Monday, July 20, 2020

How to Make Rumor Tables If You're a Dummy or Really, Really Smart

ReFiend

So you've seen people talk about rumor tables or maybe read a few in published adventures. They're pretty cool and it's generally understood that they enhance your game (especially if you're running a sandbox), but there seems to be a startling dearth of material on using them. Here is a dirt-simple way to understand rumor tables and make them for your game.

When creating a rumor table, make at least one rumor on...
  1. A prominent NPC
  2. A random encounter (insight on something they might run into in the wilderness)
  3. A local spot of interest
  4. Town politics/drama 
  5. Specific lore about the dungeon or the local area
  6. Recent event or happening 
  7. An object or artifact of value (or just a treasure horde, w/e) in the vicinity that the players would be interested in
  8. A semi-falsehood about (roll again)
  9. A semi-falsehood about (roll again)
  10. A falsehood about (roll again)
Complete this table, swap out the options with your own ideas to fit your campaign, and make falsehoods more or less prevalent according to your taste. Also randomize the results whenever you do this so that the players don't realize that getting an 8-10 on their rumor roll means that they're about to be fed some bullshit. 

Do this for every settlement your players can feasibly reach to have a d10 (or higher) rumor table ready to go the moment they step foot in town. Each category could have multiple installments, which means you can cram them all in one massive table or have nested tables like the random encounters in B/X.

artcobain

This isn't strictly a top-down or bottom-up approach to preparation; it can be either depending on your preference. I prefer to have the basics of the location down before grinding out digestible rumor-sized info packets, but I can imagine it's pretty easy to use this to generate some rumor tidbits first and build out from there. 

Here's an example from a table I recently made for my campaign when the players made a delivery to some NPCs in a town called Dim Hill: 
  1. Lady Theophania von Noctum is known for delighting in odd and off-putting pastimes. She has recently developed an addiction to dreamstone dust.
  2. The people vultures might seem fearsome, but they'll leave you alone as long as you show you're not a threat.
  3. There's talk of a dreamstone den hidden away somewhere in the catacombs below the graveyard fields. It's an open secret that it exists, but actually finding it is a challenge—you probably need a map or a guide.
  4. Roving bands of unruly adolescents have started putting pumpkins on their head and terrorizing the town
  5. The Noctum is a region of the Cerulean Valley where spirits of the dead have never quite found rest. The air itself is so suffused with the ethereal ectoplasm built up over the countless ages that you can even see it hanging wisp-like in the air if the light is right. Theophania has ruled the Noctum since before anyone can remember
  6. Dread Ulfire has hired the Barb-Hide Boys to extort the people traveling on the road to Eagle's Reach. They're charging money for "protection" and mugging anyone who refuses to pay. 
  7. No one's been inside the Vinsler mansion since the family disappeared a decade ago. Supposedly, they left behind all the curios in their gallery and whatever other valuables they had.
  8. Lady Theophania and Dread Ulfire have a history. The two of them go way back.
  9. The Vinsler's didn't disappear, they were just cursed to be mute and invisible. 
  10. A cursed ring was dropped down the old well at the center of town, which is how the water got poisoned. 
Dim Hill is kind of like Threed from Earthbound 

TAKING IT A STEP FURTHER
Rumors can be broken up into three types: Direct, Indirect, and Parallel.

Direct rumors are explicitly related to goals or things the PCs might be interested in, and they are usually immediately actionable. They are bits of information from which the PCs can actively base their next course of action on. Are multitudes of children disappearing down the old well that may or may not be a portal to the terrible dungeon dimension? A rumor describing that would be Direct. 

Indirect rumors are more intended to set the tone or provide more lore and context. They're not necessarily bits of information that PCs can use as soon as they hear them, but instead they can provide more general information and set the expectations for the sort of people and things the players can encounter in the area. If all the nobles in this city are addicted to a very specific and very illegal type of drug, the rumor that would fill the PCs in on that would be an Indirect one. 

Parallel rumors are rumors that might be actionable, but aren't strictly tied to things the PCs might be interested in accomplishing at the moment. Perhaps these could be alternative adventure hooks for the PCs if things are starting to get stale, or they might be hints at things to come. Interestingly, Parallel rumors can also act as tone-setting details in the same way that Indirect rumors are. That makes them a sort of synthesis between the two. A parallel rumor could be something like "there's a farm at the edge of town where all the animals have 12 legs." Weird, but not something the PCs immediately want or need to concern themselves with.

Jungpark

Going back to our original example, here's how each rumor breaks down:
  1. Lady Theophania von Noctum is known for delighting in odd and off-putting pastimes. She has recently developed an addiction to dreamstone dust. Parallel
  2. The people vultures might seem fearsome, but they'll leave you alone as long as you show you're not a threat. Indirect
  3. There's talk of a dreamstone den hidden away somewhere in the catacombs below the graveyard fields. It's an open secret that it exists, but actually finding it is a challenge—you probably need a map or a guide. Direct
  4. Roving bands of unruly adolescents have started wearing pumpkins on their heads and terrorizing the town. They're led by someone they call King Jack. Direct
  5. The Noctum is a region of the Cerulean Valley where spirits of the dead have never quite found rest. The air itself is so suffused with the ethereal ectoplasm built up over the countless ages that you can even see it hanging wisp-like in the air if the light is right. Theophania has ruled the Noctum since before anyone can remember. Indirect
  6. Dread Ulfire has hired the Barb-Hide Boys to extort the people traveling on the road to Eagle's Reach. They're charging money for "protection" and mugging anyone who refuses to pay. Parallel
  7. No one's been inside the Vinsler mansion since the family disappeared a decade ago. Supposedly, they left behind all the curios in their gallery and whatever other valuables they had. Direct
  8. Lady Theophania and Dread Ulfire have a history. The two of them go way back. Indirect
  9.  The Vinsler's didn't disappear, they were just cursed to be mute and invisible. Parallel
  10. A cursed ring was dropped down the old well at the center of town, which is how the water got poisoned. Parallel
These categories aren't strict, I just find that keeping them in mind helps my rumors stay fresh so that they're not all the same "weight," because otherwise your town would be a kind of WoW-style quest hub like what you find in 5e modules and that's just boring. 

