The vyig are a criminal fraternity, founded in Varushka, that once threatened to overtake the city of Temeschwar and the League. Their power has been broken several times, but each time - after a respite - they have reappeared.
Their most famous setback came at the hands of the Temeschwari boyar Ratibor, shortly before the foundation of the Empire. The criminal gangs that would serve as the foundation of the vyig were thieves and assassins who operated with open impunity. Thousands of inhabitants were linked with the different gangs who used tattoos to mark membership and enforce loyalty. In the end Ratibor hired a force of Varushkan mercenaries and brought them in secret into the city during the depths of winter. In the notorious night of a thousand torches (named for the torches the soldiers carried to light their way) every inhabitant of the city was turned out of their beds, stripped and searched for marks. Anyone with a tattoo on their body was given a few minutes to collect their belongings before being forced from the city into the frozen snows beyond the walls. A few managed to bribe their way past the search but most were given over to the winter and were never seen again. The act was one of monstrous brutality, but it established the power of Ratibor as boyar and broke the power of the criminal gangs.
The few survivors of the purge were united by a burning hatred of the law that had brought them down, and when the city of Temeschwar joined the League - and through it, the Empire - they transferred their wrath to the structures of Imperial law. It is unclear how much influence the vyig actually have, and it has proved difficult to gather much concrete information about them, but it is certain that for the last four hundred years there have been tattooed criminals operating on the outskirts and in the shadows, especially in the cities of the League and some of the southern Varushkan vales.
Much of what follows is conjecture, often gleaned from the testimony of unreliable sources whose terror of the vyig was unquestioned. Much of the truth about the vyig has been obscured by myth and legend - take for example the song Uncle Vyig, a "fun song about terrible things."
The vyig are a fairly closed culture who value iron self control and a capacity for violence or graft. They are contemptuous of Imperial law, but cleave to a harsh honour code of their own. Those who wish to join must undergo a ritual which tattoos their skin. More senior members gain more tattoos, usually commemorating specific criminal or violent deeds. While not everyone with a tattoo is a member of the vyig, everyone in the vyig has tattoos. The organisation is based in Temeschwar, but occasionally recruits fresh blood from "the old country" of Varushka.
They detest the law, and hold a special hatred for Imperial Magistrates, and take great pleasure in murdering members of the militia - although such behaviour often leads to their exposure and the destruction of their cell. Many of their members embrace a narrative in which they are part of a special band of brothers and sisters, destined to take what they want from a world that constantly mistreats and misjudges them. Strangely, however, many vyig are deeply religious, and are often less tolerant of heresy or profanity than many firebrand priests. Of course, they have a very self-serving view of religion, excusing their own misdeeds, or interpreting them as virtuous, but it cannot be denied that they embrace many tenets of the Way especially loyalty, prosperity and an especially twisted version of vigilance.
Members refer to each other as "Good Brother" or "Good Sister". Leaders are referred to as "Czar" or "Czarina", or more informally "Good Uncle" or "Good Aunt". A historical slang term for organised crime was "Uncle Vyig" - as seen in phrases such as "Uncle Vyig has his hands in my pocket again" or "Uncle Vyig has told me not to talk to you, militiaman."
All communication takes place face-to-face, and trust between members is everything. An informer will suffer an exceptionally painful death - a common method of dispatching someone who betrays the organisation is to force them to watch as members of their family are force-fed a caustic concoction of beggar's lye before they themselves are tortured to death. Lesser transgressions against the group are often punished by the application of beggar's lye to burn away specific tattoos, leaving disfiguring scars.
Vyig take a pride in never engaging in honest exchange; as far as they are concerned, labour is for peasants. A true vyig takes what they want and doles out what they feel is appropriate. While they are undoubtedly brutal, frequent purges have taught them to be circumspect and look for allies in high places.
As an organisation they are always trying to expand, usually by beating and absorbing other criminal enterprises. Indeed, some magistrates have theorised that the vyig actually help discourage organised criminal endeavour in the Empire by immediately moving to absorb or destroy any underworld group that begins to establish itself. Due to their codes, Czars cannot interact with high Imperial society, so they have a desperate need of respectable faces to represent their interests.
Vyig despise merchants and haggling; rather they exchange "gifts". A gift is always suitable to the respect they feel they are owed - offering too little in return for a vyig's gift is a slap in the face, offering too much is a sign of weakness.
It is difficult to guess at the resources the vyig have available to them. At various times they have maintained a criminal network stretching across the League, with outposts as far afield as Meade, Siroc and even the Urizen settlement of Cargo in Redoubt. However, only a minority of the criminals who operate under their aegis are true vyig; the rest are just gang members that they have "recruited".
They rarely use coin directly, preferring to deal in stolen or smuggled goods. They maintain facilities for providing illegal services, and are adept at the use of fear and intimidation to encourage others to act on their behalf.
During the Winter Solstice 378YE, the Imperial Senate outlawed the Vyig, and made it a crime not only only to be a member but to possess Vyiv tattoos. A citizen found to have such tattoos can be prosecuted, and the minimum sentence will involve the defacing of those tattoos by the magistrates.
The vyig in play
The vyig are ruthless criminals who are actively persecuted by Imperial law. While they may romanticise their behaviour, in actuality they are greedy, vicious thugs. They have no allies - everyone is either a pawn or a rival - and their leadership is cloaked in shadow. If you wish to include the vyig in your character background, they make excellent antagonists - someone who has intentionally or accidentally interfered in one of their schemes is likely to earn their undying enmity. Anyone who has connections to Imperial law enforcement may have run afoul of the vyig or one of their schemes.
However, they are not a single monolithic organisation - individual groups of vyig adhere to the same code of honour, but as far as anyone can tell there is no "big boss" who coordinates all vyig activity across the Empire. While they are not really intended to be player characters, and there are massive downsides to playing characters who consider themselves part of the vyig, it is not an unacceptable character choice. A vyig group is most likely to be either League or Varushkan in nature, and should expect to be arrested within a few events. Worse, the vyig are likely to view any group calling themselves "vyig" who regularly associate with Imperial law as traitors - and as pointed out above, they take a very dim view of traitors.
The vyig are most active in the League, but they are a potential threat to people across the Empire. They are not a threat to the Empire itself, however - at the end of the day they are only criminals. While some may hate the Empire and want to bring it down, they are absolutely without the resources to achieve it - although they have plenty of resources needed to make a citizen's life miserable, or to unleash a crime wave that might threaten a town or League city. However, they know from past experience that when they act openly, they immediately draw the Imperial law down on their heads and the law is implacable and largely uncorruptible.
Finally, it should be clear that the Empire actually knows very little about the inner workings of the vyig. Their members fierce code, and their cruel treatment of informers, means that many would prefer to die rather than reveal the secrets of the organisation. The information presented here is only common knowledge; it should be enough to include the vyig in a character background, or to use them as antagonists at sanctioned events, but there are plenty of mysteries about the vyig that have yet to be revealed.