Wednesday, April 20, 2011

R is For Rumor

Once again hitting the C. J. Sanson book, Sovereign, Matthew Shardlake's inquisitive mind starts him wondering about certain things about the king, who in this time period in England, is also god's word on earth. Of course such things start off as nothing more than rumors about the King's true parentage but it's enough to get Shardlake down the path of inquisition.

I love rumors. What I remember as a young Dungeon Master, and this could be my crappy memory striking again, is that before you had skills like those in 3rd edition, you had various tables to roll on. The tables consisted on various things about the adventure, wither it was the location, the fabulous treasure, or some of those who lived about the land, and it had either a T for True or a F for false. The Gm was encouraged to add to the tables and to change things around so that someone playing through the adventure multiple times would not always come away with the same, or even the correct information.

Rumors fit a city based campaign for a number of reasons.

First off, people are always talking. Look at the Republican Party in America. This band of the so-called GOP, has insisted at times, that our current President is not naturally born. The rumor mill churns in the world of politics. The important thing though, is that even if its not true, it can generate its own air, its own power, its own field of negativity where things can be thrown into doubt for those whose faith or information isn't solid to begin with. The world of entertainment also swirls and churns with rumors ranging from dating, sexual preferences in the present, conquests of the past, and accusations of talent theft to other, even less kind things.

In a fantasy city, there are multitudes of options to work from.

1. Famous Buildings. Mage towers, guild halls, taverns, red lantern districts, and of course, sewers are all ripe targets for rumors. These can range from hauntings, to the origins of those hauntings to who is zooming who.

2. Historical Events. Much like how history can be remade by the winners, the modern history of a city may quickly fall sway to rumor and hearsay. For example, if the players saved a noble from assassination, the noble may spread around town that it was only his own exceptional skill at arms that saved a blundering party from assassination and that he felt so bad for them, that he provided them with riches so that they may improve their paltry skill set.

3. Individuals: Much like Sovereign, rumors are always swirling about the rich, famous, and powerful. Of course such rumors might not always be wise to find. In older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, powerful entities like Demon Lords and Devil Princes could hear their names mentioned as well as the words that followed it. Such entities would hardly take to rumors of their weaknesses, strengths, hidden strong holds, or allies. In the Forgotten Realms city, Waterdeep, the ruling council were masked and unknown so rumors were always flying over who the actual rulers were with only one of them, The Open Lord of Waterdeep, of course a paladin, known to the public.

4. Magic Items. In older editions of the game, things were not so static. 3rd and 4th put magic items into a 'math' function so that a character of X or Y level was doing A or B damage. Earlier editions wouldn't necessarily give you a super powerful magic item at low levels, but the opportunities were often there. For example, I've run White Plume Mountain and had a player character with Black Razor. I've run a PC that had Black Razor. I've run The City Beyond the Gates and had a player with the Mace of St. Cuthbert. There was no 'cheating' going on there, just honest to goodness module running and the players earned those powerful artifacts.

In the book I'm currently reading, Barb Hendee's Through Stone and Sea, Wynn, a sage, is seeking information on the Thirteen, the original vampires, and has to work through the rumors of a secretive sect of dwarfs in order to discover what she seeks. The author is turning her quest for information using only rumor and hearsay into a full fledged quest.

When preparing your cities, prepare some rumors that the players might stumble into. When preparing some encounter areas, prepare some rumors that the players might seek out. When providing information from the rolling dice, prepare two sets of answers depending on how high the player rolled or how well they role played out the scene and how much gold they dropped.

Rumors can add dimensions to the game that might otherwise be unexplored.