What is a rumor table?

Creatures of the NightOf late, I’ve been working harder on tabletop stuff than I think I ever have before. I have a lot to write about. Unfortunately, I can’t share any of it. I’ve been trying to increase the amount of work I do on my monster book each week, since at my present rate I’m progressing too slowly to finish it within the single year that I promised. Of course, I can’t share any of that content, since it’s part of a book, and it’s no fun sharing bits of it before it’s done! I’ve also been working on the Dungeon Moon game, which of course I can’t share because the entire goal of that setting is to run it for other people in the online tabletop community. Spoiling all of its secrets simply won’t do! I already cheated a little bit by posting the toy rowboat on Friday.

It’s been suggested that I ought to write about my processes and challenges with these projects, which seems interesting enough. Lets try that.

One of my goals with this monster book is to make every line of writing count. In reading other monster books (both mainstream and indie) as research, I’ve found the amount of wasted space very frustrating. Perhaps I simply don’t care about the kinds of things which other people care about. That’s entirely possible, I do have a bit of an odd perspective. Regardless, I want every line of writing in here to be a line of writing that I would be happy to pay for. Once you have it in your hands, you can tell me if I’ve succeeded in that.

Before starting on my second drafts, I tried to figure out some unique sections I could include in my monster entries. Information which was useful and interesting, and which most monster manuals don’t have. Among other things, I was linked to a person who suggested “Rumor Tables.”

“That’s a pretty cool idea!” I thought. “A small list of rumors the players might hear, which might send them off in search of this new unknown creature. I like it!” So I’ve been including it. But I’ve written a fair number of second drafts, now, and I’m starting to feel less certain of that decision.

For one thing, I feel as though they’re starting to get repetitive. I find it difficult to write more than one or two for a given monster. I’ve been playing with the style a bit, trying to find the best way to make it work. I think I like rumors best when they’re written in the style of a crazy story related by a yokel. Here are a few examples of rumors I’ve drafted.

  • Call me crazy all you like, but I swear, I’ve walked that path through the woods a dozen times. And that boulder has never been there before!
  • An elderly leatherworker has heard tell of a creature whose skin is tougher than stone. He’s getting on in years, and he’d love to create one last masterwork before he retires. If someone were to bring him the skin of such a creature, he’d reward them handsomely…
  • Something happened in the village just east of here. Everybody is dead, and no one quite knows why. The only person who got out alive was the blind beggar.
  • Three of farmer Logan’s pigs were slaughtered and eaten last night. It looks to be the work of a wild animal, but the only thing big enough to leave those marks is a bear. And with 3 feet of snow on the ground, you can bet none of those are out and about!
  • I was talking to this feller the other day, and he just up and walked away from me. “Help, I don’t know where I’m going!” he shouted. “Then stop walking!” I says to him. “I can’t!” he whined. Pft. Can’t stop walking. Dumbest joke I’ve ever heard. Haven’t seen him since, though.
  • I was doing my business in the bushes out on the road, when a fine looking woman passed through. Strangest thing, she didn’t have no horse or guards, or more than simple clothing. Still she musta been loaded, figuring as she wore diamonds on her face, like spectacles!

Are these really that useful? It’s starting to feel like all I’m doing is imagining a non-fatal encounter with a monster, and then jotting down a way the PCs could learn about that. I’m starting to doubt that this is worth the page space it’s taking up.

Further, I’ve also begun to wonder if I completely misunderstood what was meant by “rumor tables.” I understood it to mean a list of adventure hooks. Perhaps what was actually meant was “A list of rumors about the creature which may or may not be true,” like what Courtney does with his Ecology posts.

Thoughts?

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12 thoughts on “What is a rumor table?”

  1. I may be in the minority on this point, but I don’t much like templates. That is to say, I would include rumor tables for those monsters that inspire you to write good rumor tables. No need to include them for every entry. Templates lead to filler content, almost by definition.

    1. That is a remarkably good point. I’ve thought this myself regarding monster manuals, and part of the reason I was drawn to LotFP is because the template is small and easily mutable.

      But I also feel like consistency of information is valuable.

  2. Those ARE adventure hooks. Subtle ones. I found that using little stories like that intrigue players more than just giving a flat description. Since they’re less direct and not always clear, they don’t distract from the main campaign story as much. An adventure hook that doesn’t immediately sound like an adventure hook is a good way to offer a sidequest without making it sound relevant to the main campaign story.

