Rumors and Quests and Enigmatic City-Folk
The reason for rumors is to allow purposeful exploration of the dungeon. Without goals to seek, the delvers might as well be wandering randomly. Some rumors, the characters get more-or-less for free, just for hanging around at the inn and listening to people talk. Like all talk, some is more accurate than other.
One of the first rumors the party heard was about how Bruno the Cloth Merchant’s boat had been pillaged recently. I know that seeking the captured fabric was mentioned, if not acted upon, as a possible goal for the trip. Similarly, Strang’s map mentioned a bridge, and now the party is hard at work, seeking that bridge, in an effort to link that map to the areas they’ve explored.
There’s a long tradition, in the world of Tembladera, of quest-givers. They’ve been around nearly as long as adventurers. They’re the folks who have a rumor or three that they feel are worth betting on. They’ll put up money for a band of adventurers to go into the dungeon and chase a rumor. The usual deal is, if the party doesn’t come back with the goods, they repay the investment three-fold.
As a rule, the objects of these quests are special in some way, perhaps even valuable, but they have a particular value to the quest-giver. If a person just wants generic treasures from the dungeon, they’re a merchant, not a quest-giver. Merchants don’t offer free information, they don’t front money, and they don’t pay more than the market value for the things they buy. A quest-giver, on the other hand, will happily risk $1000 for a chance at some geegaw that the merchants wouldn’t look twice at.
Merchants also don’t get names. They’re part of that pastel smear we like to call “town”, where loot turns into coin, which becomes rumors and delving gear. Town is a montage, not a scene. So, when some NPC steps out of the montage and gets a name, you can bet on that NPC being somebody with a quest.
The party being the paranoid sorts that they are*, the question of betrayal comes up.
“What happens if a quest-giver betrays the party?” Why would they? They’re getting paid, either way. The worst case, for them, would be if the party didn’t return at all, losing the investment. In this vein: from what I gather, one worry was that Strang would offer up $1000, then claim a $10,000 artifact as payment: “Heads I win at 3-to-1, tails I win at 10-to-1”! The truth is, the objects Strang — or any other quest-giver — wants are the things that he values far above their market price.**
“What happens if the party betrays the quest-giver?” If it’s a case of taking the quest-giver’s money, then recovering the quest object and selling it to a third party, then it’s likely that the party won’t see a profit from it. Remember, the quest-giver is the best market for these things. On the other hand, if it’s a case of taking the quest-giver’s money, then not even trying to recover the quest object… well, they have to come back to town sometime, right? Worst case, in the long run, PCs start picking up disadvantages like “Social Stigma: Criminal Record” and getting run out of town, but I don’t think it would come to that. Before that, the reputation modifiers would start affecting the price of loot, as merchants stop wanting to risk dealing with such shady characters.
“Yeah, but what if?” Ok, ok, just for the sake of argument, let’s say some kind of war develops between the party and some quest-giver. Do they have to worry about being assassinated in their sleep?
No, they don’t. Town is safe. The in-game explanation is that Zim, the head of the town guard, won’t put up with any shenanigans inside the walls, but the real reason is because the dungeon is where the action is. An angry sponsor might sent assassins into the dungeon after a party, but that’s it… and it’s not like the dungeon isn’t already full of critters ready to kill the party.
I’m not saying that all quest-givers are necessarily the party’s best friends. They clearly have their own agendas. They might neglect to mention the dangers of the quests they hand out, either through ignorance or duplicity. They are under no obligation to offer information that the party might be happier knowing. They might have conflicts between themselves, with repercussions for the PCs. They are engaged in an effort to hire a bunch of murder-hobos to run an errand into the scary hole in the ground, and their priority is the errand, not the hobos. But they’re not going to be con artists out to fleece the adventurers, either.
After all, the theme of the game isn’t “Trust no one”, it’s “Go into the dungeon, whack an orc, and take his stuff”.
* Ok, I admit it: my fault. They’re shy of any sort of employer-employee relationship, ever since the “Lo Pan incident”, during the Space Cowboys game.
** Another mistake on my part: Strang’s quest is open-ended. He’s feeling his way, with each piece of the puzzle leading to clues to further pieces of the puzzle. In short, his quest is one of those irritating multi-part things from WoW where, after five or six trips back and forth, you find yourself screaming at the monitor: “Why not just make me a damn LIST?!?” If I had had more foresight, I would have started with something more straightforward, like “I will give you $500 to recover this artifact worth $400”, where there’s a clear “win” condition for the PCs. Thing is, Strang is being played by a co-conspirator from a remote location (which is why his interactions with the party are at arm’s length: I can play Mamu, but he’s acting on instructions from the boss-man). I’m hoping he’ll be a recurring part of the campaign, not just the guy who points the way out of the tutorial.