way things are is the way things are.
In the meantime, the Vistani have no compunctions about cheating, lying or stealing in their dealings with the giorgio, if they feel such double-dealings are warranted. Vistani laws apply to the Vistani, and giorgio laws apply to the giorgio. This doesn’t mean they won’t seek justice for a wrong done to them; it just means they won’t be surprised when the wrongdoing occurs.
Although those who have crossed them might think otherwise, the Vistani are not an evil people. Nor are they a good people. They simply are, in the same way the woods they travel through simply are. The Vistani see themselves as a part of nature in the way that the giorgio do not; in facte, another meaning of the word giorgio is “unnatural.” The Vistani and the giorgio may often be at odds, but this does not make one evil or the other good.
The Vistani language is called the patterna. It is an unusual language, a hodgepodge of various humanoid languages and dialects that conveys meanings less with the words spoken than with the intonation and context of the speech. It has a flowing, rhythmic quality when spoken correctly, something for which few giorgio have the knack. The Vistani script consists of symbols known as tralaks. Tralaks are carved into trees or scrawled on stones to convey important information to other passing caravans. All tralaks are descriptive, with each one meant to convey a certain quality about the area in which it was written. One tralak is used to warn Vistani of unfriendly giorgio in the area, for instance, while another is used to mark a source of fresh water. The Vistani have little other use for writing, and on the rare occasion when the must write something particularly long or meaningful, they appropriate the script of a giorgio language.
Vistani Powers and Weaknesses
The Vistani are an inherently magical people. Where this magic springs from is unknown, though the Vistani have their own tales on the subject. Their magic certainly does not spring from a divine source, as the Vistani pay homage to no deities. Nor does it resemble arcane spellcasting, as the Vistani have no need for components or spellbooks. The magic of the Vistani seems to be a natural part of their being, even more so for them than for sorcerers. A sorcerer must cast spells, while a Vistana simply acts, and lets the magic take its own course.
Although the Vistani are humans, they are a very different breed of human. Full blooded Vistani are not available as a player character race.
Vistani curses are legendary. Everyone fears the Vistani for their power to curse their foes, and no one crosses them lightly.
The Evil Eye
A form of curse unique to the Vistani is the evil eye. Any Vistani can invoke this extraordinary power against an enemy, but females are more adept at this power.
Only slightly less fabled than the evil eye is the Vistani power to see into the past and future. Only female Vistani possess this power; Vistani legends hold that men who seek to tell fortunes invite destruction to themselves and their entire caravan.
The method used by a Vistani seer to tell fortunes is entirely up to the individual. Some Vistani use crystal balls, while others perform astrology. The most well-known method of fortune telling is the tarokka deck, a deck of cards each bearing a different archetypal image. Each card has a different meaning to the Vistani, and the order and context in which each card is drawn affects that meaning. Tarokka reading is an art form, and the fortunes told by the tarokka can be quite complex and detailed.
Vistani have the uncanny ability to navigate their way through the Mists that pervade Ravenloft. The Vistani simply direct their caravan into a bank of mist and emerge a few minutes later from another. The intervening distance may be hundreds of miles, and the Vistani can freely travel between the islands, the clusters and the Core. The Vistani can take travelers with them and are usually willing to do so for a price. As the only beings both able to navigate the Mists and willing to profit from the ability, they are free to command almost any price they wish. The voyages through the Mists are always on target, but not always without danger. Many horrors lurk inside the Mists, and the Vistani have become accustom to fighting them.
Tasques and Tribes
The Vistani can be divided into three groups, each sharing similar cultures, attitudes and ways of life. The Vistani call these groups tasques. The three tasques are Kaldresh, Boem and Manusa. Each tasque is further divided into tribes. The exact number of Vistani tribes is not known, but van Richten’s research uncovered seven: three in the Kaldresh tasque and two each in the Boem and Manusa tasques.
Dealing with the Vistani
Above all, when dealing with the Vistani, characters should keep in mind the various powers of these nomadic and enigmatic people. Treating them with respect tends to gain their assistance more easily than making demands or behaving rudely. The Vistani hold vast amounts of information about the Land of Mists, but they do not give out their knowledge haphazardly or without cost. Hunters wishing information from the Vistani about monsters in the area would be well advised to treat these wanderers with caution and courtesy.
Promises made to Vistani should be considered one of the most important bonds an individual can make. Failure to keep a promise not only can bring an unpleasant, if not debilitating, curse, it can also affect future dealings with the Vistani. On the other hand, a record of promises honored, assistance freely given and courteous acts can win Vistani allies, if not friends.
As seers of the future, the Vistani can prove useful if frustrating. Their use of the tarokka deck to predict future events often provides characters with useful information that may require some effort to unravel.
Vistani can serve as guides through the Mists, and characters who are fortunate enough to secure the services of a Vistana guide should do everything possible to keep their guide happy. Additionally, Vistani can carry messages to distant parts of the Realm of Dread, provided they feel so inclined.
Characters that try to cheat Vistani or who attempt to foist off substandard items in trades quickly learn the folly of their actions and discover that what affects one small group of Vistani swiftly spreads from tribe to tribe. The Vistani are a fact of life in Ravenloft. As such, they can either help or harm characters, depending on how they are treated.