Saturday, 4 October 2014

Communications and associated perils!

Verathog surveyed the destruction he had wrought and smiled to himself. Smoke billowed from a small hut which sagged as the flames ate away at it. 
Alright, so its not the biggest raid ever but it is a start. He looked at his "Horde". Dad'd be proud. 
At present the horde of Verathog consisted of his cousin Rofgah and his mate Tinny. Tinny was a bit slow and had a tendency to dribble if he was left unsupervised for too long. Rofgah was just the right side of thick but with a nasty streak thrown in. 

Between them the "Horde" and Verathog had conquered a hamlet thirty miles from home. Verathog looked at the ruin they had created and frowned. Calling it a hamlet might be a bit much. There's usually more than three buildings for a start. His heavy brows knitted themselves together as he frowned even harder. I'm fairly sure there's meant to be people in a hamlet as well... Behind him half of the "Horde" had sat down and was playing with a broken piece of wood, the other half was aiming a kick at the sitting member of the "Horde".

As far as military victories went it really wasn't much. As far as victories of any sort went it barely made the scale. 

Verathog let his shoulders sag for a moment as he surveyed the minor damaged they had inflicted onto the already fairly dilapidated settlement. It hadn't gone at all the way the wannabe Warlord had thought it would. 
He kicked a splintered wooden bucket that had been half broken before the trio had turned up. In fact all they had managed to do was break some of the half rotten wooden shutters and knock over the drystone wall. Even the rats hadn't been all that bothered by their arrival. Simply skittering away into the gloom and peering as the three young men, that is apprentice barbarian raiders, stumbled round the small yard and broke various things in a half-hearted and guilty sort of way.  

Dad wouldn't be proud of me for this...if he could see this he'd... The young man's thoughts lurched to a sudden halt. He looked around the broken down farm and basked in his sudden idea. Dad wont see this! No he wont! Verathog rubbed his hands together in glee as he stared at the "Horde". He might just hear about it though!
"Oi! Rofgah! get a fire started!" Verathog started slinging broken wood in the gaping doorway of the nearby farmhouse.

Right then, I'm banging on about communication this weekend. Having very recently entered the world of spontaneous mercantile opportunity information exchanges I have a different take on instant communications.

Right, so what's wrong with communication then !?
Absolutely nothing! It's a vital and essential part of being human! Or Elvish, Orcish, Dwarvish, Trollish, Dragonish, Wizardish or any other sort of ish you can think of. Without the ability to communicate societies of any Ish you care to come up with will fall apart!

OK, so how does that affect my Fantasy?
Depending on what sort of world you've built and what sort of rules it has it actually might not. The problem comes with Instant Communication.

You What?
Well, think about it! How can your Hero struggle against rumour and disaster if they are able find out the facts in a moment from some device which lets them speak to people on the other side of the world?
Think about it, word of mouth might be the best way to advertise something but rumour spread the same way is best way to inflate a minor issue into a major one.

Example time.

