Blood and Bourbon
Theme and Mood
“Way down in New Orleans, it’s the same old thing.”
All the conveniences of modern industry, yet neighboring architecture gothic and old-fashioned enough to make even the eldest Kindred comfortable. Famous hauntings and numerous Vodouisants—perfect cover for accidental violations of the First Tradition. A wild-party atmosphere that cloaks the city’s own moribund core, an unbelievably high murder rate and a tourist population nearly double that of the city’s actual census—enough to make even the undead feel alive, if ever so briefly. Indeed, the whole city is utterly vampiric.
New Orleans is a twisted reflection of the Requiem itself, and a perfect home for the Kindred. The city is an endless blend of debauchery and faith, of joy and terror. Massive cathedrals loom over the streets, their doors offering comfort, but their silhouettes become fearful in the glow of flickering streetlights. Rosaries compete with dice and cards, and the wine that flows is only occasionally for communion. It is a dichotomy seemingly built into the city itself;—inescapable, a product of the fear that grows nightly in these desperate, modern times. Year after year, New Orleans sinks ever deeper into the Louisiana swamps. The very soul of the city itself knows that its time is limited, and that desperation manifests in its populace as both wild abandon and religious fervor. Where go the mortals, so follow the Kindred, and New Orleans’ undead factions whirl ever more swiftly about one another in a war of faith versus faith, old versus new and hope versus fear. New Orleans has a grim past and an uncertain future—a twisted reflection, indeed, for the Kindred nightly face both a grim future and an uncertain past.
Remember that this is not entirely the New Orleans you know, or think you know. This is the World of Darkness, and few cities earn that appellation as well as the Big Easy. The swamp, its hunger undeniable, reaches up to reclaim New Orleans at a much faster rate. The New Orleans of this world is even more crowded, particularly in the neighborhoods of the poor and disenfranchised. It boasts even more sinners, native and tourist alike, who indulge in even greater binges of every vice imaginable. Crime is a simple fact of life, violence a nightly—and in some neighborhoods, hourly—occurrence. The rich dwell in palatial estates in the Garden District, mirroring the soul, if not the façade, of the old plantations. The poor know all too well that, decades of effort and Abraham Lincoln aside, they might as well still be slaves. And in both populations, the Kindred fatten on not merely the blood but also the despair—parasites on a dying body, too wrapped up in their own affairs to see how utterly meaningless it all is.
Welcome to New Orleans, a city of the damned—even without the presence of the Kindred.
If we were to set about creating a brand-new fictional city to personify the aesthetic of Vampire, we could not do better than New Orleans. Few cities embody the Gothic-Punk aesthetic as well as the Big Easy. It is the old intertwined with the new, the fearsome with the holy. Hoary cathedrals boast fearsome gargoyles and stained glass windows in intricate and often disturbing patterns. Ornate aboveground tombs fill the city’s cemeteries, large and complex enough to be their own cities and have their own street signs. The droning of prayer lies beneath the sounds of traffic, a solemn undertone that promises no relief in this life—and almost certain damnation in the next. In New Orleans, faith stands front and center, prevalent in almost every aspect of everyday life, yet it offers little hope. And hope itself, so fleeting and fragile a promise in even the best of times, is itself something to be feared.
Like the Kindred, New Orleans is a creature of dichotomy. Founded on faith, it is home to two separate thriving religions, boasting a Catholic majority and a significant Vodoun minority. Yet, it is known far and wide as a city of vice, drawing millions of tourists who come to shed their inhibitions and partake in activities the likes of which they might never consider back home among their families, friends and employers. Many of them return injured in spirit, if not in flesh, and some do not return at all. New Orleans is a city that perverts what is good and exalts what is perverted.
New Orleans is, in a very real sense, a vampire itself.
The primary theme at work in New Orleans is paradox. The city was built on religion, and yet it has become synonymous with depravity and sin. It is a glittering Mecca for the living and for life, yet the dead continue to hold as great a sway as they ever have. Like the striking harlequin masks one sees floating through her streets, New Orleans wears a dual face—the light and dark, the agony and ecstasy. This stark juxtaposition parallels itself again in the world of the Kindred, where the city’s devoutly faithful Prince tries to enforce order amid a sea of chaos. Through unwavering enforcement of the Traditions, he has managed to keep overt Kindred conflict to a minimum, but at a mortal cost some believe too high—New Orleans is the murder capitol of the world and has been for many years. Given the Prince’s increasingly extreme policies, the city seems intent on carrying its title into the foreseeable future, and given the barbarity that exists elsewhere in the World of Darkness, this grim claim only grows all the more unsettling.
As it cannot help but do, the city’s theme plays into its overall mood. Perhaps the best metaphor to ascribe to New Orleans would be to liken her to a manic-depressive partygoer, one who experiences wild temperamental swings between positively Alpine highs and the lowest of abyssal lows, all in the course of one long night of saturnalia. The difference is that in New Orleans, the party never stops—and neither do the mood swings. This manic disposition engenders some truly frenzied revelry, but it also results in tragedy. Those who wish to partake of the city are wise to be wary of on which side of the pendulum they stand, lest they get caught in its path.
Chronicles set in New Orleans should follow this pattern. Everything is a double-edged sword, nearly every up trailed by a down. Every cause proves ultimately futile, every faction internally corrupt (or ineffective, which, to the Kindred, is even worse.) The characters should have little enough trouble feeding here, for New Orleans is practically a buffet of kine, but what will they have to do to earn their hunting grounds? Whom must they serve, and can they stomach doing so—or do they have the ability to rise above their peers and make a place for themselves? New Orleans’ Kindred have no good options, merely those that are less distasteful.