Well well well, look what the shoggoth dragged in.

My First Rumour Table

I’ve recently started a new Traveller campaign. I’ll probably write a post about how I prepared for it and how it’s going after a few more sessions, as we’re only two sessions in so far (plus a session zero).

It’s a sandbox style campaign: there is no overarching story, no big bad the players must defeat, just a wide open universe (and the Traveller universe is very big indeed) for them to explore and have adventures in. But I couldn’t just drop the PCs in a starport and say “alright, you’ve got your first spaceship—what do you do?” They wouldn’t have known what to do because they wouldn’t have known what they could do.

So I decided I needed, amongst other things, a rumour table.

Rumour tables

The rumour table is a staple of old-school adventures. Basically, it’s a list (usually of 20, or 12, or 10; some standard die size) of adventure seeds, which the PCs can find by interacting with NPCs.

You can write a rumour as just some keywords to use as a prompt for improvisation, like:

Goblin Caves, Evil Rituals, Missing Children

Or as something to read out to the players directly, like:

There have been a dozen kidnappings over the last couple of months, with children being snatched out of their bedrooms by moonlight, and the villagers are scared to go out after dark. After a child disappears, without fail, there are strange lights seen and evil chanting heard coming from the goblin caves.

A rumour table can be as general or as specific as you like. If the players are new to an area, you might make the table very generic and have a little bit of everything, but not to any great detail. But if the players are looking into something in particular, you might have a selection of detailed rumours about that thing.

Preparing the table

Making a list of 20 interesting things is pretty hard. For my first session I could only come up with seven, of which the players found four, and also fifth one which I made up on the spot by rolling on some random tables.

Before the second session, I fleshed out the table to a full 20 entries. That took several hours over a few days, but thankfully it’ll be much easier going forwards as I’ll only need to come up with a few new ones at a time, to replace rumours the players have found or that I’ve decided are no longer interesting.

Since my players read this blog I won’t share the current table here, and the examples I give will be rumours they’ve already found.

Firstly, I decided that I liked the idea of them finding some totally random things I’d not prepared in advance. Using random tables for patrons, missions, and encounters seems a very traditional approach to running Traveller, and I wanted to keep some aspect of that. So the first five entries on my table are all random:

# Result
1 No rumour, roll a random encounter!
2 Job: roll a random Patron & Mission.
3 Job: roll a random Patron & Mission.
4 Roll a random encounter for the current location: the Traveller learns about this.
5 Roll a random space encounter for this or a nearby system: the Traveller learns about this.

The first three entries of my rumour table aren’t actually rumours. But that’s ok. If they’re out gathering rumours, there should be a chance that something else happens and they get caught up in it, or that they skip the rumour step entirely and go straight to finding a job.

The next two entries will, I hope, be a good source of improvised adventures. Maybe the player will roll a 4, and then I’ll roll a 54, for “Unusual Creature”, on the Rural Encounters table of the Core Rulebook—and the players will get a wild tale about carnivorous starfish eating a man’s leg. Or they’ll roll a 5, and then I’ll roll a 14 for “Comet” on the Space Encounters table of the Core Rulebook—and the players will find themselves talking to a scientist who thinks there are rare and valuable ores in there, if only you could catch up to it.

The other 15 entries are a mixture of:

  • Jobs: jobs I have prepared, rather than randomly generated ones. They found one of these in the first session:

    A noble son in his yacht went missing on the way to Vume, Cr100,000 reward for information, Cr200,000 for finding and returning it. [imperium, job]

  • Hooks: rumours which lead to an adventure or job that I have in mind, if the players can follow up on it appropriately. They found a few of these, for example:

    The royal house of the Sindalian Empire never went extinct. The current Emperor of Sindal and Protector of the Reach still lives on the old capital world of Noricum and gives the Imperial Blessing of the Star Dragon to all who perform a service for him. [sindal]

  • Lore: rumours which just give background information about the setting. Lore doesn’t directly lead to an adventure because it’s too big in scope; but if the players decide that it interests them, I’ll prepare jobs or hooks as appropriate. For example:

    The Hierate has taken the Glorious Empire worlds of Keawoaw and Alr. [aslan, politics]

  • Automatic Rumours: these are rumours which the players will find by just meeting some condition I’ve determined, without needing to make a roll or specifically look for rumours. They don’t have any of these yet.

I don’t tell the players what sort of rumour they’ve found, though a job offer is kind of obvious. But they can’t necessarily tell if something is an adventure hook or if it’s just background lore until they go investigate it.

Each rumour has a few tags, shown in bold above. I use these to help me decide what to give out to the players. For example, if they say they’re looking for rumours specifically about Sindal, the Star Dragon, Noricum, and so on, I’ll bias the random choice towards other rumours tagged [sindal]; or if they’re gathering rumours at a high-society party, they’ll be more likely to find rumours tagged [politics].

The table in play

The primary way for players to find rumours is to treat “rumour gathering” as an activity in itself.

They might do this by spending the night in a bar socialising with the patrons, or talking to starport dockworkers about traffic they’ve seen coming through lately, or going to a party, or whatever else they can imagine. I’ll call for an appropriate skill check and, on a pass, give out one or two new random rumours. On a fail they didn’t learn anything new.

Rumour gathering isn’t really a passive thing, the players generally won’t just overhear rumours while doing something else (unless the it’s one of my automatic rumours and they meet the condition).

Some examples of rumour gathering checks could be:

  • Attending a party: Average SOC / Carouse check, 1d6 hours
  • Going on a pub crawl: Routine END / Carouse check, 4×1d6 hours
  • Impressing people at a casino: Average INT / Gambler check, 1d6 hours

I don’t have a very well-developed system here yet, but I’m thinking that the base time for gathering rumours should be 1d6 hours, as you’ve got to find some people and spend a while talking to them. Going faster or slower (like spending somewhere between a night and a day going on a long pub crawl) will adjust the difficulty up or down, according to the standard rules on timeframes I’ve written about in my previous post on Traveller dice rolls.

Skills in Traveller are pretty flexible. Gathering rumours doesn’t have to be done with an explicitly social skill, impressing or blending in with any group of people could be done with a relevant skill. For example, a player could make an EDU / Gun Combat check—which is a pretty unusual combination if you only think of Gun Combat as skill for fighting with—to show off their knowledge to a bunch of gun nuts and befriend them.

Between sessions

At the end of a session, I look through my notes and:

  1. Move any rumours the players have found (whether those be planned ones from the list or random ones I rolled up) to a separate list, so I can keep track of what information I’ve given them.

  2. Delete any rumours which are no longer relevant or interesting enough to keep around.

  3. Come up with new rumours, based on what the party are doing and what they’re interested in, and what new things I’m interested in, to fill in any gaps.

This is a sandbox game, but there are still things I want to see in the campaign, and I like that I can use rumours to introduce those topics. But it’s up to the players whether to follow up on them or not.