Broadcryers of Waterdeep

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[edit] News for Sale

Only the most wealthy and powerful Waterdhavians can afford large private libraries of bound tomes. Though the majority of citizens can read, and they do so often both for pleasure and to feel "on top of Mount Waterdeep" (which means commanding a view of current events, politics, trade activity, and near-future business opportunities), most citizens own a few well-worn chapbooks, some scrolls, and a large selection of the "short scrolls" commonly known as "broadsheets."

Chapbooks are pamphlets about two human-handwidths across by three handwidths high, and they consist of parchments sewn into hide covers (sometimes stiffened with very thin "reject" ceramic tiles or metal plates). Rarely having more than thirty pages, they often sport as few as a dozen. Apt to contain about anything from poetry to furious arguments against guilds, governing policy, or methods of tiling roofs, chapbooks are most often devoted to memoirs and to romantic tales of either the tearful (for goodwives) or bawdy (for jacks old and young) variety.

Traditonal or "long" scrolls tend to have writing on one side only, and they are the form of choice for setting down religious texts, accounts that are maintained over time (large ledgers are favored for official coinkeeping, however), and spells that will be cast directly from the writing. Although long scrolls can be printed by mechanical methods, "block after block," they are usually handwritten.

"Short scrolls" or broadsheets are what we call "newspapers." Usually strips of parchment no longer than a human is tall and of widely varying widths, from chapbook width to thrice as broad, they are printed by mechanical means on both sides (at different times; that is, after one side is printed, it's left to dry before the other side is printed). Their vegetable inks tend to run when wet, no matter how long ago they were printed (a few of the more exclusive broadsheets are baked to inhibit this effect), and at times cause certain neighborhoods to reek when many hearth fires are started with their crumpled carcasses at the same time. To Waterdhavians, these short, written newsheets are known as "broadsheets" after Haumbroad "the Humble," a now-dead tireless producer of them, who through years of sheer persistence trained the folk of the city to seek out and trust this form of news.

Older Waterdhavians remember Haumbroad as a wizened, untidily bearded old man who stood hunched over on many a street corner along the High Road, day after day, calling out to passersby to "trade a nib for the wonders of the world!" Many broadsheets still cost a single copper coin today, though most of the better-known ones are priced at twice that (until a vendor wants to be free of them and elsewhere in a hurry).

Haumbroad certainly started something popular. On a given day, thirty to forty regularly produced broadsheets are for sale on the streets, and some shops (notably the stall of "Sharkroar" Horth Shalark in the Market, and Berendarr's World of Words on the High Road, west-front just a few doors up from the Waymoot) even specialize in broadsheets. (The older ones are rolled and thrust into wall-shelves, and more recent offerings hang from the ceiling on clips like so many miniature tapestries.) Most old broadsheets sell for two to five per copper coin, but a few that contain especially salacious tales or notorious rants are sought after by collectors and fetch prices of as much as a dragon each!

Many Waterdhavians are fans of particular broadsheets, preferring the political rants, sly social comments, jokes, and serialized "adventures" (often bawdy or pranksome) they contain. New issues of most broadsheets appear on the streets every three or four days, and important events always trigger floods of "extras." The most haughty broadsheets (favored by the wealthiest and most noble clientele) publish once-a-tenday, and these concentrate on overviews of unfolding events and the best-written serial tales of entertainment.

Broadsheet vendors are usually young street children or the printers themselves, and they are universally known as "broadcryers" for their common habit of calling out headlines. "Learn who's behind the mask! A hidden Lord revealed!" is a frequent cry (almost always denoting a fanciful tale used when there's little news of worth to be told).

Other favorites used in place of "real news" include the following:

"Noble lord kidnapped into slavery years ago; impostor wears his boots!"

"New undead among us! They don't stink, you can't tell, they stay alive by taking part in the activities at festhalls!"

[edit] Perils & Presses

Although magisters of the city have firmly applied the "blasphemy against" laws to broadcryers who misquote Watch, Guard, and city officials, broadcryers are otherwise free to print what they like, unfettered by good taste or laws forbidding the spreading of lies or the damaging of reputations.

