I seem to be in the odd position of having immersed myself in rpg material with very little chance to play or DM over the years. So recently, when getting back into it and having the chance to play I feel like some weird sort of experienced novice with fresh eyes for things you've all taken for granted for years.
In the last session I DMed the only rumor I gave the party was that the Imperial Infanta had leapt to her death wearing all her jewels. I gave it mostly as ominous color, to give the Maw a sense of mystery and titillate with the idea of rewards awaiting. Well, my players, this batch including some more experienced role players, took that rumor as the adventure hook and proceeded to push on and on to get to the bottom of the Maw, which at their level was a fools errand.
So, I need to think a lot more about information and rumors and how to dole them out, and what kind of info it should be. To that end I went back to some of the introductory modules: B1, B2, B3, and B5. Turns out B4 doesn't have any rumors and of the early X series modules only X4 has any (I would have included those but I need to study the module more).
While any categorization is a simplification, I boiled the rumors into 4 general types:
- Color - usually historic details, why things are the way they are, which, as far as I can tell has little bearing on how players will fare.
- Reward - enticements, promises of riches.
- Threat - warnings of bad things. A lot of these I suppose to raise the tension level because you don't want to scare the party completely off the adventure.
- Logistics - possibly helpful but not directly pointing to a reward. Rumors of multiple levels, secret passages etc.
Some takeaway thoughts: The majority of rumors are color and threats. Most of those are true. The next most common are lies about threats and rewards. And, finally, some logistical details about the place you're going to explore.
Almost none of the color rumors were false which makes sense because what's the point?
But why no real rewards? The true reward rumors that are give are not specific enough to really be a boon or to lead you to treasure you might have missed without the info. In addition, many of the false rumors are not just useless but dangerous if taken at face value-- even potentially deadly. I thought coming into this that information being an essential resource for a party meant rumors would probably be logistical information and maybe specifics about rewards. But there is little of that to be had.
The rumors that are common in these modules might be useful in preparing yourself for threats, but at low to midlevels it doesn't seem very likely. I mean, you tell me there are orcs in the caves and I'm supposed to memorize a different spell or bring a different weapon?
In the modules I looked at I would be willing to make the claim that a party is actually better off ignoring all rumors and not wasting time or resources seeking them out.