View Full Version : Non-standard Communications

brian 333
2018-01-01, 04:35 PM
The Common Tongue is vital to any campaign, but it is pretty much limited to oral or written forms. You can't use Common to talk to a trade partner in another city or even on the next hill over. There are, of course, magical means of communicating, but wizard's, being the 1 in 1000 characters they are, are rare, and therefore expensive.

Now we've all heard of jungle drums which can keep nearby villages informed, but there are other options:

Visual Communication:

Kites can be used to send visual messages over vast distances limited only by the size of the kites so used. Colors, actions, even the pattern of knots in the Kate's tail can hold meaning. A village flying a few kites might be having family fun day, or they might be warning that a party of adventurers is coming.

Painted and/or stacked rocks can be used to send messages. For example, three stacked rocks might indicate a safe camping site or well. A row of painted rocks can send as complex or as simple a message as any form of writing. Such a form of communication is limited only by the size of the rocks being used and line of sight.

Semaphore flags are useful in many ways, but achieved their fame on the battlefield. Semaphore towers can keep distant units in command but also draw attention from the enemy.

Aural Communication:

Conch shells and other horns can transmit messages of extreme complexity given an underlying code, but simple messages which anyone can interpret are far more common, warning of danger, the return of friends, or a muster to an assembly.

Jungle drums have already been mentioned, and bells, such as the massive bronze bells of European churches, can be used in a similar fashion. Message complexity expands with the use of multiple bells.

Tommyknockers are the sounds one might hear as a mine settles, but they demonstrate how well sounds transmit through solid rock. Cave dwelling species might use rock tapping as a means of long distance communication, especially to areas out of line of sight.

Any of these ideas, (and there are many more possibilities,) can be used to enhance your game world.

For example, the villages of a mountainous region might be known for their kites, and while foreigners might not be aware, the villages, surrounded by steep climbs and deep canyons, is sending and receiving news on a daily basis.

In another case, a dwarven mine might be in touch with one or more distant delvings by tapping and listening to taps on a particular layer of stone which is exposed in each mine,

Imagine an orc tribe which uses smoke signals to coordinate activity on a vast plain, or hobgoblins who coordinate battle tactics via drumbeat. Giving your monsters the ability to coordinate and plan might make even relatively weak foes more of a threat, and it gives flavor to your campaign world.

Another thing to consider is how pervasive the communication system is. Do all characters from the region of kite fliers know the full language of the kites? Is it more common to know a few dozen commands rather than the whole language? Or is it a royal secret, restricting knowledge of the system to official kite fliers?

2018-01-01, 09:46 PM
For a cool twist, what about a whistled version of Common (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silbo_Gomero)?

2018-01-02, 03:05 PM
Signal lights combined with telescopes are very effective. You could go as far as the Discworld's clacks system, but you clearly don't have to. Navies of the world still use such systems today.

And how about what you might do with cheap magic or alchemy? Signal fires, for example, could use color codes as the "talkers" add pinches of different powders to the fire. Enchanted drums* (not so cheap, but a one time expense) could send sounds that carry great distances without the distortion that a long trip causes in normal air; that would allow more complex codes to be used.

* A Soliton Drum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soliton).