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.
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.
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.
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.
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.