The Gassy Gnoll: How do you track character fame?

This Gassy Gnoll has come to the conclusion that when you see the word “fame,” you inevitably see the words “and fortune” beside it. Why you may ask? Because fortune is much easier to track than fame, so why not lump them together?

As player characters (PCs), we as players are typically focused on various goals. There are the meta-game goals such as gaining enough experience points to level up and enough money to acquire that next magic item that will throw the character into overdrive. There are the roleplaying benefits of bonding with a character so you want them to succeed with their friends in this imaginary world you’ve created. And then there’s the character’s actual goals… Let’s focus on those for a moment.

Most PCs have personal goals. My characters have varied from a Malkavian (Vampire: The Masquerade) wanting to write down all the rules for life and follow them to the letter to succeed… To an escaped slave rogue (first in HERO and later in D&D 3.5e) wanting to end slavery in an alternate Roman Empire. And everything in-between. These goals are difficult to measure for the player, which makes them even harder to measure for the gamemaster (GM).

But the bigger question for me is… How do you measure how well known a character is within that world? Sure, experience levels are one way to measure how powerful a character is – but it doesn’t really help with measuring the “star power” of a character. You have to track character growth however, and XP are a well-known way of doing that in various games. You almost need another scale – a “Fame-o-meter” if you will – to track success and failure within particular contexts.

And those contexts may vary by setting and genre. For example, there probably isn’t a thriving magic community in a campaign based in the real world. And there isn’t much of a gun community in your basic Forgotten Realms sort of setting.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself… Let’s try and define a few of these “contexts” for measuring Fame.

  • “Little Fish” – Local community. The smaller the better. Small towns or villages pass shared knowledge by word of mouth. So you can quickly become a big fish in a small pond by doing local good deeds and completing quests for known powerful groups outside the town/village.
  • “Professional” – Professional community. Again, the smaller the better. For example, the local mage guild (or church, or blacksmith guild, etc.) gains notoriety through your positive actions and will want to remain associated with you to stay on your coat-tails.
  • “Big Fish” – Larger communities such as big cities, kingdoms, empires, etc. In these larger ponds, making a big splash (initial appearance/introductions/deeds) gets you noticed and the bigger the deeds, the better the story to be passed through the rumor mill.

A particular character may be a member of multiple contexts, so you’d almost have to track it for each one separately. Not sure of a good mechanic here, but my gut says that you gain a certain number of points each time you complete a task during a campaign. Tasks can simply be delivering goods, protecting cargo or people, slaying monsters, discovering lost ruins, etc. Each would confer some number of points based on the complexity and risk of the task.

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So let’s say a group of PCs rescues a local maiden from a band of kobolds. That’s a positive event with an immediate local impact even though (depending on party levels) it may not be all that hard to do. Weighing those criteria, the GM adds 5 points to their local Little Fish “Fame-o-meter” rating.

The same would be true if they fail in a task. They would lose local fame if they failed to rescue that local maiden…

Now let’s go a bit further and say that the same group of PCs helps with multiple other tasks with a variety of difficulty ratings and racks up 50 points. So they’re quite well known in the local area (“Little Fish” fame) and get asked for help quite a bit.

The local affiliations of the group, whether it be professional, political, or familial, get to ride a certain amount of that fame train. So let’s say a character’s “Professional” fame is equal to half of their local fame. So they’re pretty well known in the groups that have some connection back to their local roots.

As far as their fame in the bigger scheme of things, we’ll knock them down one more notch and say their “Big Fish” fame is equal to a quarter of their local fame. In this case, someone may have heard of them with 12 points (round down), but they’re relatively unknown outside their main circles of influence.

Not a perfect system by any stretch, but I think it starts to address how fame can be measured as a result of the party’s actions. Consider this a line in the sand I’m willing to erase and start over if it doesn’t work. The Gassy Gnoll is nothing if not persistent (though in his case it may be the foul odor that persists)…

What do you think? Leave me some comment love and tear it apart or offer some alternate suggestions on how you handle it in your own games. Consider me curious!

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6 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: How do you track character fame?

  • This is a problem I’ve wrestled with for a while. Your method is a fairly common starting point. There are a couple issues, though. It is a lot of bookkeeping, for one thing. You have to track fame points across several communities, and figure out how the overlaps work.

    You mention how fame in the small pond can translate up to the professional and big pond levels. Does it trickle back down? If I’m a prodigy of the Mage’s Guild for the kingdom, does that impress anyone in Hicktown?

