D&D 5E Skywrite: a weapon of mass communication/coordination

greg kaye

Explorer
As far as I know, Skywrite is effectively the most far-reaching of AoE spells.

The spell simply says that "You cause up to ten words to form in a part of the sky you can see", and that, "The words appear to be made of cloud".
No direct reference is made to height but, with reference to sky and a resemblance to cloud, we might apply potential heights of several thousand feet and up to well over 40,000 feet (as related to Earth-based atmospheric physics)."

Reading the spell's stats:
Skywrite is available to Bards, Druids, Wizards, and Artificers as a 2nd level, potentially ritually cast spell for the writing of 10 words in the sky that may be read across a wide area.
For the sake of comparison:
Sending is available to Bards, Clerics, and Wizards as a 3rd level spell to "send a short [audible] message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with which you are familiar. The creature hears the message in its mind, recognizes you as the sender if it knows you, and can answer in a like manner immediately." So 50 words total communication but without any potential for anonymity.

But, as a ritual cast, skywrite can, over say (a little more than) eight hours worth of casting, be used to write 480 words (for anyone inclined to look up for updates) and doesn't cost spell slots.

edit: while "(a little more than) eight hours worth of casting" may be required "to write 480 words", RAW, the castings may need to be spread out over a longer period of time if they would have much chance of being read.

While Skywrite can be cast as a ritual, it requires concentration, as would the casting of a subsequent ritual.
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Sending, in comparison, wouldn't be so good at sending long messages when Skywrite could be effectively used. /edit.

Per long rest, Sending can be used (prior to any use of arcane recovery...): by a fifth-level full caster with their 2 3rd-level slots (for 50 words of one-way messaging); or by a 14th-level caster with their 3 3rd level slots, their 3 4th level slot, their 2 5th level slot, their 1 6th level slot, and their 1 7th level slot (for a potential 250 words of one-way messaging).
My guess is that a caster proficient in both spells might use sending once (mainly for an identity confirming "can someone with you take down some slowly appearing skywrite messaging on x topic?") and, given time and other requirements for spell slot use, skywrite for the body text.

However, I suspect that, in some worlds, druid's might try to seek and destroy the persistent skywriterati. As far as druid personal messaging is concerned, I guess a question might be would the druid be happier with naughty word with the sky with skywrite or (potentially?) risking the lives... of animals with animal messenger. (But, surely, the message with animal messenger would typically be something like "get ready to hold/entice a subsequent animal messenger to read the longer message on its leg."

A 15th level wizard can potentially get the telepathy spell if it is made available or if s/he wouldn't prefer to use 1 of their 2 new spells per level spells for ~chat rather than to acquire the likes of antimagic field, clone, dominate monster, feeblemind, illusory dragon, and maze.

Propaganda and battle communications.

However, the main benefit of skywrite is its potential use in mass communication. In a campaign with political leanings, its influence (whether or not the sender's' identity is declared or insinuated) could be incredible.

In battle communications, messages like "Commence Operation Overlord, or ... Rolling Thunder, or ... Desert Storm" could be used to coordinate things like attacks while messages like "Commence [just making some word up to naughty word with the enemy]" could also be sent out every ten minutes.

Bards have limits to their known spells, but skywrite could be a flavourful choice. What could be better for a bard with those concert promotions and what better for a ruler/governance than having a herald that can write in the sky. In a stage of our campaign that's gone a bit political, my bard flavours the spell as a Beatles-styled, vapour stack writer, "... and I need to text and I want to be a vapour stack writer..." 🎶. However, it's definitely a spell that might be dropped if the politics can be sorted out.
 
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Staffan

Legend
Sending has two big advantages over skywrite: range and secrecy. It is unclear how close you must be for a skywrite message to be legible, but I figure it can't be that far away. Sending, on the other hand, sends a message to anyone on the same plane and likely others as well. So if you want to get a message from Waterdeep to Baldur's Gate, you'll need sending. And skywrite shows the message off to everyone, which is bad if you want the message to only be read by the intended recipient.

And regarding the use of skywrite for signaling, allow me to present a much lower-level alternative: dancing lights. I mean, it won't do as a long-distance messaging system, but for battle signals? That's some good stuff.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Skywrite is a cool spell, but has some rather limiting features:

First off, the cloud-words won't stay legible for long - upper-level winds and-or natural evaporation will see to that.

Second off, it only works during daytime. Reading clouds in the sky is well beyond the range of anybody's night-sight.

