Radios solve many problems that may stand in the way completing a quest. Instant communication is a powerful technology in the context of adventurers needing to get word to someone else about something urgent.
If radio (and/or mobile phone) technology exists in your campaign, make a list of different reasons why it might not work at any given time. Then when your heroes decide they can shortcut part of the adventure by radioing someone, you have a handy selection of complications to throw in their way. The bigger your list, the better your chance of finding something plausible - and of avoiding the constant "no signal" that you see a lot in movies and TV shows these days.
Some to get you started:
- "No signal" - yeah, it's boring, but it's an option.
- Battery is dead.
- Battery fell out.
- Someone forgot to install batteries.
- The transmitter or receiver doesn't have the range. (One way communication might be possible.)
- There is some natural material in the area that blocks the signal (e.g. sand).
- Something solid in the way: a building, a mountain, a planet. (Conventional radio signals don't travel through solid material very well.)
- Natural electromagnetic interference. e.g. thunderstorm, solar flare, ion storm, plasma discharge, ionised region of space.
- Artificial interference: deliberate jamming, or unintentional interference from nearby technology.
- The radio is actually broken. Perhaps it got damaged in a recent battle, or by jostling. Or maybe a component just failed.
- Someone broke the antenna off to use as a lockpick.
- The radio is just missing for some unexplained reason (which may be explained later).
- Intended recipient is asleep and has receiver on "do not disturb".
- Receiver is holding down the talk button, so can't hear you.
- Background noise (on either end) makes it impossible to hear what the other person is saying clearly.
- Person at other end is going through a tunnel.
- Person at other end is interrupted and has to stop talking. (Double points if they are captured or killed by the villain mid-call!)
- Person at other end is not speaking to you after an earlier comical misunderstanding.
- You get through to someone, but the person at the other end doesn't understand your language.
- Parties are unable to convey their message without body language and other visual cues.
- Call is intercepted by an unexpected party, who refuses to cooperate. Refer: Jolyon Wagg in The Calculus Affair.
- Every frequency is in use by a smooth jazz music station with a 100 gigawatt transmitter.
- Receiver and transmitter are accidentally tuned to different frequencies.
- Relative motion causes Doppler shifts that mismatch frequencies.
- Intended recipient is travelling away from you at (or above) the speed of light.
- Radio requires a licence fee to be paid.
- You need to listen to an ad first. (Good for situations where it's so urgent that a 30 second delay would be critical.)
- Radio requires a software update... Downloading..... 4% complete.....
- Development of new communication standards has reached a pace where the format you send it in is obsolete by the time it reaches its destination.
- Energy-based lifeforms that eat radio waves.
- Local disturbance of the permitivity of free space constant, for nefarious purposes.
- Attacked by a goose.
- Volcanic eruption!
- Radio is actually a cake.
- Existence is an illusion, including the bit about radios.
- The signal goes through partially silvered mirrors and interferes destructively with itself.
- You're inside a black hole, so the signal can't get out.
- One party misunderstood the phrase "ham radio" and is talking into an actual ham.
- The recipient is in another galaxy, so by the time you reply to their message, their civilisation has died out.
- Sender and receiver in different dimensions/universes/times/timelines.
- You have joined a religious order that requires a vow of silence.
- You and receiver are at different levels of Inception.
- All you hear is Radio Ga Ga.
- Video killed the radio star.
- Divine intervention.
- Also they're confused why you keep answering questions they haven't asked yet. Recipient experiences universe with a reversed arrow of time, and your responses are both nonsensical and infuriating to them.
Commentary by memnarch (who has not seen the movie)
What a silly antenna. It's half part that extends out, half part that never retracts. I don't think I've ever seen a partially retractable antenna before. BB-8's lucky the fixed component didn't get bent as well. I wonder what useful purpose designing it like that could be. Aesthetic-wise though, I think it's a good addition to the head component. The basic astromech head design is rather flat without any decorations on it like this antenna or R2-D2's head thing (another projector?) that sticks up on the back.
I wonder when the sand blocking signals started to be a thing. The obvious answer would be all of the data crystals getting mixed into the sand after Jedha was turned into an ex-city. External communications to Tatooine worked back in Episode II, but R2's radio call also worked back in Episode VI. There's little sand on the road to Jabba's palace though, so perhaps its a critical density of sand-to-data crystal for when signals get blocked. Good enough a reason as any to get off the planet though, and fortunately Rey was already planning on leaving town.
Any bets that Poe gets back to the Resistance before BB and Rey do? I give it pretty good odds.
Commentary by Keybounce (who has not seen the movie)
You can see Pete's decision making in those facial expressions.
Defect and join the party?
Radio the NPCs and keep the party split?
Ok, defection it is.
GM: Rey, you notice BB-8’s antenna is bent.
Rey: Let me fix that.
BB-8: Actually it’s not that simple. My pilot, Poe Dameron, kinda... defected to the First Order.
Rey: That’s a hell of a complication to lay on straightening your antenna.
BB-8: We need to get back to the Resistance to warn them that Poe can’t be trusted.
Rey: Or we could, you know, radio them.
GM: The sands of Tatooine block signals, remember.
Rey: Or not.
Rey: I hate sand.