LESSON Heroic Reputation

Discussion in 'DEVELOPING CHARACTERS & CULTURES' started by Revision, Jan 22, 2013.

  1. Building a Hero with a Rep

    Heroes are larger than life. They are the best of the good guys, those who save the town, get the girl, and have something that makes them special. They may have powers, be demigods, or be incredibly intelligent. Heroes might be inventors, warriors, or musicians. Heroes may obey the law, break the law, or make their own laws. But this workshop isn’t about defining a hero. It is about helping you to create a hero with a reputation.

    Why is this reputation so important? Most heroes don’t hide away in their basements and hope no one notices them. Even those that do tend to have little luck with it. Chances are, the more times your character does something heroic, the more likely they are to be noticed. Because of this, their methods and, if they don’t hide their identity, their personal lives will start to build them a reputation. Reputation is the measure of how your hero appears to others. That measure can be used to add definition to a character and to make certain that their powers, strengths, weaknesses, and flaws are in line with how they are perceived.

    Note: Rumors happen. Your character’s reputation is going to be an exaggeration of what they really do, how they really act, and how strong they really are. So best leave yourself some wiggle room when building the character.

    Step 1: Is it a Who is the Rep with? and Step 2: Is it a Good Rep or a Bad One?
    Steps 1 and 2 actually go hand in hand. At the same time you choose if your character has more of a good reputation or a bad one, you’ll want to have some idea who this main reputation is with. But, for simplicity’s sake, let’s start with step one.

    Assume you will be working with the biggest faction your reputation is going to influence. In most cases, this will be the general public. However, your character may only be known to a secret agency or two, a major national power, or even just one town in the middle of nowhere. Whoever the biggest demographic your character will regularly interact with is, they are your target audience for reputation. Keep in mind: the police, the villains, and the politicians may all have their own ideas of who you are. Reputation doesn’t deny individual opinions, it just tends to influence them.

    Now, is the reputation good with them or bad with the major demographic? Are you a hero with a heart of gold in their eyes or do you leave a trail of destruction to save one person? Some heroes may seem to drag chaos wherever they go. When the only testament to their presence is a trail of broken shop carts and buildings, even though they fulfilled a super secret mission to save a head of state, they are going to have to deal with the bad reputation that brings. On the other hand, your character may be a selfish jerk who just wants to go home and inadvertently stops a mugging, just happening to be caught on someone’s cellphone camera and blogged all over the internet. The resulting fame and love might not be something your character really wants but, just like the negative reputation for the guy who means well, he’s stuck with the good guy rap. Of course, your character’s reputation can also be just what he wants. Sometimes. Remember, reputation can change on the public’s whim. Your character will have to work to maintain his reputation.

    Step 3: Define your exact reputation

    Now that you’ve decided if your general reputation is good or bad, consider exactly what you have a reputation for and how you got it. Do you have a reputation for saving the day at the very last minute? Or are your over the top antics getting you a reputation for taking unnecessary risks? Consider all the facets of your reputation. One good way to look at this is to picture how an article about your hero might start.

    Example:
    Eccentric inventor Damion Jarstrek will be appearing at a ceremony to honor his work this weekend. He is known for being the man behind the Painted Sword Project and is well loved, despite rumors of drug use and adultery.


    That’s a pretty good summary of reputation. Keep in mind that each person your character meets may have a differing opinion, but the vast majority are going to be whispering about his torrid affairs in between bouts of cheering for his heroic deeds in this case. Remember, these rumors, stories, and opinions are likely to be wildly exaggerated, or at least a bit larger than life. Another way to think about this is to consider the intro to a comic book.

    Example:
    Who is the face behind the mask of Lady Faithstorm? This young hero is becoming a symbol of peace and hope in Rome, standing strong against the enemies of the Church. Wielding her Shield of the Cross, she is the champion of our time, courageous in the face of evil and steadfast in her belief.


    Step 4: What do the villains think?

    In most stories, your major demographic won’t be the villains. (However, sometimes, especially when your character leads a very hidden double life, they might be.) If your villains are not part of this major demographic, you will need to determine how each sect of villains views your character and why. Just repeat the steps above for villains as your target audience for reputation.

    Step 5: Differences Between Rep and Reality


    As we’ve already discussed, the reality of your character may differ anywhere from slightly to highly from their reputation. In most cases, the reputation will be the more impressive of the two, but sometimes, characters can be underestimated and their reputation may actually be the lesser. Players just learning to use reputation should be cautious when using the second option. It is very easy to slip into the “no one knows just how perfect my character is” trap. When you make the reputation bigger, you are imposing limitations on yourself that will naturally lead to a more believable character.

    If you haven’t made your character in detail yet, now is the time to do so. If you have, you might now be tweaking your character slightly after realizing they were over/underpowered. Heroes may have awesome talents but they also have a lot to live up to.

    Example:
    Excited for a new game, Tanya makes a very high powered character named Trifire. Trifire has superstrength, the ability to deflect all projectiles, super speed, invisibility, and can control all forms of fire and plasma, including lightning. She is easily the most powerful character in the scenario Tanya hopes to design for her. But Tanya realizes that, to make a reputation that outshines her character’s gifts, she’s going to have to enter the realm of silliness. Realizing this, she takes a harder look at her character and decides to dial back the powers a bit and let the character’s reputation do some of the work for the character.


    Using Reputation in a Multiplayer/Group Game

    It is important to speak with your GM about reputation. If they don’t know your character has one, they won’t be able to work it into the storyline. Be sure you let the GM know where the character has this rep and how they got it. Don’t be surprised if the GM asks other players about their own reputations. Some GMs even include parts of a character sheet where players can include things like reputation and secrets.


    Special Note: The Carefully Crafted Reputation

    Some characters take great pride in their reputation. In this case, a good part of the character's time might be devoted to keeping the publicity shining where it is wanted and the paparazzi away. There will still be some things beyond your character's control, but a character of this sort is also very good at spin control when something untoward does end up on the evening news. Some even employ a PR person, so if you have a chance to take a minion, that might be a good option. Also, never neglect paying morally ambiguous bards and minstrels a bit of extra coin to spread your good rumors and ignore the bad. Trying to do this with a newspaper, however, might be a pretty bad idea.


    Tips for GMs Using Reputation in a Game

    -Use it often and creatively. If your characters are heroic in everyday life or appear in their heroic garb in public, have the public react accordingly.
    -Don’t always have it benefit characters. Even a good reputation can make people jealous, angry, or plain power hungry.
    -Be careful not to overuse it. Unless the reputation is the main plot point, having paparazzi constantly chasing your group all over is a bad idea.
    -Remember that rumors are highly mutable. Think of the Telephone game, where you whisper something to one person, they whisper what they hear to another, and by the time it reaches the end of the string of people, it’s something totally different.
    -Always have people who have no idea who your group is. There is always someone who has been living under a rock for the past several months.



    So, what sort of reputations do your characters have?