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Maldin's Greyhawk


by Denis Tetreault
 Version 1.0

Within any campaign world, there are personages both famous and infamous. Player characters hear about these people and may come to respect (or despise) these people. They may even aspire to achieve such fame and become those people. The D&D game is built on and for heroics, so why shouldn't they! It is what the game is all about. What adventuring party doesn't revel in the accolades heaped upon them by important (even royal) heads-of-state after the successful completion of some grand quest.... the defeat of a great evil.... the protection of a land. What PCs may or may not realize is that there are as many, if not more, disadvantages to fame as there are advantages, particularly if PCs are not prepared to change the way they live their lives. Game mechanics such as "influence points" may allow PCs to reap the benefits of fame and accomplishment, but do nothing to account for the downsides. "Notoriety" attempts to more accurately reflect the effects of fame (and infamy) on the lives of the player characters.

Notoriety is a game mechanic that was first introduced in the adventure module WGR6 "City of Skulls" by Carl Sargent. Within that adventure, it was used to help the DM determine when the enemy began to notice the PCs', and what sort of resistance or counteraction they would encounter based on their actions during the adventure. It was designed to function strictly within the context of that adventure, an infiltration mission into dangerous enemy territory. DMs are encouraged to read that original description for a lot of ideas about the use of Notoriety in the context of a single adventure. Here I would like to present ideas on how the idea of Notoriety can be expanded to the campaign scale, and usable anywhere within a campaign world, not solely behind enemy lines.

Starting Notoriety

At the beginning of their careers, an adventuring party will have a notoriety score of zero. This is then modified according to the makeup of the party. Changes in membership result in changes to this base score.

Paladin - add 2 points per individual
Noble birth - add 2 points per individual
Elf - add 1 point per individual
Demihuman (other then elf) - add 1 point per individual to a maximum of 2 points

Disguising race is not particularly effective (at least in regards to starting notoriety) because some creatures and NPCs will see through it. The fact that fewer creatures see the PCs true nature is offset by the increased suspicion raised by disguising it.

Gaining Notoriety through Action

A party's notoriety score will then increase according to what they do, and whether they are seen doing it. Casting spells in a public square is an obvious example of high profile behavior, however such behavior in front of just one or two NPCs (if they are "connected" or members of a potentially interested rival organization) may be enough to cause the party's fame to spread.

Points are accrued each time a major spell is cast in a public place (or in the presence of NPCs likely to spread such information): 
+1 pt.    3rd level spell
+2 pts.   6th level spell
+5 pts.   9th level spell

Points are accrued when completing an adventure or mission that has an effect on the local populace. Raiding a long forgotten tomb is likely to go unnoticed by the general public, however wiping out a tribe of humanoids that have been terrorizing the citizens for years will be noticed by all.

+1 pt.  Completing an adventure of local significance, such as clearing out a troublesome orc hovel, rescuing a merchant or dignitaries daughter
+2 pts. Completing an adventure of regional importance, such as eliminating a major cult, or bandits that have been interfering with trade
+4 pts. Completing an adventure of national importance, such as turning the tide of a major battle

Equivalent points are also gained when the PCs kill a major NPC of local (+1), regional (+2), or national/international (+4) significance.

Receiving publicly-announced honors for heroic deeds will increase notoriety. This is in addition to any points gained by the completion of the actual adventure or mission. The presentation does not have to occur before the entire kingdom, only that the honors bestowed are announced publicly.

+2 pts.   Presentation of honors by a local figure
+5 pts.   Presentation of honors by a regional figure
+10 pts. Presentation of honors by a national or international figure

The type of attention the party attracts will depend on exactly what the PCs have been up to. To keep track of this, the DM must attribute a general alignment to the behavior of the party. I use symbols to represent the ethos that best describes the party's actions.

Law = "!"  Chaos = "*"  Good = "+"  Evil = "-"   True Neutral = "~"

Thus a party which has gained 35 notoriety points through actions that were generally lawful good aligned would be noted as 35!+,  strongly evil (general) or strongly neutral evil as 35--, and very strongly chaotic with a slightly good bent as 35+*** score.

Calculating Local Notoriety

If the PCs travel far from their home region (defined as the region where they conduct most of their activity), then it makes sense that fewer people will have heard of their exploits, yet they may also attract attention because they are outsiders. DMs should keep a running timeline (if they don't already), annotated with adventure locations so that notoriety can be calculated relative to whatever region the PCs are currently in when a check is made. PCs will have a "true notoriety" score (as calculated above), however checks are actually made against "local notoriety", a number that is generated for that particular moment by modifying "true notoriety" based on a variety of transient factors.

Local notoriety points will be accrued in regions within which the PCs stand out. For example, if the party contains a halfling, and they are currently in a region which has no indigenous halflings, they will gain an extra point or two (depending on exactly how rare halflings are). A party may also gain a point or two if their dress and/or mannerisms are very different from the local culture. Rare character classes produce the same effect - a paladin in Dorakaa gains double his starting points!

Local notoriety can also be lowered. In general, the farther away the PCs are from particular regions within which they gained previous notoriety points, the lower their "local notoriety" will be. Thus their true notoriety is modified downward. For every 100 miles distant the PCs are from the borders of a region which they gained local or regional notoriety points, and for every 200 miles distant for national notoriety points, those points are diminished by 2 points (to a maximum equal to the points gained in that region).

