Town Crier
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Basic Information

In eras predating television, the printing press and general literacy, if you need to get the word out to the people, somebody had to do it personally. Thus the job of the Town Crier was born, a civil servant whose duty it is to deliver the news, laws, other proclamations verbally to as many people as possible. The job goes back to at least 1066 in England, and variations upon the concept existed in Ancient Rome and other older civilizations.

English criers would typically have specific regular spots where they read the news to the crowds, such as town square or from the front stoop of an inn or the steps of a church. There they would shout in a booming voice "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez" - an Anglo-Norman phrase meaning "Hark", "Listen", "Hear Ye", "All of You", or "Oh Yes" depending on which source you believe. Many criers would ring a bell or pound on a drum to get attention. After making the announcements, they would leave the document they read posted, so that any who could read would be able to verify the truth of what was said (or catch up on the news if they missed the regular time).

Criers were frequently the bearers of announcements about new laws, taxes, drafts and other bad news. As a result, most received a strong measure of extra legal protection. An assault on the town crier was treated as an assault on the town, or possibly on the kingdom. Penalties for killing the messenger were quite severe.

Sources

Bibliography
2. Non-Fiction: Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges Into History Again
3. TV: HBO's Rome had a recurring device of having a Town Crier announce news and political declarations, and finish with "brought to you by ___, real bread for real Romans" or something like that. It was very cute.

Game and Story Use

  • The villain (or the PCs rival or nemesis) is the town crier. If they ever wish to act against him, they'll have to be very careful and covert about it. "Roughing him up a bit" could be met with charges of Treason.
  • The PCs arrive in a remote village where the town crier is the only literate person in town (or maybe he and his friend the tax collector, and/or his rich nobleman patron). The locals are laboring under the yoke of an extensive tax and other tyrannies that the PCs have never heard of before. This makes them suspicious, and they start paying attention to the crier. Sure enough, he's not reading the announcements, he's making them up. The tax doesn't exist, and he's been embezzling. Again, the players have to be careful to prove this before acting. Respond too brazenly and they'll be guilty of crimes against the crown.
  • The crier has been hypnotized or enchanted, and is making ludicrous announcements or a brazen power-grab. Can the PCs straighten out what's really going on?
  • The town crier has been murdered. The PCs are tasked with finding who did it, and making an example of them.
  • Town Crier is a great cover for a spy or detective. Not only do you get the inside information before it goes public, but you also get to see everyone else's reactions to the news as you tell them about it.
  • As a reward for their services to King and Country, one of the PCs is offered the job of Town Crier, along with the legal protections it affords. Can they resist the temptation to make a total ass of themselves given a degree of immunity and a public soapbox to stand on?
  • The town crier is announcing a (garbeled) account of something the PCs did … it may take them a moment to realise what he's talking about.
    • Or the party is walking down the street when the crier announces a "be ye on the lookout for…" that sounds a lot like them.
  • Also a good source of general announcements about the state of things - or rather that the official version of things is - which can be used to foreshadow later plot developments.
    • As in HBO's Rome a change in official policy might lead to a spectacular change of tone in public announcements.
  • Might show up in Alternate History where more technological news services never caught on, or in After the End settings where they're no longer sustainable.

Building This Character

Character Level

  • Probably low. The most dangerous thing they do is shout.

Attributes and Skills

  • Social Attributes and Social Skills would prove helpful, but all that's required a baseline competency. Just enough so people don't laugh at you.
  • Languages, Literacy, Law, and other things that start with "L" :) are useful for making yourself understood and answering questions from the crowds.

Special Abilities

  • Loud Voice. I've never seen an RPG that offered it as an advantage (or flaw), but boy would it be useful.
    • Actually, GURPS lists a Perk called "Penetrating Voice", a 1pt. Advantage.

Flaws and Hindrances

Combat Role

  • Combat is generally the last thing on the Town Crier's list of goals, but they might make a good Party Leader or faceman.
  • A crier with the right skills might deal with information, intimidate or demoralize opponents, or be responsible for compiling a field report on the battle.

Variants

  • To some extent the Herald is sort of a "super-crier", mixed with a sizable dose of Jack-of-All-Trades, and could serve as a "levelled up" version of the town crier. See Herald for more ideas.
  • In some settings, a crier might be responsible for gathering the news, as a journalist or a diviner.
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