Designing Uncharted Worlds 2nd Edition

Hi Sean!

I only just discovered this thread since I don’t spend nearly as much time on Gauntlet forums as I’d like to.

First I’m super excited that you’re working on a new version of UW. The “bild your character” style of combining mini playbooks fascinates me & gets to how many space fiction genres have characters are a pastiche of several archetypal touchstones. Cramped Quarters was also incredibly inspiring for me as well! Your stat-neutral Core Moves approach looks really fascinating, & I’m all for condensing combat to single rolls.

On the Advantage thing, I got that from Jacob Randolph’s excellent Fellowship (which also has a 2nd edition now) so it wasn’t even original when I did it. Wherever game design tools come from, use the ones that suit your vision of play.

As for imposter syndrome, that’s something I’ve struggled with a lot too. When UW launched it’s kickstarter I had to fight the urge to give up on Impulse Drive since someone else had made one now. But we both have our own perspectives & design goals that are going to suit different players or even different game premises for the same groups. I love that we now have so many different perspectives on PBTA & forged in the dark space adventures! I love seeing folks explore all these games & find the ones that suit their groups’ needs.

My own ship playsheets went through a lot of iteration during the design process, from having their own stat array, Gear list, & Move ecosystem, to tags that modified the core Character moves. For the longest time there was only one ship playbook, for a millennium falcon style smuggler/merchant ship. It was pretty late in development that I added the 3 other ship playbooks, & the two bonus playbooks got written literally during the Impulse Drive kickstarter.

Thank you for sharing your design process so publicly! It’s wonderful to see another designer going through their process, iterating on ideas, & exploring design possibilities. I think it also helps folks see making games can be approachable for all sorts of folks.

from a fellow space game designer, keep up the great work! I’ll be watching your progress with great interest.

(Also do you struggle answering the how is your game different from / better than X space game?" I want to talk up what my game aims for without sounding like I’m denigrating another designer’s hard work but never feel like I know other folks’ games well enough to highlight their strong points)


@Neros: Thank you so much! It’s been hard to connect with folks these days, so I’m glad we ran into each other here. I hope you enjoy 1st ed UW, and if you have any feedback or particular difficulties, now’s the perfect time to share. :slight_smile:

@madadric: Hi! It means a lot to hear from a fellow designer, especially as a reminder that we all face similar struggles (especially the whole impostor syndrome, yikes). I really appreciate it!


I did enjoy it. Like so many others, the archtype system was really interesting, and was the main catcher for me when choosing your game.

But about feedback for 1st edition:

you have covered many of the things in your Postmortem post with what was a hit or miss. I did like the simplified wealth though, but I agree that it was to simplified. It kinda felt like gaining wealth was unimportant/had little effect.

But a thing I really missed in UC, was a more easy-to-use playbook-sheet, which resembled some of the other PbtA games. Usually their playbooks have most if, not all the info that is needed for the role right on the book. But I can see how this might be hard to do with the career system.

I want to mention that I come from a long line of D&D and WoD games, and when I played Monster of the Week with my players (my first PbtA game), it was such a immense relief and time saver that the players didn’t have to share the book. Sitting and waiting for someone to be done, etc.

For 1st edition to solve this myself, I had been fiddling with the thought of Move Cards/Booklets for each carreer. It might however become fidley if multiple players want the same career.

2nd edition thoughts:
I really like the idea of Stress instead of the classic health system. In a fight, a deep knife cut can be just as dangerous as crippling fear.

But I am really wondering how you will handle armor/defense against such a flexible damage system?
physical damage simple enough: Armor to lower the severity. But fear, fatigue, smitten, etc?

Just a side note: I really like the concept of Double Trigger. Much less: “My character can’t use this move because of his Xxxxx stat.”

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Core Moves
As mentioned in the previous post (over two weeks ago, yikes), I spent a lot of time fine-tuning the career Moves to create results that move the story forward in ways that reflect the Career’s goals and methods. So I went back to the drawing board with the Core Moves, trying to capture that same advance-the-story outcome.

