April 6, 2009

Reputation (Part 1)

Reputation is everything in D&D. Even 1st level characters have a reputation. It may only be a reputation for being eager to prove themselves, but it’s enough to get them noticed. What the PCs do today will have a direct impact on the opportunities afforded them tomorrow. Every adventure will add to their reputation and will impact how NPCs view them. It’s up to the DM to use reputation to enhance the overall game.

This is the first of three articles examining reputation. Part 1 is aimed at the DM and provides direction for using reputation to its fullest potential. Parts 2 and 3 are aimed at the players and provides insight on how the PCs can shape their own reputation and gain the most benefit from doing so. Look for Reputation part 2 and Reputation part 3 at Dungeon’s Master in the days to come.

Many DMs and players overlook or underestimate the importance of reputation in D&D. The DM should use the past deeds of the PCs to shape new storylines. The PCs are supposed to be the best of the best. What they do and how they do it will be closely observed. People will want to hear what kind of creatures they’ve fought, what kind of treasures they’ve accumulated and what they plan to do next. In essence, the PCs are celebrities and should be treated as such.

Reputation – The DMs Perspective

When the PCs visit new villages, towns and cities, there should be a chance that someone there has heard of them. If the PCs are just starting out, the likelihood of being recognized is minimal. As the PCs earn XP and gain levels, news of their heroics will spread and people will start talking. The PCs are recognized more and more often. This can be helpful in some scenarios and detrimental in others. As nice as it is to be famous, there will be times when the PCs just want their privacy. As the reputation of the PCs grows, the DM should apply suitable modifiers as conditions demand.

Positive Reputation

The PCs are heroes and everyone knows it. Their accomplishments are the subject of bard song and legend. Their vast wealth and power are key reasons for their positive reputation. Everyone wants to know more about the PCs. Everyone wants to meet them. The PCs are the points of light in the darkness and all attention is focused on them.

In general, people will open their doors to welcome the PCs. Important figures who may not normally be willing to meet with them are curious, or experience a change of heart and take the opportunity to ride the PC’s coattails. Perhaps a few admirers are genuinely interested in just being their friend.

These skills may be enhanced by a positive reputation.
  • Bluff: The greater the reputation, the more likely those listening will accept what they’ve been told.
  • Diplomacy: Social encounters are a breeze. People are fascinated with the PCs and will forgive many social blunders.
  • Streetwise: Anything the PCs ask is answered.

Being famous does have its pitfalls. If the PCs have earned a reputation that tells of their affinity for all things good and righteous, then attempts to infiltrate the criminal element may meet with harsh resistance. Fame can also be regional depending on the reason for a positive reputation. War heroes will be celebrities in their home country, but may be scorned by their neighbours.

These skills may be more difficult because of a positive reputation.
  • Insight: Everyone wants to meet the PCs and when they do, they want to be remembered. There will be so many people spinning so many tales that it may be difficult to tell the truth from the lies.
  • Stealth: How do you go unnoticed when you’re famous? It’s possible, but a lot more difficult.

No one is famous forever. The DM should present plenty of opportunities for the PCs to hurt their own reputation. If they choose to do stupid things without thinking of long-term consequences, then it’s their own fault. Just remember to offer opportunities for redemption if the PCs begin to fall.

Negative Reputation

The PCs have run into some bad luck of late. Perhaps they didn’t defeat the Dragon that threatened the local village, they only wounded it. After the PCs left, the Dragon returned and took out his anger on the innocent townsfolk. Suddenly, the PCs are infamous; everybody knows them, but for all the wrong reasons.

There are very few benefits to being hated or despised. If the PCs have caused a lot of collateral damage as they’ve travelled the realm, then they may be turned away when they reach the city gates. People are less likely to talk to them or be outright hostile. Important figures may refuse to meet with them under any circumstances.

These skills may be enhanced by a negative reputation.
  • Bluff: Since people already think the worst of you, any attempt to play up that angle may garner success.
  • Intimidate: People probably expect you to be mean and hateful. A small show of force, or even a small threat of force, may go a long way to getting what you want.

These skills may be more difficult because of a negative reputation.
  • Diplomacy: Nobody wants to risk association with you. Good luck finding people to treat you fairly.
  • Streetwise: It’s unlikely that people will want to share any information with you. If they do, be suspicious.

In general if the PCs have a negative reputation they should do something quickly to try and remedy the problem. It’s up to the DM to present opportunities for the PCs to prove themselves. The size of the task should be left up to the PCs. Let them decide if they want to take baby steps or if they want to try and fix things with one grand gesture.

