Over the weekend I went to see John Wick with some friends. I very much enjoyed the movie. It is an action packed extravaganza and very well put together. However, as I watched the movie what stuck out to me was how well put together the world that John Wick takes place in. It paints a portrait of a criminal underworld that is perfect for fiction, and that is also more plausible than many people may be willing to believe.
The Underworld is a Business
People tend to not think about this when writing/plotting for the underworld, but it is a business. The mafia, the bratva, the yakuza, and any other organized crime organization is essentially a business. They offer different services and trade in different commodities, but they are still businesses and the purpose of a business is to make money.
Extending this thought further, business runs smoothly when everything is in order. When organized crime is done right, things work smoothly and like clock work. When things go like that, money is made and no one gets hurt. This is good, because people getting hurt costs money and spending money is bad for making money.
This is why a lot of crime movies have a sort of code or agreement between the various powers. In order to survive, and to thrive, they make deals. Sure, they could just go at each other until only one person was left but that person would be very weak from the fighting that happened, and the whole city could be burned in the process. No one wants that. Why? Because it's not good for business.
Where There's A Need There's An Opportunity
Throughout John Wick we get to see the "support" businesses that pop up around crime. Clubs that serve as a neutral ground for people to meet, relax, feel safe, and talk business. Doctors who work to patch up hitters with no questions asked and have a pragmatic view of exactly what is going on. A hotel that gives people a place to sleep, again free of the need to worry about someone coming for their head. Finally - at least for the movie - a service for disposing of bodies neat and tidy.
These may seem strange, but look around you in the real world. We have people who are paid to keep food hot and ready for you when you want to eat it. There are maid services to keep your home clean. There are alarm services to keep your domicile safe from intruders. THis is the same principle. Where people have a need for something there is an opportunity for someone to make money doing it. Do the job well, and you get a lot of money.
Contacts Are Important
This one is more for the players than the GMs, but contacts in these types of worlds is important. More importantly, contacts that are favorable towards you are vital. Keep in mind that the world is effectively a bunch of businesses that run closer to medieval kingdoms than modern organizations (only with the perks of modern organizations) and people being happy with you is good. Friendly contacts is the difference between someone giving you a chance to explain why you shot up the local 7-11 on a recent job and just having a few guys take you out from ambush for destroying their front.
In Short: Everything Is Connected
Underworlds in a city are very interconnected things. It is a world apart from the "real" world and it is one where it pays to no people. No one exists in a vaccuum and everyone has friends or family. Be careful what you topple, you never know how far the domino chain goes.