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I’m looking for a solution roughly equivalent to “cast sending.” There are low-but-undefined-level wizards around, however, the NPC is not himself a wizard, and there is no wizard nearby who knows the player-character (so, Sending specifically doesn’t work). The NPC does not know where the player is, so Animal Messenger will not work.

Message length needs to be at least a few words, although longer is fine. Ideally it should be affordable for low level characters without much wealth. Distance between parties is about 80 miles and on the same plane: The NPC is in Icewind Dale. The PC is in the mountains south of there. They last saw each other in Waterdeep a month prior. Neither knows other’s location.

There is not a strong time constraint on the delivery. I need a message to show up asking a PC to come to the NC's location conveniently timed for the end of the current adventure, but I can "start" the delivery retroactively.

I’m looking specifically for a Rules-As-Written answer. I know that as GM, I can just make up anything I feel like; pointing that out is not helpful.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is your world low, mid, or high level? What do you define as "not much wealth"? HOw much money does the PC have? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 14 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast NPC knows the pc very well \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Oct 14 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Overland only or is there water travel involved? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 14 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ In comments on the answers you say you are looking for "something more like a spell". But your question title and text seem to implicitly exclude the use of spells. Perhaps you should clarify that in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – BBeast Oct 15 at 1:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WakiNadiVellir the PC is human. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Oct 15 at 11:59
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Ring of Spell Storing

Have the NPC use a Ring of Spell Storing, a "standard" magic item. It can store up to 5 levels of spell. Some other relevant features for the item:

Any creature can Cast a Spell of 1st through 5th Level into the ring by touching the ring as the spell is cast. The spell has no Effect, other than to be stored in the ring.

While wearing this ring, you can cast any spell stored in it. The spell uses the slot level, spell save DC, spell Attack bonus, and Spellcasting Ability of the original caster, but is otherwise treated as if you cast the spell. The spell cast from the ring is no longer stored in it, freeing up space.

So the NPC could have found such a ring with a single Sending in it at some point. They had it identified, and now's time to use that Sending. No wizard needed at this time.

The NPC could also have had the ring for a long time already (as a family heirloom maybe), and they just need to free 3 levels worth of room from the ring, and find a Wizard to cast a single sending to the ring. Or maybe even in this case the ring has Sending already, as it seems a very logical thing to put into a ring, for emergency use.

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A Human(oid) Messenger

Yep...that's it. Nice and boring--this is how normal people send messages over long distances. You write a letter then pay someone to deliver it.

The main reason this works when a spell like Animal Messenger does not is that the one doing the delivering is an intelligent humanoid--so they don't need to know exactly where the recipient is, or have personally been there, as long as they know the general area or (if you're willing to pay them for the distance they travel while searching) where the recipient has been recently. This is especially true since they're looking for an Adventurer...and adventurers tend to stand out and be memorable.

So, you have a person with reasonable skill at tracking, a description of the PC, their name, and the last place you knew they were at. So they go to the last place the PC was known to be, then start asking questions: "Have you seen this person? Do you know where they went?" and they chase leads until they find the person they were hired to find (or exhaust their budget).

In short, if you have played Skyrim--y'know how sometimes couriers run up to you with letters and drop some "Hey, I've been looking for you--got a message to deliver" line? That. And the nice part about this is that because the "timely arrival of a messenger" is a sufficient trope, your players are unlikely to question it...just have the messenger drop some line about how much of a pain it was to track them down.

And if you suspect your players may be dubious of even that...then just have it be a small team of newbie adventurers that got hired to deliver the message. Courier duty is not outside the realm of work adventurers may do.

And, since you asked for RAW...have this, from the Services table in the Equipment section

Messenger: 2 cp per mile

Because you're hiring the messenger to track the PC down, it'll probably be a bit more expensive than that, since they (per your comments) would be starting from Waterdeep.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So that the messenger and quarry don't end up circling each other without meeting, the messenger should also be posting notices in places the quarry is reported to have been. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Oct 14 at 17:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ However an issue with this is security. How secure and secret is the message? Can you rely on the messenger to not leak the message. Is that even important? Maybe this should be added as a disclaimer to the answer? \$\endgroup\$ – The Grand J Oct 15 at 1:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer. I'm really hoping for something more like a spell, so I plan to leave this un-accepted. That answer may not exist though, and I did upvote. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Oct 15 at 1:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheGrandJ Security risks with a physical messenger just seems like a no-brainer to me. Of course the messenger might read the letter (but won't if they are concerned about reputation), of course they might get intercepted or robbed or eaten by an Owlbear. But that's what normal people have to deal with. Heck, that's what we have to deal with IRL--Sending is freakishly secure. If other people think it's worth adding to the answer, I will...but it seemed obvious to me. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Oct 15 at 12:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ "And if you suspect your players may be dubious of even that" - You can prime the pump by having the players, very early on in their career, be given one or two message delivery quests. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Oct 16 at 16:50
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You have two problems to solve, not one (Find and Deliver)

