Some single-player games such as Morrowind have put forth effort into making their NPCs react to what the player does in a meaningful way, but this really hasn't carried over into MMOs. For the most part, reputation is simply a counter that allows you to buy new items from certain vendors and/or have certain NPCs greet you by name. But there is such much more that could be done on this front.
Keep reading for some of my ideas on the subject.
- Favor can be gained and lost via player actions. This would include questing, fighting (both players and NPCs), economic transactions (merchants always like repeat customers). Many actions would include a positive favor boost from one person or faction as well as a negative favor hit from others.
- Favor can go below 0, representing that that faction or person has a particular dislike for you.
- Favor can be temporarily influenced, via spells, magic items or even just the clothes you're wearing.
- Favor also includes relations between NPC factions. This is dynamic and can also be influenced by player actions. If a player hero from one town went and slaughtered a neighboring town, the victims might not be so happy with the town the player is from. But, unless the first town had a major quarrel with the second town, they might in turn be unhappy with the player for ruining their trade relations
- Favor with individual NPCs can be passed down to their descendants
Another example of how this interaction might work:
Perhaps you as a player spend some time in a small village performing heroic deeds, rescuing maidens, defeating monsters, etc, until you're known as the Hero of Whosville! Well that would bring about some nice perks in Whosville, such as discounted wares or extra quest availability. But, it just so happens that the nearby village of Grinchton really hates the inhabitants of Whosville and has had a rivalry with them for several generations. Your hero status has not gone unnoticed there, but the reaction you get in Grinchton will be quite a bit different from the one you get tin Whosville. Merchants might charge you more, the inn will only offer you their crappiest rooms to stay in, the mayor isn't interested in asking for your help with the local bandit problem and other such sundry minor effects. Since they're just a simple farming village, they're not going to do to such extremes as banning you from town or attacking you on sight (after all, you're much more powerful than the local constables), but they will do what they can to make it known that you're unwelcome.
Once you have a base Favor system in place, you can expand it to include such interesting things as each player's standing with gods, elemental forces, guilds, etc.
Favor would decay over time, in both directions, tending towards 0 over an infinite timelines. Rate of decay would be dependent on the actions that resulted in the favor change (saving the farmers daughter might result in long-term favor with the farmer, but only short-term favor with the butcher) as well as the lifespan of the individual. Immortal gods and elemental powers would likely have much longer memories than those of the shorter-lived folks. And perhaps even something your ancestors did might come back to bless or haunt you! This could open up the possibility of such things as making bargains with higher powers to give you long-term favor with them (and thus the ability to call on their aid in times of need). But of course, they would want something in return.
In short, favor is just a fancy name for reputation, but since reputation has become rather static and mostly uninteresting in current games, I wanted to give it a new name to represent the potential for extrapolation and development of this underused game concept.