The World of Darkness is not our world. This is easy to forget, as upon the surface, it is much the same. It has the same culture, the same history, the same geography (mostly). Superficially, most people in this fictional world live the same lives we do. They eat the same food; wear the same clothes, and waste time watching the same stupid TV shows. And yet, in the World of Darkness, shadows are deeper, nights are darker, fog is thicker. If, in our world, a neighborhood has a rundown house that gives people the creeps, in the World of Darkness, that house emits strange sighs on certain nights of the year, and seems to have a human face when seen from the corner of one’s eye. Or so some neighbors say. In our world, there are urban legends. In the World of Darkness, there are urban legends whispered into the ears of autistic children by invisible spiders.
But to say that the World of Darkness is our world with added werewolves and vampires is to simplify matters too much. Because remember how I said it had the same culture, the same history, the same geography… mostly?
It has the same culture, but not quite. The World of Darkness is a world where Murphy’s Law runs rampant. Everything is just a little… bit… worse. Poverty wears down on the soul more strongly, there are more disappearances in the night, and fewer are solved. No one wants to speak up, for fear of sounding foolish or mad, when they see the man with the too-wide grin waiting outside in the rain, night after night. The World of Darkness is a world where the darkness is more present, and more tolerated.
It has the same history, but also not quite. Historians in our world know that so much of what we think we know about history is in fact a series of conjectures and educated guesses. In the World of Darkness, to add to human error one has malice, and the efforts of a hundred generations of creatures in the shadows working to falsify the past. Perhaps the facts are right, but the reasons are wrong. Why did the French execute King Louis XVI? Or one may turn to the true mysteries. What caused the Tunguska Event? A meteor? Or something more outré, some summoning gone awry, or the first test of Nikola Tesla’s death ray? The World of Darkness is a world which has a secret history.
It has the same geography, but with changes. Isolation comes more cheaply in the World of Darkness, where people don’t look past their own fences for fear of what might be on the other side. There are old houses long abandoned, deep tunnels carved into the earth, forgotten moors and missing islands, concealed by… what? By the callousness of man, by some quirk of the unnatural world, by the diligent effort of those selfsame Masquers. The World of Darkness is a world with dark and hidden places.
Time and again, foul things attack me,
lurking and stalking, but I lashed out,
gave as good as I got with my sword.
My flesh was not for feasting on,
there would be no monsters gnawing and gloating
over their banquet at the bottom of the sea
[spoiler.=The Cosmology of the New World of Darkness]The Cosmology of the New World of Darkness
First and foremost, no one knows how all the planes of existence of NWoD fit together -- not IC, not OOC. The search for a Unified Cosmology Theory is a bit like physicists' search for a Unified Field Theory. Plenty of information about the cosmology is known, plenty more is unknown, and while there's a lot of models, no one can be sure of anything.
Most Western cosmologies are loosely gnostic in structure, which is how this will be organized. Imagine the universe as this great tube or tower. The material world and its attendant planes are on one level, and there is a level above and a level below. Theoretically, there are more levels above and below those, but given the near impossibility of accessing even the neighboring levels, this is pure theory. In our level, there's the material world, surrounded by a set of 'themed' planes (the Shadow, the Underworld), with a Twilight Reflection, and the Astral Realm reaching up above. The levels above and below seem to reflect this to some extent. The Abyss breaks the ladder between our realm and the level above.
The Supernal Realms: The Supernal is a poorly understood set of five planes that exist 'above' the material world. They're realms of platonic truths and higher wisdom. By very definition, 99.99...% of humanity cannot grasp Supernal Truth -- the exceptions are mages, who can access a tiny fragment, which allows them to use their magic. Even then, mages can only understand the Supernal Truth through the filter of symbols (their Paradigms). The five Supernal Realms are Arcadia (the Realm of Fate and Time), Pandemonium (the Realm of the Mind and Space), the Primal Wild (the Realm of Life and Spirit), the Aether (the Realm of Prime/Magic and Forces), and Stygia (the Realm of Death and base Matter). All mages travel the Astral Plane to one of the Supernal Realms when they awaken by virtue of the Watchtowers, but that's the only time they can manage it, because of the Abyss (see below).
The Material Plane: This is basically Earth as we know it, various called the Material Plane, the Physical Realm, the Fallen World, or the Phenomenal World. It occupies the center of the cosmology so far as people are concerned.
Interstitial Terrain: These are what you might call 'pocket dimensions'. They are areas of the Material Plane that do not seem to link up to the rest of the space-time continuum in a traditional fashion (the classic example is the building which is bigger on the inside than the outside). They're usually of limited size, not connected to one another but instead somehow attached or folded into the material plane, and have the same physical properties as the Material Plane, though they may have very strange inhabitants or artifacts in them. They're most associated with angels, though powerful mages have been known to create them as well.
The Twilight: This is a precise reflection of the material world, the material world but a step sideways, so to speak. It's identical to the Material Plane except that it's washed out, cold, and basically uninhabited and lifeless. A building in the Twilight looks exactly the same as one in the Material, except greyed out. This is where ghosts go when they first die, before being pulled down into the Underworld, it's where disembodied demons and spirits hang out when they reach the Material, and so forth. It has no native inhabitants, and even with all the ghosts and such, tends to be pretty barren.
The Astral Plane: The Astral Plane, or more simply the land of dreams, sits in between the Material and the Supernal. This is the world of the human soul, and is the only one that is explicitly created by humanity. It's subdivided in four 'bands' so to speak, which get less individualized as one goes up. The Skein or the Dream is just that -- it's the dream-world that Erin and Lauren are constantly poking around. The Oneiros is the subconscious, highly personal and highly-symbolic dream-world of each individual. The Temenos is the band of collective dreams -- the collective unconscious, so to speak. Here you find things and ideas that are dreamed about by many people at once, such as celebrities or religious figures. Finally, the Animus Mundi or the Dreamtime is the dream of the world as a whole, very primal and very trippy, since it is extremely close to the Supernal Truths of the level above ours. However, passage is blocked by the Abyss.
The Abyss: The Abyss is a kind of null-void that lies between the Material Realm and the Supernal Realm. It's a spiritual-conceptual vacuum, and it produces... snippets of unreality. They're called Abyssal Entities (Intruders when they reach the Material Plane), and can range from everything fairly traditional Lovecraftian horrors or cunning demons, to entire twisted dimensions or pieces of anti-physics and anti-history that degrade reality by their very presence. The general mark of Abyssal horrors is that they try to destroy.
Now, arranged around the Material Plane are a set of attendant planes.
The Shadow: We get into this one later on in greater detail. Basically, it's the realm of concepts and symbols and essences -- it reflects the key concepts/symbols. So a building in the Shadow won't necessarily look very much like the same building in the Material, but it will show whatever is most spiritually/conceptually important (so it might look overgrown with jungle or corroded or possess non-Euclidean architecture). You can find much more on the Shadow here.
The Underworld: This is an afterlife -- after a ghost loses all of its anchors, it falls down here. The upper levels of the Underworld basically look like extremely creepy tunnels, which eventually come out to one of the Rivers of the Underworld (which might flow with water, blood, fire, scorpions...). Afterwards, one enters the Dead Dominions, which are essentially smaller underworlds ruled by Kerberoi, until one eventually reaches the very bottom, which is occupied by the Ocean of Fragments, where a submerged being can lose its identity. A key point is that the Underworld is only where ghosts go -- it's not the afterlife so much as an extended stop along the way to whatever the real afterlife is. People that don't leave ghosts don't show up in the Underworld.
Arcadia: This is the realm of the True Fae, and may be the same as the Supernal Arcadia -- or may not be. It's subdivided into a significant number of realms which belong to the True Fae, who are like local gods there. Arcadian Realms can look like quite nearly anything under the sun, but they're characterized by the presence of the Gentry and their Changeling slaves. Arcadia is excruciatingly dangerous to visit.
The Hedge: The Hedge is a thick barrier between the Material Plane and changeling-Arcadia. It's an eternal, endless maze of soul-consuming thorns and a subjective notion of distance -- go deep enough and you hit Arcadia. It's inhabitants are hobgoblins, an endlessly bizarre assortment of creatures out of the Grimm Brothers' worst nightmares.
Inferno/Hell: Hell is the domain of demons -- who are a distinct subspecies of creature that feeds on vice and corruption. Key point: While Abyssal horrors and demons are both very bad, an abyssal horror wants to destroy, while a demon wants to corrupt and control. Demons like the world quite a lot, they just want to rule it. Going to Inferno is not an option. Looking into it through a portal is an instant Derangement check, people who visit do not come back.
Empyrean: In theory, according to the Gnostic cosmology, there should also be a realm of angels to complete the set of five, parallel to the Aether. If so, no one has been able to reach it or speak with the inhabitants, as angels are likely the most mysterious and little-seen of all beings in the World of Darkness. Links to the Principle of the God-Machine are often theorized but remain unproven.
The Level Below The Lower Depths: This is the level below us, accessible through the very depths of the Underworld and possibly through other paths. It is... empty, and alien, and inhabited by Cthonians, also called the Neverborn, things which are neither alive nor dead in any proper sense. In it's own way it's just as incomprehensible as the Supernal Realms, but significantly less pleasant and even less understood.
What Doesn't Fit Parallel Dimensions: So what are other dimensions? Generally speaking, despite what quantum physicists and the more kooky occultists argue, there appears to be only one real Material Plane. When people speak of other dimensions, they are usually referring to a motley collection of Abyssal anti-worlds, very large Arcadian realms, elaborate dream-worlds, large-scale Interstitial Terrain, and possibly some places quite a bit stranger. That said, nearly everyone agrees that there are other realms out there, and figuring out how all of them fit is a massive and as yet incomplete job.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=The Bestiary of the New World of Darkness]The Bestiary of the New World of Darkness
The key thing to remember is that no one has assembled a complete bestiary of supernatural creatures in the World of Darkness -- not IC, not OOC. If the Cosmology is like the work of physicists, then assembling a Bestiary is like the work of zoologists. Most of the big and prominent creatures are well-known and well-studied, but there's lots of little variations out there waiting to be cataloged, and strange things may yet live in strange places.
Natives Mortals: Mortals are, well, regular people. Human beings without inherent supernatural power, though sometimes with knowledge or unique tricks. Called various mortals, mundanes, Kine, or muggles, most supernatural creatures don't give mortals very much respect, but mortals do have the advantage of numbers and -- if you factor in police and military -- firepower, so everyone steps lightly around them.
Vampires: Broadly speaking, a vampire is a creature that feeds off the life-force of human beings. Traditionally, the term is used to describe a group of undead humans who drink blood, are subdivided into Clans, and call themselves the Kindred, though like most definitions, this one gets fuzzy around the edges as there are certain creatures in existence which consider themselves Kindred and are definitely vampiric, but don't quite fall into the usual five-clan classification (in London, one may look to Rajani Ravindra for one such).
Ghouls: A ghoul is a human or animal who has drunk a vampire's blood and been granted a measure of that vampire's life-energy. Ghouls are invariably blood-addicted and vinculumed, but possess a certain amount of vampiric powers (most notably, they're immortal so long as they get regular blood), but are still mortal and alive.
Mages: A Mage is a human being that has been exposed to a fragment of Supernal knowledge, and is able to filter this knowledge of higher reality through an arcane paradigm (like alchemy or shamanism) in order to affect change in the Material Plane. They are subdivided into Paths, that is, by which of the five Watchtowers (ancient artifacts and beacons located in the Supernal) they used to break into the Supernal, however briefly.
Changelings: A Changeling is a human being who has been taken away to Arcadia by the True Fae, and was able to escape and return home (their captivity is called a Durance). They are invariably altered by the experience, and it's theorized that some or all of their soul was taken away by their captors in order to create a Fetch.
Fetch: A Fetch is a construct created by a True Fae out of whatever materials are on hand, bound with a soon-to-be-changeling's shadow and a dose of faerie magic. Some fetches are perfect replicas of the original person, maybe even better than new. Others are crude and sloppy imitations that lack any vital spark. Most fetches are ignorant of their nature and continue to live out their lives, though some do become self-aware.
Claimed: Possession is when an ephemeral entity takes control of someone's body and goes joyriding about in it. Claiming is when such an entity merges with a human host, creating a hybrid being with a mind derived from both the human and the ephemeral entity (though some level of disassociation is enormously common). More information on Claimed can be found here. Some notable sub-types of Claimed are:
Possessed: More properly the Demon-Possessed, these are mortals who have had a demon take up long-term residence in their bodies. Unlike standard Claimed, the Demon-Possessed actually do have two minds, one demonic and one human.
Sin-Eaters: A Sin-Eater is a human being that has been Claimed, at the moment of death, by a ghost-spirit hybrid known as a Geist. They're rather more durable than regular Claimed, and their minds seem to derive wholly from the human aspect (very rarely does a Geist communicate with its host in any comprehensible fashion).
Shapeshifters: Shapeshifters can be best thought of as 'evolved' or 'naturalized' Claimed. Like Claimed, they're a merging of human and spirit, but over hundreds of generations they've become standardized and streamlined. Relative to Claimed, they're much less crazy and usually less powerful. They're almost always based on animal spirits -- other spirits are just too alien to naturalize in the same way. Werewolves are far and away the most common shapeshifters, making up about 80% globally, though other shapeshifters are regionally prominent. In the British Isles, selkies and water horses are the other native shapeshifters alongside werewolves, and werespiders have recently arrived from West Africa.
Ghosts: When human beings die, especially in a sudden or traumatic fashion, they sometimes leave parts of themselves behind. Ranging from broken, animated after-images unable to do anything but re-enact their death to intelligent, malevolent once-human spirits with power over whatever kind of calamity killed them, the World of Darkness teems with vast numbers of the restless dead. More ghosts exist in the Material Plane than every other supernatural creature put together, but the truly powerful independent specters of legend are rare, as ghosts can only grow to such heights in the Underworld, and must be summoned back to the Material Plane.
