Monday, May 18, 2020

Talking Statues: The Ultimate Quest Dealer

Statue of Saint Tarscel. Click the pic for details.
This is one of the best ideas I've ever had and you should all steal it immediately.

Have you ever heard of the talking statues of Rome? I'd known about them for awhile, thought they were neat, maybe some potential worth exploring for worldbuilding purposes. Tucked it away in the back of my mind. Now, I've finally found a use for them.

Rumors are a classic thing to include in D&D. More so in the old school, but it's an ever-popular tradition. Lots of adventure modules come with them. But I've always found them tricky to integrate, myself. That's not the sort of things my players usually go for, and I'd hate to force-feed them stuff like that. But I'm working on a cool sandbox campaign, and suddenly having a system for "quest hooks up for grabs!" is really convenient.

And especially because we're all playing online now and I'd like the PCs to have an idea of their next adventure during the week between sessions ("downtime" in a sense), having a passive way to distribute this info, and consumed at their own pace, is the ideal.

So my city has a bunch of talking statues that my players can always look at. They update regularly, and the player characters can even post stuff themselves. There are 6 statues, each with a different theme, so there's a ton of variety. They have fantastic potential for worldbuilding, as the statues themselves and their theme embody a specific deity in my setting. In addition, not every post is tied to a quest. Lots of it's just flavor. A decent amount of it came about as a consequence of something the PCs did. That top-right post on my boi Tarscel up there? About vacated farms? Yeah, that all happened during our last session, and the PCs' next planned move was to start looting.

Want to know how to set this up in your game? I'll give instructions on how I did it, below. Adapt it however you need to fit your table's setup. I'll also show off my own statues a bit more if you want some inspiration.

Firstly, we're currently operating out of a Discord server. We have a channel just for my campaign, and I've pinned to the top of it links to 1) the rules, 2) the setting map, and 3) a virtual whiteboard we sometimes use for combat. Well, now there are also pinned links to each of the 6 talking statues in town. Each of those links goes to a Google Doc, with its sharing permissions set to allow anyone with the link to View only. It's not the most graceful setup but I had all kinds of issues finding other ways to display the statues and this is the only one that worked.

Each Google Doc contains exactly one thing: an embedded diagram. I made each statue image in an app called It's usually used for making network diagrams but I use it for all kinds of drawing, especially simple pointcrawl maps. The map in my last post was made with it. If you've ever used, this is the successor to that. You can download a version of it that's compatible with Google Drive, which is the key to making my whole thing work. Once you've got it, you'll also want to go into Google Docs, go to Add-Ons in the toolbar, and add as one so that you can upload diagrams into the doc.

I edit the statue drawing and its posts in the app behind the scenes. Unfortunately, it won't update on the Google Doc automatically or in real time or anything. But when you go to the Google Doc and click "Add-Ons," there's an option to select an embedded diagram and manually update it to match the source link. There's also just a button for "update all diagrams" that you may have in the doc.

When my players want to add something themself, they just PM me whatever it is and we figure out how to make it work. Every time I change the statues in, I then update it on the doc.

Why not just share the file with the players directly? Because when I set it to "anyone with a link can view," all they can see is a preview display that compresses the image and ruins the text. Otherwise, that would have been my ideal.

My Own Talking Statues
These statues stand in the town square of a settlement called Marion, the city of adventure in the perilous Wyvern Marches. With all the crazy activity, it tends to attract a lot of knaves. They've been growing into their own shitty community that most of the locals hate, since they're just a bunch of murder hobos.

There are 6 statues, each of which are among the many divine entities in my setting. I tried to get a good variety and figure out which would be best suited for this purpose. There's also 2 Lawful, 2 Neutral, and 2 Chaotic, which works out nicely. Everything put on one of these that's intended as a quest hook, I usually come up with 1 or 2 pieces of further information that can be found with some investigation if the PCs try to follow up on it.
  1. The Satyr (Neutral god of Wine, Fertility, Instinct, and Knaves): used for quest postings and knave-matters, shitposting and memes
    • Not so many bounties on here, but lots of dares and rumors.
    • Players often provide the memes themselves. "Lore friendly" is preferred, if that can somehow be achieved.
  2. St. Pietro (Lawful patron of community, prosperity, economy, and mining): used for business, contracts, and events
    • Also good for advertising big campaign events on the calendar, especially holidays.
  3. St. Tarscel (Lawful patron of law, civilization, wardens, protection, construction): used to debate politics, publish edicts, and announce executions and judgments
    • This is the one most directly inspired by the Talking Statues of Rome. Also the one I'd recommend including the most.
  4. Kyros (Neutral immortal of travel, luck, and freedom): used to post travel conditions, wilderness warnings, and horoscopes
    • Something I always include on here: the current random encounter table of one area on the map. Updates weekly. There's also always a 500 cp reward to any knave who can do some research, scout out an area, and provide a full random encounter table for one area.
  5. Una (Chaotic goddess of art, poetry, love, beauty, and dreams): supposed to be for announcing plays and concerts but mostly just used for love letters and hookups
    • There's a local hag who is constantly posting on here. It's basically just Craigslist.
  6. The Bound God (Chaotic god of the Underworld): used for anything Underworld related
    • The spookiest, most mysterious stuff goes here. Things that need further investigating and are obviously supernatural in character.
Try this system out. It's rad as hell.



