In ‘The Name Of The Doctor’ Lady Vastra is beseeched by a convicted serial killer DeMarco to spare his life in exchange for information about the Doctor. It is he who reveals that the Doctor’s grave has been discovered.
He suggests that this information is being whispered in the babble of the world. We never learn exactly how he obtained this knowledge but it could be that it was provided by the Great Intelligence through his Whisper Men.
Certainly DeMarco knows a nursery rhyme about the Whisper Men. It could be that the Great Intelligence wanted Lady Vastra to know because she would inevitably pass the information along to the Doctor who would go to Trenzalore, exactly where he needed him to be.
This is an example of the villain manipulating the main characters. They think they are making choices of their own, such as going to a place before the bad guy can get there, when they are doing exactly what the villain wanted.
This works best when you know your players well and can anticipate what they will do. You can always try to retro-actively reveal they’ve been manipulated as long as you can justify how the villain set this up.
It could be that there is generally a flow of rumours and secrets in the underworld. Without the Time Lords it appears that more and more organisations are able to travel freely through the centuries, carrying information with them.
Careless agents in the past could be overheard by people like DeMarco. The vast majority of locals wouldn’t be able to understand the importance of the conversation but someone whose mind accepts insane possibilities could work out that they are time travellers and aliens.
This is reflective of the much more cosmopolitan feel of the 11th Doctor’s universe. Different time periods and life forms interact regularly without catastrophic consequences.
This approach allows you tell stories on a much larger scale and have adventures that involve frequent travelling through different planets and time periods. With enemies and organisations spread across the web of time the player characters will have to be willing to chase them down.
Having a general flow of underground intelligence means that no matter where or when the player characters are they can find out what they need to know. They might have to be willing to deal with shady characters or they can simply strong arm them.
Allowing player characters to have access to already gathered information is akin to joining an ongoing investigation, the advantages of which I’ve discussed here. They spend less time research their opponents or working out what is going on and can get straight into dealing with the situation.
Not that this should be uneventful. In ‘The Name Of The Doctor’ DeMarco is bargaining for his life placing Lady Vastra and Jenny in a moral quandary. They can’t let the killer free but they can’t let him die until they learn more about what he knows.
The Great Intelligence whisks them away to Trenzalore shortly afterwards but this is could have been the basis for a whole adventure. What if the PCs need vital information from a condemned man and can’t convince the authorities to allow a stay of execution? They’d have to break him out but ensure that he didn’t escape so that they could return him to the police once they found out what they needed to.
Someone with valuable information could bargain for anything, including getting the PCs to perform tasks for him. This could be a basis for an adventure, possibly forcing PCs to take actions they otherwise wouldn’t, all the while wondering whether they can trust their informant to uphold his side of the bargain.
You don’t want to do this every time as the players will begin to wonder if it is more trouble than its worth. If they are jumping through hoops for even the simplest piece of information then the pacing of the plot slows down.
Far easier is to have them simply overhear a conversation, dropping the adventure in their lap. They might hear two suspicious characters talk about a mysterious shipment coming into the city that will prompt the PCs to investigate, or they could use anachronistic language that alerts them to the presence of time travellers.
This is best done at the start of an adventure as if done later it can seem as if you are making things too simple for players or prodding them in the direction you want them to take.
If the players know their characters are can always seek out rumours means that they never feel as if they have reached a dead end. They can always seek out the knowledge they need to progress the plot, if they are willing to pay the price.
Confirming that there is a whole secret community that has a general idea about the wider universe also makes the setting more alive. Players can imagine that there is more going on than just what their characters see and experience.
There are people and groups with their own agenda, changing the world around them. There are even other heroes who are saving the world on a daily basis and fighting evil, just like they are.
As long as the players don’t feel that they are being overshadowed or that their characters are less unique this can be comforting. They are part of a community, feeding the economy in secrets.
Finally explore more of the sinister background of DeMarco could be worth exploring. Who were the fourteen women he killed? What motivated him and what were the circumstances of his capture? Did he hang or did he escape to bring more terror to the streets of London?
He could be a minor player or he could be part of a grander scheme. The Great Intelligence could have recruited him because he knew that Lady Vastra would capture him or DeMarco could be involved in another secret organisation that has reason to gather information about the Doctor.