Many Varisians are wanderers and nomads, traveling the land in caravans and stopping only to put on exotic shows or to swindle and seduce locals. Yet just as many Varisians settle down and form small towns or, in the case of Ustalav, entire cities and nations. Yet none can deny the stereotypical con artists or swindlers who give the Varisian people a bad name. Most respect the Varisians for their ancient traditions and vast knowledge but for the same reasons mistrust their motives. To ordinary folk, the colorful travelers who never settle but flit about like butterflies over the land seem fascinating, but also just a little frightening.
A traveler can sit down in any tavern in Avistan and overhear a story about Varisians—how they never build towns or sow crops, how they live in the wagons that carry them over the land, how they sing and dance for money, how they dress in bright colors and cover their bodies with jewelry and intricate tattoos, and how a Varisian once robbed someone’s uncle’s wife’s brother’s best friend in an elaborate scam. Conventional wisdom holds that observers should view the beautiful, exotic Varisians from a distance, as if admiring a tiger prowling through the jungle.
Tales of Varisian treachery and deceit usually come from interactions with the Sczarni—organized families of Varisian criminals dedicated to larceny and confidence games. The Sczarni travel less frequently than their kin, setting up shop in cities for months—even years—at a time. So long as their criminal activities go undetected, Sczarni continue to bleed their victims until their pockets are full or their neighbors grow suspicious. Varisians call the world their home, even if they’ve settled down. They favor scarves of all sizes and colors, but some hold special significance. Most notable is the family scarf, or kapenia. Children receive their kapenias upon maturity; to own one is to be an adult. These long, heavy scarves display elegant and complicated embroidery that is incomprehensible to most outsiders. To Varisians, though, the scarves show their family trees.
By tracing the loops and whorls of a scarf, a Varisian can trace a person’s history back through her mother and father, her siblings, grandparents and great-grandparents, as far back as the family possesses knowledge.
Varisians believe that certain colors carry specific powers and choose their outfits to attract the right type of energy. Pink is the color of love, kindness, and courage. Red represents lust, long life, and inner strength. Orange is the color of happiness and resourcefulness, and adventuring Varisians often wear a touch of orange while on their travels. Green enhances wisdom and self-control. Turquoise represents physical strength and nonverbal communication, and most dancing costumes feature it. Blue is the color of health, youth, and beauty. Violet enhances intuition and divine inspiration, so most fortunetellers and seers wear violet scarves. Varisians love jewelry and favor gems over coins. Most Varisians pragmatically believe that wealth is harder to steal when worn than when hidden out of sight.
Whereas the Shoanti use tattoos as marks of honor and accomplishment, to a Varisian a tattoo is a work of art, one often used to enhance existing beauty. These tattoos typically incorporate various colors of significance to the person bearing the markings, and an entire method of magic revolves around certain mystic tattoos. This delight and obsession with tattoos stems from the periodic appearance of “birth tattoos” on newborn Varisians— birthmarks that can be extremely elaborate and colorful. Some represent physical objects, such as a sword or a unicorn, while others spell out phrases in some long-dead runic language or outline a map. The tattoos might appear as tiny, blurred marks during infancy and childhood but grow with the child until they reach a clear and detailed full size at adulthood.
Varisians have dusky skin and large, expressive eyes that are often of strange colors, such as violet or gold. Their hair color ranges widely, from platinum to blond to deep reds to brown to black—very few hair colors are considered unusual among Varisians.
They tend to be a lithe and long-limbed folk, and men often have trouble growing facial hair, making the patchy or stringy beards and mustaches of Sczarni thugs a wellknown look.