Blood and Bourbon
“The world is an incomprehensible place where beams happen to fall, and are predestined to fall, and are toppled over by malevolent powers; a world ruled by chance, fate and God, the malign thug. But everyday life is just as terrifying and treacherous. The dominant economic reality is depression, which usually means a frightened little guy in a rundown apartment with a hungry wife and children, no money, no job, and desperation eating him like a cancer—and those are the lucky ones.”
“The dominant political reality is a police force made up of a few decent cops and a horde of sociopaths licensed to torture and kill, whose outrages are casually accepted by all concerned, not least by the victims. The prevailing emotional states are loneliness and fear. Events take place in darkness, menace breathes out of every corner of the night.”
“Life’s hard and ugly enough for either of our kind without yours making it worse.”
—Louis Fontaine, ghoul detective, to Caroline Malveaux
Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition says:
The Gothic aspect of the setting is very much in the literary tradition of the word. Gothic literature paints a world of anachronisms, barbarism, decay, madness,and a romanticized history that never existed. In the ultramodern context of Vampire, we see it in the churches whose spires soar skyward, in the avarice and treachery of the wealthy who enjoy great comfort, in the crumbling architecture of the cities and the way nature reclaims the places forgotten or abandoned by men. A tenement erected at the turn of the 20th century, fronted by dingy, fluted columns and infested with squatters, is a neo-gothic rookery. A merciless millionaire’s estate on the edge of town is a modern castle, as is his lavish penthouse in the bustling district where mortals go to dance and drug away their cares. A mad priest offers succor to those members of his flock tormented by “monsters,” the ivy-choked cemetery where velvet-clad sensualists recite poetry and seduce the shades of the departed, the graffiti-tagged warehouse docks where the skinheads torment their victims: All of these and more are hallmarks of the modern gothic experience.
Punk, on the other hand, refers to the context in which people experience their world. It’s about anger, about getting in someone’s face and saying “No more.” It’s about refusing to be ignored and stepping on some motherfucker’s toes to get your point across. As a result, conflict is everywhere, from the gang wars that plague the streets to the self-serving movements in the back rooms of governments and corporations. It runs in scale from the clash of cultures where domains overlap to the desperate, personal struggle of a mother who can’t afford to feed her crying child or the struggle between a junkie and his drug of choice. Rebellion is everywhere, and just living another day to spit in the face of what the long-shadowed World of Darkness has to offer is an act of defiance. Everyone opposes something, and the punk element of the setting is the dramatic fulfillment of that opposition.
Ultimately, you will decide the details the Gothic-Punk ambiance of your vampire stories. The setting may pale in importance to the narrative events of your chronicle, or the city and its components may become like a character themselves. Whatever the case, your vampires are a product of their environment, and every scene you and your troupe describe reflects this.
Vampire: The Masquerade Revised Edition says:
“Gothic-Punk” is perhaps the best way to describe the physical nature of the World of Darkness. The environment is a clashing mixture of styles and influences, and the tension caused by the juxtaposition of ethnicities, social classes and subcultures makes the world a vibrant, albeit dangerous, place.
The Gothic aspect describes the ambiance of the World of Darkness. Buttressed buildings loom overhead, bedecked with classical columns and grimacing gargoyles. Residents are dwarfed by the sheer scale of architecture, lost amid the spires that seem to grope toward Heaven in an effort to escape the physical world. The ranks of the Church swell, as mortals flock to any banner that offers them a hope of something better in the hereafter. Likewise, cults flourish in the underground,promising power and redemption. The institutions that control society are even more staid and conservative than they are in our world, for many in power prefer the evil of the world they know to the chaos engendered by change. It is a divisive world of have and have not, rich and poor, excess and squalor.
The Punk aspect is the lifestyle that many denizens of the World of Darkness have adopted. In order to give their lives meaning, they rebel, crashing themselves against the crags of power. Gangs prowl the streets and organized crime breeds in the underworld, reactions to the pointlessness of living “by the book.” Music is louder, faster, more violent or hypnotically monotonous, and supported by masses who find salvation in its escape. Speech is coarser, fashion is bolder, art is more shocking, and technology brings it all to everyone at the click of a button. The world is more corrupt, the people are spiritually bankrupt, and escapism often replaces hope.
Changeling 2nd edition says:
Fast food debris and crumpled newspapers skitter along the street, pushed along by the gray day’s chill wind. Sales clerks and secretaries, released by the late hour from their cubicles, scurry out into the streets, navy and slate coats pulled tightly around them as they make their way to their high-rise boxes. Traffic stalls at each light, fuming clouds of exhaust half-hiding the plodding pedestrians. A vagrant skulks near a dumpster, his thinning hair plastered to his scalp by dirty snow. Meanwhile, high above the city, secure in glass and metal fortresses, captains of industry count their coins, greedy eyes shining in their sterile boardrooms. Arms dealers chuckle, waving fistfuls of money, little caring for the slaughter brought about by their sales. Goth children, swathed in black, pale faces searching for something to believe in, gyrate desperately to the music pounding away the emptiness. Gliding through concealing shadows, vampires smile sardonically at these wannabe dark souls, awaiting the feast that is to come. A beaten, abandoned child moans in her nightmares, pulling her cardboard box closer around her as she cries. Cityscape in early winter, the World of Darkness. Like our mundane world, but made a little darker, a little more terrifying.
