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We're at the point in our 2-players-and-a-GM Dungeon World game where one of the PCs is working with a rather regular cast of friendly NPCs in addition to the other PC. This means that the PCs don't always get to explore their Bonds with each other during the course of sessions, kind of starving them of XP.

One of the players proposed the idea of his PC making a bond with an important/regular NPC in the campaign in the same style as a PC-PC bond, where it can be used for Aid or Interfere, or resolved by mutual agreement at End of Session, thus rewarding the player who cashed that bond in with XP. While I could see where this could be useful to represent long-term relationships with NPCs, and it's not without precedent in the PbtA universe as a whole (Fellowship has PC-Overlord bonds, for instance), it does raise concerns about administratability from the GM side, given the XP value DW bonds have attached to them (vs. their Fellowship counterparts).

Are my concerns with adminstering this sort of thing evenhandedly overblown, or am I correct to be leery of this idea, and how could I mitigate such issues if they do turn out to be a concern?

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This will be fine, but may be unnecessary

Check the rules

There are a few rules you should be sure you're following before suggesting this rules change.

  • A player may have more than one bond with the same other PC. (Page 52, Choose Bonds)

  • If you forgot or didn't realize, that's fine! You can write more bonds at any time (up to the number of slots on your character sheet). (Page 30, Bonds)

  • You are limited to resolving one bond per session. (Page 76, End of Session)

On XP

One XP does seem like a lot, but remember that you get this on any roll of 6-. In my experience, this is where the bulk of XP comes from. I'd say that not resolving a bond happens about as often as not finding a memorable enough treasure, defeating a notable enough foe, or learning something interesting enough about the world.

If End of Session is your major source of XP, perhaps your players could be taking more risks, or could be relying on their best stats too much. Be sure to watch for triggering the more generic moves, especially Discern Realities, Spout Lore, Parley, and the extremely versatile Defy Danger.

On NPC Bonds

I've seen this work out well in a particular edge case: a player dropped from the group. All the bonds with that PC suddenly became bonds with an NPC. Since this was a character now controlled by the GM, the GM simply continued in their role of the player controlling the relevant character. Everything played out as normal from there.

I have read about, but not actually seen played, PCs in shorthanded games having bonds with NPCs, whole towns, and particular locations (think a wizard's ley lines, or a druid's preferred mountain). I have not heard about any significant issues that have come up.

On Adjudication

Resolving bonds does require two players to agree on it. It does not prohibit anyone else from speaking during that discussion. If you're not entirely comfortable with deciding on this bond, you should ask the rest of the table what they think. They don't and can't make a decision for you, but they may have useful perspectives. In practice, I've never seen a discussion over bonds get contentious. It's typically pretty clear whether the situation has justifiably changed.

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Is the fact that one PC is interacting largely with NPCs really "starving them of XP"? The End of Session move indicates that you resolve at most 1 bond per session. Even if you remove this limit as a house rule, it seems likely that bonds would be a minor source of XP at most.

This seems to be a case where you're using the game to do something it wasn't designed for. (I feel like I'm channeling Adam Koebel here.) A hack might be a way to deal with this, but I think the hack your player has proposed is the wrong one, because you're approaching the problem backwards. Bonds aren't a well of XP that your players are entitled to. They grant XP in order to encourage a certain kind of behavior, and in your game they've failed to do this.

If your players are happy not having their PCs work together much, I suggest you discard bonds altogether. They're not helping you. If you want to replace Bonds as a source of XP rewards for character development, think about what behavior you want to encourage -- for both players -- and create a mechanic for that. What springs to mind immediately is to have the players write Beliefs a la Burning Wheel, and grant XP when they resolve a belief.

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