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
London is the heart of Britain, and in some ways it’s the heart of the world. It is home to one Briton out of six, with eight million souls living in the city, and a further six million on the outskirts. Bound by the M25 Motorway, its people unaware of what happens outside the city, unaware and uncaring. The rest of England comes to London.
London is ancient, even in a part of the world where much is ancient. Londinium was founded by the Romans in the first century AD, and London has been constantly inhabited for the past two thousand years. Swept clean by disaster many times in its history – most recently by the Blitz, a mere seventy years ago – it has always rebuilt. Beneath the city, one can find old Roman Mithraeums nestled alongside medieval crypts and war-era Anderson bomb shelters.
And it is magical. London is a place of power — the whole city leaks magical energy from its streets, from ancient buildings, from the river with its great, proud spirits. London is the Heart of Albion. The magicians know it’s the Heavenly City, here on Earth, Jerusalem. It is the city of John Dee and Aleister Crowley. Capital of the world for long centuries, London has been a haven for the arcane and uncanny for as long as human memory stretches back.
All of this means that the supernatural society of London is unique in a way that few other cities can claim. Rome, perhaps, or Paris, or Constantinople, or even New York can all make a good case, but London is unique. It is one of the few places in the world large enough to support a flourishing supernatural society, indeed, a multiplicity of societies. It is cosmopolitan – for many a monster, to go to London was to enter into the heart. It was a place to learn, and a place to live, and a place to prey upon. They came in, and they stayed.
For certain obvious reasons, a full census of the supernatural population of London is neither practical nor desirable. When one’s very lifestyle is predicated on concealing oneself from the mortal population, one does not answer survey forms. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s, a mage of the Mysterium released a statistical analysis, culled from a great deal of rumor and second-hand reference, which broke up the supernatural population of London into categories and assigned them numbers.
At the pinnacle of supernatural society are the four great nations of the uncanny, the fae, the wizards, the vampires, and the werewolves. At the very bottom are the sundry and varied monsters, spooks, goblins and ghouls in all of their infinite variety. But there are things in between, supernatural societies that are not quite of the same size as the Big Four, but significant all the same. Supernatural societies such as those of...