Designing the Vistani Race

My main focus for this site has been talking about stuff I’ve been playing, but I’ve also been producing in that time!

The main thing I’ve been producing for sale is D&D stuff for the DM’s Guild! Because it’s cheap and fast and there’s a (small) market for it! I can try out a LOT of ideas.

I think the design element I’m probably most happy with is my design of the Vistani race for the SUPER-SETTING-DOC.Though that doc isn’t my best-selling, the Vistani race represents a bit of a unique design problem. See, in the Ravenloft setting, the Vistani are a mysterious race of magical gypsy-folk. They are capable of weaving curses, seeing the future, and of even doing something that, in this setting, is akin to punching out Cthulu: they can leave domains. They are NPC’s who mostly exist to engage the PC’s and to keep the party mystified and curious – they’re not entirely altruistic, not entirely antagonistic, they tell your future and invite you to parties but spy on you for the big bad, they have their own questlines, etc.

When converting that into a PC race, there’s a gap to bridge: we can’t give the player all the powers of the Vistani NPC’s. If the race you chose could let you “win the game” by leaving the domain, or let you be a villain, or let you accurately foretell the future, a lot of the horror vibe of the setting would be wrecked. And yet the Vistani are so interesting and diverse that people have wanted to play as them for decades.

In 2e, this was partially solved with the half-Vistani race,. with all the culture and none of the all-powerful magic. While this race had a good anchoring in the setting, the “half-human, half…other…human…” vibe seemed off to me. Were the Vistani truly something beyond being human, such that someone who shared their blood would not be entirely human like a half-elf or a half-orc is not entirely human? Or was it more of a cultural/knowledge/lore thing that separated the caravans from the giorgios?

In my doc, I solved it with a full Vistani race that was, at its base, human. All those mystical powers? Perhaps they are capable of them, but not EVERY Vistani has these abilities. Just the elite, the leaders, the guides of the caravans. And for that, you need to be Special.

Curses, guiding Caravans through the Mists, telling the future – these were things only certain Vistani were capable of. Perhaps because they have feats/class levels/etc. Perhaps because they are simply NPC’s and that’s how they roll. Whatever. The point is, with this race, you can be a unique part of the setting without ruining the mood, and even with a certain secret…if everyone expects that you can travel through the mists at any time…why don’t you?

I think going forward I need to prod myself a bit into adventure design. It seems like a daunting task requiring maps and NPC pictures, but, hell, if I can put out $1 backgrounds without art that sell well, I can probably pump out a cheap adventure with some good writing, even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles.