Bonds and DW

Something that's always irked me about Dungeon World's Bonds is that as fictional triggers they feel pretty limp. The only time they really engage with the fiction is at the end when we're wrapping up, and people say "Oh yeah that bond has totally been resolved this session" or "Oh, that was my bond with Kevin?"

So I'm thinking about ways to hack the system to make bonds a little more juicy, and the obvious way to do that is with the aid/interfere roll. I've come up with various ideas of differing complexity which get players engaging with bonds, but the basic hack is just a simple tweak to the trigger. I was looking at two options:

1. When your bond with another character applies, describe how you aid or interfere and roll+bond, yada yada yada...

2. When you aid or interfere with another character, describe how your bond applies and roll+bond, yada yada yada

I'm partial to the second one because it doesn't really restrict the use of bonds, but allows the players to use their bonds descriptively during the game. Also no chance for arguing whether the bond applies - the player can just describe it how they like.

I'm imagining a Human Paladin, Cassius, who has the bond "I respect the beliefs of Ortuz the Dwarf but hope that someday he will see the true way."

Cassius: "I wade into the scrum of goblins, pushing them away from Ortuz. I'm trying to Aid Ortuz on his Defy Danger roll to get away, so that's a roll+bond, right?"

GM: "Hold on, how does your bond apply to this situation?"

Cassius: "Oh yeah, uh... as I push past the goblins, I pull out my holy symbol and wave it in their faces to frighten them off! That should show Ortuz the power of my faith."

GM: "That's awesome, roll+bond!"

I guess the reason I'm sharing this is because I'm pretty new to designing games but I find DW a lot of fun and very rewarding to hack, so I thought I'd see what you guys thought of this. Also I have some more ideas about how to stretch out the use of bonds in play in order to encourage a relationship which grows through the use of this aid or interfere move. If you guys are interested I can share that as well...


  • Yessss. Thissss.

    I hate DW bonds for exactly the reason you describe. Perhaps it's my play-groups' style but Bonds end up being a consideration before play and a consideration after. It's this rote, box-ticking mechanic that could be - as you say - so much more juicy.

    I'm looking for ways to build in these relationships and have them crop up in play, and making Bonds an unavoidable part of helping others (refresh scenes in Blackbird, anyone?) really pushes that.

    Well done! Keep going! Share more! Where else can "part of this move means talking about your bonds" be put into the DW structure.
  • I can see at least two good approaches here.

    1. One is simply to use Bonds as an excuse to add information to the narrative, or to discover something new.

    That's kind of like what you're going for here. Your rule is, at its core, basically:

    "When you aid or interfere with another character, we get to ask you to add a detail related to your Bond."

    It's not a fictional trigger, but a reminder for us to prompt the player to say something.

    I could see using this in various ways: it's essentially a link from a fictional action to something happening between the players. For instance, imagine having a list of "Bond questions" on a sheet of paper.

    The rule is:

    "When you aid or interfere, you may roll with a bonus [your Bond]. If you do so, the group gets to ask you one question from the Bond Questions list, and you must answer honestly and fully."

    The questions could be things like, "How do you really feel about [X]..." (getting insight into the character's present feelings) or "Tell us about a time when [this Bond] didn't exist between you" (developing history and/or revealing more about their Bond).

    2. The other is to go to the other extreme and create a clear fictional trigger, which is Bond-specific. The closest I can think of is a sort of hybrid between Keys (as in TSoY, or its descendant, Lady Blackbird) and Alignments in DW.

    Perhaps it's something like this... your example Bond is:

    "I respect the beliefs of Ortuz the Dwarf but hope that someday he will see the true way."

    Your triggers could be something like this:

    * You choose to stand up for, and publicly support Ortuz's actions even though you disagree with them.

    * You confront Ortuz's views and challenge him, trying to open his mind to the true way.

    Mechanically, this somehow ties in to aiding and interfering. How? Lots of options; it's just a question of finding a suitable one. My first thought:

    * When you activate one of these triggers, you collect 1 Hold, which you can use for a +1 on a future aid or interfere roll.

    The point is that each type of Bond would have its own trigger or triggers, which translate into interactions between the PCs.
  • Also I have some more ideas about how to stretch out the use of bonds in play in order to encourage a relationship which grows through the use of this aid or interfere move. If you guys are interested I can share that as well...
    Yeah, that sounds interesting. I'm more interested in Bonds and the like as fictional elements rather than game mechanics, but of course supporting them mechanically can lead to them being more present in the fiction and in the group's attention.
  • My other thought for bonds was to, in some way, further mechanise their change and development. This led to me pretty radically messing with the End of Session and Carouse moves. Here's the idea:

    Carouse (Boast, Toast, and Roast)

    When you return to civilisation after a grand adventure, everyone spends half their coin and you all throw an enormous party. At the party everyone Boasts about the group's achievements, Toasts a helpful ally, and Roasts their friends for their amusing character quirks.

