Curious to get some feedback on a pretty drastic revision of how XP, Bonds, and Drives work.

Curious to get some feedback on a pretty drastic revision of how XP, Bonds, and Drives work.

Curious to get some feedback on a pretty drastic revision of how XP, Bonds, and Drives work.

This is a concept for the Worlds of Adventure hack (which I’ll link to in the comments), so keep in mind that drastic overhauls are the name of the game.

See the image for a description of how the new system would work. It replaces gaining XP from failed rolls, resolving Bonds, and meeting Drive/Alignment requirements (In fact, Quirks replace those entirely).


– Make XP a more active and interesting system, instead of the largely passive system it is now.

– Incorporate the various and disparate ways of gaining XP: Bonds, Drives, and failing rolls (introducing complications).

– Align storytelling, character motivations, moves, and bonds into a more cohesive system.

33 thoughts on “Curious to get some feedback on a pretty drastic revision of how XP, Bonds, and Drives work.”

  1. Follow-up thoughts:

    Quirks and bonds do not have to be invoked. The bard doesn’t always need to be a Scoundrel, and they don’t always need to make their party member look like a fool. This is a completely voluntary system, with the idea being that players want to engage or else they don’t get much XP.

  2. Hmm I’m not so sure i’m a fan of “tell the GM to make a complication because of this”. It seems like it’s not following the fiction, but forcing it, maybe?

    As for bonds, I think it’s really hard to get a knack for good bonds when they’re freeform.

  3. Aaron Griffin That’s a valid point about potentially “forcing” the fiction, but all moves “force” the fiction in some way. It’s just prescribed.

    What do you mean by freeform? Non-templated?

  4. The way this is worded is kind of a mess. You’ve got a passive trigger (“When one of your Quirks or Bonds is portrayed in the fiction”) paired with an active instruction (“Describe your intent”). You’ve got Quirk descriptions that are laden with complications, but you have to tell the GM to give you complication. It’s just… weird.

    If you want to use something like this, I’d go with much more streamlined language. Something like:

    _When you make a decision based on one of your Quirks or Bonds, and that decision causes trouble for you or your allies, mark XP. _

    Then I’d drop the descriptions from the Quirks. I can pretty easily tell whether I’m acting based on my “Showoff” quirk or my “Pacifist” quirk. You’d have to swap some of the more unclear quirks for more descriptive or evocative phrases (e.g. your Scoundrel >> Irresponsible, your Radical Artist >> something like Rabble Rouser or Provocateur).

    As for re-writing bonds, stopping mid-play to re-write a bond is really jarring to the flow of play… especially if its mechanically driven and not a big dramatic character arc moment.

  5. Also… what’s wrong with XP-on-a-miss? That’s, easily one of my favorite things about DW, and one of my players’ favorite things. It doesn’t necessarily actively drive behavior, but helps players embrace setback and difficulty, and takes the sting out of a miss.

    More broadly: what’s wrong with passively accumulating XP?

    I’ve tinkered with “keys” mechanics like the your Quirks/Bonds thing before, and the main thing I’ve found is that they add significantly to cognitive load. Each key basically becomes another move that players and GM have to watch out for and maneuver towards.

    In a game like Lady Blackbird or Shadows of Yesterday or even Blades in the Dark, where you have basically a single resolution mechanic (“oh, looks chancy, let’s go to the dice”), keys are pretty easy to keep track of. But when every character has ~9 basic moves and 4+ class moves, one or two more “if/then” triggers gets really hard to track.

    Players that then prioritize those keys really rack up the XP, whereas players who just want to play the game and do what feels natural to their characters get kinda hamstrung.

    Having (e.g.) alignment/drive questions or bond resolution come at the end of session is way easier to process. Also, the single end-of-session questionnaire approach doesn’t significantly penalize players who just want to play and react to the circumstances according to their internalized sense of character. Players can actively think about alignment/drive/bonds/flags to drive their play, but they won’t rack up tons of XP while the more reactive players just linger in XP limbo.

    (Also: the end-of-session questionnaires serve as a way to formally debrief about the session, which I think is pretty darn cool.)

  6. I played with BW style beliefs once with a “when it causes trouble, mark XP” style. It worked well but was hard for my players (generally traditions D&D players) to get a handle on, and I kept having to coach how to write beliefs.

