From Bonds to Flags

flying-flag2Random bit of Dungeon World tech, inspired by a brilliant idea from Judd Karlman’s 1st Quest.

When playing with a changing cast of characters, the bond list gets torn to tatters pretty fast. You can address this by adding more bonds, or creating temporary bonds, but that gets kind of clunky as things shift. So with that in mind, here’s another possible solution: Invert the problem

Replace Bonds with Flags (or if you prefer, Buttons) – Flags are behaviors that other players enable, ideally ones that really emphasize elements of your character as you envision them. So, if you envision your character as gullible, then the flag might be “Tell me a lie that I beleive”. If you envision your Paladin as righteous, then the flag might be “Offer me an easier solution that cuts corners I am unwilling to cut”

Now, when we play a game and we come to a guard post, my thief can propose that we bribe the guard. The paladin gets all paladin-y about its, and insists they proceed honorable. The thief has effectively hit the Paladin’s flag, and at the end of the session, she gets an XP in the same way that she would if she’d had a bond like “I will offer the paladin solutions that woudl simplyfy the problems if he woudl just lighten up”.

OPTIONAL RULE: You can actually get more generous with the XP for flags, and given them to both players. This even allows multiple players to get in on the act, so if the ranger hits the Paladin’s flag later in the session, at session end, the thief, ranger and paladin all get one XP (Paladiin still gets only 1 – it only matters that it came up, not how often it came up). If you do this, I would suggest that 6- results stop giving XP and instead give some other currency, or just accept that characters are going to level faster.

This will require coming up with a list of flags, and helping players customize them. Every character should probably have 2 flags, though if you want to give bond-heavy classes like Bards 3, knock yourself out. The flags themselves will need a few things:

  • They must have a clearly identifiable action (So they can’t be judged by effect – “Make my wizard feel bad” is a poor flag. “Refuse my wizard’s aid because he’s a foreigner” works well)
  • They must create some sort of conflict or tension, usually reflected by a choice. There must be a legitimate alternative. “Attempt to poison me so I can notice it” is pretty bad, because there’s no reason to “not” notice it. If there is not a choice, the action itself must be something that could complicate things. “Call me bob” is a poor flag. 🙂
  • They should give me an opportunity to show off something about my character that I might not otherwise have the chance to do so.

A few possible flags

Gullible – Tell me a lie I believe

Liar – Believe and act on a lie I’ve told you

Righteous – Offer me an easier solution I must refuse on principle.

Outsider – Refuse my aid because I’m different

Leader – Allow me to make a decision so you can criticize it.

Heroic – Let me keep you from going first into danger so I can go myself

13 thoughts on “From Bonds to Flags

  1. Alex

    This is very interesting, and could help new GMs by having their players carry more of the game… which is what saved my first Fate session anyway… which brings me to this:

    Do you think this would be a good addition to Fate, where each button push counts as a compel paid from the bottomless pool? It creates conflict, tension and complication… so why not? If not a compel, then another mechanic altogether? Maybe creating free invokes on the relevant flag?

    Perhaps the above example scores one or two free invokes on *Paladin, since it was relevant and it narratively emphasises… Paladinity

  2. Eric

    I like how bonds evolve and change with dynamic role-play? How do these evolve over time? It seems like there is no built in mechanism for change like with bonds. They resolve but new ones take their place to mark a growth in that relationship. This seems liek it might lead to the same old thing happening all the time “Oh great the thief is annoying the paladin, again!” with an incentive to change the way bonds have.

  3. Michael Prescott

    I used to do this with Burning Wheel beliefs and instincts, turning them into simple imperatives to make them easier to hit. If Serge the PC had an instinct, ‘Never allow an insult to go unanswered,’ I’d write it down in my notes as, ‘Insult Serge’.

  4. John

    I think this would be a good way to frame D&D 5’s personality traits. 5e characters have a personality trait, ideal, bonds, and flaws. As they are, they’re on the character sheet, but don’t really come into play. This could help lend them a little bit of weight.

  5. Hasimir

    This idea is amazing 😀
    It looks like a hybrid between a TSoY/SolarSystem “Key” and a … well … and a “Flag” (as in forge jargon, a Flag is anything on the character sheet that informs the other players and gm on how to engage your PC).

    Maybe call it a Klag? Or a Fley? XD

    It basically is an outward Key, so instead of defining “when I do this thing, I get XP” it offers the other players an opportunity to interact “when you do this thing to me, we get XP” .

  6. Sandra

    I’m not too familiar with Chuubo’s, but doesn’t it have something similar to this also? Not sure though!
    I mean, this isn’t meant as a dis to you, Rob. Just trying to be curious about RPG tech ideas.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Shamefaced admission – I stil haven’t read my copy of Chuubo. 🙂

      However, I can unpack the history of this a little. The original idea for this was stolen from Judd Karlman (Of The Sons of Kryos, author of the AMAZING Dictionary of Mu), who used something like it in a TSOY hack he had created called “First Quest” that was targeted towards kids. In it, he included “Banners” which worked largely like this. My character, for example was “gullible” so I got the usual TSOY advancement for believing lies, but the new addition was that other players got a point for lying to me.

      Regrettably, the game never saw print, but I informed Judd that I was going to steal the hell out of this idea, and I have, but I am always happy to throw the original credit back his way.

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  9. XophRA

    How would this work with Aid? Aid is roll + bonds, but when using flags they are non-specific and thus do not empower the aid move. Would you need to write a new Aid move and what would it look like?

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      I’d absolutely tweak Aid. Honestly, I’d probably use it as an excuse to revamp aid entirely (I like Aid to be more robust and rewarding, because I like strong teamwork in my games) but as written? 3 easy options:
      * Flat +2
      * Give each class an aid value based on half the bonds they start with
      * +0, but +2 if you can us a flag in the fiction (this option is for loose interpretationalist)

      1. XophRA

        *Aid or Interfere* (Flag)
        When you *help or hinder someone*, choose a flag and describe how you press their buttons; roll+2.
        On a 10+, they take a +1 or -2 to their roll, depending on the description of pushing their buttons.
        On a 7-9, they still get the modifier, but you also expose yourself to danger, retribution, or cost.


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