  1. That's cool that you are also inspired by statues, especially the talking ones, and by history in general.

    Chris Wickham opens the chapter Byzantine Survival in one of my favorite books of his, The Inheritance of Rome, with a summary of a story written by "East Romans" between the fall of Rome and AD 1000. It was about these two friends who walk around Constantinople and do a kind of self-assigned research project trying to figure out the weathered inscriptions and faces of the many statues in the city, most of which had been standing for hundreds of years. Some statues, old as they might be, contained hidden prophecies about the future for careful interpreters. Other statues revealed truths about the past that, for example, exonerated misunderstood public figures. I'm forgetting the exact story, but one of the statues fell on one of the friends as they were contemplating it, and the surviving friend had trouble with the law afterward. The statue was eventually determined to not depict a Christian emperor, but to represent some pagan deity. The authorities formally tried it, found it full of purposeful pagan maliciousness, and whipped it in punishment.

    I wrote a whole adventure based on Chris Wickham's chapter intro: STATUES -on DriveThruRPG. It is reviewed on Fear of a Black Dragon and Tenfootpole dot org. Feel free to buy it and reskin anything you like in it for your own adventures and campaign.

    1. This is really cool stuff! I really like environmental storytelling and doing worldbuilding through artifacts and, especially, presenting challenges that can't be solved without the PCs having followed along with the lore to a point.

      What's funny is that you mention how the statue exonerates a maligned figure from history, and that reminds me of another piece of Byzantine lore: the historian Procopius's infamous Secret History, which painted Justinian and Theodora in a completely different light and was discovered long after they died. It's another artifact I find incredibly inspiring. The competing narratives of history and the power to control the "truth" is, to me, one of the most interesting things you can do with this sort of drama. And most of all, it seems to me the most thematically appropriate thing to do with a constructed world.

  2. Glad you like this kind of material as much as I thought you would!

    Yes! Procopius's Secret History is fascinating, and bizarre.

    Your idea of competing narratives and power to control the perceived truth would make the core of a great RPG adventure or a great book!

    I hope you don't mind if I brainstorm on your theme(I can't help it)...

    What if clues below St. Tarscel's statue, the Satyr, Una,etc. in the form of political manifestos, satirical cartoons, hookup invitations, gave clues to plumbing a dungeon underneath the city in which MORE clues are to be found underneath bandits' pillows, tattooed on their backsides, carved underneath monster scales, hidden in and around their treasure or personal clutter. The final information, if PCs manage, in one piece, to extricate it from the dungeon in one piece, could prove the illegitimacy of the new king, prove his guilt in murdering a popular cleric who headed a movement opposing him, etc.

    The PCs would be 1/2 Woodward and Bernstein and 1/2 Indiana Jones!

    The Talking Statues could be the way the victorious PCs rouse the Revolution once they emerge from the dungeon, and might be the only way they have been communicating with their mysterious benefactor, some powerful entity who is a sworn enemy of the current king. Maybe the PCs expect to earn their reward through some final shred of information that will show up under one of the statues, and reveal the hiding spot of a pile of gold.

    What if the king's agents have figured out the benefactor's clue, and lurk in the shadowed porticoes around the Square of the Night-Black Empress, waiting eagle-eyed to pounce on the PCs when they come to retrieve their reward from the creepy statue-bedecked well or fountain in the center of the square? What if these aren't agents of the king, but instead The Benefactor wants to kill the PCs, now that they know too much? What if the PCs weren't revealing a truth the king wanted buried, but instead providing the ruthless Benefactor with "truth-adjacent" ingredients for a plausible forgery that would incite the masses?