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This one feels a bit trivial, but I am genuinely stumped on how best to word a job specification that one of my characters is posting in a fantasy world.

The basic idea is I have a dwarf who is in a medieval style fantasy city that is not very dwarf friendly. He wants to recruit people to come on an adventure with him. He has enough capital to pay for a bunch of posters, which he would like to put up around the city. The basic contents of the posters are "Meet me at the place to do the quest for reward". For the purposes below imagine he has a way to mark each flyer uniquely (or close enough).

There is a slum outside the city that is more receptive to dwarves. His plan is to employ poorer residents of the slums to distribute the flyers inside the city. Posting them on job boards, and walls, and directly to passers by, etc.

The dwarf thinks the way to go about this is to:

  • pay a small retainer in advance for accepting the distribution job
  • pay each individual distributor a commission based on the number of adventurers present at the place qualified to do the quest. (He would use the unique identifiers to determine which distributor to pay)
  • alternatively; because he might misspeak / have communication issues occasionally, some individuals he employs think they will get commission on each flyer they return back to him at the place...

And the dwarf also believes he can afford to do the above. He has enough capital do fund the job of posting flyers.

The above scheme seems the most straight forward to me. I kinda want to emulate the compensation structure of this sort of job in the real world. How are people who put up flyers paid and what stops them taking the money and not doing the job?

For the purposes of my narrative, I think my dwarf should not choose the perfect method, if one should exist, and I think the story gets better if he pays a good deal of capital for an imperfect result (ie in the end only a small fraction of his flyers a distributed as he wishes and the resulting crew of adventurers is a motley one).

So in the end my question would be: What would be a good way for the dwarf to specify the job of distributing flyers in a way that he would feel comfortable that is isn't obvious how to game it? (And maybe how to have it gamed in a way that would be a fun twist...)


a note on gaming: For the purpose of this I am imagining the people he recruits are a bit of a diverse bunch too. Some would be quite smart and highly motivated to do the absolute minimum work for maximum reward, and others might be honest and appreciate that in the long run cheaters get what is coming to them. So even if there is an obvious game to be played not everyone will play it, so to speak. Some people prefer to do honest work for honest pay. Life is less of a headache that way.

a note on the world at large: For the purpose of this question, the city exists in a low magic medieval fantasy world. Lets just assume that the dwarf cannot afford a wizard to post the flyers, and none of the people he pays are competent with magic. Basically, ignore magic. I think if a wizard where to turn up with a stack of flyers asking for commission on each one, that would be something the dwarf would find astounding beyond his comprehension.

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    $\begingroup$ Makes me somehow think of Sherlock Holmes, always ready to call Wiggins and his street children when he just doesn't have enough hands. $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2023 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ Just for general reference, it's considered best practice to wait a few days before awarding the green checkmark. It makes it look like you're not willing to entertain any other options and also sends the message that other options aren't welcome. Especially after 31 minutes! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 3, 2023 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ "Low fantasy," and you are assuming a literate audience? $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jan 3, 2023 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ @o.m. I am, this is for a DnD game, and I have tried requesting my players imagine they are illiterate...and I decided it wasn't the hill I wanted to die on. $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2023 at 8:14
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    $\begingroup$ This seems like a question about the actions and decisions of a specific character in an already built world. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:38

9 Answers 9

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An imperfect method would likely come across as a result of the sheer logistics of the problem space, and the size of the city itself.

While AlexP's answer does discuss how you would pay these people initially, and in what sized groups, I'd argue that the "Spot check" is unlikely to happen - because if the dwarf was able to do the spot check for everywhere he wanted the sign, they could put up the flyers themselves. So a physical spot check is likely out of the question.

However, with o.m.'s pie slice approach, there's another way to really cut down on the amount of work for a follow-up "More Efficient Spot Check"; word of mouth in an area.

Having done a paper route a few years ago, the general rule we had was, if a house we delivered a newspaper to had 3 newspapers on its doorstep, we were to note it and to ask them to be removed from our delivery list. This was our expected standard because it would appear the people in the house didn't read them, and would...complain to the newspaper place themselves otherwise. Request that it be stopped, etc.

