Worlds of points of light in a wilderness, or fallen empires, or warring kingdoms, or with merchant guilds that control trade need ways for far-ranging communities to stay in touch. In the real world this meant messenger pigeons, in the Potterverse they used owls, in Game of Thrones there were crows and ravens to communicate. Other fictions use dogs, or just a hearty human that trudges through awful conditions to keep the ties of society together — The Postman by David Brin, or the Pony Express in reality.
Your Dungeons & Dragons worlds also need these messengers. They make sense and fit the fiction so well. A Messenger in D&D also doesn’t need to be confined to the animals of the real world. A Ravnica or Eberron game might use a tiny ornithopter. Fastieths fit in Eberron and parts of the Six Kingdoms. Spiders or bats fit in Ravenloft. There’s a flavor of messenger companion for every world.
You are the connection between disparate homesteads, towns, or cities. Conveying the messages and scrolls between the communities rapidly without magic you bring news, warning, and joy to peoples who often struggle to keep in touch or that would take weeks to travel and deliver the message themselves. Often welcomed in strange towns, a messenger sometimes wears an official uniform of a ruling power and at others is a freelancer working without direction from above. You and your messenger companion are a symbol of civilization even in the furthest outposts.
Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Nature
Tool Proficiencies: None
Languages: Two Languages
Equipment: One animal messenger companion, travelers clothes, a scroll case with a dozen pages, a quill, an ink pot, a whistle or bell or other command device, a pouch with 5 gp
Choose an animal that is your messenger’s companion and conveyance, and discuss with the DM how the companion will fit into the adventure. These come in four primary groups, and a few examples are provided. Don’t feel limited to the specific animals listed, but use them for guidance regarding their abilities, if, gods forbid, they enter combat.
- Small land animals — cats, dogs, iguanas, otters, monkeys, not-quite-giant spiders
- Medium land animals — axe beaks, ponies, fastieths, antelopes
- Small flying animals — pigeons, crows, ravens, owls, bats
- Fantastic animals — enchanted paper airplanes, clockwork machines, not-quite-giant dragonflys, flying snakes, stirges, not-quite-giant wasps
Feature: Rivers and Roads
Your messenger companion begins the game with a network of three destinations and the ability to find its way back to you where you sent it from. When delivering a message to a known destination on the network it travels at a fast pace and does so with no penalty to a stealth check (your messenger companion add your proficiency bonus and your Wisdom bonus to their stealth at all times). If you plan to move from your location when you send a message you can instruct your messenger companion to deliver the message and then go to a different destination. You and your messenger companions have a number of network destinations of proficiency bonus +1. If your companion perishes you must train a new one. This takes several weeks of downtime.
Natural weather has less impact on your own travels. Survival and/or Constitution checks made due to harsh natural weather are made with advantage.
Traits, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws: At this time use the Sage, Outlander, or Folk Hero for inspiration.
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Messenger Design Goals
Starting with the idea that greyhounds would be perfect canine versions of messenger pigeons, this background just kept growing and growing in its scope. Eventually I spun out the Far Talker as a similar but different role in the world.
One of the difficulties was coming up with the dual features. I wanted cover the US Postal Service’s unofficial motto which actually dates back to 500-449 B.C.E.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of
their appointed rounds.
Emulating those words was vital, but needed to not be game breaking.
The non-magically empowered companion couldn’t be built out of Find Familiar, which was considered. My world’s bonded companions are meant to be non-magical. While the phrasing of the ability is a bit long, it’s mostly an ability that adds flavor. The messenger companion is not going to change a D&D party’s combat power.