Rumours - Delivery Methods & A Request for Help

[Hey, finally a post where I actually can sort of talk about something from a position of knowledge (well, sort of; see below) since this has actually been coming up in my games.]

[Alternative title for this post: Why is blogger so horribly American about spelling ey? or What's wrong with a few semi-superfluous 'U's ey?]

You know, I don't see a lot of people talking about Rumours, and how to give them out.
I think this is a shame. If people do talk about this; please let me know.

So I'm going to talk about Rumours, from the perspective of my group, in my game.

BACKGROUND
My group are all 5e dorks. Its what I got so its what I do. They like having a goal it seems; the whole exploring for the sake of exploration and discovery isn't quite enough to motivate them. At least, so it seems to me.

The game itself is set in the Sewer-built Undercity Labyrinth of a great semi-Utopian City; all is as good as it could ever realistically be up on the surface, all the adventure is below. The game itself is somewhere between a megadungeon and a pointcrawl, and it is very much a work-in-progress in terms of how it is even basically structured, even now.

It started off as merely a cool map I did that spread over like, 12 pages of A4 gridded paper.
Now it is a sprawling monstrosity of 100 locations (on the main layer at least, there's a smaller layer underneath, and then something else yet below that), but that's getting ahead of myself.
[Side note; this is what all artists mean when they say that you should start small, and not move on to something else until the first step is completely finished. It helps with scope, and with not being caught with your pants around your ankles when your party decide that they are going to go in a new direction today because although you've prepped like, 20 locations, they went a way you didn't expect.]

But yeah, there's a lot to do and discover; I wanted to stick more towards a sand-box-adjacent philosophy where there's no "set story". There is the undercity, there are the things going on within it, and there is a small inertia to events, but that is it.

In a game like this, Rumours are very important to provide information to your players. Informed choice is key in OSRish games, and if your players have no information, their choices mean less than nothing. This is something that only now (several months into the game) that I am really beginning to properly appreciate.

How does all this lead into rumours? Lets follow the story of my rumour system.

STAGE 0 - INTENT
So what did I want rumours to achieve? In short - I want them to inspire my players to action.
I want someone to go; I've heard X is in the neighbourhood of Y, lets pop down to Z, travel to Y and search for X before popping back home for tea and level ups.

So, in a few quick bullet points:
- They should offer semi-reliable information (such that there is room for exploration)
- There should be loads of them (such that there is room for longevity in the system)
- They should apply to everything within the megadungeon (such that the party are encouraged to actually explore it all)
- They should be relatively easy to get, but not effortless (to reinforce the second point)
And ideally:
- They should be somehow rooted in the game world in a meaningful way

STAGE 1 - RUMOURS BY BACKGROUND
Character backgrounds are one of the nicer features of 5e, and my original system was that there would be a list of rumours, divided up by a list of tags, that would be applied to each background.
Tags would be stuff like, Occult, Artisan, History, etc; and each background would have like, three or four tags, and each tag would have six or so rumours tied thematically to it.

E.g. the sage would hear occult rumours about the Wizardly population of the undercity, whilst the criminal might hear Criminal rumours about its less savoury inhabitants.

It was a nice idea, but fiddly in execution.

I wanted the distribution to be nice and neat, where no tag would be used more or less than other tags, and each tag would have its own unique list of rumours, and it would never work neatly enough. I suspect that this could work quite well if you set out your own list of backgrounds, built from the ground up to support this system; but another problem was that the content of the game itself interfered too. It didn't want to divide neatly either. I couldn't make enough criminal content compared to wizardly content for example, because it didn't quite fit the balance of flavour I wanted for the game.

If you could be a little less anal about it than me it could probably work out just fine tbh. I rate it Potentially Salvageable/10.

In the story of the campaign itself though, this is the system we began play with, and while I think it still sort of might hold up for new characters (not that anyone dies in 5e anyway), it quickly ran into a new problem; getting new rumours through play. Enter...

STAGE 2 - RUMOURS BY TYPE

I came up with kind of archetypes of things my players might like to know about, which I then boiled down to three categories of rumour; Challenges (things to be overcome like monsters and trials), Treasures (things to pillage and steal) and Mysteries (things to be solved or discovered). I divided up the whole megadungeon into these categories (sort of) and made a rough, d100 list of rumours. In the end, I made it up so that there were as many Challenge rumours as there were Mysteries and Treasure rumours, and they were semi-sub-divided again by area of the megadungeon, with larger subareas getting more rumours overall. There were a few spots I had vacant so I filled those up with broadly applicable rumours.

This worked somewhat okay for a while; I still had the issue where the environment somewhat resisted being carved up nicely like the system would have preferred, but I finally could cover just about everything I wanted, and I even had a neat little bit where each class had its own preferences of rumours; e.g. fighters were more likely to hear about challenges, wizards about mysteries, rogues about treasures, bards had no preferences and heard about everything equally, etc.

This bit I actually think works quite well overall, and tentatively recommend as a framework for rumours if it sounds cool. It would be quite easy to add categories and tweak the proportions between each category.
It also made it pretty easy to have lists by type of rumour, and by area of the dungeon. I rate it Just A Little Longer In The Oven, But Just A Little/10.

