Turning the Gears: Party Reputation and NPC Reactions

An important part of good DMing is creating reasonable and realistic consequences for player’s actions.  Not just in the sense of heroes getting experience and loot for killing the bad guys, but also in the reactions of the NPCs around them.  Instinctively, we want to keep track of it in our heads, and let things work out from there.  “You’ve just saved this village, of course they let you stay at the inn for free” and so on are a pretty natural cause and effect, but what if you want more?  What if you want a system to track not only how well your characters are known, but also who knows them and for what?  Well, have I got a system for you!

Overview

This is a system to track your party’s, and your individual player’s, reputation.  It does this by keeping track of the person or group that they have the reputation with, what kind of reputation that they have, that reputation’s reach, and the magnitude of that reputation.  Let’s look a little closer at these terms.

Person/Group: This is  the person or group with whom the characters have the reputation.  If, for example, the party arrives in town and the only person they know is Steve the Pet Shop Owner, who remembers that time they lent him five gold to pay off his drug debt, then the Person/Group that they have a reputation with would be Steve the Pet Shop Owner, or maybe just Steve if there’s only one of them.

Reputation:  This is the trait or activity that the characters are known for. Below I have included specific reputations and the benefits/drawbacks that come from being known for them.  To keep this simple I have only included generic “good and bad” reputation tables, but more may come later and DMs are encouraged to create their own.  I recommend using one to two-word descriptors for these reputations such as “bad gambler” or “alcoholic” in place of longer descriptions such as “notorious helium addict.”  In the above example, because Steve knows the players for that time they gave him some coins, his reputation would be for “Generosity” or maybe “Kindness” depending on the context.

Reach:  This is how far out a character’s reputation has spread on a 1-9 scale.  A reach of 1 means that the person or group hasn’t told anyone and a rating of 9 means that the reputation has spread as far as that person can spread it.  Because of how reputations work, the reach is relative to the person or group that the character has the reputation with.  In the above example with Steve the Pet Shop Owner, Steve is the only person who knows the party so their reputation for Generosity would be at 1.  Once Steve tells his friends, then it would grow to a 2, and when they tell their friends it would grow to a 3 and so on.  Eventually, if the players kept building this reputation, it would grow to “ten” which means that everyone in the market square would know the characters as being mildly generous types.  When this happens, the reach will revert down to one, but the person/group expands.  In this case, the Person/Group would change from “Steve” to “This Town’s Market Square” and the Reach, instead of going from 9 to 10, would go back down to 1.  By the time that reputation grew past nine, it would apply to the whole town, but the reach would drop back down to 1 again and so on.

Magnitude:  This is how much the reputation says about the character, on a 1 to 10 scale.  A Magnitude of 1 means that people who know of this character’s reputation believe that they exhibit a mild amount of the trait that the reputation reflects.  A magnitude of 10 means that the character is known as being a definitive example of the trait or behavior reflected by their reputation.  In the above example with Steve the Pet Shop Owner, their reputation comes from giving someone a few coins to get out of a tight spot.  If they chose to foster their reputation, they might begin giving to the needy more often and in larger amounts.  If they started donating large sums of money to various people in need or charities in the area, or even tipping gratuitously large amounts to their servers, the reputation would grow.  When the Magnitude of their Generosity reputation reaches 10, people believe that they are philanthropists who wouldn’t give the shirt off of their back for a good cause.

Benefits (and Penalties) of a Reputation

Being in the public eye is a double-edged sword, but generally carries more benefits than anonymity.  When you have a reputation, whether it’s deserved or not, people think they know.  They may like you or hate you based on what they’ve heard, but either way it will likely impact their behavior.  So let’s look at some of the ways reputations can benefit, or hinder, a character.

Good Reputations in General: These are benefits that come with pretty much any good reputation, be it for bravery, generosity, etc.  If the reputation comes from doing good deeds, you can expect to receive these benefits when dealing with characters familiar with your reputation.

Magnitude Benefit
1 Advantage on rolls to make good or neutral aligned characters Friendly.
3 Advantage on rolls to convince other characters that you have good intentions.  Neutral and Good aligned characters default attitude toward your character is Friendly.
5 Inns often charge you half-price and shopkeepers will usually give you a 10% discount without the need to haggle.  Other people will usually buy your drinks.
7 Advantage on rolls to win favors from NPCs.
9 You almost never have to pay for food, drinks or lodging in town. Shopkeepers usually give you a 20% discount without the need to haggle.
10 Everyone wants to be your friend.  NPCs will automatically assume that you have good intentions and you are considered above suspicion by most.
* If you and another character are trying to convince people of conflicting things, the character with the higher magnitude of positive reputations gains advantage on their roll.  If the difference is five or more, the character with the lower magnitude also makes the roll with disadvantage.
* Characters with good reputations have disadvantage when trying to convince people that they will do something that conflicts with their reputation.  For example, a character with a reputation for being merciful will have a hard time convincing someone that he would brutalize innocents or execute surrendered enemies.

