This page collects my thoughts on reputation mechanics for my classic D&D games.

2015-10-31 Reputation, again

I’ve been thinking about a system to track reputations again and again over the years. They never seem to work as intended. The players are not too invested.

In 2009, I thought of something I called “the gods are watching you.”. If you do something to please or annoy a particular god, you gain a reputation. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. The gods will know you whether you’re building their temples or desecrating their altars. Reputation is neutral, so to say. I still like this part. The trouble is keeping track of it all.

In 2010, I proposed a system based on quests. Depending on the importance of the deed, the limit for gaining reputation would shift. To raise your reputation from +2 to +4, for example, it was no longer enough to save a life (or sacrifice a life) – you had to basically save (or destroy) entire settlements.

In 2012, I proposed to modify the system in order to allow players to roll dice. I thought that this would get players more invested. They might ask me, “Hey, don’t I get to roll my reputation die?” If I modify their reputation between sessions as part of writing the session report, it doesn’t have the same kind of impact as when we’re sitting at the table, negotiating reputation effects and rolling dice. Sadly, it still hasn’t taken off.

Today, I saw a blog post by Cecil Howe called Guilty By Association: A Simple, Visual REP System which has a little PDF with a system that allows you to keep visual track of reputation. (Also on Google+.)

                     Character: ______________

Faction             Negative     Bonus      Positive
	       ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌───┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ 
               ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ │   │ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ 
_____________  └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └───┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ 
	       ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌───┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ 
	       ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ │   │ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ 
_____________  └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └───┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ 
	       ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌───┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ 
	       ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ │   │ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ 
_____________  └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └───┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ 

Perhaps I should do something similar? You could keep track of both positive and negative elements and get a clearer picture. Perhaps if we had a sheet at the table, they’d be more invested?


Comments on 2015-10-31 Reputation, again

I just thought... maybe the problem is more one of control? Give the PCs a sheet and let them decide how to align themselves? Or they have a few points at the start of the career and can get more by using contacts and questing for different factions... wich could lead to loss at other factions. Depending on how they spent their points, they either add to the ones gained by the quest or the lower the negative effect on an opposing factions... This could be done mechanically or via social encounters. Let’s say the PCs raided a warehouse of the thievesguild. The paladin gets a point he adds to the good standing with the police force, even further alienating the guild, while the thief gives gold and information to the guild to lessen his loss in reputation with the guild (maybe by roleplaying how he convinces the guildmaster that having one who the police regards as “reformed” is more worth than whatever was in the warehouse... “Oh, and by the way, they put the crates with the drugs in cell number 3...”) Just my 2 cents.

rorschachhamster 2015-10-31 10:08 UTC

Indeed, making it more visible, and giving players more control. A good point!

– AlexSchroeder 2015-10-31 13:09 UTC

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2012-07-10 Reputation Revisited

Some 2½ years ago, I wrote about the reputation mechanics I was using in my D&D 3.5 game. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out. There just wasn’t any incentive for players to act in order to gain reputation. It was always incidental. In between games, the referee would update reputations and whenever a player was in big trouble, they’d say that they wanted to roll for divine intervention. Unfortunately, they usually didn’t know what their reputation was and with whom it was.

How to increase player involvement? I remembered my first Asian themed D&D 3.5 Kitsunemori campaign. There, players had to roll over their current reputation in order to increase it. That always caused a lot of excitement at the table.

Thus, for my houserules (”D&D Mine” aka. Campaign:Halberds and Helmets) I now require players to roll over their current reputation using a die that represents the magnitude of their deed.

Reputation: Fame and honor can be earned everywhere. Even the gods are interested in the deeds of mortals. Reputation is tracked separately for all the gods, towns and factions. The higher a reputation is, the harder it is to increase it.

In order to gain reputation, roll higher than the current reputation. The starting reputation is 0. Thus, the first time reputation increases, no roll is necessary.

Deed Roll To find an item, to bring it back, to save something d4
To rescue a life, to find the victim of a kidnap, to render services to a church d6
To rescue a village, to help an entire community d8
To render a service to the gods d12

Gods: In an emergency, reputation also acts as the percentage chance for divine intervention. In addition to that, reputation also limits the circle of miracles (spell levels) available to clerics. Thus, a cleric cannot work any miracles on their first adventure since they are lacking an appropriate reputation.