Unearned Reputation

An unearned reputation has potential to be the most fun and the most dangerous. This could be something as simple as a mistaken identity. The PCs match the description of another group of heroes and are mistaken for them. Perhaps the PCs stumbled across the site of a great battle and a witness assumed they were the ones responsible for the victory. There are many possibilities, none of them good for the PCs – at least in the long run. The short-term gains are the same as any other positive reputation. But when the truth comes out (and it always does) then the PCs will go from famous to infamous in a heartbeat.

The idea of an unearned reputation has the most appeal to me personally as a DM. It forces the PCs to decide if the benefits of accepting an unearned reputation are worth it. This scenario provides the DM with the perfect opportunity to begin new adventure hooks, introduce new NPCs and set the foundation for the long-term campaign.

If the PCs adopt the persona of the party they are mistaken for, it could have negative consequences. Here are a few ideas of how to make life difficult (or at the very least, interesting) for the PCs if they decide to accept an unearned reputation.
  • The real heroes may be wanted criminals in a neighbouring country.
  • An item the PCs are supposed to have is needed but obviously unavailable.
  • Past debts owed by the true heroes may be called in by a powerful Wizard.
  • A pregnant woman may demand the baby’s father marry her.
  • The heroes who actually earned the reputation may show up.
The possibilities are truly limited only by the DM’s imagination. In the end you want the scales to be balanced. Just because the PCs indulge when they’re not entitled doesn’t mean that the punishment should be too detrimental. The DM should always provide opportunities for the PCs to make things right. It doesn’t have to be easy, but it should be possible.


It’s up to the DM and players to decide if reputation will impact their game at all. Using reputation shouldn’t be mandatory and shouldn’t have any adverse affects if the PCs don’t want to worry about it. In the end everyone should agree to what extent, if any, reputation has in your game.

This article was written by Ameron from Dungeon’s Master. This is his first guest post on The Core Mechanic.


  1. Everyone please welcome Ameron - the newest Guest Author at The Core Mechanic!

  2. One of the old Bard Games Games, the Atlanthean Trilogy had a reputation score for each character. It was not perfect by any means, but it was an interesting addition. I know that I've tried to use it games in the past.

  3. Nice, great article! I like the breakdown of how skills are affected. Maybe you could implement a point system to help the DM keep track of reputation, the player's don't need to know about it but say they do a widely recognized deed in an area, they could get +1 pt of rep in that area, if they thief steals from a merchant who catches him but can't prove it the thief gets a -3 when dealing with the merchant.

    By marking the parties rep with various towns, groups, and individual NPCs with a solid + or - number it would help keep track of the player's rep and you could also use it to apply the skills as you have listed.

  4. @Jonathan
    Thanks for letting me guest author a post here at the The Core Mechanic. I hope your readers like it and I hope that they'll check out parts 2 and 3 at Dungeon's Master in the days to come.

    I wanted to explore the concept of reputation as a role-playing tool. I didn't want to introduce any new rules or stats. There are already plenty of rules for 4e, introducing new ones will just slow down the game. This is just one DM offering other DMs some advice on how to handle this kind of situation and add some fun to their game.

    I know that some RPGs do have a reputation stat. I seem to remember an older version of the Star Wars RPG having it. I have no objections to creating a Reputation statistic, but I think rep is better used as a soft skill.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this article. I think Reputation should almost be though of in the same way as an assist during a skill challenge. If your reputation is beneficial in the given situation, then the DM can apply a +2 modifier. If your rep is going to make things more difficult, then apply a -2 modifier. It doesn't have to be complicated, but it should make sense and it should encourage good role-playing. I'd hate to think that a DM is penalizing a PC because he's not actively working on his reputation.

  5. I don't think the book keeping would be intense to assign values By writing a positive or negative value next to an npc, group, or settlements name you get an instant idea of the parties rep.

  6. Food for thought. I'll start incorporating this into my Stargate campaign. The PCs already have the rep of threatening bartenders.

  7. Interestingly, D20 Modern had a sub-system for handling reputation in game and it was an optional stat to have for each character class.

    Most of what you have mentioned here were mentioned in D20 Modern, together with mechanical benefits too.

    Will be looking out for the future installments in this series.

  8. @kaeosdad
    Your approach seems obviously simple. I think this is a good way to easy a party into trying out reputation and a role-playing tool. Thanks for the suggestion.

    I'm glad you found this useful. Check out Reputation (part 2) coming on Thursday. And encourage your players to read it if you think they'll be interested in building on the concept of reputation.

    @Questing GM
    I've never played d20 modern but I think I'll have to see how they handle reputation. If the mechanic already exists then there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Thanks for the heads up.


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