BUT

Now came my first Big Issue

BIG ISSUE 1 - HOW MUCH INFORMATION IS IN A GOOD RUMOUR?

I'm still kind of noodling through this one, but I think my big lesson is that
TOO MUCH INFORMATION IS PROBABLY NOT A BAD THING.

Well, there's a balance to it of course, but here's the evolution of my rumours actually as written;

- Thing literally exists.
- Thing exists, with a little bit of context, but not quite enough to really be useful.
- Thing exists, with a bit more information, and a name of the place it is, without any context

Obviously, the above don't meet the paradigm of informed choice. Knowing something exists will only prepare you to not be surprised when you meet it. You need more context that that.

Because here's the thing, it is very easy to try and hide information for cool reveals. Its an easy pit to fall into, but I still think its a pitfall. As I said earlier, if the players can't make an informed decision, they aren't actually deciding anything.

Its all well and good that they know that there are 6 patron gods of the sewers, but what use is that information if they don't have the context to apply it in?

What good is it to know that a group of paladins went down into the sewers and were never seen again, if that's literally all you know?

The best reaction you could hope to get out of the above situation is that you bump into the paladins and are like, oh, cool, those are those paladins. That's not cool. That's just, DM masturbation at best and literally nothing at worst.

So yeah, you need to give more information, but you can't give up the whole thing either of course , because uncovering mysteries is an exciting thing to do.

Now, in my next iteration of rumours, I want to really lean into this, and really push how much information I provide. Roughly speaking, in each rumour I want to; explain what the thing is, what the lure about it is, and roughly where it is, in relation to places that are already known, or have partially abstracted directions included.

It is at this point that I realise I have no framework to work off of. I actually have very few books that offer good rumours to reference - if you know any, please let me know!

I feel like of the few books I have, many of the rumours are limited to just 'factoids' about the setting, rather than useful information. Sure, having only interesting information might be a bit much, but I feel like when most of your rumours are pieces of setting information that the players ought to know merely by existing, something isn't quite right.

THUS, I DO DECLARE THERE TO BE THREE TYPES OF RUMOUR - FACTOIDS, SECRETS, AND HOOKS

It should be pretty self-explanatory, but here's roughly what they mean;

Factoids - setting information that has no real effect on play.
Secrets - gameable information about world elements, such as monster weaknesses, or the location of a secret passage
Hooks - rumours that inspire action, through the lure of something the party want, or an event they might want to be a part of

Note, the main difference between a Secret and a Hook is that only the Hook causes party action. At best, a Secret could enable it, but would only ever be applied to something that the party already want to do/solve.

Personally, I think the emphasis should be on the latter two types of rumour.

So, my next big problem, for which I don't have a smooth segue;

BIG PROBLEM 2 - PLAYERS DON'T WANT TO SPEND TIME ON RUMOURS

Now, this is a bit more specific to my campaign, but it is still a reasonably applicable lesson I think.

My Downtime system goes roughly as such; a "full rest" is a week long, and alongside resting you get a daytime action, and an evening action to spend on activities (somewhat analgous to 5e's main and bonus actions in combat). One activity you could spend your time on is "Gathering Rumours". Guess how many times people did that? 

Out of four or five players doing this six or seven times? 

Maybe once. There was just always something better or more exciting. Now, in a regular game, perhaps your system is a bit less chunky, so that players could afford to spend a little time doing this then you'll probably be fine. Here though, I really want my players to have a variety of rumours to chase and follow, but when it comes down to researching new spells, and new rumours; even I'd pick new spells every time. At the very least you could just pick a tunnel and go. You don't need rumours. 
But you sort of do for the best experience.

Here is the lesson I guess; If you want players to have access to something, don't make it cost something that could be used on something more exciting.
Revelationary, I know. I'll accept my Nobel Prize next Friday.

So here's how I solve this; (hopefully, this has yet to be deployed but I think it will at least achieve my goals. Betterment can happen later.) 

Every time the party go back to town to rest, they get a rumour or maybe 2. They can still spend their downtime on extra rumours as before, but they don't have to now.
Here's the catch; rumours also come with a source, that determines how truthful/useful the rumour given might be. Most of the time rumours will be at least mostly useful and truthful. But you never know for sure, unless you spend some of your time verifying the rumour.

That's it.

Now, I do think there might be room for "factoid" type rumours, but they should be a minority, or find-out-able without cost. potentially there could even be Secrets and Hooks disguised as factoids. Not the other way round though I think, what's the point in providing a sign-post to nothing?

Secrets and Hooks should be the most common type of rumour by far, and the ones that you put the majority of effort into, and should probably cost something for more than a basic stipend of Hooks, but hey oh. This post is getting long enough as it is. 

Next time; How do I even make a good rumour 'ey?
[Spoiler: I still don't actually know]

3 comments:

  1. What kind of daytime/nighttime long-rest activities are there? If you haven't made a post on this already, this is your prompt to do exactly that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn, guess I'd better get cracking on that post then! :D

      Delete
  2. This is my favourite post concerning rumours so far!

    ReplyDelete

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