We’ll see how that works. :)


Comments on 2012-07-10 Reputation Revisited

Sounds like a nice and simple method.

Simon 2012-07-11 08:22 UTC

Playing in your game, I found it so hard to actually get reputation that I stopped bothering about it. I surely must have missed opportunities or simply didn’t figure out what would click with you?

Also, is there some kind of infamy stat, i.e. for that priest that simply went and followed the frog gods when things didn’t turn out with his god the way he wanted? That in contrast seemed eerily easy, very much dark-side “it’s a trap” like – without the good side trying to scheme to get their sheep back in the fold. Intentional?

– Harald 2012-07-11 10:10 UTC

Perhaps you are right and getting reputation is too hard. If it happens rarely, people will not think about it. Gaining experience points, on the other hand, happens after every session. Maybe I need to create a stronger ritual at the table. After every social encounter: “Guys, time to roll for your reputation!”

Remember those first adventures? Looking back, I’d say I missed the following opportunities:

  1. when haggling over the contract with the alchemist: gain reputation with Mitra, goddess of contracts and oaths (d4)
  2. when bringing back the glass wares to the alchemist: gain reputation with the alchemists’ guild (d4)
  3. when defeating the bandits: gain reputation with Mitra, goddess of justice (d6)
  4. when dealing with dwarven merchants: gain reputation with the town of Plunder (d4)
  5. when killing assassin frogs: gain reputation with Tsathogga, god of frogs (d6)

As for Onbog’s defection: maybe we could have enjoyed a true back and forth between the forces of law and chaos if the player had stayed with us. We’ll never know if that would have turned out to be a good source of plot hooks. Similarly, as soon as the paladin of Mitra realized that the priest of Nergal had poisoned the wells of Oathcomb, the priest’s player left us. I want to make the struggle of various deities over the character’s fate a part of the game, but it hasn’t really happened, yet. This is also one of the reasons I think the system needs reform – or it needs to be ditched.

As for it being easy to switch to the Dark Side: I guess this is part of my ethos that I have baked into the setting:

  1. all the gods have benefits and drawbacks even if some tend more towards law and others tend more towards chaos I tried to make sure that none of them were “instant death sentences” (eg. even Orcus is important because his priests can raise the dead)
  2. it’s always easier to join the Dark Side

This produces the Sword & Sorcery Fantasy Post-Apocalypse Dying Earth vibe I’m going for, hopefully.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-11 12:41 UTC

Yeah, I feel like it was unclear to me if I should ask for reputation rolls (Mother May I syndrome); I’ll know better in the future.

Now I need to consider if I want this in the Mystara game … it would actually be quite interesting.

– Harald 2012-07-11 13:55 UTC

It’s not an easy question to answer. I added it because Planescape has belief and it feeds into divine power and a lot of outsiders. Does Mystara have that? I added it because all the gods are ambiguous, so there is no obvious right choice to make. If Mystara has the three local good immortals, how important is it to track reputation? The Immortals boxed set also offers a different end game based on quests and adventures. That would leave reputation for the worldly factions: empire or rebels, duke or baron, elves or humans, or the various towns and cities? I really think that reputation only makes sense in an ambiguous world where players will not really want to choose any of the options wholeheartedly. Much like Skyrim, I guess. Mystara seems to be a lighter world of more clearcut sides and simpler choices, and therefore it’s not immediately obvious that adding reputation per faction would be important.

Perhaps Mystara would benefit of a simpler system: it is assumed that all the characters are part of a culture (social network with shared ethics) and therefore there is but one reputation or fame score to track. We could also say that this is what character levels track and be done with it, I guess?

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-11 14:36 UTC

The way reputation was handled in our Alderking game back then also didnt work for me. It wasnt really clear what the gods wanted and what not and it wasnt really clear when reputation was awarded. Example: Scheming for the downfall of Purdell gained Lerizwan some reputation with Set but Iz got none from Set for assassinating him. Does Set prefer manipulation instead of killing? Why did Lorey then not get any rep for dominating that Drow? Because he used magic instead of natural charms? It wasnt clear what exactly gets rewarded and the reward (better chance for the D100 prayer roll) never came up and was pretty small so no reason to bugger you with “Why didnt I get...” questions.

