Organized Crime
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"We are making you an offer you cannot refuse…"

Basic Information

Organized Crime represents large groups of criminals who cooperate during criminal activities for profit and other benefits - broadly, crime run as a business rather than one or more opportunistic events. When crime is organised enough, it may become hard to tell from government … indeed, even leaving sociological theory and politics out of the equation, a significant number of organised crime bodies consist of either emergent or relic systems of government at odds with the current regime.

That being so, many organised crime "firms" like to have control over criminal activity within their territory - although the fact that they will commonly be demanding "protection" from people and businesses in that territory will also have a bearing. Once organised crime becomes powerful enough in a given area, free lance crime is prone to be suppressed … this may make the existence of an organised crime network at least tolerable to some governments as criminal activity becomes relatively restrained and predictable. Conversely, many organised crime groups are also able to subvert government for their own benefit - and either tolerance by or control of government can make them far more dangerous.

Organised crime can also be "layered" with higher status groups dealing in more profitable (and often more business-like) crimes (such as large volume counterfeiting or smuggling - often in the grey rather than black market) and licensing out riskier and dirtier activities (smuggling and dealing weapons and drugs, robbery and stolen goods, prostitution and the like) to lesser groups whom they control and tax. These groups can also layer further down to street corner dealers and gangs of petty thieves, all of whom pay a tax for the right to operate. This can also give "high status" criminals access to significant numbers of deniable (and, arguably, disposable) assets without drawing on their own, directly employed personnel.

Where multiple "firms" exist in an area, part of the organisation of crime may be their formation of a syndicate that divides territory and activity between them to avoid unprofitable conflict.

List of Criminal Organizations

Notable Figures in Organised Crime:

See Also:


1. McMafia by Misha Glenny - a book on the changes of global organized crime after the collapse of the Soviet Union

Game and Story Use

  • Criminal organizations can be some of the most dangerous foes of the player characters. They don't care much about the law and the authorities, they have vast resources, little reluctance to use violence, and they often cannot be stopped by killing a single leader.
  • They can also be important employers, patrons and the like, depending on the setting.
  • Or they can be a neutral fact of life - the campaign need not involve them at all, except where the PCs need to buy or sell black or grey market goods.
  • Or they can vary - sometimes the PCs are just shopping, sometimes they are doing a job for the local firm, sometimes they are banging heads with them.
    • This sort of thing works best when the crime firms, the legitimate corporations and the state all seem more or less interchangeable. Cyberpunk and Noir genres are both prone to this.
  • Something that upsets the balance of power within a syndicate is a classic plot starter - under the right circumstances it can make a city where crime is reasonably tolerable into an ungovernable warzone within days. For PCs "in the life" it is liable to become a highly traumatic experience … for those on the other side, there is the balance between the damage the criminals are doing to one another and the damage they are doing to the city. Both sides will need to be aware of shifts of power within organised crime.
    • Genuine interlopers can play an important role, whether mundane (like Russian Organisatya moving in on Western markets in the 90s) or supernatural (like Vampires or unseelie fae taking over the Chicago Mafia). Wererats are also a fantasy staple for getting involved in organised crime.
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