Notoriety Checks

A Notoriety Check is made when a party enters a new area where they can be observed by numbers of people, such as when they visit a new town. DMs may also wish to make a notoriety check when the PCs come to the attention of a particular NPC or organization. The DM rolls a d20, and adds that number to their local notoriety score.

Score Result
0-10 No visible result
Knowledgeable NPCs believe the party to be simple adventurers, mercenaries, etc.
21-30 Other adventurers and knowledgeable NPCs may recognize the party
31-40 Local officials and organizations recognize the party
Regional officials, NPCs, and organizations recognize party; local officials and organizations watch party carefully
National officials, NPCs, and organizations recognize party; local officials and organizations target party; ordinary citizens recognize PCs
National officials, NPCs, and organizations target party; regional officials, NPCs, and organizations panic; PCs attract crowds of people, small children follow them around

"Recognition" indicates that NPCs may behave more favorably or unfavorably towards the PCs, depending on ethos.
"Target" indicates that the NPCs will either come to the PCs for assistance (recruit), or carefully watch (and neutralize if necessary) the PCs, depending on ethos. NPCs may refuse to deal with such high profile individuals.
Organizations of authority may often view the PCs as trouble no matter what their ethos.

Examples of actions may be special requests to undertake missions, or if conflicting alignment is indicated, the organization may attempt to apprehend or assassinate the PCs. The PCs do not have to have had any previous relations with the NPC or organization in question. The party has just been recognized as "potential trouble" that must be dealt with before the organization's plans can be disrupted. The higher the notoriety score, the higher the level of adversaries that will be sent against the PCs. Thus, it is clear that PCs should try not to gain notoriety too quickly, or soon they will be outclassed by their pursuers. DMs should tailor these situations to their own campaign, and are encouraged to use them as springboards to new adventures. What are these groups hiding? Of course, successfully fending off a high level assassination squad may likely increase the PCs' notoriety even further!

Avoiding Notoriety

As they get recognized more and more often, PCs will begin to realize that their effectiveness is being negatively impacted. It will be harder to find out information as people with things to hide will keep tight-lipped. Alteratively, some will think that if the PCs are interested, it must be important, and therefore their information may be worth more money! Criminal organizations will begin keeping an eye on the PCs' activities, and if they feel the PCs will cause them trouble, will begin to target the PCs - even if the PCs have never even heard of these organizations. Competing treasure hunters and bounty hunters will start hanging about like circling vultures, thinking that if there's something big enough to attract the interests of the PCs, then perhaps its worth checking out themselves. These latter NPCs are particularly interesting as they can serve as recurring thorns in the sides of PCs, without actually being a "nemesis" (and thus the PCs can't simply neutralize them). For all of these reasons, and more, the PCs should realize that unless they take steps to minimize, and even lower, their notoriety, it will become increasingly difficult to continue their lives as adventurers. Eventually the PCs may have no choice but to retire. If the PCs can't figure out why this is happening to them, a well placed note on the body of an attacker from their superiors saying that "the potential troublemakers must be dealt with before our plans are exposed", a helpful hint from an informant saying that the party is "too hot", or a suggestion from the party's own superiors to "tone it down", should clue them in.

There are a variety of ways in which true and local notoriety can be minimized.

During an adventure, PCs can utilize disguises to hide their identity. They could leave false clues that implicate others. Frequent use of misdirection, alibis and maintenance of as much secrecy as possible can also help to deflect attention away from themselves. Making sure that there are no witnesses may reduce the probability of gaining points, however if anyone comes to believe the PCs are involved, this may have the opposite effect. The use of forget, confusion, and suggestion spells, as well as illusion magic, can prove very effective. Magic items, such as a luckstone or dust of disappearance, may effect scores. Moving around very quickly (using fly, teleport, etc.) can also help decrease points, since people may come to believe that a single group could not be responsible. Clever role-playing can also go a long way to covering their tracks. DMs must adjudicate the effect on a notoriety score on a case by case basis.

After an adventure for which they have gained notoriety points, the PCs can attempt to spread contradictory rumors about themselves and any pertinent events. They could even feign failure on their next mission. Depending on the importance of the mission, and the magnitude of their failure, they can lose several notoriety points. A spectacular failure on a very high profile mission could have the opposite effect, however.

The passage of time diminishes notoriety. If the party can avoid gaining any notoriety for 6 months, their true notoriety drops by 5 points. If, however, their true notoriety score is greater then 60 (and they do nothing to lower it), they will actually gain 5 points every 6 months as their fame spreads across the land from storytelling.

One of the PC parties in my campaign world recognized this, and have actually created "alter egos" which they use for all potentially high-profile actions, and never accept "honors" for those alter egos in person. They likewise are obsessively careful about public activities and potential witnesses. They have also undertaken counter-missions for the express purpose of negating evidence, and actively encourage rumors that decreased their personal notoriety. Their alter egos have attained quite high notoriety scores (and they have used that score to good effect on several occasions), yet their own privacy (and thus effectiveness) remains uncompromised.

As my notoriety mechanic is new and has had only limited testing, I would be very interested in hearing about the experiences of other DMs that try to use it in their own campaigns. Is the Notoriety Check Chart realistic, or does it overemphasize (or underemphasize) the effect of high notoriety? Should there be more modifiers? Less? I'd very much like to hear what other DMs think.

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This page last modified on December 20, 2004