I think a reputation system needs clear rules for

  • whats the benefit (X amount gives Y bonus for Z)
  • how to gain (either make it clear for every god/faction/city or just provide a log with the results like above and let players figure it out themself)
  • when to gain (after every interaction or session?)

The benefit for the gods is pretty clear but what about citys and factions? A similar roll if you ask them for help? In that case the maximum of 12 reputation seems a bit small.

– Florian 2012-07-12 13:02 UTC

Good point. Maybe a “morale score” – roll this number or lower on 2d6 for a positive reaction?

As for the different treatment of the various player characters, I think this was simply oversight. I didn’t remember often enough, nobody checked what I was doing. It lacked player involvement. Hopefully the new system with the invitation to roll will change that.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-12 22:03 UTC

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2012-06-19 Alignment, Paladins

Here are some comments I left on various discussion on Google+:

Mike Evans wonders about paladins and suggests “What if you take your oath and drink the blood and poof you gain certain abilities to your class.”

That’s exactly how I handle it in my game. Plus, the abilities vary between gods. At the moment only one character ever swore to dedicate this life to the service of Mitra and thus various minor at will abilities were offered in return: light fire at will, a halo at will, detect the presence of liars at will, preventing the utterance of lies in your presence at will, the ability to make any oath by willing participants binding.

I also tied this to a separate subsystem of reputation – you needed to perform a service for Mitra to qualify for the fire making ability, you needed to save a person for Mitra to qualify for the halo, you needed to save an entire village for Mitra in order to qualify for the binding oaths. (See 2011-12-20 Magic Without Spells.)

If you don’t want to do that, you could also tie it to levels: light fire at will (minimum level 1), a halo at will (minimum level 2), detect the presence of liars at will (minimum level 3), preventing the utterance of lies in your presence at will (minimum level 5), the ability to make any oath by willing participants binding (minimum level 7).

(The picture shows a self-declared paladin of Arden, a dead elven god that does not grant any powers at all. He threw himself into a bottomless pit as the other character who had fallen into the pit had been carrying the Chalice of Arden. I love my players.)

Scrap Princess wondered about Law vs. Chaos and asked “why is the original neutral/chaos/law alignment system such a beloved artefact?”

I said: Law vs. Chaos is beloved (ie. popular with some, reviled by others, discussed by all) precisely because it is contentious. All the simple things are easy to decide. The undecidable things attract our attention and focus our emotional energy. I think JRR Tolkien said something about all good stories needing unexplained things to keep people interested and that is why there is no explanation for Tom Bombadil – and see how he pops up again and again even though he seems to be unrelated to the greater story. So much so in fact that he didn’t make it into the movies.

I also happen to think that contentious, unexplained elements fuel discussions and thus these items remain in the popular consciousness. I think there is little contentiousness around ability scores. There is some contentiousness but it’s all explainable when it comes to hit zones. But the stuff that is actually discussed endlessly are levels (vs. skills), saving throws (abstract vs. Poison or more concrete Fortitude saves), hit points and alignment (as opposed to the simple ethics of good or bad deeds). I don’t believe these issues can be “settled” and therefore they keep getting discussed.

Thus, I don’t think there’s anything special about the alignment discussion. Alignment just happens to have these properties: contentious and unexplained.

As for myself, I want to like Law vs. Chaos but find that it rarely has an effect at the table.


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2011-12-20 Magic Without Spells

Pazuzu Recently Gavin wrote a blog post called Doing without the cleric class: Blessings & pacts (the same Gavin who tirelessly tagged so many monsters in the Old School Monster Wiki). He was wondering how to do healing or turning of undead in a campaign without clerics. In my comment I described how I’m planning to implement classes not available in the Labyrinth Lord rules such as monks and paladins.