It’s always an interesting puzzle, coming up with Core Moves. They have to be interesting, but not be so powerful as to overshadow the Career Moves (since those are character-specific and are a big part of niche protection). Most importantly, they have to sell the genre through their trigger and through their results.

So obviously, I had to ask: what are the “common” actions that all Space Opera protagonists perform? And what situations trigger those actions. The two most common were a time-based danger/opportunity, and a direct conflict. (The names are placeholder, of course).

When you race to complete a task within a small window of opportunity, Roll+Stat.

On a 10+, choose one:

  • Down to the wire: It’ll take every last moment. Events ensue while you finish.
  • Outside interference : Someone else will have to deal with an external threat.
  • Cut corners: You won’t get everything. The GM will offer you a hard choice.
  • Pushed to the limit: Completing the task causes major Stress.

On a 7-9, choose two from the list above.
On a 6-, the countdown reaches zero, time runs out, the chance for success slips through your fingers. You are left to deal with the fallout.

When you oppose a hostile force and their goals, Roll+Stat .

On a 10+, choose 2 and they cause harm (Stress, costs, etc).

  • Hold them off: Keep them busy. They can’t act or cause harm for now.
  • Push them back: Change the stakes, the context, or the location of the conflict.
  • Hit them hard: They are shaken, weakened, hurt, reduced in some way.
  • Take them out: You have them now. Choose their fate if you have the upper hand.

On a 7-9, choose 1 and they cause harm and/or progress towards their goal.
On a 6-, they achieve their goals. You suffer Stress and are thrown into a new situation that they dictate.

I ended up liking these Moves quite a bit, but I noticed something interesting during playtest: I didn’t call for as many Rolls. Both the core moves are much more specific than the old “Face Adversity” from UW1. While these are still fairly generic, it still didn’t apply to every situation. Specifically, if the action didn’t have a window of opportunity, didn’t have opposition, or wasn’t a special Move unique to the character’s career, then it was a simple success and the story moved on. And while that resulted in less rolling overall, I think it may be for the best (quality over quantity).

It also made me think about how my session was structured, and how to support and promote the Space Opera story structure through mechanics. See, in my playtest I provided a plot hook that didn’t have an explicit timer or opposition (“this person is missing on this space station, find them, bring them back”). There are certainly implied time constraints and enemies waiting in the wings, threats in potentia, but the lack of overt threat allowed the players to play safe, which meant no rolls (because rolls are triggered by danger and desperation and heroism), which meant no Snowball of Unfortunate Events. Heck, as far as I remember, the only rolls that happened that entire game were Career Moves to hook a patron with a powerful new faction (the Advocate character used their Advise move to entice the NPC to change their plans, allowing the Personality character the chance to Impress that NPC).

I’m going to see if the restricted Move triggers helps shape the flow of action, or if it creates scenarios without enough randomness/surprise. I may need to come up with a third Core Move, but I’ll be damned if I can think of what that could be at the moment.


Race the clock is a very common move in Space Opera… Really enjoy this one. Generally, really enjoy UW’s flexibility in the moves, where any stat basically can be used to roll it depending on the situation.

And I like moves that allow the players to choose their consequence/gm move. Or at least, help shape the direction the narrative is gonna go. It frees some time so the GM doesn’t have to promp so much.

A possible suggestion for a move, but that I am not sure that fits a space opera, is to create something. I am making something for a hack where the move is inspired by your “use more than one stat for a move”-thing.

You attempt to create something, roll +Stat and describe what you want to create. The creation could be a computer, piece of art or a party for a social gathering. It will usually take some time and/or resources depending on what you want.

On a 10+ you bring the creation into being, but choose a problem, the GM will decide its effect:

  • Flawed
  • Volatile
  • Brittle
  • Loud
  • Slow
  • Temperamental
  • Weak

7-9, as above, but choose two problems instead.
On a 6-, the creation will introduce a major consequence later on.

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Oh, man! so great to see that an UW2 is being made! This makes my day! i love the game!

I’m very impressed with the carreer moves. I think that solves so much of what we encounter on the table.