    Also, you need to sort of track the things a character is famous for. Are you known as a fierce warrior who slaughters the enemies of the nation? Or a just noble who protects the innocent? Or a clever trickster who talked your way out of a battle with giants? Each of these might give you the same number of fame points, but spark very different reactions from people who hear about you.

    And, of course, you need to think about how players will use, and be used by, this system. Can a bard put spin on events, and/or increase the party’s fame? Can the party trade on the fame for discounts from merchants or access to nobles? Are enemies more likely to know about your capabilities because everyone at the tavern is talking about you?

    I’ve never found a system that I like, but I’ve certainly found several that I don’t. I’d be interested to see if you come up with any refinements.
    Lugh recently posted…My worst GMing mistakesMy Profile

    • Fitz

      @Lugh – Thanks for joining me in this strange quest for a system that works. It is definitely a lot of bookkeeping. It turns out to be one heck of a Venn diagram with overlapping circles all over the place, but in many places those overlaps may be small if not insignificant.

      Your points about infamy and spin are interesting as well. Would a “butcher” of a particular race or type (i.e. Grog the Kobold-Slayer) be welcomed with open arms in a place that actually supports a kobold community? And could a bard actually spin that in any appreciable way? Probably not…

      I agree it’s just a starting point. But a starting point is better than being lost in the woods. 😉 I’ll have to ponder how this thing develops.

      • One option that I am toying with is having fame rated on a fairly simple 1-100 scale. A bunch of different factors come together to determine your score.

        The thing is, for every point of fame you have, you must have one event or descriptor attached to it. It’s not necessarily the event that gave you that point, but it is something you are known for.

        When checking to see if a person knows who your character is, roll d%. If the result is under your fame, they know you. Check the descriptor for that result, and that is the first thing that pops into that person’s head about you.

        It’s bookkeeping heavy, but I think it might be fun bookkeeping. If nothing else, your fame list will end up being a cool chronicle of who your character is.

        • Fitz

          @Lugh – Interesting… I like the idea of making the players track this, but if they’re into the roleplaying parts of gaming many of us track that stuff anyhow. This just offers a structure for that knowledge, plus a built-in mechanic. Very nice!

  • Fitz,
    Sorry I missed this article the first time around (I’m so late to the party). Below is the complete reputation system/chart that I used for my 2009 Fourth Edition Campaign based on Scott Lynch’s Novels in general and more specifically gambling/social intrigue in a “Sinspire”-style casino. This campaign was very, very social interaction heavy to the point where you gained rep/fame by delivering gifts in public situations. Thus the reason “gift-giving” is so heavily weighted. I’m not saying this system is the be-all and end-all but it worked well for us.
    Cheers,
    Bill

    Reputation System

    Starting: You begin at a 0 reputation
    Boosts: If your have Charisma 13 or more you gain +1
    And +1 per 2 experience levels as well

    * Modifiers =======
    -5 Epic Fail Convicted of Major Crime, Actions led directly to
    the death of an important person or destruction of
    important building.
    -2 Major Fail Accused of Major Crime, Convicted of Minor
    Crime, Failed Mission
    -1 Minor Fail Losing end of an important “face” moment
    -casino game, social interaction, appeared
    on “wrong” casino level. Accused of
    Minor crime.
    +1 Minor Success Victorious in an important “face” moment
    -casino game, social interaction
    Completed Mission, Made valuable contact
    accompanied by “perfect gift”.
    +2 Major Success Completed major trade transaction, made major
    land/creature/arcane discovery, hosted successful
    major party
    +3 Epic Success Saved the life of important person, prevented
    major city destruction.

    * Benefits of Reputation ====
    Access to parties, access to casino levels, and tangible benefits to:
    Diplomacy +1 bonus to diplomacy checks for every 5 points of Rep.
    Intimidate +1 bonus to intimidate checks for every 7 points of Rep.
    And Streetwise +1 bonus to streetwise checks for every 10 points of Rep.

    Note: Obviously these bonuses only apply to those who are aware of your reputation. Thus in foreign lands and among those unaware of your importance bonuses may be reduced or negated entirely.

  • Fitz

    @Bill – Very interesting. I like the balance of penalties and bonuses… Being convicted of a major crime definitely has some repercussions! Thanks for chiming in!
    Fitz recently posted…News from Around the Net: 27-JAN-12My Profile

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