Honestly? Whichever one I’m in at the moment.
I’ve really worked with and written for two major settings and locations (we’ll leave the Requiem project out of this discussion). The first was Dark Ages—well, Italian Renaissance—Milan, a huge, sprawling city at the height of its power, a center of trade, wealth, power and intrigue (not to mention bloody internal civil strife on a regular basis). The second was modern Baltimore, Maryland—the chronicle had originally started in Washington DC, but the characters moved to Baltimore for reasons of their own.
Milan—Under the Eagle’s Shadow
I initially chose Milan as the home city for my exiled Contessa Alianora (the chronicle I created her for was actually set in the Saarland, between what is now France and Germany, but she had to be from somewhere). But as I studied the actual medieval and renaissance-era history of the city, I just fell in love with it. It’s a wonderfully ancient city, dating back to the Roman Empire; its history is full of civil wars, great families, political intrigue, wealth, trade and famous historical personages. It was easy to find maps and photographs. One of these days I would really love to visit, even though I know there’s not a lot of the medieval and renaissance era city left anymore. Still, there’s some, and if you look at the street maps, you can even see the outlines of the old city walls.
So when my co-conspirator/player Sarah and I were plotting on how to bring her long-time Tremere character Etienne de Vaillant (then merely a lowly third-circle apprentice) into contact with the Contessa and her family, setting the story in late 15th-century Milan seemed like a very logical choice. This was the storyline that became informally known as “Milan Mystery Theater” (later more formally titled The Dragon’s Masque), and laid the foundations for all the stories that followed it. I worked out its Cainite history, weaving in the ups and downs of House dell’Aquila around the actual political history of the city, and came up with a good reason why House and Clan Tremere might send a pair of apprentices from the Florentine chantry up to investigate something in Milan (ie, the fact that both Tremere residents of Milan had mysteriously vanished). That turned out to be so much fun, we brought Etienne back to Milan several decades later. His visit (which everyone knew was really a spying mission) coincided with the notorious Conclave of Milan, when the surviving Anarchs, and elders of the Lasombra and Tzimisce clans were plotting their response to the Camarilla’s imposition of a new world order on vampires throughout Europe, a confederation that eventually becomes the Sabbat. This (yet unfinished) chronicle became known as An Alliance of Shadows. This was a very difficult political situation for Etienne, being one of the few Camarilla reps in the city. He did survive (and escape, despite a blood hunt being called on his head…). Then a few years later, the Camarilla (with the aid of the French army) finally crushed the rule of Marius dell’Aquila (the Contessa’s childe) and installed the traitor Giangaleazzo Torriani in his place, and after that, House dell’Aquila all but vanished from the pages of Kindred history.
And then we jumped ahead in time… into the modern era, starting the thread of history again approximately the late 1990s.
Baltimore, the City on the Edge
Baltimore was the setting of the first Vampire: the Masquerade chronicle I ever participated in. It had a marvelous cast of characters (mostly not designed by me, but I learned quite a bit about them anyway, because the Storyteller knew I wouldn’t take advantage of the info in game). We chose it because it was conveniently close (to us and to DC, where the story had started), the ST had lived there for a while, and we were all at least somewhat familiar with it. Baltimore also occupied a rather unique niche in the ‘modern’ Camarilla geography (at least in our version of it), as it was a border city between Sabbat-controlled Philadelphia to the north, and Camarilla-controlled DC to the south-west. It was also a city where Camarilla, Sabbat, and Anarch-aligned vampires co-existed in almost equal strength and, at least until recently, had done so under an uneasy, intermittent détente. However, an unexpected and massive Sabbat attack on Halloween night a few years before had killed the Toreador prince, and many of the city’s elders, and wiped out the entire Tremere chantry. In the chaos that followed, a Nosferatu Justicar had appointed an ‘interim’ prince, a young Brujah gang leader and crime lord, who led the only faction in the city that still retained sufficient numbers and strength to keep the Sabbat from capitalizing on their victory and taking the city over. This, of course, deeply offended the surviving Toreador scions of the old dynasty, as well as the Ventrue elder who thought he should have been made Prince by default. What this situation did provide, however, was a setting that allowed for relatively young characters (ancillae-level, with a few decades under their belts) to become significant and important in Kindred society, filling in the void left by those who had been killed. The Brujah prince needed allies, and there were definitely mysteries to solve, including how a well-established, well-defended Tremere chantry had been so easily taken out to start with, and why the Sabbat offensive seemed to melt away almost as suddenly as it had come…
So when Sarah and I were looking to re-engage Etienne (now a centuries-old Pontifex based in Hong Kong) in a modern setting, we brought him to Baltimore to meet my much younger Tremere character, Sarah McCullough (often referred to as Sarah-T, to distinguish Sarah-the-Tremere from Sarah-the-player-of-Etienne). Etienne had a secret mission of his own, but because it was a secret, and of course, because he was Tremere, his perfectly innocent, non-threatening intentions were utterly misunderstood, and chaos nearly ensued.
“It was the bazooka. I still haven’t gotten over the bazooka.” –Etienne.
But he did succeed—at least in making an ally of Sarah McCullough—and a few other important contacts as well. So Baltimore remains one of the main locals for our world-spanning chronicle, and the Heart of Darkness story will be going there again very soon.
That is, if Etienne can convince them that (1) he’s not dead, and (2) they shouldn’t now kill him for failing to mention this previously.