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"So, You All Meet in a Tavern...."
by Robert J. Nuttman, Jr. from Threshold Magazine issue 22
the most of those rumor tables
by Robert Nuttman
Show of hands, if you players out there ever heard that one?
How about if you’ve ever used it as a DM?
There’s nothing wrong with using that line for a cold open….
…. of a convention game, perhaps. But who would ever use
something so clichéd to kick off a campaign?
The key lies not so much in the tavern itself, but in what can
sometimes be the most amusing part of any of the early adventure
modules (for the DM, at least): the rumor table. Who doesn’t
remember the look on the players’ faces when -- rather than
throwing down their weapons -- the goblins smirked as reinforcements
arrived after their cries of “Bree Yark!” went up?
The only shortcoming is that those rumor tables are keyed to each
adventure itself. The PCs must reach the Keep, or Guido’s Fort,
or somewhere outside of Gulluvia to hear those rumors, and from there
be steered on one direction or the other over the course of any of
the given adventures.
But what is it that drew the PCs to any of those places to begin
with? Surely, more rumors. Move that tavern outside of the adventure
proper, and rather than the PCs deciding whether or not to explore
Cave A, or Cave F, let them decide whether or not to even make that
journey to the Keep in the first place.
Granted, this approach means the DM will have to do a bit of reading,
at least several module’s worth. Having at least a bit of
overall land in which to plant the various adventures is also
helpful. Fortunately, the Gazetteer series gives the DM just
such a leg up. While the examples in this article focus on
there is no stopping an enterprising DM from transplanting them to,
say, Darokin, or Rockhome, or the Northern Reaches with a few tweaks
The first thing to do is determine the scope of the campaign’s
opening. Just as there are a plethora of buildings to explore within
the Keep on the Borderlands, or many openings into the various Caves
of Chaos beckoning adventurers, so too should players have at least a
handful of paths from which to choose.
As an example, let’s start small, with three rumors. The
broader, more generic, the better:
Lord Kelvin’s master-at-arms is recruiting.
Children/townfolk/homesteads have been disappearing to the south.
The hills are said to be littered with ancient tombs and lairs,
bound to hold treasures….
Now here is where the DM’s reading ahead comes into play. Each
of those broad-brush themes can tie in to just about any of the entry
level modules. The Barony of Kelvin is fairly central to the Grand
Duchy, and being at the confluence of two major rivers, means the
town sees regular traffic in trade goods. And merchants bring more
than just goods to town: they are also prime sources of news and
gossip. So the PCs might learn that Lord Kelvin is recruiting
Goblins in the Dymrak have grown bold; the Dread has promised his
clanlings riches and spoils. (DDA4)
Ogres have been spotted in greater numbers in the hills. One hill,
in particular… (B5)
His Grace is expecting a visit from a neighboring baroness, and
wants the tour to go without a hitch. He is increasing patrols
between Kelvin and Penhaligon.(B11)
Raiders have struck several homesteads, and there is a need of
manpower, as another attack is surely imminent…. (B11 or B10)
Lord Kelvin has placed a bounty on goblinoid ears. Their attacks
lulled for a short while, but they struck harder with their last
raid, acting in a much more organized fashion… (B10, B11, or
Likewise, with the disappearances:
A tribe of orcs has made off with at least a few children in the
past weeks. (B11)
Ogres just up and carried everyone from the homestead off to their
lair somewhere on the Hill (B5)
Hobgoblins are known to take prisoners, rather than leave bodies.
But there has been no word of any sort of ransom demand being sent
to the baron… (B5)
People in Fort Doom who speak ill of the Black Eagle just…
disappear. (B10, DDA3)
Gold! In the hills!
The Dread has grown bold because he’s come across a vast
treasure. (DDA3, DDA4, B10)
Hobgoblin raiders have to stash their spoils and ransom somewhere on
that Hill where they’re said to lair… (B5)
With the scarcity of kobolds, it seems the orcs have taken to using
human children to do their mining (B11)
Some of the modules are a bit broader in scope than others, which
lends them to fitting more than one rumor. Other rumors don’t
ring quite true to their corresponding module. Much like shouting
“Bree Yark!” and expecting a warm welcome, the PCs will
surely find things to be otherwise once they start exploring.
up those Hooks
Once the PCs decide on which of the initial hooks to bite on, and the
adventure ensues, there’s no need to scrap the rest of those
hard-thought-out rumors. Like a good villain, rumors never die, they
just level up and come after the PCs again after a while.
Much like Basic adventures tend to focus on the dungeon itself, the
second tier of hooks, after the PCs bite on one, could open up the
scope to the wilderness at large:
Module B11’s Stallanford leads to B12’s Penhalligon.
Clues sprinkled into B12 might either lead the PCs southwest, where
the Queen has made overtures to try to gain the attention and favor
of the Hobgoblin King on the B5’s Hill (Indeed, the PCs may
think to disguise themselves as emissaries of the self-styled queen).
Or, maybe the PCs follow up on missives that the Queen sent (or
intends to send) to the DDA4 The Dymrak Dread, enlisting his aid in
building her army to conquer northern Karameikos.
The Hill and the Dread could play off each other as well, either
intending to band together to overthrow this queen… but more
likely, to double-cross the other and make off with the Queen’s
The Dread could have been ousted or joined forces with the Wolfskull
tribe, intent on raiding one of the many homesteads sprinkled along
the length of the Windrush.
And that “great treasure” that the Dymrak Dread found? If
the PCs don’t follow up on the hobgoblin king or the would-be
Queen’s attempts to secure it for themselves, the PCs might
find themselves in possession of a garishly colored tapestry that,
from a certain distance and angle, looks like it could be an abstract
scene depicting a village at the base of mountainous peaks….
and speaking of it in a crowded inn or taproom could very well draw
the attention of hounds of the Iron Ring.
Or, perhaps the treasure was a large, precious stone in a gold
setting. Reversing the “sequel,” as-written, DDA4 could
lead the PCs on the hunt for the figure that stole the stone from
Kosivikh, all the way down the Westron Road, to the Fort Doom of
DDA3’s “Eye of Traldar”.
Changing some of the opposition in DDA3 to Iron Ring slavers could
lead to entangling the PCs in the events of B10: “Night’s
Dark Terror”, and from there, propel them into Expert level
Adventure modules cited in this article:
B5: “Horror on the Hill” by Douglas Niles
B10: “Night’s Dark Terror” by Jim Bambra,
Graeme Morris, Phil Gallagher
B11: “King’s Festival” by Carl Sargent
B12: “Queen’s Harvest” by Carl Sargent
DDA3: “Eye of Traldar” by Carl Sargent
DDA4: “Dymrak Dread” by John Nephew