Designing Uncharted Worlds 2nd Edition

I like the fact that for fallback moves you chose a general action, a way to help, and a downtime move. I’m failing to see how they would support the mission statement though.

Are the core moves informing the players on how they might find their independence out among the stars?

Have you though of having at least some of the core moves tie directly into your mission statement?
exploring or looking for opportunities (looks like you might have this in yout downtime move)
signing and fulfilling contracts or dealing with factions
out among the stars
dealing with life and relationships on a planet as opposed to out in space


Hey Sean,
I just found out about this topic, I’ll read it whole when I have a moment. Your game was my first Sci-Fi PbtA and I love some of the aspects to this day, but after a while I stopped playing it.
It is nice to see you here and have possibility to read and provide feedback to your new creation.

What I liked about UW:

  • Faction creation description - the ideas for how to create factions and how many factions to have, the general advice for very good.
  • Aliens from Far Beyond Humanity - again excellent concept and design, gave me a lot of good ideas how aliens can be different and in what way from humans.
  • Moves that can use many stats - yes, as in your post-mortem - they very good.
  • Combat move - I liked that you roll once and then describe encounter

What in my opinion needs improvements:

  • Faction debt - whole system was awkward and not working
  • Lack of MC moves - there were just too few
  • A lot of moves were simple fictional positioning, which meant that there were a lot of things you could not do until you were allowed to do it by a move, I’d love to see much more of those moves involve a roll not simple fictional allowance
  • Weak design of core moves like fix - getting simple 7-9 was usually success without complications
  • Lack of persuade move

I’m really happy to see that you are developing 2nd edition :slight_smile:


These are awesome questions/comments, thank you all. I’m still mulling them over (so I’ll probably have more specific answers/thoughts later), but here are a few initial thoughts:

To me, the Core Move of [10: Yes, 7-9: Yes-But, 6-: No-And] feels like it’s a necessary component. From a gameplay perspective, I strongly lean on that to move the game forward. The resolution is so simple… and maybe that’s a crutch?

To be unique, a Move either limits the usage and/or shapes the results (preferably both), but this Move sadly does neither. It definitely can’t limit the usage, by its very nature. So perhaps it needs to shape the result into something that isn’t Yes/Yes-But/No-And?

That said, I have to keep in mind how a more complicated resolution will affect the flow of the game and ease of story-telling. The last thing I want is something “clever” but impractical. Usability and approachability is a high priority for me.

I’d be interested to know if there are any particularly inventive/flavorful “catch-all” Moves I could use as a springboard. Or if there is simply an issue with the very concept of a default Move.


I love this idea so much.

Everything should tie back to the core mission, so doing this is brilliant.

If the game’s not about combat, then don’t have much of a combat system. If it’s about exploring, independence, and moving in SPACE then have moves about that.

Also: @aaron.griffin is here! Haven’t seen you since G+, good to see you!


While I absolutely try to support the mission statement as much as possible, I’m still working within the bounds of a traditional/semi-neutral Space Opera genre. Traveller, Mass Effect, and Firefly are a massive part of UW’s DNA, and it would be a grave disservice to the game and the existing fan base to push too far away from that genre.

So blasters and intrigue and brawls and dogfights and impossible stunts and explosions are the building blocks that I need to use to build towards the mission statement.


I just read @Simon_Hibbs 's excellent breakdown of the differences between AW’s stats and DW’s stats in the Is Defy Danger a bad move? thread. I strongly recommend it. It resonated deeply. Specifically, my “stat philosophy” cleaves closer to Dungeon World’s than Apocalypse World, which has had a bunch of knock-on effects in the design. It’s also why I’m drawn to a stat-neutral “ur-Move”.

(Edit: It also goes a ways to explaining certain kinds of push-back: Stat-neutral resolution is, by its very nature, more “muddy” and less “flavorful” than stat-specific resolution, especially when the stats aren’t also personality/behavioral archetypes)

Lots of stuff to consider, there. Obviously, I can’t change the stat philosophy without alienating the previous edition’s player base and, dare I say, changing the flavor of UW as a whole. But this has clarified a number of issues, in my mind, and I’m considering taking these tools and going back to a Core Moves iteration that I had previously explored. (@aaron.griffin alluded to it further up in the thread)


Again, thank you folks for your feedback. Solid stuff.

