Overthinking Eberron: Khorvaire Newspapers

One of the things that makes Eberron so interesting is the world they’ve created. Official sources said “There are newspapers!” and left the details in unspecified darkness. So I wrote some stuff about Newspapers.

What We Know For Sure

So, what do we know? There are a hand full of monetary, timing, and other details we can glean from the sources we have

  • Newspapers pay their “Journalists” 1 gp a day (ERLW pg 93)
  • “Journalists” can travel lightning rails for 8 sp/ day (ERLW pg 92)
  • Papers are not daily. Korranberg is 3/week (ERLWp92)
  • It costs 3 gp a year for a subscription to the Sharn Inquisitive (Sharn3e p22)
  • The Sharn Inquisitive is run by a level 3 NPC (Sharn3e p69)
  • Assuming no stops, the lightning rail can deliver the Korranberg Chronicle in Thalinost in 4.5 days (Assuming 3219 miles, at 30 miles an hour.)
  • Printing presses can be accessed by the group for private purposes (ERLW p93)
  • It takes 2d4 employees to keep the paper going (ERLW p95)

(If you find more facts, let me know!)

Assumptions

There is no Associated Press. On Earth, the AP has 263 news bureaus in 106 countries, and is published in 1300 newspapers (according to numbers found on Wikipedia). While we can’t say for sure that there aren’t any sharing of stories in Eberron, the samples provided across ERLW seem to distinct voices indicating that at least a majority of the front page stories are written unique to the paper, and not a summary that is passed around and dropped in where they need a word count.

Again, just to reiterate, we only see a headline and the start of an article in the samples we are given. We’re not even really told what the rest of the paper looks like (which is what this article is about)

If we accept that there is no Associated Press to report fairly on the big issues, we find ourselves in an interesting world, where each paper has distant correspondents, who may or may not count as being in a foreign land, who report on details that they see. Possibly, they write up their version of events and send that via Sivis, but it could be that the ones out there are just fact finders, and the scarce details returned are filled in by fluff from the writer on staff back at head office. 

There are no photographs. I’m not saying the papers don’t have some visual aids, but they weren’t caught by a Kodiak and emailed to head office. I imagine that each office has a stock image of each person deemed “newsworthy,” Royalty, the Twelve, maybe some adventures. These would be like wanted posters, a quick sketch if that, maybe a drawing via description.

There are all sorts of ways, by the way, for people with PC level magic to spend on frivolities that a fairly accurate depiction could get into the Wroat Word. The best thing I can see is a PC gets a gander at the person, cast’s disguise self at a predetermined time, seconds later guy back at the office cast’s scry with all the accoutrements to make it impossible to fail, gets a gander at the gander that was got, then cast’s disguise self at the office to have a copy of a copy of a person, and then the artist makes their art and it gets printed a bunch.

High quality, it ain’t, but since the normal every day citizens of Sharn aren’t going to meet Kaius III, it’ll have to do. 

For a non-PC method, the post’s traveling artist(s) goes from capital to capital on his news visa, and sketches anything he thinks might be useful in laying out an article. Famous buildings and landmarks, people in a few different poses and costumes, etc. These portraits are sent via House Orien post back to head office and are added to the art file they have. They then whip out a needed photograph every time they need to emphasize something.

The papers are biased. While it’s mostly going to be bias based on lines of nationality, I think there’s going to be interesting bias in each nation. I don’t think there’s anything confirming there are two papers in a town that are in competition with each other, but who knows in your game?

  • Aundair papers are probably Hawks and Doves
  • Breland papers are going to be split between Royalist and Democratic.
  • Karrnath has Hawks and Doves, with a dash of Royalist, anti-Royalist, and Theocratist
  • Thrane has Royalist vs Theocratist
  • Zilargo papers read like a gossip rag, but there’s no divisive politics in their papers, I Trust

Most of the other countries probably don’t have papers? I can see rich Mror dwarves reading the financial times out of the Vulyar Street Journal, but I don’t know how much news they get up to that requires a paper. Everyone else seems too decentralized.

Now, Darguun, I must say, feels like it COULD have a paper, but the party is hired to start the first non-common newspaper in Khorvaire, and has an adventure wrapped all around that. But at the moment, I think that’s it.

Oh, um, I used some quick terms about the political stances up there. Let me run those down real quick.

