rating: 0+x

In the name of the Empress of India, make way,
O Lords of the Jungle, wherever you roam.
The woods are astir at the close of the day—
We exiles are waiting for letters from Home.
Let the robber retreat—let the tiger turn tail—
In the Name of the Empress, the Overland Mail!

(from) The Overland Mail Rudyard Kipling

Basic Information

In most cases messenger will be a job description for a person who carries messages from person to person (compare to a courier) whose role is to move packages - which often include messages) … the main exception being in nautical terminology, where a messenger is a lightweight line which is passed to allow a heavier line to be drawn behind it (for example a light line thrown from ship to shore which is then used to pull the ships mooring cable ashore). Note also that the term messenger tends to imply a relatively low status - a higher status individual tends to be termed an "emissary" or something similar (although the ambassadors of the See of Rome still use the title nuncio - from the Latin nuntius (messenger)).

Typically the messenger is trained and equipped for fast travel by the means best known to his culture - this can be anything from long distance running to teleportation. Those who communicate without moving, whether by smoke signal, tree drum or astral projection, will probably have a different title. Messages may be oral or written or both, depending on the culture … care should be taken, where oral instructions exist, that they not contradict or confuse the written ones (see, for example, The Charge of the Light Brigade) … unless that is the point of the oral message (which can be useful if you suspect your messenger may not make it to the destination intact), in which case it is still a good idea for the recipient to be expecting that sort of thing.

In most pre-modern cultures, any professional messenger is likely to be an employee of someone important - which may or may not involve wearing their livery, depending on how overt their role is (a discrete messenger may go in plain clothes, but can be intercepted with plausible deniability whereas a liveried man will probably be noticed by everyone but to lay hands on him may be tantamount to a declaration of war). "Public messengers" working for the state as a whole are more niche and require the sort of bureaucracy that is either Classical or Early Modern and ones who can be hired by anyone (for example, a postal service) very modern indeed - although casual message carrying within urban areas is probably as old as humanity (if you can trust you messages to street-urchins or other loafers).

Worth noting is that the word angel comes from the Greek ἄγγελος (angelos - a messenger) and that the Hebrew cognate is יהוה מַלְאָךְ (Mal'ak YHWH - messenger of God).


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • A good job for solo PCs, or a PC background.
  • Likely to be a frequent encounter on roads anywhere that roads exist.
  • Messengers are traditionally protected from violence - whether by mutual agreement as with modern diplomatic immunity, or their persons actually being sacred.
    • Killing a messenger brings a curse upon an entire country. (Sparta believed this was responsible for a major disaster, a full century after the incident in question.)
    • A messenger dies of sudden illness or bandit attack. Now, their boss and their hosts are on the brink of war over it.
  • Finding a dead messenger lying about might be an interesting start to things … whether the PCs retrieve his message or not, the issue may be who thinks they may have done.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License