Dungeoneer’s Diary #23 – It Says Scribe on the Vest, Bub!

Posted: January 26, 2020 in Uncategorized

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

I get strange ideas. All fifty of you wonderful readers have already grokked this truth. This next one was worth a few giggles – embedding journalists or scribes into dungeoneering parties. And now I wait for the shoe to drop when you figure out that I mean in-game.

At the meta/player level everybody with an average command of English boasts and posts about that time with the drunken ogre rampaging just down the street from a peaceful night of drinking at the Golden Harlot. Okay, there aren’t any peaceful nights drinking at any SF, Fantasy, Crime, Western or Military genre bars, especially one named the Golden Harlot, if the GM just wanted the Mysterious Stranger to launch the mission the players will start the fight themselves about half the time. But I digress.

Anyway, I’ve yet to wander by a game where a character slew monsters with the intent of informing the home audience about the grisly death of the latest batch of orcs. Lazy? Failure of imagination? Too much hassle? It is, of course, up to individual GMs if they want to tolerate the practice and a guy who spends more time whining about not being in a game than playing shouldn’t throw this rock.

How would embedded scribes work in a game? First, do the scribes have to announce themselves like modern war correspondents? We’ve all seen the feeds from the front where the reporter has a vest on and helmet brightly marked with PRESS and an absolute prohibition on weapons due to the other side’s soldiers likely to mistake a pistol for an officer, aka sniper bait. My understanding, journalists are officially protected but ask the average medic how many times they get shot at.

There is one class of journalist that isn’t subject to these rules, combat correspondents. These guys are soldiers with the extra training to write for Stars and Stripes or Army Times and they take their gear along with the lightest rifle in the inventory into the fray. Rent Full Metal Jacket; try not to be offended by the nasty comments about Ann-Margaret at the assignment meeting and enjoy.

In my mind’s eye when I started going off on embedded scribes as part of the dungeoneering team, the combat correspondent model made more sense. Adventuring parties are small, too small to give space in that three-meter stone hallway (based on most GMs traditional use of four squares to the inch graph paper and an arbitrary scale of ¼ inch = 10ft) to some useless git hanging back in the hallway until the clanking and dust settle. Pretty much hack now, scribble later.

The combat correspondents in the group don’t have to announce themselves with any obvious markings on the clothes. It helps to have the extra sword, spell or healing blessings in the party. And a properly written account as it happens can help settle any street cred issues when the party is back at the Golden Harlot waiting for either the next Mysterious Stranger or rival adventure party with which to rumble. And title of this post aside, perhaps it doesn’t actually say SCRIBE on the vest.

Which is a good moment for a digression about the title. A good friend whose mind, experiences and general zaniness I routinely plumb for all kinds of reasons teaches school. He tells me a story that at a previous campus where shit got real; he gets pissed off at the drug dealing across the street and the local cops can’t or won’t do anything soon enough to make a difference. So, he calls another friend I haven’t met…a Federal Agent.

The story as originally told included a raid with my friend going along in a borrowed vest as the last guy through the door. Most raids have the minimally happy ending of drug merchants in cuffs. One of the dealers mouthed off to my friend for some reason. The reply – “you see this on my chest, says POLICE? Well, it should really say TEACHER like on that show where the guy has his vest saying WRITER (see photo), because I’m a teacher across the street and if you guys keep selling, we’re gonna keep raiding.” The amended story said he actually bought the TEACHER vest, because it was that kind of school.

What gaming mayhem comes of having a character in the party writing for the Minas Tirith Herald or my favorite imaginary fantasy setting news outlet, The Obsidian City Defender? Like most concepts the GM may employ, the answer depends on the curious interplay of the player, character and the in-game reason for why the home audience needs to be informed about the doings of adventure parties.

Does the fighter-scribe character come to the party with an agenda?

In Lawrence of Arabia, for instance, an American reporter somewhat based on the real journalist Lowell Thomas is asked by the Hashemite prince played by Alec Guinness why he is so interested in Colonel Lawrence. The answer – “Your Highness, some of us in America are concerned about our standing in the world and that in order for us to take our place we’ll need to enter the war. Part of that involves finding stories that show the excitement of war. And with things on the Western Front bring what they are, here I am.” The reply – “Then Lawrence is your man.”

What sort of agendas might the wizard-scribe bring to clearing out dungeons? Many campaigns are exactly like the fantasy novels that spawned them. A McGuffin features prominently. Is the home audience desperately in need of heroes to retrieve/destroy the Pen of Great Peril in order to secure the city until the next great McGuffin rears up to threaten the peace of the community?

Is the scribe coming to the adventure with the subversive agenda of ratting out the worst practices of adventure parties? Shine a light on the strangeness that in most fantasy settings the cash poor medieval society keeps itself afloat by sending out parties of independent contractors on a slay and keep the treasure basis? Dead monsters mean fewer muggings of farmers just minding their own business and the adventurers getting to keep the lion’s share of the stray treasure hordes helps/distorts the local economy because adventurers buy mead at the Golden Harlot. Someone with an agenda might want to become the local version of Hunter S. Thompson (famous for creating an interesting verb, monstering…a coincidence?) to tell all as it happened.

Depending on how much thought the GM gives to the campaign there are endless answers to why one or more characters has the side gig of explaining the doings of the adventure party. Is the home audience simply bored with the gladiators in the arena and eagerly awaiting the next town crier to speak the report of how the plucky band of brothers cleared out the Castle of Cringeful Curmudgeons?

That last scenario suggests that the party’s embedded scribe would write in the style of a sportswriter. Lots of stats. Forty orcs slain. Two hundred copper pieces lawfully appropriated on a Killers Keepers basis. Heads that fly across the room in slow motion. The emotional toll upon such stalwart heroes. The GM that adds this element can go anywhere, especially in a bread and circuses kind of society. Certainly, HBO’s show Rome taught me, control the criers control the mob, but I digress…

I suppose the last question the GM should answer is one scribe per party or everybody writes for a different outlet? News competition being what it is, it seems to me that if everybody had their deadlines for The Mirkwood Daily, or The Lonely Mountain Gazette the GM just turned the game into a Paranoia session…where characters cheerfully shoot each other in the back.

Anyway, I’m running out of give a damn about embedded scribes in adventure parties. It was funny for a minute and a half. Anyway, enjoy the nutty and do what your campaigns need.

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