Curse of the Crimson Throne
Varisians are an ethnic human group found across the continent of Avistan, with the largest concentration in their homeland of Varisia. A nomadic people, many Varisians prefer the open road to permanent settlements, though many of them do reside in cities for generations. They have a reputation as scoundrels, dancers, and fortunetellers, a stereotype with a kernel of truth. Varisians are the largest ethnic minority in Korvosa, but also the most despised by the Chelish majority.
Varisians tend towards olive complexions, with long hair in a bewildering array of colors. They prefer brightly colored clothes, favoring practical wear for daily tasks, but are best known for the elaborate, embroidered costumes they wear during performances. Intricately patterned scarves called kapenia play an important role in their culture, as the history of their family is woven into the design. To record their personal histories, many Varisians favor complex tattoos. Varisians prefer to wear their wealth as transportable jewelry and gems, rather than hoard it as coins.
Despite their broad diaspora, Varisians have built a massive trove of tales and customs that bind them together. According to legend, some sort of ancient cataclysm drove the Varisian people to take up their wandering ways, though every clan has its own specific version of the story. Varisians favor song, music, and dance as a means of recording their history, expressing themselves, and celebrating just about every occasion. However, despite outward appearances of frivolity, the Varisian people are fiercely loyal to family and friends. They take deep pride in their rich history and traditions, to the confusion of empire-builders like the Chelish who view the Varisians as a people who never amounted to anything.
Magic plays a vital role in Varisian culture. The magic of performance and sleight of hand is known to most every Varisian child, while magic of the arcane and divine sort is rarer and highly prized. But what Varisians consider “true magic” is the gift of their fortunetellers. Some Varisian women are born with a powerful ability to read the future, be it through bones, cards, coins, runes or spheres. These fortunetellers become the heart their clan, guiding its actions and helping its people. Since the death of the god Aroden a century ago and the breaking of his prophecy, Varisian fortunetellers have seen their powers grow erratic and less reliable, but their central role in clan society remains.
The Varisian loyalty to family and clan has its dark side in the Sczarni, clans of thieves who travel from community to community preying on its people through crimes both petty and grand. The Sczarni see themselves as the truest Varisians, living off the foolishness of city-dwellers. Traditional Varisians, meanwhile, frown on their activities, which have given life to the stereotype that all Varisians are thieves.
Varisians in Korvosa
Varisians have been part of Korvosa since its founding. The young Varisian prophet of Pharasma, St. Alika, saved the city from disaster during its early days and became the first Varisian to be made a citizen of Cheliax. She continues to be venerated as a hero of the city to this day.
Despite this and many other contributions that Varisians have made to Korvosa over the last three hundred years, they have never been entirely welcome in the Chelish-dominated city. Varisians (and other non-Chelish) are barred from holding high office and Korvosan institutions view them with disdain. Varisians are subject to frequent stop-and-frisks by the Guard, who generally view them as potential thieves, and Varisian businesses are subject to an endless series of inspections, fees, and red tape from a hostile bureaucracy.
Many landlords won’t rent or sell housing to Varisians, forcing them into the poorest districts, or even outside the city walls to the settlement known as Trail’s End. More a village unto itself than part of the city, Trail’s End is firmly under the grip of a Sczarni clan, the Bashwater Boys, who prey on the Chelish and other outsiders. Because of this, Trail’s End is also sometimes known as “Thief Camp.”
Even with the discrimination and mistrust, Korvosa remains home to many Varisians and a common stopping point for many more. There is money to be made in the bustling crowds, both legally and otherwise, and Varisians have always been drawn to action and excitement.