The main sources for inspiration for Alanu is, as said before, ancient Rome of the late republican era a century or so BC and old school fantasy rpg’s like Dungeons and Dragons.
Most important single books of inspiration are the Sword and Wizardry DnD retro-clone and Rome: The Life & Death of the Republic a marvelous, deeply researched BRP sourcebook by Alephtar Games thar I will probably review here at a later date.
One of the main features that make late republican Rome a great inspiration for creating a fantasy city of adventure is the total absence of a police force in a city with about 1 million inhabitants. The roman republic was based on fragile balances of power that didn’t dare to give anyone authority over a unified force charged to uphold order in the city. If someone was called to trial for a crime it was up to the duty of ordinary citizens to arrest, if necessary. Instead of police there were street gangs, private militias, groups of relatives and temporary posses that provided for security and order. If for example someone was drunk and violent on a night street he wouldn’t be arrested by a police but he might be beaten up and dumped in a cesspit by the local gang who doesn’t like people to disturb their prostitution business or wake their sleeping children. It was Augustus, the first emperor, who founded the first police force of the city in form of the urban cohorts. The second season of HBO:s Rome series, which is also a great inspiration of mine. gives some insight into the political and social importance of Roman gangs. Nice scene of a gang conflict: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g89LSzDuuQ4&feature=related
This is a very important difference if compared to more traditional fantasy cities that are inspired by medieval cities that commonly had police/watchmen comprised of citizen militia, men permanently hired by the city, a ruling nobles soldiers or a combination of these.
I like the late roman republic because it is a iconic in western cultural and political traditions but at the same time a society with many very different, not to say strange and abhorrent, sensibilities compared to the western societies of today. Until somewhere in the middle of the 20th century european thinkers and politicians constantly, and sometimes manically, compared their own societies to the late republic and other eras of the ancient roman experience. This obsession mostly seems to have waned in Europe, except maybe in the dysfunctional political mess that is Italy, but when I look over the pond it seems to linger a bit more in the great republic of the United States.
It is also from the United States that some other of my inspirations come. The movie ‘Gangs of New York’ by Martin Scorsese is inspired by a period of New York history that have some interesting parallels with the late roman republic. Both the film and the historical records of the 19th century gangs of Five Points give a great understanding regarding how gangs and organized crime in general often is a very integrated part of a society rather than something outside a society. Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather movies, especially part 2, is also interesting in this regard.
Here is a documentary about the historical reality behind ‘The Gangs of New York’ :
An article that discusses merits but also problems in ‘The Gangs of New Yorks’ depiction of history.
A rather more modern source of inspiration is the sociological research of Sudhir Venkatesh regarding the economics and and social relations of Chicago inner city poor in general and gangs in particular.
An important thing I want to stress regarding play inspired by real life gangs, organized crime and poverty is the decency to keep it real and somewhat respectful. Don’t romanticize them or make them into mindless monsters roaming the streets. The real lives of the people who’s often very bad circumstances I use weren’t isn’t usually very fun. They are at the bottom of society and even the minor “respect” they acquire by violence is very hollow. The gangs of Rome 44 BC, New York 1860 AD and contemporary Chicago might be a good inspiration for adventuring but it is always good the remember that they their living condition most often are shite in an existence under the thumb of the real rulers of society. Many have admired the great Julius Ceasar through history while the hungry mobs that were integral to his rise to power only are afforded a sneer.