In this case, having that effect with posted flyers would indicate that they were, in fact, posted in the area; absent phones, they'll bring it up in bars, or in the area where they are posted, and adventurers may just hear about the sheer number of flyers posted about.

So follow-up pay could be conditioned upon doing a check in a nearby pub to the area that was canvassed by a team of teenage boys - ask about rumours, and if it comes up, the signage was probably doing its job in the area, so they get their bonus.

This could have some perverse incentives however:

  • Teenage boys may be posting them out of reading range so that they stick out as papers from the side of buildings, or around city flags, or just all in a large group on a single board - places that grab attention, but probably aren't the "Efficient" way designated posting areas might be preferred.
  • You can't differentiate between word of mouth from the posters, and word of mouth from just telling the other person the message.
  • The teenage boys may cause a scene for the purposes of getting the message well known in the nearby pubs.

But, in the end, this would be an quicker way to check, and would have the benefit of keeping the dwarf hydrated and fed when doing a long trek through a 400 person town to 200000 person city.

Things this doesn't check for - misplaced flyers.

There is one major issue with this method - it doesn't actually check for individual flyers, and so the full account of them might be harder to ascertain until after the fact, if people are being asked to bring their flyer to the Location for the Quest, or just a Post-Quest collection of them.

You mentioned that the slums are outside the city - it's entirely possible that the slums, where the people are hired from, would be where at least a small amount of flyers would appear - in small enough amounts to not draw attention to, or if in large amounts, not enough to be obvious from the outset, and others would be incentivized to actually bring some to the city - so that they can collect the "Post flyer posting secondary payment" commission, verified again by word of mouth in the city - which the dwarf would be upfront about that about the additional payment, though maybe not about where in the city he would be checking. Results technically still don't matter to the Flyer Posters - they just care that it gets talked about.

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    $\begingroup$ Did those newspapers pile up because they were the same issue delivered by multiple parties (ie the distributor has imperfect knowledge of their own routes and has some overlapping); or was it different issues on seperate days not being collected and disposed of by the resident? I think it's a little unclear. In the former case, I like the concept of the dwarf going to the opposite extreme to Willk, or Lupe, and being so imprecise in his wording that nearly all the leaflets get distributed into more or less the same place $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2023 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewMicallef: Different issues,from different days. Basically, if it looked like they hadn't read an issue from the specific paper we delivered was getting read, the person was either out of town for more than a week due to the frequency of deliveries, or just didn't pick up the newspaper anymore. We still got paid to deliver to an address even if the homeowner put a sign saying "Newspaper" pointing to a recycle bin though - since hypothetically, they could be reading the issues, and were in the subscription system. As I understood,complaints were what we were trying to avoid with piles. $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2023 at 21:50
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Most usually this is (and always was) done by recruiting one or two or (if you really have a lot of posters) more teams of two teenage boys, and paying them a fixed amount of money to affix some dozens of posters per team. (About half one days' minimum wage per team, say in modern money some 25 to 50 euros, or in ancient Roman money about a denary.)

Pay them half in advance and half the next day after checking that they have actually done the work. Do not even try to link their pay to the results of the campaign; they don't care about that, and it's not their business.

The affixing can be done during the day if you have all the permits lined up, and at night if you don't.

Printers who print posters most usually have such poster-affixing boys on hand.

[Short 1896 film on-topic by the famous Georges Méliès.]

Instead of posters, you may prefer to print loose sheets and pay the boys to hand them to passers-by at the market, in the public square, on the main street and so on.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why teams instead of individual people? $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2023 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ @PaŭloEbermann: One carries the posters, the other carries the bucket of glue and the brush. When they find a suitable wall or avertising column, the boy carrying the bucket sets it down, daubs the wall with glue, takes a poster from the other boy, and sets it on the glued surface. It is really inconvenient to have one person carry all the items, and moreover when he wants to place a poster on the wall he must set the posters down, so they get dirty and potentially ruffled by the wind etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 4, 2023 at 2:02
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the printer's poster boys. Using reliable folks to post the posters makes sense, and it would make sense for the printer to know and maintain a set of poster kids. $\endgroup$
    – Dave X
    Jan 4, 2023 at 18:09
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The dwarf assumes everyone will follow contracts to the letter

After all, he does, as do his fellow dwarves. He lays out exacting, precise specifications on the placement of posters, number on each street, positions that they should be hung, etc. Each contract contains the strongest possible oaths permissible in dwarven law that the contract will be completed to the letter, or the money returned. In dwarven society, it would be a crime worthy of exile to break a contract such as this. He assumes that, even if the young humans he hands his flyers and coins to do not carry out the task, they will return the money and the flyers, and he can simply hire new workers.

