Reputation and Oases

What do you think is the worst rule in Coriolis? It’s an elegant system, and frankly I don’t think there is much wrong with it. But I do have a problem with Reputation. And this bit in particular:

Your Reputation score and that of your opponent will affect your MANIPULATION roll. If yours is higher, you get a +1 for each step you outrank your opponent. If your score is lower, you instead get a -1 for each step of difference. Reputation will, however, only affect your roll in situations where your social standing in the Third Horizon is relevant. The GM has the final call on this.

What’s wrong with this? Well, first of all, it could amount to a massive modifier on manipulation. Reputation for starting characters ranges between 2 and 6, before any modifiers for profession, race (if you are humanite) or talents. Play a humanite soldier for example, and your reputation is zero (it can’t go negative). You could argue that it’s a perfectly valid for a humanite to be challenged trying to convince a Coriolis council member to change their mind, but most other difficulty modifiers range between -3 to +3. With manipulation it’s feasible to have a negative or positive modifier of six dice, before the GM starts awarding points for good deeds.

And that’s another thing, reputation is only awarded for “something generally considered good and heroic”. So, if you set out to be the most feared pirate in the horizon, you had better give up any hope of succeeding in a manipulation roll. In the forthcoming Forbidden Lands version of the ruleset, your Reputation can be good or bad. Though it has a similar modifying effect to Manipulation, it also works for basic recognition rolls. In essence, does your reputation proceed you.

Which brings me to my main point. Space is big, even that little bit of it called the third horizon. It takes be best part of twelve hours to relay a message from Kua to Djachroum and back, traveling at light speed. And ships don’t go that fast. You’d take three weeks to fly between those two places. The only way to communicate between systems is via portals, and though it’s possible it’s by no means instantaneous, and is very expensive. Yes, the Bulletin has its network of probes to transmit news but even so, news travels slowly in the Third Horizon. There are also millions more people than there might be in the Forbidden Lands. And, remember, these are systems that have different cultures, languages and structures after decades of isolation. My argument being, in the Third Horizon you will never be as famous as you think you are.

So, as GM, I have always seen Reputation more as a score of self-respect, honour, than people actually trusting you more because of your good deeds. I might be wrong in this, but if I were to start using Reputation as actual renown, it would rarely modify dice rolls. I even wonder if it isn’t an optional rule – I always find it slightly weird in fact that the text I read out earlier for using Reputation appears as a sidebar (on page 62) and not in the body text. After years of reading RPG layouts, I’ve come to think of sidebars are places for examples or optional rules. I’d written it off as a layout error or rather a forced compromise, but perhaps it’s intentional, sidebarred because it should be a rarely used rule. Anyhow, I rarely house rule but I do houserule this. If there is a difference in reputation you get a single modification die on your Manipulate roll. If the difference in massive it might be two or at the most three dice of modification, but no more than that.

So I am going to use the Reputation score on your character sheet as a measure of self-respect and confidence. So how am I going to measure how well people know you, speak of you, and trust you? Well I think that’s more local, and based not or word of your good deeds spreading across the horizon, but rather on the places you go and the people you deal with. There have been some suggestions that perhaps you might earn different reputations with different factions. But I disagree. Factions, like space, are too big to care about the little people. The Faction Standing Talent is, I think, the only mechanic we need to reflect characters that have some influence in a faction. So instead I offer this:

If you visit a place more than once, you might begin to consider it a safe port, or “Oasis”. A place to retreat to, to lick your wounds, repair your ship and fence your stolen artefacts. And that’s when you could start measuring your relationships in that local community. Each Oasis will offer one or more services. Right now I am thinking the list includes: Ship service and repair; Prayer; Brokerage; Security; Traders; Counselling (by which I mean treatment of Mind points); and Medicurgy, but I’d be interested in hearing any others that people might suggest. On the ‘cast Dave suggested “protection” or “sanctuary”, but I think that’s what I really meant by security, rather than “law and order” (though of course law and order may well provide security for some crews. It sort of depends on what sort of crew you are. There may also be a separate Administration.

So for example, your Oasis might be Samar’s Hamam. Though it’s a small location, and ostensibly a bathhouse, which would probably count as Counselling, a crew might also use it for Brokerage there. Or your Oasis might be Djachroum, the asteroid station on Kua’s Rimward reach, where pretty much every service is on offer. On Djachroum, the administration is the enigmatic Aqbar, at Samar’s it’s of course the boss, Samar herself, but here, the administration and the main service, Counselling, are one and the same. The Brokerage service at Samar’s is actually another regular customer – let’s call him Bardas. On Djachroum the services might be provided by named individuals, or more probably organisations, for example the Samaritans will be the main providers of Medicurgy. It’s possible for your crew to have a relationship with those organisations, without have to name an individual, but your relationship is only at a local level. Having a good relationship with the Samaritans on Djachroum does not mean you can expect the same welcome when you visit them on Coriolis. Just as the Samaritans are an extension of the Order of the Pariah, other service providers might also have a relationship with a faction. Our broker friend Bardas might be connected with the Nomad Federation for example, but they don’t need to have such an allegiance, the Aqbar of Djachroum is famously independent.

To track your relationship, I’m thinking about a very simple scale with zero, one or two dice modifiers. Your relationship starts at zero, you are just another customer. But there are two ways to earn positive dice. Do a favour or a job of work for them, and you get a one die bonus. Or spend five experience points to claim a personal relationship with the organisation and get another die bonus. (The GMCs created with the Friend in Every Port talent don’t get the bonus die, unless you also spend five XP.) It’s possible to get both bonus dice, but two is the absolute maximum. And you can’t pay 10 xp, or do two jobs to get two dice, you must earn one with each method.

Of course you can make an enemy of any of these providers. Wrong them, or screw up the job they gave you, and you’ll get a negative modifier on future dealing with them. Punish them for that slight (I know what players are like) and the modifier is -2 dice. It’s hard to recover those negative dice, just ask Sergei Skripal. But each job you successfully do for them will help you get back a zero modifier. I think though that you will never earn a positive die with them.

I’m putting together an Oasis record sheet, to help the GM keep track of those relationship. Right now, I am thinking that each crew can only have one Oasis, but given that the sheet I’m designing might currently fits more than one, I might change my mind. Dave lobbied hard on the podcast for more than one. And I was reminded that Kosta said in our interview, that one of the reasons there were no “Ark Rules” was because crews would get “home” very rarely. Either way, when I have completed it, I’ll share it here.

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