Sunday, November 15, 2009

How Important Communication in Your Campaign?

I recently received an e-mail whose contents I thought should have been delivered in person. It got me thinking, how do communications work in your fantasy setting?

In many standard fantasy settings, for those with the wealth to afford it, magic is the ultimate utility in terms of communication. It can be used to send messages or with the right power, people straight to where they need to go.

Communication has the same limitations as many other elements that involve travel. In most fantasy settings, it's a fairly dangerous world once you step outside the safety of a town or city. Once in the wilderness, anything goes.

In Kate Elliot's series, Crown of Stars, the King had Eagles, specialized messengers. In various Thor comics from Marvel, the old Odin often relied on his ravens to spy on others and rely what they had seen to him.

Thinking about how to use communication can add some elements to the campaign that you may not have thought of.

Letters, being perhaps the most mundane, would probably be the most common, especially if attached to messenger birds as was common with homing pigeions. The problem with that though it is takes a lot of birds to hopefully get one message though. In addition, does the right message get through. Piegions aren't very tough and can easily be replaced.

But what it a message does get through? How long can it be? How much cramped writing can be put onto a small piece of parchement to be pinned to a bird's leg? Not much.

Letters will not contain the hand gestures, the tone, posture, or other signs that another form of communication may. Indeed, letters can provide little more than words that the user at the other end has to assemble into something of meaning.

For other messages, kingdoms might develop a series of towers, each one using mirrors, fires or other markers bright enough that another tower can see it. The problem with such a signal though is that it's visible to everyone. Something to be used only in the most dire of circumstances, such as when say, calling on another kingdom for aid.

In some campaigns, the kingdoms of old had various gates or pockets into another dimension where travel was much quicker. In the 'modern' fantasy setting, often these gates are greatly reduced in number. They may not function as they once did. There may be problems using them. Those other dimensions may now be haunted by dire monsters. The other dimensions may not be suitible for life as the characters know it. The other dimensions may have bleed over into still other dimensions and there is a chance that those who go into such places may never come out again.

When thinking of how news gets from one part of the kingdom to another, think about both the mundane and magical methods needed to get that news out.