The rumor table I am trying to make has the added challenge of including red herrings about a pair of other villages which the PCs or their patrons might suspect are the base of operations for the slave trade that the adventure is all about eradicating. Given these challenges, I decided to go back and revisit some rumor tables from classic modules for inspiration.
The first module I re-read for this purpose was B1:In Search of the Unknown. I was rather shocked at how disappointing this rumor table actually is (because I have a rather large soft spot for the adventure). In particular, I was not very happy with the false rumors about Quasqueton:
- Zelligar had a wizard's workshop in the stronghold where he worked on magic stronger than any known to man.
- Rogahn owned a fantastic gem as big as a man's fist that was worth over 100,000 gold pieces; he kept it hidden in his personal quarters.
- The place is protected by the gods themselves, and one member of any party of intruders is doomed to certain death.
- The treasures of Zelligar and Rogahn are safely hidden in a pool of water.
- The entire place is filled with guards left behind by Zelligar and Rogahn.
- An enchanted stone within the stronghold will grant a wish to anyone who chips off a piece of it and places it within their mouth.
- All treasures of Zelligar and Rogahn are cursed to bring ill to any who possess them.
- Zelligar and Rogahn have actually returned to their stronghold, and woe be to any unwelcome visitors!
The only rumor that is useful at all is the one about treasure in the pool of water. Given that there is a room of magical pools, this might encourage otherwise cautious players to fiddle with dangerous magic; however, given the potential lethality of such a course of action, I suspect this would lead to frustration on the part of a player.
This made me realize that one thing that I want out of a rumor table is truth. James of Grognardia fame once quoted a piece of wisdom from K&K Alehouse about how every lock should have a key. I would extend that philosophy to rumors — every rumor should have at least a grain of truth.
I say this, because that truth, however small, has the potential for shaping the campaign and therefore create a living, breathing campaign world.
As an example of how to do this, here are some of the false rumors from L1: The Secret of Bone Hill:
- The Baronette is an illusionist who wants the throne of Restenford.
- The captain of the guard of the garrison in Restenford has a magic horn that can cause walls to collapse.
- The Baron has it all hidden under his castle. There is an unguarded fortune down there somewhere.
- That magic-user who calls himself a sorcerer is only an enchanter.
- The Baron of Restenford is really chaotic evil.
- Falco's tavern is run by two assassins.
- One or more of the clerics at the abbey is really an evil devil worshipper.
Note that there are italicized parts of each sentence — these are the false bits of information. Therefore, every one of these statements has a bit of truth, so that when the players come into contact with the whole truth they will be surprised, but not disappointed. Indeed, I foresee the classic trope of one player looking at another and saying, “I thought you said this was unguarded!?"
Besides, imagine how much cooler Quasqueton could be if some of those false rumors were partially true (especially that last one)?