However, both guilds and noble families have hired thugs to "silence" printers who publish damaging things (true or false) against their patrons. Usually these "long hard arms" smash presses and beat printers senseless (breaking hands, arms, or ribs in "accidental drunken brawls") rather than resorting to murder or arson. Usually.

Interestingly, attempts to intimidate broadcryers into being only purveyors of fanciful entertainment, perhaps with veiled comments slid into the mouths of fictional characters, have failed because of two surprising things.

First, the haughty broadsheets (those read by the wealthy and noble) persisted in publishing such news and commentary anyway, daring the thugs to act. This was followed by Lord Piergeiron saying that as long as printers quoted all sources (himself, any citizen or outlander regardless of rank or position, and other broadsheets or writings) with strict accuracy, the Watch would be sent to "energetically" investigate all acts against broadcryers with the assumption that the persons and organizations they printed news about were to blame. Guilty parties would face the usual penalties plus the burden of all printing costs for that broadcryer for a year.

This edict caused an uproar in the city (and a few attempts to "frame" rivals by attacking printers so that someone else they'd written about would get the blame for the attack), but after some months of wild gossip and staged stunts to get florid news coverage, Waterdhavians decided they liked it -- and denunciations of a broadcryer, these days, tend to cause citizens to buy more of the next broadsheet put out by the denounced, to "see what was being complained about."

Though they prefer to churn out endless short chapbooks of torrid love tales and tearful romances (which they'd been doing for years before the rise of broadsheets and broadcryers), many gnomes and halflings of the city have been happy to help Haumbroad and his imitators and successors to produce broadsheets, using their small "frame presses." Some folk believe several thousand frame presses would now be found in Waterdeep, if one day, without warning, everyone went looking for them. Frame presses consist of a table on which rests an adjustable frame, and it is usually made of stout wood with clamps at the corners. A single page at a time is assembled for printing by placing illustrations carved in wooden blocks, and rows of script, in a "cast" (we would say "layout") with the use of many odd-sized wooden shims and wedges, often modified on the spot with a deft hatchet-blow.

The rows of script are formed in thin metal by laboriously "punching" individual letters with hammers and metal punches whose points are worked into the shapes of reversed script characters, so the punched characters "stand forth" (are raised up) from the strip. When all the elements of a page are clamped together into a frame, ink is rolled onto the cast, and pinned-flat-on-paddles sheets of parchment are laid on the inked result to print one page at a time.

A good printing establishment has lots of clean room to lay out drying broadsheets, a plentiful supply of thin sheets or strips of metal, and several sets of script punches with skilled "hammerwords" who can turn them into script speedily. Popular poems, sayings, jokes, and good tales are kept for re-use, though Waterdhavians are unforgiving when they see the same text twice in a year -- they will notice such "coin skimming" (a popular city term for small acts of swindling).

The sage Irbryth Authamaun (his home and office stands on north-front Sashtar Street, just across from the Thann noble family villa, North Ward) once defined Waterdeep's broadcryers to an outlander as "folk who stand in the streets crying torrid and dramatic headlines and selling both sides of a long strip of paper, usually rolled into a scroll, that have been printed with crude summaries of the latest news and gossip."

Most Waterdhavians would agree with that definition. They're quite used to "broad cries" like these (heard on a short North Ward street a few nights ago):

"Festhall lady revealed as doppleganger! Make sure your husband is truly your own!"

and:

"Thousands of dragons missing from Castle vaults! Masked Lords to be arrested!"

[edit] Know Thy Sources

The most aggressive broadcryers take up stations inside the city gates (Waymoot near the South Gate being the busiest), places many Waterdhavians visit daily (such as the Market), and strategic locations like the moot of the High Road and Waterdeep Way, the northerly moot of the High Road and the Way of the Dragon, and entrances to the City of the Dead around highsun (when many Waterdhavians enjoy their midday "highsunfest" by taking portable viands to the cemetery's parklike setting).

