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The First Rumor Tables, Part 2: Caverns of Thracia or Caverns of Quasqueton?

My last post (yesterday) stated that the earliest known "rumor table" in a role-playing game module was the one in Mike Carr's B1 In Search of the Unknown, which featured the dungeon known as The Caverns of Quasqueton.

Read that other post first to understand this one.

Paleologos left a comment there pointing out that Judges Guild 102 The Caverns of Thracia had a rumor table, too.

I have read that module but I never knew it in the old days. So, I took a closer look.

Now it gets interesting. We have a tiny mystery here, folks.

The Caverns of Thracia was published in 1979 (not 1980 as the friendly commenter wrote). It was early enough in 1979 that a second printing was called for in the same year. But the weird thing is that the rumor table in Thracia is structured exactly like the one in B1. It explains, under the heading "The Taverns of Thracia" (ha ha), that you roll 1d4 and determine whether the player gets 1, 2, 3, or 0 rumors. Then you roll 1d20 per rumor. Here, however Jaquays specifies that the DM should write the rumors down and pass them out to the players.

There is no way that both modules happened to create, independently, a 1d4 system for coming up with 1, 2, 3, or 0 legends, followed by rolls on a d20 legend table. One of them borrowed from the other.

JG102 calls them "legends" and "legendry," not "rumors." This matches B1's word-choice, too, except that B1 calls them "legends/rumors." The term rumor was introduced for these in B1. This might suggest that JG102's system was invented first, along these terminological lines:

 "legend" JG102 > "legend/rumor" B1 > "rumor" B2

Now add to this the close similarity of some of the rumors:

JG102: "The caverns go no deeper than two levels."
B1: "The complex has two levels." And: "The complex has more than one level."

JG102: "For safety, seek ye the Pool of Watery Wonders."
B1: "The treasures of Zelligar and Rogahn are safely hidden in a pool of water." And: "There is a room with many pools of water hidden within the complex."

The similarities of detail jump out at the reader. Again, one was written using the other as a model.

JG102 was published in 1979. The useful acaeum site states that there was a pre-publication version of B1 in 1978 that nobody can find today (known only because it appears in a picture), but otherwise it first became available in November of 1978, when it was included in Holmes' Basic D&D Set.

Going by the dates alone, it would seem to be settled: JG102, from 1979, closely borrows the model of B1, from November 1978. That would just show the immediate impact of B1, right?

Not necessarily! I believe that Judges Guild D&D publications had to be approved by TSR before they were released, hence receiving the label "approved for use with Dungeons & Dragons." If that's so, I suspect that the folks at TSR had a draft of The Caverns of Thracia before the latter was released, in which case Carr may have borrowed from Jaquays' work before Judges Guild published Thracia (or, was allowed to publish it?). JG102 says in its Designer's Comments that it was "designed to accommodate adventurers of the 1st and higher levels." B1 was similar, although it was intended to instruct new DMs on how to do their job, which is different from JG102.

As an author of published research, I've been plagiarized mildly by people who read drafts of my work and then published something closely related very quickly, while publication delays with presses made my own work, which was original, come out later. In the case of B1 and JG102, we are talking about less than a year of discrepancy in publication. It's entirely possible that Jaquays' legends tables (and other contents) were first, and that Mike Carr had a pre-publication copy awaiting TSR's approval. TSR didn't include an introductory adventure in their Basic Set (Holmes) until its fourth printing, November 1978. Was TSR trying to avoid letting Judges Guild beat them to a market for introductory adventures? Did the people at TSR borrow some of Jaquays' good ideas?

I think a very close comparative look at JG102 and B1 is called for. I am not going to do that here, but there are other obviously similar features deserving immediate comment, which add a little strength to the idea that Jaquays' work was first.

For example, both B1 and JG102 enumerate rooms sequentially regardless of the level, rather than beginning enumeration from 1 again on each level. But Jaquays writes explicitly that this was a novelty: "I have tried something different in the numbering system used. Instead of renumbering each time a level is changed, I have simply continued with consecutive numbers." It sounds as if Jaquays was doing something self-consciously new (different from other early modules like V1 Palace of the Vampire Queen). B1 explains how to use its number key for the novice DMs, but makes no remark about its sequential numbering as anything new. It therefore may well have been copying JG102. If Jaquays had seen it already in a well-known module released with every new Basic Set, why would she explain that she was doing "something different"?

There's another instance in which Jaquays explains the rationale of her work in a way that suggests it's original. She wrote in JG102 about how to start the adventure.

Drop a few hints and let the players take it from there asking pertinent questions of the locals and being generally nosey, a pre-requisite for all adventurers. To speed things up, the referee might want to use the section titled, The Taverns of Thracia, to randomly assign knowledge to characters.

The table of legends here is explicitly stated to take the place of a normal role-playing event: PCs asking around for information about the adventure locale. The legendry is offered "to speed things up" (again, one of the rationales for the use of a rumor table to begin with). The need for an explicit rationale suggests that it was a brand new practice.