You need the "messenger" function and the "find adventurers" function. Each takes a different NPC skill set if we look at the Services table in the PHB. (You asked for stuff from the rules).

For Find (Task 1)

You need your NPC, or an ally, or an additional hireling, to be something like the NPC Scout who is a tracking/survival proficient NPC who can figure out where to take the message.

Skills Nature +4, Perception +5, Stealth +6, Survival +5
{Survival is the relevant skill for tracking/finding; SRD page 401}

For Deliver (Task 2)

It will take 2 to 4 days minimum (I'll explain why below) but for this specific case 4 days might be ambitious based on the Find task. For a RL analogue, have a look at the infamous "Take a Message to Garcia" lore from the Spanish-American War. Part of that solution set was in finding Garcia with very little information to go on besides "in eastern Cuba somewhere." (It took about three weeks, or so the story goes ...)

What's it cost?

Baseline for a Messenger is 2 cp per mile ~ 160 CP (1 Gold, 6 Silver).
But that's once the messenger knows where to take it and they don't know where that is. This requires the hire of an NPC Scout (or equivalent) - which I think is fair to be called Skilled - at 2 gp per day. That increases the budget to a 8 GP at a minimum. (Both from p. 56, Basic Rules, Services table) It may get more expensive unless there's a "friends and family discount" or "the guild/AARP rate is half for you".

A little DM judgment is still needed

You need to ascertain off-screen how quickly the Scout, or Scout/Messenger, can get on the PCs' trail. That's the Find task sorted. Now we resolve the time of travel for the Deliver task.

Why two to four days minumum? Adventuring rules, Chapter 8

Fast / 30 miles per day (−5 penalty to passive Wisdom (Perception) scores)

80 miles takes a minimum of 3 days, (30 + 30 + 20) but if difficult terrain is involved it can take longer. You mention mountains, so let's call it 4 days to be optimistic. Note: that's just the travel. Could one speed this up if mounted? Only in a case that does not seem to apply to your discrete situation.

Mounts and Vehicles. For short spans of time (up to an hour), many animals move much faster than humanoids. A mounted character can ride at a gallop for about an hour, covering twice the usual distance for a fast pace. If fresh mounts are available every 8 to 10 miles, characters can cover larger distances at this pace, but this is very rare except in densely populated areas.

If you had a Pony Express set up, and your PC was in a major town or city, it could take half the time (Two days, 60 + 20) but: (1) the price would likely go up, and (2) they are not in a road hub/town/city, etc.

Mounted or not, for where your PCs are the best case is: three days if the Find function is resolved quickly.
If they are hard to find?
The best case is from four days to who knows how long?
Minimum budget is 8 GP unless a discount (as I mentioned above) is available to the NPC / Messenger.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While a single mount (for each hireling) would not halve the travel time, it would significantly reduce it (covering 29 miles per day without using a fast pace or 36 going fast paced the entire time). It would still be 3 days, but 36+36+8 leaves up to 7 additional hours on the third day instead of 2.6. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Oct 14 at 19:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer too. I'm really hoping for something more like a spell, so I plan to leave this un-accepted. That answer may not exist though, and I did upvote. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Oct 15 at 1:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fectin glad it was at least partially useful. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 15 at 2:30
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If you can somehow grant the NPC a use of Dream spell, you can have a proper conversation. Snippet from its description:

Choose a creature known to you as the target of this spell. The target must be on the same plane of existence as you. Creatures that don’t sleep, such as elves, can’t be contacted by this spell. You, or a willing creature you touch, enters a trance state, acting as a messenger. While in the trance, the messenger is aware of his or her surroundings, but can’t take actions or move. If the target is asleep, the messenger appears in the target’s dreams and can converse with the target as long as it remains asleep, through the duration of the spell.

Now, it is not unreasonable to rule, that the NPC describing the PC to the caster makes the PC known to the caster and valid target to th spell. If the spell required more, it would say "know personally" or "have seen" or something.

Next problem, this is 5th level spell (for PCs, requires 9 class levels of approprite class). The spell is available for Bard, Druid, Warlock and Wizard classes. So the NPC needs to meet a high level NPC somehow:

  • Bard: Potential for romantic motivation. Also the NPC encountering a travelling bard in Icewind Dale is not entirely implausible.
  • Druid: If the reason to help could be linked to the balance of nature somehow, this is plausible. Also, what little I know of Icewind Dale, having a high-level druid make an appearance would not be out of place.
  • Warlock: The NPC would have to make a deal with the Warlock's patron for the aid. For motivation for the Warlock to be there, they're just doing the bidding of their Patron, for inscrutable reasons beyond mortal comprehension, somehow linked to the PCs quest. Good or bad or just neutral, kept secret or revealed, only the Patron knows.

Of these, I'd go with Warlock, and have the price be unspecified... "Yeah, I made a deal with {a spooky patron creature} to contact you... But I had to. And it's no big deal, seriously, don't worry about it..." That should put players a bit on edge.


Darker option, an evil caster might offer the Dreams nightmare option, giving the NPC 10 words to deliver as message, and the PC a bad following day:

You can make the messenger appear monstrous and terrifying to the target. If you do, the messenger can deliver a Message of no more than ten words and then the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, echoes of the phantasmal Monstrosity spawn a Nightmare that lasts the Duration of the target's sleep and prevents the target from gaining any benefit from that rest. In addition, when the target wakes up, it takes 3d6 psychic damage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Beside finding a high level caster, a problem arise if the receiver is a creature that does not need to sleep, like an elf. The Dream spell does not work with this type of creatures. \$\endgroup\$ – Eddymage Oct 15 at 7:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage Yes, I intentionally included the bit about needing target to sleep in the quote. I expanded a bit on why such a high-level caster would appear and aid the NPC. \$\endgroup\$ – WakiNadiVellir Oct 15 at 8:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage It may be possible to side-step a target who cannot sleep by targeting another party member, if the NPC knows who their PC contact are travelling with. \$\endgroup\$ – BBeast Oct 15 at 10:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ OP clarified that the target is human, so no worries about that. \$\endgroup\$ – WakiNadiVellir Oct 15 at 15:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage I was originally going to comment something along the lines of "the chances that all members of the party are elves is very small", but from your experience those odds clearly aren't low enough! \$\endgroup\$ – BBeast Oct 16 at 3:34
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The task your NPC is attempting to perform, delivering a message to a party of adventurers in an unknown location, is difficult. The more resources they have at their disposal, the faster they can get the task done. I shall give options in order of increasing cost and speed.

Send messages everywhere

One option is to send messages to all major towns in the geographical region you expect the players to be. This option is relatively cheap because it requires no specialised skills for your messengers, so can utilise the normal 2 cp per mile rate (or whatever the cost of postage is in this part of the setting).

The message will then be waiting for the player characters next time they come into town. However, it is necessary for that message to be waiting for them. If it is necessary for the message to be private, then the messengers must be employed to hang around in town for a suitable period of time (maybe a tenday or two at 2 sp per day for unskilled labour) and wait for the party to deliver the message personally. Multiplied by the number of towns the NPC has sent messengers to, this could get quite expensive if there is high uncertainty as to the party's location.

If the NPC is willing to compromise the confidentiality of the message (probably okay if the message is "meet in ") and can rely on a bit of goodwill in the towns, a cheaper method is available. The messengers can leave their messages in a public place for the party to find. This may be on a notice board, or with a local barkeep or guard captain. Then fewer messengers can be used (since the same messenger can visit multiple towns) and the messengers don't have to be paid to wait around.

A side-effect of this method is that the party is likely to receive the message multiple times as they travel the region.

This method is unlikely to be viable if there is a very high uncertainty as to the party's location. This method may also be fairly slow, as the message is not targeted, and it requires the party to stop by a town.

Send a tracker and messenger

The NPC can employ a humanoid or group of humanoids to seek out the player characters and deliver the message. This is the method covered in guildbounty's and KorvinStarmast's excellent answers. It is, in my opinion, the most viable method given the circumstances.