Some broadcryers strike deals with inns and taverns (particularly those near city gates), who allow them to sell in the lobbies without the usual calling of headlines. Almost all other broadcryers, save the few who deliver broadsheets personally to the villas of the noble and wealthy, cry out headlines on the streets -- which usually irritates folk living or shopkeeping nearby.

As a result, any citizen can complain to any Watch officer to have a broadcryer (or any street vendor) "moved along," and the Watch officer is bound to promptly issue such an order. This will always be "at least onto the next street," and is good for about half an hour unless the vendor wants to be detained and frowningly questioned for an entire morning or evening (losing a lot of trade in the process). Because of this, only the quietest broadcryers remain stationary in their vending locations. Young children selling broadsheets may even run to intercept or catch up with persons who seemed interested in their cry but in a hurry to accomplish some pressing task. Few broadcryers sell on the streets before dawn or after dusk -- and those who try to "cry headlines" at such times will be arrested by the Watch, taken to a Watchpost for a stern (and time-wasting) lecture, and then sent on their way without charge or punishment.

Due to this set up, any survey of broadcryers can give only likely or usual vending locations. So let's take a tour of broadcryers on a fair summer day, starting at South Gate and keeping to major streets.

The City Guard keeps the immediate vicinity of all city gates clear of vendors to avoid impeding traffic or providing cover for any attack on the city that might begin with the destruction of gates, so the first broadcryers to be met with are half a dozen leather-lunged sellers at Waymoot. Most are usually casual hires and street urchins, but among them will always be One-Legged Alram, a great giant of a man with a black beard, an eyepatch, and frankly piratical garb of colorful coat, large flopping seaboots, and a broad-brimmed wreck of a hat. He sells his own broadsheet, Straight Talk from the Docks (which he bills as "the seafarers' forum, where all dirty truths are told"), and is also known to contribute salty or sneering-at-the-wealthy "Seen on the Streets" notes to one of the most successful city broadsheets, the oddly-named Waterdeep Wazoo.

The Wazoo was named for both its founder and its first sponsor. The lass who started it was "the Wondrous Wazarra." She has retired from her hospitality profession due to the aches and wrinkles of age, but now pens an ongoing and very steamy amorous revel-and-bedchamber saga of "Myrandra and Her Adventures Among the Nobles" for its back pages. Armagus Zool was a carpet and tapestry merchant of Amn who sponsored Wazarra's broadsheet after becoming one of her most steadfast clients. He perished of shaking fever seven summers ago. His niece Sartrara Zool edits and prints the Wazoo every second day, keeping it full of jokes and catty gossip.

Proceeding up the High Road, the stretch between the Waymoot and the Forcebar is the battleground of many street urchins selling divers broadsheets, and another of Waterdeep's colorful printers: Astel Turjan, owner and writer of Turjan's Trumpet. Turjan is a handsome, debonair "young blade about town," and writes a dashing, light-hearted broadsheet concentrating on telling other young gallants where to be seen, what to wear to be best seen in, where to have fun, and where to find the best (looking and willing, that is) young lasses to have fun with. The Trumpet is popular among many Waterdhavians of both genders and all ages seeking to know "where the latest action is" so they can show up there for their own purposes.

A few broadcryers along this stretch sell religious broadsheets, but these hit their real stride farther north, closer to the Plinth.

Our tour of broadcryers continues north up the High Road from Waymoot. From the Forcebar to the Windhowl (the moot of River Street and the High Road, the nearest vendors are allowed to the River Gate), retired drovers and warriors share the cobbles, peddling various special interest broadsheets such as Calagar's Caravans (which advertises caravan musterings, guard-hirings, and folk looking to buy or sell wagons, harness, and draft beasts and riding horses) and Thaeler's Coinwatch (a cynical survey of shipping business over land and water entering or departing Waterdeep, and how "those with big coin" control everything for their profit and the general misery of everyone else).

At the moot of the High Road and Waterdeep Way, dozens of broadcryers hawk every imaginable broadsheet (many having small pushcarts and offering a dozen or more titles), but the High Road between this intersection and the Windhowl, and the Way of the Dragon as far south as Candle Lane, are haunted by priests and lay worshipers dressed in grandiose religious garb, selling the "devout broadsheets" of their faith.

