Welcome once again to the Nerdarchy Newsletter. This week’s topic is media, which we discussed in the exclusive Patreon live chat we do every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST with Patreon supporters to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
Media in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games can be tackled from a couple of different angles. One is how the media affects these games. Another is how the media is affected by the games. There is also media in games themselves.
There are roleplaying games that have been developed off of comic books, video games, television shows, novels and movies. At the same time so much media has come from our beloved roleplaying games. The early Dungeons & Dragons company TSR started producing novels set in their worlds. Pathfinder’s Paizo Publishing and Wizards of the Coast would later continue to carry the torch. Games Workshop is another tabletop game that later had an RPG game and has published a ton of novels. This doesn’t even get into how many books were spawned from writers’ own RPG experiences.
Finally we’ve got using actual media in the games we play. In traditional fantasy it can be a challenge. In a D&D world people pretty much would have only had handwritten books and scrolls in generic low magic fantasy. Where in sci-fi games you may have the opposite problem of having to come up new forms of media that are unique to a futuristic campaign setting.
Now if you are playing a high fantasy D&D game you may find some places to get weird and creative with your media. Eberron introduced magic presses which allowed for newspapers in that world as well as sending stones allowing messages to travel far and wide. Let’s look at some other places for us to get creative with high fantasy, D&D and media.
Wondrous item, rare
A 3 foot diameter crystal is set in the ground and unmovable. Rising out of it are two 3 and half foot tall crystals obelisks two feet apart. You can use an action to activate it. By placing a hand upon each obelisk you can begin speaking which will cause a large image of you to appear above a projecting crystal in the air in gigantic proportions. When you speak your voice is amplified to be heard up to 300 feet away. This effect happens on any other existing projecting crystals on the same plane.
In various locations around the realm you can find these crystal edifices. It’s unknown as to where they’ve come from or who first created them. Once discovered settlers began building villages, towns and cities around them. Building an empire with a way to communicate across it, but more than that.
Empire sanctioned bards were given time to perform across the empire. Empire propaganda became easier and easier to spread. Rumor has it the empire has private projecting crystals they use to communicate across the land.
From Ted’s Head
Media can be a lot of things. It depends on how you want to look at it. For this I would say how do people in fantasy settings we use for roleplaying games get their information? How do they get their entertainment?
I think this is a good thing for Dungeon Masters to ask as it can be vital in a city. Do they have town criers? Do they have a message board of sorts with job offers, wanted criminals or anything along those lines?
When you start throwing magic into the mix you have more options. When you advance technology you have new and interesting options added into the mix, depending how far you want to push the technology meter for your roleplaying game. In Harry Potter they send messages via owls. The Player’s Handbook offers us a couple of spells: message and sending that allow for magical communication. If we expand the idea of the post office to purely magical messages you could have instant message delivery system with spellcasters that have shops open and get a sense of who the intended recipient is and the spell is directed at them. Instant transfer. If this is too much for you what if you made an organization of specialist wizards who transfer messages solely to each other, or to rune stones these wizards interact or interface with? The messages and their recipient would be transmitted across the world and then a runner could deliver the physical message written on a scroll.
Having such a system in a world opens things up to new types of adventures and quests. The typical item being stolen is not much of a new plot but with the rune stone being stolen that means no new messages can be coming into the city. That could mean no advance warning from lookout towers. It would mean no messages from allies and families from across the world or a few miles away. To me, this gives lots of ideas to how adventures run in the short term and the long term.
On the other side of this equation is what do you do when you find a rune stone that has been lost to the ages? It would have of course lots of useless messages if someone of enough magical power interfaced with it and got it running again. But I am sure there could be juicy details about where an item is located, the magical formula of an old spell or any number of fun things you can come up with. Maybe the message hidden in the mix is the weakness of the big bad.
So when creating your world take a look at the tech of the world and role of media in that world and how it is going to effect the story.
From the Nerditor’s desk
In the Patreon chat last week we talked about patrons in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and in the accompanying newsletter I touched on an aspect of media near and dear to my heart: journalism.
Seeing there’s a whole section in Eberron: Rising from the Last War covering newspapers in the 5E D&D campaign setting brought a smile to my face. A group with a newspaper as a patron incorporates all manner of intriguing elements into adventures and campaigns. Being a reporter puts you in different situations as a matter of course, and assignments to cover crimes, politics, society, travel and magic can result in a huge variety of scenarios. Characters could pitch features and develop into realized individuals with a place in the world. A very different kind of campaign can spin out from a team of journalists covering the adventurer lifestyle. Talk about meta!
Nerdarchy the Website exclusive
In our Patreon chat I mentioned a series of posts I wrote on my old blog where I created a character in the Dungeons & Dragons Online MMO as a Free Agent reporter for the Khorvaire Chronicle. The character spent their time in the game speaking with NPCs in Stormreach and tagging along on quests with other players to report on them. If you’re interested you can check out those old posts here.
It’s worthwhile to consider things like newspapers as well as other forms of media in a campaign setting. In our live play Ingest Quest Spelljammer game a form of magical social media called Hark gave people opportunities to leave reviews for restaurants and other businesses among the crystal spheres. The players never really engaged with this element but it was there, mentioned in episode 1!
Mass communication may not have the advantage of technology like we have here in the real world, but the fantasy worlds of 5E D&D have magic to more than make up for this. A campaign world doesn’t need high magic or wide spread magic to include things like animal messenger or sending services and like Ted mentions ancient devices might still be employed for communication despite modern people not fully understanding what they are or how they operate.
What about for entertainment? Certainly, simple cantrips like control flames, dancing lights, druidcraft, minor illusion, prestidigitation, shape water and thaumaturgy would delight audiences. The fireworks effect of pyrotechnics produces a spectacular effect and higher level illusion spells could deliver razzle dazzle.
Imagine skilled illusionists who could command high prices to put on fantastical illusory shows. A performance troupe including such a specialist could put on amazing productions and reach celebrity status in a huge area, perhaps worldwide.
Including different forms of media in your 5E D&D setting fills an important role of providing something players can relate to. We understand how powerful communication is for society, and how it can create conflict and drama as much as entertain and inform. When characters encounter these different kinds of media, players understand what engaging with them means on a broader scale.
On the flip side, you could introduce a form of media into an existing campaign and have it intersect with the players when an emerging news source starts covering the adventuring party itself! Imagine how the characters will react when their world saving adventures are cause for feature stories and maybe exploitation, sensationalism or tabloid reporting.