Thursday, 24 July 2014

Batman, Gotham, and Bad Cities

Following on from Batman Day, what else does this 75-year legend have to offer gaming?

It seems sensible to start with Gotham, the city that defines him, so much so that the show about adolescent Bruce Wayne coming soon is to be named after it...

Batman was originally based in New York, then moved to a fictional city to take more artistic liberties and “because we wanted anybody in any city to identify with it” as its creator Bill Finger explained. It was officially mapped in 1999, and the cartographer Elliot Brown explained that creating a fictional city “is about allowing the writers to have their freedom”.

Over the intervening decades Gotham has become a Bad City, an urban hellhole teeming with crime and corruption and scary architecture. Batman editor Denny O’Neil described it as like “eight million people living in a Gothic cathedral”.

Like Lankhmar, Ankh-MorporkPort Blacksand, Mos Eisley, 1980s pop culture New York and almost everywhere in the classic World Of Darkness, it’s the perfect place to get in trouble. It was designed so that Batman always has something to do when he goes on patrol.

Gangsters, street gangs, crooked cops, civil unrest, alligators in the sewers, an insane asylum with a staggeringly bad security record - every issue with city living and every bad urban legend can happen here.

This can tip over into absurdity when placed in a modern integrated setting (I would say it does in The Dark Knight Rises when the government fails to intervene with Bane’s reign of terror for six months after one attempt) but in smaller doses it can be very effective. I wouldn’t want to visit as a tourist (despite its many excellent galleries and museums) but I would as an adventurer.

Many settings have a city (or in space opera style SF an entire planet!) like this. And if the PCs don’t have to live there, they will probably end up visiting it at some point as part of a quest.

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