The street urchins he hires, however, are illiterate and have no understanding of the instruction packets he provides, and, as they can't follow the plan, slap up a few flyers around where the dwarf normally walks, and decide to sell the rest as paper waste. It ends up being used as toilet paper in several local taverns, where adventurers who opted, unwisely, for the fish of the day all have an extended chance to read it.

In this way, the motley adventuring party, looking somewhat worse for wear, arrives at the time and place specified by the flyer.

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The dwarf has a complicated method.

It involves dividing the city into twelvths and applying posters in an even method such that for every area of a certain size, a poster occupies it. The dwarf is drawing from his experience doping crystalline alloys, here the posters playing the role of the dopant. He hires people to do this.

One poster is distributed.

All persons responding to the call are patrons of a certain bar. Also the daughter of a patron and a husband / wife team. The dwarf is not sure why his scheme did not work. The person who put the poster up in the bar considers things to have worked well. That person might have some insights into why things did not go as the dwarf intended. Possibly the person even has the dwarf's interest at heart and was skeptical of the dopant scheme.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm imagining the scheme went perfectly as per the job specification, except that all posters other than the one at the bar where placed in really obtuse locations. Under a bridge, on the back face of a gravestone, inside a belfry. All because the doping schema had exacting specifications about the relative distances of each poster, and it was just by sheer accident that one ended up as a coaster in a popular tavern... $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2023 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ it wasn't actually a popular tavern, a popular tavern would have produced better quality adventurers. These are the only folks that visited that tavern $\endgroup$
    – Ángel
    Jan 4, 2023 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Angel - that made me laugh! A fine reveal for partway through the adventure. Also the tavernkeeper showed up too. Might as well since the customers are all going., $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 4, 2023 at 2:09
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Frame Challenge - pay attractive friendly people to recruit for you by handing out posters.

The dwarf is neither attractive or particularly friendly. It's difficult to get a flyer noticed in high traffic area. Pay attractive people to chat up adventures passing by and convince them to show up at the tavern.

This is a job in the real world usually called a Brand Ambassador

This has advantages over the hung flyer method

  1. The recruiters can do a quick check and make sure the person meets minimum qualifications. You don't want a bunch of level 2s showing up when you need 10+.

  2. You can have each recruiter initial flyers. This lets you do market research on the best places.

  3. Being an attractive, friendly person is a skill. They can likely help you craft a message.

  4. In the real world, people are hired to help sell drinks. They are paid per hour, not per glass, so cost is known upfront. They can also report back if something worked great or fell flat.

In a gold rush sell shovels

The dwarf my have hit on a great idea. Instead of grinding levels himself, offer to find parties for other adventurers. He's got a network of recruiters around the city and is happy to play adventure match-maker for a small fee. After a few runs, he'll also have a roster of people who may want to take a chance on a tough loot run, for the right price or reward.

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I'm going to give this plot a twist.

The dwarf does not have enough gold

The dwarf wants gold because he has to pay his flyer distributors, and also, who doesn't want gold? So the dwarf convinces his motley group of poor flyer-distributors to help him capture a leprechaun. The leprechaun will then bribe his way to freedom. The dwarf promises his flyer-distributors that anyone who successfully recruits adventurers for his quest will get their fair share of the ransom money.

They set out to capture a leprechaun...