Geists: A Geist is a ghost that has had its nature essentialized until it has become a hybrid of a ghost and a spirit of death. They tend to be relatively powerful, but are incoherent and mad even by the lax standards of ghosts and spirits.
Kerberoi: The Kerberoi (singular: Kerberos) are the guardians of the Underworld. They enforce the Laws, and are usually quite powerful creatures. Originally, they may have been ghosts, spirits, or even mortals roped into performing a function, but their duties transform them into alien creatures of Law. They are rarely seen in the Material Plane, only when pursuing a ghost or occultist that has broken the Old Laws of their particular underworld.
Spirits: Animist religions describe the world as being full of spirits, every object, animal and place hiding a spirit within it. They’re partly right; everything in the world apart from humans does cast a spiritual reflection, even transitory events and strong emotions, but all spirits apart from the cunning or a powerful few are confined to a world of their own. Spirits are the manifestations of concepts, whether the concept of rock or lust or car or death -- most are locked away in the Shadow, but some escape to the Material Plane, and a few potent ones are able to make their homes in both realms. More on spirits can be found here.
Angels: Angels are the servants of the God-Machine, and are perhaps the only truly 'native' creatures among the ephemeral entities. When an angel is needed, the God-Machine is as likely to build the angel right there as to direct an existing one to journey to the site. Being essentially tools designed by an intelligent if unknowable creator to fulfill specific functions, angels are far more specialized than spirits or ghosts. They’re also usually more subtle and able to go unnoticed even when Manifested, but are extremely single-minded, aiming to complete the task they’ve been sent for and then vanish. Angels
hunt down individuals who have failed to die at the proper time, acquire replacements for lynchpins that have unexpectedly failed and make corrections to the flow of causality, carefully setting up minor events (the closing of a door, the drop of a pen, a sudden distracting sound at just the right time) that have increasingly large repercussions.
Qashmallim: Servants of the Principle, Qasmallim (singular: Qashmal) are living incarnations of divine fire, directed to the Material Plane to accomplish some grand Mission. Where they come from or why they do what they do is unknown, though they are greatly like angels, purpose-created and directed. In truth, more than a few occultists think that they are angels -- the very little information available on either has enough points of similarity to be suspicious, but also certain points of difference. Qashmallim are even rarer than angels, however.
Fae: The denizens of Arcadia and the Hedge, the Fae are creatures of narrative given form. Where a spirit is the living embodiment of a singular concept (rock, car), a Fae is a much more esoteric thing, a living embodiment of stories, of narrative and drama. Unlike other Outsiders, the Fae are physical things, devoid of souls or spirituality. In addition to the changelings (humans infused with a portion of Fae reality) and Fetches (artifical Fae constructs with a portion of something human), there are also:
True Fae: Called variously the Gentry, the Others, the Keepers, and many other names, these are the demigods of narrative, the Lords of Arcadia. Each one has, essentially, unlimited power -- they create realms where they are sun, moon, and stars, raise mountains and part oceans -- but they limit and fetter themselves like other creatures breathe (because what is the point of a story where the protagonist is omnipotent?) They thrive of conflict and drama, and collect human slaves in vast quantities.
Hobgoblins: This rough classification covers quite nearly everything that lives in the Hedge, from black beasts and whispering sirens to cat-faced hobs and living plants. Hobgoblins are more bound to base matter than the Others, and seem more durable in their nature, though far less powerful. Most are patently inhuman, though it should be noted that it can at times be difficult to tell a mad changeling from a particularly human hobgoblin from a banished and weakened True Fae.
Astral Beings: An astral being is basically any creature that exists in the Astral Realm (the land of dreams). At its broadest, the definition covers all dreamers (who enter Astral space when they dream) as well as changeling dream-travelers, but the term is generally used to refer to the native denizens of the Astral Realm -- creatures born of dreams who sometimes gain an independent existence. They are something like spirits and even more so like Fae, but generally speaking stay in their own Astral Realm. They are sometimes called Incubi, the term formally meaning any astral being that is not native to a given dream-space, and which also covers various oneiromancers.
Abyssal Intruders: The Abyss is this dark anti-universe that separates the Material Plane from the Supernal. Abyssal Intruders are creatures from that hideous void that have somehow managed to infect the Material Plane. They are probably the most diverse of all Outsiders, since they can be just about anything, from tentacled horrors to tempting demons to viral thought-memes to alternate histories and physical laws that overwrite conventional reality. Invariably, their long-term goal is to draw everything into the Abyss (or turn everything into the Abyss), though they can be more subtle and varied in their short-term goals. Gulamoth are Abyssal beings that are willing to make pacts with mortal summoners in exchange for some service, and Acamoth are Abssal beings that are somehow imprisoned or bound in the Material Plane.
Demons: The problem with any formal definition of Demon is that occultists tend to slap the label willy-nilly on any dark creature. Abyssal Intruders, spirits of vice, evil ghosts, dark Astral Entities, the Gentry, Angels diverted from their purpose have all been called Demons in this or that grimoire. That said, there are such things as Demons -- a demon may be considered an ephemeral entity that gains particular power from sin and vice. Most interestingly, other ephemeral entities may become demons by becoming particularly in-tune with sin (ghosts that do so are called Larvals, spirits Immundi, and astral beings Deceptors), and if a proper demonic Testament is written, they become Dominions, the classical demons of yore. Demons are, in some ways, the most comprehensible of all Outsiders, since they are basically selfish and power-hungry, and conversely, usually understand humans better than any other Outsider. A Demon, importantly, is not an Abyssal Intruder -- the former wants to corrupt humanity so as to better itself, while the latter wants to infect and destroy all reality.[/spoiler.]
Given that most supernaturals usually don't stand still for a census, what follows is something of a 'best estimate' about the Britain and Ireland's supernatural populations. [Spoiler.=A Quick Primer on British Locations, for Americans]Foreign media has a tendency to use words like 'England' 'Britain' 'British Isles' all interchangeably, despite their different meanings. The short version is as follows:
The British Isles: This is a geographic term, and refers to the two big islands and lots of little ones off the northeast coast of Europe. Great Britain: Also a geographical term, this is the bigger island, containing the historical nations of England (the center), Wales (the round bit off to the west), and Scotland (up in the north). Ireland: The other island, which contains Northern Ireland (the bit in the northeast that belongs to the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (its own independent state). The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: The name of the country, which consists of the four sub-nations of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Britain is used as a short-hand for either Great Britain or the UK, depending.
Obviously, this all gets muddled up, and people are rarely precise in their terms. That said, calling a Welshman an Englishman will get you punched, while calling them British is completely acceptable and correct (unless they're a Welsh nationalist, in which case you may still get punched). Way more detail for the masochistic can be found here.[/spoiler.]
There are approximately 5,000 people in the full supernatural society of the UK. This number includes the big four of changelings, mages, vampires, and werewolves, as well as selkies, ghouls, and 'clued-in' occultists like Bo Kyungban or Richard Sinclair. This does not include mortal cultists, and this does not include Outsiders such as ghosts (who outnumber everything else by about 100 to 1) or spirits (an entire ecosystem of them, but mostly on the far side of the Gauntlet).
Of these five thousand, about 1200 live in London, split into the various major factions and minor packs and cabals. London outweighs pretty much every other supernatural community in the UK by a factor of ten, and the major factions in London are easily the rivals and often superiors of places that have their own cities or regions.
Another 1500 or so live in the other large supernatural communities, such as the Selkies of Finfolkaheem or the Argent Collegium in Edinburgh. These are usually about 100-200 people each. These places have some semblance of organization, are in loose contact with one another, and have a degree of stability over the years.
Another roughly 1500 live in small groups of 10 to 30 individuals. These are werewolf packs, cabals of mages, lone faerie circles, and so forth. You find them in smaller communities, places where the population doesn't rise over a quarter million. While some of these groups are organized and in contact, more often they have only a cursory knowledge of other supernatural creatures in the world, and their small size means that they are prone to going 'skewed' in ways both mundane (turning into personality cults or adopting weird beliefs) and occult (corruption by the Abyss or similar).
The remainder (maybe 800 souls) live on their own, or at most with one or two others, usually in tiny backwoods corners of the British countryside. Everything said about small groups applies two-fold to these hermits. While some are cosmopolitan retirees from larger supernatural communities, many came into their powers and lived their lives without ever encountering anyone else supernatural, and in this stew of solitude and ignorance it is entirely possible for some very twisted things to occur.
The Republic of Ireland
There are perhaps 1000-1200 supernaturals in Ireland, but the numbers there skew very, very heavily to the Fae. Some 80% of Ireland's supernatural population consists of changelings, with werewolves (often Briar Wolves) and mages (in druidic and witchcraft traditions) making up most of the remainder. With very few exceptions, all swear allegiance to the High Court of Éire.
[spoiler.=The British Isles at a Glance]England The Greater London Area: The home of our game, controlled by the London factions. The Home Counties: Relatively low-supernatural population area, controlled by London factions.
--Brookwood Cemetery: Organized ghosts.
--Canterbury, Kent: The vampire Shadow Archbishop of Canterbury, Francis Rose.
--Oxford, Oxfordshire: Several feuding secret societies, the most stable the Mysterium, Ordo Dracul, and the Keirecheires demonic cult. The Isle of Wight: Azlu East Anglia: Masquerade-light villages following the Old Way (think Wicker Man)
--Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Nasty genius loci The West Country: Technically under the Sodality of the Tor, really a kind of battleground for them, the London factions, the High Court of Éire, and the Sparrowclaw Circle.
--Glastonbury, Somerset: The Sodality of the Tor, GotV-aligned witch lineages, now decayed into infighting and ineffectiveness
--Bath, Somerset: A strange supernatural called the Vampire of Bath, and various other supernaturals who vacation here.
--Quaere, Wiltshire: A large cemetery for supernaturally-charged corpses, run jointly by the London GotV, the Carmarthen Consilium, and the Argent Collegium.
--Stonehenge, Wiltshire: Used to be a powerful ritual area, now drained and ruined. Cornwall & Devon: The Sparrowclaw Circle, a powerful pack of Bale Hounds with allies among vampires and wizards. The Midlands: Revolutionary violence, short-lived rogue states, general chaos
--Birmingham, West Midlands: Used to be the Worshipful Company of Kindred, now it’s a big mass of Carthians infighting (the Brotherhood of Enlightened Self-Interest, the Hive, and the Bodhisatcracy), while the Invictus Birmingham Corporation quietly comes back to power.
--Leicester, Leicestershire: A very new group of Ghost Wolves known as the Pariah Dogs, who have kicked out the vampires. Merseyside, Greater Manchester, and Cheshire: Supernatural crime rings, mostly
--Manchester, Greater Manchester: The Estate is a group of Forsaken human traffickers, and their main rivals are the True Blood, a xenophobic Pure street gang. The Lost Boys, feral changeling street children, are the wild card.
--Liverpool, Merseyside: The wizard Fat Harry Hopkins runs most of the local crime scene, but is opposed by the Red Firm, a spirit cult dedicated to football violence and with heavy werewolf membership. Yorkshire: The Urbiphage, a monstrous ephemeral entity that eats smaller things is the big fish here, and due to general supernatural depopulation, there are a lot of ghosts and spirits.
--Leeds, West Yorkshire: Where the Urbiphage tends to roost.
--York, North Yorkshire: Slightly weird cult in the form of the Society of St. William, which runs York as a safe haven.
--Whitby, North Yorkshire: The Ordo Dracul, who keep Whitby safe but are a bit crazy here. Cumbria and Lancashire: Various werewolf packs, not very friendly. Mild Fomorian troubles.
--The Lake District: Some very weird local Shadow terrain North East of England: A lot of occult ruins
--Newcastle-upon-Tyne: The Gulls, a group of sea-faring vampires The Isle of Man: A small, mixed-supernatural group harassed by Fomorians.
Wales North Wales: Werewolves, mostly Pure. Most important packs are Black Mountain (Pure) and Blaidd Drwg (Forsaken) South Wales: The Consilium of Carmarthen runs the urban areas, with werewolves in the rural hinterlands.
--Carmarthen: The Consilium of Carmarthen, though most of the mages live in Swansea or Cardiff. Free Council and Mysterium are the main influences here, very decentralized, democratic.
--Rhonnda Fach: Pontycythraul -- Something extremely nasty that only appears every so often.
Scotland The Lowlands: Lots and lots of ghosts, most notably Sawney Bean and Michael Scot. The Argent Collegium and the Freehold of Elphame both claim it, but can’t back it up.
--Edinburgh: The Argent Collegium, an academic group of mages
--Glasgow: The Other City, a periodic alternate cityscape, is the main thing here, along with some extremely insane supernaturals such as the vampire Laird Alan MacLeish.
--County Angus: Rumors of a ‘Madonna of the Wasps’ The Highlands: The Freehold of Elphame, a group of loosely united changeling clans.
--Inverness: The Freehold’s capital, but rarely used due to a dangerous Wyrd Curse.
--Loch Ness: A large and dangerous Each Uisge cult. The Orkneys and Shetland Isles: Selkies are the unified faction here, but there are lots of supernatural hermits on the outer islands. The Hebrides: The Fomorians are too frequent here for anyone but lunatics to really settle, but there are some Fomorian cults, old weapons, and so forth.
--The St. Kilda Archipelago: There’s a destruction-worshipping cult at the military base here.
Ireland Northern Ireland: Used to be run by the High Court of Eire, but they’ve been pushed back due to the Troubles, and werewolf packs and the Twin Princes of Belfast have partially moved in.