    When it's time to boast, everyone in the party takes a turn boasting about
    1. A memorable treasure the party looted
    2. A dangerous foe the party defeated
    3. An interesting thing the party discovered about the world
    Keep going around the table making boasts until either the party runs out of things to boast about, or everyone's made a boast about each of the three things. For every Boast, everyone in the party marks XP.


    This requires some changes to the Aid move, which will come when I have time to put them down, but essentially you toast the player who aided you the most, describing a memorable time they aided you, and then you write down a new bond with them. The new bond must be in response to one of the bonds they have with you. Everyone who aided you at least once since your last Carouse marks XP. If they have aided you more than once, they mark 2 XP.


    Now comes the time to roast your friends for their foibles. A player reads out their character's alignment description, and then each other character brings up a specific time they saw that character play their alignment hard. The more you tease them about it, the better. For each roast you receive mark XP. If you can come up with a thin justification for acting that way, mark another XP.


    I wanted to bring the End of Session move into the game world, and make the Carouse move feel more like a party. With everyone telling stories about each other and the XP pouring in like rain, I think that's achieved pretty well. It also encourages characterful conversation about your character's perspectives and values.

    I also like the change to bond functionality – now playing your bond a lot with someone (by aiding them often) will cause them to change their bond with you, which should allow for an escalating interaction of shifting relationships. I'm pretty proud of that part :)
  • I haven't had a chance to read this whole thread yet, so apologies if I'm repeating stuff already noted, but this blog post on replacing "bonds" with "flags" (which I plan to do myself, I think) seems potentially helpful:
  • this blog post on replacing "bonds" with "flags" (which I plan to do myself, I think) seems potentially helpful:
    I have three issues with Flags.

    The first is that the trigger remains mostly outside the fiction. You gain XP at the end of session for using flags, and so Flag mechanics meet Flag fiction very much after the fact. The Flags rule takes steps towards alleviating that by doing the thing of making the Flag-activator, rather than the Flag-owner, the one who benefits mechanically from the rule, so players take an active interest in the Flags of other players, essentially putting the activation of that mechanic in the hands of many instead of just one, increasing the chance that it will see use and elements of the character's fictional nature which are not covered by other mechanics will be revealed. But I still think the mechanic/fiction separation is too large for this element to see much use.

    The second (related to the first) is that Flags, like Bonds, are very vague in their interaction between fiction and mechanics. By this I mean there is always some interpretation that must go into answering the question of whether a Bond or Flag was activated in a session. Because the mechanical effect comes after the fiction has ended, when we assess whether the fictional circumstance actually related to the bond there instantly becomes the potential for confusion, misunderstanding, and disagreement. Any of these things will make someone playing the game feel a little less good about having played the game. For example, any time a player suggests that a bond was activated (and they have an interest in doing so at edge cases because of the mechanical benefit) and the GM disagrees (which the GM wants to do at edge cases in order to maintain the integrity of the mechanic) either the player or the GM will come out of that interaction feeling a little bit worse, depending on who had to concede their point. Even in the circumstance where someone definitely played their bond, but the GM just forgot (you going to forget things over hours of straight storytelling, especially individual "character moments") and had to be reminded at the end of session, the player will feel worse for it because that moment probably meant a lot to them, and they want it to have had an impact on their fellow players, and especially the GM.

    The third is that Flags don't seem to create very interesting fiction. The fictional trigger is the same for every other person, and there aren't any rules for changing the trigger, and so on the face of it Flags make for extremely boring characters. If a character is gullible all the time, with everyone, that is going to become tiring quickly. We'll get that the character is gullible, but we won't get much else. Bonds are loads better as a fiction-pushing mechanic, because they are all about relationship. As human beings we show different facets of our personality through our various relationships, and so Bonds are genius because to activate them you must act differently towards different members of your party. This makes for more interesting, more "life-like" characters, who have a much greater potential to surprise us.

    However I think Flags have the potential to be an awesome mechanic with a bit of hacking! I might put that into another post to avoid the wall o' text.
  • Here's half of how I would "fix" Flags.