[Yet another little novelty in Thracia, not found in B1: JG102's legend table includes two special outcomes indicating that your character happens to know a language relevant in the dungeon. This really brings home the idea that these tables were ultimately about bringing the background of the setting to life.]

As I pointed out here at the start, the dungeons themselves have similar names, too. "The Caverns of Thracia" in one, "the Caverns of Quasqueton" in the other. Both feature a first dungeon level with corridors and chambers of dressed stone and even angles, and a second dungeon level with natural caverns having irregular walls.

Which is prior, then? Thracia or Quasqueton? Which one had the 1d4/1d20 rumor table first? Both modules have had enormous impact. Both are well-regarded today. B1's Quasqueton was the starting point for many munchkins who began to play with Basic D&D sets, but Thracia became an ideal for the OSR people who revived it much later (starting with posts like this one).

I would be inclined to assume, based on the publication dates alone, that JG102, which was published later (by less than a year) borrows from B1, but the textual clues point in the other direction. If anybody knows better, please leave a comment. Can anybody ask Jennell Jaquays or Mike Carr what they remember about this?

Leave comments also if you find more genuine similarities between the two, or if you happen to know about the month-to-month publication history of JG102.

One clarification: B1 was published first. It still has the earliest published rumor table. The point here is that it may have used a few of Jaquays' written ideas months before they were published, taken from a draft copy.

(Thanks again, paleologos, for drawing my attention to JG102's table of legends.)

Alea iactanda est brought up the first Traveller Adventure to be published, The Kinunir. Turns out this may have been the module with the first Rumor table, after all.... if it was published in the first half of 1979. See the comments below. (Thank you, AIE!)


  1. Traveller had a generic Rumour table in the encounter section of Worlds and Adventures (the 3rd booklet in the box set) in 1977. They are generic prompts for the referee to be used in any adventure: "Minor fact", "Location Data", "Reliable recommendation to action", "Information leading to trap", etc.

    The first published Traveller adventure, The Kinunir, had a similarly-organised table with specific rumours for the contents of the booklet. This was also in 1979, so maybe there was some sort of rumour-table Zeitgeist happening in the late 70s.

    1. Thanks, AIE. I was just saying to somebody, "I bet Traveller had something like a rumor table in the system. I just don't know where I'd find it." And there you have it. I have the 1981 Core Rules for Traveller but I just can't find the tables that you're referring to in there. Are they called *rumors*, in 1977 Traveller?

      What is especially interesting is that this still-earlier example of rumors (or the like) is part of the system, not a module. As you say, it was generic. But then Traveller was designed to generate its own settings for adventure, so it didn't actually need modules, did it?

      I never even saw the Kinunir. I just took a look, and... wow. Three solid pages of rumors organized systematically with a plan in 1979.

      I wonder which one was first. The Kinunir wasn't reviewed by anybody until June 1980, so it's not possible to tell with a glance in which month it was published.

      Maybe we have a winner. It all comes down to months of publication.

    2. @Alea iactanda est: I had thought so, too, but when I looked at my copies of the game, I discovered that the first time that a Rumor table is included in one of the rules sets is in The Traveller Book, p. 101, and it is clearly modeled on the Rumors in Kinunir.

    3. @faoladh: You are, of course, correct. I haven't looked at the LBBs in so long I forget how much got added afterwards. All that's in there is an entry for Rumours on the Patron Table, with a footnote stating that they are "in effect, absent patrons".

  2. Well, it seems that the Traveller module The Kinunir was the very first module to have a rumor table, by a few months. This module received the H.G. Wells award for Best Roleplaying Adventure of 1979. These awards are announced at Origins, which happened in 1979 on June 22-24 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Kinunir must have been published in the first half of 1979, Traveller's first published "Adventure." (The "module" nomenclature was not then the norm, apparently.)

    This must have really raised the profile of that particular advnture at that major event in gaming, where many game designers were present. I'd bet that both Jaquays and Carr were present. Surely one of these module-writers took a look at that year's award-winning adventure, to see what kind of thing wins awards.

    So there we have it: The Kinunir, by Marc Miller wins for the oldest Rumor Table! And yes, it says "Rumors" (not Legends).

    This still doesn't solve the problem of the obvious one-way dependency of JG 102 and B1. Which of those two imitated which?

    1. I think the HG Wells awards were announced the following year, so the awards for 1979 would have been announced in 1980, making that a less useful terminus ante quem.

      It's worth noting that Jennell did some art for Traveller, too. The earliest I can say for sure is 1981 (JTAS isue 8). Judges Guild also put out Traveller modules -- I don't have any of these to check, though. But there's a lot of cross-pollination.

    2. Really? The following year? That removes any idea of the month of 1979 in which The Kinunir was published, as far as the limited information I have goes. Too bad.

      I don't like to abandon specifics in favor of "cross-pollination," though that is a polite way to put it, and a nice way out. Still, the 1d4/1d20 rumor table can't be a fortuitous match between JG102 and B1. One of them imitated the other.


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