Sunday, 6 May 2018

Nosferatu underworlds: a ramble

A post on the biggest Vampire: The Masquerade Facebook group got me thinking about why Nosferatu often have underworld lairs linked to sewers.

It started pretty early in the line’s history, when the clans were starting to develop archetypes and stereotypes and this extended to typical backdrops and areas of the city they might have domain over.

It also received some coverage in both Clanbooks while other clan-specific locations like Tremere chantries didn’t get as much, so it got the official seal of approval as something Nosferatu vampires do.

The association doesn’t come from Nosferatu itself as it follows Dracula with the vampire in a ruined castle. It might have come in through The Phantom Of The Opera, who is a closer match for how the clan developed than Orlok himself with his fear of being rejected for his appearance and his hidden underworld lair. (Both Clanbooks also feature full-page illustrations of boating on underground rivers Phantom-style. This is the Revised edition.)

The 1980s TV version of Beauty And The Beast might have been an influence as well, with its friendly secret culture protected by a kind monster prone to riding to the rescue on top of subway cars. It’s certainly affected how I think about the clan.

Human(oid) monsters in the sewers and underground appear in the likes of C.H.U.D., Escape From New York, and to an extent the Morlocks from X-Men, themselves a reference to H.G. Wells, so there was plenty of precedent for them to borrow. A little later Batman Returns really ran with it, with the Penguin as a deathly pale mastermind using what gets flushed into the sewer as blackmail material - he even gets quotes in both of the Clanbooks.

Urban legends about sewers like mutant alligators are folded in with the idea that ghoul animals sometimes grow to monstrous sizes.

There could be a gaming influence as well, since sewer levels full of giant animals and hidden traps are pretty dungeon-crawl-ish.

And while the other clan-specific backdrops tended to fade out, more got written about the Nosferatu underworld which helped make it the norm perhaps because it’s a more fantastical location than, say, a Ventrue boardroom or a Brujah biker bar. The Succubus Club is the only building that ever got its own sourcebook, but it was pretty special.

Easy access to a lot of the city without being seen is certainly helpful. As noted in the second episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “Vampires really jam on sewer systems. You can get anywhere in the entire town without catching any rays.” (Although Sunnydale vamps largely skip the sewers in favour of crypts and caves, while Angel uses them a lot more in Los Angeles, so maybe Buffy was basing her information on her time slaying back home.)

For my part, I’ve usually steered away from it. There might be vampires and other things skulking in subways and sewers, but they won’t necessarily be Nosferatu. My last major Nosferatu NPC was a deliberate throwback to Orlok, all elegant black coats and creepy stares and appearing from the shadows in Elysium, and I imagined his haven as a big old house with large enough grounds for privacy...

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