Word on the Grapevine January 27, 2016 08:27 6 Comments

One of my favorite narrator’s tools is rumors. Rumors are like teaser trailers for movies; they offer a peek without really telling you anything. As a narrator, I enjoy throwing a few of these at my party and seeing what strikes their interest. From that reaction I can take a little time and write out a small sidebar adventure to go along with my campaign. It’s really fun to see which of those on-the-spot blurbs became the most memorable.

Coming up with rumors is really the fun part. This can be done by reading headlines in the newspaper for inspiration, vaguely hinting at a major plot point in your story, or even dropping clues that an old enemy is still lurking about. If it seems interesting to you, it’ll most likely seem interesting to the party. Here are some of my favorite ideas I’ve used and reused:

  • “Word is the circus is in town. I’d stay away if I were you. What you see is a distraction from what you don’t.”
  • “Someone saw some madman running through the alleys last night. He was wearin’ one of the guard uniforms. Makes you think, what if he’s still hiding in plain sight?”
  • “Welcome to [town name], you’re new? I know a new face when I sees one. Come in, join the festivities-- *in a hushed voice* Don’t draw any attention. They are watching you. Just play along and you’ll be just fine. Meet me at the warehouse by the [dock/stables/factories] at midnight. *resuming the loud, boisterous voice* Do enjoy yourselfs now. Can’t have too many smiling faces.”
  • “There were strange sounds coming out of that house again. The scratching and clawing, the pounding, and the screeching of metal. No one goes close to it. It’s supposed to be empty.”
  • “You heard about the mayor’s son? Nasty child, him. Hardly seen much of him any more. Usually at night, when he’s skulking around being suspicious. Most think he’s off dealing with them drug lords. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s just off his knocker. Might even kill his own mum so HE can be mayor. Such a shame.”

The sources for delivering your rumors can vary. It can be someone talking in a low voice in the corner of a pub, an enthusiastic greeter giving the party a warm welcome to the town, or it can even be a poster or flyer either on a wall or blown into a character’s face by the wind. The source will determine how the rumor is perceived and responded to. Did a madman shout it from the rooftops? Maybe he’s just shouting nonsense, or maybe he’s telling the truth. The rumors don’t even have to be true. You could lead the party on a snipe hunt as a way of showing off the town, or driving the plot by having them poke around the place and getting into trouble. Rumors should add flair to your adventure, give the environment a sense of suspicion, and set the stage for the players to interact with.    

As fun as rumors are, they should be used responsibly. Too much can distract from the story and leave the party confused, or railroad so far away from your main plot that you now have to find a way to get everyone back on track. A handful of rumors can be enough to keep the party interested when there’s a lull in the adventure. More than that and you run the risk of creating a conspiracy, and those last forever.

Please, comment below with any rumors you have used, or are thinking of using. Maybe share those fun moments when a tangent adventure became a saga highlight. If you have any questions about creating rumors, ask away.