  • Dark Lord Sorebum decides his troops could do with some exercise.
  • He orders a single squad from the 666th Legion of Doom to go and hide in a farm, which is for the purpose of this demonstration roughly forty miles from the nearest city.
  • The farm is totally abandoned when the squad arrives but is one of dozens in the area, the others all being inhabited. 
  • Once the squad has been gone from the barracks for a few hours the rest of the Legion is sent out to find them. 
  • The Dark Lord is expecting this training exercise to last a couple of days and awaits the results with glee. 
  • In the area of the abandoned farm and it's hidden squad a small and not entirely intelligent child, perhaps a young shepherd of any gender you prefer, see the squad enter and gets entirely the wrong end of the wrong stick. 
  • The same child runs off to tell mother/father/the village elders what they have seen and exaggerates the number of soldiers because 1) They were scary looking armoured doom legionaries and 2) The child in question cannot count. Thus ten become a million. 
  • The parents/village elders, rather sensibly decide to go and investigate the child's claims but decide to leave for the morning. 
  • During the night the rest of the Legion of Doom arrive in the area and set up camp.
  • The locals miscount the campfires in the dark and shit their collective pants as they realise the child was right...more or less. 
  •  Word spreads and and spreads, the numbers getting slightly bigger with each telling until the rumour reaches the nearest city. 
  • Shortly after rumour come the refugees, or the sensible ones who decided to leave before things got really bad. 
  • The city Rulers see the fleeing slopmongers and, having heard the rumours, put two and two together to make fifteen.
  • Having jumped to the wrong conclusion the rulers rally whatever army or militia they have and decided to sally forth and meet the Legion/s of Doom.
  • The Legion of Doom, having completed it's training is now relaxing and totally not expecting to be attacked. 
  • When the army of the free(ish) city surprises the Legion of Doom and inflicts a defeat on them, most because of the element of surprise, Sorebum gets wind of it and is not amused.
  • Sorebum then commits the rest of the Legions of Doom and flattens the area. Something he had no intention of doing as it was primarily responsible for the production of novelty wooden clogs.
So, as we can see, with the uncertainty and lack of Instant Communication what is actually a simple (if misplaced and unadvertised) training exercise can be misconstrued as a sneak attack by an aggressive neighbour with a Novelty Clog Deficit. 

With Instant Communication however, the locals could have spoken to someone with some experience of military maneuvers. The poor slopmongers could have had their natural stampeding instincts overridden by a voice of authority. A parley could have been arranged and perhaps a quaint and possibly endangered cottage industry.

But, I need it to communicate vital plot points to my characters!
Then do the old fashioned thing and send a courier, or use the postal service assuming there is one. 

Yes! Mad bastards employed to ride or run as fast as they can with a letter or information or a parcel which they will hopefully deliver to someone you know. 

But isn't that slightly dangerous?Yes! It is! That's kind of the point really. If you have a vital message that needs to be delivered or a war will break out or if your character is in a war and needs a message sending (say for more men or thicker blankets or something) then you can ramp up the tension for your audience by having the runners/couriers die or sprain a limb or stop for a shit or something. We your audience will be on the edges of our seats/beds/other reading places as we wait for the message to be delivered. Imagine our horror as the Protagonist realises that the message has not gotten through! What then?

Ahhh! I get it!
I thought you might, but for now lets go back to the amazing power of rumour. 

Verathog was struggling to keep his expression in a sad face. This scheme is just too good! 
He moved away from the shocked villager-model of slopmongers he had been speaking with and lurched in a limping and obviously painful sort of run toward the village boundary. 

Four villages should be enough I think... 

His idea had been painfully simple. Which was just as well given that anything complex would become painful to think about for the "Horde". Tinny sometimes had trouble remembering to breathe. 

The plan was to spread rumours of his own ravaging and raiding in the surrounding shitty little villages. To help the rumours along Verathog had smeared himself in soot and ashes from the farm which the "Horde" had burned down on his order. 

And now we just go back to the first place and see if everyone has left!

As far as plans went it wasn't too bad. The theory was that, having seen smoke and spoken to their immediate neighbours, the local slopmongers would work out, eventually, that a ravaging horde of Barbarians was working its way through the valley. The slopmongers would flee and Verathog would be able to loot and pillage to his hearts content without having to actually do any work.

Several days later Verathog was cursing himself. To be accurate and fair he was actually cursing the world in general but his own name was top of that list. 

It was difficult to curse with the gag in but given that his arms were locked into the stocks he couldn't take it out. His eyes rolled in his skull as he struggled to glare at the crowd of slopmongers and their smug looking lord. 

How the hell was I supposed to know they had talking mirrors? How was I supposed to know that they were telling each other where I had been five minutes after I had been there? I barely knew were I was five minutes after I got there! How was I supposed to know they had sent someone out to the farm to see what had happened and found the "Horde" and arrested them for arson

The locals were listening to the smug lord making some sort of speech in their language. Verathog grunted when the lord stopped. and then again when the first rotten potato bounced from his forehead. 
Bloody talking mirrors.