A staple of the TTRPG adventures I grew up on (mostly from Dungeon magazine) was the rumour table. Before venturing out of the safety of the town to explore the dangerous area (usually a dungeon, obviously), PCs could ask around and get some useful clues about what was going on. Usually, this table contained a mixture of true, false, and almost-true rumours – and which rumour was heard was entirely random.
While you’re reading this, I should tell you about my Patreon. Patrons get access to content 7 days before they hit this site, the chance to request articles or content, and the chance to play in one-shot games, for a very reasonable backer level. If you like what you read, want to support the blog, and have the funds for it, please consider supporting here.
I like this idea – a random table is a good way to abstract an evening spent asking around the tavern before the mission. It prevents over-preparation if you have a finite number of rolls on it – and I also like the jeopardy of potentially hearing a false rumour, and the confusion that could cause.
But I’m not as keen on it being entirely random, or the pay-off for a false rumour not being clear. If PCs expect every rumour to be true, they’ll feel cheated when they act on a false one – and similarly, once they realise some are false, they’ll be reluctant to act on actually true rumours in case they turn out to be incorrect.
So, here’s a proposed solution, which I came up with while messing around with my notes for the a potential DM’s Guild submission
The Rumour Check
When you ask around the town for details of the dangerous place, or research such a place in the town records, make a skill check for an appropriate social or research skill. On a success, roll 1d6 on the Rumour Table; on a failure, roll 1d12.
On the Rumour Table, entries 1-6 are filled with TRUE rumours about the place; entries 7-12 are filled with FALSE, HALF-TRUE, or USELESS rumours. It’s worth considering, particularly with the 7-12 entries, whether your rumours will at or subtract from the fun – dire warnings and instructions to, e.g., stay away from the pit traps – are likely to lead to over-cautious players. Try and make them a call to do things in the site rather than not do them.
Why is this an improvement? Well, on a failed roll, the player (and his PC) knows he hasn’t been successful. Maybe he’s chanced upon the town drunk who previously was claiming to be a high elf heir, or the book he’s found is full or lurid, unlikely, or patently false information. Nevertheless, the information gleaned might still be true – there’s a choice to be made as to whether to act on it, knowing it could be false. A successful roll gets rightly rewarded, and the players can be relatively confident that rumour is true.
Of course, you could always roll 1d4 or 1d8 on a 1-8 table, if you’re stuck for ideas – but coming up with 12 is an interesting thought exercise in grounding your dungeon in the rest of the world – what have people heard about it? What has happened before?
Here’s an example, for the freely-available Tomb of the Serpent Kings adventure (which is designed as an intro to OSR-style adventuring, and is excellent – well worth a read even if you never run it).
|1||Tombs of that age were often built with a false tomb to deter robbers – the real treasures lie deeper (true)|
|2||Tombs like this often show mechanical traps near their entrance to deter robbers – in particular anywhere that people don’t travel down, so look out for locked doors and check them for traps (true)|
|3||You might want to pack some holy water and symbols of St Cuthbert – or take a cleric with you – one thing you find in tombs is undead, and I’ve heard of them stalking around the tomb (true)|
|4||Rumours are the serpent people who built the tomb had fell magics, and could even keep themselves alive beyond death – there might still be undead serpent people down there – and who knows what they would make of this world? (true)|
|5||The caves near to the tomb had some raids a few years back – weird fungus-covered goblins, who disappeared as soon as some adventurers sorted them out (true)|
|6||Some adventurers did come and plan to raid the tomb last year, and never returned – either they got too scared to come back to town, or there’s something or someone in those tombs (true)|
|7||There’s an underground chasm near those ruins – who knows what monsters might haunt those depths? (while true, this is of no use)|
|8||If there’s one thing serpent people were scared of, it was fire – they can’t approach a burning torch, so I’ve heard (false, and certainly dangerous)|
|9||There’s a stone golem somewhere down there – disturb the tomb and it’ll wander the world and seek revenge for its snake-masters! (true-ish, but the stone guardian can’t escape)|
|10||We ran an old wizard out of town twenty years ago for necromancy – no doubt he now lairs in the tomb in the hills (false)|
|11||There’s snakes around the hills and in the tomb. Luckily, I’ve got some antidote here – 2gp for a bottle, it’ll sting a bit going down but should help to pass the poison (false, and of course the antidote is cheap liquor cut with boot polish)|
|12||The whole tomb is cursed – if you stay in there on the full moon, you’ll see the snake-men walk out of it and never return (false)|
I’ll be using this the next time I write up a dungeony adventure – let me know what you think in the comments or at @milnermaths.