My game features a reputation system. You can increase your reputation for each patron by doing stuff that pleases them, but the greatness of the deed limits how far it can rise. Returning objects has a max reputation of 1, saving lives has a max reputation of 2, saving villages has a max reputation of 4, performing quests for your patron (usually involving angels and devils showing up) has a max reputation of 8. I use this reputation in various ways. It’s the percentage chance for divine intervention when you call upon your patron. It’s the maximum spell level granted to you by your patron. And I use it for paladins.

There is no paladin class per se, but every body can be a paladin of a particular patron. In order to do that, you must perform a ritual, swear a binding oath, be blessed by a priest, perform an appropriate feat or something along these lines. The paladins then get to pick special abilities appropriate to the patron, but the abilities available to them depend on their reputation. This is what I’m using for paladins of Mitra: light a fire requires a reputation of 1, a halo at will requires a reputation of 2, the detecting the presence of liars requires a reputation of 3, to prevent lies from being uttered requires a reputation of 3, to take binding oaths requires a reputation of 4.

Thus, being a paladin of Mitra adds extra challenges (reputation, absolute honesty) and grants special abilities. I will add more variants as players express interest in particular patrons.

Monks work much like this, based on A Bevy of Bujin by Matt. Anybody can be a monk. The monks of Taipur, for example, face extra challenges (fighting without armor, abstinence) and are granted special abilities like the catching of arrows and iron fists. If that turns all magic users and thieves into ninjas, we will rethink it. Until then, I think I like it.

And – just as as Jeff says in thinking about magic again – I’m trying to explore “anything goes” territory with my evil dudes. The evil sorcerer in the palace of Saithor, for example, knows how to summon devils and party with succubi. The party partook in such festivities in order to blow some gold for experience points. I don’t think I’d mind them learning about the ritual to contact the particular named devil that can open this gate and broker these deals. In fact, I’m sure it would result in some interesting adventures!


Comments on 2011-12-20 Magic Without Spells

I like this idea a lot – particularly the use of the reputation system for paladins. I like the idea that anyone can be a paladin if they serve their deity in the right ways.

Could this also be extended to traditional 1st/2nd ed subclasses like rangers and assassins? I see druids as being either a separate class, or just a cleric/priest that chooses particular spells and follows a specific ethos, but I suppose druids could also be part of this.

It sounds like your Labyrinth Lord system is quickly getting more complicated :)

Adrian 2012-01-02 15:23 UTC

Haha, I once heard somebody say that any rules light system played over an extended period of time turns into a rules heavy system. To which I would add the the additions are all your houserules, added bit by bit and on demand – a perfect fit.

AlexSchroeder 2012-01-02 16:13 UTC

Today I was wondering about bards. Assume bards need to learn new songs in order to use their bardic knowledge. Maybe they need to sing in new taverns, meet other bards on a regular basis. Thus – adjusting the numbers for your campaign – each bard has a bardic knowledge skill of 1/6 (yeah, I’ll be using some old school mechanics); once a week, a bard can increase this by 1/6 up to 5/6 by visiting a tavern in a new town to sing and to listen others sing. Thus, bards need to visit four different towns a month and perform in each one of them to keep their bardic knowledge up. Every week spent away from taverns, every week spent in the same town decreases the skill by 1/6 down to the minimum of 1/6.

A new little subsystem to encourage bards to travel and interact. It would work well for one of my campaigns where the party is sailing from port to port. It would also explain why the NPC bards keep travelling up and down the coast.

AlexSchroeder 2012-01-03 19:51 UTC

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2010-02-02 Reputation Mechanics

I’m playing D&D 3.5 but the following is more or less edition agnostic. Some time back I mentioned that player actions will eventually attract the attention of the gods. I’ve been using the same mechanic to track reputation with factions and other powerful figures in the area.

Typically this would involve items (1), lives (2), settlements (4), favors on the top level (8). These types usually don’t stack, in other words, two objects stolen are not equivalent to a person killed.

In my campaign, if you’ve been raised from the dead, you gain a +2 lives reputation reward from Orcus. If you then kill an elf, that doesn’t increase your bonus any further. If you reclaim an Orcus mace from the village and return it a temple of Orcus, you gain the +1 item reward. If you then betray the elven village to the orcs and help to kill them in the name of Orcus, you gain the +4 settlement reward. Your total reputation is now +7 as far as Orcus is concerned.