I find that the confront enemy and race the clock moves, and the way harm and stress are playing, very exciting. By giving hard choices i think driving the plot gets even easier on the GM, and makes battles more interesting, even if your playtest resulted in less moves. I Think that gives more room to shape up the game.

Giving more lists to choose from, almost in a open-form choose your own adventure book thing, in a few more specific moves is a tidy and smart way to make it all more accessible IMO.

I’m currently GMing UW1. i’m going to bring this style of “confrontation” and the “race the clock” move to the next session and note how those play along. Maybe i’ll find something useful to share.


It’s tempting to go back and like every post @SeanGomes makes in this thread. It’s a fascinating, thrilling, and eye-opening journey to watch–especially as someone working on their own space opera pbta game. Your openness and push for innovation is amazing.

Looking at your new core moves, I really like both RACE THE CLOCK and CONFRONT THE ENEMY. If I was to take a stab at a third core move that suits the genre you mention (ex. Firefly), I might suggest something like MAKE YOURSELF VULNERABLE or SHOW YOUR TRUE SELF. A lot of Space Opera deals with people against the vastness of space, feeling small and alone, the difficulty of connecting with others. Often how they save the day is by letting down their guard.

I think this would also fit the theme, “Find your independence out among the stars.”


That’s a great suggestion!

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Playtest Results, Core Moves, and GM Permissions

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the chance to playtest the rules as they stand now. And while certain things worked very well, the overall pacing and fluidity still leaves something to be desired.

The first session had barely any rolling. The players avoided conflict/confrontation, which meant a lot of talking with NPCs and gathering info, not a lot of Racing the Clock or Facing the Enemy. Part of it was genre- and character-expectations: they weren’t selfless heroes, they were spacefarers looking for wealth and freedom.

I added a third Core Move to handle all the fact-finding and questioning players do. It was more of a GM tool, to give me the permission* to create trouble when the PCs went looking for something. That one did come up a few times in subsequent playtesting, but it was a bit simplistic and relied heavily on the GM to come up with new troubles.

*Side-bar about “GM Permission”: I’m not sure how many other GMs are like this, but I tend to avoid throwing random twists at players out of the blue. I don’t feel right about it, because no matter whether it would help with the pace or spice things up, it always feels transparent and arbitrary. However, when a Move tells me to add a twist, then it feels… more fair?

Ultimately, the rules as they are now feel “bumpy”. There were long segments of talking/faffing about, followed by two or three rolls in a short amount of time, then another length of narrative. Upon further reflection, I think those lulls were because the action had been resolved quickly, and a new scene had to be set (GM describes + players discuss how to proceed time > players enact plan time).

The average scene requires only a few rolls to resolve, because even the 7-9 results resolve the story in some way, rather than adding more complications. I think I may need to revisit my results to create more of the Move Snowball, create points of escalation, rather than points of resolution.


Interesting to read about your playtest, maybe comparing to mine would result in some insights.

I’ve playtested “Confront the enemy” and “Race the clock” Moves on the table i’m GMing. (Please excuse any grammar mistake, english is not my first language).

Confront the enemy: A major success. The choices and results are very clear, and even the more introvert player of the table got right into the action of describing how he captured the enemy. When i asked him what motivated him to give a full description he said that: “When i have a little trigger, like choosing from a number of given options, things just roll.”

And i think that is very important for the combat mechanic in UW. Why: because the snowballing of moves engaged warp 9 after that confront the enemy move.

I realized that for my table (Very used to Savage Worlds) when i used more layered threats and kinda chopped the the major moves in combat into many situations, things got very fun, challenging and engaging. If i would just ask “the group of enemies is flanking you, this is a desperate situation. There are boxes for cover, such and such… How do you handle things?”, even though i’ve see this approach work very much, my players got distracted with the amount of choice they had. So i kinda chopped them up like: “The enemies have arrived. one of them shoots above your heads” the players started immediately to move, and than with each player description like “I Look around for some exploit in the room” that’s a Assessment check, the assessment check got partial success, so he finds it, but will have to go through one of the enemy waves, than a combat move, than description, etc.

