Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sharpened Hooks: Oi there, basher! What's the chant?

This one isn't so much a story hook as a story hook delivery system.

I'm sure a lot of gamers do this already — it's practically required for any player-driven, sandbox-style game — but if you haven't tried this, the prospect of in-game rumors is both entertaining and useful.

I started manufacturing rumors in my campaigns after reading Unknown Armies, a game I may have previously mentioned.  Each section of the core rulebook opens with a collection of rumors — some are true, some are false, and some cannot be verified as they might be true in some campaigns and not others.  Basically, they're meant to motivate Player Characters and inspire Game Masters.  Additionally, they're indicative of the sorts of things one might hear on the street, and so can be taken in-character without justification ("Last night, I was messing around on Google and I heard that the seven original varieties of Barbasol correspond to the seven chakras of the body!").  The Unknown Armies website has a collection of fan-generated rumors* that I might recommend; they're really usable in any contemporary occult roleplaying game.

This trend extends beyond Unknown Armies, of course.  In addition to the fact that Game Masters have probably been doing this for years — again, how do you expect get players to muck about in a sandbox if they don't have some idea of what's out there? — I've seen it elsewhere.  A local LARP, SimTerra, has a "rumor mill," which is really just a construct so that players don't have to worry whether they've heard something in-character or out-of-character ("Wait, did Eddie tell me his character stole Vyrkaj's spellbook, or did his character tell me that?  Eh, I'll take it as a rumor, because I heard it somewhere."); manufacturing rumors to further distort things is, of course, perfectly okay.  Likewise, Jeff Rients offers recaps of his ConstantCon Wessex game, which can be taken in-game with the justification, "Well, you heard some folks drunkenly boasting in the tavern."  Of course, some details may be omitted, and some people absolutely keep quiet afterward, so wise adventurers take the information they learn warily.

I also used the rumor system in my long-running Mage: the Ascension game, The Imperial City.  Interested parties can read them here* (the weird editing represents the fact that I originally posted them, as-is, on a forum), though several references don't make sense out of context (they refer to inside jokes or campaign-specific entities, like LINTech and the Brotherhood of Light).  That might just make for weirder rumors, though.

Astute observers might also note the title references Planescape (like I said, I've been playing Planescape: Torment), and "the chant" refers to the collection of current news and rumors.  It can easily be presented to PCs in the form of these rumors.  My PCs in Crux of Eternity will probably get stuff like this before long — and if they don't, I'm contemplating doing an organized crime D&D game as a sequel, and that will definitely have a rumor list.

* These links actually contain rumors suitable for a modern occult conspiracy game.  Modification makes them usable in any game setting.


  1. I hope there are rumors in Crux of Eternity! I badly want there to be a whole slew of them about Bosabrieln, once he gets well known. I want there to be arguments between factions of his admirers about whether he is male or female. Muahahaha.

  2. Rumors are incredibly useful things to get players engaged, interested and motivated. Adventurers brag. Word gets out. This feeds the whole gossip-economy...and opens doors to all sorts of opportunities that otherwise would never happen.


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