Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem

General Uncharted Worlds and tangential matters discussion
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SGomes
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Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem

Post by SGomes » Thu Jan 31, 2019 1:43 pm

Hi folks. I’ve been feeling the need to do a post-mortem of Uncharted Worlds, to put my thoughts together, and look to the future. I invite you to post your own opinions/reactions as well; I endeavour to read everything, positive and negative.

In this part, I’ll go over the Things That Worked in UW. These are the strong elements, the mechanics, themes, and ideas that will absolutely be preserved in future iterations. That’s not to say they can’t be improved, and indeed they should be, to reach their full potential.

WHAT WORKED

Cascading Failures/Rising Tension: The prevalence of chain-reactions, rising tension, and snowballing consequences was positively received. Can’t take too much credit, it’s a common advantage of the PbtA philosophy. Nonetheless, it should be preserved.

Stat-Neutral Moves: Defy Danger, Get Involved, and Assessment proved to be the most used, most versatile, and easiest to remember Moves. The other stat-based moved felt like variations or knock-offs, and needed reference material. Improvement: Focus on a handful of solid, versatile core Moves, rather than a dozen situational Moves.

Archetypes: Origin/Career/Career worked really well to create a wide diversity of character tropes/archetypes without significant glut. Improvements: Fewer, more important choices. Better sequencing during character creation. Greater mechanical attachment to these core choices.

Cramped Quarters: Structured Player-to-Player character growth moments during downtime was a big hit. Improvements: Clearly establish “downtime” as a part of the gameplay loop, tie it to other mechanics (Healing/Recovery).

Assets: Keyword-based Assets tied very nicely into the narrative-based action/resolution system. Allowed for the usual sci-fi “gear porn” without taking up excessive space in the rule book. Improvements: Further refining of the keyword list, balance pass, focus on upgradability (see “Leveling Up”).

Prompting: From a GMing perspective, this has proven to be a great tool. While not exactly UW specific, it will still be the preferred method of getting players engaged in the story and providing the GM with moments of discovery and excitement. Improvements: More in-depth instruction and examples, systems to continue an ongoing story.

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PART II - What Didn't Work (Economy)
Last edited by SGomes on Wed Feb 06, 2019 1:16 am, edited 4 times in total.

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zircher
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Re: Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem: Part I (What Worked)

Post by zircher » Thu Jan 31, 2019 3:11 pm

Coolness and thanks for sharing, always interesting to see how the creators look at their own works.
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AaronGriffin
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Re: Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem: Part I (What Worked)

Post by AaronGriffin » Thu Jan 31, 2019 4:34 pm

It's weird - in most other PbtA games, I think the generic moves are crutches, but the base three here work really well. I wish I knew why. It feels closer to World of Dungeons in that way.

I think you could make a generic Launch Assault move ("Resolve a Conflict") that is stat-less as well to cover things like arguments or hacking or whatever.

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LarpWellington
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Re: Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem: Part I (What Worked)

Post by LarpWellington » Thu Jan 31, 2019 6:09 pm

That list of "what worked" seems pretty much right. UW was the first PbtA game I'd run, and the emphasis on prompting really helped get me into the mindset. I still find it easier to run than others, in part because those stat-neutral moves and easy options save me from floundering about looking for the exact move to capture what the characters are trying to do.

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Re: Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem: Part I (What Worked)

Post by Sharky8U2 » Sat Feb 02, 2019 2:52 pm

I agree with all that you said. One other major appeal to me was the single roll combat resolution. I found that it really allowed the story's momentum to be maintained once disaster struck and bullets started flying.

The skill design is also really cool. I think that there are only two strongly combat focussed skills. This really drives the players into taking the other cool options. Also, the Stealth skill blew my mind when I first read it. It made me realise how rules can be used to empower the player while providing clear constraints for the GM to work with.

This is making me really nostalgic. I think that I need to set up another campaign with my group!

