I love the concept of a rumor table. What better way to come up with something on the fly when your players take an unexpected turn? Or perhaps there is a slow bit in town where they are looking for something to do that isn’t related to the main story elements.
Personally, I like to have several tables weighted for different locations. They’ll all have 75-80% the same content, but will have those bits that are of more interest to the general population of those locations be the most common to come up.
Then there is issue of the reliability of the rumors themselves. I use the following categories for reliability:
- The True Rumor – These rumors are almost entirely accurate, perhaps only incorrect in some fairly minor details.
- The True at Core Rumor – Some central aspect of these rumors are correct, but much of the surrounding details are incorrect in some way.
- The Marginal Rumor – The vast majority of these rumors are flat out wrong, but there are nuggets that could pay off if noticed.
- The Gossip Rumor – Nothing about these rumors are true, but if followed up on, nothing more than embarrassment or short lived ridicule.
- The False Rumor – These rumors are wrong, names, locations, nothing turns out to be true.
- The Dangerously False Rumor – These rumors are not only incorrect, but are incorrect in such a way that following up on them could lead to unexpected, and unprepared for dangers.
I’ll expand on these in a moment.
I’ll vary the ratio of each type of rumor in my tables, and update them fairly regularly. I like to have a living world, so rumors don’t stick around forever.
The True Rumor: The frequency of this type of rumor can vary greatly, depending on the nature of the rumor. Wars and nearby battles tend to be common, as are other fairly major political issues that are simply unverified in the current area. A more specific, but potentially doubtful rumor; The bandits preying on trade along the north highway are actually in the employ of a neighboring Baron according to one survivor; will be less common. In that example, the rumor is essentially correct, but instead of the neighboring Baron, they’re actually in the employ of a different neighboring Baron.
True at the Core Rumor: This type will be slightly more common. Using the previous example, instead of having the bandits being employed by the neighboring Baron, they’re in the employ of a Duke from a neighboring Kingdom… Or so it seems after some digging, but how deep or shallow might this be?
Marginal Rumors: These rumors are usually wrong, but are among the most common. Someone heard a story from someone else, who heard it from someone else. There are however sometimes nuggets of truth to them, but usually nowhere near the scale of the rumor. A rumor of a town being invaded by the restless dead is investigated, only to find that the invasion was a deceased pet raised by a village kid who had access to some necromantic artifact. This could lead to a nasty event, or just be a one time thing that scared people.
Gossip Rumors tend to make up at least 50% of the table. Most of the time I’ve found that these are simply ignored. When they are investigated it turns out that the raid by bandits or monsters was someone stealing a pie. Or, more often, just tales of the blacksmith two streets over having a big fight with his eldest son.
False Rumors are just that. A boy who cried wolf type situation that someone passing through took as real. If followed up on, there is nothing found amiss, possibly not even a hint of what caused the rumor.
Dangerous Rumors: These are rumors that seem like a fairly simple thing to look into. Perhaps a merchant two towns over is hiring guards. When the characters arrive, they discover that this was a rumor intentionally passed to lure new victims to become food for a vampire.
Anyhow, I’ll make up varation tables for what might be discovered at taverns vs temples, markets vs bathhouses. The vast majority will be false or gossip types, a handful of true or core types, with marginal rumors filling out what extra space is on the table. Dangerous Rumors only show up rarely, perhaps only one in every ten tables. They should be used for special occasions, or outright traps.