--Belfast: The Twin Princes rule the city, Catholic and Protestant vampire Princes who embraced a few too many die-hards, and now can’t control them.
--Derry: The Pygmalian Society is in charge here, artist-mages without any governance
--The Causeway Coast: Lots of ruins and relics of Fionn mac Cumhaill here, leading to interest from supernatural archaeologists and from the High Court. The Republic of Ireland: The High Court is pretty much the only show in town, and it is extremely powerful.
--The Hill of Tara: The High Court’s headquarters in the Hedge.
"From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day."
[spoiler.=The Greater London Area][img.]http://i186.photobucket.com/albums/x27/NeoTiamat/GreaterLondonArea_zps3d0fedeb.jpg[/img.]
The Greater London Area
Consisting of the City of London (the Square Mile) and thirty-two boroughs, the GLA was formed in the 1960s to try and put all of London's ever-growing suburbs into one administrative unit (given that London continues to grow, it likely won't be that long before they have to expand the Greater London Area again). As for the city itself, what can be said? The Greater London Area accounts for 1/8th of the UK's population, and when you factor in the suburbs of the Home Counties, it's closer to 1/5th. Economically, the city is more important still, and in culture, in politics, in so much London dominates the rest of the British Isles. This sometimes leads Londoners to have a certain disdain towards the rest of the Isles. As the joke goes, Londoners aren't really convinced that there's a world out beyond the M25 Orbital highway.
The situation in the supernatural realm is even more lopsided. London accounts for somewhere around a fifth of the UK's supernatural population, with an occult history stretching back two thousand years. London, for most of the British Isles, is the supernatural big league. If you're a wizard or vampire with ambition, you go to London. The London factions are well-organized, well-resourced, powerful and active. The only catch is that no one faction comes even close to capturing all of London's supernatural resources, but even so, the big three, the Guardians of the Veil, the Invictus, and the Freehold of New Jerusalem can rival any other faction in the British Isles, with the exception of the High Court of Éire. Look here for more on London's supernatural geography.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=The Home Counties][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/White_cliffs_of_dover_09_2004.jpg[/img.]
The Home Counties
An unofficial term describing the counties immediately outside of London, and stretching all the way south and east to the Channel. Much of the Greater London Area was formerly part of the Home Counties, which then got cannibalized as London grew. Today, the Home Counties are generally considered to include the counties of Berfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Sussex. It's generally suburban or exurban, with many residents commuting to London to work. There's a bit of farming, a few small towns of note, such as Oxford, Canterbury, and Brighton. As a result of its links to London, the area is prosperous and generally seen as a redoubt of Tory sentiment.
The Home Counties are seen as the private preserves of the London supernaturals. In supernatural terms, the area is actually drastically underpopulated, as any supernatural beings either try and get to London or further away from London. Actually, a small number of London supernatural beings end up living in the nearer Home Counties, commuting back to the city to participate in its occult activities.[/spoiler.]
Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey: In the mid-19th century, London ran into a problem. The city had grown exponentially, and more people were living and dying in London than ever before. This last proved to be an issue, as London's cemeteries were overflowing, the land so thick with the dead that after a heavy a rain one had bones sticking out of rugby fields. The solution, so thought the London Necropolis Company, was to build a new cemetery outside the city, large enough to accommodate all of London's dead, and connect it via its own special train line to bring mourners and coffins outside. So was built the Necropolis Line and Brookwood Cemetery, some fifty kilometers southwest of London. It never proved quite as successful as its builders hoped. The Necropolis Line was closed in 1941, the Necropolis Company went out of business, and fewer people were buried than expected. Still, Brookwood Cemetery is the largest burial ground in Western Europe, with a quarter-million interments.
Understandably, Brookwood is absolutely infested with ghosts. Ghosts are the single most common supernatural creature in the mortal world, there are thousands of them in Brookwood. Most are just harmless apparitions, wandering cold spots or glowing orbs, but there are some specters with both the desire and the ability to cause a great deal of bloody mayhem. And yet, the ghosts of Brookwood are not unthinking monsters, however densely concentrated. On the contrary, they are disciplined, organized, and directed by some unseen force. Visitors are observed, and troublemakers soon run into one of Brookwood's more violent post-mortem residents. Just who is running the show is something no one has yet managed to find out, but it happened soon very soon after the Great War.
The heart of Anglican Christianity and the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Canterbury is a town of some sixty-thousand people on the southeastern coast of England, about fifty miles outside of London. St. Augustine founded the first episcopal see in England in 597 AD, and the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 made it a pilgrimage site for Christians around the world. Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales about pilgrims to city in the 14th century. These days, the city is a tourist attraction of global renown, with the famed Canterbury Cathedral and some very well preserved medieval structures, including a Norman castle, the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey, and the oldest school in Britain. The Cathedral charges £9.50 for tourists to enter, thus continuing the proud tradition of fleecing pilgrims that Chaucer noted seven hundred years ago.
Mirroring the situation in the mortal world, the Shadow Archbishop of Canterbury, Francis Rose, is the leader of the Sanctified in the British Isles. Unfortunately for him, Francis Rose's authority is more theoretical than actual. The Catholic-inspired Sanctified of Glasgow and Belfast ignore him, and Solomon Birch in London pays lip service at best to Francis Rose's leadership. Rose himself is an elder vampire over seven centuries in age, a monk's catamite embraced at the height of the Black Plague, and his vampiric monks and nuns are among the foremost scholars of Theban Sorcery in the world... but Birch has about three times as many vampires under his leadership, and what they lack in sorcery they make up in willingness to break heads. The two dioceses are currently pretending to be all smiles while Rose and Birch try to slip as many daggers into each other as possible.[/spoiler.]
Founded in Saxon times, Oxford is a small town some sixty miles northwest of London. It's known primarily for Oxford University, the second oldest still operational university in the world (only the University of Bologna is older), with teaching going on back in the 11th century, even if the university didn't get its charter till the 13th century. Comprised of a number of constituent Colleges, most famously Christ Church, All Souls, and Trinity, Oxford is also among the best universities in the world, producing Prime Ministers and Nobel Prize Winners in equal measure. The town is also well known for its architecture, termed the "city of dreaming spires" by the poet Matthew Arnold -- there's an example of every kind of English architecture at Oxford, from the Saxons right on down.
Understandably, Oxford breeds secret societies like flies. The combination of enormous wealth and privilege, students arrogant in their youth, professors old enough to know better, and some of the British Isles' most impressive libraries means that occult orders, dark cults, and mystical brotherhoods are all over the place. Most of these groups are short-lived, imploding within half a decade, and many have only the most rudimentary knowledge of the supernatural. A few, however, are more stable, with deep roots in the professoriat. There's the Oxford Mysterium, a cult of knowledge comprised of mortal sorcerers and Awakened wizards in equal order, which is ferocious in maintaining their independence from London. There's the Keirecheires, the 'Devouring Hand', a demonic pleasure-cult that's somehow managed to avoid implosion for over a century, despite near-constant internal violence. And recently, there's the Trinity Academy, centered in the college of the same name, a group of Ordo Dracul vampires who fled Cambridge following 'The Event' in the 1980s, and now have settled into their great rival. They aren't nearly as morally upright as the London Dragons, preferring to treat the constant flows of students as fodder for a great many experiments in the Kindred condition. After all, the Colleges have been covering up the excesses of the Mysterium and Keirecheires for decades, why not the Trinity Academy as well?[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=The Isle of Wight][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4f/Isle_of_Wight.jpg/640px-Isle_of_Wight.jpg[/img.]
The Isle of Wight
Shaped something like a diamond and lying just off the south coast of England, the Isle of Wight was a kingdom in its own right in historical times. In the 19th century, Queen Victoria made it her summer home, and it became the vacation spot of choice for fashionable Victorians. Today, tourism is still the major engine of the island's economy, focusing on the chalk cliffs, beaches, historical castles and palaces, and dinosaurs. Speaking of the last, by geological quirk, the Isle of Wight is one of richest fossil beds in the world, with Cretaceous-era bones and footprints all over the western half of the island.
It is these last that the Azlu are most interested in. Traditionally, the Spider Hosts have been weak in mainland Britain, a fact attested to by the benevolent role of the spider in British folklore. The ones on the Isle of Wight, however, are numerous, organized, and well-entrenched, taking advantage of the fact that one can only reach the Isle by ferry to turn it into a kind of Fortress Azlu. No one is entirely sure what the Azlu are doing there, but the few who have visited the Isle of Wight and returned indicate that the Azlu are guarding something by the cliffs.
Phoenix, a Swansea mage belonging to Carmarthen Consilium, claimed in 2006 to have stumbled across a beach grotto not far from Newport containing more Azlu than most British Uratha will ever see in their lives. The Spider Hosts were, however, quiet and did not behave in a threatening manner. Her hasty retreat was caused by the rasping voices that began to speak in her head, coming from the things the Azlu seemed to be guarding: three objects, which looked, for all the world, like the fossilized exoskeletons of enormous spiders.[/spoiler.]
Located along the eastern coast of England and comprised of the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire, East Anglia is the most rural, backwards, and traditional area in the UK. There are villages in the heart of Norfolk which seem positively medieval, and even the more charitable interpretations acknowledge that the area is remote, unsophisticated, and out of touch with the rest of England. This is actually fairly accepted by the inhabitants of East Anglia, who will sometimes speak of things as being 'Normal for Norfolk'. That said, there are a few small towns here (Ipswich, Norwich), and the area is reasonably well off farming country. In olden times they used to harvest peat here, as much of East Anglia was covered by bogs and marshes, though the 17th century saw a great many of them filled in and turned into exceptionally fertile farmland.
The most traditional and old-fashioned villages in East Anglia follow what is sometimes called the Old Way. In these places, the supernatural is remembered and acknowledged, and even accepted by the rest of the community. The Masquerade is paper-thin, only really applied to keep outsiders ignorant. Inside the villages, uncanny beings are a fact of life, and often have a hand in running the place. The village witch may have a seat on the local council, or else the squire may bear an impeccable resemblance to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, all of whom vanished before bequeathing the land to a hitherto unknown heir. The villages of the Old Way tend to be superstitious, clannish, and exceedingly unfriendly towards outsiders -- it takes generations for one to be accepted in them. Most of the superstitions are harmless, or even beneficial, such as faith in brownies, or propitiation of spirits of hearth and field. But many villages have harsher practices as well, with bogs containing the bound bodies of outsiders, or festivals culminating in the burning of a wicker man. The villages that practice the Old Way tend to know one another, and many are able to call for help in the event that outsiders of a more ferocious manner are encountered.[/spoiler.]
Oxford's great rival, Cambridge is famous for its University, and for the attendant technological and academic industries that have grown up around it. Cambridge University is almost as old (founded in 1209) and just as good as Oxford, with an equal share of brilliant scholars and world-bestriding politicians emerging from the many Colleges. Cambridge tends to be more modern, less tradition-oriented than Oxford. These days, they lean a bit towards the high tech, with the 'Silicon Fens' being one of the UK's primary technological centers, and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus being one of the largest biomedical research clusters in the world. If it's so bleeding edge that it hurts to look at, it probably came from Cambridge.
Up until the 1980s, Cambridge was also home to a small but vigorous group of Ordo Dracul vampires, who used its academic and technological resources to advance their Great Work, and a host of small secret societies and cults that sprung up in the area. Then came the Event. On September 19th, 1984, at just past 1:32 AM, every phone at the University of Cambridge began to ring, every light flickered on and off, the clocktowers chimed, and an unholy wail rose through the night. In the following days and weeks, most supernatural creatures in the university felt the sense that they were unwelcome. A few left. Those that remained were troubled by nightmares and visions. Now many others left. Those that remained were killed, in a series of improbable but quite gruesome accidents, electrocuted by falling wires, impaled by runaway construction machinery. Now, Cambridge is home to what the expatriate Dragons call The Entity, something that no one has ever seen, but which makes its presence known. It is possible that there are some links to a small secret society led by Prof. Michael Cathcart, an anthropology professor at King's College, which had been noticed by the Dragons shortly before the Event.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=The West Country][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d5/Glastonbury_%28part_of%29_from_the_tor_arp.jpg/640px-Glastonbury_%28part_of%29_from_the_tor_arp.jpg[/img.]
The West Country
The area west of London, encompassing the historic counties of Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol, and sometimes Cornwall and Devon (see below for them), the West Country is the archetypal English countryside. If you see a bucolic English village on television, ten will get you one that it's in the West Country. They also have a rather distinctive accent, to the point where the area is sometimes called 'Mummerset' (Americans know this as the pirate accent, due to the association of the port of Bristol with pirates). In any case, the West Country is notable for its beautiful landscapes of rolling fields and quaint forests, its farming economy that produces very good cheese and cider, and for having an incredible density of tourist attractions in the form of the towns of Bath and Salisbury, the standing stones at Stonehenge and Avebury, and the hill and abbey at Glastonbury, to name just a few.
In the supernatural world, the West Country has some of the greatest density of prominent supernatural locations in all of the British Isles, leading it to be valuable contested ground. The mineral springs and Roman baths at Bath, the standing stones at Avebury and Glastonbury Tor, are among the most potent supernatural sites in England. The area is also liberally drenched with references to King Arthur, the Holy Grail, and Joseph of Arimathea. In theory, the Sodality of the Tor is in charge of the area, headquartered at Glastonbury. In practice, the witches and druids there can barely keep track of their own town, and so the West Country is a battleground for forces out of London, the Carmarthen Consilium, the High Court of Éire, and the Bale Hounds of the Sparrowclaw Circle.[/spoiler.]