This involves a lot of eyeballing, of course. All I care about is ranges and adventure seeds: Fanatical servants who’ve done personal favors to their gods will have a reputation of +15. That also means that as soon as your reputation reachdes +4 the gods and the heads of factions must be showing a personal interest. The leader of the thieves guild, the lord of the castle, the head of the temple will start taking an interest in you, eventually providing you with opportunities to perform the favors you need to transcend into the reaches of +8 and higher.

The reputation acts as a circumstance bonus for Diplomacy & Bluff checks or as a penalty for Sense Motive & Intimidate checks.

For clerics, the reputation also indicates the highest spell level they can cast.

We’ll see how that goes. I’ll try that in my Alder King game. It forces clerics to get involved, and it forces referees to have the movers and shakers react to the player characters. Reputation will often suggest quests to perform: If the reputation of a character is in the range from -1 to +1, then maybe there should be a mission involving the rescue, abduction, escort, or assassination of a person.

I used to have a different mechanic. The following may be a system to return to if players are bored by reputation and need some dice rolling, or if the decisions of the referee seem to arbitrary.

Your reputation with every faction started out with your charisma score. When performing a service, you got to do a reputation check with the DC being your current score. D&D 3.5 example: If you had a charisma of 14 (+2) and performed your first good deed for the village priest, you got to make a check with a +2 bonus and a DC of 15.

Players liked rolling these reputation checks. The problem was that there was no “negative” reputation. I would have to assume that reputation smaller than 10 was a negative reputation. For negative events, I started to use a reputation check to prevent the loss of a reputation point. It was sometimes weird. Did Orcus like low Charisma scores? I had no answer. That’s why I reworked the system a bit.

Follow-up: 2012-07-10 Reputation Revisited


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2009-12-08 The Gods Are Watching

A while ago I talked about the benefits and drawbacks of gods in my Alder King campaign. The gods are an eclectic mix of the following:

  1. the Player’s Guide to the setting we’re playing in – we’re playing in Lenap, which is one of the maps in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy
  2. the Gods and Demons available from Necromancer Games
  3. the gods listed in Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia by Thulsa; check out his lists and notes on Gods and demons of the Hyborian Age

In my campaign, players encounter settlements and factions, and they can gain good or bad reputation by helping or hindering them. I saw DM Peter use this system in his Grenzmarken campaign and liked it. Obviously this kind of thing is less interesting if there are no moral ambiguities. It’s more fun if only some of the player characters are in good standing with the humans of Delan, the swamp hag, or goblins of Grezneck. Fortunately, things have been working out for me and adding reputation to the campaign wiki pages of settlements and factions have made this a bit more visible.

As I was pondering the question of alignment again, I thought of reusing this reputation mechanics for the gods in my game. On my campaign wiki, I’ve created pages for the gods that have come up in play and I started listing player reputations. Thus, if they keep animating the dead, I don’t have to get into a discussion of whether the player thinks this is evil or not. Orcus is going to take an interest in the player’s actions one way or another.

The benefits I’m hoping to see:

  • Players get feedback as their reputation changes.
  • It lists the things the gods like and dislike allowing players to act on that knowledge.
  • Powerful players will attract the attention of demons and gods sooner or later.
  • That attention in itself could motivate seeking the protection of other powers.
  • Planar politics & religious war – new challenges for high-level play.

Follow-up: 2010-02-02 Reputation Mechanics.


Comments on 2009-12-08 The Gods Are Watching

I like this idea of Karma. I am running Star wars d6 at the moment. The rules say that if you gain too many dark side points your character becomes an NPC. I think it would be cool to use your idea. good karma the rebels become interested in you. Bad the imperials become interested but allowing the characters to carry on, only getting jobs/missions based on thier karma. Its possible that an evil GM coul limit options depending on how far the PCs go one way or the other. No you can’t save the puppy, you are too evil right now. lol

misterecho 2009-12-08 23:32 UTC

Hehe... Or you can save the puppy but it hates you! :)

AlexSchroeder 2009-12-09 00:23 UTC

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