Meet the Real Life Vistani

With the recent conversation about the new adventure book for Dungeons and Dragons, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, I wanted to cover an interesting subject: the Vistani.

The Vistani, based on the “Gypsies” from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel who were steadfast in their loyalty to Dracula, are a key human ethnic group in the Ravenloft setting of Dungeons and Dragons. Unlike the crushed spirits that comprise most Barovian residents, the wandering Vistani are lively and possess both a need and a means of traveling across the planes.

In previous versions of the Ravenloft setting, Vistani were mostly loyal to the vampire lord Strahd, but the community was somewhat split. Some were actively loyal as spies and assassins while others simply acknowledged his overwhelming authority.

In any case, the real life analogy of the Vistani to the real-life Roma has always posed a bit of a thorny issue. The term “gypsy” is (for good reason) outdated as well as the old tropes of crystal balls, wandering caravans, and so on.

The BBC posted a good article and documentary recently about the Roma in Eastern Europe who still face overwhelming discrimination. Stop and watch if you can. It’s well worth the look.

It’s important to remember that Roma people are a medieval offshoot of an ethnic community from India, and that centuries of ostracism have pushed them to the fringes of society generation after generation and set them up for failure generation after generation as a result.1 The notion “traveling” in caravans, for example, is often due to Roma being unwanted in most places they visited.

For this reason, I have tried to be mindful of presenting the Roma / Vistani in a more positive light when I run Ravenloft based games with my daughter and her friends. I looked up real Roma names for the characters, how Roma clan dynamics work, and changed their image from shifty vampire-loyalists to a conflicted ethnic group trying to find their way in a hostile world. Certain mechanics, such as Madam Eva’s fortune telling are integral to the setting and hard to change, but I try to make a nuanced picture of a people who are (unfairly) distrusted and have more to offer than just some tropes.

In any case, investing time as a D&D player to learning more about the real life Roma people is a good way to raise awareness of their situation and to pass these on to players through an interactive story (not lecturing) and have a positive experience at the same time. Roma are people too, not just plot devices.

1 … sound familiar? Or, here, here and here?

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: