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Clan Ravnos: Going Beyond Racism

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  • Clan Ravnos: Going Beyond Racism

    The matter of the Ravnos being racist Romani stereotypes (and later still problematic Indian steoreotypes) has come up again recently. That they are offensive and one-note, and deserve to be forgotten or written out of the game. I don't dispute that the Ravnos were created with less-than-respectful intentions, and even the India thing was a band-aid that still left the Clan overly narrow and dependent on a single culture. Believe me, no one needs to explain it again.

    I am not here to create another place to bitch about the mistakes White Wolf made in the nineties and early 2000s. Rather, I am here to ask: If there's a problem, what do we do to fix it? How can we be part of the solution?

    No, saying "write the Ravnos out completely" or "change everything about them so they might as well be a new Clan entirely" are not valid answers. We could do that, but it's ignoring the problem. I want to salvage Clan Ravnos, and retain as much of what value they have as possible. The narrow culture is a problem, so let's break it out of those confinements. And the first part of that is understanding that Ravnos could be more than Gypsies, Indians, or criminals. A player should be able to take any concept they like and slot them into the Ravnos. Vampires embrace anyone they like, for any reason. And there are many reasons to embrace (see the bottom of the page, under "Reasons For Siring").

    The way I see it, there are only two things that really dictate's a Clan/Bloodline's development, and how members within it act: Disciplines and Weakness.

    Strip away all the baggage, all the references to Roma, Gangrel, and Jati, and what do the Ravnos have? They have the ability to commune with animals, supernatural toughness, the ability to cast illusions, and a Vice (or Virtue, according to DAV20) that the character is driven to pursue. Who the Ravnos hang with, whether they're nomadic, and where their greatest geographic concentration is are all immaterial for this discussion. Just looking at those four things, what does that say about vampires brought into the Clan?

    First, Animalism. They run with many of the ideas that Gangrel, Nosferatu, and Tzimisce do. Beasts are their allies, and The Beast is their weapon. They can have little eyes everywhere, and might also have ghouled attack or guard animals at the ready. They have some ability to wander through the wilderness, but they get as much utility by sticking in one place and fostering a brood of loyal beasts. A Ravnos does not need to be migratory.

    Second, Fortitude. They take a beating. Seems simple enough, but it also lets them pursue roles as warriors (yes, the Jati have their warrior caste, but that's not the point). In the Dark Ages, one could easily find themselves as an ashen knight or low-class tough. While they share this Discipline also with the Gangrel, it is the same with the Ventrue. A Ravnos is unlikely to be as socially powerful as a Ventrue, but they could be just as chivalrous as one. More on that later.

    Third, Chimestry. They are illusionists. They can do trickery very well, but they can also use it for intimidation. And every culture in the world has their own myths of conjurers. Lore of the Clans also tells us that Elder Ravnos may create illusions as spies, while combination powers can be used to create any tool for a situation (so long as it's not a weapon), peer into a person's heart's desire, and even force an attacker to feel the pain of their blows against the Ravnos. Some of these are useful for the Jyhad, no matter where or who they are. Some have plain old utility. But the last makes a Ravnos who learned it able to make physical assault work against their attacker. I could easily see a Dark Ages saint using it simply to get through fights without raising their own hands in violence.

    Fourth, and most importantly, is a Ravnos's Vice or Virtue. For the record, I thought the Virtue part was one of the best changes DAV20 made. I believe this because it opens up whole vistas of complexity.

    More to the point, I see the Ravnos as a Clan ever in conflict with itself. Between Vice and Virtue, there are four types of Ravnos that could be (ignoring the vast space of those who are simply moderate): ones who resist their Vice, those who indulge their Vice, those who embrace their Virtue, and those that bemoan their Virtue. Both Vice and Virtue can be inconvenient for the vampire in question, and the perception of the Clan could benefit greatly from the downsides of them coming more to the head. All of this, by the way, not even getting into the many different kinds of Vice or Virtue that could be chosen.

    To be continued...



  • #2
    I've always felt that the main issue for most with the racist/ethnical aspect of the Ravnos has seemed to be the Romani connection and the Vice weakness.

    But the gypsy connection was diminished quite a long time ago, and have kept being written as a minor part of the clan from VDA and Revised and forward.

    And the Vice weakness making them criminals? To me that is just not true, and seem to be a limitation in imagination rather. A vice might make someone a compulsive liar, sinner, manipulator etc. But only if the vice is formulated into stealing, abuse or murder as a consequence does it turn someone into a criminal stereotype.

    So, yes, the clans stereotypical limitations does rather seem to lie amongst the players and storyteller than inherently within the rules.


    Comment


    • #3
      Well since being a shifty a-hole transcends race, clans and creed why not just give them a new flaw.

      How about unlucky or cursed , any ones rolled by people around them are doubled or some other type of flaw that just causes bad shit to happen when they are around for longer then a night.

      That way they are still nomadic not because they are viewed as thieves and lairs but just horrible accidents waiting to happen.


      You've been playing around the magic that is black
      But all the powerful magical mysteries never gave a single thing back

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      • #4
        ...continued.

        Let's talk about Vice and Virtue. Of course the Ravnos are all going to come off as criminals when every Ravnos character takes "Stealing" as their Vice. I prefer, however, to treat Vices less as "Crimes" and more as "Sins". They are compulsions towards exercising a particular moral failing. In that model, you have the entire Seven Deadly Sins to choose from, and dozens of additional Vices to choose from depending on what other religions see as sinful. To Islam, for example, Slander and Obscenity are sinful, so an Islamic Ravnos might be compelled to smear people's names, or go on swearing tirades. Avarice is a common sin, but that can take multiple forms, whether it be theft, charging exorbitant prices for service, or being overly stingy. The latter might even consider Vitae within that reluctance to part with resources, with a Storyteller mandating the player roll just to spend blood points when their life is not on the line (and maybe even then).

        A Wrathful Ravnos has to deal with compulsions to get even, on top of the threat of Frenzy. A Vain Ravnos might need to roll to stop from staring into every mirror, practically turning them into a Toreador. A Slothful Ravnos can't be bothered hunting, and might instead rely on their Animalism to bring blood to him, which could cause attentive Cainites to take notice of where all the animals keep gathering. Laziness could also make them morally lazy; they default to degeneration so easily, and regaining Humanity (or other Path/Road) is so much more of a chore. This could also make a Slothful Ravnos an ideal quest giver: they can't bring themselves to solve their own problems, so they get the player coterie to do it. And forget traveling from town to town. A Deceitful Ravnos cannot speak the truth to save their life, and when everything from your mouth is a lie, that life is not always secure. A Gluttonous Ravnos who must roll to avoid feeding to satiation, regardless of how little blood their vessel can spare.

        Then there are the Virtues. An Honest Ravnos who cannot lie to save his life (or the Masquerade). A Chaste Ravnos for whom seduction is simply not an option, because even going through the motions requires effort. A Charitable Ravnos who must give money to every bum they meet, and must resist the urge to refuse a request for aid. A Diligent Ravnos who must see a job done to completion, regardless of risk to herself or the time/resource investment involved. For whom "good enough" is never good enough. A Merciful Ravnos who is compelled to let their enemies live, or (for a different value of mercy) who cannot let a person continue to suffer. A Kind Ravnos who must smile through their teeth, even with their hated enemy, and must exercise will to act with spite or malice. A Humble Ravnos who finds it difficult to assert themselves and their position; for whom advancement in the Jyhad is a chore, as they cannot sing their praises or take credit for a job well done. A Courageous Ravnos, who cannot run away from a fight, regardless of how hopeless the odds or meaningless the potential victory. A Just Ravnos, who is compelled to right wrongs wherever they see it, and thus makes an enemy of all other Cainites.

        The Ravnos can cause endless moral and political drama, simply because of their compulsion to either do good or do evil (or to avoid doing good or evil). Some embrace their compulsions - many Dark Age Ravnos will find themselves on the Roads of Heaven or Sin, Kings or Beast, as a framework that justifies or encourages this behavior. Others will resist their compulsions, finding whether spitefully, penitently, or pragmatically.


        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Dwight View Post
          Well since being a shifty a-hole transcends race, clans and creed why not just give them a new flaw.

          How about unlucky or cursed , any ones rolled by people around them are doubled or some other type of flaw that just causes bad shit to happen when they are around for longer then a night.

          That way they are still nomadic not because they are viewed as thieves and lairs but just horrible accidents waiting to happen.
          No offense, Dwight, but that sounds far more dull and uninteresting. Especially compared to the wealth of possibilities to be found in a person compelled towards the heights of morality or the depths of depravity. Especially especially because the exact nature of that Vice or Virtue can differ wildly from Ravnos to Ravnos, and from culture to culture.

          Because as it turns out, the nature of "shitty a-hole" behavior depends wildly on race, creed, and locale. And the Ravnos could embody any of them.

          Being just unlucky can get repetitive. And unfun. It's basically license for the Storyteller to shit on any player who chose a Ravnos character, at any time.


          Comment


          • #6
            No, saying "write the Ravnos out completely" or "change everything about them so they might as well be a new Clan entirely" are not valid answers. We could do that, but it's ignoring the problem.
            I'm sorry, but yeah, it's totally the answer. VtM has way too many clans. US has two major political parties. Camarilla has seven. Seven, Carl! With the entire vampire population of the world being less than population of New York. This is one of the things that VtR got absolutely right - there are only five clans and the "Sunday Night Bloodweiser Society" bloodline is literally just four vampires in Montenegro - not an international conspiracy with worldshaking agenda, nineteen castes and seventy four secret societies.

            You give Chimerstry to Brujah because making people see rice as maggots is something Lost Boys did, you already have Gangrel wearing the hat of a lone wanderer, and you already have cleptomaniac Malkavians trolling people and stealing shit. I see literally zero reasons for Ravnos to exist.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by IgnyteZero View Post
              But the gypsy connection was diminished quite a long time ago, and have kept being written as a minor part of the clan from VDA and Revised and forward.
              Originally posted by V20
              Appearance
              Young Ravnos often come from Eastern European Romani stock, with a relative paucity of "non-gypsy" gadje in the ranks.
              Come on, mate. At least try.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Mahasamatman View Post


                Come on, mate. At least try.
                Admittedly that "often" word there is indeed troublesome. But in the whole negligeable.

                DAV Guide to Low Clans, Revised Clanbook and Lore of the clans kinda override that bs if you ask me. Just like every clan is oversimplified in the small splats of the core books.
                Last edited by IgnyteZero; 03-01-2016, 04:30 AM.


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                • #9
                  Originally posted by IgnyteZero View Post

                  Admittedly that "almost" word there is indeed troublesome. But in the whole negligeable.

                  DAV Guide to Low Clans, Revised Clanbook and Lore of the clans kinda override that bs if you ask me. Just like every clan is oversimplified in the small splats of the core books.
                  ^This. The advantage we have is that we don't need to have the Ravnos be narrowly defined. Or racist. We can do like the more recent books do, and insist that the Ravnos come from all walks of life. And if a newer book slips up and regresses to "Ravnos Are Predominantly Gypsies", we can ignore it. We are, in fact, allowed to decide for ourselves what the Ravnos are all about. The Golden Rule was created to give players and Storytellers leave to dismiss whole swaths of official material in favor of our own, or in favor of other, better official material.

                  It's why Ravnos having either a Vice or Virtue is the standard, at least in my book. I'll never go back, because I've lost nothing and gained so much more. It's also why we all collectively ignore the First Edition Ravnos weakness. The one where they exude an aura of evil, or some crap. Even White Wolf ignored it.


                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Bluecho View Post
                    It's also why we all collectively ignore the First Edition Ravnos weakness. The one where they exude an aura of evil, or some crap. Even White Wolf ignored it.
                    White Wolf ignored it so much they made it the default weakness of one of the five clans in Requiem. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say the main reason why the original Ravnos weakness was changed was because it was considered to have too much overlap with the Nosferatu weakness. The idea to replace their unnatural (not evil) aura with a compulsion for crime and vice was so much worse, though, because of their unnecessarily heavy Roma association. The decision magnified the initial problems of the Ravnos tenfold.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Elphilm View Post
                      White Wolf ignored it so much they made it the default weakness of one of the five clans in Requiem. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say the main reason why the original Ravnos weakness was changed was because it was considered to have too much overlap with the Nosferatu weakness. The idea to replace their unnatural (not evil) aura with a compulsion for crime and vice was so much worse, though, because of their unnecessarily heavy Roma association. The decision magnified the initial problems of the Ravnos tenfold.
                      "Everyone hates Roma because they are magically evil" is much worse than "Everyone hates Nosferatu because they are magically evil" because Roma are actual fucking people who are subject to actual fucking prejudice. The only reason we are not having "Clan Giovanni going beyond racism" threads is because there is very little prejudice against Italians in 2016. But Nosferatu are a made up class of people that doesn't require you to check in your race card before joining.

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                      • #12
                        When the original writeup specifically emphasizes that the Ravnos are shunned by the Romani people -- just like they are shunned by mortals in general -- because of their unnatural aura, it requires an actively malicious reading to interpret the weakness as "the Roma are magically evil."

                        The problem is, of course, not the weakness itself, but the writers' insistence that the Ravnos embrace Roma exclusively in some parts of the world. Any weakness you could come up with could be spun negatively as long as that remains a facet of the clan. However, "supernaturally disconcerting" is still a better vampire weakness than "compulsory criminals and/or sinners," with or without ethnic associations.
                        Last edited by Elphilm; 03-01-2016, 10:06 AM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Elphilm View Post
                          However, "supernaturally disconcerting" is still a better vampire weakness than "compulsory criminals and/or sinners," with or without ethnic associations.
                          Can't really agree there. Why would it be? "Supernaturally disconcerting" isn't nearly as interesting from a character perspective as having to work against your own inner self. Especially in a game of "personal horror".


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                          • #14
                            Having an "unnatural presence" isn't really interesting by itself, but when it's coupled with the social nature of the Ravnos, I do find it rather compelling -- these are creatures that feed on companionship but are doomed to be shunned by those whose company they crave for.

                            A struggle with one's inner self can naturally be intriguing as well, but that can be phrased in better ways than "addicted to crime." Expanding the focus of the weakness to both vices and virtues in V20DA is definitely an improvement.
                            Last edited by Elphilm; 03-01-2016, 10:24 AM.

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                            • #15
                              I like the Vice or Virtue focus of the V20DA weakness, that just feels like a much better weakness all around.

                              The Racism aspect is more difficult to excise simply because there's so much built up over the years, that the clan is essentially gutted of the vast majority of it's fluff. Even if you pretend that the whole evil vampire Roma thing never happened, they're then "The Indian Vampire Caste Clan" which is STILL racist, even if it's possibly less racist (though "less racist" is still racist and just because I'm offended more by one version of racism that doesn't make something I'm less offended by okay). What could have been better is if the Ravnos had a history of embracing and involving themselves with outcasts of every kind and at every level of society. It would still have needed a better hand at "not being racist" than I could honestly trust the former writers with having, or a better touch than I expect from the current writers - There's just so much racism built into the Ravnos and White-Wolf/Onyx Path has a history of being unwilling to invalidate previously written material to the degree necessary to excise that racism that I don't think it can be done.

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