Saturday, February 13, 2010

The City of Sherlock Holmes

I'm one of those people who is often late to the party when it comes to movies. I have little patience for crowds of the ignorance most often found in crowds. Still, I manage to get out and see a movie or three when the mood strikes me and the movie's already been out for several weeks.
In this case, it was Sherlock Holmes.
One thing that struck me about the city in which Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law are running about, is that it has many elements of a city I try to incorporate in the background, but often forget to. For example, the ending of the movie reaches its showdown in a massive structure still under construction.
Cities should be constantly evolving. Different stylings of buildings, ranging from their age to waves of migration should be visible. People should always be seen in the background doing 'great works' ranging from bridges, road work, temples, statues, and castles, to more mundane building or even repair after successfully repelling, or at least surviving an attack. Keeping the city in a state of evolution may seem odd, that it will propel the city into some odd future too soon, but the real trick, especially in settings taking place in ancient times, is that things took time. Castles and chruches could take years to complete.
The other thing that struck me was the various cultures to be found. When Sherlock is doing his brawling among the Irish for example, or when his nemesis of this movie uses French and Chineese muscle to work his will. A city should be home to many cultures, even if all of them don't get along or share the spotlight. The potential for conflict is one of the things that can drive adventurers forward.
In the dreaded 'real' world for exmaple, many Muslims rioted in France. Cars were set afire. This was no third world that was happening in. That was France. In a fantasy setting, if the players are in with the local militia and powers, would they be willing to attack those who were out venting their rage at the unjustice social system? Would they be willing to shed blood to bring peace to the city?
Would others be willing to force such conflicts in order to hide their own activities? Nothing like a mob starting a riot in order to acheive other, more subtle goals that need a little diversion.
Lastly, when thinking about cities, remember how huge they are. In this movie, the set up for the sequel is in play throughout it, but to me, it felt fairly organic if a little pushed. The infamous Professor, never even seen in the light so to speak, set up as a major power player without coming to the front of the game. When using the city, always have multiple potentials in the air. This doesn't necessarily mean that the players should be hunting down each and every clue, but by providing the players with some hints about other inhabitants of the city that could prove of worth later on down the road, when those individuals are introduced, you've already laid the ground work and it's not just bringing in another character from stage right.
Keep the cities thriving with the people who live in them. Keep those nationalities and ancient rivalries in mind and let the players know that they are not the only inhabitants of the city.