More Romani Varisians, please

Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion

Okay so, Varisians (ie the elephant in the room).

I'm trying to adapt some things in the setting that I don't particularly like for my house campaigns. One of my players is a Varisian half-elf in AoA, plus I'm converting RotR, so this one must be addressed, if for no other reason (hint: there's plenty of other reasons).

I know JJ said Varisians don't just take after Romani but also Spanish, Goths and, at least where trade routes are concerned? pirates. They don't get a lot of verbiage in Lost Omens Character Guide, like most other human ethnicities. Afaik the most recent and exhaustive source about them is 1e Inner Sea Races, which describes them as... perfect Esmeraldas. You know, from Hunchback of Notre Dame. The most stereotypical collection of gypsy clichés you can think of.

Now, I don't care for Varisians being a mish-mash of inspirations, in theory or practice. I think representation is more important, and I want Varisians to be representative of Romani in my games, a people who has had all the worst luck where I live (Italy) and that is still systematically persecuted, more or less openly and directly. That means *a good, faithful and positive representation* is finally in order - not colorful wandering cartomancers playing a mean violin. At least, not *just that*.

Does anyone know more about actual living and breathing Romani cultures? Or about links I can go to in order to discover more on my own? I want to do Varisians right but I've googled around and no doubt also because of the traditional isolationism (often imposed upon them) of these ethnicities it's pretty hard to come up with interesting facts to incorporate in a house campaign while simultaneously actually represent the rl people we're talking about. Advice is also welcome, most of all if aimed at helping my player get a feeling for what Varisians would be if they actually were a good equivalent of Romani *and* at how to modify them in RotR, CotCT and other APs to make them less thieving dancing scoundrels and more, you know, Romani. And of course, if anyone reading this belongs to this beautiful ethnic group, please, *please* contact me, one way or another. I swear I wanna help.

In conclusion I will admit I *like* Varisians, but I take my passions seriously and considering what attracted me to PF was mainly the ethnic and sexual diversity of its people, I really don't understand why in some aspects, like the aforementioned sexual identity and orientation, the setting is decidedly progressive, while on a number of other fronts I feel like I'm still playing Gary Gygax's version of the game (or Tolkien's vision of high fantasy as for that). So while I could examine the problems critically and not do much more other than that, I'm determined to adjust at least my own Golarion to 2020 sensibilities. Paizo is to be praised for much of their stances regarding race, disability and sexuality, but it's my humble opinion that we still have a way to go (and the older material can sometimes be simply cringe-worthy).

Thank you all for bearing with me and my undying gratitude to all who will decide to help even just a tiny bit!

And of course



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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

One interesting source is a first person account of many visits between 1991 and 1995 with the Roma in Albania, Bulgaria, the former Czechoslovakia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania and the former Yugoslavia.

"Bury Me Standing", by Isabel Fonseca. 1995

CrystalSeas wrote:

One interesting source is a first person account of many visits between 1991 and 1995 with the Roma in Albania, Bulgaria, the former Czechoslovakia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania and the former Yugoslavia.

"Bury Me Standing", by Isabel Fonseca. 1995

Nice!! I will definitely look for it. Sounds very much like what I'd like to see.

What about articles on the 'webs, do you know of any that goes a little deeper than usual? Does anyone?

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This article is pretty interesting.

Liberty's Edge

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This site discusses Romani in art, and in some cases how and why specific interpretations are inappropriate. Which is interesting if trying to avoid making those mistakes.

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You might enjoy reading this thread, which I started my forum account to make:

Liberty's Edge

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keftiu wrote:
You might enjoy reading this thread, which I started my forum account to make:


Liberty's Edge

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Movies from Tony Gatlif should be interesting seeing he is a Romani himself.

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Thanks to all of you, bookmarked everything and looking for Tony Gatlif's filmography and Bury Me Standing! Cheers y'all! =)

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Okay, I've been reading and thinking and re-examining and so on. I wanna say what I would personally like for our Varisian friends to be in the coming APs and other products (most of all more sourcebooks about various parts of the Lost Omens setting!).

When I started to read about Varisians I hoped they were Romani. At first, many years ago, I felt they were a lot of fun, but thankfully my appreciation of the problems of marginalized people has developed a bit in the meantime. Now I still like Varisians, and at the same time I don't.

