Enjoying Sons of Anarchy and talking about crime genre fiction on my Dissecting Worlds podcast has set me thinking.
Specifically it has set me thinking about what would be a cool fantasy background for crime fiction.
Right what is one looking for?
Well Sons of Anarchy has persuaded me of the drama of biker gangs…sorry motorcycle clubs (MCs), but how to get them into a fantasy background? Well most MCs were formed by veterans after significant wars (World WarTwo or Vietnam.) That gives a backs tory for PCs of different backgrounds to know each other. If we imagine a large scale war with some equivalent of the Jomsviking, French Foreign legion or Roman Auxiliaries who are then let go in their thousands, you’re left with large numbers of ex-combatants some of which will continue to look for adventure.
In a traditional ‘D&D’ type universe these fellows would probably form the adventuring class. In this setting they will form roving gangs like the original MCs (more on their transport etc; later,) though here they’re called Veteran Chapters (VCs).
Thinking post WW2 also provokes thoughts of noir and with it concepts of private eyes, corrupt cops, infidelity, organised crime etc; I’m all for having that on board. It needn’t be that Player Characters (PCs) are stuck being on one side of the law. If we take the example of James Ellory’s LA Quartet there is plenty of room for mischief on both sides of the badge. If we’re thinking noir that suggests a city and to allow corruption to properly flourish it can’t be an honest one and ideally an independent one. If I want organised crime I need prohibitions to be circumvented which means the government has got to have at least the pretence of morality.
Noir suggests a city and cities keep things nice and focused.
All this suggests a polis or city state but for it to have enough numbers to have enough action on the law it would need to be highly populous or have a high turnover of population or both….
Initially I thought of a key location like Constantinople/Istanbul but I feel it’s been done before and why wouldn’t it be under a super powers control?
Oh course major rivers are significant arteries for trade I thought and if trade had to linger due to say a series of locks to move up and down river that place could be a natural stopping point. Teh excellent suggest was made what if it was an ancient canal so that’s what we’ve gone for. So why isn’t it under the control of a great power? Well lets say the town was in a relatively tight valley and is surrounded by many other city states who allied to throw off a colonial yoke (presumably helped by another great power on the basis that an enemies enemy is your friend and who knows they might need to send in ‘peacekeepers’ one day…)
Unfortunately these powers did not unify to form a new power and so the VC’s can roam across borders finding ‘legitimate’ mercenary work alongside smuggling, banditry and enforcer work for the city organised crime.
Ideally the VCs would be mounted which is a little costly. Traditionally only an elite can afford the horsepower as it where. But….let’s say one there is a surplus of horses bred for the war left over, not thoroughbreds but tough little cobs or ponys. Let’s also say one of the commodities traded on the river is grain but ship’s captains will off load stock that’s going to spoil in transit in The City – which is a cheap supply of horse fodder. Together they make a more mobile region that is normal in faux-medieval fantasy worlds. It’s also a cheap supply of human food for those washing up in the town looking for work or after the war.
And why haven’t nobles been buying up the horses to keep the plebs in place? Off with their heads. Maybe the local elites where used by the colonial power as proxys (think King Herod, the Pharisees or Maharajahs in British India,) when the city states rose up they fell down. Of course some of them will be forming exile groups and causing trouble (either Scarlet Pimpernel or Sandinistas). Some might have turned coat and be loyal servants of the new order – if always looking over their back.
And what unified the states enough to overthrow the oppressors but not enough to unify. Religion seems a good choice. Let’s assume a shared belief system in the valley gets upset by Imperial Decree causing revolt. Off the top of my head let’s say our Canal Valley City states are monotheists, the Imperials are polytheistic and try to insist on Emperor Worship provoking the revolt. After freedom is established the monotheists start to realise all manner of theological differences between cities which prevents unification. The Middle classes of the city states see the opportunity and bank roll a war of liberation (including the mercenary units the PCs were in,) which sees them replace the former nobles through City Assemblies, Councils, the odd Dictator etc; As the middle classes also pay the taxes post war austerity will see the military cut back to city and border guards.
These new theocracy or theological influences ‘revolutionary’ regimes will no doubt dust off the old holy books to re-write the old ‘corrupt’ Imperial laws. If these prescribe things previously legal (drugs, cock fights, prostitution, gambling, naughty pictures, whatever) that’s were the organised crime (no doubt with it’s fare share of veterans) comes in to see supply gets close to demand. If things are still in flux after the war various factions might even court these criminal groups (behind closed doors) for vote tampering, intimidation, secret police duties or labour racketeering. Leaving a heady film of corruption on such ‘Free Cities.’
Finally if we’re injecting noir into the mix we need a little glamour perhaps the theatre and some legitimate (if corruptible) sport. Gladiators have been done to death so perhaps bare-knuckle boxing in the Georgian style (the wasted boxer is a noir staple,) and horse racing (no the cobs but expensive dope-able breeds) ?
So I’d welcome input on this one – maybe if people want to pick an area and run with it and hammer it out by email etc feel free; Dissectingworlds@yahoo.co.uk is the best one to use or use the comments below.