Fame in Role-Playing Games

Player characters in role-playing games do amazing things ; slay dragons, defeat undead hordes and save orphans from blood-thirsty cults. Oddly, many game masters and campaigns overlook the public relations aspect of these acts, the fame.

Fame is more than notoriety. Fame is the intangible thread, the meme of your PC throughout the world. In a sense the PC becomes a facet of the culture instead of a member. By facet I mean things like legends, religions, even cuisine. All the things that members of the culture know and share.

I always thought  fame a dehumanizing experience. People “know” you only through the culture’s collective knowledge and assumptions. This means that everyone has preconceived notions about how you should act or appear. It is this disconnect between the reality and the expectation that drives much of fame’s burden.

Today celebrities face near-constant scrutiny from the media, frequent public assaults for personal failings both real and imagined and the occasional death-threat from deranged fans. Threats that occasionally escalate to violence.

Now apply all of those issues to an RPG campaign and the litany of great role-playing opportunities is very clear. My current “Alpha Omega” campaign opened with the PCs appearing (unwittingly) in a Candid Camera reality show called “Villain or Valor.” The PCs came across a downed vessel and faced to loot the ship or saving the passengers. The PCs fought heroically and saved the passengers while other NPCs looted the vessel.

It was all a setup arranged by a production company. The PCs now had their faces across millions of TVs as the heroic savior of a very pretty blonde girl. Sadly, a couple of PCs had the “hunted” drawback which meant they now were very easy to find.

My PCs hoped keeping a low profile might cool the media’s attention, but a PC with a large mouth happily bragged about his TV appearance and re-ignited interest. This allowed me to interject some paparazzi problems into the campaign. My party is quite happy to skulk in the shadows and earn some coin. Rather difficult when 12 photographers follow around the city and continuously post your location and activities. A clever PC solved that issue with a bit of mind control (these are not the famous people you are looking for…).

Besides dodging invasive reporters, the PC now have to overcome the assumption that they are selfless defenders of the innocent (occasionally true) and not mercenary bottom-feeders (true 99% of the time).

Paparazzi aside, recognition is a dangerous thing for adventurers. Disguises are now a daily ritual. When they are out of disguise, the fear of recognition and annoyance by fans is something to avoid. Often because the fans get caught in the crossfire or worse, get in the way of the PCs goal.

“Alpha Omega” lends itself to a bit of media criticism because it has giant media corporations and the Internet. That is not to say that fame’s burden exists only for PC in advanced campaign worlds. Take the first-century Nika Riots as an example. Gladiatorial fan clubs threatened to overthrow Constantinople and only the legendary general Belisarius stopped the revolt through sheer violence. Fans are an army, albeit badly trained and cowardly. That said, a PC stating that he “does not like the king” might very well inspire a revolt, even by accident. Fans are unpredictable.

Though paparazzi are a modern invention, broadsheets and pamphleteers might leverage a famous PC’s name (with or without his knowledge) for personal gains. Advertisers might lie outright about a PC to leverage their fame for profit. “Ajax the Avenger Loves the Green Dog Pub.”

There are some benefits to fame. It will open doors, grease wheels and provide a ready source of plot hooks. It also solves the verisimilitude problem regarding why the king would hire a bunch of 3rd-level losers for a “critical secret mission.” Hiring a group with a populist backing is good politics and makes much more sense, even if they are still 3rd-level losers. At least they are famous losers!

I hope you can see the value in injecting fame into your campaign. The role-playing encounters generated by fame are endless and they make for a nice break from killing the dragon. Besides, any clown can kill a dragon. Real heroes have to kill the dragon and keep their fans happy at the same time!

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

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