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.[1]

(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[2] 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.
There were only three characters including me, but I wanted to double-up on one of them, so I made one for one and two for another. When I fourth character later joined, once we figured out a place to create a bond in the fiction, I added:
  • ______ 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.

– Ryan

[1] 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.

[2] Because Ben Demonslayer is hardcore.


7 Responses to Cheating on Dungeon World Bonds

  1. Tom says:

    Excellent advice. The bonds should totally be customizable by a group when not palatable and I think that should be stated more emphatically as a possibility in the rules.

    As for conversion during funerals, yeah. It’s one reason why I have spoken about the people I care about at every funeral I’ve attended. All the Jesus saves mumbo-jumbo seems to distance people from the reality of who they’ve lost and file the serial numbers of a beloved person’s life. It’s like the echo in the Marabar caves in A Passage to India–everyone’s life becomes the same, monotonous tone.

    Which, yeah, deserves a jack in the face if someone is trying to propagate that idea at a time of grief.

  2. Ezra says:

    I think “talk to make” was intended to say “talk to me.”

    Also it confuses me when [2] appears ahead of [1].

  3. Jerry says:

    I’d like to see ‘rewrite a bond’ as an advancement option, or just whenever you want. In longer games, I can see easily outgrowing that bond as the fiction evolves.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Given that the bonds don’t matter once play rolls a bit, I think that’s negligible. And as an advancement option, I wouldn’t want to waste an advance on that.

      Really, “bonds” should be renamed “backstory” or something like that, because that’s all it is. It’s what we know about interactions leading up to the first time we see the characters in play. After that, they don’t have to be followed at all. It’s not like alignment.

      – Ryan

  4. John Harper says:

    Bonds are changing. In a very good way.

    Maybe Sage and Adam will come along and talk about it (it’s their news to share) but I just wanted to say that this kind of feedback and hacking has helped make the game better going forward.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Really, the main reason I’m blogging all this is because, through the act of articulation, I am learning more. And Dungeon World has been on my brain lately. That it’s useful to Adam & Sage is a very welcome bonus. So rock on! \m/

      – Ryan