First off I learned they're not meant to be stand-ins for Roma. I like JJ's ideas about what they should have been, but I think representation is more important today, for a product like Pathfinder, for Paizo, for us players. I know in the US the plight of Roma people isn't something that draws angry crowds to the streets with big signs and chants, but here in Europe *we really need representation of Roma in our stories*. There's still an awful lot of prejudice against this ethnicity, and ignorance, and hate. I would like for Paizo to partly go on with the way they've described Varisians until now, even though they aren't the people JJ came up with back in the day. I feel it's too late to make them non-Romani, and I definitely would appreciate more (respectful, well-researched) stand-ins for *real people who need representation* instead of a completely made-up ethnicity.

Right now Varisians are in a sort of weird place. On one side they could really be Roma. On the other a lot of Roma stereotypes have been somehow attached to them, mostly erroneously b/c they never were meant to be Roma. It's rather confusing - it's very hard to play them as anything but Roma, but at the same time we try hard to de-Esmeralda-them however we can, and it's both confusing and labor-intensive. The Sczarni are another sore point. JJ wanted them to be an inclusive band of shades-of-grey rebels and scoundrels, not monolithically evil or good - but at this point they've become The Varisian Mob (further adding injury to the portrayal of RL Roma, some of whom commit criminal acts, but not in larger percentages than white people or other ethnicities - poverty does tend to breed criminality sometimes, but Roma aren't more criminally-inclined than anyone else).

At the same time Varisians have many interesting features, from their past in the Thassilonian empire, to the nation they managed to build for themselves (Ustalav), to their very interesting relationship with Chelaxian colonists and Shoanti cousins... I feel like they could be very easily related to Roma and still maintain a lot of distinctive character. Some of the material written about them, most of all in APs, most of all recently, is fascinating and interesting.

Why not embracing what Varisians have become instead of once and for all decoupling them from Roma people? They've become Roma in all but name in many respects, and they've been so for a very long time. But we do need to make them more indicative of the real ethnicity instead of characters based on Notre Dame de Paris (ugh).

1. Let's distance them from the Harrow a little - yes, poor Roma will read your future for money if they're allowed into a city, but it's cold reading at most. They don't have special powers in that sense. The Harrow should be a divination method spread to all of southern Avistan, right? Maybe even further. So let's make Harrowers an international phenomenon from all ethnicities. Hell, certainly *some* Varisians are Harrowers... and so are Taldans from a host of nations.

2. Let's decouple them from the Sczarni as originally intended. Let's show Taldan Sczarni, elven Sczarni, exiled Shoanti Sczarni. If you want, let's have also morally decent Sczarni. The name sounds like something that originated among Varisians anyways - let's not demonize them.

3. Let's show that they don't roam b/c of their inherent wanderlust - they do because in Varisia many people won't have them in their towns and cities. Let's show they do settle down when possible, in both shitty ghettos and clustered, colorful, wealthy mansions, and anything in between.

4. Let's show they have suffered. And they still do. The way Chelaxians treat them is spot on. They try to live comfortable settled lives but too many bigots just won't have them, or will make it a living hell. Vardos are all well and good and necessary, and there's a joy in setting for the next horizon, and pride in travelling with a kumpanya, but the need to always roam is not a lifegoal.

5. Let's emphasize their love and respect for their elders, their dominant positions within Varisian societies, their role as oral storytellers and thus keepers of the past, their judgment of honor as something highly desirable and their power to kick you out if you won't uphold it.

6. Let's make their spirituality complex and multitheistic, with some shamanic elements - they won't go into gadje churches or listen to gadje priests, but they do worship the core pantheon, and perhaps Desna is a sort of Great Mother they acknowledge. Desnan clerics are definitely a boon while needing to travel!

7. Let's show the richness of their fables, myths and legends, hundreds of them (not that we have to set them all to paper, but let's define some of their mainstays - the birth of the first violin using the hair of a dead person as strings, for instance).

8. Let's have them perform a myriad little rituals for baxt (fortune) and make them hospitable and ready to give gifts to guests (more baxt and honor are always welcome, and you *need* those connections!).

9. Give them flamenco - or whatever equivalent we have - after all it's them who came up with it! Show their music in all its wonderful variety, with plaintive paeans and fast jazz, violins and concertinas, spoon-beating, choruses, hand-clapping and so on.

10. Show they dress "like colorful butterflies"... because they don't really have a choice (when you're poor and on the run every piece of clothing is okay). At the same time there are huge wedding dresses, coin-strings forehead ornaments, and more.

I'll stop now. I'm not even as knowledgeable as I'd like to be about the topic atm. I do believe it's too late to make Varisians anything else than what they are - but *we can* make their portrayal of a beautiful real life culture much more respectful and free from harmful stereotypes. Esmeralda Varisians tell us Romani were a fairtytale people who no longer really exist, not a real, living, breathing ethnicity who still struggles with oppression *right now*.

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