I talked a bit about how rumors could come in handy in a game setting, assuming they’re handled right. They show up in my games, but not all the time—it’s been rather interesting to look at how important they are in which of the games I both run and play in.
Most of them show up in the solo game, though that’s logical. The PC is on the edges of a whole lot of very messy situations, and listening to rumors is a way for her to get a sense of where everyone lies without actually declaring a preference—when she isn’t rumor-chasing as “I’m looking for a needle in a haystack, this may give me some vague ideas which part of the haystack to start in.”
In the main game, they’re not quite as common—or at least, they’ve been likelier to show up in sidechats than in the main portion of the game. That group, though, runs to better investigation skills, and more importantly, a larger number of contacts that they can just ask rather than hope to lure into a round of gossip. As a result, while they’ll listen, they’re likelier to ask about things that definitely happened (one player, for instance, has been known to use things like “Reasons for which I have seen other individuals call on the God of Prophecy”), or just skip straight to the divinatory magics and the crazy plans involving conversing with and/or manipulating Powerful Things.
When I play, I tend to use them as tools. In the short-lived Call of Cthulhu game my boyfriend ran for me, for instance, my character was in the habit of checking on tabloids (what are they if not rumor given published form?): IC to snicker at them, OOC because I figured it would be a way to get a few hints. (The character came to agree with me after things started getting weird; the game ended soon after.) Most of my other characters tend to keep at least part of an ear out for the local gossip. Tuyet, meanwhile, not only cultivated rumor mills as a potential information source, but was also in the habit of using her contacts to try to actively influence the rumor mill for overall PR purposes. Sometimes, though, they haven’t really shown up; I have yet to see much of a rumor mill going in the D&D game I’m playing in (a pity, as my character is fully built to take advantage of it), and in many of the short-shots, there just isn’t a point, either because the world isn’t developed enough or because the goal is direct and visible enough that one doesn’t need to try to get a conglomerate picture of what’s going on.