Friday, May 7, 2010


I wanted to do more extensive thinking about this before posting, but work has been kicking my tail so think of this as a first go at it.

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.
And here is a chart logging my takes on the rumors:

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.



  1. For some reason the uselessness of rumors as intel made me think of this recent and much-blogged
    article by Gladwell.

    If as many rumors are useless or downright misleading as true, then their only function is to give the illusion of strategy and intelligence gathering, like any other dungeon red-herring. If you add in the possibility that active hostile forces intentionally spread false rumors, even more so.

    As I recall I have never used tables of random rumors in adventure design or play. The local rumors I would feed players are either factual, or misconceptions easily dispelled once the actual adventure site is reached.

  2. I like to think of them as clues rather than rumors. Of course, if they're clues, does that make all of them true...?

  3. Thanks folks. Curiouser and curiouser. So, rumors might actually be an obstacle rather than a resource. Or they could arise in a natural way from what locals might know/say, or they could be specific clues we DMs plant for them to find.

    Maybe those early modules weren't suggesting DMs always randomly generate rumors, but they were meant to teach the purpose of rumors to a new DM? If so I feel I'm not quite grasping it. Combination foreshadowing, atmosphere, risk and possible planning tool?

  4. Here's an example of their use that doesn't quite fit into the diagram:

    A swarm of rumors about the sexual impropriety of a well-liked politician or other persona. Perhaps there's some truth to the rumors which has some significance (an affair with the Queen? It's war! Btw, Off with her head!) Hmmm, who's spreading these rumors? What is their motive for the attempt at defamation?

    ...Sometimes it's not necessarily the rumors themselves but their actual presence that matters.

  5. I think that goes along with the idea of rumors of a dungeon to create atmosphere, right? The fact that there a rumors, even conflicting rumors about the ruin on yonder hill, means we are going somewhere mythic.

    I'm down with that.

  6. No, not atmosphere creation with this example, because there are more direct repercussions that relate to the direction the campaign or current adventure takes (that again, aren't the result of specific rumors themselves but of their very existence at all.) At some point though I suppose it's a matter of semantics.

  7. Rumors got in town/in civilization should mostly be flavor or (fairly obviously) false and of little worth. Rumors found in dungeon, interrogating Orc king, etc. Should mostly be true if not valuable.

    Basic risk/reward. If many hard got rumors turn out false/dangerous players will stop believing anything and DM will have lost a very useful tool.

    That's assuming a traditional leaning dungeon adventuring campaign. one of court intrigue or city adventure would be different but premise remains. Easy to acquire should be mostly worthless, hard to acquire should be almost always true. And be careful using too many false leads.

  8. Interesting. I use a lot of rumors for both color and clues that may or may not be true, accurate or even a good idea...mostly to give the players something to thnk about, investigate and explore through whatever emans they wish. If they pursue a rumor, it can develop into a mini-adventure or turn out to be a red herring based on how they take up the matter and how things progress once we all begin to roll dice, etc. It's a lot of fun to have a full-blown adventure develop organically from just a few brief, cryptic mutterings dropped in passing.

    It also can be useful in convention-games, helping to set things in motion, breaking the ice, offering clues, etc.

    all in all, I equate rumors to tabloids; sometimes they are true, but the percentage of truthiness can vary widely, and even the true ones might be red herrings or be obscuring something completely other that can only be determiend through the playing...