One thing I’ve noticed from using rumors: players never want to treat them as just rumors. Instead, it feels like every scrap of information, no matter how small or large, demands immediate follow-up questions. Players often want to question whoever gave them the rumor for further information. That’s reasonable, really. If someone mentions to you in passing that they heard there’s going to be an attack on the town tonight, you don’t just wish them a good day and take your leave!
Also, those scraps of information are an example of things that get reified. Whatever gets mentioned in the game is what becomes important for that game, so it’s natural that an important-seeming sliver of information would be something the players would seize on as an opportunity, or at least as worth following up on.
But the thing is, information is often fragmentary. Sometimes, there really isn’t any more to a rumor. Sometimes, there are no leads to follow. Is it possible to make those interesting alleys meet satisfying dead ends? Here are some possibilities:
- “I was drunk when I heard it. Sorry.”
- “Oh, crap, I shouldn’t even have said that much. The boss has been on my case for talking too much to the customers. Sorry.”
- “I overheard it from someone else in the marketplace. They were a merchant with a funny accent. I think they’ve left town now, sorry.”
- “I think I heard it from my cousin. Or was it my aunt’s awful neighbor? I always get them confused. They’re both really quite horrible people. Let me tell you all the ways they’ve ignored my advice over the years…”
- “I heard it in the temple. You know, the one that echoes? I was trying to chant my prayers, so I didn’t pay attention to who said it or where.”
- “Yeah, I thought it was an odd thing for a thief to say, too. But I couldn’t argue, considering they were holding a knife on me at the time. I just glad I survived.”
- “No, no, Zadras has said enough. Zadras always bores everyone around with this nonsense. Zadras has gone too long without a good silence. Zadras will now be silent for a nice long time. Yes, silence. Silence is good for Zadras.”
- “Details? You want details? Everyone knows this. And no one knows any more. You might as well ask me why cats don’t bark, or why trees grow up instead of down.”
- “Someone whispered it to me while I was half-asleep. I’m pretty sure I heard them right, anyway.”
- “Sorry, I don’t even remember who I heard it from.”
- You didn’t actually hear the rumor — it was sloppily written on a scrap of parchment that you found on the street.
- The person you thought you heard say it has already vanished into the crowd.
Some of those, in and of themselves, suggest adventurous possibilities… Even if the rumor can’t be followed up on, maybe the reasons why it can’t be can lead in interesting directions.