  7. Jeremy Strandberg Thanks for the lengthy response! Very helpful. I can see now that the passive / active nature of its current state going to be effective.

    Also a good consideration about players who don’t want to actively engage with the roleplay aspect. I’m designing too much for one kind of play.

    The reason I was exploring this system in the first place is from a recent discussion on the DW server (specifically for Worlds of Adventure) where people were discussing untying XP from 6-. The reasoning is that it doesn’t feel like a tangible system that the players can engage with, but simply something that happens. (which isn’t necessarily a problem) A secondary reason is that XP on 6- “might” lead to some weird gaminess where a player is trying to fail. (which I personally haven’t seen.

    This was more of an exercise to see if I could convert keys into a more lightweight DW context.

    Aaron Griffin I can see how it is hard to grok. I do find that lots of new players struggle with existing systems like bonds and flags too, so 🤷‍♂️

  8. The issue for me is the mental workload it puts on Players and GMs. There are already so many moves to keep track of – maybe if the system were simpler (an interest of mine), it’d be an easy alteration.

    I’m not sold on XP on Failure, though, on many levels. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like there might exist something better.

  9. Greg Soper just to be clear, I’m not thinking about players who “don’t want to engage with the role play aspect,” I’m talking about players who don’t want or need a mechanism to encourage them to role play their characters.

    I’m reasonably convinced that one of the reasons DW is probably the most broadly played PbtA game is because it’s so broadly designed. Like, it’s doing D&Desque pastiche, right, and there’s a huge range of things to do in that pastiche. Also, the system gets the hell out of the way in a lot places that more tightly designed PbtA games don’t. That makes it accessible to a really broad swath of players, even if some of its pieces feel vestigial.

    If your goal for WoA is to simplify even further, I’d scrap bonds-as-mechanics entirely and come up with some sort of lightweight process for establishing how the PCs know each other at the start of the first session. I think Drive/Alignment as-is is a sweet spot for personality mechanics, so I’d leave it as-is.

    Cameron Burns maybe expound on what you dislike about XP-on-miss?

  10. Jeremy Strandberg​ It’s a bit difficult to unpack. I don’t hate XP on Failure, I just deel like it doesn’t achieve what it sets out to do, conceptually.

    Failure isn’t the driving theme in my games – it’s about overcoming obstacles and taking risks. So XP on Failure doesn’t make any new fiction, compared to (for example) Highlighted Stats in AW or XP on Desperate Actions in BitD.

    Failing Up players to the threats they’re facing doesn’t really make sense to me, since players im DW can fight Dragons at any level and leveling is typically abouy breadth (rather than height) of skill and ability. I understand it as a way to soften the blow of a 6- result of the dice, to help those players who are more gunshy about taking risks, but I’m just not sold on it as a feature for everyone.

    Some people have issues with the gaminess of it, too – since you can choose to level up faster by just rolling with your worse stats, or when the fiction isn’t too high-stakes – but I don’t have issues with that.

    XP on Failure is fine, but I am dissatisfied with it.

  11. I can’t say I can really agree. If challenges scaled in difficulty, like in Dungeons and Dragons, then that would probably be the case. But since the only modifier to roll difficulty is the number of rolls (fictional positioning) and the modifier(s) used (DEX, CHA, +1 Forward, etc.), there are only two ways of netting the XP.

    Either you fail a roll on a move by chance, or you seek out your weak stats and try to overcome threats with those stats. The former is entirely passive and doesn’t create new fiction, while the latter is proactive and creates fiction but can feel a bit gamey or make things feel like you’re just not very good at being an adventurer.

    In a way, it promotes taking risks be making players less shy about using their bad stats or avoiding moves. But that connection just feels tangential at best, at least to me. I understand why it’s there though.

  12. Jeremy Strandberg I am 100% with you on scrapping Bonds as a mechanic.

    I’ve been mulling over a “party playbook” where end of session moves might conceivably take the place of bonds resolutions, and player Drives/Alignments would do the rest. I don’t know. Is there something between Alignments and Drives? Something all-enompassing like Alignments but with more nuance?

  13. Interesting post!

    I also don’t like bonds. On paper they feel legit but at the table, I fail to see what they add to the game. Or I don’t know how to use them efficiently. To me it’s implicit that the characters are linked to each other otherwise they wouldn’t form a party. I also hate to add Bonds to a roll.