Rarely has a single place been shrouded in quite as much myth and legend. First settled in the Iron Age, the Glastonbury is home to the famed Glastonbury Abbey, supposedly built by Joseph of Arimathea. One of the oldest abbeys in England regardless of legend, in the 12th century monks at the abbey claimed to have found the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Nearby, the hill of Glastonbury Tor is associated with Gwyn ap Nudd, in Celtic myth the King of the Underworld and later King of the Faeries. In recent times, the town is known for the Glastonbury Zodiac, supposedly an enormous zodiac made up of natural landscape features which predicts the Age of Aquarius. Since the 19th century, Glastonbury has been home to all manner of New Age and neopagan seekers, with gentlemen druids replaced by tie-dyed hippies, with a remnant population of rather bemused Somerset farmers.
Glastonbury is also home to one of the most important and prestigious Awakened Consiliums in the British Isles, the Sodality of the Tor. Practitioners of a form of Awakened witchcraft, the Sodality believe in the suppression of the conscious mind by way of ecstatic dances and moonlit rituals, so as to better embody their own, personal divine soul. Comprised of five 'branches', the oldest of which date back to the 1400s, the Sodality has always been intimately associated with Glastonbury Tor. They are also part of the Guardians of the Veil, enormously respected for the Lammas Night working, when most of the covens of England united to cast a spell during the darkest days of the Second World War, a powerful working which resulted in several deaths from exhaustion and self-sacrifice, and one which might have saved Britain from German invasion (certainly it was soon afterwards that the Nazis turned east towards Russia, but then the Nazis never needed outside help to make insane decisions). Since then, however, the Sodality has turned increasingly inward, growing ever more parochial and ossified as they strive to maintain the Hallow of Glastonbury Tor. Powerful mages still, the witches and druids of the Sodality spend much of their time on political infighting and avoiding change, even as they let Stonehenge's mystical potential be destroyed and let Bale Hounds dominate Devon and Cornwall. Respect for the Sodality's past greatness keeps the London Guardians of the Veil civil to their counterparts, but Civitas's letters are growing increasingly irritable.[/spoiler.]
Site of the famous mineral springs, according to legend the city was founded by the apocryphal King Bladud of the Britons. Bladud, a wizard and scholar who had studied in Athens, contracted leprosy there, and returned to England to herd pigs. Once, his pigs came upon the hot springs, which healed them of their sores, and healed Bladud of his leprosy as well. Later, King Bladud built his palace there. While there's no truth that Bladud ever existed, it's certain that the Romans built a significant temple complex and Roman baths at the hot springs, dedicated to the goddess Sulis, identified with Minerva. The town survived through the centuries, often the worse for wear, only to be regenerated in the Georgian era when the springs became a popular resort for Britain's well-to-do aristocrats. The architects John Wood the elder and his son used the creamy-gold 'Bath stone' (a form of limestone) to build elegant streets and palatial dwellings, notably the Royal Crescent and the Circus, today some of the priciest property in the British Isles. At the same time, the modern spa complex was built, in particular the Grand Pump Room. Today, Bath is a spa resort, a tourist attraction, and a home for the exceedingly wealthy.
It is also home to the Vampire of Bath. One figure wanders in and around the city of Bath. It is difficult to tell whether this individual is man or woman — it has long hair, long nails and the features and curves representative of both sexes. Those who see this figure find it unnerving, for it wanders aimlessly and stares longingly at those who walk past. When the police come to find the individual,he/she has always disappeared. Some have noticed something about this odd character: they’ve seen it before. Those who have lived in Bath for their whole lives recognize the person as one they’ve seen before— years before, as a matter of fact. Adults remember it from childhood, and recollection suggests that the individual has not changed one iota since then. Some have seen the figure supping waters from the scalding hot springs that bubble up in the Mendip Hills around Bath. Others have seen it licking water from drainpipes, rusty faucets, even puddles in the middle of the street. Some believe that he/she has been here for centuries, if not longer, a vampire feeding on the town’s purportedly mystical waters (the Aquae Sulis, or the “Waters of Minerva”). Others say that the figure is a walking corpse — looking human during the day, but when the moon shines, it appears as a shambling black corpse with skin as dry as burned paper.
What is certainly true is that Bath is accorded neutral ground in the supernatural world of the British Isles -- even vampire princes and faerie monarchs occasionally want to take the waters in peace. Other than the Vampire of Bath, there are a handful of full-time supernatural residents, and a succession of important visitors. Anyone who makes trouble in Bath may well have some of Britain's most powerful supernatural beings out for their blood.[/spoiler.]
Quaere is a charming, bucolic village of approximately fifteen hundred people out in the County of Wiltshire, some hundred miles due west of London. It's about as charmingly English as one can hope for, the locals surviving on a mixture of dairy farming, people who commute to Swindon or Salisbury for work, and tourism. The latter relies mostly on the picturesque countryside, the gorgeous Quaere House operated by the National Trust, and the village's close proximity to Stonehenge some twelve miles away. Several bed & breakfasts serve the tourist trade, and the Quaere Historical Preservation Society keeps the village looking in tip-top shape...
...partially by making sure that the Old Churchyard behind Quaere House doesn't cause a spontaneous remake of George Romero's Walking Dead, only with more non-euclidean geometry. Since about the mid-19th century, Quaere has been the designated burial ground for the Awakened of England. Wizards rarely sleep easy in their graves, for too much power changes them. Strange things happen where wizards are buried, and the grave is no barrier to knowledge when necromancy is involved. The Old Churchyard, known as the Orchard of Eternal Tranquility in occult circles, allows the honored dead to slumber in peace, lulled to sleep by great spells that prevent necromancy for some miles about, and watched over by a small group of wizards from London, Edinburgh, Glastonbury, and Carmarthen under the cover of the Quaere Historical Preservation Society. Recently, security has been quite drastically increased, though Quaere is still seen as something of a boring detail for wizards used to the excitement of London or Edinburgh.[/spoiler.]
Another place that needs no introduction, Stonehenge is the largest, most complete, and best-preserved megalithic circle in the British Isles. Believed to be erected between 3000 and 2000 BC, Stonehenge once sat at the heart of one of Britain's largest neolithic settlements. Long-thought to be an astronomical observatory or place of religious worship, recent scholarship suggests that the standing stones may have also been the site of ancient burials. Research is ongoing, and in the meantime Stonehenge is one of the West Country's top tourist attractions.
Stonehenge also used to be an incredibly powerful ritual site, one of the most powerful wellsprings of occult ability in the British Isles. No longer. A combination of the three-way conflict between the heritage management authorities, New Agers, and the police (who often got called in to break up spontaneous parties by the stones) led to the stones losing whatever energy they once had. In the Shadow, the whole area is blasted and lifeless, a cold landscape of rock and bone. Stonehenge is still of some archaeological interest to occultists, but its power is gone.
Cornwall & Devon
One of the oldest parts of Britain, Cornwall (or Kernow as it is called in Cornish) has a distinctive cultural identity, even its own language, with Cornish nationalists agitating for the same kind of nation status that Scotland and Wales have. The County of Devon doesn't have quite the same ancestry, but in other ways its quite similar. Both places are known for their outstanding natural beauty -- in particular their rugged coasts and haunted, windswept moors. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the two counties subsisted on tin mining, farming, and fishing, but with tin gone and farming and fishing none too steady, tourism has become the driver of the local economy. Even if the Cornish would rather it wasn't. Despite the tourists, Cornwall and Devon are among the poorest regions in the UK, one of the few eligible for EU poverty-relief funding.
As if Cornwall and Devon had not enough trouble, the single most competent and organized supernatural force in the region is the Sparrowclaw Circle, a pack of just over twenty Bale Hounds led by the aged Eleanor Hepburn and with Clawing Sparrow as their Totem. The Sparrowclaw Circle lacks the force to dominate all of Cornwall and Devon, though they claim the haunted moors of Dartmoor, Exmoor, and Bodmin Moor, but their presence and aid has made the area a haven for the darker forces in the British occult scene. There are diabolic cults in numerous small villages, Dartmoor Prison is an enormous spiritual wound, and incarnated demons walk the land. The Sparrowclaw Circle maintain cordial relations with Mark Trevellyan, the Acolyte Prince of Kernow, with several lone Nephandi black wizards, and with three other, smaller Bale Hound packs in the region. There are a few non-Bale Hound aligned werewolf packs in the area, but they are usually hard-pressed just to stay alive, while the few more moral mages or faeries keep their heads down.[/spoiler.]
The area of England north of London and south of Liverpool and Manchester, the Midlands are some of the most urbanized, industrialized, and heavily populated areas in the British Isles. From the late 18th century onwards, these were some of the earliest manufacturing centers in the world, producing textiles in enormous mills for export. There are a number of enormous cities in the area, led by Birmingham, which regularly duels Manchester for the title of Britain's second city. Other local metropolises include Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, Leicester, and Nottingham (of Robin Hood fame, though Sherwood Forest is mostly a memory nowadays). The area as a whole was hit hard by Thatcherism in the '80s, and the economy has yet to recover. The urban centers are decayed and rusted, while the coal mines of the western Midlands (called the Black Country) have suffered just as much as the Welsh ones.
In the supernatural realm, the Midlands are seen as the blasted carcass of a once-great supernatural state. The Worshipful Company of Kindred, as the Birmingham Invictus was called, ruled the area until a series of uprisings and revolutions in the 1980s. Nowadays, the Midlands is home to waves of revolutionary violence, with reprisal and counter-reprisal leading to constant bloodshed in the streets of the region's major cities. Meanwhile, minor rogue states set up in the smaller towns and rural areas, taking advantage of the constant chaos to become petty tyrants or to try out some bizarre social theory or another, before they themselves are pulled down.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=Birmingham, West Midlands][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a9/Digbeth_Institute_%281%29.jpg/571px-Digbeth_Institute_%281%29.jpg[/img.]
Birmingham, West Midlands
Once the workshop of the world, Birmingham is the UK's second-largest city after London. A commercial and proto-industrial center since the 12th century, by the 1700s Birmingham was one of England's most important cities, characterized by a high degree of economic and social freedom. When the Industrial Revolution happened, Birmingham boomed, becoming, arguably, the first truly modern industrial city, and a world financial capital to boot. During the 19th century, it remained a vibrant, powerful city. Even the Birmingham Blitz, the special bombing campaign of the Luftwaffe during WWII, couldn't dent it. But then came the 1970s and 1980s, when the British government took on a concentrated campaign to disperse Birmingham's industry throughout the region. The result was nothing short of disastrous. By the early 1980s the city's economy had collapsed, and social unrest was rampant, culminating in a series of riots in Handsworth (an impoverished district in Birmingham) in 1981, 1985, and 1991, the second of which resulted in four deaths. To this day, Birmingham has some of the highest rates of economic inequality in the British Isles, and an unemployment rate of 14.4%. As a side note, a denizen of Birmingham is called a Brummie, and the city is nicknamed 'Brum'.
For almost eight hundred years, the Worshipful Company of Kindred had dominated Birmingham. A coterie of a dozen Invictus-aligned Kindred, they passed along the Princely throne among themselves as they cycled in and out of Torpor, controlling the city with a combination of force and largesse. Then the Birmingham economy collapsed in the early 1980s, the Worshipful Company suddenly ran out of money, and they were faced with a very large and very restive Kindred population. The Carthian Revolution of 1985 coincided with the second Handsworth Riots, and saw most of the Worshipful Company staked and thrown into a furnace. Then things got really messy.
In fairly short order, the Carthian factions splintered along political lines, and by the mid-1990s there was open violence on the streets. At one end, the Brotherhood of Enlightened Self-Interest combined the usual Kindred self-aggrandizement with René Descartes and Ayn Rand to come up with a brew of extreme individualism. At the other end, The Hive drew upon Marxist doctrines and decided to create the New Soviet Man with copious use of mental Disciplines to weed out all individuality. In the middle, the Bodhisatcracy believes in rule by enlightened, Zen-like beings, who just so happen to usually be the Bodhisatcrats themselves. Each side began to Embrace en masse, there were numerous street fights, Kindred were staked and buried, or else thrown into furnaces... the grand irony is that during the fighting, the loyalists and childer of the Worshipful Company of Kindred, now calling themselves the Birmingham Corporation moved back into their former positions of power. Their CEO, Ritchie Chalmers (he does not call himself Prince), is exquisitely aware that his position is secure only so long as the Carthians are more concerned with murdering each other, and he encourages it as best he can, while trying to shore up his own rickety position.
Despite these troubles, Birmingham is still home to an awful lot of Kindred, as all sides have been Embracing at high rates since the 80s to make up for the constant attrition. While this has kept numbers up, the average Birmingham vampire is less than thirty years dead, and Ritchie Chalmers is a mere century and a half, while his predecessor was over six centuries old.
Pronounced 'Les-tah', Leicester is home to two universities and the first extra-London Tesco, and the tallest skyscrapers in the East Midlands region (a whopping 82 meters in height). Before the Industrial Revolution, it was a moderately prominent market town, becoming an industrial center afterwards. Its fortunes mirror those of its western rival Birmingham, with similar economic heights and plummets. The tenth largest city in the UK, Leicester is best known for its demography -- a full 30% of its population is South Asian, and it's been called the largest Indian settlement west of Mumbai.
Leicester is also notable as being one of the few success stories of the Ghost Wolves. As the local Forsaken and Pure were few and far between even before the vampires went into an orgy of destruction, in recent years First Change after First Change slipped through the cracks. The result is that in 2003, a group of Ghost Wolves formed a sizable pack of their own, battling and evicting the vampires from Leicester. These “Pariah Dogs” mostly come from the Indian and Pakistani communities, although at least a couple come from the Afro Caribbean community, too. Most of them are fairly liberal Muslims, who interpret a lot of what they experience in the light of the Muslim mythology of India. Their leader, Raish Khan, sees himself as a latter-day master of the djinns, a hero from a new Islamic mythology. More than anything, he’s a relentless self-publicist. The Forsaken see him as a damned nuisance who’s never met a Highborn or a Bale Hound, and is in store for some nasty surprises whenever the Kindred get their act together.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/74/Manchester_from_the_Sky%2C_2008.jpg/640px-Manchester_from_the_Sky%2C_2008.jpg[/img.]
Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire
A somewhat clumsy description, this is basically the area around the enormous industrial cities of Liverpool and Manchester, with the ancient county of Cheshire thrown in for good measures. This is the archetypal, grim "Up North" of British usage, with fading industrial cities and a decidedly working-class ethic. Once, these were industrial cities of global significance, but the hollowing out of the British economy in the 1970s and 1980s brought them low, creating the urban wastelands for which the cities are famous today. They do have a few things going for them, mostly football (the Manchester United football club has more members than most countries have citizens) and music (the Beatles were from Liverpool, and the area is the heart of the British rock and the punk scenes). For the record, residents of the two cities are 'Mancunians' and 'Liverpudlians.'
The supernatural world of the Liverpool-Manchester area may be likened to London, albeit with less occult history and more vicious stabbing. There are a multitude of factions, the defining feature of which is that they have leaped wholeheartedly into the criminal underworld, trafficking in the human misery all about. These supernatural crime rings use their unique skills to carve a niche for them in the human underworld, and they war with one another with blood-stained ferocity.[/spoiler.]
Manchester, Greater Manchester
Founded by the Romans in 79 AD, until the 19th century Manchester was a sleepy village of little import. Then the Industrial Revolution hit, and in short order Manchester became the textile capital of the world, and the world's very first industrialized city (a distinction it contests with Birmingham). People from all corners of the British Isles flocked to Manchester, Englishmen and Scots and Irishmen alike, looking for work. To this day, Manchester, with two and a half million people, is the UK's most populous city after London (a distinction it also contests with Birmingham -- it depends how you measure). Then the Second World War came, to be followed by disaster after disaster. Manchester's status meant that the Luftwaffe targeted it with particular fervor, and rebuilding funds after the war came slowly or not at all. Deindustrialization and Thatcherism gutted the city's economy, leading to rampant unemployment, and the fact that the IRA detonated their largest bomb ever in Manchester in 1996 marked the nadir of Manchester's decline. The last twenty years have seen the city stabilize, but derelict buildings and empty, rubble-filled lots leftover from the Blitz still speckle the city, while unemployment hovers around 12% in 2011.
The supernatural side of Manchester is a patchwork of dueling occult crime rings, uniformly savage and thoroughly unashamed of their criminality. The largest, most powerful, and best organized is The Estate, a Forsaken 'super-Pack' of some forty werewolves, who are engaged in human trafficking, run brothels, deal drugs, and sell guns. Based on Manchester's Moss Side and led by the charismatic and psychopathic Harry Gallagher, most people figure that if The Estate aren't Bale Hounds, they ought to be. Their main rivals for supernatural dominance are the True Blood, a Pure-backed street gang with less organization and more indiscriminate violence, led by the racist, xenophobic, and smarter-than-he-looks thug Talons of the People. They likewise deal in drugs and run a protection ring, but their favorite trick is beating to death any Forsaken, immigrants, homosexuals, or people that look at them funny that they can catch. The spoiler.s in the little werewolf war are the Lost Boys, a group of feral changeling street children and their increasingly numerous mortal hangers-on, few older than fifteen, driven by fae madness to perform various bloody and disturbing rituals throughout the city.[/spoiler.]
If Manchester was the great industrial center, then Liverpool was the port through which all of its goods passed. Once upon a time, Liverpool was one of the great crossroads of the world, home to Britain's first African community, and to the very first Chinese community in Europe. But containerization put the great docks out of business, which coupled with the general loss of manufacturing meant that by the 1980s Liverpool had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country, at 17%. The last decade saw a surge of investment geared at regenerating the decayed and moribund city, but while Liverpool is no longer at the 'acute crisis' stage, it seems to have instead settled into a miserable and unpleasant sort of existence, drab and grey and gloomy.
The dean of the local supernatural community, 'Fat' Harry Hopkins, an easy-going proprietor of nightclubs, brothels, bars, and drugs, who also happens to be a fairly powerful Mastigos. He serves as arbitrator and general peacemaker between the different gangs and supernatural cabals of Liverpool, primarily by means of judicious bribery and by paying the police for well-timed crackdowns. His biggest problem is with the Red Firm, a football club where half the hooligans are werewolves and where the club president is Everyman Vinnie, a greater spirit of mob violence who accepts football-related deaths as human sacrifice.[/spoiler.]
The largest of Britain's historic counties, Yorkshire has been one of the great kingdoms of Britain since the Roman Era. Vikings ruled it for a while, and later the Kings of England were on occasion descended from the House of York -- indeed, Yorkshire was one of the combatants in the internecine and interminable War of the Roses. Later on, its political importance waned, but it remained an important economic center, and was one of the places that weathered the post-war deindustrialization best. Culturally, Yorkshire is also distinctive, with laconic farmers and ancient cathedrals, to the point that the stereotype of the dour Yorkshire farmer is known around the world. With industrial cities, historic ruins, and vast, green moors, Yorkshire is a microcosm of Britain.
It is also the scene of the greatest disaster in recent supernatural history. Up until the 1970s, Yorkshire was essentially a microcosm of the British supernatural scene, with Kindred Princes in York and Whitby, an Awakened Consilium in York, fae and werewolves out in the hinterlands, and so forth. But in 1973, someone in Leeds (it was never established who), violated the cardinal rule of magic. "Do not call up that which you cannot put down." Now, the Urbiphage nests over Leeds, occasionally lured out by concentrations of supernatural power elsewhere. With few fae or werewolves or mages, Yorkshire is now overrun with rogue spirits and ghosts, who expand recklessly until the Urbiphage notices their infestation... whereupon it devours them in its entirety.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=Leeds, West Yorkshire][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/64/LeedsSkyline2013.jpg/640px-LeedsSkyline2013.jpg[/img.]
Leeds, West Yorkshire
Originally a wool-trading and manufacturing center in the 17th and 18th centuries, Leeds is today the fourth largest urban economy in the United Kingdom. It's one of the country's main legal centers, largest manufacturing economies, and has generally transitioned into the Millennial economy much better than its old rivals to the south and west in the Midlands and Manchester areas. It's also an extremely diverse city, with one of the highest shares of non-white population outside of London.
It is also in Leeds that the Urbiphage was summoned. The best theory is that the summoner, whoever it was (and they might still be alive), was trying to spare Leeds the economic decline that afflicted the rest of Northern England. If so, then the ritual actually worked. The cost, however, was dire. The Urbiphage is a creature of unknown origin, not quite a spirit, not quite a demon, but possibly kin to the Strix but on a far vaster scale. Most perceive it as only a thin and cloying mist, but diviners and seers can see it as an enormous batlike creature spanning the dome of the sky, its wings coming down to envelope the city. Its power is staggering, its mind alien and incomprehensible. It is drawn to supernatural power, and when a sufficient concentration is noticed, it devours it (the how is a bit unclear, due to the paucity of witnesses or survivors, but is usually accompanied by extreme weather events, enormous fires, and other natural disasters). It tends to roost in Leeds, as the ghosts and spirits of the city provide it plentiful sustenance, but it's occasionally drawn out elsewhere into Yorkshire. Needless to say, the few supernaturals left in the area try very hard not to draw it out.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=York, North Yorkshire][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/34/York_Minster_from_the_Lendal_Bridge.jpg/640px-York_Minster_from_the_Lendal_Bridge.jpg[/img.]
York, North Yorkshire
Founded by the Romans as Eboracum in 71 AD, York was a provincial capital and one of the great cities of Britain throughout the Medieval period. The Archbishop of York was one of England's leading clergymen, and the Plantagenet Kings held the title of Duke of York. In the 19th century, York became an important railroad juncture, and somewhat unexpectedly, a confectionary center. Today, York still maintains much of its industry, along with a considerable dose of tourism-based history, especially to the Cathedral, the famed York Minster. It has a population of just under a quarter of a million, and relatively low crime rates.
It is also home to the Society of St. William, named after the Archbishop of York who lived in the 11th century. Consisting of perhaps a dozen supernatural beings of all sorts, they live in York against all odds, defending it against the wandering ghosts and spirits and making sure that the supernatural scene is spread out enough to avoid the Urbiphage's attention. Originally founded as a self-defense union following the advent of the Urbiphage, the Society of St. William has grown a trifle strange over its years of isolation, becoming closed-off and inward-looking, and believing that the Urbiphage might just be the first sign of the Apocalypse. Despite that, they're really very nice people, hospitable to strangers, just so long as those strangers don't cause trouble in York and leave promptly. If they don't, bad things tend to happen.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=Whitby, North Yorkshire][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/Whitby_Bridge.JPG/640px-Whitby_Bridge.JPG[/img.]
Whitby, North Yorkshire
A small seaside village of about fourteen thousand people, Whitby survives despite its remote location on the strength of its port facilities, the small amounts of semiprecious jet that can be found in the area, its historic abbey (in ruins, but a thousand years old, and built on the site of a yet older abbey dating to the seventh century), and its association with Dracula. Bram Stoker's book had the Count spend some time in the town, drawing on elements of local folklore in his writings. It's not much, and Whitby is a quiet place even today, but it's enough for the town to get by.
For the Dragons of the Whitby Academy, life is not so quiet. Prince Darren Albright rules over about a score of Kindred who watch over the extremely interesting supernatural happenings at Whitby, (their covenant's founder's residence at the town was not a coincidence). They keep an eye on the Things in the harbor, mine the supernaturally active jet, and hold odd ceremonies in the ruins of the Abbey. They also have to constantly deal with wandering ghosts and spirits, with visiting werewolves and mages, and even stranger beasts, and they have to keep the supernatural levels low enough that the Urbiphage doesn't come calling. All this, Prince Albright does despite the fact that the Whitby Dragons are generally rather retiring scholars, if perhaps a bit fae. Albright himself is uniformly considered one of the most promising Dragons to arise in the last century. He has a truly brilliant mind, but it's brilliant like a fractured mirror, all marvelous facets and rainbows but, ultimately, also something that is broken.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=Cumbria and Lancashire][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b5/Blackpool_promenade_-_DSC07204.JPG/640px-Blackpool_promenade_-_DSC07204.JPG[/img.]
Cumbria and Lancashire
Sometimes simply called the Northwest of England, this is the region north of Liverpool and Manchester but still south of the Scottish Border, up along the Irish Sea. An ancient area (Lancaster was one of the UK's most prominent medieval towns), in the modern era the place is something of a land in between. It lies between England and Scotland, it's landscape of smaller industrial towns and farms is somewhere between fully urban and fully rural, its economy is hardly wealthy but not quite as benighted as that of the South. The area is somewhat notable for the number of military installations in the region, with several military bases, and with the defense industry as the single largest employer.
Cumbria and Lancashire is also home to a number of werewolf packs, an unruly mixture of Pure, Ghost Wolves, and Forsaken, in roughly that order of prominence. The local werewolves are disorganized, with all the usual issues that small packs have (the median pack lasts less than ten years from formation to dissolution or destruction). They also have a decided siege mentality, with no shortage of enemies between periodic Fomorian incursions, ghosts pouring in from the Scottish border, and the occasional supernatural crime ring thinking that Blackpool is an easier place to work than Manchester. The local werewolves, regardless of pack, tend to be decidedly hostile to strangers, and they usually take the mythology of Pure and Forsaken very, very seriously.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=The Lake District][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ab/Keswick_Panorama_-_Oct_2009.jpg/640px-Keswick_Panorama_-_Oct_2009.jpg[/img.]
The Lake District
An area in Northwest England, the largest and deepest lakes in England are to be found here (Windermere and Wast Water respectively), as well as plentiful other lakes (often called meres), mountains, and forests. The place is also deeply associated with the poetry of William Wordsworth and the other Lake Poets, and is a popular holiday spot.
In the Shadow around the lakes of Cumbria, a number of Other Landmarks can be found. Some of them are prone to move, although the spirits of Lake Windermere and Wast Water always seem to know exactly where the landmarks can be found at any given moment. All of them are sources of valuable knowledge. All of them are in the territory of the most xenophobic and hostile packs.
A Brass Post with a cast dragon’s head atop it stands on one of a number of hilltops between the Shadows of Devoke Water and Seathwaite Tarn. The post stands with its mouth open, it fangs bared. Its tongue and many of its teeth are broken off, but the post can be heard to speak. It knows the true names of every demon that ever stood on the British mainland in the material realm. The post will answer without argument, but only if the right words are said before; and it will only answer once in any individual’s hearing.
A spirit-reflection of a Morris Minor lies, wrecked, far from any road, somewhere near Whitefell. The spirit is dormant, but other spirits leave it be. Its radio still works, and still plays music from times long past. Sometimes the music stops and crackly voices tell secrets.
Somewhere within 10 miles of the Shadow of Hobcarton Pike, a great stone hand, some 20 or 30 feet high, rises, fingers outspread, from the ground at the bottom of a valley. Chipped and grown with moss and algae, surrounded by grass-covered rubble as if the hand burst from the soil long ago, the hand’s location changes monthly. One pack of the local Pure makes a point of finding it each time it moves and repelling anyone who tries to get near with extreme force. The hand is well-known, but none of the Forsaken have ever gotten close enough to it to find out exactly what it does.
Above the Shadow of Swinside Stone Circle, huge, tangled strands of linen hang in the air, 20 or 30 feet above the ground. There’s something written on them. The Ghost Wolves who keep the locus that surrounds the Circle don’t know what the writing says, and will resort to murder to make sure that no one else ever does.