The hardest part about delivering this message is that the party's location is unknown. However, unless the party has been deliberately stealthy, it should be possible for a skilled individual to track their movements. The tracker (who probably usually works as a bounty hunter or private investigator) would be given the message and as much information about the party as the NPC cares to divulge, with their last known location being the most important piece of information. The tracker would then go to that location, make inquiries, and follow the trail until they reach the party.

This won't be cheap. Skilled hirelings nominally cost 2 gp per day, but a highly specialised hireling such as this would likely charge more for their services. They probably have a flat fee for 'locate adventuring party somewhere in the North', which I'd spit-ball as somewhere around one or two hundred gp, rather than a daily rate for a task of unknown duration. But it would be reliable, or at least as reliable as the hireling.

Scrying then sending

If the NPC needs the message to be delivered within days (possibly today) rather than weeks, there are some magical options.

While there are no spellcasters available who are currently familiar enough with the party to cast sending, there is a way for the spellcaster to become familiar with the party if they have 5th level spell slots: by scrying on the party.

The NPC would give the bard, cleric or wizard a description of the party members. If the NPC has anything which once belonged to the party, or at the very least a likeness or picture of them, they would also lend the caster those items. Then the caster casts scrying on the party members. This casting of scrying is not guaranteed to work, as the party does not know they are going to be scried by an ally so they will make their saves normally. The caster repeatedly attempts to cast scrying until either a) the spell succeeds, b) the caster runs out of spell slots, or c) all party members pass their saves. If b or c, then the caster repeats the procedure the following day until success occurs (or the NPC runs out of money).

Once scrying succeeds, the caster is able to closely observe the party as if they were there. The 'familiar' clause in sending is ambiguous, but it would be reasonable for a DM to rule than ten minutes of close observation is enough familiarity for sending to work. (Since you are the DM, you are free to make that ruling.) The caster then casts sending, delivering the message.

This method is not cheap, and may not be available to the NPC. It requires a bard, cleric or wizard with 5th level spell slots, and will likely require multiple castings of scrying to work, occupying the caster's magic for several days depending on how good the party's Wisdom saves are. If you use this formula for estimating spellcasting prices, then each casting of scrying costs 350 gp, and the casting of sending costs 90 gp. The NPC would need a few thousand gp spare for this message, and good favour with a mid-level spellcaster.

Crystal ball of telepathy

The crystal ball of telepathy is a legendary magic item. It allows the user to cast scrying at will, and telepathically communicate with those it scries. The NPC does not require any assistance to use this item (although obtaining it is another story). The same issue of the party not knowing that the NPC is trying to scry them stands, so multiple attempts at scrying may be needed before someone fails their save (remembering that someone who passes their save is immune for 24 hours).

Change planes then gate

The 9th level spell gate (available to clerics, sorcerers and wizards, and also through the very rare magic item candle of invocation) can be used to reliably summon a creature who you know the name of to your location. If the NPC gets someone to cast this spell (or casts it themselves using the candle) and speak the name of someone in the party, then a portal will open connecting the NPC and the party. The NPC can then deliver their message in person.

One catch is that for gate to work the target must be on a different plane of existence to the caster. So before casting gate to contact the player characters, the NPC and their allied Tier 4 spellcaster would need to travel to any other plane, possibly via plane shift or gate. But if you can use gate, interplanar travel is trivial.

It is unreasonable to put a price on 9th level spells, so I won't attempt to.

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Registration point (adventurer's guild)

When the service is provided by a large entity for large amounts of people, economies of scale start making sense.

This is from a total outsider's perspective (aside from that one session of weird pseudo-D&D in fourth grade), but what about adventurers registering in guild branches near them and guilds having something like a registry of adventurers signed up in this or that branch?

When an adventurer registers in a guild he arrived at, the mail that's waiting for them in other places gets forwarded there.

As it is a centralized service, the guild can offer it to its members for a fee, there are usually multiple deliveries to the same guild branch. It gives your PCs a reason to regularly visit a branch and check up on things, the guild can issue quests to junior adventurers that consist of sending mail to another new location and you can even use it as your story progresses. "There is an urgent message that needs to be delivered to another branch", which then progresses into "Oh dear, those guys left why you were on the way, but I also have a shipment of mail to their new location, are you free?".

Since the guild is the mediator supplying this service to large amounts of people, they can also have expensive artifacts or scrolls mass-produced to "encrypt" or even send the messages.

