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The Question

My dnd-5e party has angered a wealthy and powerful cult of warlocks. That group of warlocks plans to offer a bounty for the destruction of the party.

Using only Warlock spells, Invocations, and magic items, how can the cult efficiently create and distribute magical wanted posters of the players across a continent?

The Details

In my specific case, we have these details available, but the best answers would not use these details, so that the answer can be of use to others in the future:

  • My Warlocks have a Fathomless patron as in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.
  • One of my warlocks is personally familiar with one of the party members, which matters for spells like Scrying.
  • Several of my warlocks have met the party members in person.
  • (Added after comments:) The continent is a homebrewed setting; large parts of it are barely populated, but there are several population centers and the different regions of the continent are largely at peace with one another, allowing relatively free movement. Think Australia but without a central government.

Example unsatisfying answers:

Magic exists; just say the posters are created by magic.

I like to restrict the NPCs to only abilities that PCs could gain, to set an example for players and encourage them to be creative within the rules. If there is an established magic item that would help the cult do this, that would be much more acceptable to me.

(Added after some comments:) Just have artists draw mundane posters, then distribute the posters using normal trade routes, or maybe send riders out with the posters.

A good answer should use at least some minimum amount of magic, since the goal is for my players to interact with cool/fun/awesome things.

Major Image and Teleportation Circle are in the Warlock spell list. A very high-level warlock could use a Teleportation Circle to each major city on the continent and put up a Wanted Hologram of the party at each one using a 6th-level cast of Major Image.

This is cool, but not efficient: it requires a very high-level caster to personally travel the world to distribute the wanted posters, and the rules don't technically allow a Warlock to cast Major Image at 6th level. Still, this is close to the answer I am looking for.

Thank you!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why do the posters have to be magical? Whats wrong with a regular poster? \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Mar 30 at 15:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you please provide some more details on the organization and the size of the continent? Is this in a existing lore setting or is this in a homebrewed world? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 30 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Fering Because magical posters are awesome. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Cunningham Mar 30 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisCunningham Does the preference for awesomeness override your preference for efficiency? If pressed, which answer would you favor: one that is efficient enough the Warlocks might actually do it (even if the posters aren't everything you'd prefer), or one that is prohibitively inefficient but has animated posters? \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Mar 30 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WakiNadiVellir I would downvote such an answer. It's not a way of challenging the frame, but removing limits for the question. If we allowed all answers to ignore the given constraints of a question, that would only lead to sheer madness! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 30 at 19:07
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Creation: Illusory Script

If you just want an excuse for the posters to be magical, here's one. Illusory Script is a spell on the warlock spell list that, essentially, allows you to write 2 different messages on the same piece of paper and decide who will see which message:

To you and any creatures you designate when you cast the spell, the writing appears normal, written in your hand, and conveys whatever meaning you intended when you wrote the text. To all others, the writing appears as if it were written in an unknown or magical script that is unintelligible. Alternatively, you can cause the writing to appear to be an entirely different message, written in a different hand and language, though the language must be one you know.

So, the warlock casts Illusory Script, creating a poster describing the party's wondrous and heroic deeds, for which a handsome reward is promised if they come to the designated meeting place – at least, that's what the party sees when they read it. For everyone else, it reads as a wanted poster detailing the many crimes of the party and offering a reward for information leading to their capture.

The nice thing about this solution from the perspective of the cult is that both versions of the poster have the potential to get the cult what they want. The nice thing from your perspective is that the posters will show up to Detect Magic and similar effects, and even if the party doesn't inspect them for magic, you have ample opportunity to have passers-by react to the posters while the party is looking at them, in order to suggest that something is not as it seems.

Distribution: Paper birds

A paper bird is a magically enchanted sheet of parchment that can carry a message of up to 50 words to any known recipient. As a sheet of parchment, it is a valid medium on which to inscribe an Illusory Script. Hence, these wanted posters can be created at a central location and then distributed to "field agents" who receive them and hang them up in other towns and cities across the continent. Since some of the cult members know the party's identities, you can also have them send one directly to the party, if you really want to get their attention.

