The Rumor Table

150910rpgSo, you’re game-mastering a tabletop role-playing game and your player characters decide to spread out around town and see if they can pick up any useful information about their current quest. How do you handle it?

There are lots of things you can do. If there’s some info you need to dump on them, now’s the time to hand it over. Or if you want them to just head out into the wilderness and figure it out as they go, you tell them that no one knows anything. You can always just make stuff up off the top of your head. Like with most GMing tasks, as long as your players have a good time, there’s no wrong way to do it. Here’s a tool that might make your job a little easier, though: the rumor table.

When I’m planning an adventure and I know that my players are going to have a chance to snoop around and ask questions, I like to prepare a rumor table for what they might find out. The table is a mix of true and false information that is more or less helpful. I plan it for a roll of 2d6 (you can make it bigger or smaller depending on your needs, but I find a 2d6 table covers most cases). For the numbers 2-12, come up with the following tidbits of information:

  • 2 – False, and potentially disastrous if the player characters believe it
  • 3 & 4 – False
  • 5 & 6 – False but with a grain of truth, such as true information that has been garbled or misinterpreted
  • 7 – Equal parts true and false
  • 8 & 9 – True
  • 10 & 11 – True and probably helpful to the characters at the moment
  • 12 – True and very important

Suppose your campaign is The Lord of the Rings and your characters are meeting for the first time at the Council of Elrond in Rivendell. (I mean, imagine a world in which The Lord of the Rings isn’t a famous novel and movie trilogy that your players already know but is your campaign that you wrote and they are playing through for the first time.)

Here’s what your table might look like:

  • 2 – Saruman is secretly on the side of good
  • 3 – Elves from Lothlorien have been attacking outlying villages on the borders of Rohan
  • 4 – Moria is abandoned and free of orcs
  • 5 – Smeagol has been sighted in Mirkwood heading east towards Dale
  • 6 – Rohan pays a tribute of horses to Sauron for the ringwraiths to ride
  • 7 – Denethor of Gondor has a palantir but he refuses to look into it
  • 8 – The Dunedain rangers were searching for Smeagol not long ago
  • 9 – Saruman has ordered the destruction of Fangorn forest
  • 10 – Wargs have been spotted in great numbers in the wildlands south of Rivendell
  • 11 – Theoden king of Rohan has become weak and listless and lets his advisers make most decisions
  • 12 – A balrog lurks in the depths of Moria

There are some advantages to using a rumor table. For one thing, it takes some of the pressure off you to come up with the perfect responses in the moment. Like mapping a dungeon ahead of time, it lets you prepare in advance. It’s also a convenient way of rewarding your players for good role-playing or taking the characters’ advantages into account. If the PC has a charisma bonus and the player does a good job role-playing the asking around, you don’t have to puzzle out just how much better information they should get; it’s easy to just give them a +2 on the rumor roll.

Another good thing about using the rumor table, if your players know that you have one, is it short-circuits the “it must be important or the GM wouldn’t have told us” metagaming. Your players have to think carefully and evaluate the information they get, just like their characters would have to do.

Now, of course, it’s a tool, not a rule. Use it with discretion. If the character your PCs happen to be talking to wouldn’t know (or wouldn’t say) the answer you roll, don’t use it. Either go up or down the table or make up something different. If there are things that your characters really need to know at a given point in the adventure, then that’s what you give them. (You can always roll the dice anyway, so they don’t know when they’re getting plot-critical stuff.)

Happy rumor-mongering!

Image by Erik Jensen

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

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