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With V5 announced just recently, and the amount of Vampire content at an all-time high thanks to Storyteller's Vault, groups everywhere are (or are going to be) gearing up to head back to the World of Darkness, or to journey there for the first time.
Setting is a huge deal for the World of Darkness. Unlike a traditional fantasy game, the places in the WoD are fictional analogues of real places and real people, many of which your players are going to be familiar with. So choosing the right city to set your Vampire game in is a pretty important decision. You can't just rewrite a city that's been written out in canon (or, if you do, you'd run the risk of confusing or alienating players with an investment in the existing canon). You need to keep existing canon in mind, as well. Picking a city that's two miles away from a major Sabbat stronghold is definitely going to have an effect on your stories. You need to keep in mind the Camarilla's ideal of 1 vampire per 100,000 people. Of course, you also need a place that you can research and present faithfully.
Unfortunately, many STs tend to fall back on one of three options, in my experience. Either New York, Chicago, or a WoD version of their own hometown (with an inexplicably large number of vampires and a paper-thin justification as to why that is). So if you're looking for a better choice, here's a handful to take a look at.
Canonically, Milan is mentioned in the World of Darkness. The Prince (Lasombra antitribu Giangaleazzo) is mentioned, as is the sheriff (Kasim Bayar, warrior-caste Assamite, unless you're using the V20 canon where he's been appointed Justicar). However, beyond that and the fact that the domain has been cleansed of Sabbat, very little is on record about it. And it's a big domain, from a Kindred perspective. The wider Milan metropolitan area has a population of over 7.5 million, giving a comfortable Camarilla population of 75+ Kindred; enough for the largest of chronicles!
Milan isn't just home to a boatload of people; it also has some gorgeous architecture and a rich history that's perfect material for a Vampire chronicle. The Vampire-centric political intrigues also offer a great deal to work with, since the domain is only recently Camarilla. Giangaleazzo's apparent open-mindedness when it comes to atypical clans (he's one of the only Princes to allow a Schismatic Assamite to hold a position in his court) offers STs and players alike potential freedom with exploring odd clans or bloodlines.
(As a side note, the neighboring domain of Veneto has a fantastic supplement up on Storyteller's Vault. I don't think I've yet seen an ST Vault project with such a high production value. The English version has just recently been added as well!)
The quintessential spring break party spot, Cancun offers a great potential for a chronicle. As recently as 1970, Cancun had a population of 3 (not 3000, just 3), so any undead buildup has been recent. If you'd like a chronicle featuring a young (relatively speaking) Prince or archbishop struggling to prove themselves, you could hardly pick a better choice.
Cancun offers great positioning as well. It's in Mexico, and could be reasonably be Sabbat. It's also relatively close to several Camarilla domains in South America, and could easily be a Camarilla 'frontier town.’ The huge tourist traffic means that the city can support more than the dozen or so vampires that it's permanent population would indicate. If you were so inclined, you could even include a few of the South/Central American bloodlines known as the Drowned Legacies, featured in Beckett's Jyhad Diary.
There are few cities that scream 'World of Darkness' to me more than Havana, Cuba. Although Havana itself can only support a score or so Kindred, no other city on the island can support more than four, so it's not unreasonable to believe that a Prince of Havana could lay claim to a larger portion of Cuba, (which can support over 100 Kindred). With a rich history of conflict that includes battles between natives, between natives and colonists, piracy, revolution, and decades of involvement in cold and proxy wars, Cuba has tons of tie-ins for Kindred of all clans and origins.
Canonically, Cuba's fairly open. Lore of the Bloodlines mentions a bit of Samedi presence, but also reminds us that they are few in number and not terribly politically involved. Crocetta Giovanni declared herself Prince during or shortly after the Cuban Revolution, but her praxis was short-lived, and the Giovanni killed her in a spectacular and public fashion, so STs are open to do whatever the like with the domain, in any configuration of sects.
Dallas has a population of only 1.3 million, but the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metroplex has around 7.4 million, making it a huge potential feeding ground. Only a single Kindred from Dallas is on record: the Malkavian Primogen, Ruth McGinley. Texas's rich history (and the number of times it's changed hands) provide lots of fodder to draw a court of NPCs from.
Dallas's proximity to the heavy Sabbat presence in Mexico make the Sabbat-Camarilla conflict seem like the most pressing, but a savvy ST could potentially get even more mileage from lupine conflicts. The American Southwest is canonically home to a great deal of lupine activity, which could provide a different and deadly set of antagonists. For a good look at some of the local history of Texas and its environs, some historical figures to use as a potential NPC pool, and a particularly terrifying description of the Llano Estacado (a potential base of operations for lupines or fae), see S.C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon.
One of the largest and most important cities in Africa, Casablanca, Morocco is a good choice for those looking for a change of pace from a Camarilla game. Although the Lasombra clanbook tells us that the Archbishop Ferrari is a known asset (along with the Soviet Kilo-class attack sub he uses to carry on the Lasombra tradition of piracy), the rest of the Sabbat presence in the city is open to speculation. Although the domain is a little smaller than some of the others we discussed, it can easily accommodate thirty or more Cainites, with the more lax Sabbat standards allowing that to skew higher.
Given the contentious nature of a Sabbat game, it's good that Casablanca offers so many enemies. Elaine, one of the Inner Circle of the Tremere, makes her home in Algiers. The Silent Striders have a huge caern in Casablanca, if that's the route you'd prefer. The strong cultural ties make it reasonable for an ST to include conflicts with the Ashirra as well. The Laibon are generally more active in Sub-Saharan Africa, although they are no less able to hop a boat or plane than any other Kindred, and have a habit of resisting outside vampiric influences attempting to freely colonize Africa.
At the end of the day
There's nothing wrong with going with a pre-made setting. An already published city gives you a wealth of information to draw on, establishing relationships, characters, plots, and intrigues so you don't have to. Relying on professionally created material to set your games doesn't make you any less of a Storyteller than STs that build entire domains from the ground up. However, if you do want to build your own chronicle, like any good builder you need to pick a solid foundation to work from. Cities like these are the sort of thing that will give you the best basis for a homemade chronicle: rich histories to draw on, large populations and infrastructures to accommodate your vampires, and little to no pre-existing involvement with canon that you need to worry about contradicting.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter, or listen to Don, Jon, & Dragons, his podcast.
Picture Reference: http://whitewolf.wikia.com/wiki/Vampire_(cWOD)
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.