And i think that the confront the enemy move helps with this chopped up approach. Because it is one of the things that can be added to the string of layers in a threat. For my group it worked wonders.

Race the clock: I really thought this would be a major winner. But when i presented the choices for my players, they didn’t think it was quite clear description wise. They got very excited with the “Cut corners” and “Pushed to the limit” choices, but “Down to the wire” and “Outside Interference” got them a bit confused as to what was the results/objectives or how to interpret them. Principally the “Outside Interference” one. Nonetheless, the challenge was very cool, the player started describing when they all got it and the partial success got things moving nice and chaotically.

Now, for what you stated in “I tend to avoid throwing random twists at players out of the blue. I don’t feel right about it, because no matter whether it would help with the pace or spice things up, it always feels transparent and arbitrary” . I think that throwing twists out of the blue can be a great tool, and a big problem. It depends, i think, in how much player data (directly or indirectly) are you using in such a twist, and i think that the system already contemplates that for me by using the partial results and fails. But i think that having a choice to “forcefully” cause a twist can render some very fun moments in the game!

There’s my two cents of a non-designer, but active GM. Hope it Helps.


Thank you for your feedback! It’s super useful to get at this stage, it really helps shape the rules.

Confront the Enemy: I’m really glad it worked out so well! Funnily enough, I think I made a big mistake while running it. In the one Confront I actually ran, I ended up over-explaining the 10+ result*, which removed some of the roleplaying potential and made the player hesitate with too much choice. Your point about “chopping” encounters up into discrete choices/actions is noted.

*(There are basically 12 possible options on a 10+ result, because you make two choices.)

Race the Clock: Interesting! I’ll definitely try to tighten up the wording of the choices (basically, “Outside Interference” is “another minor threat or problem crops up, someone else has to deal with it, you’re busy”).

I can’t express how much I appreciate getting you to test these things out for me. Also I’m super jealous of the concept of “active GM”. I get one 2 hour session every Monday. I really love my group, but getting multiple sources of feedback is invaluable. Thank you, truly.

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Oh, i feel you. Last year i wrote a 6 sessions adventure and it took the full year to complete it. If there is one advantage my quarantine granted me, is beign able to play RPG more often.

My group is playing UW weekly-ish. We started very recently. If there is anything you would like us to test it out, just say the word! We would be very much on board.

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Core Moves, version… uh… let’s say v2. Yeah. Totally.

I had previously written about how Moves need to drive the story forward, rather than merely be mechanical effects. The problem with my latest version seems to be that the Moves are too good at finishing a story, rather than creating it. When the Move resolves, so does the scene.

My new set of Core Moves are aimed at creating links to future problems, threats, and opportunities. The result of a roll will tie in to a new story beat more naturally, and hopefully will provide a sense of narrative flow.

Race the clock: Changed the wording of some of the options, hopefully they’re clearer.
Seek the truth: New Move introduced to my players last session. Overhauled it to be more in line with the other Core Moves and to allow the players to shape the narrative in clear directions.
Confront the enemy: Changed the “cadence” of the 10+ result to encourage a back-and-forth struggle and to compartmentalize the decision-space. Added an escalation to the 7-9, to create tension and make it almost a game of chicken/push-your-luck.

When you race to complete a task within a limited window of opportunity, Roll+Stat.

On a 10+, you’ll complete the task. Choose one:

  • Down to the wire: Existing situations progress and evolve before you finish.
  • Distraction : A problem crops up, but you’re busy. Someone else deal with it.
  • Cut corners: You won’t get everything. The GM will offer you a hard choice.
  • Pushed to the limit: Completing the task causes Stress.

On a 7-9, choose two from the list above.

On a 6-, the countdown reaches zero, time runs out, the chance for success slips through your fingers. You are left to deal with the fallout.

When you seek crucial answers or a way forward, ask your question then Roll+Stat .