Part III.2 - Core Move (Redux)

In this iteration, I split out the catch-all core move into two Moves: Confront and Control.

Confront is the go-to “opposed roll”. When you want to hurt someone, break/take their stuff, humiliate them, capture them, wear them down, get them to admit they’re wrong, or just drive them away. The concept of “Harm”, as it applies to NPCs, is loosely defined as “something they don’t want”. Even if it’s for their own damn good (getting a loved-one Obscura addict to clean up their act is technically “Harm” in this case, and you can bet they’ll fight back).


Control allows players to interact with the scene itself, to make changes, to set up advantageous situations or get rid of undesirable elements. It’s a narrative re-framing tool. In combat, these are tactical maneuvers (flanking, distractions, charges, taking cover, etc), but it equally applies to social endeavors (charm, diplomacy, intimidation, propaganda) as well as physical actions (building, fixing, exploring, diving-away-from-imminent-explosion etc). Control is indirect/non-harmful (as opposed to Confront) and it often acts as a springboard, creating situations that allow teammates to Confront, or make an additional Control.


While these moves are certainly more complicated than the previous version, they also provide a “tighter” experience, where the story is pushed forward. They also scale better (especially for ship combat), which I appreciate. And, of course, there will still be the Career-specific Moves.

As with the previous iterations, any questions or impressions are more than welcome.


This is only my personal tastes and not any sort of hard declaration about design in general, but I personally feel a little uncertain with move outcomes that are left vague or open-ended. Like for Confront, on a 10+, “there will be a minor cost or consequence”-- I have a hard time getting a solid sense of what that means, how minor is minor, how do you make this feel like a big success (vs. how a 7-9 should feel), how to be consistent from one move to another, etc. For me it’s nice to have at least some sort of suggestion or guidance as to what the outcomes should look like, even if they’re still fairly open-ended. So for Control, where you have the list of suggested outcomes, I feel a lot more solid.

Again, that’s just me. I could totally see the argument for like, “well it’s a 10+, you basically just get what you want, the minor consequence really is meant to be minor, it doesn’t need a whole big list of outcomes” and I’d get that =P


That’s a really interesting conundrum. Because the Move is stat-neutral and meant to handle a bunch of different activities, more definition of consequence starts creating weird edge-cases where those consequences don’t apply.

For example, a minor cost/consequence of a firefight Confront could be “you run out of ammo” or “you caused collateral damage” or “the noise alerted other potential hostiles”. But these only apply to combat, obviously; a heated debate would have entirely different minor costs/consequences (“they’ll slander you online later”, “it takes hours”, “they splash their wine in your face before storming off”)

I think this circles back to a similar problem to the stats. These Moves are intention-based, rather than method-based. They resolve “what you want to accomplish” but you need to supply “how you get it”, which is a deviation from the per-stat “how you choose to interact with the world” Moves that tells you what the stat accomplishes. Even Control has the same issue, nested one deeper: the method-neutral flaws rely on the intent and player-defined methods to give them context.

I feel that a sub-section of GM guidance may be in order, outlining different types of situation (combat, politics, stealth, mechanical, etc) and potential consequences. Perhaps even codifying the concept of a “Cost Or Consequence” as a discrete mechanical component in the GM’s toolbox, rather than a carte-blanche for the GM.


Hey, I run a lot of WoDu 1979 and when I’m trying to frame up what costs and risks are associated with the move, I often use the “cheap, fast, good” triangle to negotiate what the players are risking on their rolls. Think about what the fiction or prep demands, then frame up possible outcomes along the triangle. Normally the best a PC can hope for is 2 of 3.