  • Anti-Royalist: The king sucks. Maybe all kings suck. Anyway, change of government, specifically this king
  • Democratic: The people should have a vote!
  • Doves: Let’s keep this Peace thing going, no matter what
  • Hawks: Life was better when there was a war on. We need revenge!
  • Royalist: Long live the king!
  • Theocratist: Let’s put the Church in charge

It turns out, the Eberron Wiki does not have a useful section on their country page for “political divisions you can play up for drama in your games,” which seems like a bit of an oversight. 

How are papers made?

First, let’s assume our press is a magical item, because why wouldn’t it be, right? This is Eberron, after all. And since doing things the magic way means we never figure out how to do it the mundane way. So, I think the idea of “the printing press” is one of those Earth-isms. I don’t think Eberron has moveable type. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Let’s wind back time, to the dawn of writing. Man, there’s not a lot of spells that do permanent writing effects. I want exactly half of illusionary script. I’m already paying 10 gp for ink! Why would I want writing to fade after 10 days? And can see how it could be useful, but not in this instance. Bah! Whatever. We will assume that the universe is governed by a kind and benevolent DM, who will allow some cantrip to function as a #2 pencil. Or a pen, at least. 

Anyway, Writing started with the Dragons. Not the Big Three, I don’t think, but the smaller ones. Maybe Draconic is descended from the Draconic Prophecy, maybe not. I don’t really care, it was so long ago. Anyway, dragons write using A: their claws, and B: Magic, somehow. Still, these words last a long time, as they’re etched into stone and the landscape.

The Giants pick up the techniques. Exactly how they do things isn’t important. What is important, is that they can get a lot more words per page if their elven slaves do the actual writing with their teeny tiny hands. 

So modern writing, with modern sized implements, starts with the elves. I imagine it was probably wax and clay tablets. I can’t imagine elven technology getting past that, as they are a patient people with that long life span. Dwarves take to writing, as it’s a good way to tell their long histories. Carving runes into the living rock works well enough, but the Dwarves don’t have good access to clay and wax for temporary notes. So they use chalk and slates for their less permanent ledgers. 

The humans arrive in Lhazaar. They learn writing from the dwarves, but chalk and slate is more rare above ground. Charcoal on an animal skin works pretty good, though. So now we have ink and vellum. The more writing that occurs, the more writing materials we need, plant matter pulped and pressed and bleached and all that makes paper. It’s around this time the Mark of Scribing appears. 

This works well enough for a few years. Scribing is a thing done by anybody educated, copying manuscripts and tomes. Even using magic to copy the pages is dull. So a young apprentice in the yet to be created field of artificery creates the first Clever Quill. While it doesn’t provide relief to the apprentices still copying, it does make a fortune for the young artificer.

The next breakthrough is the Copy Glass, which is similar to the photocopier. The idea behind it is fairly simple. You have a magic mirror. You press a page with ink against it and speak the activation word. When you pull the page away, the mirror image has remained inside of the glass and the original is blank. You can then bring a fresh piece of paper, set it against the glass, and speak the trigger word again. BAM! Like magic, paper #2 is a slightly lighter duplication of what paper #1 had been. The imprint lasts for an hour, and, sadly, can’t be removed earlier. 

This maintained the distribution of text for a while. Important documents could be copied quickly, if the parties involved were okay with the original being destroyed. Most nobles didn’t like that part, and so it was used for less important matters.

It’s about here that I recommend that you go and read Terry Patchett’s “The Truth,” which while not about Eberron, has more pure details of how a printing press would start, and since I’m stealing from that anyway, you might as well go read it at the source, ya?

The next leap brings us to present day technology, the age of mass printing. Some Cannith guy, let’s call him Johann Guetenberg d’Cannith, why not, notices his sons toy lighting rail does something interesting one night. A bit of jam got on one of the little hidden wheels and instead of making a line, it makes a repeated pattern. Lightning strikes and Johann develops the process for the closest Eberron gets to moveable type, the Scrivening Drum

On the surface, it’s a simple cylinder of stone. But on the inside, it’s lined with Siberys and Eberron Dragonshards. All they do is amplify the focus and control of the caster, who casts a simple spell that simply molds the earth, distorting the surface in such a way that ink dabbed across the surface transfers evenly, cleanly, and most importantly, quickly, onto pages it rolls across. 

