Broadcryers of Waterdeep

II: Perils and Presses

By Ed Greenwood

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 doppelganger! Make sure your husband is truly your own!"


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

© 2003 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved.