How do you keep an empire together? One obvious answer is the ability to move people and things quickly and easily from one place to another: trade goods, armies, officials, citizens. Perhaps just as important is the ability to move information across long distances. Are the forces of the Orc Lord mustering to attack from the north? Has a spy in Drakkenhall discovered an assassination plot in Horizon? Is one of the Archmage’s wards failing? If you can’t get word to the right people, the consequences could be disastrous. Information is also used to unify people across great distances and throughout the ages: to say, “this is who we are”, “this is where we came from”, “these people and events are important to understanding the world”.
Here are 7 ideas for long-distance communication in your 13th Age campaign:
The Mockingbirds: Members of this secret society of bards can be found all over the Dragon Empire, and have developed sophisticated ways of transmitting information to each other through coded messages hidden in poems, tales, and musical compositions. Mockingbirds have trained their entire lives in the art of listening to a piece once and then flawlessly reproducing it.
Swift Wind: Emerging during the rebellion against the Terrible Emperor, these monks have trained to run overland for days without resting. Legends say they can run across water as if it were solid ground, and over the tops of trees, carrying messages between monasteries. One legendary Swift Wind monk is said to have fearlessly delivered a message to the heart of the Abyss itself.
Song of Stone: That sound of clattering and sliding rock you hear faintly in the blackness of the Underworld? It might be natural, or it might be a dwarf using a handful of stones and their knowledge of how echoes travel in the deep to send a coded message across the miles.
Whispering Spirits: Wizards, druids, and elves often employ magical spirits to send messages to allies, friends, and lovers—once they have delivered the message, or returned with an answer, they are free to depart. Because they are more idea than flesh their minds don’t quite work the same as ours, so the message must take the form of a riddle or poem.
Magic Mirrors: One of the oldest forms of long-distance magical communication, reflective surfaces—such as mirrored glass, pools of water, polished shields—are highly suitable for enchanting because they present a view of the world that appears real, but is not. Because they’re so common, magic mirrors have become increasingly risky to use these days: you might find yourself speaking with the magical reflection of a long-dead wizard who used the same mirror in a previous age, or discover too late that a rakshasa was a silent third party listening in on your plans via its own magic mirror.
Nonsense: Thieves, beggars, and traveling peddlers use an “anti-language” which they commonly call Nonsense to talk openly among themselves without being understood by outsiders. Nonsense borrows words and phrases from languages throughout the Dragon Empire (and even beyond its borders), and processes them through backward-speak, rhyming slang, and wordplay to produce a fast-paced patter that sounds like you should understand it, but you can’t seem to hear it quite right. In this way, everything from gossip to military intelligence can travel from one city to another along the trade routes.
Work Songs: Sea shanties, marching cadences, and other songs and chants which take their rhythm from the work being performed, are an important way that culture is learned, preserved, and spread across the Empire. Lines in some of these songs go back to the Empire’s founding, and a careful listener might glean valuable information about places, monsters, and magic items from them. They also can contain valuable common-sense advice, such as:
I don’t know but I’ve been told
Ray of Frost is mighty cold
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