The most popular are Thy Daily Luck, dedicated to Tymora but really to local investments and gambling, and the Merchants' True Friend, consecrated to Waukeen. Many nondevout Waterdhavians occasionally pick up a copy of The Eternal Dawn, the Lathanderite broadsheet, because it concerns itself with new ventures, new organizations, near-future plans, and probable politics just ahead. Like the "gilded broadsheets" of the rich and noble, the devout broadsheets tend to cost three nibs to a shard per issue.

The tendency of many sailors to make rough sport of broadcryers by shredding their wares has resulted in most of Dock Ward being forever free of street crying. Interested readers must travel to a main street location elsewhere or visit Ralagut's Wheelhouse, a sundries shop on west-front Snail Street half a block south off Shesstra's Street.

In the rest of the city, broadcryers work in the Market and on its boundary streets of Trader's Way and Bazaar Street, all along the High Road, on the Sutherlane and Julthoon Street, and the lengths of the Street of the Singing Dolphin, Stormstar's Ride, and both the Street of Lances and the Street of Glances.

On pleasant evenings, the Street of Whispers sports a few "silent" broadcryers who are actually employees of the festhalls, sent out to peddle a few broadsheets to provide an excuse for the timid to venture down the street -- and to sell steamy chapbooks to folk too timid to enter a festhall.

Most popular in the northern half of the city are two broadsheets: the solemn, "nothing but the facts" Vigilant Citizen, trusted by the majority of Waterdhavians but taken by very few as their only reading thanks to its dry style, and the light, sunny, and sardonic The North Wind, a recent broadsheet specializing in lots of illustrations of fashionable garments and easy-on-the-eyes folk wearing them, "lucky winner" contests with prizes as large as 66 gp (but usually averaging around 25 dragons), and arch commentary on the airs of the wealthy and "crusty old nobles."

Those nobles and ambitious coin-rich social climbers have their own broadsheets, many supposedly sold only to "deserving personages" but really available to anyone willing to part with enough coin. The truly noble broadsheets consist of Lady Amaranth's Falcon (for the young, fashionable gently born lady), The Anklet (for her more conservative mothers and aunts, who demand the very height of good taste and literate fare -- which some critics define as "gossip dressed up in ruffles to hide the long, raking cat claws"), Burnstel's Oracular (the hunting, riding, and sober sneering-down-upon-all-others publication of senior male nobility), The Sword in the Sun (for young, vigorous male nobles and rebellious she-nobles who favor revelry and pursuits frowned upon by their elders, many of whom refuse to "have that waste of coin in the house!") and Hulbrant's Record (a bland but exhaustive catalog of who was seen where and wearing what, or will be seen where and with whom).

The wealthy who want to become nobles read as many of the truly noble broadsheets as they can. However, they also support The New Waterdhavian, which regards nobility as "the outdated, pretentious decadent affectation of lazy holders of 'yesteryear's money,'" and the rising wealth of the self-made citizen as the true strength and splendor of Waterdeep. Also read by this set is Halivar's Lords and Ladies, which reports all the news and nasty gossip about the "Old Nobility" in a cynical manner, but fawns upon the "New Nobility" of the wealthy but not yet ennobled.

Waterdeep also sports a variety of short-lived "flaming broadsheets" that say very rude and inflammatory things about Lords, Palace officials, nobles, and other socially prominent citizens. The seldom seen Mouth of True Waterdeep and The Mocking Minstrel are the most notorious of these.

One satrical broadsheet that mocks well-known Waterdhavians in an endless broad satire that lampoons deceits and vanities by portraying real people as lust-crazed swindlers, with names only slightly changed from their real ones but with every single line of dialogue heard "for real" but misapplied to bawdy fictional situations is the infamous The Blue Unicorn. This broadsheet enjoys a strong following in every ward and social stratum of the city; old copies even sell well as sheer "laugh at Waterdeep" entertainment in distant cities.

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