How To Create Wicked Rumour Tables
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1111
RPT GM Roy Winfrey asks:
Love the rumour post you just posted. I was intrigued by the Knowledge Table. Any chance we might see an article about how to construct that?
Thanks for the question, Roy.
I first spoke about the idea of a Knowledge Table in my Adventure Building Workshop, which is currently on hiatus. Then I included a big one in The Demonplague campaign. Here’s a snippet:
What is a Knowledge Table
It’s a combination of facts and rumours.
And it’s very useful.
You use it as a tool to note key facts you don’t want to forget about your adventure.
You also use it as an inventory of adventure and encounter hooks. Add all steps of your Critical Story Path. And add anything else you want to the players to trigger.
It’s also valuable as a checklist to ensure the characters have all the hooks they need to finish your Critical Story Path.
The format I use for the Knowledge Table is specifically designed for GM and player use. As players trigger encounters, you cross items off the table.
Anything that fails to trigger, you can choose another variation of the missed hook from the table.
You can think of it as the Three Clue Rule meets GM checklist.
I also use Knowledge Tables to help with roleplay. If get stuck thinking up what NPCs might be gossiping about with the PCs, I consult my Knowledge Table and get inspiration.
Last, it’s a fantastic rumours table — with a twist. Let’s talk about that next.
What Do You Put in a Knowledge Table?
A Knowledge Table has three parts. Two are optional.
Roll For It
Check out the screenshot from The Demonplague’s Knowledge Table in the introduction above.
See the number 5 in the left margin?
That’s if you want to roll for a rumour.
In The Demonplague book, the table has 20 entries. Roll a d20 to quickly get a rumour or clue to roleplay or share.
You can number your rumours and roll too.
This part is optional.
The Whole Truth
Next we have four information items in a table.
A table within a table, hah!
We start with the Whole Truth, which is the detail as you know it.
The 5W2H format (Who, What, Why, When, Where, How, and How Much) as you best know it.
If using Campaign Logger, you can simply link to your Log Entry that has all the details.
We use this Knowledge Table entry for reasons mentioned above: GM checklist, Critical Story Path essential hooks, important hook details.
Truths & Lies
The next three entries in our sub-table cover ever more inaccurate versions of the truth.
This section is optional too, but I find it quite useful.
You take the Whole Truth, and through omission, exaggeration, and plain lies, you create rumours for NPCs to share.
This works both for passive and active plot progression.
By that I mean, if the party goes hunting for information, you can provide the Whole Truth, the Partial Truth, a Truth & Lie, or an outright Lie at your discretion.
If stuck, roll a d4 and give that version out (as labeled in the table example).
That’s passive plot progression. You wait for the characters to take actions that’ll reveal your hooks and rumours.
Active plot progression is when you poke players with a stick to keep things moving.
The party might overhear two NPCs talking about #5 the Duldarin star elf barrows to get the characters interested in exploring one.
That’s you dropping a hook to guide players to where you want them to go.
This section is also optional. You might be fine with just listing or linking to the Whole Truth. Then improvising untrue or somewhat true versions as you GM.
How to Make a Knowledge Table
We do this in four steps starting with your plot line.
Step 1: Key Adventure Parts
First, know your Critical Story Path.
List the essential people, places, and things required for your 5 Room adventure to finish.
For example, in The Demonplague, characters need to find the nearby star elf barrow where the villain and his laboratory of plague experiments hides.
Step 2: Important Adventure Parts
Next, list other stuff you want PCs to trigger in your adventure.
We want every encounter and detail of our homebrew adventures to hit the table. But players often miss parts.
Anything you really want to game, add to your Knowledge Table to ensure it gets enough hooks.
(Think story structure here, and what makes the best books and shows so good: the hero always faces a clear Call to Adventure. In GMing terms, that’s what great hooks are.)
Step 3: Write the Whole Truth
Note the key facts about each item in your Knowledge Table.
Write less if you have a solid memory.
If you’re like me though, you’ll want the facts handy. It gives me confidence knowing I’ve got a table of facts for easy reference while I’m trying to think about a bunch of other stuff while GMing.
Use 5W2H here.
Step 4: Lie
Now create variations.
Start with the Whole Truth and change one thing.
Exaggerate a fact or remove a fact to create a Partial Truth.
Then create a second variation where you exaggerate, omit, or twist for a Truth and Lie.
Last, create a third variation that is totally false, using variation #2 as the basis.
After experimentation, I found this approach most helpful because it made going from truth to lie easier, being done in stages.
It also gives you three variations to use in case the party misses previous hooks.
Create as many variations as you like, or none. But this progression flows well for me.
Make it a Living Tool
Between sessions, update your Knowledge Table.
Cross out or delete items you no longer need.
Add new items as gameplay opens up new material.
Tweak entries based on what you learn resonates with your GMing style and player preferences. Use your Knowledge Table as a central information tool, and keep it alive as your campaign wends onward.