    I prefer Drives over Alignment but again I’m not sure how to make them integrate seamlessly into the game.

    I like Jeremy Strandberg​​ idea of having Quirks as 1-2 words concepts without further definition. Feels like a Fate aspect where the player can interpret the meaning however he likes and its on him to describe how it makes sense that it applies to a certain situation.

    The way I see this system (drive/alignement/quirk/whatnot) is it exist to reward players that play their characters personality. The way Alignment are written doesn’t work because for most of them you either play your character as a classic (clichéd?) archetype or you have to artificially frame a scene to hit it.

    To me these tags needs to define personality traits and the choices offered in the playbooks should be very distinct. Having them undefined vs worded as they are in DW could help taking a distance with a very static way of interpreting how they should be hit.

  14. Cameron Burns re: XP-on-a-miss, you say:

    it promotes taking risks be making players less shy about using their bad stats or avoiding moves. But that connection just feels tangential at best, at least to me

    I think that’s the crux of the disagreement. I don’t think it’s tangential at all. I think that’s the whole point of the mechanic, and I think it works beautifully.

    I think that literally every session of DW I’ve run has had some variant of “ Oh no, a miss! Well, at least I mark XP! .” I’m not being hyperbolic. I really think that’s happened every damn time.

    The fact that you get XP by triggering a move and rolling a miss sends a powerful signal to players that the game wants you to trigger moves. It says “taking risks and things going south is where the game is, it’s what you should be doing.” And the players who enjoy the game the most are the ones who embrace that message and start leaping headlong into the game and triggering moves left and right. They find their lives filled with rollicking adventure!

    Compare this to World of Dungeons, which is decidedly more “old school” D&D, where you are supposed to be cautions as hell and avoid rolling the dice as much as possible. No XP on a miss. You get XP by looting (1 XP per silver piece) or killing monsters (10 XP for something easy, 200+ XP “for a really tough one”), and it takes thousands of XP to level up. So in a game about being cautious and smart and avoiding risks as much as possible, you don’t get XP on a miss.

    In DW, where one of the GM agendas is “fill their lives with adventure,” you get XP on a miss.

    That doesn’t seem tangential at all.

  15. Jeremy Strandberg I agree. I run twice-monthly one shots and damn, do my players (especially the new ones) love, love the XP on failure bit. Huge selling point for the system as well.

  16. Yochai Gal I think there’s definitely some cool design space to work in with the idea of a party playbook. I mean, maybe it’s obvious that I think that… Stonetop is basically just a super elaborate version of doing just that, with the party playbook representing the steading itself.

    There’s a whole bunch of ways you could go with it, but I imagine something like crews in Blades in the Dark. The different playbooks would represent different types of adventuring groups. Off the top of my head, you could have:

    * Murderhobos (rootless wanderers and adventurers)

    * Academics (Indiana Jones & friends)

    * Sea dogs (pirates, buccaneers, privateers)

    * Operatives (military, special ops, spies… working for a government or institution)

    * Crusaders (cultists, templars, etc.)

    * Hometown heroes (ala Stonetop or Beyond the Wall)

    * Monster hunters (ala the Witcher, the Spook’s Apprentice, etc.)

    * Hunted (outlaws, fugitives, vengeance-seekers)

    Each of these “party playbooks” could have:

    * a setup procedure roughly similar to the map-creation process in Perilous Wilds (i.e. a round-robin series of prompts that everyone contributes to)

    * something like the race/background move in PC classes, that further defines the background of the party. E.g. the Sea Dogs would choose “Pirates” or “Privateers” or “Just Trying to Get Home” , and that choice could dictate some sort of move of special mechanic.

    * Specific questions for the end-of-session XP questionnaire. E.g. Crusaders could have “Did we defeat or punish an enemy of our faith? Did we follow our religion’s precepts? Did we make an offering pleasing to our deity?” and for each “Yes” everyone marks XP.

    * Different mechanics, of varying levels of complexity. E.g. sea dogs might have a crew morale/loyalty mechanic, and ship mechanic, and a navigation mechanic. Operatives might have some sort of “requisition gear/resources” mechanic and a questionnaire for establishing the institution they serve and tracking its resources/personalities/downsides. Murderhobos might have something much simpler, like a beefed up version of Carouse where they are rewarded/encouraged to squander the riches they “earn” adventuring.