Like this:

“So you want to pick this lock, and that takes time, is that how you want to pay me? Taking time means that you spend the time, the party keeps an eye out for danger and you keep your tools. If you rush the job, you might break tools or the lock, but you’d avoid having everyone’s tails in the wind. If things go very bad you might spend the time, foul the lock, AND break tools. What’s most important to you? Oh you have tinker? Cool! That means, no matter what you can pick one, time, tools, or open lock and you won’t miss…I’ll spring some other surprise on you if things turn bad.”

I don’t know if that gives you any ideas or not for how to has those kinds of things out or maybe it’ll inspire you some how.

In any case, I’m interested in the growth of this game. I liked the first one a lot.


I like how the two moves work together to support a specific narrative structure. Reminds a lot of Fellowship’s Finish Them and the advantage mechanic.

I noticed both Confront and Control have some kind of detrimental effect happen even on a 10+. Were you specifically shooting for a very unforgiving default resolution? Are you planning on giving the players an option to feel more competent through career-specific moves?

Assuming that is the case, these moves are saying: Unless you solve a situation by doing what you are good at (career moves), no matter how good your plan is, there will be consequences.

To expand a little bit on the options in Control:

“It’ a very temporary or restricted change and will soon revert” and “This will cost resources or cause harm” are solid partial success options. “It will take a while before it gets done” could still be considered a partial success but only if the situation allows the PCs to stick around and wait, otherwise reads more like a 6-.

“You’re tied up in a compromised, difficult position.” reads like a straight up failure to me, unless I’m misunderstanding what you mean by tied up. Many times GMs will want to resolve a first 6- by putting the PCs in compromised, difficult positions and then let the situation snowball if more failures are rolled.

“Create a secondary complication, now or in the near future” could be just about anything. A complication now could be a straight up cost or harm (but you already covered that) and depending on the context and what the PCs value could end up as a compromised, difficult situation (again, already covered). A complication in the near future on the other hand sounds a lot like Tell them the consequences and ask which is a pretty solid way of handling a partial success.

Minor edits for typos and clarity.


Part III.3 - Core Moves (Yet Again)

Did a short playtest with a couple of my regular gaming buddies. I’m happy with how things turned out. It was a fun, brief scenario (the quintessential Crashed Ship jump point), and overall the interaction between Control and Confront really came out.

Between the feedback from that playtest and the feedback here, I’ve made another pass on Confront and Control. I feel that they’re strong enough to do a “polish” iteration. I think I’ll be moving forward with this version, barring significant objection.

I’ve codified the concept of “Complications” (name still WIP). It’s basically harm, resource cost, or new trouble. There’s also the concept of minor Complications vs major Complications, more as a guideline as to how harsh the GM should be.

I removed the “Describe why your chosen attacks are ineffective”. I’m kinda sad I have to do it, because in the moment it makes for a really interesting decision and could create fun situations (“what do you mean he has an energy shield?”). However, I acknowledge that it will ultimately be a tool to maintain the status quo. It was a choice that didn’t advance the story enough. And so I have to get rid of it, and lament its loss.

Also, the “harm each other” result no longer makes it sound like you’ll take extreme damage (“as much as possible” was interpreted as “cranked up to 11” rather than the intended “as the situation allows”.

Here I really softened the wording of the consequences, and generally “balanced” them. The old “tied up in a compromised position” got very bad reviews in general, so I rewrote that to clarify. I used the whole Complication thing here too. And I softened the “take a while”.

Note the “you choose a minor consequence” for the 10+, an attempt to reassure the player and remind the GM that the consequences should not feel like a failure.

Yes indeed. Career Moves are where specialization/mastery and niche-protection happen. So while anyone can Confront to get in a gun fight, the Military/Whatever character will have a much better Move for acts of violence.

The more I think about it, the less I like flawless successes. Without proper set-up, they have a tendency to be a tad anti-climactic. There needs to be an attrition, a raising of stakes, a cost in time or resources or energy to every narrative-defining action, especially since the scope of these Moves are quite zoomed out. I’m ok with the Career-Moves having simple “Yes” results on a 10+, because they’re narrower in application and represent mastery. The core moves being imperfect allows more avenues to build better, more desirable Career Moves.