This allows many pages to be run across the drum in the hour the spell lasts, and in a few hours, a full newspaper can have a print run of hundreds.

The future of printing falls once again on House Cannith. A gifted apprentice with a head for magic replaces the old methods of paper creation with a Fabrication Engine, a small eldritch device that can turn a single tree into reams of paper in a second. One night, a bit too far into his cups, he applies his arcane wrench to the machine, modifies it with an input slot, and has a machine that can turn a tree into 160,000 pages in the time it takes for the machine to run a fabrication cycle!

But that hasn’t happened yet. It’s a bit too much for Eberron just yet. (at least, not in my Eberron)

Distribution: How many copies?

Okay, hold on to your buts. We’ve got some crazy assumption math coming up here.

ERLW says you can use the Running A Business” Downtime activity from the DMG to run their paper. (although Acq Inc’s “Running a Franchise” is going to be better if you actually do it, btws). Using the numbers there, we can determine what happens if we have the absolute best week possible. 

We’re going to assume that:

  • We roll max on all of the dice for profit in a week
  • We are selling copies from our print shop, with no distribution, so no oddities in counting the money there
  • We have 8 employees getting paid 1 gp a week, counted in expenses.
  • I vaguely recall a thing saying the Sharn Inquisitive publishes once a week. (We’ll use that and I will change numbers if someone has better information)
  • A year’s subscription to the SI is 3gp. We’ll assume our papers sell for the same rate, but without worrying about the subscription.
  • We’re going to assume the costs for the production use the PHB’s entry for paper, which is 2 sp. While a ridiculous number, we’re going to say our whole paper is covered by that. 

So

At 3gp a year, call it 50 issues, a paper costs about 6 silver each. Our maximum profit is 150gp. Eight employees means we brought in 158gp, each paper is 4 sp of profit. 1580 sp, divide by 4, is 395 copies were made in our print run. Call it 400 copies to make the math simpler.

So each run (400)  of a paper costs 80 gold to do, not counting paying employees. You can see why the Sharn Inquisitor is so insistent on subscriptions.

Background: Newshound

Your nose leads you places that wise men fear to tread, and secretive men wish you wouldn’t. You are a journalist, finding stories for the newspapers of Khorvaire. You have some crazy stories you could tell, but only to people who are willing to pay you,

Skill Proficiencies: Persuasion, Insight or Deception

Tool Proficiencies: Calligrapher’s Tools

Languages: One of your choice

Equipment: a bottle of ink, a pen, a pad of paper, identification papers indicating press status, a list of names, and a bag containing 5 gp in small coins.

Feature: Exclusive Interview

You are skilled at saying whatever you need to score that interview. You can arrange a meeting with just about any public figure. This feature can only be guaranteed to work once on a given NPC. 

(Note: At my table, if a player actually went and WROTE an article about the interview, this would open so many doors for them.)

Magic Items

Clever Quill

Wondrous item, common, requires attunement

This quill is enspelled to transcribe dictated messages in the speaker’s hand. When placed on a page and provided a supply of ink, this quill will faithfully write down precisely what you say. An intelligence check DC 10 ensures your transcription has proper spelling and grammar.

Copy Glass

Wondrous item, uncommon

As an action, you can place a sheet of paper on the mirror plate of this device and speak the command word. The writing and other markings on the paper are transferred from the page to the mirror, leaving the original page devoid of ink. The mirror retains the reflection for an hour. 

Any time in that hour, if a sheet of paper or similar surface is brought in contact with the mirror pane and the command word is spoken, the mirror magically coats the surface with the design it is reflecting. The copy is passable, but is certainly lighter than the original. 

After an hour, the design in the mirror fades and a new page can be transferred to the mirror.

Scrivening Drum

Wondrous Item, Rare

When you cast Mold Earth or a similar spell on this item, you can make an Arcana Check DC 15 to create fine details, such as letters and other symbols. If you have the Mark of Scribing, no check is required.

Fabrication Engine

Wondrous Item, Very Rare 

This is a Gargantuan machine. It has a 40 ft long bay, approximately eight  5 ft cubes in volume. This area is packed with plant matter, such as a full sized tree. There is an input on one side, where you place something like a finished manuscript, the edited copy of tomorrow’s Korranberg Chronicle, or a book by an author who is selling really well. Activating the machine requires a Mark of Making. The machine casts fabricate, making as many copies of the inputted model as possible.

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