Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rumors of Restenford: Flaming Hooves

In fantasy, as in reality, unsubstantiated rumors are often excellent sources of inspiration, and L1 takes full advantage of this with its rather extensive rumor table that provides information about the setting but also loads of red herrings and as-yet-undeveloped adventure hook.  Here is perhaps my favorite inspiring rumor on the list:
"One night I was coming through Kelman Pass when I saw a woman on horseback ride by and cross into the Dead Forest.  Her horse's hooves were on fire."
This rumor is interesting for being, well, pretty dang intriguing: who is the woman on horseback?  What's she doing in the pass at midnight?  Where'd she get that badass horse?

Watch your toes, lady.
Furthermore, the illustration on the copyright/title page of the module depicts a barefoot young woman--who is perhaps missing a few toes from her left foot--riding a flame-hoofed horse and wearing a fur lined metal skullcap.  This is clearly an illustration of the aforementioned "rumor." Pretty cool, right?

Couple this with the fact that the rumor is in italics, so we know that it's a crock.  This is extra significant in that, since this might be the one image from the body of the module that the players are most likely to actually see, if they also hear the rumor about this babe, they are that much more likely to believe it to be true under the logic that they wouldn't publish a picture of a fake rumor would they?  It's a fantastic red herring.

Further-furthermore, rather than starting off with "Old Man Codger once saw ..." or "Legend has it ..." this rumor is told in the first person; this is an eyewitness account.  That is to say, whoever tells you this is not merely passing on hearsay but is intentionally lying to you.  If you're talking to a 9-year-old kid, or an anonymous drunkard in the tavern then, fine, they're just trying to impress you or amuse themselves, no harm done.  But if you abide by the Lakofkian stipulation that only Characters of Level are in possession of knowledge from the Rumor Table, then it may very well be Peltar or the Baron laying this load of crap at your feet.  In which case, rather than offering insight into the adventure setting, the rumor is telling you something about the person you're talking to.  If Almax the Druid is feeding you this rumor then maybe he has a sense of humor--he's willing to pull one over on an unsuspecting adventurer.  Or maybe he doesn't care for the adventurers and is deviously sending the party off on a goose chase in the woods.  And since the person telling you this is determined randomly, the Rumor Table suddenly becomes a sort of Random NPC Personality Generator

This could be further evidence of the genius of Lakofka, but given the prominently placed illustration of Hottie the 3-toed Cossack,  I like to wonder if this rumor was initially meant to be true but the associated encounter was cut from the module for space considerations or some such. In an ideal world, Lakofka would have released L3 Nightmare of Kelman Pass some time in 1982.  And also in that ideal world L2 Assassins Knot would have been based in Restenford instead of that ridiculously-named town to the south, but that's the matter of another post.