    I would change up the nature of the trigger. At the moment the suggested triggers for Flags define the character's reaction. Examples on the page are:

    Gullible – Tell me a lie I believe

    Liar – Believe and act on a lie I’ve told you

    Righteous – Offer me an easier solution I must refuse on principle.

    I like that Flags give you an opportunity to ask other players to interact with your character in a certain way. I don't like that they tell you how to respond to that interaction based on your "character trait" - that's what makes them boring. So I would fix them by removing the bad part. Reworking the examples above.

    Gullible (or insightful) - Tell me a lie

    Liar (or heart-on-my-sleeve) - Ask me about things which might be better kept secret

    Righteous (or devious) - Suggest a dishonourable solution to a problem

    I see this as a "fix" (others might disagree) because now they offer the possibility of meaningful choice. The righteous are not defined by the fact that they stand tall, but by their choice to stand tall. This is not just a semantic issue, either - we only know a character is choosing the righteous path because we have also seen them succumb to the easier option.

    I'm not sure how I would fix the mechanical disconnect though, except by just having the Flag-pusher tick XP straight away. But I don't love that.
  • Sorry, another post - there's just a lot in this thread that interests me

    Paul, you posited that we could either have a mechanical trigger or a fictional trigger. I'm partial to a mechanical trigger.

    Why? The nice thing about *World mechanics (or one of the many nice things) is that they are fictional triggers that take broad fiction and refine it into limited mechanics and more specific fiction. Also there aren't very many of them. This is what makes *World games so easy to play (if you're a passable storyteller) - the mechanics aren't too much, or too specific. I worry that if Bonds are fictional triggers they will be both too specific and vastly increase the quantity of fictional triggers.

    Aside: I think specificity is bad for fictional triggers because they stop being triggered by the fiction and instead start leading the fiction. Inevitably in any good story of Sword and Sorcery fantasy I'm going to end up Hacking and Slashing at somebody, whether or not there are mechanics to moderate that. However if I want to Publicly Support Ortuz's Actions In Spite of My Disagreement I'm going to have to drive the fiction in that direction, and I'm no longer playing to find out what happens. I think quantity is bad for fictional triggers because there is a lot of fiction hitting the table when you're playing a storytelling game, and every trigger either momentarily interrupts the story (which is good when we need to go from broad to specific) or gets forgotten in the deluge. More mechanics means more interruptions or more redundant mechanics.

    I like sticking a bond-related mechanical trigger on the end of the aid or interfere fictional trigger because aiding or interfering with another character will come up so much more often through natural storytelling, and there's very little mechanics bloat! Also it transforms the Aid/Interfere move from a move which takes fiction and spits out mechanics (+1s or -2s) into a move which also spits out more fiction!

    I think your Bond questions are a really neat idea for exploring bonds, though I wonder if placing them at the moment of Aid/Interfere would be too much of a diversion from the action. Perhaps the questions could take place in order to resolve bonds?
  • My personal PbtA rant:
    I think specificity is bad for fictional triggers because they stop being triggered by the fiction and instead start leading the fiction.
    Personally, I consider this element THE POINT of PbtA designs.

    Players are still free to do whatever, and the MC will freely adjudicate what happens by following Goals and Principles... but they do things "this specific way" (Move) they are no more subject to MC arbitrium but instead can exert a modicum of control on what happens next, as dice and stats get involved, and YOU KNOW the possible outcomes beforehand, at least in basic shape and structure.

    The effect is that a person with zero knowledge of the desired fiction genre (say, the postapocalyptic genre) will be able to produce 100% in-genre actions and results.
    Who instead is familiar with the genre will (should?) appreciate how fitting mechanics help summoning appropriate tropes, and how when they do genre appropriate things the mechanics support their efforts.

    This is why producing a PbtA game is so damn difficult.
    It LOOKS generic and modular and easily adaptable to whatever game one wants, but this is an illusion, as instead each Move needs to be genre-specific and fiction-shaping.
    Basically you have a ready to use STRUCTURE, but it then requires a crazy level of detail to be applied on top of it in order to achieve the desired effect.

    End of rant :P

    - - -

    Love Rob Donoghue's "Klags", as I call them because reasons ;)

    I understand Andye's opinion, but ...