On a 10+, you’ve got a solid lead. Choose one:

  • I know a guy: Someone important, reclusive, or unfriendly has the answers.
  • Tread lightly: The answers are found in a hostile, unpleasant location.
  • Time sensitive: The answers won’t be available much longer. Hurry.
  • Dirty business: Getting the answers takes a lot out of you. Suffer Stress.

On a 7-9, choose two from the list above.

On a 6-, you find trouble, or trouble finds you.

When you come into direct conflict with your opponents, Roll+Stat .

On a 10+, choose one. They cause harm (stress, costs), then you make a second choice.

  • Hold them off: Keep them busy. They can’t act or cause harm for now.
  • Push them back: Change the location and/or position of the conflict.
  • Hit them hard: They are shaken, weakened, hurt, or reduced in some way.
  • Take them out: You have them now. Choose their fate if you have the upper hand.

On a 7-9, the situation escalates dramatically. The stakes are higher, the consequences harsher. You can back down now. If not, choose 1, and they cause harm.

On a 6-, you suffer Stress and are thrown into a new situation that they dictate.

I’ve also uploaded v2 of the Careers PDF, which also has the Core Moves (plus the start of some direction notes.) If the Core Moves playtest well, I’ll be doing a pass on the Career Moves to bring them up to the same level.


I’m gonna try a game with careers and core v2 this weekend! Two questions:

For Confront the enemy v2…

On a 10+, choose one. They cause harm (stress, costs), then you make a second choice.

But …

Hold them off: Keep them busy. They can’t act or cause harm for now.

Is there always at least one kind of harm, and I have the choice of avoiding a second kind?


Take them out: You have them now. Choose their fate if you have the upper hand.

Is it possible to Take them out without the upper hand? If so, what does the move do in that case?


Awesome! Looking forward to hearing the results.

Answers to your questions:

Hold them off” is intended to be a temporary harm mitigation/suppression, so it cancels the harm they would cause as a result of this move and prevents them from another act for a short while (callign for reinforcements, escaping, pressing the Big Red Button, etc).

A 10+ Confront the Enemy has the option of playing safe, where your first action is to protect yourself and others, and your second one is to do what you wanted (move them, hit them, finish them).

Take them out” is very linked to the current Advantage/Disadvantage system. If you go into a Confront from a position of clear superiority, you can “Take them out” right away. Otherwise, if you’re on even footing you’ll have to gain an advantage over them or Take them out does nothing. The easiest way to do that without outside help is to reduce the enemy first, usually with “Hit them hard”. So on a 10+ in a fair fight, you could Hit them hard, take your hit in return, then Take them out.


What if a player chooses “Distraction”, and he is alone? I mean, it is up to him to choose, but the option specifies that someone else deals with it. Or is this one of those, follow the logic of the scene things?

On a 6-, does the players still get an answer?

For example: gotta find out how they can get into the power core before it becomes unstable and destroys all life on the space station.

  1. List item
  2. Gets a 4.
  3. Trouble comes.
  4. Trouble is overcome.
  5. New roll to find a way in?
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The intent is that when a distraction happens while you’re racing the clock, you need backup, because you need your full concentration on the main task. From a design perspective, it’s an option that rewards teamwork and cooperation, and allows players to share the spotlight.

This one is more of a “follow the narrative” kinda thing. In most circumstances, by the time the trouble is overcome, the situation will have changed enough that the answers might not be relevant anymore, and they need to ask a different question. Alternatively, the characters will have to find a new method or a different angle of approach to find the answers they’re looking for.

And, as usual with a PbtA game, a 6- is not always a complete failure. The GM could indeed provide them with an answer they wish wasn’t true, and that answer will either be wrapped in trouble, or the answer might be the cause of the trouble.

In this specific case, I’d probably say that’s a Race the Clock situation. Depends on how much fictional time they have.

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Playtest Results

Hi folks, lots of work going on design-wise, and I’ll have a new document to upload soon™, but I just wanted to share the results of recent playtesting.

Long story short, yesterday evening I had probably the best one-off session of UW that I’ve had in recent memory. The new Moves really clicked, and I’m super happy because it means I can move forward with design, rather than re-iterating on the core Moves.

