Waterdeep: Read All About It!

For the record, there are few things more anachronistic than having newspapers appear in your medieval fantasy game.

As a quick history lesson, the components required to have an operating press — diffusion of and capital investment in movable type technology, a sufficiently literate population, inexpensive and ready supply of paper, and above all, a tolerant government —  won’t truly coalesce until well into the 15th century. Even then, it will take a couple of centuries to have the economic and political conditions in place for such an enterprise to incubate and become sustaining.

OK, that’s the history. But Dungeons and Dragons is all about the fantasy. And in the loosey-goosey setting of the Forgotten Realms, all that history takes a back seat to anything that adds to the fun.

So it is unsurprising that Realms creator Ed Greenwood, a writer and career library employee, is going to make his setting literate. The great repository at Candlekeep is the most visible example Greenwood’s love of books.  But in the “Elminster’s Forgotten Realms” it is abundantly clear, for Greenwood devotes eight pages of that game supplement to describing how books and publishing works in his setting, in addition to mentions elsewhere of musical songbooks and plays for dramatic and comedic theater.

Books are one thing. Newspapers are something else.  

So far as I can tell, newspapers became Forgotten Realms canon in Eric L. Boyd’s Waterdeep: City of Splendors sourcebook published during the Third-Edition era. On page 14 there is a sidebar entitled “Read All About It” that explains the availability of and the role played by news periodicals in that magical city.

All of this has been very useful when creating products for the DM’s Guild. Mock newspapers make great handouts. Players gain information at a glance — checking the headlines — and maybe other clues by reading the text (or, at least, read something into the text).

When I ran Rise of Tiamat, I struggled for a way to convey the political developments occurring in the background of the adventure, namely, the forging of the Lord’s Alliance and the challenge of Laeral Silverhand to Dagult Neverember to be open lord of Waterdeep. These developments I documented in a series of newspaper mocks that I distributed to players.

Some of them I included in my first product for the DM’s Guild, On the Trail of Tyranny.

But I told myself then, if ever D&D designed another urban focused hardback adventure, I would do something similar, but focus solely on newspaper handouts. This spring, Wizards of the Coast announced two Waterdeep adventures for 2018, Dragon Heist for September and Dungeon of the Mad Mage for November.

I was off and running.

The summer was devoted to listening to every bit of information coming from the D&D team about the shape of these adventures. But I also was guided by what they expressed was a general aesthetic: Gangs of New York meets the Da Vinci Code.  That was my cue to the nature of the newspapers I would mock up: something of the rollicking rambunctious press of the mid-19th century.

For design, I relied upon modern sensibilities of newspapers (I’m not sure that period-specific design would be recognizable, or have much utility at the table). But the spirit of that period I tried to capture — jettisoning the overt racist and misogynistic language of the times, of course.

It was a fun project to do. I ended up with mockups of 13 front pages for a variety of publications to be found in the City of Splendors, perfect for handing out to players as they navigate the adventure Dragon Heist.  

The Press of Waterdeep is available at the DM’s Guild for 99 cents. Enjoy.