 

Negative Reputations in General:  These are the consequences that come with pretty much any negative reputation whether it’s for cowardice, greed or anything else.  If the reputation comes from doing bad deeds, you can expect to receive these consequences when dealing with characters familiar with your reputation.

 

Magnitude Consequence
1 Disadvantage on rolls to make characters friendly to you.
3 NPCs default attitude toward you is unfriendly.
5 Some business establishments will refuse to do business with you. Merchants give you no haggling room on their prices.
7 Disadvantage on rolls to win favors from NPCs.
9 You are automatically suspected whenever something bad happens in the area and the burden if often put on you to prove your innocence.
10 You are a social outcast.  No one wants to interact with you and if they do so then they do so reluctantly.  Everyone assumes that you have an angle and no one trusts you, whether you are being honest or not.
* NPCs with bad reputations have advantage on rolls convincing other characters that they are willing to do bad things, such as execute a hostage or kill innocents.

 

Spreading, Building, and Destroying Reputation

The important thing about reputation is that it’s not necessarily a reflection of who your character is or what they have done, so much as it reflects what is known about them.  Many heroes go unsung, and many people have a reputation that they got through opportunism and deceit rather than earning it.  While by no means an exhaustive list of methods, here are a few ways that the players can build their reputation or destroy the reputation of a rival.

Spreading and Building Reputations

These are the methods a player may use to build their reputations magnitude or spread it farther.

Word Spreads Naturally: Word of a person’s good or bad deeds tend to spread on their own. Every week, the Reach of a character’s reputation increases by 1, up to a maximum of that reputation’s Magnitude.  Because people tend to embellish, there is a 10% chance that when this spread occurs the reputation’s magnitude will grow by one as well.

Proving Yourself:  Few things build a reputation like showing people you deserve it.  Giving to a charity, standing up to a dangerous enemy, winning a duel or other contest, all these are ways to build your reputation.  Whenever a character does something that would earn them a reputation, if there are any witnesses, roll a d4.  For the first d4, add a +1 bonus for every 10 witnesses, up to +3 and another bonus equal to the apparent challenge of the task (so killing a CR 3 monster would add a +3 bonus).  If the roll is 4 or greater, the Reach and Magnitude of that reputation increases by 1.  If the roll is 8 or greater, then the Reach and Magnitude of that reputation increases by 2.   If the roll is 10 or greater the Reach and Magnitude increase by 3.

Getting a Herald:  If you don’t want to prove yourself every day you can also spread the word by having someone else talk about you.  A herald might cry your accomplishments from the rooftops for the right price or you might commission a bard to write a song about you that they sing in all of the local taverns, who knows.  Use the Player’s Handbook to determine the price of hiring your messenger and then have them make a performance roll (usually singing or oratory).  If the player chooses to hire a troupe of performers, then this roll is made with advantage.  The DC is 10 + the current reach or magnitude of the character’s reputation, whichever is higher.  If the roll succeeds, the player may increase either the reach or magnitude of their reputation by 1.  For every 5 points by which the roll exceeds the DC, they get another increase.  The players may divide the total increases between Reach and Magnitude as they see fit.

Destroying a Reputation

Just as a reputation is built, so too may it be destroyed. Of course, contrary to the common saying about reputations taking only moments to destroy, it can be very difficult to change someone’s entrenched beliefs about a person.  This list, while not exhaustive, are some ways that you might try to damage an existing reputation.

Calling Them Out: Call on them to prove themselves. Challenge them to a contest or to some other test of their bravery, skill, or whatever their reputation is for.  This challenge must be public, and if it is accepted then the contest must be public as well.  To call someone out, start with a Charisma check to get their attention, and the attention of the audience.  When you challenge the person, if they accept then resolve the contest as normal whether it is a duel or a test of strength or whatever else.  Whoever wins the contest may increase their Reputation using the rules for “Proving Yourself” above, and if the victory was decisive enough, the defeated party may lose a similar amount of reputation.  If the challenged party declines, though, then you may make a Performance: Oratory check to shame them for it, opposed by their roll.  The opposing roll may use either Performance: Oratory or a Charisma check with a bonus equal to their reputation’s Magnitude.  If you win, decrease the Magnitude of the targeted character’s reputation by 1, plus an extra 1 for every five points by which you win.

