Thursday, September 9, 2010

Character Reputation

So, the other day when I was nerdgasming about the adventure hook a friend of mine came up with, one of the reasons I said I liked it was because it used the character's reputation. See, my opinion is that far far too often we don't actually take into account what the PCs have done in our games when we move forward. Maybe it is just me, but while I take it into account for things like say, ramping up the epic for the next plot, I don't necessarily take into account what the players have done for the NPC reactions. So, I wanted to try and talk about that today.

Right off the bat, using a character's reputation is a powerful tool. If nothing else, it shows the player that you have been paying attention to what they've been doing, and how they've been doing it. It cements the campaign around them as a living and breathing thing, and just in general will usually make the player feel giddy as it makes them feel like a somebody. So what all does it do in more detail? Lets look into a few of the things I've mentioned, and how to handle them.

The World Reacting
The players are constantly reacting to the world around them. NPCs show up and make their life a living hell. They have to go off on adventures. They have to fight dragons. They have to save kings. They become heroes from these deeds, but very often you don't hear much about it after that. By playing up a character's reputation you make all of that mean something aside from 'justification for earning XP' and you show that the world also reacts to the players.

So, how to do it? Well, for one, have the people who have heard of the deeds thank them. If they helped win a war, next time they're in a bar have someone who was there buy them a drink. Have peasants ask them in awe for the story of when they beat that troll. It can come up in other ways too. A warrior wanting to test his might against the man who survived fighting the Dragon Dhagka. A merchant who lost a ton of money because of that war that was stopped. A man who lost his home in a rampage through the town the PCs had one day. Bring it up, and bring it forward. Show the impact that they have had on the world around them. If you're not doing it, you'll be amazed at how much more alive it will make the world seem.

Adventure Starting Point
While one of the examples for how to do this is in the post the other day, just in general a PC's reputation is a great way to drag them into things. Have a King summon them, the group that slayed the wicked Dragon, and ask for their help. Have someone pull a 3 Amigos scenario. There are a lot of ways to use the reputation of the players to pull them into future adventures, and while it technically counts as the world reacting, it also helps you do your job. I mean, starting a new adventure can be hard, but using the previous adventures you can use word of that spreading to just have the next trouble go to the PCs. So, why not use it to your advantage.

More Believable NPC Reactions
Again, this is the world reacting, but have you tried having the NPCs react to the players? Do the players kill everyone they fight with? Use that, show the fear some of the lower ranked hired thugs have. Show the desperation as they fight to the last, because they know they don't have any other choice. Do the PCs let people live? Then maybe they'll surrender, ask for mercy, lots of things.

Fear because they're going up against legends. Excitement for a coming fight. You can use these reactions to really color the NPCs and show the difference. Does this NPC get excited at the thought of the challenge? Or is it terrified of fighting the monsters before it?

Final Thoughts
Like I said, most of these have to do with the world reacting to the players as much as they react to the world, but they are a good way to show that you, and the world, are paying attention. I mean, how easy is it for the people who saved the world 3 times to just hang out in a tavern right? Yet, so many fantasy groups do nothing but that. Let the world breathe, and show your players that it is watching, and listening, to everything.


  1. In the early stages of my Star Wars campaign (and just about any campaign, for that matter), the players are really 'unknown'. They have yet to make a name for themselves. Now, however, some of my characters have become major political figures (at least among their own 'people'). So I am actually having a lot of fun with the world 'reacting' to them. Most notably, I stole an idea I loved from Mass Effect and had one character (who is now the new "Mandalore") undergo an interview with a semi-hostile reporter. It was great fun, actually- and when pressed on several odd issues, my player's responses were... colorful. In the end, he came out looking good in some areas and like a complete kook in others. But I know it was fun for him (and me) to have that kind of attention- even if it isn't 'wanted' attention.

    Another example from my play is a character who made a name for herself as a Swoop Racer. Every now and then, fans of the sport will suddenly see her in the street and make a comment or ask for autographs. Most of the time its just amusing background 'color'- but there have been times when she was trying to go incognito that she has suddenly been 'recognized' loudly by fans. Fun fun stuff.

  2. I use reputation a lot in my current campaign.At the end of each adventure, I determine how much the local populace will hear of the PC's, their actions, and how their enemies ramp up.

    When the characters first started, they were unknown, but then they developed a local rep around the city they were in and the commoners liked them for the good deeds they did.

    Then a civil war broke out and the PC's are running around helping others here and there. Their reputation in their home region grew and the reputation in their enemies region made them wanted targets. Evil organizations also took notice and sent assassins to deal with them.

    Now the PC's played a major role in saving a duchy from annihilation by two invading armies. The local populace sing songs about them, write epic stories, have followers, and are given crazy names of what people may or may not perceive. Their enemies will only make a move against them when the stakes are high.

    The next campaign that I run will make heavy use of reputation. I will set reputation as a score to be earned and the PC's will need to do things in order to gain more reputation in order to accomplish certain goals of the campaign; otherwise the alternative means will be very expensive and time consuming.

  3. Both very good uses of reputation.

    It's a video game, but one of my favorite game experiences was in Ace Combat 5. The game does a lot with your squadron's reputation, from early on in the game where you hear chatter going "We have a chance today, those guys are with us!" to later in the game when people are refusing to fight you because of your reputation. It really made what I'd been doing up to then meaningful, and is something I really hope I can capture in some future games I run.

  4. When dealing with reputation, you can always steal ideas from Western films. The adventure's exploits are the talk of the territory. Everyone has heard (or misheard) about them. When the adventures stroll into town, the local toughs always give them trouble, trying to prove themselves. Kids run up and ask, "Are you really Jacc the Bloodaxe?" Local law enforcement (town guard? the baron's troops?) warns the adventures not to start any trouble.