Friday, January 11, 2019

Bonds (put characters together)

I admit that the first time I've read about bonds, it was in Dungeon World, a Powered by the Apocalypse game.
For those of you who don't know what that means, a PbtA game is a game based on the framework of Apocalypse World, by Vincent Baker... There would be a lot to say about PbtA games; some OSR people love PbtA too, others don't like them at all, for various reasons. I stand among those who love both OSR and PbtA games (although not all of them). But this is not the topic for this post.
This post is about bonds, and bonds are not a thing of PbtA games alone.

Bonds are all about creating some kind of relationship between characters. This is great because it gives your players some material for role-play, right from the start, like Traits or Backstories do... but in this case it also encourages players to interact one with the other, thanks to the bonds established between characters.
Note that this also helps to minimize the feeling of characters being "randomly" put together.
Bonds do not necessarily have to connect all characters to all other characters; not all bonds have to be "strong" or "positive" ones, but it's probably better not to have in your list somethink like "I've sworn an oath to kill character X because reasons".

The first post is a list of one hundred reasons for characters to be connected, such as characters being best friends or being siblings, or other reasons less obvious and more entertaining like robbing a temple together, were slaves, met in a prison and so on.

Give me a reason...or a hundred!
by JB
Download the list here
[...] when your players are all seated around the table, each rolls D% to determine the relationship of their character with the player sitting to their right. The player sitting to the left of the DM rolls for the player sitting to the right of the DM (unless the DM has some prominent NPC in the party, than he might check that as's not necessary since the DM usually creates reasons for NPCs to be around...I hope!).
By doing this, you should create at least two relationships, possibly more (if the guy to my left is my brother, and the gal to his left is my sister, than she's MY sister, too). That's enough to start the ball rolling...everyone else in the party is simply the proverbial "friend-of-a-friend" until you've developed a working relationship in-game. [...]

In this second post, Arnold K. offers also a suggestion (and a shorter list of bonds) to avoid forgetting to bring into play those bonds. By granting bonuses as long as you fulfill your role in the bond, you can make sure that players will keep those bonds in mind, and do their best to bring them into the game.
If you go with a list like this, perhaps a single character should have one or two of these bonds, but not more (they're a bit harder to keep track of, and may become too crunchy to deal with at the table, transforming role-playing into farming for bonuses).

Player-Player Bonds
So a lot of games establish player bonds during character creation.
"You once fought along side the person to your left."
"You have sworn to protect the person on your right."
Et cetera.  And that's a pretty cool idea.  But. . . it's possible for that sweet backstory to drop into the background.  Players and DMs might easily forget that Alice swore to protect Bob. 
Hopefully, if those bonds are represented mechanically, they'll be more in the forefront of everyone's mind.  For example, if two member of your adventuring party are ex-husband and ex-wife, they might share a Vendetta, and be paying very close attention to each other's turns, because the Vendetta ability triggers whenever the other person fumbles. [...]
Player-Player Bonds
1. Battle Brothers/Sisters - Years spent fighting together.
You each get +1 to hit as long as you attack the same target as your battle brother/sister simultaneously.
2. Destined Twins - You share everything.
Your HP is pooled and shared between the two of you.  Any negative physical effect that happens to one of you happens to the other, including death and or maiming.  (e.g. sympathetic limp if the other one loses a leg, nausea if the other one throws up, etc.)  This also works well for conjoined twin characters.
3. Favored Son or Daughter - You adventure alongside your offspring.
Your favored son or daughter must be lower level than you (and therefore, probably created after you).  They must also be the same race and class.  As long as you begin each session asking them "So what have we learned from all this?" they gain XP 10% faster, and whenever you assist them, you can double your bonuses you add to their attempt.

In this third link, by Jeremy Friesen, we have instead a random generator. The generator presents multiple columns and for each you should roll a d20. You could get bonds like:
"Character-A has much to teach me about always pushing for golden reputation" or such as:
"Character-B insulted me by the ridiculousness of knightly dreams"...
Not all are going to be perfect, but you can work your way around the table to improve it or adapt it to your needs.

Random Bonds Generator for Dungeon World
[...] Roll 1d20 for each of the four columns.
d20 Relation Action Modifier Subject
1 ________ has much to teach me about the ridiculousness of angered heirloom
2 ________ insulted me by always calling out knightly reputation
3 ________ misunderstands me about always pushing for golden dreams

Three links only, for Bonds, feel like not enough to me... So I am going to jump the fence over into the PbtA field (like the previous post), and present some material which could be used as an inspiration.
In a lot of PbTA games,  Bonds are written in playbooks, and playbooks (a character sheet which is also your "class", your archetype in the game) are available as a free download, even if you don't own the game. So you can check those playbooks and fish for inspiration in their bonds.
We will look at a few examples here, with the classic fantasy theme, from Dungeon World:

______________ is puny and foolish, but amuses me.
______________’s ways are strange and confusing.
______________ is always getting into trouble - I must protect them from themselves.
______________ shares my hunger for glory; the earth will tremble at our passing!

______________ has insulted my deity; I do not trust them.
______________ is a good and faithful person; I trust them implicitly.
______________ is in constant danger, I will keep them safe.
I am working on converting ______________ to my faith.

I stole something from ______________.
______________ has my back when things go wrong.
______________knows incriminating details about me.
______________ and I have a con running.

If you want to see more, you can check out this link - and you can download a pdf of all Dungeon World's Bonds from there (plus other alternatives):

Bonds represent the feelings, opinions, desires and shared history that make the player characters a party of adventurers and not just a random assortment of people.  Each bond is a simple statement that relates your character to a party member.  A few "fill in the blank" standard bonds are found in each core class playbook with the idea that you can create your own even during character creation and will gain new ones through play.
As a systems component , bonds are intended to facilitate building immediate backstory between two player characters.  They also reward XP by encouraging the player to resolve the bond by acting upon changes in circumstances to create narrative that makes it clear the bond- for better or worse- is gone and replaced with something else [...]

Design notes:
- Bonds help players to figure out how to role-play to each other at the start
- Bonds are good to keep the party united or to give reason for additional role-play
- Simple bonds are a few (such as family, love, a common past, a friendship)
- Long lists avoid repetition and allow a wider scope
- Short lists may be combined with mechanical advantages
- Dungeon World contains a lot of example bonds to use as inspiration

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