Because Illusory Script has a duration of 10 days, this limits how far you can send your message, since the birds have a speed of 60. However, unlike a living creature, a paper bird can fly toward its destination continuously, 24 hours a day, until it arrives. If we say that you want a minimum of 5 days to display the poster, then the bird can cover 720 miles in the remaining 5 days of the spell's duration, going by the special travel pace rules in the DMG. That gives you some pretty wide distribution, as long as you have a few "field agents" willing to do the legwork.

(Note that once the paper bird reaches the intended recipient, it becomes non-magical, so by the time the posters are actually posted, the only magic on them will be that of the Illusory Script spell.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Very clever! Requiring the fake text to be written in "a different hand and language" seems like it requires the poster to be in two languages. It might raise a red flag for the party if they see the poster written in Elvish when every other poster on the board is in Common. \$\endgroup\$ – Glasses2C_Sharp Mar 31 at 15:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Glasses2C_Sharp I don't think the different message is required to be written in a different language, or written in a different hand, or even a different message. It can be any or all of those, as the caster wishes. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Mar 31 at 19:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow; the paper bird really ties this answer together in a neat way. Your sprinkled in storytelling tips are also greatly appreciated. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Cunningham Apr 1 at 5:13
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I don't think that they would do this themselves

Warlocks are defined by having a low number of relatively inflexible spell slots which can be regained after a short rest. As short rests take an hour, a single-classed Warlock with the maximum number of spell slots who works all day (leaving eight hours for a long rest) means that they can produce 48 spell effects per day. If they have the right features (Aspect of the Moon or Undying Nature) they can get another eight hours' worth of work per day, for another 24 castings per day. If they have Rods of the Pact Keeper, they can get one more spell cast per day.

So they can produce a decent number of magical effects per day, as long as they're dedicated to the task. The problem comes from the fact that they don't have many spells available that would be useful in creating enduring illusions with the properties you want, creating items and objects, or manufacturing things. There aren't even all that many spells which have permanent, or even particularly long-lasting, effects. This is important because ongoing maintenance of a large number of posters cuts aggressively against efficiency.

So if you're a wealthy, influential Warlock brimming with magical powers, how much of your personal time and attention would you dedicate to running a print shop for this purpose? For me, personally, it would be pretty close to none. And I would consider any Warlocks in my organization who did spend their time like this to be incompetent (enough so for me to drive them out of leadership) or at least decide that they had far, far too much idle time. The cult certainly would not have become wealthy and influential behaving this way, nor would I expect it to remain so, given the options Warlocks have to do this work on their own.

But something that Warlocks can do pretty well is influence people. Spells like Charm Person, Cause Fear, Friends, and similar could give them an edge in persuading or hiring others to do work for them, and allow for some creativity in how such a spell might be used for those purposes.

Official spells don't do this kind of thing very well with raw magical effects

There are relatively few spells in D&D 5e which are geared towards worldbuilding, social/environmental effects, and that sort of thing. Even when they have appropriate effects they tend to be seriously limited by requiring Concentration, having too-brief durations to be useful for a meaningful amount of time, or both. The best spell for what is described in the question is Major Image at 6th level or higher, but as noted in the question this is not available to Warlocks.

This is another argument for hiring someone to do the work for them: the best approach is one that the Warlocks literally cannot take themselves.

Mundane posters can still be interesting, and magic can enhance production efficiency and allow for more interesting products

Your options open up a little bit when easing the requirement that the posters themselves be magical or contain a magical animated element. While still requiring the Warlocks to hire the work out, a process-efficiency minded Wizard or Forge Domain Cleric could mass produce elements of an eye-catching poster.

With a single casting of Fabricate, one could create a huge sheet of ridged, prismatic lenses appropriate for lenticular printing, for example. I've always found those cool, especially when they were more novel to me.

Magic will definitely allow for faster distribution by teleporting the posters all around the region.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1; I was about to suggest something similar -- outsource the work. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Mar 30 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd also argue that a cult isn't composed exclusively of capital-W Warlocks. It's composed of folks worshiping/serving a particular entity. Just because the leaders might be Warlocks with official warlock pacts doesn't mean the cult is literally just them. Beelzedude the Unfathomable doesn't make a personal pact with every member of the cult. Some are peasants, thieves, bureaucrats, etc. Some of them are introverted nerds who would be "unfathomably" awful at wielding warlock powers (low Cha), so they serve in other ways, e.g. studying wizard magic. No need to limit to "what warlocks can do". \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger Mar 31 at 1:44

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