Is it really not possible to get a success without a complication or disadvantageous consequence? It just seems like there’s little distinction between the 10+ and 7-9 results. That’s especially true for Control, but even for Confront the complication could be taking damage.

One way out of this might be to have specific character moves that eliminate the complication/consequence on a 10+. So a combat veteran might not face a minor consequence on 10+ when fighting.


One of those “more of an observation than a genuinely useful contribution” thoughts, but… =P

I think it’s interesting that the concept of like an ‘opener’ and ‘finisher’ move seems to be disseminating through more and more PbtA games-- as @nonsonogiucas mentioned above, I think the first place I saw this was in Fellowship, but I’ve seen it more recently in Rhapsody of Blood, Armour Astir, and it’s something I intend to use in my own game.

It seems like a really nice way to codify and put into explicit writing that people shouldn’t just be rolling straight “Do Combat” move after move without doing some extra fictional positioning in between, which is a concern that seems to pop up in discussion of PbtA games pretty frequently. I dunno, it’s a cool little design evolution from classic PbtA, and I like seeing it in UW 2.0 =P


A bit of an aside following from your aside, but I quite like the idea of combat in which one side has the advantage or the initiative and certain moves are only possible in that context, so if your opponents have the initiative, first you need to claim it, then you can make your more effective moves. You can’t win the fight from the backfoot. I think Ironsworn has a mechanic to this end.


Part IV - Harm

Looking back, injuries/harm were never a major player in Uncharted Worlds. Sure there were rules, and they were fine, but they mostly were just records of particularly physical failures.

When a character fails or gets a harmful partial success, the GM (or occasionally the player) has the choice of consequences, which usually boils down to:

  • Advancing the plot in favor of the villains

  • Creating new or bigger problems to resolve

  • Suffering harm

Ultimately, a character getting hurt was the least interesting of the three. The story chain stopped there, and it didn’t create new tangents. Players recorded the harm they suffered, and made a mental note to get that seen to. Looking back on all the sessions I’ve run over the years, I think I average a single significant injury per 2-3 hours of play.

With UW2, I wanted to revisit the concept of Harm, and how it would relate to play, to the economy, to character growth, and to Downtime (more on Downtime later). I wanted Harm to accumulate, to transform over time, to be a personal villain that sits on the character’s shoulder.

The document is a bit wordy, so I’ll drop a link here:

UW2 Harm Rules v1

I’d really appreciate it if you kind folks could take a look, tell me if it looks like it makes sense or if I’ve missed an obvious flaw/issue.

A few highlights:

  • The old concept of Debt has been folded into Harm, as well as some of the Trauma rules from Far Beyond Humanity. Harm now includes emotional, social, behavioral, and economic injuries, as well as physical injuries.

  • Higher severity Harm transforms when you reduce it, requiring you to consider how you go about recovering. This creates flavorful character moments as a hero overcomes their Severe Self Loathing on shore leave in a seedy space station, but picks up a Major ThirdEye Addiction in the process. Or someone who repays a Major Debt but ends up with Minor Bruises from the sports-fighting ring where they earned the necessary money.

  • Scars are story hooks, plain and simple. While Harm is temporary, Scars will come back to haunt you.

My concern is that there may be GMs out there far more brutal than I, who hand out injuries like candy. I’ll have to be sure to provide serious guidelines… or maybe I’m worrying about nothing.

1 Like

Looks like you are potentially folding wounds, complications and GM moves in general into fronts, mitigated by abstract ablative armor. It’s interesting as a design exercise but I’m debating with myself whether it’ll be so abstract that it gets in the way during play. I’m trying to figure out how it works in practice:

Let’s say I piss off someone and I get Harmed with a Severe Bounty (Space Pirates).

First of all I want to figure out if I have protection against Bounty (Space Pirates).

  • Do I have protection only if there is already an appropriate item on my sheet or can I work that out on the fly?
  • Supposing I have a signal scrambler installed on my ship and the table agrees that’s protection against Bounty (Space Pirates) because it makes the ship difficult to identify (they’re not sure who thy’re putting a bounty on): I write Signal Scrambler as protection and mark a use.
    Is the use of the scrambler specific to Bounty (Space Pirates) or is its capacity to scramble reduced against any kind of applicable Harm? In other words, if later on I also piss off the Merchant Guild, is my scrambler less effective against Bounty (Merchant Guild) because I used it against space pirates?

Let’s say I have nothing to protect me against the Pirate Bounty:
Periodically, the Severe Harm produces Minor Harms, in this case I guess a Minor Pirate Ship Tracked Me Down Harm? I guess I can remove this Harm by exploding it… but I can also remove it during downtime?

Are pirates allowed to threaten me if Something (space pirates) is not on my Harm list?

But more importantly:
If basically any kind of complication is Harm.
And I can’t win a confrontation without introducing more Harm (the only real alternative being advancing the bad guys plan).
How do things just not spiral down very quickly?

I’m not saying that’s bad per se. Just pointing out that the game seems to be leaning toward inevitable bad endings (or at least something a bit like Cthulhu where even if you defeat the bad guys you end up dead or insane anyway).

Realizing that the previous didn’t actually volunteer any action, here is an alternative:

Ok with the concept of Harm being anything from wounds to negative social relations.
There is no limit to the amount of different kind of Harm you can accumulate.
Something dramatic happens if any single Harm “clock” is filled.

When you suffer Harm, the GM decides how severe the Harm is at the start.
Any Harm beyond the 2rd stage will spiral down if you don’t take action, at a rate that depend on what it is: minutes for wounds, hours for ship damage, months for politics, etc…
When a Harm reaches the 5th stage, something is destroyed: a government for politics, your ship for mechanical damage, your character for wounds.

1 Like

I think abstract harm like this can work. I think scars and transforming/degrading harm both sound like really nice ways to feel like your character has a rich ‘past’ that you’re keeping track of.

However, off the top of my head, the first concern I have is that folding every type of harm into one might feel kind of arbitrary or nonsensical, depending on the circumstances?

Like say my character goes through a big intense drawn out space battle, and I’ve gotten 3 kinds of ‘physical harm’ from getting blown up, exhausted, wounded in a laser sword battle, etc. In a moment of desperation against my greatest rival, I call on the powers of The Evil Space Goddess for a surge of strength, and take a harm ‘Haunted.’ Then, at the climax of the battle, some Space Pirates we’d seen earlier in the story show up just in the nick of time to save the day, but now I’ve taken the harm ‘Indebted.’

But that’s 5 harm, and I’m out of the game. But was the debt to the pirates what got me? I’d been more physically wounded than anything, but it was only 3/5 possible harm, so we weren’t treating it like it was that bad so far. As far as economic harm goes, I’ve only had 1/5 of those, it doesn’t seem like something that’s built up enough to really ruin me. It just doesn’t quite fit within the fiction for me that I should be so wounded that taking a loan from someone takes me out of the story, or so indebted that getting shot once gets me, or whatever.

I guess my concern is edge cases like this where having really different kind of harms all going into the same pool might feel like something minor and unrelated sneaks up on you and takes you out? My gut instinct is that different types of consequences should be tracked differently? And admittedly it’s all just “what I’m used to from other games” and what types of abstractions ‘make sense’ and which don’t, so it’s all kind of arbitrary.

Like, physical/mental harm being tracked together makes sense to me because I can imagine being so exhausted, emotionally disrupted, etc. that you just don’t have the resolve to push through much physical challenge, for example. But social/economic/political consequences feel like they don’t belong in the same place as those.

On the other hand! Maybe I’d just have to get in the right mindset here, and thinking outside the box about how those disparate sources of harm came together against me would actually make really interesting stories?


Keeping an eye on this because UW 1e popped up in my research around science fiction PbtAs. You said above that you wanted to focus more on some specific genre elements to emphasize so as not to try to have both The Expanse and Doctor Who in the same game. Can you elaborate a little on the direction you’re considering now?