There are a lot of things happening at the start of Descent into Avernus, some of which the players aren’t even aware of. There are likely many rumours flying around and it is a good idea to vary how you deliver them.
While some of this can be presented via NPC exposition and dialogue, it is useful to get into into the players hands in other ways. Letters, diaries and newspapers are all fantastic ways of doing so!
One thing to avoid is generic rumours that come from the DM directly as a result of a dice roll on a ‘Rumour Table’, rather than framed as actual information gathered through in character actions and relayed as having been divulged by actual characters in the story.
Don’t say: “Okay Tom, you rolled an 18 on your Charisma (Investigation) check so your character Ryken finds out that people are worried Baldur’s Gate could suffer the same fate as Elturel, as some suggest that other cities were destroyed as well.”
Do say: “Okay Tom, you want to gather rumours? What is your character Ryken doing to hear such gossip? … Oh okay so he is talking to the local patrons of a tavern – well then, Ryken enters The Proud Lady in Norchapel and is eyed suspiciously. After buying a few drinks he speaks with a man with a haggard beard and a mangled ear named Martel. “Elturel wasn’t the first city to be destroyed… they say Athkatla down in Amn was also wiped out, three days before. Baldur’s Gate is next – it’s obvious they are destroying the major cities!”
It is easy to see that putting a rumour in context is more gripping and engaging, yet it also contextualises the information. As you can see, it doesn’t have to take up loads of table time either, yet it has the capacity to evolve into a larger scene if necessary.
Perhaps the patrons of our newly invented ‘Proud Lady’ are all getting one last drink before journeying to a safer smaller city like Beregost in the south? Perhaps someone in the party could profit from this by selling them some last minute supplies, or purchase from them the belongings they can’t take with them.
It also allows the players to interact and respond to the rumour directly. How does Martel know Athkatla was destroyed? Does he know what caused it? He’s a person now, someone to poke and prod further. You don’t get that when you just read from a rumour table.
Over the next couple of articles we will cover both Main Rumours and Background Rumours in Baldur’s Gate. Main Rumours are those central to the plot, while Background Rumours are colour to make the city feel alive and not just a vector for the campaign. They also can very easily become side quests, should you want to turn Baldur’s Gate into more of a sandbox.
Finally, in the last article of this series I will post about using Baldur’s Mouth, the cities newspaper, to deliver these rumours as handouts that the players can keep – either in digital or printed form. I’ll share some advice on how best to use them, as well as give you copies of my own from my campaign, as well as the templates to either edit them or create your own.