[spoiler.=North East England][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b7/Hadrian%27s_wall_at_Greenhead_Lough.jpg/640px-Hadrian%27s_wall_at_Greenhead_Lough.jpg[/img.]
North East England
The area north of Yorkshire, south of the Scottish Border, and alongside the North Sea, the North East of England has had an exciting history. It was a major center of Roman power, with Hadrian's Wall running through the area. Later, monks such as the Venerable Bede and Cuthbert of Lindisfarne led the local people, producing the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the first translations of the Gospels in the world. Later still, Vikings landed here more than anywhere else, as it was easy to navigate from Scandinavia. In the 19th century, the area was a major shipping and transit hub, and coal was mined here in enormous quantities to ship southwards to London. But, as with so much of the North, the late 20th century saw the economy fall into a depression from which the region has emerged only in fitful gasps.
Among supernaturals, the area is known for its large number of occult ruins. Between Roman priests, Viking Seiðr-workers, and monks conducting ceremonies that might not have been strictly orthodox, the area is littered with supernatural remnants of bygone eras. Hadrian's Wall is often thought to be the physical focus of what was once an enormous protective enchantment -- it doesn't work anymore, but when it did it was one of the largest spells cast in Europe, and it's hardly the only ruin that's interesting to supernatural scholars. Of course, the downside is that most of the more interesting ruins are often protected, and it only takes one thousand-year old Norwegian draugr to ruin a would-be occultist's day. Other than its many ruins, the area is mostly quiet on the supernatural front, with lone mage cabals, the odd werewolf packs, and so forth.[/spoiler.]
Usually abbreviated to simply 'Newcastle' (though there's also a Newcastle-under-Lyme, so be careful), Newcastle-upon-Tyne is the region's major city. It was a major seaport and railway juncture in the 19th century, though people had been using the port since Roman times, when it was a settlement called the Pons Aelius. It had the usual decline in the 20th century, but these days, Newcastle is actually in the process of a revival, and is especially notable for its vivid and memorable night life.
Also potentially terminal night life, if some of the partiers chance upon any of the Gulls. Vampires, progeny of a Gangrel who had once been a Bristolian slaver, the Gull are night-borne sailors extraordinaire. They take on the forms of fish and seagulls, and boast an unnatural power over the weather, although they are unable to cross or travel on fresh water without aid. Making their havens in docks or in the holds of ships, the Gull claim a chilling power over storms and mists. Tales of becalmed boats whose crew fell prey to wasting sicknesses, of slave ships whose cargo all died before arriving at their ports of call and of sailors attacked by night by vicious seagulls have all been laid before the Gull. Britain is not the naval power it once was, and while the Gull were, even 50 years ago, pretty numerous, they’ve declined in recent decades — many have been destroyed or have fallen into torpor as the docklands and marinas of Britain have vanished, to be replaced with luxury flats and expensive business developments.
The Newcastle Gull are the exception. To the contrary, they seem to be doing rather well. They dominate the local Kindred community, with the Invictus Prince and two of the Primogen all members of the bloodline. Rumors that several Gull have made deals with the “drowned men” are denied by the Gull involved, but seem to be corroborated by sightings of yachts and tugs owned by Gull and crewed by what look for all intents and purposes to be mutilated, waterborne corpses.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=The Isle of Man][img.]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/25/Sound_IOM.JPG/640px-Sound_IOM.JPG[/img.]
The Isle of Man
Lying in the middle of the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man is a modest-sized island of some 200 square miles and 80,000 people, with an extremely convoluted political relationship to the UK (it's a Crown Dependency, meaning that it acknowledges the Queen of England as sovereign but has complete autonomy in all but foreign policy and defense). Historically, the Isle of Man was a crossroads of Celtic and Norse cultures, and the Manx have their own language and a folkloric tradition going back millennia. There's a tradition that equates Avalon with the Isle of Man, an origin myth wherein Fionn mac Cumhaill ripped up some land and threw it into the sea (he missed, he was trying to throw it at another giant), and there are faeries found here found nowhere else, like the Fenodyree, the Glashtyn, and the Moddey Dhoo. These days, the Isle of Man relies in roughly equal parts on tourism, manufacturing, and offshore banking to make ends meet (there's pretty much nothing in the way of corporate, inheritance, or capital gains taxes on the island).
The supernatural world tends to treat the Isle of Man as a somewhat more comfortable version of McMurdo Station in Antarctica -- one can do a great deal of interesting research there, but the environment will kill you. At least, if one replaces environment with Fomorians, whose watery domain surrounds the island and whose servants have a long tradition of appearing on the Isle of Man. Nevertheless, there's a small supernatural community in Douglas, the only settlement of note, consisting of perhaps a half-dozen each of fae and mages, with a couple of vampires. There's also a werewolf pack on the island. The current leader of the Manx supernaturals is a Mysterium-aligned wizard by the name of Kumarpal Raam (birth name: Bryan Qualtrough), a Theosophist who is simply too arrogant to let throwbacks like the Fomorians intimidate him.[/spoiler.]
"Ac yna y kymeryssant wy blodeu y deri, a blodeu y banadyl, a blodeu yr erwein, ac o'r rei hynny, asswynaw yr un uorwyn deccaf a thelediwaf a welas dyn eiroet. Ac y bedydyaw o'r bedyd a wneynt yna, a dodi Blodeued arnei."
Translated: And they took the flowers of the oak, and the flowers of the broom, and the flowers of the meadowsweet, and from those they conjured up the fairest and most beautiful maiden anyone had ever seen. And they baptized her in the way that they did at that time, and named her Blodeuedd.
One of the most sparsely settled and wildest places on the British Isles, the northern half of Wales was the last place in the UK to feel the touch of humanity. As recently as the 1990s, there were mountain villages with no electricity and no running water, and even today there are vast tracks of land free of human settlement. In particular, North Wales is home to Snowdonia National Park, eight hundred square miles of mountains, forests, and rivers -- the largest single tract of wilderness in the UK. The park and the surrounding region are named after Mt. Snowdon, (Eryri in Welsh), the highest mountain in Wales. North Wales isn't the kind of wilderness that one might find in Canada or Siberia, but it's as remote a location as one is liable to find the British Isles.
As a result, Northern Wales is overrun by werewolves, with Predator Kings in particular gravitating to the wilderness of Snowdonia as a way to adhere to their ban. The largest and most powerful pack in the area is the Black Mountain, a pack of almost twenty veteran werewolves led by the elder Coat-of-Snow, a monstrous and inhuman figure who is likely the most powerful werewolf in Britain. The Black Mountain does not have it all its own way, as rival Predator Kings and even some Forsaken Packs have the same idea, most significantly the Blaidd Drwg (Welsh for 'Bad Wolf') pack, composed of some very canny, very skilled Hunters in Darkness led by the alpha Eagle's Reach. And of course, plenty of freshly-changed werewolves gravitate to Snowdonia's wilderness, forming short-lived packs of Ghost Wolves that can cause a lot of damage before they self-destruct. All this means that anyone visiting Northern Wales had better be quite careful not to get caught between rival werewolves hell-bent on holy war.[/spoiler.]
Much more densely populated than the north, South Wales is home to some two and a half million people, spread out in a series of modest towns along the coast -- Swansea and Cardiff mostly. Once upon a time, coal was king here, but the 1970s and 1980s saw the mines play out, and so the local economy sputtered and guttered like a flickering candle. The rural areas are among the poorest in Western Europe, and while Swansea and Cardiff aren't quite as badly off, the insurance adjusters and call centers that have moved in still fail to provide sufficient employment for the people of South Wales. As a curious note, South Wales is becoming something of a television and film mecca, as the BBC is moving more and more filming into the area to take advantage of the low costs and beautiful countryside -- Dr. Who is filmed here, usually.
The supernatural world of Wales is dominated by the Consilium of Carmarthen, though the mages tend to stick to the more settled areas. Werewolves pushed out of the choicest territories of North Wales also frequently settle in the more rural regions, whether Forsaken packs or else Pure too weak to compete. All of them have to deal with the fact that the poverty of South Wales has caused an epidemic of unhealthy occult effects, as spirits of disease and despair glut on the peoples' misery, and demons find plentiful takers for their bargains.[/spoiler.]
Today, Carmarthen is a small, quiet town of some fifteen thousand people in southwest Wales, a bit less blighted than most of the region. It has a proud history, though. It claims to be the oldest town in Wales, and between the 16th and 18th century it was the biggest, until industrialization and coal led others to eclipse it. Carmarthen also has strong links to the Arthurian legend, for it is said that Merlin (or Myrddin, as his name was before the English got to it) was born in a cave outside of the town, and many of the local place names reflecting the legend (such as Bryn Myrddin, Merlin's Hill near the town center). There's a tree called Merlin's Oak, and as the legend goes, when Merlin's Oak comes tumbling down, so too shall Carmarthen Town. The townspeople, being clever sorts, uprooted the oak when it died and set it up in the village museum.
It is no surprise, then, that the Consilium of Carmarthen is the only group of mages that rivals London in terms of prestige and power. For going on two centuries now, both have claimed to be the First Consilium of the United Kingdom. In truth, London has the edge, but Bendigeidfran and his Councilors would rather tear their own hearts out than ever admit that. Compared to the dictatorial modes of the London mages, the Consilium of Carmarthen is a devolved, democratic institution reflecting a strong Free Council influence, though Bendigeidfran himself is a Mystagogue. Most of the mages that claim allegiance to the Consilium actually live in Cardiff or Swansea, and have a significant degree of self-rule, with many of the most important issues settled by referendums conducted on Bryn Myrddin. A controversial innovation to say the least, but it's worked well for the Consilium so far, albeit at the cost of swiftness of action.
The area around Carmarthen is also home to a great many artifacts of Merlin. The party line is that Merlin was an archmage of world-bestriding power in dark age Britain, who crafted the Arthurian world to bring a touch of the Supernal into human affairs. Certainly, the Carmarthen Consilium has a few of his books and relics (or the books and relics of some wizard rather more puissant than usual). The only catch is that plenty of the Fae claim Merlin or Myrddin as one of their own, for the earliest legends have him as a half-human being of fae aspect, a trickster-mentor to King Arthur and his knights. In any case, Carmarthen sees a great many pilgrims from all over the world, and the Consilium periodically conducts searches for more relics, though these are nothing so mundane as archaeological digs, and Bendigeidfran's mages take a dim view of others engaging in a bit of extracurricular searching.
The Rhondda Valley, in South Wales, is counted one of the poorest single administrative regions in Western Europe. Once, the picturesque rolling valleys were home to a thriving coal mining industry, but as the mines closed down, there was nothing to replace them, and the villages of the Rhondda Valley fell into poverty and decay. The poorest area of all is the Small Rhondda, the Rhondda Fach. It’s so narrow that only one main road winds through the valley. The villages that line its sides all run into each other: Maerdy, Ferndale, Tylorstown and Wattstown, so close to each other that they might as well be one community, the side roads that branch off up the slopes of the valley all eventually curving back onto the one main road.
One night every couple of months, the road between Ferndale and Maerdy extends by about a half a mile, and another village appears, and stays there for about a week, with its own bordering hills, its own mineshaft, its own coal tips and its own sign. The sign says it’s called Pontycythraul: please drive carefully. Fear settles over the people in the other villages in the valley. As far they’re concerned, Pontycythraul has always been there, and it’s always been a place to be scared of. Cars heading through this stretch of road go very fast — forget the speed cameras — and it’s the unspoken rule that you do not stop for anyone, not for a hitchhiker, not for a policeman or a breakdown, not for an accident, not for anything. People in Ferndale and Maerdy stay in at night, and ignore the screams and the shouts. They don’t get the police involved, and they don’t try to help anyone they know who gets in trouble there.
You go to Pontycythraul and you come out alive, no one talks to you, like you’re tainted. Even when the village is gone, and the world’s gone back to being a place where it never existed, survivors of the place are still shunned. You don’t ever get out unmarked. People from Pontycythraul — they’re a different matter. Mostly, they don’t leave the village. You can see them as they drive through. They all look similar, with their greasy curly hair and their sloping faces and pockmarked, pasty skin and their hunched shoulders under Burberry caps and Reebok trainers and Kappa tracksuits. They stare at you as you drive past with eyes, dark and dull like turned-off TV screens, and pinched mouths and beetling brows. About 10 years ago, they’ll tell you, a young teacher, an English fella, he laughed — I’m from Moss Side, he says — and he went to visit some of the parents in Ponty. That’s the end of the story. That was the last of him. When Pontycythraul isn’t there, they say he died in a car accident, bad stretch of road that, they say, but when it’s there: then they know.
The local Forsaken packs and the Carmarthen Consilium know that something terribly, terribly wrong is going on here. But of the sole pack that went to Pontycythraul, only one came back and he wasn't what you'd call quite sane, and the mages still can't decide what to do. So nothing is done.[/spoiler.]
The part of Scotland directly north of England and south of the Highlands, normally considered to encompass the Central Plain of Scotland and the Southern Uplands. For all that the romanticism of the Highlands pervades Scottish national identity, it is in the Lowlands that most of Scotland can be said to dwell. This is the most agriculturally fertile part of Scotland, and the most populous, with most of Scotland's admittedly small population (just over five million) dwelling in the rolling hills and sparse forests of the Lowlands. Both of Scotland's major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, are likewise found in the Lowlands. Traditionally, the economy has been one of heavy industry, underpinned by the steel mills and shipyards of Glasgow, but the general deindustrialization of Britain has led to a decline in Glasgow's importance, though Edinburgh has weathered the economic crisis quite well.