Vampire: The Requiem 1st Edition says:
Once you decide where to set your chronicle, take that location and translate it into the World of Darkness. Exaggerate the negative in a real-world city to turn it into a hellhole.
Make the slums, barrios and other low-income neighborhoods poorer and more dilapidated. More buildings are vacant, except for squatters. Gang tags and other graffiti are everywhere, the only new paint any building has seen in decades. Many buildings, even people’s homes, have broken windows covered with boards or plastic sheeting. The streets glitter with broken glass while garbage chokes the alleys. The only evidence of money comes from the pimps and drug dealers who cruise around in flashy cars. Most people don’t meet another’s eyes, and they talk as little as possible as they try to avoid the notice of the young toughs who swagger about in gang colors. Boom boxes, screaming arguments, car alarms and the occasional gunshot provide the soundtrack.
Affluent residential neighborhoods hold their own inhumanity. Blocks of apartments or condominiums are built like fortresses. Suburban homes look like they were cloned, with no trace of individuality. Anyone who can afford it lives in a gated community, behind high concrete walls topped with barbed wire or broken glass, and an armed guard at the gate. The very richest people can live in luxurious penthouse suites or private, walled estates — rather more common in the World of Darkness than in most real, contemporary cities.
Strip away any trace of beauty or humanity from the business districts. Skyscrapers become brutal monoliths faced with blank, featureless steel, stone, concrete or glass, or fearsome gargoyles jut from their crenellations. At night, the streets are deserted except for homeless people huddled on grates or in alleys. Let a businessperson have to walk a ways, though, instead of driving into and out of a skyscraper’s guarded, underground parking garage, and human wolves appear like magic to demand money. Away from the financial towers, some businesses stay open: bars, strip clubs, nightclubs and X-rated video parlors, with the occasional convenience store or gas station. Out in the suburbs, massive iron security grilles turn the closed shops and offices of strip malls into lines of prison cells.
The industrial district becomes a barren wasteland of crumbling brick, concrete factories and warehouses. Most of the industries shut down long ago, leaving towering machines to rust and collapse onto poison-soaked dirt or asphalt.
Now and then, one comes across relics of a more gracious past, or at least a past with more ornamental tastes. An old church might nestle in between grim office blocks, its stained glass and carved stone more astonishing by the contrast. Older retail blocks still show fancy brickwork and molded concrete, albeit grimy and eroded by time and neglect.
As you design your World of Darkness city, think of places where Kindred might dwell or congregate. Museums, opera houses and other “cultural” locations work well for Elysiums, but so do old rail or bus terminals built in elegant Art Deco or earlier gingerbread style. Feel free to change your urban landmarks to make them more atmospheric: a derelict train station instead of a new one, for instance. Ruined churches are too perfectly symbolic to ignore. Buildings left unfinished and abandoned also convey the despair of the World of Darkness.
General Features of the World of Darkness
As a general principle, keep the ambiance of the World of Darkness in mind as you design your setting. For the Kindred, this world is even darker and deadlier than it is for mortals. Consider these guidelines for setting the tone of your chronicle:
• The Death of Virtue: People know they live in a decaying, vice-riddled world. They’ve learned it from centuries of greed and lies from leaders in business, government, religion and every other institution. Cynicism and despair saturate the culture, from tags on the walls to movies in the theaters. Everyone knows that virtues such as compassion and charity mark one as a sucker, ready to be victimized, while justice and faith are words used by scoundrels to hide their sins. True selflessness, love or honor is more rare and precious than diamonds.
• No More Good Guys: Did they ever really exist at all? Modern mortals certainly have no one to inspire them. The media has caught possible heroes in sex scandals or taking bribes, or maybe destroyed their reputations just to create a story. Local community leaders sold out or died in the endemic urban violence. The precious few people who genuinely seek to make the world a better place remain voices in the wilderness, their good works obscured by the torrent of cynicism and sleaze.
• Violence and Fear: Crime is omnipresent and life is cheap, especially for the young. The poor lash out from frustration and greed, with well-heeled criminals as their antiheroes. Bored rich kids look for thrills in violence and drugs. At every level of society, people find no shortage of other groups to blame — other races, other classes or just people who like other things.
• Isolation: Many families and neighborhoods adopt a siege mentality against the rest of the world, convinced that they live surrounded by enemies who want to strip them of whatever they have. Those who are well to do hide behind walls, gates and security systems, sending their children to private schools, careful to avoid anyone outside their class. The less affluent watch out for gangs and stay away from windows, especially at night, lest they become targets. Everyone watches TV instead of talking to neighbors. Churches, clubs and other social groups merely give people a chance to hide from the world together, with a few people who think like them.
• Madness: In a mad world, why not go mad yourself? Insanity takes many forms in the World of Darkness. Sometimes it’s obvious, like a bag lady talking to herself as she roots through a dumpster, or a junkie ranting through his withdrawal on a street corner. Some forms of madness hide themselves, like the affable family man who molests his daughters. Other lunacies grow from isolation and fear, such as fanatical racism or other forms of bigotry. Many people seek escape through the temporary madness of drugs.