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DCC Campaign Journal #4: Rumors in a Sandbox

640x640 tavern talkOne of the main tenets I set for myself as a GM, while I was creating the Eosha DCC campaign was to try to make it as “sand-boxy” as possible.  I am not proposing missions or using adventure hooks, but I do drop rumors.  I have not planned any campaign arc or massive multi-level adventure series, but instead I’m urging my heroes to propose their own quests instead.

I’ve already had a couple players message me and ask things like “how can I get this ability score higher?” or “is there a way I can get this spell?”.   My response has been the same – “why don’t you have your character research it and propose a quest to the party?”

I suspect that after their first adventure is done, there’s going to be some considerable researching for new quests!

But to get the adventure ball rolling, so to speak, I made it a point to work on a rumor-mill for my city-state, Varthos the Ancient.  Now by Rumor-Mill I mean just that – rumors one might hear in a fantasy city that could lead to adventure and treasure, or just into deadly danger, or possibly nowhere at all.  But having thought the process through, I decided I wanted to make the rumor-mill something more than a list of odd things heard in a raucous tavern or a street corner near the market square.  Instead I wanted the Rumor-Mill to be an organic thing, capable of growing on its own with very little maintenance from me.

And what I ended up with was a dynamic Rumor-Engine that grows and even evolves…

The Rumor Engine

As I said, the most important thing about my Rumor-Engine was that I wanted it to be low maintenance, but to also grow over time.  I wanted the rumors created to stir the imaginations of the player-characters, but also give them the freedom to pick and choose from among the rumors they have heard, following up on one to start an adventure.

So first I started looking for random rumor generators online – no sense in reinventing the wheel, I wanted it low maintenance, after all.  It turns out that there are a number of very nice random rumor generators online for free, and one I strongly recommend for a small fee.  Below are some I used to fuel up the Rumor-Engine:

Wizards of the Coast’s Tavern Generator – produces 3 rumors per tavern

Inkwell Ideas Random Rumors – generates 10 rumors at a time

Donjon RPG Tools Inn Generator – creates 5 to 7 rumors at a time

My favorite random rumor generator of them all, however, was the one by Chaotic Shiny Productions in her City Builder Generator Pack.  For only a few bucks you can get not only a very cool rumor generator, but a whole lot more besides – check out the product here if you’re looking for a handy tool for both worldbuilding and running a city adventure!

From there, it was easy to generate about a good forty or so rumors to start the Engine, and winnowed down the list to about 30 rumors I felt had potential as good adventure seeds.  Now I never actually created adventures or even tried to organize them into a story, leaving that task for when my heroes actually decide to follow up on what they heard.

From there, I simply asked characters to roll a d30 twice and send me the results, and I returned to them two rumors via personal G+ message, slightly modified as needed so they could decide whether to share them with the party or not.  With six players in the group, that gave me a dozen active rumors out there for the heroes to work on.  And if two characters got the same roll, they both heard the same rumor from the same source.

But in order to make the Rumor-Engine grow and evolve, I also took a second step when I handed out rumors – I secretly gave them an expiration date and decided whether the rumor would simply end or change when it expired!

So once a rumor was assigned, I took a look at it, and decided whether this is the kind of rumor that would end in a week or less, a month or less, or would go on for several months.  The language of the rumor itself was all that was needed in almost every case to determine if it was something that would resolve itself quickly, and I just tossed a dice to randomly determine a d6 in days, a d3 in weeks, and a d6 in months of time it would be relevant.

Deciding whether a rumor would end or change was a bit more subjective, but again was based upon the language of the rumor – and I tried whenever possible to make the rumor change and evolve rather than merely expire.

Here’s an example of a rumor from the WotC Random Tavern Generator site:

An evil noble has put a price on a good noble’s head.

Now, if I were to hand this out, the only changes I’d make are to name the nobles, and name the person spreading the rumor.  It makes it more real, and gives the players a starting point to start investigating.  This kind of rumor is likely expire – along with the noble target – in days or weeks, but probably not months, so I’d probably decide to make it a d3 weeks, but again, it could just as easily be only a d6 days!

So if the heroes don’t act on this rumor, when it expires, after say two weeks, it’s going to evolve.  There are a number of ways to go with this one once the starting rumor expires, but the obvious one is: The good noble was found slain in his bed last night! But you could just as easily make it more mysterious: The good noble disappeared from his mansion in the dead of night… without telling his servants. Or have a strange twist: Evil noble found dead; the good noble is accused of foul murder!

Once the rumor evolves, pass the new rumor out to the hero who had the old rumor, and stick another expiration date on it.  Using the new rumor with a twist as an example, the expiration date might only be a few days before he is brought to trial and convicted, so the players have to decide if it is worth their time to investigate and possibly find evidence to save the good noble, and possibly be rewarded – or just ignore it and let things run their course.

With only a few rumors in play at any one time, there’s very little upkeep, and once a rumor completely ends it can be replaced quickly from the remaining ones in the Engine.  The players can have their characters pursue the rumors or not, and development into an adventure is only required once the heroes decide to start chasing a given rumor.  And that ends up saving GM’s the heartache of making a dungeon up, and then having the players bypass it entirely to do something else.

I’m very happy with the Rumor-Engine I’ve cranked up so far, and I like that the players get to role-play in character a discussion of which tidbit of news or scandal is worth their time, and which will likely gain them a decent pile of treasure.  It makes the world a bigger and more interesting sandbox to play in, and most importantly, it breathes life into the ancient city of Varthos, transforming it from just a place on a map to a living society full of odd characters, strange plots, and often dangerous intrigues.

A perfect place for any heroic adventurer to call home!

So until next blog… I wish you happy gaming!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


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