JanBoruta

You might think you'd need to do the typical D&D thing where you ensure that you always have specific ratios of each type of rumor and that each rumor needs to be strictly categorized into one of the three categories, but I actually advise against that. 

The point of rumors is merely to convey information to the players and keep the game moving. It's good to keep in mind that different rumors can accomplish different things and make sure you have a good proportion of each type, but you don't really need to sweat it. As with everything, experiment with different types of rumors and see what works. 

INFORMATION, MISINFORMATION, DISINFORMATION
False rumors, like mimics and cursed magic items, should be employed in moderation. You ought to include them to keep the players on their toes and make them think critically about their knowledge, but throw in too many and they simply will stop trusting them. Many a young DM soon learns that if 50% of the NPCs they introduce stab the party in the back, the party will become skeptical of 100% of the NPCs they encounter—and that just slows the game down. 

So instead of just having rumors that are either correct or flat-out lies, consider blurring the lines a bit. A "false" rumor could be an exaggeration of the truth, or perhaps a misremembering of certain details. On the flip side, rumors could be flat-out false but still be informative. No, there aren't bandits hiding around the bend in the road waiting to mug travelers, now stop asking. Yes, Sir Dane slew the forest troll months ago with his flaming sword, any suggestion it might still be there is preposterous. 

MichaelBrack

But don't be afraid to give false AND misleading rumors, too. You shouldn't prank your players, but feeding them misinfo could be an interesting spice to add in any scenario. Maybe they show up to the river witch's lair in full scuba gear, only to find that the stream dried up weeks ago. Now they have to decide if they want to explore it in wetsuits or just call it quits and make the long trek back to town. Or maybe seek out some other aquatic adventure since they're already prepared for one. 

Remember that A) the game does not need to be balanced in favor of the players, and B) rewards are won by taking risks, and lives are saved by being careful. 

Czepeku

BUT WAIT, HOW DO I ACTUALLY GIVE RUMORS?
Whether you want to just tell the players some info or roleplay a whole conversation comes down to personal preference, as either method accomplishes different things. If you want to focus more on the adventures and care less about what happens in between, there's nothing wrong with just giving players a few sentences of exposition whenever they roll for rumors. 

Alternatively, if you feel as though the social/factional/RP elements of your game ought to take precedence, playing out a conversation where the content of the rumor is embedded in the responses of the NPC can add some more dimensions of complexity to the information transferring process. It allows the players to ask questions and dig deeper on things they find interesting, while also letting the DM tailor to information they provide to match who it is the players are talking to. If one character goes to the town crier for rumors and the other pays a visit to the shifty fellow hiding out in an alley, the two will probably have different attitudes and opinions toward whatever rumor-worthy happenings they tell the characters about. 

DominikMayer

The downside of RPing rumors is, of course, that it takes more time and engagement from the players. You only have so many hours in a session, so think about how much of that time you're willing to spend on having the players grill nameless NPCs. 

A NOTE ON DIEGETIC RUMORS:
I see in blog posts and modules all the time rumors written out as though they were being spoken by the person giving the rumor. This isn't a bad practice per se but in my experience on both the player and DM side of things these types of rumors lead to the same bland tablesitting as excessive read-aloud text. Here's a dramatized example:

DM: Alright so since you all want to look for rumors everyone roll a d10. Zargamax, you go first. What did you get?
Zargamax: A 6!
DM: Ok sounds good, one sec. Ahem; you see a worried-looking woman walking down the side of the road opposite you. She yells *funny voice* "The quartz-toothed morlocks are devouring our precious children! Gods above, won't someone please storm their crystalline cavern and free us from this wretch├ęd fate?" 
Zargamax: Hmm ok cool
DM: Thendrilon you're next. What did you get?
Thendrilon: A 4!
DM: Alright. You see, uh, a one-eyed man seated at a table outside of the bar loudly conversing with his nondescript companion. He says *same funny voice but deeper* "Well I'll be, the dirt harvest sure was fruitful this year. Ain't it a shame that we have to give most o' our crop to that sable dandy the Black Knight next time he raids our humble village?" 
Thendrilon: Oh nice ok
DM: Alright, um, Girgamesh you're next
Girgamesh, who up until now was looking slack-jawed at the table: Oh uhh I forgot my roll hang on let me do it again

AND SO ON. 

Obviously this is an exaggeration (I guess) (for the most part) but the real thing I'm getting at is that rumors should be more freeform and abstract than what a lot of written modules, etc. make them out to be. I'm sure no designer would encourage you to just read out the rumor as our DM did in the example, but the point is that's the sort of gameplay that th sort of game design leads to. Just be as smart about it as you would any read-aloud text. 


Images from Deviantart

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