Monday, February 17, 2020

Dungeon Crawl Practice 2 - Rumor Tables


Two sets of rumor table for characters who express an interest in discovering more about the Plague Fleet. Simply offer a rumor for ever 5GP the party is willing to spend asking about for information, or just provide a few rumors attached to a general description of the location.

Rumors available in the dives and salons of the grad, decaying port city nearest to the Green Flow Morass.

A tall tale … and its Teller.

  1. Wrecks? That’s underwater work usually - to breath you’ll want value stopped air bladders for that work. ... Longshoreman and regatta man of the Blue and Gold’s Demes. Leathers decorated with patches, badges and sailing medals.
  2. Imperial military ruins are rarely worth it for amateurs - the valuables are trapped ... Travelling Tomb Robber, uncommonly talkative, stone skull mask hanging loose.
  3. She is come again, she is waiting to be freed from the Morass, our Red Queen ... Naked drunk, prophetic on narcotic honey mead and shouting between seizures.
  4. At the delta of the Green Flow the seas are unwholesome, a shipkiller, haunted ... Leviathan Harpooner with hypnotic tattoos spending a year’s pay on an epic spree.
  5. To bring peace to ghosts they must be buried and shriven, at least the skulls ... The Tout’s ingratiating false smile suggests his goods will not live up to his promises.
  6. The worst arcane corruption is invisible and odorless - it leaves only death ...Wyrm Hunter from the Desolation of Zubrab - violent and mad eyed with arbalest primed.
  7. This? A green vampire monkey pelt from the Morass. There are apes also ... Perfumed, bedecked in lace and bodyguards, a Fop brags loudly to any willing to listen.
  8. The haints and raw bones of the Plague Fleet are still Imperial soldiers, a geas of command binds them to obey rank and insignia ... Grave meined Footman in the livery of a minor house, his quiet cultured speech mesmerizes a crowd of fellow servants and layabouts.

The rumors below are available only to characters with unsavory reputations and underworld connections.

The whispered admonitions … of cautious Whisperers

  1. The “Lost Lambs”, roughest lot mob in the marshes aid travelers ... A group of three Crouch hunters, wild on snake squeezins’ and eager to please.
  2. The corals of the Green Flow Morass hunt for flesh and take ships ... Smuggler, scarred upper face wrapped in sigil painted rags, unerring with her knife tricks.
  3. The machines of ancient wrecks hide gems and gold inside the works ... Crouch mudlarks bubbling excitedly in sing-song chorus.
  4. No sleeping in the Morass, everything there drinks blood - it'll eat you at night ... Crouch river pirate of the notorious Hook Gang, chitin lacquered with clotted blood.
  5. Beware old naval ordinance, it leaks magic esters, and worse explodes ... Legless wrecker living on charity, the bitter & haunted survivor of a dead expedition.
  6. Morass Plague kills fast - buboes and delirium - cured with salt water and rest ... Exiled gaucho from the Pyre Coast, weary enough of endless war to rot in the swamps.
  7. A malign intelligence that controls all things in the Morass - but it sleeps ... Snake eating cultist, hair bound with shed skins and hissing with a split tongue.
  8. The Fleet's dead are peaceable, until you loot the wrecks, then you join them ... Sweating Hellsman, still reeking of pine sap and snow, wanted for heretical singing.
Rumors and rumor tables are a traditional inclusion in tabletop adventures, especially in the "modules" for Basic D&D, and like many early elements of adventure design they have evolved and been refined since. Rumors function differently then Hooks because they don't set player goals or encourage players to investigate a specific location - they set expectations and provide hints about a location. Obviously there's overlap - a hook may offer details about a location and a rumor reveal something that encourages players to seek it out.

Like Hooks, Rumors exist outside the expedition itself, they are part of time the characters spend in the relative safety of a "Haven" where they can also rest, resupply and engage in whatever else characters do between sessions. The purpose of Rumors is to offer tidbits of helpful information to players who remember to ask around about the adventure location. Outside the narrative of the characters, Rumors are also a way for the GM to generate player excitement about a location and to help players decide if a location contains elements, factions or themes they want to interact with.

Both because of this extrinsic promotional aspect and since Rumors exist in an environment where all information is controlled by the GM I don’t include entirely false rumors. As simple clues offered during the usually a gamified interlude when the party resupplies and prepares for a new expedition between sessions, the “Haven Turn”, there’s no real way to check the veracity of Rumors. False Rumors of course have their own tradition, going back to the claim in on B2 Keep on the Borderlands Rumor Table that “Bree-Yark” is the goblin phrase for surrender, but I find they are largely a waste of time, erode trust between players and GM and quickly make the entire Rumor process useless. Without the ability to verify Rumors, false Rumors, especially dangerous ones, potentially damage the trust between GM and players and will only work once. If a false Rumor harms the party, players quickly and correctly learn to distrust Rumors and ignore them, meaning not only is any game time spent on Rumors wasted, but likely resented as another transparent effort by the GM to deceive the players.

Playing out town interactions might mitigate this risk, but it’s rarely worth the time it takes - the game as presented by Plague Ships is one of adventure - specifically the exploration of dangerous ruins not unravelling the social conflict and mysteries of a town location. In this context false rumors will do more damage to play then any sense of realism that they provide or the joy they may give a party that is able to take revenge on the NPC that gave them bad information. Despite rejecting outright deceptive rumors, ones that tell partial or occluded truths are useful, because they offer little puzzles themselves while providing clues to larger puzzles. For example: the rumor above about the return of the Red Queen is true - the ship Red Queen, (a reference to the founding Emperor(ess) of the the Successor Empire and now Imperial war god/saint) is still linked to its guardian deamon which stalks its decks as an animate figurehead - it is not however something that can be rescued and does not seek worship - it is a broken war machine coldly undertaking its last orders to defend the ship from intruders. The rumor correctly indicates an otherworldly presence linked to a particular level/location, but incorrectly (and I hope it sounds rather uniformed and untrustworthy) describes its intentions.

The internal logic of Rumors allows partial truths and inconsistencies - a Rumor that is self-contradictory or oracular suggests its listener needs to be cautious about its contents or interpret them. Likewise a rumormonger that appears untrustworthy, sounds unhinged, or is obviously a disreputable narrator allows the designer more leeway to create ambiguous Rumors as this also cautions the players.

In addition to advertising a location and offering clues Rumors are easy and efficient ways for players to learn about 5he setting, both because of their substance and the nature of the rumormonger. If the players become interested in the rumormonger they can easily become NPC that the players will remember for the good (or bad, if they misinterpreted or new found the source of the rumor) advice. Here if taken the extra effort to provide two rumor tables, one available in the haven of Aurum Ferro to all adventurers, and a second for PCs with underworld connections (or alternatively for rumors provided in the marsh villages nearer to the Green Morass).

The specific Rumor Tables above were difficult to produce, as I have only the barest outline of the Plague Fleet’s contents and Rumors benefit from specificity - they are best when they refer to small details or puzzles within the location. In this case I’m likely to change these rumors and adjust them as I write up the Plague Fleet, but generally Rumor Tables are one of the last items I’ll produce for an adventure, or one that benefits from being filled in during the process of keying.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Old Games

Let’s talk about old tabletop roleplaying games - specifically the kind of games played in the 1980’s and recently depicted in the nostalgia...