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I'm currently planning a game with a significant amount of intrigue. I envision the players undertaking actions and adventures that will endear them to one group, and anger others. It occurs to me that I probably need to track this throughout the campaign.

What is a good tool for reputation tracking? Should I just keep a single number per organization in a spreadsheet?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

"Yes, but what have you done for us recently?"

We like numbers, as gamers. We like representing the world as modifiers to rolls. But social capital is both horribly represented and really well represented numerically. I'm going to quite happily refer to At-Will's excellent post of "Penniless but not Powerless" and riff from there.

They introduce reputation and fame as part of a currency system which represents the resources that characters have to draw on. In Part 2 they talk about alternate currencies. Here, I'd like to add "Favours."

All social capital, whether implicit or explicit is a way of managing resources. It's a complex (and usually not-conscious) exploration of game-theory's Stag Hunt. People naturally fall into a tit-for-tat pattern with iterated Stag Hunts, because well, cooperation is good, but cooperating with defectors costs resources.

Therefore, favours are an abstract commodity just like fame, reputation, etc. While the posts are about 4e's system, it's trivial to take the idea of "articulated abstract capital" to any given game system. Furthermore, favours are actually quite portable. If I want a favour from you, and you have your own needs beyond what I can do you, I may "know a guy who knows a guy who..." and can exchange services for services. Even with competing factions.

Therefore, we don't have to give players faction-specific currency. The "Favour Wealth" indicates how many markers they hold, how much value they've contributed to various factions. However, people/factions also have short memories, thus the "I know you saved the world... but what have you done for me recently?" For any given faction, referenced on index cards, wave, google docs, have a bullet pointed list of the 5 most recent things the players have done that have impacted the course of the faction.

If the players want something from the faction, they can pay favours. The "discount" of favours, is a function of how positive or negative those last 5 things are.

Thus, players can play in the complex social world and do favours for people and get non-currency rewards. However, the value of their favours fluxes with their fortunes, their ability, and who they're helping or annoying this month. It's also really easy to track and add new factions.

Here are some examples:

The players want a favour from a faction leader that really likes them, they want a squad of thugs to back them up on the next mission.

They've got quite a sum of favours, and their last 5 entries have been positive. These people like them, and they think they will come out ahead if they risk capital on this group. The players pay X favours, whatever would be a currency equivalent, less a discount if appropriate, and they've got a squad of thugs. The DM notes down "Bravo squadron assigned to party." This is a fairly neutral entry, but it pushes the earliest entry off the stack (queue, because it's FIFO, but we won't go into CS here.), factions are fickle. If the squad is slaughtered, in the way of NPCs, that's then added to the stack, and the next earliest is pushed off.

You, as the DM, simply need to refer to these cards or bullets whenever the players want something and can reward favours as treasure when appropriate.

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Personally, I don't think a detailed system for tracking reputation is required at all. The moment you introduce such a system and the players become aware of it, it is inevitable that they will try to game the system (even if not intentionally). I'd just keep a small list of the good and bad actions committed by the players that the various groups are aware of and adjust their reactions accodingly.

However, if you simply must have a system I'd suggest using the "Faction" system from the EverQuest d20 game (the paragraphs about the Faction rules are found in both the Player's Handbook and the Game Master's Guide, explaining the mechanical aspects respectively giving DM advice for awarding Faction points and describing already existing groups in Norrath), published by Swords and Sorcery Studio in 2002 (or sometime around that). The base line is a new stat - appropriately called "Faction" - that is tracked separately for each group. This Faction ranking ranges from -10 to +6 and is adjusted by the player's actions.

Example Faction adjustments:
-6 | Murder/Treason/Sacrilege
-4 | Arson
-3 | Theft
+1 | Recovering stolen goods/prisoners
+2 | Eliminating enemies

Faction ranking describes the initial stance of a group's members towards the players, and ranges from "Ready to attack" (Faction -10) to "Indifferent" (Faction 0) to "Allied" (Faction +6). The Faction ranking also affects all Charisma-based skill checks with members of the appropriate group. So if a character has Faction (Freetraders) +4 he gets a +4 bonus when dealing with Freetraders; if a character has Faction (Thieves guild) -10 he not only suffers the risk of being immediately attacked by guild thieves but even if he manages to get them to talk he suffers a -10 penalty to his checks.

The important thing is that only actions that the NPC group is aware of affect the players' Faction ranking. So if the players cover up their tracks very well or do something stupid when really nobody is watching, their Faction ranking remains unaffected.

Obviously, there are several problems with such a mechanic.