  17. Jeremy Strandberg

    My God… It’s like you took all of the ideas I’ve been mulling and created something… Just like that. You bastard.

    I’m using all of this. Thank you, Jeremy Strandberg​.

  18. The funny thing is that I’d already started a worldbuilding hack that also replaced race/backgrounds with a pool of mechanical boons tied directly to whatever comes out of the worldbuilding; as well as a separate (more nascent) attempt a party playbook/bond/beliefs hack. JS’s comments made me realize I could combine the two.


  19. What a great discussion! I’ve been considering changing the end of session questions as well, but I’m not sure we have enough of a theme / common goal yet. Or perhaps we do? I’ll ask my players.

  20. Jeremy Strandberg and other interested folk:

    What do you think of this list of “adventuring party” categories I’ve come up with?

    Do any overlap? Are there examples that I’ve missed? Are any dumb? I’m also very interested in hearing better names for these things. Party Playbook isn’t perfect, and some of the categories are a bit off. Holy Alliance? Stalkers? Hmm…


  21. I feel like Justice should be a drive.

    I think it’s very interesting but the category seems pretty unlikely to include each party member. Usually a classic fantasy party is composed of diversified playbooks in a single group : the erudite wizard that end up with a savage barbarian and a thief.

    I think these people don’t form a party because they share a common organization but because their share common goals and beliefs.

    I’d probably invert the thought process. I’d have the group playbook creation process by having them pick drives that correspond to everyone and then narrow down the choices until they end up with a ideological concept.

    All three characters comes from very different backgrounds and trades but they are all seeking means for revenge and thus wealth and power. They are “The Sob Story”.

  22. Addramyr Palinor So you think it’s better to categorize by Goal, eh? Interesting. I’ll give it some thought!

    I was thinking about how a party playbook organized as I’ve done above would work with diverse classes, and the way I rationalized it was more like this:

    Say they chose the Soldiers Playbook. Wizards, Clerics, Paladins etc can all be soldiers of some type, depending on the story you’re telling. Thieves maybe not so much, but maybe a Thief that was forcibly conscripted? Same with a Barbarian, just a bit looser.

  23. Something about the breakdown you’ve got isn’t sitting right with me, but I’ve been having a hard time articulating what it is.

    Partly, I think it’s your specific choice of titles… it’s very… sanitary? A little bland? Maybe this current list is just for brainstorming and organizing your thoughts, but right now, it ends up reading like a taxonomy rather than a list of cool concepts that’s going to inspire play.

    Like, what would you rather watch? An episode of Shipmates or a party of Sea Dogs?

    Related, I worry that you’re assembling a list of “every possible type of adventuring party” rather than a list of “cool adventuring parties that I want to write playbooks for.”

    Pick the ones that speak to you, that inspire you. Make those, and stuff them full of cool ideas until they absolutely drip with awesome.

    Otherwise, you risk making a bunch anemic playbooks that cover all the basis but that don’t really inspire.

  24. Jeremy Strandberg yes, these were meant to be bland – the eventual titles would definitely have more flavor! I just thought I could make a generic category for each (i’ll probably pick only a few of them in the end) and see what interested people.

    Also, I’d write playbooks for all of these. They all interest me – though some might overlap. I’m gonna take another pass at this using the suggestions here; organizing by drive, trimming down and theming them (even at the loss of so-called player freedom).


  25. Party playbook definitely sounds cool.

    You might wanna check Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition (don’t necessarily buy but consult somehow). There was a party sheet mechanic. You might find interesting concepts in there.

    On top of my head, I think the sheet had a way to generate destiny points (rerolls or something like that), there was 2 “slots” to add special abilitie cards that were shared between the party and I think there were a “move” that benefited to all.

    Although, on the long run, there were so many pieces involved in the game, we decided to drop the party sheet because we never though of consulting it.

    I think having drives or whatever you call it that only applies during the End of Session move to check if every party member gain an XP is fine. It could also give a single move that all PC can use (or that benefits all of them when activated).

    Something along the lines of:

    When the party take on a Perilous Journey, something something…


    When making the Supply move, all PC something something…

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