Rumours are a bit like wandering monsters. In the Good Old Days every adventure had both a rumour table and a wandering monster table. Now, they both seem to be few and far between.
It won’t surprise you to know, this is a bad thing. Rumours are an essential component of any decent adventure that features anything more than a series of related combats. (And actually, adventures that are nothing more than a series of combat encounters could still do with rumours!)
Some might think rumours are merely an obstacle to fun; after all they slow down the PCs’ quest to “find the fun”. Essentially, that’s not the case. Rumours do several things at the table:
- Reward Good (or Thoughtful) Play: Players taking the time to learn rumours can often find useful pieces of information that may help their adventure. For example, if the party learn rumours of a hidden or forgotten entrance to a dungeon they could gain a tactical advantage when they assault the place. They could also learn of a monster’s fatal weakness or of the location of a lost treasure.
- Changes the Pace: Learning rumours not only requires a different skill set to whacking things with a sword, but also suits a different play style and players more in interested in role-playing. Bards—obviously—are particularly suited to learning rumours, but any charismatic PC can be skilled in this area. Remember, it’s important for the GM to provide opportunities and campaigns designed for players of all ilks.
- Build Verisimilitude: The party’s adventures don’t happen in a vacuum. The world is a living, breathing place. Even the smallest settlements have minor events that have no affect on the party, but are important—or at least interesting—to local inhabitants. Births, marriages, deaths, thefts and affairs all happen, and are often the subject of rumour, gossip and innuendo. Having such rumours come to the party’s ear build a sense of a real community.
- Provide Depth: Related to verisimilitude, rumours allow the GM to build depth to his campaign world. They help build a sense that the world doesn’t revolve around the party’s adventures and that other things do actually happen.
- Enable Foreshadowing: Great events don’t just happen (most of the time). Using rumours to foreshadow upcoming events allows the GM to give a sense of the developing campaign instead of just dumping news of the orc invasion (or whatever) in the party’s lap. In this way, events seem more organic and—of course—the party may even decide to act before the major event comes to pass. This works best in sandbox style games and enables the party to affect or direct the course of events (and their adventures).
Types of Rumours
All rumours are not created equal. There are several types of rumour:
- Adventure-Critical: These rumours are rooted in the PCs’ adventure. They are of particular use to the party and the GM can use them to warn of particularly dangerous monsters, hint at hidden locations, a monster’s weakness and so on.
- Red Herrings/Local Interest: These rumours are rooted in the local community, but essentially have no real impact on the adventure. That might not be immediately obvious, though, to the party which could “force” them to interact with NPCs to discern the truth. They can also lead to interesting and fun (impromptu) side quests.
- False: Not all rumours are true. Sometimes, a person unknowingly spreads a false rumour while other times they lie. Wise and clever PCs don’t believe everything they are told. In particular, while an adventure-critical rumour can give the party an edge, they would do well to check its veracity before basing their tactics on it.
Where to Get Rumours?
A PC can learn rumours pretty much wherever people gather together. Particularly good places to do so include:
- Taverns & inns
- City gates
Often the PCs can learn rumours by buying folk drinks (in a tavern or inn), feigning interest in a merchant’s goods (at a market), talking with priests (at a temple), overhearing the gossip of other travellers (while waiting to enter a city) or by loitering on the docks to hear the sailors talking. These are just a few examples of how a PC could learn rumours; inventive players should be able to learn them pretty much anywhere.
Some settlements—particularly larger settlements—may even have people who make their living learning what is going on and selling this information. Such rumourmongers may ply their trade in any of the above locales and will doubtless charge the obviously wealthy adventurers extra to learn what he knows!
What Do You Think?
What do you think? Are rumours a waste of time? Conversely, are they a valuable, and now under-used tool in many GMs’ arsenals? Let me know, in the comments below.