  1. Gaming the system. If you allow minor reputation gains ("donating to the church", etc) the characters can simply buy their way into benefits with their gold and even compensate for crimes against the current group. This may lead to back-and-forth changes of Faction ranking between doing something bad and then paying to get rid of the penalty. It's similar to the NWN alignment system (which I personally found utterly ridiculous to begin with, but that's another story).

    One possible consequence is that as long as the characters have enough money to donate, the group may simply ignore even heavy infractions (like e.g. murdering one of the group's leaders). The only way to prevent such a situation was to ignore the Faction ranking system, which then begs the question why it was needed if you wouldn't stick to it.

  2. Complexity. Such a system quickly grows out of bounds if you try to model relationships between groups. Imagine 4 groups: A, B, C and D. A and B are allied, as are C and D. A and C are hostile, while B and D are relatively neutral towards each other. Now the PCs complete a major quest for A which gives the group a big advantage over C. So, theoretically, the characters' Faction rankings should change with each group:

    • A: big Faction gain for completing the quest
    • B: lesser Faction gain for helping their ally
    • C: big Faction loss for helping their enemy
    • D: lesser Faction loss for hindering their ally

    If you have complex networks of groups (and possibly even powerful individuals like dragons that follow their own agenda) such a system quickly grows overly complex.

  3. MMO-ification. The Faction system used in the EverQuest d20 game is a - more or less - direct but simplified adaption from the system used in the EverQuest MMORPG. Simulating social relationships in an online game simply cannot match the degree of detail possible in a pnp rpg, but rather requires abstract calculations. Therefore, using such a system at the gaming table my introduce a break of gaming style not expected by the players ("What do you mean we have to grind standing with the city guard before they will offer the next quest?")

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Donating money may be a perfectly good way to get away with murder, if you're playing a game with a decidedly cynical bent (like Shadowrun). Obviously, it depends on the faction in question. And, hey, it might work in real life, too: time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2059330,00.html –  RMorrisey Mar 21 '11 at 13:42
    
Nice answer. I agree that having a number really doesn't make sense. Better to just keep a list of important events and the factions that are aware of them (maybe with a +/0/- notation next to it.), then judge on the fly how the PCs are doing with the group in question. In particular, standing with a faction may vary based on where they are encountered. PCs might not have good standing with faction A in the town where they openly opposed them, but running across them 100 miles away in a hostile land, they might find them to be allies. –  Aaron Mar 21 '11 at 18:05
    
+1 Nice answer. Also donating money, like Indulgences (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indulgence) is quite valid sometimes... –  Rob Dec 20 '12 at 13:14
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There are some great answers here, but whatever you do, I would suggest keeping your system a secret.

Dont tell the players your system for tracking rep, maybe even keep from them the fact that you are tracking rep. Sure, they should be able to find out in game what people think of them (or at least what NPCs want the players to believe they think of them) but for me, keeping the players in the dark on the mechanics of it would add to the fun.

It's like corruption/insanity in warhammer/40k setting games. I've found it much better when GM's have tracked this, just telling me the effects as they happen rather than letting me track it myself. I think rep is much the same, I'd much rather go into a meeting and have the NPCs react differently to different PCs.

I've even played in low combat/non heroic games where the GM has kept track of health. It seems like a lot of hard work for the GM, but in the right situation, it can really help emphasise the feel of the campaign.

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Just a number probably won't be expressive enough, if the number of factions is enough that you need help tracking who thinks what about who, then you should keep a running log of what factions think about the players. The bookkeeping might be a pain, but you'll be able to avoid the problems Baelnorn talked about. It might be handy to have a one or two sentence description of how faction members react to the PCs for quick reference, but definitely decide on what it is realistically (kindly helping an old lady up after maliciously knocking her down shouldn't leave a PC reputation neutral).

As far as tools go, it depends on what's easiest for you. If there aren't a huge number of factions and you can scan for the one you're looking for quickly then using a spreadsheet as a list is probably the easiest. If it would be easier to acces the groups if they were listed as a complex hierarchy or relationship graph then maybe look into some Mind Mapping Software. Most MM software only let's you express trees (hierarchies), but some of the better ones can do more complex graphs.

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+1 Good answer. Welcome to the site. :) –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Mar 21 '11 at 11:13
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There are two approaches to this dilemma.
Numbers and dice. This has been addressed in above answers. If it's your want, follow that advice.

Narratively. It's pretty simple to know if the PC actions have been more or less in favor or against a given faction. I'd also look at their latest interaction with the group/group's adversary. Did they help/hinder the enemy? Help/hinder the faction? Then I'd flip a coin or roll an even/odd roll (to introduce randomness or break a tie if recent past and full past conflict). This should give you 3 pieces of data on whether or not the group is favorable towards the PCs or not. Play accordingly.