Leprechauns are solitary creatures. They live outside the slums, where they work as cobblers. They also have lots of hidden gold. Plan A goes as planned and a leprechaun is caught. Then the scheme hits a little snag. Instead of gold, the leprechaun grants the dwarf three wishes. Now, the dwarf is ambitious, but he isn't very smart. He knows he wants his posters distributed. So he makes his wishes:

  1. Let the distributors do their jobs
  2. Let the posters be posted
  3. Let people see the posted posters

Of course, he doesn't think to ask for a good group of adventurers, because that would be too obvious. He keeps his eye on the goal: ensuring that his distributors do an honest job. Satisfied, he sets the leprechaun free. In accordance with his wishes, the posters are distributed successfully. They garner great attention. There is a lot of talk about the poster in the city square. The reason is this:

The spelling is terrible

Turns out the dwarf never went to grammar school, and his spelling and punctuation is... off. As a result, the poster is very humorous. It's also very hard to understand what the dwarf is trying to say. Is this a historical account of his past? The content of his dreams? It's all very confusing. He ends up with a diverse group of adventurers, the only city people who were willing to take a gamble on an illiterate twit.

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  • $\begingroup$ That punch line... time to check my spelling and grammar....but then, I never did go to grammar school. I love it though. This was supposed to be a bit of colour to start a DnD session... but now I want to run the above instead of the session I was going to be running. (grammar fixed on main post...i think) $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2023 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ Grammar school? The dwarf runes were perfectly written. It's not his fault that people in that city isn't able to read their runic language. Since few humans would be able to read even their own language (nobility, a few merchants... not the people willing to go into an adventure) that didn't make a big difference, actually. The diverse group of adventurers was just the people that happened to be around by chance at the meeting place. $\endgroup$
    – Ángel
    Jan 4, 2023 at 0:50
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  • Reputation and repeat business
    The dwarf does not simply hand a stack of notices and a stack of coins to a random street urchin. He selects a group/gang who have done similar chores for similar customers before, and hopes that they want to preserve their reputation.
  • Spot checks
    The dwarf divides the city into pie slices, and expects a report on where the notices went up. Then he does a walk around the city, checking one or two locations per pie slice. This could bring false negatives, of course, as the notices got pasted over. Cue angry recriminations ...
  • Destructive testing
    Pay some kids to distribute 1.000 leaflets. Secretly tell 10 kids that they, personally, will get money for one leaflet that they tore down. But not for two or more. Question them where they tore it down. (Of course this might backfire if it gets garbled ...)

But all this just feels wrong for a 'generic low fantasy' setting. It assumes widespread literary, a printing industry, and an overall 'early industrial' feeling to the city. It would fit perfectly into Pratchett's Discworld, which is more a mirror to modern madness than fantasy.

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  • $\begingroup$ A dwarf fresh from the mountains might be shocked to learn that not everyone can read. Alternatively, he could intentionally use the flyers to select for educated companions. (If it's unintentional, the result would be the same.) He's more likely to end up recruiting a wizard or even a rogue from a wealthy/educated background, but maybe one of them could drag along an illiterate friend. $\endgroup$
    – Llewellyn
    Jan 3, 2023 at 19:09
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Find out who hung other posters in the areas that you want to advertise in, they have obviously done a good job. If you see people hanging posters, stop them and ask how to hire them. If this is a common thing, this will lead to formation of poster-hanging agencies (or co-ops) which will police the actions of the individual poster hangers for you so you only need to find one reputable agency instead of a bunch of reputable individuals.

In this case, community reputation (word of mouth/referrals) is standing in for repeat business with individuals.

Don't base payment on number of responses you get, it's too dependent on things the poster hanger can't control (e.g. maybe you designed really bad posters, or maybe the area of town you have specified is not actually a good choice).

If you get really modern, you don't even hire a poster-hanging agency, you hire a marketing agency and they decide if poster-hanging is the best way to spend your advertising budget, and if so where it would be best to hang posters, etc.

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Give every bill-poster the same small number of posters. Each set of posters has a unique number. The poster can have tear-off strips giving the details of the meeting and the unique number. Each bill poster will put up their posters in what they think are the best sites - far away from another poster, but close to the right sort of people. The posters can come to the meeting place and claim a reward for each applicant that the dwarf judges is serious - of suitable age and experience - to prevent them just having hundreds of their friends turn up. It is then up to the posters to pick the best site for their posters, and check they are not vandalised by others. The more ambitious posters might even make extra copies.

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