Random thoughts/stats:

  • We played for ~2 hours, and got a lot done (firefights, rockslides, collapsing ships, recovering warheads, escaping through caves, fighting off skittering alien animals, etc)
  • Each of the four players made 2-3 Moves during the session, and they all felt useful and cool and added something to the story.
  • It was very easy to chain actions together, given the new ‘results that create further problems’ in the Moves. The flow of the game between description/world building and Moves/action was smooth.
  • The players choosing their own consequences on 10+ and 7-9 results was beneficial to me as a GM. I could focus on the fictional interpretation of those choices, rather than making the decisions myself.

One issue I had was coming up with the narrative interpretation of certain choices. Not because it didn’t work, but rather I didn’t think of it at the time:

The group was trapped in a wrecked ship that was buried in sand and collapsing. One of the characters was looking for a way out. I made them “Seek the Truth”, but hesitated there, because I was unsure of what to do if they chose the “I Know A Guy: The answer is with someone reclusive, important, and/or unfriendly” option, since the PCs were alone in the buried ship, with space pirates up above.

They ended up taking something different: 7-9 means two choices, so it was Time Sensitive (race to flee through the small crevice under the ship) and Dangerous Ground (end up in alien-spider nest).

Only later did my players point out that the I Know A Guy option could have been an offer from the space pirates themselves, or a survivor of the crashed ship. Those would have both created very different, very interesting stories, and I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it at the time. It wasn’t a flaw with the Move or its options, it was a flaw of narrow-mindedness and focus on the immediate situation, rather than broadening the possibilities.

Anywho, wanted to share that with you folks. I’m super happy with the way it turned out, and for the first time it really feels like this design has legs. I’ll be posting the updated career and core Moves some time this week.


How would you handle something like resisting a psychic assault where you can’t strike back? Would it be Confront the Enemy, but “take them out” may just look like successfully resisting or kicking them out of your mind or whatever?

Does the same apply if the “opponent” is a force rather than a character, like piloting through a severe storm or something? “Take them out” meaning something like getting to safety?

On my first read through, I read opponents as meaning it only applied against NPCs, but I’m thinking that’s probably not true. It’s probably worth clarifying either way.

(I’ve been thinking through situations where I used Face Adversity and similar moves in the past and thinking how I’d do them with the new core moves.)

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Confront the Enemy is definitely designed to handle opposition to something with intelligence, motivations, and goals. It works for the attacking space pirates, for side-swiping a fleeing vehicle, for shouting down a demagogue, etc. But it’s important to note that the character needs to have the fictional positioning to confront that enemy. Otherwise the character can’t go on the offensive.

Race the Clock tends to be the more applicable move in these cases. I’ve been ruthlessly cutting out “reactive” Moves, so characters usually interact with things that are going to happen, or that have already happened. I’m deliberately trying to avoid pure resistance checks (on that note, I’ve got an upcoming post about cutting the Survivor career and replacing it with something else)

For the psychic assault (given that you specifically stated they couldn’t strike back), the Clock is succumbing to psychic pressure. They can feel it pressing down on them, they have mere moments to overcome it. That can mean a number of different Stats, from Force (slapping yourself out of it), to Intellect (clearing your mind), to an ally making an impassioned speech using Influence.

Note that if the character did have psychic abilities of their own, or if it’s established that a strong, non-psychic mind can backlash against intrusion, then having them Confront the Enemy (using +Intellect most likely) would be applicable if the player decided to face them head on. Again, not a mere “defend/resist/saving throw”, but more of an active counter-attack (after a bit of gloating from the villain because of course the psychic badguy gloats).

For the storm situation, it would honestly depend if the storm is the main antagonist/problem to overcome, or if it’s an extra hazard.

  • If it’s a hazard, then I’d have it merely give Disadvantage (roll 3d6, pick lowest 2 dice) on Moves that are impeded by weather/visibility. The storm can be a narrative source of further obstacles, harm, and complications.
  • If it’s the main danger, then it’s either concealing something (Seek the Truth) or it needs to be escaped (Race the Clock).