Friday, November 13, 2020

The Rumor Mill

Someone in discord asked recently how you'd go about generating rumors on the fly in response to PCs hiring level 0 men to canvass taverns and listen to all the gossip.  
Rumors should be plausible, but improbable; unreliable, but occasionally prophetic.  Part of the fun of rumors and gossip is guessing at what is true and what is false.  But generating facts about the world is hard, especially facts that might be known (or believed) in town, but are still relevant to adventurers.
I have three ideas in mind, depending on what structures you're using to keep track of of the state of the world.

If you're using something like Dungeon World's clocks, then gathering rumors is a good way to reveal the existence of a clock or part of its state.

If you have a trouble queue and there's an event that is about to be popped from it, having an ear to the ground might alert the players to that incoming event before it arrives.  Maybe take the top element and two others from deeper in the queue; the two from deep in the queue are false leads that look like they could be indicators of near-term action by those enemies, while the one from the top is the truth.

3. The Renegade Crowns Approach

Make lists of each of the following:
  1. Dungeon power centers
    • Rival low-level adventuring parties (3-5)
  2. Local (town to county-scale) power centers
    • The local head priest and the temple
    • The count and his guards
    • The coven
    • Local humanoid wilderness lair leaders 
    • Small mercenary bands
    • etc
  3. Regional powers
    • The duke
    • The patriarch
    • The archmage
    • The khan next door
    • The evil overlord
    • Smaug, Godzilla, Cthulhu, or other kaiju-with-cult
    • etc

Generally a rumor is likely to have legs if it is juicy, and rumors are juicy when they're interpersonal.  Roll 1d3 to pick which of those three lists to start with.  Roll on that list to pick one of the parties in the rumor.  Roll 1d6 to determine which list the other party is from; 1-2 they're from one list "down" the social order, 3-4 from the same list, and 5-6 from one list "above" the original party.  If there is no list above or below, just use the original party's list.  Then roll a party from the second list.  If it's the same as the first party, then the interaction was internal to that group.  If neither of the parties is welcome in town, consider rolling again (it would be weird for there to be a rumor about two beastman bands fighting in the dungon, but not totally implausible).  

Once you've determined the two parties involved in the rumor, make a roll to determine the alleged nature of their recent interaction:

  1. Bloodshed or plotting thereof
  2. Shouting and fisticuffs, or destruction or theft of property
  3. Faux pas, snub, or other disrespect likely to have repercussions
  4. Secret meeting
    • ("Ol' Bargum said 'e saw the duke 'imself leaving the Vulgar Unicorn this morning...  Can't see why 'e'd be in there, but a bit early to be in the bottle, even for Bargum.")
  5. Conspiracy against a third party (roll again for stratum and party)
  6. Tryst or otherwise strong and secret alliance
Note that we don't want a 2d6 reaction-type roll here, with a strong central tendency.  We want scandal, suspicion, big highs and big lows which might be blown a little out of proportion.  Rolling lots of ambivalent 7s on 2d6 would just make our job of making up an explanation harder.
As an example: we might roll a 1 on the 1d3 and get a rival adventuring party, then a 6 for "one step up the ladder", roll the local high priest/temple on that list, and a 6 on the interaction.  Maybe the rival party's cleric is sleeping with the high priest to get cheap healing.  Maybe the rival party are secretly sworn servants of the temple.  Maybe they owe the high priest a life-debt or he has them under a geas.  If we had instead rolled 3 for "same social stratum" and then the same rival adventuring party, and then 6 again, maybe one of the "PCs" tried to seduce one of their party member's henchmen.

When your players receive rumors, roll several.  Secretly pick one to be true, then tell all of them, true and false, to your players.

1 comment:

  1. I made a table for NPC rumors a few years ago, you can find it here.