You can even expand this in rural areas, where even normal people can register as recipients at the guild and the guilds manage their correspondence, sending adventurers as postmen, that probably won't be killed by wolves or those pesky fire breathing dragons in the hardcore high-level areas.

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The Internet

OK, I was joking about the actual internet, but some of the concepts behind the internet would be useful for this type of messaging. The internet was designed for a buggy and inconsistent connection system, that might be hit with atomic bombs from time to time. Therefore, messaging from point to point had to be very robust in order to get important email (and, I suppose, cute pictures of pets) from point A to point B.

I think that several strategies could be used by normal people in order to help the delivery of mail.

Military Mail

I'm not trying to get word to the general in the middle of a battle. There is magic for that. However, there is probably a lot of non-critical mail that needs to get to the military units that seem to be traveling almost randomly about, hunting goblins and getting in the way of adventurers. I propose that most of these units are on some sort of loose schedule. So mail could be sent with a list of forwarding towns so that if the mail was just a bit late for the army, it could be forwarded.

Another way would be to route the mail through military post offices which might know the scheduled position of the various units and could forward them more intelligently.

Civilian Mail

For the most part, civilians tend to stay in one city. Therefore something akin to our modern postal service might work. I propose one central post officer per city, with lesser offices as needed, down to a rider that delivers weekly to small villages.

Adventurer Mail

Now we get into the meat of the matter. Do the adventures have a "guild" like they do in some games and systems? I dislike this as not being authentic, but then again there was no "adventuring class" in the real middle ages because we didn't have monsters and dungeons conveniently filled up with gold and silver.

If they don't have guilds, the post office could take over this function.

If you know the pc's home, you can send a note there with forwarding. You would have to pay for this function on some sort of scale according to the difficulty and expense of forwarding.

If you have an idea of where the pc's are, then you can send a copy to that location and hope that the adventurers check the central post office in each city.

I envision forwarding working in every increasing circles, with one copy sent to a central location in each city on the circle.

I imagine that it would increase the cost by a factor of eight for the first circle, then a factor of sixteen for each additional forwarding.

Magical Pagers

To get a message to a given adventurer, go to his home guild or post office. There, there will be somebody who is paid to know the adventurers in there area will be able to cast the spell to send him a short message. From then, if the adventurer is interested, either he tells the mage to send more details, or (if he's interested but can't continue right away) the adventurer goes to the local post office and finds somebody who can send a message to the post office of the sending city. Or you could have just gave the sender your city (if you're staying there or will be back) and he can just send a simple message.

Postal Notes

Messaging to adventurers is difficult. In a Traveller game I ran, you can send messages to a ship that might be in a random location by leaving messages at major starports. They will eventually get the message. In the game I'm about to run, I will even have an interstellar slow internet. If you're messaging a fixed location (a star port or system), it generally takes a fixed amount of time to get it. Each jump is approximately 1 week, and most ships have drives only capable of 1 to 2 parsecs per jump.

So by the time I've responded to this post, the flames that my answer is inferior to another answer will hit me several weeks later. :)

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Considering an adventurer lifestyle and the probable lack of address to send to, there is no way that a traditional mailing system would work since the NPC does not know where the target is. Unless there is some kind of established postal service and the PC knows to regularly go to the nearest post office to pick up his mail. There would still be the problem that the NPC does not know in which region the PC is so they would need to send one to every post office which would cause duplicate letters for the PC should they ever visit another region.

Personally, I would use the magic item : Sending Stones.

The trick is to get one half of a pair to a PC.

There are a few ways to do it such as :

  • they find it as an old relic / magic item (from whatever dungeon/ruins)
  • they find it from looting (who had it before and how did they lose it ?)
  • someone brings or gives it to them (hired messenger or plot hook of choice)

Granted these are better when used with a Deux ex Machina well timed call for help from the other half.

Just remember that magic items can have quirk. The Sending Stones could only allow one way communication, there could be more than 2 that are linked, the item could be a less portable item (a statue, a big mirror or an altar).

Maybe the NPC knows someone who has a pair. He could have paid a messenger to meet up with the PC with a transcript of the message. This sounds like a good business opportunity, you can be in a city and, for a small fee, hire a messenger that is in another city. If you have enough pair of Sending Stones or spellcasters to cast and receive the Sending spell then you can make a network that could guarantee a 1 week delivery anywhere. You just have to be careful that the message is not distorted by that game of telephone.

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