In today's iteration of the Digital and Dice podcast, our hosts talked abut racism and prejudice in the context of a fantasy setting. One of of the major points brought up was the use of propaganda to spread ideas to the populace as a way of creating these ideas in the hearts and minds of the people. My mind being what it is, my attention drifted towards the flow of information in a fantasy setting, and how these ideas might effectively be spread.
On the show, the hosts mentioned town criers as being the go-to reputable news source. They certainly are a good start. As information gets passed to the town criers, they then disseminate it to the population at large. This might include the players, or literally and NPC in town that they might interact with. If the town crier has a hold of the news, you can assume most people will be hearing about it. This is a great way to insert world information about current events in the setting, which may be important, or just serve to further immersion.
On that note, word of mouth itself is a powerful source. People talk to one another and share news and rumors. Especially rumors. This is an easy way to insert some adventure hooks, since particular juicy and unbelievable things may remain rumors for some time, and the PCs might investigate for curiosity's sake.
For more dense information, books are a possibility. Libraries and book repositories are likely a source of hard knowledge, such as discoveries and histories. They aren't likely to be current, but they can have a wealth of information on various topics. Bear in mind that the printing press didn't come about until after the medieval age in earth's history, so this may not be present in a fantasy world. This makes magazines and newspapers unlikely, but books may still be written by hand.
Other ways of distributing information might be through the use of signals. Perhaps some of the societies in your world have a complex system of smoke signals or beacon fires that they use to pass along certain information over long distances. Another idea is the use of church or town bells to toll out the hour or emergency signals. Both of these may confuse the PCs, who are likely strangers in the places that would use these methods, but the NPCs who live there would probably understand them, and they may or may not communicate the meaning to the PCs.
Of course there is also magic. Using spells like Message, information can be passed readily over a long distance. If you were so inclined you could even have a system of teleporting couriers who move between locations and informing people of even in distant lands or even other planes. This would be near-instantaneous, and would certainly make for a unique and interesting way of passing along information.
As with all things, the GM should consider what they want to accomplish in their setting and story, and so the use of some of these ideas over others might be more appropriate. If you want a fast paced game, using magic for communication will certainly help with this. If you want people to communicate around the PCs without their knowledge, some sort of secret code signal is probably best. The choice is yours. Whether you want to spread complex ideas like propagandized hatred or to simply convey the town's news, you have a number of options, and they all make for good exposition tools to advance your story.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. If you were looking for something more relevant to the racial aspect of today's show topic, I recommend my earlier post on "Monstrous PCs" or my post arguing against elf-hate "The Argument for Elves" over on my personal blog Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.