|Art by Eva Widermann|
The mechanic basically measures how famous the character is and how people will react to the character. The reputation could be positive and be a boon to the character, or it could be negative and act as a hindrance to the character. Whether its positive or negative really depends on who the character is interacting with and where they are at the time. As the character travels the land and goes on different adventures, their score will fluctuate, going up or down based on the character's actions.
While a sub-system is one of the more obvious ways to handle this idea, there are a few others ways you can implement it as well. If you're using a system similar to Dungeons & Dragons, you could have a seventh abiliy score called "Reputation". Like the other ability scores, Reputation would have a number associated with it and a positive or negative modifier tied to it. The modifier would influence situations where your Reputation would factor in. If your Reputation would help in the situation, you would add the modifier to your checks, making things easier for you. If your Reputation would hinder you in the situation, the GM would add the modifier to the difficulty class of the check, making things harder for you. As you go on quests, your Reputation score would advance based on your actions. The one hiccup with this version is how you'd handle negative modifiers and would you generate your Reputation score like the other ability scores, or would it start at 0?
If you didn't want to bother with mechanics, you could handle the fame of the characters in a more free-form manner. This is the method I'm currently using in my Heroes of Sandpoint campaign. As the characters go out on adventures, you basically call attention to their growing presence in the region, make the people hiring them for jobs more important and influential, and have the rewards they receive grow and change. While you don't have to worry about mechanics with this method, you have to remember to keep decent notes so things remain consistent and its more of an art than a science.
Like most things, which method you prefer really comes down to personal preference and maybe what kind of game you are trying to run. If the game focuses a lot on the heroes becoming famous and how that will both hurt and hinder them, a hard mechanic might be the way to go. However, if you prefer a more casual representation of a character's reputation, the free-form method might be a better fit.
Question Time: What is your preferred method for the representation of a character's reputation? Do you like a mechanical approach, or a more free-form style?