Outside of player characters, a character is bound to have some close bonds with other characters. A lot of DMs have a variation of rules for managing what I call close bonds: “I know a guy…” or “the Lando” rule. So, here’s my take:
For the sake of this rule, enemies and rivals don’t count as close bonds, but instead only count those who would be counted as a friend and/or ally. These can be particularly close and helpful family members, a romantic interest, and very close friends.
Close Bonds from the Past (Start of Game)
When starting the game, the player character gets a number of NPCs they are closely bonded with equal to their charisma modifier (minimum 0). These do not all need to be known at the beginning of the campaign, but can be developed over time with the DM in order to fit the world and the player character’s backstory. Essentially, this can be mentioned as “I know a guy” who can help them complete a task.
NPCs created in this way will have a specific focus on what they do and will fall roughly into a build from the MM, Volo, or other official supplement. Unofficial supplements may be used at the DMs discretion.
Close Bonds Made During the Campaign
During the course of a campaign, the party will meet a lot of other characters. A party may have an infinite number of allies, depending on the situation, but NPCs don’t befriend anyone and everyone to put their life on the line.
Depending on roleplay, a player may choose to build an additional close bond with NPCs equal to their charisma modifier. While they may find other characters friendly or helpful within reason, these characters are meant to be particularly bonded to the player character.
Multiple player characters can choose to create a bond to the same NPC, but both players will use a bond slot.
Loyalty and Close Bonds
NPCs have feelings too. In order to bond with an NPC, loyalty may be factored and monitored at the DMs discretion. NPCs who feel wronged repeatedly may lose loyalty and either abandon or betray the player they are bonded with. When this happens, a character who is bonded to an NPC will lose that bond; the bond slot associated with that character will remain used.
Depending on the result of the relationship, the bond may become an enemy or may even be won back through some feats of friendship or love.
Close Bonds and Adventuring
At the beginning of most campaigns, player characters need a boost which can be found from a strong close bond character. However, as time goes on, player characters will find less and less that they need the NPC (even if they like their company).
While there are no hard and fast rules, the following are the suggestions for how many NPCs should be with adventurers.
Tier 1. These heroes are just starting out. They ought to have at least one NPC ally, but no more allies than half the party.
Tier 2. The heroes are getting on their own feet. While they might have a couple extra allies every once in a while, they are capable of dealing with most threats if they have one NPC bond ally.
Tier 3. The heroes are mostly self-sufficient. Their previously dedicated allies start to find work for themselves to do elsewhere, but one might help them along directly every now and again.
Tier 4. The heroes are so powerful that most NPCs would be surprised they’re even asked to be brought along on adventures. Most NPCs will reject the level of danger these heroes are in without being convinced. (Some however, might still be willing– but this is often where most beloved NPCs are in danger.)
Close Bonds & Inspiration
A player who has inspiration for the game (through the way I use it) can use it to summon an ally to the party if the party does not already have a bonded ally and it makes logical sense.
This can be used as an action during combat.
Tracking Close Bonds
When tracking close bonds, create a number of boxes equal to the bonds allowed by these rules at the top of the organizations and allies section of the character sheet. X out NPCs from a character’s past from the left to the right. X out new NPCs from the right to the left.
Thank you for reading! I hope that this has been of interest to you! You can find my Close Bond sheet up on the DMG, if you would like to support me, consider joining my Patreon or checking out my other work on the guild.