Unkind Whispers: If a character wants to damage someone’s reputation without anyone knowing who is behind it, they may have people quietly spread rumors.  These may be people who are loyal to the character or hirelings paid to spread gossip.  When spreading unkind whispers, roll a d20 and add +1 for every rumormonger who has proficiency in either Persuasion or Deception, and +1 for every three characters who does not.  If the result of this roll is equal to 15 + twice the character’s reputation, then when their reputation spreads (as per the rules for “Word Spread Naturally”) then instead of their reputation’s Magnitude having a 10% chance of increasing it has a 20% chance of decreasing.

Public Mockery:  Public mockery is calling the character’s reputation into question publicly, either through insisting that he is a fraud or through parody and jokes.  A character may publicly mock a target themselves, or have someone else do it in a manner similar to the “Hiring a Herald” option for building reputations.  To publicly mock someone, have the player or whomever they have employed to do their dirty work make a Performance roll with a difficulty equal to 15 + the target character’s reputation.  If the roll succeeds, then the Magnitude of the character’s reputation decreases by 1.

Complimentary and Contradictory Reputations

What if a person has the same reputation in two different places?  What if some people in a town know the person as a hero and others as a coward?  How do these things react to each other?  Well, here are some rules for handling that sort of thing.

Reputations in Two or More Regions: So let’s say that your party has built a reputation for heroism in three different towns within the same region.  These reputations are growing naturally and it stands to reason that they would eventually overlap.  If the party has a reputation with separate entities within the same area, then treat those areas as separate until the total Reach between them adds up to 10.  When they do, combine them into the larger area, as you would if the party’s reputation in a single town had added up to 10.

Contradictory Reputations in the Same Region:  Okay, so your party rescued Steve the Pet Shop owner from goblins and he is quick to sing their praises, but Carl was there and he says he saw them kill all the goblins while they were sleeping and that they’re actually not much better than the goblins themselves.  This means that they have a reputation as heroes with some people in the area and a reputation as cowards among others.  When within the reach of both reputations, you may have to decide which reputation a person believes.  To decide, roll a d10, add the magnitude of their Good reputation and subtract the magnitude of their Bad reputation.  If the result is 1-3, then the NPC knows the character for their Bad reputation.  If it is a 4-7 then the NPC has decided that the rumors are just that and is not affected.  If the result is 8-10 then the NPC believes the Good reputation.  A character with contradictory reputations may attempt a DC 15 Persuasion check or a Deception check to convince people to ignore their Bad reputations in the area.

Closing

The rules in this mechanic are by no means intended to be exhaustive of everything a DM can do with a character’s reputation.  It is instead intended to provide a solid framework and a list of player options for using reputation in the game to affect the players and how they interact with the world around them.  If you have any suggestions for modifications, let me know in the comments or through my contact information. If you like this and want to see more, follow me on twitter @ADetectiveGamer.  If you really liked this mechanic and want to support me, consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi.  Thank you for your support!

5 comments

  1. Good stuff, thank you. I’ve been working on my own “NPC reaction” and I see opportunity to cross the two systems together.

    1. Do it! I hope my system serves you well!

      1. I’m not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer.

        For clarity: did you intend the Reach to be representative of the number of people who hear about a reputation? You imply that a high Reach with a person of influence could effectively get to more people than with some random schmuck.

        Also, is your intent that the DM would track reputation? Or is this something that the players keep track of, the implication being that if they can’t recall the impact of their reputation, there’s nothing stopping the DM from making it up?

      2. Reach is, like many things in D&D, an abstraction. It’s more “how close someone has to be to the person before they are aware.” So a reputation with a Prince and a reach of 2 won’t have spread further than if it were with, say, a blacksmith, but the former does make you more likely to be recognized by the nobility.

        The intention is that the DM would track it.

  2. I’ve been working on an evil campaign with a more nuanced look at “necessary” or “sympathetic” evil. It’s a city based campaign with multiple factions all vying for control. I’ve been trying to work on a way to judge the group and characters’ reputations with them. I think taking this framework but with a table divided by concepts like Renegade and Paragon from Mass Effect will work great. Rather than a reputation of being bad giving just negative effects, it’ll come with both positive and negative outcomes depending on the faction. So you might get a better outcome using fear and intimidation with one faction in the long run though in the short term it’s making things difficult, and vice versa.

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