The Rumor Mill

I’ve been noodling something in the back of my mind, inspired by reading my daughter Rumpelstiltskin, specifically the beginning where the miller boasts to the baker’s son his daughter is too good for the likes of him, why she can even spin thread into gold! This rumor gets passed along various villager until it reaches a servant of the king, who tells the king himself, who of course has to see this for himself much to the consternation of the poor miller’s daughter.

I was thinking this could be a fun quest hook to throw at players, where they do some deed and a local VIP catches wind of it and sets them up for another job. Even better, what if the original boast or deed was pretty mundane, and it got twisted by word of mouth to be something blown way out of proportion?

Well over at Mindstorm Press was just posted a blog describing pretty much how to do just that, in a way that is better than anything I was working up (go read that first so the rest of this post makes sense). I’m definitely going to use this. Here is a summary of the method straight from their page:

Add an Exploit

When the group performs a great deed and it is known to the world, record the deed on your reputation charter. Make sure to number it.

Checking your Reputation

When the group encounters a situation where your past deeds might be known, the GM and players pick up the dice.

The players pick up a total number of dice equal to how many exploits they have. It doesn’t matter who rolls the dice, either a single player or spreading them across the entire group.

The GM picks up a single die.

Roll the dice. If the GMs die was less than or equal to the number of exploits on the reputation charter, the group is known. The exploit that matches the GMs die is the one they are most known by.

If the GMs die matches any of the player’s exploit dice, one of their exploits is twisted out of true. If multiple exploit dice match the GMs die, the exploit is permanently twisted out of true. Erase and record the new version of it.

Here is my contribution to add to this method: a spark table to determine who changed the rumor and why, a tweak to the GM roll, and rules for players to try and modify a rumor themselves–either to set the record straight or exaggerate for their own benefit.

The Gossiper Table

Roll on this table to describe who altered the story about the exploit and why.

d12 Who Twisted the Exploit? Why?
1 Villagers or civilians Misinformed or Misremembered
2 A local gossip For monetary gain
3 A bard or entertainer To seem more impressive or spice up the story
4 A local authority figure To harm the party’s reputation
5 An NPC involved in the exploit To harm or improve a rival party’s reputation
6 A rival group of adventurers To create chaos, drama, or doubt
7 The quest giver for the exploit (re-roll if there wasn’t one) Opinion of events altered by political views
8 A town crier, journalist, or new service Opinion of events altered by religious views
9 A guild faction Opinion of events altered by views of people involved (party or NPCs)
10 A religious faction Opinion altered by views on local authorities
11 A government faction Asked to change story by someone else (roll again to see who)
12 An enemy of the player party Memory magically, technologically, or supernaturally altered

Modify the GM Dice

The GM rolls one die against the party’s pool of dice. If the GMs dice rolls over the player total, the party isn’t recognized for their deeds. If you want to add distance or other mitigating factors into this roll I propose the following:

For every mitigating factor in a story spreading such as distance (one kingdom, country, planet over from where the party typically operates), language or cultural barriers, or someone trying to suppress the story, the GM adds an additional die to their roll. This makes it both more likely the party hasn’t been heard of and more likely it gets twisted. Use the highest result to determine what rumor they are known for if it is the case the party is recognized. (if the party lists their deeds in chronological order, that also means their most recent are more likely to be known, which makes sense).

If using the capped exploit variant where there are only a limited amount of listed deeds allowed, treat all the GM dice as a dice pool and use the largest.

Controlling the Narrative

The players can get a chance to control their story, at least for a little while. If all the player exploit die match, they can choose how to twist the narrative of one exploit (including resetting it to the truth). This overrides any match with the GM dice. This requires having at least two exploits listed. The more accomplishments the party has, the harder it is to control their legend (or infamy).

August 15, 2023