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On Rumors and Traveller

posted Mar 29, 2018, 6:17 PM by James Pearson

While I don’t really remember using them as a kid, rumors are discussed at length in Classic Traveller, and are considered a core part of the game’s design.  As I begin building a sandbox universe for my upcoming game, I’ve spent some time looking at rumors and how they are intended to work. Just reading the core rules in the LBBs or The Traveller Book, they appear kind of boring, poorly fleshed out, and hardly worthwhile.  I honestly had a hard time wrapping my head around their intended use, especially when the rumor matrix given lists vague terms such as “background information”, and “veiled clue”.  What the heck does that mean? In asking around on one of the Classic Traveller groups I belong to, I found that I was not alone in my feelings. Many people either didn’t use them, or put a significant homebrew twist on them.

It took me a while to really understand what this particular system was meant to accomplish; guide the players along, by giving them clues to follow, without it appearing that they were being railroaded.  However, it really took some digging to build a solid, working example of how to use rumors in my Traveller game.  Let’s have a look.

From The Traveller Book:

The term rumor is a catchword covering a wide variety of presentations of information. Rumors may be newspaper or broadcast information; they may be conversations overheard on public transport, or in local eating establishments; they may be bits and pieces brought together by the listener. In any case, the idea of the rumor allows the player characters to learn of new, exciting, and potentially rewarding (or potentially deadly) situations. In many Traveller situations, a rumor is simply information leading to a patron, a job, or a potential treasure; in Traveller adventures or campaigns, rumors serve to educate and direct the player characters toward the essential basis of the adventure.

The book then goes on to talk about throwing 7+ each week to encounter a rumor.  This seems to me a lot like standing around and waiting, or forcing the players to go out and look for them with the age old technique of the referee saying to the players, “ok guys, what do you want to do ….?”;  which I detest.

It isn’t until the release of the series of Adventure modules do we get some quality examples of how rumors should work, complete with detailed, fleshed-out rumors.  

From Adventure 1 The Kinnunir:

The actual adventure should then follow automatically. If they have difficulty in establishing a

direction, they should be presented with a rumor from the rumors section.

The term rumor actually applies to a wide variety of information, including (in addition to rumors) such concepts as leads, clues and hints. Rumors have three basic purposes: to direct characters toward profitable endeavor, to misdirect them away from such endeavor, and to assist them after they have established a goal for themselves. For example, a specific clue may be utterly incomprehensible to

those who find it, at the time. Later, however, they may encounter a situation where the data fits perfectly; there, the clue's nature may finally come to light. Rumors are encountered in a manner similar to that of patrons. The individuals involved determine that they are out mingling with the population, making the rounds of bars and spacers' taverns, the local Travellers' Aid Society facilities (if the person is a member), the local naval or scout base, and any other appropriate location. Per week, one throw is allowed for the entire party, with one person selected as their leader for the purpose. A party should not be allowed to split up to canvass an area for rumors; such a procedure will produce all rumors as information in too short a time. If a party insists on splitting up, the referee may roll for rumors for each, but should disclose only one rumor, ignoring the others.

Now we have some insight into some ways to actually present the rumors to our players.  Note we now have have human interaction and role playing possibilities, instead of dice rolls.

But, the real meat comes later in the adventure when we have examples of specific and general rumors that give us more of a clue ast how to handle them.

Here’s an example of a specific rumor, connected to a location:

An aged former scout (about age 50,433976) says that he encountered weak coded positional signals in the interdicted system of Shionthy (0706) as he passed though in 1089 on a mission. The signals, he is certain, were from a Kinunir class vessel. He remembers because he thought people were supposed to stay out of interdicted systems.

Here’s an example of a general rumor presented in the adventure:

Interdicted worlds are interdicted because the lmperium is trying to conceal its mistakes in social and political planning.

Let’s have a look at  what Adventure 2 Research Station Gamma has to say about rumors:

The specific rumor should be embellished by the referee, providing both a situation and setting, plus allowing the players to interact with the source. He or she may be a patron, or may require some mission be performed before disclosing the information.

It then goes on to give a sample rumor:

Local newspapers carry articles about the latest government attempts to transfer more chirpers to reservations on the barren fourth continent.

Now we really have some advice and examples of how to use the Traveller rumor system to create an interactive sandbox game that lets the players feel in control, and is more than just a set of dice rolls and “you hear a rumor that a shipment of valuable locally produced wines is leaving the planet tomorrow”.  

I have to point to the Bat in Attic ( blog about creating a matrix of rumors for each world in your sandbox.

Building on this idea then, and keeping in mind the sample rumor formats from the Adventure modules, we have some concrete plot hooks that can be used in a sandbox adventure.  When you look at it this way, the Rumor Encounter rules now become a system to assist the referee, by jogging his memory, in creating quality rumors that you can use. This now works like the World Creation rules (see my post, giving giving you, the referee, a system to assist in the creation of rumors, when your imagination may need a boost.

So, considering all the things that could happen in your universe, create a small set, labeled 2-12 or even 2-24 of rumors related to the travellers’ current location.  Create these rumors based on other nearby worlds, or exciting things you want them to do on this world. You can even work backwards and choose a couple of patrons, and build a rumor leading to that job or task.

Finally, reveal these rumors via NPCs, or simply relating the information to the players as they go about their business.   

I’ll discuss some other thoughts and considerations on utilizing rumors in my next blog post.  Word among the spacers at the Downport is that it will be an important post (but is really a coded message about an illegal weapons shipment due to arrive soon ….)