Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Bag of Rumours - A quick guide to presenting your D&D players with options

I've been a running and playing Dungeons & Dragons off and on for the last decade. Recently I feel I've upped my game and found some useful tricks, props, and techniques that have helped enhance the game I'm currently running for my players and feel this would be useful for other DMs new and old.

Today's post is about Rumours, that little blurb of plothook filled text at the beginning of a module that you're supposed to give to your players somehow. My problem with plot hooks and rumours is I was never sure how to present them to my players without feeling artificial.

I was browsing the DnD subreddit one day and I either found this idea or I realized it was a good one: The bag of rumours. 


Overview

I'm currently using Sly Flourish's Lazy DM ideas for adventure design but to make things more sandbox/open world I have thrown in a combination of  Critical Hits' 5x5 method. This means I have several adventures 'on the go' that have a couple of branching ideas so if the players go off the beaten path I'll be fine.

The end result of this technique is having a physical bag with many pieces of paper filled with rumours (some true and some not). Upon entering a town/spending any day looking around town each player gets to draw 1 rumour. If they make an appropriate check (Streetwise, Investigate, etc) and get above a certain DC I allow them to draw a 2nd one.

The players have now picked up between 4 and 8 ideas and can choose to investigate however many they please. Sometimes it's a dead-end and sometimes it flourishes into a full adventure for them.

Setup/Preparation

Note: I'm going to use the term 'rumour' to keep the flow nicer, but I really mean a rumour, a piece of news, part of a story, a fact (sometimes a false fact). Anything the characters would hear while walking around town that could be of interest.

First of all grab sheet of paper, or a text document if you want to print them out, to write your rumours on and then go find a bag you want to use. I personally use a Seagrams or Crown Royal bag, but anything will do, even a tophat!

After picking my 'primary' adventure (sketched out with the Lazy DM technique) I think up related pieces of information that the players might hear around town and write them up. Try and come up with a couple of rumours that will get players intrigued and that they can put the pieces together that something is amiss. These can range from blunt/obvious connections to needing a clever player to put the pieces together. e.g. "Vincent Gallagher has been seen skulking around the graveyard recently" and  "Dr Frankenstein's laboratory has had its candles burning late into the night recently". I try and keep them short (one line) but feel free to experiment with length!

Great, now you've got a good plot hook for your adventure. However, if all the rumours are about this it feels a little too obvious. Since I use the 5x5 method I'll try and have a couple of other adventures set up around the area, follow the same technique and come up with a few rumours that would match those adventures. Depending on your game world current location keep in mind what other settlements are nearby and how news travels. If there's a rival rural community you might get some nasty words about them, and in a big city you might hear things from far and wide.

Awesome, now we've got a ton of plot hooks for several adventures giving the players plenty of options (try to have at least 3 adventures to give them good branching options without making it too difficult on yourself). Here's the problem though, if all the rumours are both true and plot hooks, it becomes are too obvious to the players that you're shoving a plot hook/adventure in their face. This brings us to the fun part:

False leads, mundane rumours, and tales about your own party. Everyone likes hearing about themselves. My party has a bard that would put on performances each night so the whole town knew about their adventure of ridding the haunted house of ghosts (actually smugglers). News travelled with a caravan and when they got to the capital of the region I made sure to include a story about adventurers doing just that. Feel free to make it sound more impressive or change what they did, as word of mouth tends to change stories as they're passed along. I also made sure to put in some other news about the last town, some good, some bad, some true, some false.

The key is variety and enough quantity to keep things interesting. Remember, your players probably won't see most of your rumours on the first day, if you write a couple of extra for fun they can get them next time they look around town.

Finally the false leads and mundane rumours are great. The party might grab onto one and want to investigate, this will be a nice detour and your players will realize that not every tale of dragons or gremlins is true. For instance things could keep breaking and people think it's gremlins. The worksmanship could be shoddy or maybe it's kids running around. Perhaps there's rumours of a dragon nearby killing sheep but there's just a pack of wolves. Could involve some combat, talking to NPCs and resolves quickly.

Once you're done making rumours, cut them into little strips, fold them up and shake them up in the bag. If you've got a lot your players will get a nice variety and may hear a lot about one thing or nothing of another giving the town a bit more of an organic feel without feeling forced.

Wrap up

My players and I quite like our Bag of Rumours, it gives them some choices, can give them an ego boost sometimes and can take them off the beaten path to check out more about the local town/area if they want to learn more.

A versatile tool that is fun for my players since they get to physically draw the mysteries, useful for me to plant seeds for adventure without doing anything too in-your-face, and can help make a region feel more alive.

I hope you found this interesting/useful, please comment and let me know if you end up using it!

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