The Lowlands are also the most haunted part of a haunted island, as ghosts teem in the Lowlands in great numbers. No other part of Britain has seen quite as much war, treachery and blood as the Lowlands, as Scottish chieftains, Roman governors, and English kings fought to gory standoffs for millennia -- and unlike in ever-changing London, the ruined castles and fallow battlefields of the Lowlands can maintain ghosts on this plane for centuries. The most notorious and deadly ghost in the Lowlands is likely the specter of the cannibal-chief Sawney Bean, who wanders with his dead family about the hills, consuming those unwise enough to be caught alone in the mountains. Even more powerful is the the long-dead Wizard of Balwearie, Michael Scot, who has haunted the ruins of Glenluce Abbey for past nine hundred years and is as potent an archmagus as the British Isles have ever seen. Both the Argent Collegium and the Freehold of Elphame make some claims to control over the Lowlands, but neither has the ability to exercise more than nominal authority over the region.[/spoiler.]
The second largest city in Scotland and the historic and current capital of the region, Edinburgh is located towards the east of the Scottish Lowlands. The original city was founded upon a rocky outcropping (a volcanic plug, to be precise) upon which Edinburgh castle now sits, with the Old Town stretching out down the length of the plug (the Royal Mile) and reaching its end at the Palace of Holyrood, seat of the Kings of Scotland. To the south stretches the New Town, the spilled-over suburbs and exurbs of Edinburgh, the modern counterpart to the Old Town's rich history. Edinburgh has traditionally been a seat of learning and education in Scotland, home to the Scottish Enlightenment of David Hume and Adam Smith, and with the University of Edinburgh among the best in the world, and in modern days Edinburgh is the second most economically vibrant city in the UK, after London, with an economy built upon the finance and tech industries.
Edinburgh is also home to the Argent Collegium, one of the most successful Awakened organizations in the British Isles. The Collegium was founded during the Scottish Enlightenment, and represents a kind of Silver Ladder / Mysterium hybrid organization, emphasizing the importance of controlling knowledge as a way of guiding they destiny of the world. They are the teachers of the great and powerful, educating both mortals (via the numerous mages on the faculty of the University of Edinburgh) and the supernatural (in hidden chambers that honeycomb the rocky bluff on which the Old Town stands). The Collegium has maintained cordial relations with both past and present Awakened leaders in London, usually trading their knowledge and teaching ability in exchange for the Englishmen's greater ability to burn, mutilate, and destroy.
The largest city in Scotland, third-largest in the British Isles, Glasgow is known for urban decay, sectarian violence, and radical leftist politics. A city of about three million on the western coast of Scotland, the 1707 Act of Union gave Glaswegians access to all the ports of the British Empire, and in 1900 Glasgow built more ships than America, Germany, and Russia combined. Much of this economic and urban growth was fueled by Irish Catholic immigration, leading to religious violence between Catholics and Protestants, and also the rise of socialism and anarchism courtesy of the wretched working conditions. The decline in industry of the 1970s and 1980s hit Glasgow hard, and poverty and violence is endemic. In point of fact, Glasgow is the murder capital of Western Europe.
None of this is helped by the Other City. Every few months or so something happens in Glasgow. By night, the people in parts of the city — rarely more than maybe a couple of streets at a time — find themselves and their surroundings changed. This new city that invades Glasgow’s space usually has a name, but it’s not the same name every time; Glasgow has had a number of different names — it’s been Grassic Lewis, Unthank, Golgonooza and Bethmoora a couple of times each so far, and may have other names in the future. It is a place where madness infects laws both human and physical, where a man is arrested and hanged without ever being charged, where stigmata appear in the shapes of mouth and eyes in cuts, where a hundred miles of trolley fit between two blocks of flats, where the dead walk with no memory of life, and where a university catalogs the daily lives and dreams of every citizen of Glasgow in shelves a thousand feet high. And, always, somewhere in the background far away, colossal unseen engines throb and clatter. And, sometimes, something long and wingless and many-tailed flies shrieking across the night sky, too quickly for its shape to be properly made out.
The result of the Other City's influence is that madness doesn't simply run in Glasgow's supernatural community, it practically gallops. The supernatural are far more susceptible to being taken into the Other City than mortals, and wise supernaturals give Glasgow a wide berth. What remains is a stew of outcasts, marginals, and lunatics, driven ever crazier by the Other City. The most powerful supernatural in the city is vampire Alan MacLeish, the Laird of Glasgow, a Catholic Sanctified who is highly unstable. Among his recent and often arbitrary edicts have been a ban on feeding on Celtic fans (Glasgow Celtic’s supporters are traditionally Catholic; Glasgow Rangers’ supporters are traditionally Protestant) and the calling of a blood hunt against one of his Hounds, whose crime was failing to turn up to confession one week. And MacLeish is far from the craziest supernatural in Glasgow.[/spoiler.]
Nestled between Dundee and Aberdeen, half in the Highlands, half in the Lowlands, Angus is a farming and fishing area, with a mountainous uplands and a more populous coastal region. Angus has some claim to being the birthplace of Scotland, with a rich history of Pictish settlement, and with the Declaration of Arbroath, establishing the medieval kingdom of Scotland, signed at Arbroath Abbey in 1320.
Angus is also home to one of Scotland's more unpleasant supernatural legends. The story goes that a group of hapless and
poorly-informed Ghost Wolves from Dundee found fell foul of a village of people who seemed unaffected by Lunacy, and who, silent, blank-faced, behaved like insects in a hive. The central power in this place, the queen of the hive, was a waxy-faced woman with faceted eyes who styled herself “The Madonna of the Wasps.” The woman effortlessly took control of the werewolves’ minds; only one of them was strong-willed enough to escape, and he had to kill one of his own packmates to do it. The lone survivor’s name isn’t generally known. He’s never any closer than a “friend of a friend.” This isn’t the only story about the Madonna of the Wasps — she’s become something of a legend among werewolves, vampires and mages alike.[/spoiler.]
Haggis and kilts and bagpipes is the usual image of the Highlands, though the latter two are for formal occasions (a Scotsman wears a kilt as often as an American wears a tux), and haggis is far less peculiar than is generally perceived. The Highlands comprise the mountainous regions to the very north of Great Britain, with several mountain ranges, deep lochs, enchanting glens, and plenty of old historical castles. The Highlands were once more heavily populated, but the Clearances drove most of the Scottish Highlanders into the Lowlands, and today the entire area has a population of not-quite a quarter million, giving it the lowest population density in the UK. The only reason Highlands culture (kilt and bagpipe and all) survived was due to the efforts of Romantic poets, most notably Sir Walter Scot, who did much to turn the Clans into symbols of romantic exoticism. These days, the Highlands basically survive economically due to Sir Walter Scot's efforts, with tourism an important economic driver. The people also tend to be among the most religious in the UK, with the Kirk, as the Church of Scotland is known, a powerful force in peoples' lives.
It is something of a debate in the Freehold of Elphame as to whether their system likewise owes itself to Sir Walter Scot, or whether it predates him. In any case, the Freehold of Elphame is the dominant organized force in the Scottish Highlands, with numerous changelings and some few mages and werewolves swearing allegiance to it. The Freehold is divided up into Clans of differing sizes (the largest, Clan McCulloch, numbers over fifty, while the smallest, Clan Nevoy, has three members), each of which claims a specific geographic area in the Highlands. They meet in Inverness once a year in order to debate matters of pan-Freehold importance, but otherwise the Clans have near-complete autonomy. In fact, violent conflicts between the Clans are common, and between inter-Clan battles, fights with ghosts (who are nearly as common here as in the Lowlands), and the occasional Fomorian and High Court of Éire incursions, the Elphame Clans have some of the highest turnover of 'organized' supernatural society in the British Isles. On the other hand, all that violence means that the Elphame Clans know how to fight very well, which stands them in good stead against their foes.[/spoiler.]
Sometimes called the 'Capital of the Highlands', Inverness is the largest city in the Highlands at just over 50,000 people, and is situated at the mouth of the River Ness (this being quite literally what its name means, 'Mouth of the Ness'). Historically, it was a site of battles, castles, and was the home of the historical Mac Bethad Mac Findláich, the 11th century king better known as the inspiration for Shakespeare's MacBeth. Today, Inverness is one of the most active and forward-looking cities in the UK, its economy and population both booming, particularly high-tech industries in computing or medical technology. Surveys label it the happiest place in Scotland, and the second happiest in the UK.
As such, Inverness is a fitting capital for the Freehold of Elphame, or it would be if most of them dared use it regularly. Ever since Mac Findláich's murders nine hundred years ago, the Greater Inverness area has been Wyrd-Cursed. No simple hex, this curse is powerful, intelligent, and malign, twisting and tempting anyone in its path to evil acts, and then ensuring that they spiral rapidly out of control. Envy spirals into hatred and thence to murder, only to prompt bloody revenge in return, spreading misery all about. The curse is not above possessing peripheral members of its 'drama', to force them to forward its plot, but the central scheme is always a self-inflicted descent into murder and madness. The curse tends to ignore mortals, as one might gather from Inverness's generally happy existence, but it treats the supernatural as fair game, as well as anyone too closely associated with them. Under the circumstances, one might reasonably ask why the Elphame Clans insist on holding their annual clan-meetings in Inverness Castle. According to the Freehold, it's a way to demonstrate their mental, physical, and moral fortitude. According to most everyone else, it's a sign of their stubbornness turning into insanity. A few bloody-minded supernatural beings actually attempt to live in Inverness year-round, though few last longer than five years.[/spoiler.]
Famous around the world, few outsiders have a good grasp of just what Loch Ness is. It's a deep, freshwater lake southwest of Inverness, which happens to be a very large lake. It runs for twenty-three miles from end to end, and at its deepest point is 750 feet deep. By surface area, it is the second largest in Scotland after Loch Lomond at just over 21 square miles, and by volume it is the largest. Due to the high level of peat in the water, there is almost no visibility below the surface. Loch Ness is surrounded by a ring of small towns, the largest of which is Fort Williams, and is actually a fairly important shipping lane, being a part of the Caledonian Canal that links the east and west coasts of Scotland.
Loch Ness is also home to the British Isles' largest and most organized cult of water-horses, a group of Each Uisge called the Cult of Demeter Aganippe. For centuries, the Each Uisge have sacrificed people to the spirits of the Loch, but the modern era and the advent of 'Nessie' tourism has been an astonishing boon (if the Each Uisge had known that being seen by mortals would bring more mortals, they'd have done it much earlier!) Nowadays, the Each Uisge sacrifice more frequently to the spirits of the Loch, as making tourists disappear is the simplest thing. Today, the cult numbers over a dozen Each Uisge and almost a hundred mortal henchmen, many of them raised in the cult by families that had worshiped Demeter Aganippe for generations. As if that were not enough of a problem, by this point the spirits of the Loch have gotten quite used to their bloody meals, and should the Cult ever be destroyed, these dread spirits are liable to start hunting for themselves.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=The Orkney and Shetland Islands]
The Orkney and Shetland Islands
A pair of archipelagos lying due north of Scotland (the Orkneys just a bit to the north, the Shetlands further north and to the east), these are some of the most remote places in the British Isles. Combined, the two island chains have a population of just over 40,000 people, and in both cases only a third of the islands in the archipelagos are inhabited. Originally settled by Scandinavian colonists, today the islands are remote fishing backwaters, most notable for their abysmal weather (the Shetlands are just south of the Arctic circle and exposed to the worst that the North Sea can throw at them, the Orkneys are only marginally better), their neolithic heritage (Orkney has some of the best-preserved Neolithic sites in the UK), and their rich and still-extant folklore. The Orkneys in particular have a unique cultural tradition of trow and nuggles and worms and mermaids and selkies.
In fact, it is the last of these, the Selkies of Finfolkaheem that claim a certain negligent dominion over the islands. Finfolkaheem is the mythical homeland of the selkies (also called Finfolk), an island located in the Otherworld of the North Sea. From there, the selkies visit the islands, in search of silver, entertainment, and paramours. Theirs is a hands-off sort of rule, with very few laws. Don't hurt a selkie, don't hurt someone a selkie likes, and don't try to stop a selkie from doing what they want. Someone who wants to probably could, since the typical seal-folk is little tougher than a mortal man. But the selkie will have relatives, and the Finfolk are perfectly willing to exact bloody and gratuitous vengeance on anyone who crosses them, sinking ships, downing airplanes, and washing away villages. Their casual rule and the Orkney and Shetland's remote and underpopulated nature has made the islands a popular place for the more antisocial supernatural denizens of the British Isles, and there are lone wizards or fae hermits on some of the most distant isles. Though as the Fomorians from the Irish Sea do sometimes come visit, this kind of lifestyle is not without its dangers.[/spoiler.]
Sometimes referred to as the Western Isles, this is a pair of small island chains just off the western coast of Scotland, looking out towards Ireland. The Inner Hebrides (including the Isle of Skye) are closer to Scotland, sheltered from the worst of the storms, and are characterized by dense forests, rocky hills, and both cliffs and sandy beaches that attest to the islands' volcanic origins. The cooler Outer Hebrides (including the Isle of Lewis) replace those dramatic landscapes with gentler, rolling hills and bracken moors, the beaches now smooth stone. The islands are sparsely populated, just fifty-thousand people on all of them, and there are numerous uninhabited islands out there, over fifty sizable, empty islands in the Outer Hebrides alone. The local economy is mostly based on fishing, tourism, and oil.
