Broadcryers of Waterdeep
I: News for Sale
By Ed Greenwood
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.
Traditional 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 clientèle) 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!"
© 2003 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved.