Antagonist Bonds and Toxicity in Dungeon World
I was reading over some of the changes to Dungeon World sheets last night, and I came to a weird conclusion:
Dungeon World doesn’t want players like me.
That’s totally fair. So I’ll talk about that a bit. (And this is going to get ranty, which is probably best explained in the footnote.)
[Edit: The comments are awesome. And often saner, because it took a bit for me to calm down from the emotional element involved.]
To be fair, I had that reaction months ago when I heard that bonds became the XP mine. I shrugged, knowing the sort of play I have sen bonds produce, and stopped playing DW at conventions.
Ah, I have to back up a bit.
See, I play DW at conventions. Most of my play of any game is that, one-shot meetings, mini-cons, things like that. So I’m playing with potentially random people. When I’ve played DW, it’s been with the same character, Ben Demonslayer, my Jewish halfling fighter. Because of that, I’m nearly always the target of the Cleric’s “I’ll convert you” bond. I fucking hate that, because I can’t tell of the person I don’t know is either able to make that interesting or is looking for an excuse to be a cockbite.
And I’m really, really tired of the latter.
These bonds existed in the first version. But now they can’t just be ignored, because they’re incentivized. You can choose not to take a “dick bond”, but then your character is slightly less able to help or hinder her comrades (because bonds add to that roll) and have fewer points of growth, as bonds are an XP generator. The first part was always there. With the addition of the second part, I now see this:
If I’m going to play in a convention game, I can fully expect dick behavior, because the DM will explain that the game rewards playing to your bonds.
And this isn’t hypothetical. I have seen dick behavior from bonds played out.
I could still play with my friends, and may from time to time, because bonds aside, Dungeon World is pretty fun. And even though I helped come up with the BBC Highlighting method, I think I like the XP change in DW — it’s seems slower, paced, and steady. I can dig that.
And I can even dig the non-hateful bonds. But encouragement combined with a desire for back story means almost always that every bond is filled in.
The other somewhat interesting point is that if I, as a cleric, want to play a cleric of a god that doesn’t want to convert — because subverting tropes can be its own fun — then I’m mechanically a weaker character and have fewer points of growth. This has some implied setting: the gods of DW are only strong if they are push their followers to proselytize and crusade. The fictional fallout of taking three bonds rather than four.
Here’s a list of the dick bonds in 2.3 that I see:
- Bard: _______________ is often the butt of my jokes.
- Cleric: I am working on converting _______________ to my faith.
- Fighter: _______________ owes me their life, whether they admit it or not. (I have seen so much damned pointless bickering around this one. Dear fuck.)
- Paladin: _______________ ‘ s misguided behavior endangers their very soul!
- Thief: I stole something from _______________. (Though, it’s not as bad as previous worded, if memory serves.)
I’m glad to see that the wizard’s most dickish one has been stricken.
Now, I do love, at times, playing antagonistic characters. But when I’m going to engage in that, I’m going to engage in a game that’s about that, not where that’s a near-vestigial aside. Games like Fiasco, Smallville, or Lady Blackbird.
And I could bring this up if I play DW again, but the thought of bringing that up Every. Single. Time I play is wearisome.
I find this interesting, because it’s a change in a game. I first really enjoyed DW, and this change makes me stand far clear of it, as if it’s toxic fallout.
 If I harp on that one, it’s because I cannot see that as anything but a vile, inhuman act of hatred. I’ve had people try to convert me hours after my grandmother’s funeral. It’s disgusting, and it’s something I keep having to see when I play DW. Which is part of why I stopped playing & running it. So the game involves a gigantic trigger for me, pretty much equivalent to me as some class having a bond about murder or sexual violence.