Cheating on Dungeon World Bonds
I half-like and half-hate Bonds in Dungeon World. Which is a bit funny, I guess, as I stole those for Mythender.
Here’s how Bonds work in Dungeon World: once you have all the characters, you fill in some statements on the sheet about your relationship or history with other characters. For the Fighter, these are:
- ______ owes me their life, whether they admit it or not.
- I have sworn to protect _______.
- I worry about the ability of ______ to survive the dungeon.
- ______ is soft, but I will make them hard like me.
I like the idea that we talk about & write down very brief moments of back story in our game, in order to bond the group. I find that makes play richer. And this has a mechanical benefit: for each time you write someone’s name down, when you help or hinder them, you get a +1 to your roll. So if The Wyrm owes me his life, I get +1 to help or interfere. If he also is soft, and I’ll make him hard like me, that’s +2. So there’s a mechanical benefit to these.
But man, do I really loathe some of them. And when you have characters swapping around — Ben Demonslayer’s been in four of five games with three different DMs in two different cities — it feels old. At this point, the “I have sworn to protect” is now “…because that’s who’s paying me.”
There are a couple bonds on other character sheets that bother the fuck out of me. The Thief has “______ and I are running a long con.” and the Cleric has “I will convert ______ to my religion.” The former just bores the ever-loving shit out of me. That’s not really a part of the game, but a pointless distraction from it that just involves two people possibly fucking over a third. The latter is a hot button that, when actually done in my presence not in a game, might cause me to punch you.
(There are some others, like the Wizard’s “_____ has been subject to my experiments”, that are equally meh for me.)
I played Dungeon World twice last weekend, both times run by Nora Last. The second time was with a totally different group, and I did my character in pen so I had to scratch out the Bonds section and write them all freehand. And that’s when I “cheated”…in the spirit of Apocalypse World.
See, there’s this idea that I’ve read quite a few people mention: if you don’t like the names on a playbook in Apocalypse World, you’re allowed to name yourself something different…as long as you just do it and don’t ask. If you have to ask, you can’t. It’s a weird microcultural element, and I can’t remember the first time I saw that, but it’s stuck in the back of my mind as part of the “alpha players can get away with shit” ethos.
So, as an alpha player, I pushed. I wrote my own bonds. Since I wasn’t just filling in blanks on a page (as they were scratched out), this was easy:
- ______ possesses a quality I am in awe of.
- ______ is my charge…as long as the coin flows.
- ______ owes me his life.
- ______ and I have broken liver. (Think “bread”, but, you know, liver-y.)
This isn’t much of a “cheat”, but it is bending the rules of Dungeon World, maybe. In any case, I write this post to say: hey, you, also do this. Take Bonds as inspiration, not as concrete direction. After all, this isn’t Apocalypse World, where a setup pointing at each other is necessary and desired for play.
 This isn’t a joke. When my grandmother died, a preacher decided to take that opportunity to talk to me about the glory of Jesus and how she’s saved and all that, knowing that I was then an atheist. That sort of opportunistic preying, which is far from exclusive to Baptist Christians, is one of the most dehumanizing things around. Which is why I don’t engage in conversion in my play.
 Because Ben Demonslayer is hardcore.