Despite possessing the same advantages of solitude that the Shetlands and the Orkney Islands offer, the Hebrides are almost deserted by most of the supernatural. A few selkies make their way down, the odd mage or fae settles, almost always in Skye. This is due to the fact that it is the Hebrides that are most exposed to the ravages of the Fomorians of the Irish Sea. According to myth and legend, the Fomorians were the original, semi-divine rulers of Ireland, chased into the sea by the Tuatha Dé Danann. They are said to dwell there still, awaiting their chance for revenge. Whether the things that dwell in the Irish Sea are actual Fomorians (and what would they have been? Deposed Gentry? Incarnae banished into flesh?) is a matter of debate, but what is known is that there are terrible creatures that dwell there, giant monsters of incredible power and obscure motives. They seem to desire tribute in souls, gold, and flesh, and they avoid large concentrations of mortals or modern technology. Even sightings are rare, as one more commonly meets their slaves and servants, whether drowned men with a single arm, a single leg, or a single eye, mortal cults bearing weapons of deific power (which rarely look like weapons), or sea monsters of ferocious aspect. The most documented Fomorian is Craoch, a creature that attends to several cults in the Outer Hebrides, though whether it is priest or outcast or simply the Fomorians' tax collector is a matter of conjecture. Craoch is described as a ram-headed man three stories tall, with webbed hands and feet, three eyes (two on the left, one on the right), and human skulls for teeth, bearing an axe capable of cleaving a house in twain and whistling up hurricane-force storms. For obvious reasons, few lesser supernaturals want to risk such surly neighbors, but the Fomorians' servants have been seen in Ireland and Scotland both, especially up by the Orkneys.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=St. Kilda Archipelago]
St. Kilda Archipelago
The St. Kilda Archipelago is a tiny set of islands some forty miles out past the Outer Hebrides, quite simply the most remote place in the British Isles. Any further and you fall into the Atlantic Ocean. Originally settled by a small group of Scotsmen from the Isle of Skye in the late 17th century, the barren islands were never really capable of supporting anything but a hard-scrabble existence (the largest island of Hirta was all of two and a half square miles). In 1912, there was an influenza epidemic, and by the 1930s, the islands were uninhabited. Later on, during the Cold War, the Ministry of Defense decided that this remote hunk of rock was a perfect place to test Britain's missile system. The MOD set up a military base, complete with launchers, airfields, and radar stations, and spent much of the next thirty years vaporizing inoffensive seawater with high ordinance. These days, the military facilities there are run by skeleton crews due to budget cuts, the MOD is discussing shuttering the facility, and there haven't been any tests in years. The MOD took away the nuclear warheads back in the late 90s, though the actual missiles are still there, as well as the Sea Harriers fighter-bombers, despite their official 2006 retirement from service. The current population of St. Kilda is about two hundred people, consisting of ~120 soldiers, ~60 civilian contractors, and maybe a dozen unaffiliated staff, such as an archaeologist who works during the summer, or the wardens who keep an eye on the place for UNESCO.
Left to rot on an uninhabitable rock in the middle of a cold and grey sea, abandoned by their government, it's little wonder that the missile crews of St. Kilda formed the Samhara cult. They meet once a week in an old bomb hanger and worship the Missile and the Bomb, with sermons on the topic of the Cleansing Apocalypse and the Divine Fire of the Atom. Whether Samhara emerged from the fevered mind of a mad prophet, from the dream-born visions sent by Fomorians, or whether some violence-hungry fae or spirit of war is pulling the strings is a question of considerable interest to those who know of Samhara, but few have dared investigate too closely. Sure, they cultists are all just mortals and there's only about two dozen of them. But they're mortals with guns and military training, and they include many of the longest-serving and highest-ranked soldiers and staff on the islands.[/spoiler.]
[The Irish poets] certainly believed in the historical reality of even their wildest imaginations. And so soon as Christianity made their hearers desire a chronology that would run side by side with that of the Bible, they delighted in arranging their Kings and Queens, the shadows of forgotten mythologies, in long lines that ascended to Adam and his Garden. Those who listened to them must have felt as if the living were like rabbits digging their burrows under walls that had been built by Gods or Giants, or like swallows building their nests in the stone mouths of immense images, carved by nobody knows who.
William Butler Yeats, Preface to Lady Gregory's Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902)
A complex land with a complex history, Northern Ireland was the part of Ireland most heavily settled by colonists from Great Britain, primarily Scottish Protestants culturally and religiously distinct from the main Irish Catholic population. As a result, unionist feeling was always far stronger in the north, and in 1921 the island was partitioned into Northern and Southern Ireland, the latter becoming the Irish Free State in 1922, while Northern Ireland remained under British rule. This was a far from uncontroversial decision, and the period from 1969 to 1998, the Troubles, saw a simmering conflict brew between republican and loyalist paramilitaries, with the British Army pitching in regularly. While low in terms of total casualties (just over three and a half thousand), this was out of a total population of a million and a half. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 is generally seen as the end of the Troubles, with Northern Ireland receiving a large measure of self-rule, though there remains plenty of ill-feeling and strife. Northern Ireland has also, historically, been the most industrialized and densely populated part of Ireland, with Belfast a industrial city of global significance. They suffered the same economic decline as the rest of the UK in the latter 20th century, but the end of the Troubles and the relaxation of movement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland means that the economy is slowly improving.
Before the 1920s, Northern Ireland was dominated by the High Court of Éire, the enormous Faerie Freehold that still rules over the Republic's supernatural world. The social and political strife of the latter 20th century saw the old-fashioned and none-too-nimble High Court pushed out of large parts of Northern Ireland, as werewolf packs declared independence and the Twin Princes of Belfast went on an Embracing spree. Today, Northern Ireland is still something of a chaotic morass of rogues, renegades, and revolutionaries, though the High Court has been moving aggressively to reassert its dominion.[/spoiler.]
The largest city and economic engine of Northern Ireland (population of about half a million), Belfast was a major industrial center during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the world's largest shipbuilding facilities (the Titanic was built here) and linenworks to rival anything Manchester had to offer. Unfortunately, the city suffered dreadfully during the Troubles, as Belfast was the heart of the long struggle between clashing paramilitaries, with assassinations, bombings, and street riots a regular occurrence. As a result, Belfast fell behind the rest of Ireland economically, and is today a rather drab and grey city, slowly recovering from its long nightmare of civil strife.
In the supernatural world, however, the Troubles are far from over. This as a result of the unforeseen consequences of decisions made by the Twin Princes of Belfast, the Kindred David Sands (Lancea et Sanctum) and John McDonald (Invictus). Belfast's supernatural community, dominated by the Kindred, had long been split along Loyalist and Republican, Protestant and Catholic lines. During the Troubles, however, someone (no one will now admit who) realized that the skillset that went with being a successful paramilitary or terrorist carried over very nicely into the Requiem, and both the Loyalist McDonald and the Republican Sands and their respective allies went on Embracing sprees, using the violence to conceal the disappearances of the choice childer they pulled into the night. Except that eventually the Troubles ended, and yet the undead partisans have no desire to give up on their respective struggles. Belfast these days is still riven by a shadow war, with Sands and McDonald increasingly losing control of the situation.[/spoiler.]
The second largest city in Northern Ireland, and the fourth largest on the island, Derry was where some of the worst fighting of the Troubles occurred. Indeed, the Battle of Bogside in Derry is usually considered the beginning of the Troubles. Even the very name is a source of controversy, with the stauncher unionists preferring 'Londonderry' instead (though Derry is the name most commonly used in day-to-day speech). Troubles aside, Derry is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Ireland, located on the site of St. Columba's 6th century monastery. Economically, the city was a major port and textile manufacturing center, both of which declined in the late 20th century (much as in Belfast, the Troubles did a great deal to damage the local economy). These days, Derry is slowly recovering, and is gaining recognition for its artistic community. Poet Seamus Heaney recently won the Nobel Prize, and Derry has produced several very prominent poets, playwrights, artists, and musical bands.
Just how much of this is due to the actions of the Pygmalian Society is open to debate, though the Pygmalians are glad to claim the credit. Founded in Paris in the late 19th century, the Pygmalian Society grew out of Rosicrucianism, believing that art, True Art, can be a path to Supernal Awakening. Serving as muses to mortal artists, the Pygmalians try to inspire their students and proteges to ever greater heights of artistic accomplishment, creating paintings, poems, dances, sheet metal sculptures, whatever one can imagine, to try and prompt the faintest of Awakenings. One day, the Pygmalians hope to use Art to breach the Abyss and lead all of humanity into the Supernal, in what they call the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Over the last few decades years, the Pygmalians have turned Derry into their own little stronghold. The High Court of Éire abandoned the city, the Troubles destroyed the supernatural community that remained. And so the Pygmalians moved in, and now account for two-thirds of the city's supernatural population.
Pygmalians have a reputation as free-spirited mages of uncommon talent and passion. To be a Pygmalian is to be passionate. But their lack of internal organization means that there is no one monitoring Paradox in Derry, and there have been several close calls already. Furthermore, the Pygmalians have a reputation for going bad. The most notorious British mage in living memory, Welsh poet Enoch Christopher, was a Pygmalian. Christopher believed that strife and pain were essential to true magical inspiration, and acted upon that belief. He died in 1987, but some of his pupils are still active and extremely dangerous. The manuscript of his poetry cycle When I Came Back, It Was Gone is rumored to be a powerful artifact in its own right, bearing a resonance as bleak as its content. Shutting down the Pygmalians is one of the few things that the Carmarthen and London mages agree on, but that's easier said than done.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=The Causeway Coast]
The Causeway Coast
The length of coastline stretching from Belfast to Derry, the Causeway Coast is one of Northern Ireland's premier tourist sites. It is here that one comes across the famed Giant's Causeway, a geological formation of forty-thousand interlocking, hexagonal basalt pillars, stretching out into the sea as a memory of an ancient volcanic eruption. Nearby are the mystical Nine Glens of Antrim, lush valleys celebrated in poetry and song. A little further inland is the Dark Hedge, an enormous avenue of interlocking trees planted over two centuries ago. Amid the picturesque little farming villages of the Coast one also has a number of archaeological digs, as the area is rife with neolithic ruins.
Not all the archaeologists working on the Causeway Coast are of purely mundane nature. Many in the supernatural community believe that the mythical hero-giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (or Finn McCool as he is anglicized) slumbers beneath the Causeway Coast, alongside his poet-son Oisín and the rest of the Fianna, his warrior-band. Legend holds that when Ireland truly needs him, Fionn and his band will ride forth again. Certainly there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that something is asleep beneath the Causeway Coast. The Giant's Causeway is associated with Fionn's legend, and both the Glens and the Dark Hedge are potent occult locations. Several minor burial grounds have been found, with supernaturally potent bones or tools or weapons. Supernatural beings sometimes dream of Fionn mac Cumhaill, or more commonly Oisín, and some have even managed to communicate with the dreaming beings, learning incredible occult lore in the process. Many of the would-be excavators are interested in finding supernatural weapons or dredging knowledge from mac Cumhaill's dreams. Others are revolutionaries, interested in awakening the giant to cast out the British or the High Court of Éire or both. Understandably, this means that the High Court keeps a close eye on the dubious tomb-robbers of the Causeway Coast -- more disturbingly, so, it seems, do the Fomorians, for the sightings of those aquatic horrors are more frequent here than anywhere else in Ireland.[/spoiler.]
[spoiler.=The Republic of Ireland]
The Republic of Ireland
Also called Éire, this is the independent country that covers the rest of the island of Ireland. Everyone knows the Irish, for the Irish Diaspora was one of the largest in Western history -- today, there are some eighty million people who claim Irish descent, almost half of them in the United States, while the population of Ireland itself is just over six million. This is due to the fact that Ireland is one of the poorest countries in the West, an agricultural basket case which anyone with sense and means tried to leave. In the early 2000s, this was briefly halted as high-tech industry and investment flooded into the country, but the 2008 recession sent Ireland right back into poverty, with a hefty dose of despair that it was what Ireland deserved for its efforts to better itself. Today, Ireland is a poor, still mostly agricultural country.
It is also a very faithful and a very superstitious land. On the one hand, for most of the 20th century, Ireland was the most Catholic country in Europe, and it has been said that in the post-war era Ireland was the closest Europe had seen to a theocracy since the days of the Papal States. At the same time, belief in the Fair Folk is widespread, especially in small villages all about the country. Recent scandals have seen the Church's influence crater, but the faerie faith is still going strong.
This suits the High Court of Éire perfectly. Ireland is perhaps the greatest center of the Lost in the world, certainly in the Western World. It is from Ireland that so much of what is known about the Fair Folk comes, and it is here that people still believe in Tuatha Dé Danann. The High Court is vast (for Ireland teems with changelings despite its slight population) and ancient (with claims of being masters of Ireland since 1700 BC, and historical records dating to the 4th century AD), and in some places the High Court is not merely the shadow but also the legitimate authority over the land, for all that they work through proxies. Their weakness is that they are traditionalists, so archaic in their methods that for their greatest Courtiers the Industrial Revolution is but a passing fancy. The High Court of Éire claims nominal suzerainty over the Freeholds of New Jerusalem (London) and Elphame (The Scottish Highlands), and while Alexandra and the Jack-of-Crows could tell the High Kings and Queens to stuff it, the present London monarchs must be more circumspect.
[spoiler.=The Hill of Tara]
The Hill of Tara
Historically, it was from the Hill of Tara that the ancient High Kings of Ireland would rule, though the allegiance of the fractious Irish chieftains was ever more theoretical than practical. In the modern day, Tara is an archaeological site, interesting and important to the history of Ireland, but nothing but grassy hills and a motorway.
In the Hedge, Tara is a great hall, an enormous, multi-layered fortress that looms up over the Thorns, with a thousand chambers and a thousand defenders ready to meet any assault of the Others. It is from the Hill of Tara that the High Kings and High Queens of Éire rule, passing over one another with the seasons. All four of them are quite interested in putting London under more direct control, but they are so far prevented by their weak grasp of anything more modern than the steam engine, their own incestuous courtly intrigues, and by the necessity of dealing with Elphame at the same time. Given the size and occult power of the High Court of Éire, this is a very good thing.[/spoiler.]