roleplaying Dungeon World bonds

Bonding in Your Roleplaying Games

Kickstarter Korner -- May 2019
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Expanding your horizons is a tried and true method to spark inspiration, fight burnout, and generally become a better-rounded creator. There are some game mechanics you’ll encounter whether you’re playing or running a roleplaying game that, with a little tweaking, can become useful tools in many different roleplaying scenarios. I like to call them pocket mechanics. Little game mechanics to keep in your pocket for any occasion. One example of these are bonds from Dungeon World by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel. Bonds are a useful roleplaying tool and a mechanical way to reward players for engaging in character interaction.

roleplaying Dungeon World bonds
The wrap cover image for the Dungeon World book illustrates fantasy adventures in gorgeous detail. [Art by Nate Marcel]

Dungeon World bonds for all your roleplaying games

Before I go into reasons to use Dungeon World’s bonds as a pocket mechanic for your roleplaying games, let’s define them. Bonds are simple statements reflecting something pivotal about one character’s relationship with another character. It doesn’t have to be positive, negative, or an all-encompassing statement about the relationship but simply the most relevant one.

Consider you’ve had a fight with a friend a few weeks ago and you haven’t made up yet. Does it define the entirety of how you feel about them? No, but it certainly might be the elephant in the room if you two interact right now. For the game in which they originate, bonds tie into the end of session experience point payout. They aren’t just flavor but a part of the gameplay. At session’s end, if you and another player agree that your bond has been explored or is no longer relevant then you get to mark experience and write a new bond.

Let’s talk about a hypothetical thief named Logan and how bonds with him might look. 

“I’d share an ale with Logan but I would not trust him with my life.”

Something like this bond leaves hooks open for both the bond holder and Logan’s player to expand upon and possibly to find a resolution.

“Logan broke my heart once. I’m not sure I could ever trust him again.”

roleplaying bonds
Monsterhearts 2 is a roleplaying game where the bonds between characters are important for roleplaying, and mechanically. [Art by Cecilia Reis]
You can use bonds a bit more dramatic like this. This isn’t functionally very far removed from the original bonds we gave him, but the wording does some legwork to establish more between the characters. One of them implies an acquaintance to Logan and another implies a more involved past. Consider how to word your bonds based on what exactly you want to explore in that character roleplaying interaction.

Bonds have utility outside of being a player. When you’re the Game Master for a game with bonds, it’s common practice to bring them up during inter-party arguments. There’s a certain satisfaction to be had when two players are arguing with one another and you have them restate their bonds with one another out loud. It has a way of adding context to the drama at hand. It reminds players of where characters stand with one another, and it reminds them of the tangible rewards they stand to gain through prolelaying out the interaction. If you’re running a game that does not have experience payout or end of session mechanics you may have to find another way to mechanically reward players for exploring their in-game character arcs.

Many games aside from Dungeon World have similar mechanics built into the system already. Monsterhearts 2 by Avery Alder centers most of its mechanics around character interaction and lends very well to evoking the genre of messy drama it intends to. That’s really at the center of this whole discussion. Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons is a good example of a game that benefits from adding bonds. There are bonds already present in D&D but it’s loose and tied to backgrounds.

If you’re looking to add more character interaction to your sessions this can be an easy and effective way to do it. They can also help when running a one-shot to have players create bonds with one another so that they can have a quick and dirty way to establish a social dynamic without taking up much table time. If you love character-to-character roleplaying as much as I do, it might be worth your time to try bonds out in your own game.

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Follow Hoffner:
Hoffner is a long-time role playing gamer with a background in education and IT. They come from nerdy stock, raised by a couple of geeky parents. Being a couple letters of LGBT and having a lot of geeky influences growing up, getting into RPGs was a natural fit for them. They like to talk about role playing as an avenue for exploring things in the relative emotional safety of a game. In particular, they like to find new RPGs to play with and spread the word about them.

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