    Problem 1: forcing a specific reaction
    "tell me a lie that I believe" does not mean that if you tell me a lie, I will believe it.
    I am always 100% free to chose if I believe you or not.
    The point is, again, to inform/shape the fiction in a proactive way... I get rewarded if I chose to believe you.
    Because some interesting shit will happen if I act on a lie you tell me :)

    This answers also to Problem 3: Klegs are flat.
    I am not always gullible no matter what.
    I am simply rewarded the times I chose to be.
    This is more like the Alignment moves ... of course my character is a multifaceted person, but in order to effectively express any part of my character I have to underline / highlight ONE salient element.
    Especially when:
    - my character is being discovered through active play, not because I came to the table with 7 pages of detailed background pre-story and tons of pre-expectations
    - my character needs to be her own person BUT ALSO represent some recognizable and meaningful genre stereotype

    This kind of mechanics help do just that.
    Bonds have their virtues, of course, and maybe the way Klegs are defined (and changed) could try to steal good ideas from Bonds.

    Problem 2: vage trigger and opinion conflict
    About the vague trigger, I agree that clearer and more specific triggers are better, like the Alignment moves or the other game moves.
    But in my opinion the example Klegs are pretty specific...
    "tell me a lie that I believe" is hardly vague or misunderstandable, won't you say?
    Especially because it takes both action and reaction to trigger it, it should be pretty intentional, thus noticeable.

    About the opinion conflict, what you describe just looks like a "bad gm" to me.
    Bad, because she forgets the Goals and Principle of the game, thus ignores the rules.
    So a Player claims that event X meant something for one of her bonds but, ignoring for now the opinion of the other players, the GM disagrees?
    Ask questions!
    Why do you see things this way? What do the other players have to say?
    If still in doubt, BE A FAN and just say yes!
    It's only a meager 1xp ... it doesn't matter if you agree or not, it is not the GM place to dictate what is "right" in the game!
    Keep an eye out for ABUSE of the rules, but other than that I wouldn't value the GM opinion over the Player opinion in matters of the Player's PC relationships and feelings about them :P

    Also, if the GM just forgot, it is a great thing to remind her that this one thing, it matters to me and my PC. It's a flag, a precious communication tool between Player and GM.

    - - -
    I'm not sure how I would fix the mechanical disconnect though, except by just having the Flag-pusher tick XP straight away. But I don't love that.
    I feel the same but am not sure why.
    Why do you feel this way? :)
  • edited August 2016
    I don't have much to add to the more technical/designy stuff in this thread (all of which is very interesting), but I have similar reservations about how Bonds work rules-as-written and wanted to chime in with how I use Bonds at my table (which overlaps with some of the other ideas discussed above).

    I've made two minor tweaks to Bonds:

    1) Bonds can be "pinged" for XP without resolving. In the end of session move, if your bond was addressed or explored in play, you can mark XP but you don't have to erase and replace it unless you actually feel like it's been resolved. Basically, they work the same way as alignments except you can change them once they're resolved or fully explored.

    2) I encourage Bonds to be phrased like Burning Wheel Beliefs. Bonds should contain both a statement and an actionable item, so "The dwarf is a heathen, I will show him the power of my God" is good, but "I saved the wizard's life once" might be better expanded to "I saved the wizard's life once, and now he owes me big time."

    Together, this makes it a lot easier for myself and my players to incorporate Bonds in the course of play almost every session, rather than waiting for a perfect situation to execute a big, dramatic Bond-resolving action. The XP becomes an incentive to roleplay all the time rather than a long-term reward, while still building towards those big dramatic scenes.
  • Hasimir,

    You're absolutely right that specificity makes PbtA moves good. I suppose I was arguing that too much specificity makes PbtA moves bad - which is a circular argument. Also regarding Klags I can definitely see their merit, however I think the flatness problem is more due to the fact that they are totally disconnected from relationship to other characters. I see Klags more as a supplement to Bonds, rather than a replacement.

    I was thinking about specific bond moves just now, and I thought it might be fun to work with them kind of like monster moves. Here's an idea:

    Bond Moves
    When you write a bond, write a move associated with that bond.
    Bond: "I saved the wizard's life, and now he owes me big time"
    Potential move 1: Prevent the wizard from suffering harm.
    Potential move 2: Demand a favour from the wizard - he must do as I ask, within reason.

    We Need to Talk about Us
    When you take the time to have a conversation about your bond with another character, answer one of the Bond questions (thanks Paul_T) and roll+Bond (or it might be fun if it was CHA). *On a 10+, hold 3. *On a 7-9, hold 1.
    You can spend hold 1-for-1 to activate your Bond moves.

    What do you think?

    I feel the same but am not sure why.
    Why do you feel this way? :)
    I'm not sure either. I think it's because there's something a little nasty about tossing XP rewards for storytelling - it cheapens the fiction by implying that it was done for XP. That's the advantage of the distance between fictional cause and mechanical effect as bond rules currently stand.
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