  3. Qelong does a really great job with its rumor table. Better than Any Man, too, though I think less well. Both are related in the way you’re using – formatted as actual quotes, which the Ref can read, or paraphrase, or whatever.

    Both do location-based rumors, and actually imply that the rumor system should be the only knowledge players can have pre-loaded – no setting description, or starting hooks, just “You get this rumor, and you get more rolls for 20 silvers a pop.” So general setting information can be used to fill in a lot of the table.

    You could also do rumors about treasure hoards – even ones that you haven’t placed yet. Something like, “I heard there was a huge pile of gold at (roll 1d6 for location)” with a 60% chance that you actually place it. Or even power relations and political moves – like, maybe a Hack and Slash Ecology article, but for the entire world.

    I’ve also been putting in a few general “thematic” rumors, like “This war is older than I can remember, and I hear it’ll last longer than even the oracles can see.”

    Getting back to monster-based rumors, you could base many of them off of encounters with monster tracks or signs, rather than the monster itself – like, “My friend Jim was walking his dog and saw a hoof print the size of a house,” or “Something’s made the South Woods stink up to high heaven!” Of course, I doubt you need more than one to three rumors about each monster – depending on the weirdness, it might not be necessary to give them one at all.

    1. I have both of those books, and will take a look at them with rumor tables in mind.

      I’d prefer to avoid any rumors which are too “obvious,” like footprints. The GM can do that easily by themselves, I think. But unique tracks or signs could make for some good rumors.

  4. For me Rumor tables are really helpful as GM tool. They are pregenerated hooks, but they also tell the players (and remind the GM) about the nature of the setting. Rumor tables, equipment lists (especially the weird extra items) and carousing tables are all hugely helpful to me in setting the feel of a gameworld. Players also seem to like them.

  5. This is my first time writing to you I just started reading recently but you seem to have quite a few great ideas. I love this idea but I think if it seems it’s getting repetitive maybe bring it down to just one rumor about each creature. Most DM’s with the knowledge listed and that rumor could sculpt it into something else they needed to. This also allows you more room to make this rumor have a bit more detail or humor depending.

    1. It’s nice to hear that I have great ideas. This makes me happy.

      Perhaps I need to change my thinking so I can make these rumors in a way which doesn’t seem repetitive to me. >.>

  6. Some of these could relate more to local folklore than actual encounters.

    “If you see a wollymogger’s mating dance it’ll bring you good luck!”

    “Gran-gran says nothing cures wasp stings like rubbing a live googlyworm on it.”

    Superstitions, boons, curses, rare ingredients: these are all things that could act as subtle hooks in themselves, even if a creature is well-known to a community.

    In general, though, the rumours could be expanded to “clues”. The creature likes to horde shiny things, eats a specific diet, marks trees in a certain way.

    Any of these behaviours could then be the root of a rumour. “Blue slash marks” on the base of a tree could show up in all sorts of different scenarios. Different people interpret them in different ways.

    Maybe a farmer thinks the blue slashes are just kids vandalizing his property, or the town drunk *swears* he saw an animal rooting around in a warehouse full of paint, or a local alchemist has found intriguing residues in the blue substance left behind.

    I guess I’m thinking more like a ranger here. How do I *track* this creature and distinguish it from other, similar creatures? If I know that, then I have a foundation for what townsfolk might puzzle over and misinterpret. And then these tables could easily overlap. Those claw marks might be a large lizard or a small dragon. Shimmery patches of air could be a fey illusion spell or heat waves radiating off a fiery beast. Players might go in expecting one thing and find themselves facing quite another if they’re not careful.

  7. While I like the idea of rumors, I understand your hesitation. Churning out that kind of content over and over can be hard, and I’d think a ‘quality over quantity’ hallmark would probably be a good idea.

    Along the lines of what Brendan suggested, you might include rumors/hooks with all the monsters, but nobody said they all have to be in the same form. Mixing up styles and types might lead to better results in the long run, as it gives you free reign to do whatever comes to mind for a specific creature. Everything from conversation snippets to set pieces to bits of fluff can all be great motivation to a DM.

    Lastly, if you haven’t seen it, Patch’s blog http://dailybestiary.blogspot.com/ has been a great inspiration to me for Pathfinder critters, and he seems to have a knack for thinking outside the box for hooks. You might find some motivation there.

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