If they are solidly aligned with a faction, but you want to introduce some drama, I'd also reserve the right to have the PCs end up dealing with a member of the faction who just plain don't like them. "they're free-spirits. they don't follow orders or respect the chain of command!" That would provide some fun interactions, especially if Mr. Grumpy's attache is someone the PCs personally saved due to their "maverick ways". Or maybe have Mr. Grumpy be the peon who is trying to make a mark in the organization and the PCs keep thwarting Mr. Grumpy and his orderly progress. If you've seen Amadeus, Salieri has worked his whole LIFE to be the king's musician, yet Mozart without seeming to even try, out does him time and again. Could make some memorable encounters (at least to my group who loves some good drama... especially years later when BSing while waiting for the pizza to arrive).

EDIT:
Renown/Prestige Points I just read last night a bit about Pathfinder's faction rules. I think they have a mechanic that would also work here. They have something called Prestige Award. You do something good for a faction, you get a point or 2 of prestige. The book seemed to indicate that over a career of serving one faction, a character is likely to not earn more than about 35 or 40 points.

They also track both total and current prestige. With Current, it's like hit points. You have the capacity for X hit points, but thanks to that Orc with the big axe, you are at X-Y hit points. Simply put, do a good deed, and you get a point of both Total Prestige and Current Prestige. Call in a favor, you burn Current Prestige point(s). Something small like finding a secure room in a city that's mostly full due to the Festival of MacGuffin would only cost a single CPA, but if you are on the run from the law and desperately need to get on a ship with no questions asked, it would likely cost significantly more.

To bring it around to your situation, you could do something similar, only if the PCs help the faction's enemies, maybe burn a point or 2 of current prestige.

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Not sure I understand the point of flipping a coin ... –  C. Ross Mar 21 '11 at 16:16
    
@C. Ross, it introduces an element of randomness into it. Sometimes you are going to deal with someone who don't like outsiders, they know you are good people, but they just don't trust/feel comfortable around you. Also, if the recent past and "cumulative" past are disagreeing, it breaks a tie. –  Pulsehead Mar 21 '11 at 17:30
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I don't. At least not formally. At most, I'll make a note on an NPC's page that says if he has a particular reaction to the PCs. But beyond that, I just try and remember what the PCs did in certain regions. I figure that if I don't remember it, the locals won't either.

But I liked how Game of Thrones d20 did reputation. Each level the PCs got a reputation point. They could either make up a new term their character was renowned for, or add to an existing term. During all sorts of social interaction checks, these reputations could come into play either positively or negatively. For instance if someone was known for being easy going, they'd get a bonus when making friends but a penalty when making intimidation checks.

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I've seen this mainly show up in video games, and it's often a system of opposing factions, so the more you endear yourself with one faction, the less the other faction will appreciate you. I'm not sure how you'd handle this with a faction triangle or other multi-way relationship. Still, using the two-way relationship, you can just slide them one way or the other.

Something that could be done is to take a cue from A Dirty World which has opposed character traits, you could go from 0-5 in a trait, but there's an overlap of 3, so the best you could have in the opposed trait of a trait 5 is 3. You could have 4 in both if you're really balancing things well. You could also have it set up so that you just lose one without necessarily seeing a gain in the other.

I think here also having a system that gives you a potential of being in the good graces of opposing factions could lead to some interesting gaming, and would be a situation where you're not trying to hide it from the players.

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Aspects-like

Why not go with something along the Aspects system of FATE?

For everything that your characters do, write down a simple sentence on what they did and if that harmed or helped anyone. Here, I would focus on the outcome, not the intent (but sometimes the intent is enough).

Then you have a list of things your characters did to help or harm factions. Whenever they are negotiating with a faction or with the populace, anything in their favor will give them a bonus, and everything against them will make it harder. The exact implementation would be dependent on your system.

This way, your reputation is not reduced to a mere number. You can show the passing of time, by not giving bonuses for things way up the list. You can also for each person gauge which of the deeds apply to them. If you want to make a grand total of "in favor of A or in favor of B?", you can just sum up things as appropriate.

If you really want to go into the numbers, you can assign a severity number to each deed. Or you could say that the gravity of deed A far overshadows deed B so that only A applies.

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Eclipse Phase has a whole system for keeping track of reputation. They use it as a economy 2.0 (aka post-scarcity) similar to whuffies and Kudos. Those rules could easily be adapted into what you wanted. The books are free to download (CC) but if you like it, do consider paying for them so that they can do more cool stuff. Cory Doctorow's Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom (again CC) describe a reputation based economy but that is moving off topic.

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