Third off, it only works when the weather co-operates otherwise. Doesn't work if it's raining or snowing, doesn't work in fog or low cloud, and casting it in a high wind would seem a bit pointless as the clouds will get blown away and dispersed as fast as they appear.
 



greg kaye

Explorer
Skywrite is a cool spell, but has some rather limiting features:
Yeah, it's great, but I think its limitations are mainly down to the lack of confirmation of sender identity and potential difficulty of reading cloud like words if there is a cloudy background.
First off, the cloud-words won't stay legible for long - upper-level winds and-or natural evaporation will see to that.
The spell's description states: Duration: Concentration, up to 1 day hour,( ... The words appear to be made of cloud and remain in place for the spell’s duration. The words dissipate when the spell ends. A strong wind can disperse the clouds and end the spell early."
If the words had been actually made of cloud, the spell could have said so though a GM could certainly take that interpretation. Another interpretation could be that the words last for as long as the caster's concentration can hold them together. RAW, the only other thing that can end the effect early is a strong wind.
The description had also said: "You cause up to ten words to form in a part of the sky you can see", but it doesn't directly mention any potential movement of the words thereafter. I'd suggest they were static - otherwise, a strong wind might just carry them along albeit at a faster pace than a more regular wind.
Second off, it only works during daytime. Reading clouds in the sky is well beyond the range of anybody's night-sight.
In real-world contexts, people could certainly see clouds or words appearing as clouds at night. Clouds, that might be white in the day, can be various shades of grey at night and, given a black background and potential backlighting from a moon, then the words, or their outlined highlighting, might be more visible than ever and anyone can see lit objects, even through darkness.
Clearer problems might come on nights when there's no moon and it is also at night that the problem of a background of cloud cover could be more of an issue.
Third off, it only works when the weather co-operates otherwise. Doesn't work if it's raining or snowing, doesn't work in fog or low cloud, and casting it in a high wind would seem a bit pointless as the clouds will get blown away and dispersed as fast as they appear.
The raining, snowing, and fog issues could certainly be issues though many GMs I've known opt for more cinematic contexts where, unless the plot dictates otherwise, the sun always shines in d&d.
Low cloud is even more specific but are still covered in the spell's description: "You cause up to ten words to form in a part of the sky you can see. The words appear ... and remain in place for the spell’s duration. ..." Low clouds are still in the sky so, perhaps, the word as appearing as clouds, would initially just be lower. Even with this scenario, problems still might come on days with patchy cloud with actual clouds drifting through the skywritten words.

There could also be advantages of words appearing as clouds having a cloudy background. If viewers knew where to look or what to look for, they might still have a chance to perceive their content while others might remain oblivious to any messages being sent.
 
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greg kaye

Explorer
Skywrite would probably be more illegal thant Power Word: Kill in any jurisdiction that regulates magic. It basically turns the sky into a completely unmoderated twitter feed, one that you can't escape by turning your device off.
Precisely! That's how insanely powerful this spell is. In fact, I can't think of a spell that would more actively provoke the development of jurisdiction regulation of magic.

Even in the non-magical sense, people can be prone to suggestion and the potential for the production of propaganda is intense, and without even the expense of a spell slot. Messages like "[X monarch/ruler of the forgotten realms] is a [naughty word]" might quickly find at least some quarter of disapproval and twitter hobos could potentially abound. And, while some messages could certainly be based on veracity, the other potential is for a large AoE, zone of untruth.

Another issue could be spam skywrite. It's just a 2nd level spell and available to 4 classes. The advertising potential could stretch to horisons. The sky's the limit, that and the available number of casters.
 


greg kaye

Explorer
just don't look up.
That, in itself, could be quite disheartening - especially for the army marching east with the messages appearing on the eastern skyline. Army commands can routinely lie to troops and the ability to present other messages would be powerful.

Still, you "can't escape by turning your device off" only by not looking at the very visible display. And this would still leave you in a situation of not knowing of things that everyone else might be reading, and potentially talking about.

Potential uses of skywrite further expand with the potential writing and use of spell scrolls. Your bard, druid, wizard, or artificer spends 3 days and 250gp of materials (according to zanathar's) and gets a fellow bard, druid, wizard, or artificer to read it (during the kind of out of combat context when skywrite might be used) for the writing of a headline message. Then the caster with skywrite known/prepared could then keep filling in the scrolling text underneath.
 

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