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SGomes
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Re: Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem: Part I (What Worked)

Post by SGomes » Wed Feb 06, 2019 1:14 am

Now that the mainly-positive stuff is out of the way, we look to the spots where UW really stumbled. First up is the economy.

PART II - WHAT DIDN'T WORK (ECONOMY)

Debt and Favor: I always liked the idea that Debt drove the universe, and that players were encouraged to do things for Factions to alleviate that Debt. But I ended up being too gentle in the implementation. To work as intended, the system would have had to be part of the core gameplay loop. As such the system felt vestigial.

Factions: Factions weren’t all bad. They provided a solid foundation to build a universe. But in doing so, it limited a lot of flexibility: you either had big-galaxy spanning organisations, or nothing at all. No small or local powers, because the Factions were linked to Debt and couldn't be outrun.

Wealth: Coming off of Traveller, I didn’t want a system that required players to nickel-and-dime every MCr. But eschewing any form of wealth accumulation created narrative confusion and dissatisfaction. Players appreciate the ability to measure, accumulate, and compare their wealth. It doesn’t have to be granular, but it can’t be hand-waved.

Acquisitions: Without a wealth/currency system, the process of acquiring tools and gear became a Move. Balancing it to make it interesting but not exploitable created a mess of a sub-game that had too many variables and fiddly bits. The interactions between Debt, Markets, Factions, and Cargo were rather ham-fisted. Overall, the system was so non-intuitive that players rarely purchased stuff.

Cargo: Created in an effort to provide the whole “galactic merchant” fantasy, and ended up like a pseudo-Wealth replacement.

Markets: Everyone forgot these existed. I still think the idea had merit, but the implementation/rules were pretty bland and easily forgettable.


Conclusion
In trying to streamline the economy and remove accounting, UW ended up with a hand-wavy, not-really-functional system of acquisition and debt that relied too heavily on GM and player buy in. The strain was fairly obvious. Additionally, lack of "tangible" wealth and spending stripped away a significant player motivation, while debt didn't add enough motivation.

I stumbled when it came to implementing a fun, compelling system to replace the accumulation and spending of wealth. I was trying to fight against a lot of player expectation, rather than go with the flow.

I tried to salvage the system a couple of times. I even posted a "preview" of a New Debt System that would have gone in Carta Galaxia. Ultimately, I think that the design premise of UW's economy was flawed, and the systems and mechanics that grew from that were clunky at best.

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zircher
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Re: Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem

Post by zircher » Wed Feb 06, 2019 2:05 am

Solid analysis. In my re-write of No GM's Sky I'm adding 'Pay', essentially digital cargo. I think that makes it easier to convert from Trav/CE to UW.
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LarpWellington
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Re: Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem

Post by LarpWellington » Wed Feb 06, 2019 6:03 am

Seems about right. In campaign play, debt didn't come up that often, and acquisitions were rare. In one-offs, its a great pointer to which factions to involve. In both why people had Debt provided a useful source of backstory and character.

I liked the look of the new rules, but haven't had a chance to play with them yet.

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Re: Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem

Post by AaronGriffin » Wed Feb 06, 2019 11:16 am

I tried a few different methods of tracking debt and favor, but never messed with wealth. The reason was three-fold, I think:
  1. We focused heavily on Favors and Debts as the true economy, so "get rich" wasn't as important as "get people off our backs"
  2. Class 2 gear and cargo was hard to come by, but 3 and up was ONLY available from relevant Factions
  3. I gave them almost every big thing they wanted, but always added strings. They stopped wanting things :)

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SGomes
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Re: Uncharted Worlds Post-Mortem

Post by SGomes » Tue Feb 26, 2019 1:08 pm

Part III - WHAT SORTA WORKED, SORTA DIDN’T (CHARACTERS)

Stat Ranges: The lower stat range (capped at +2) was an overall positive, in my books. Full successes were pretty rare, and there were enough partial successes to keep the chain of events going. That said, because characters starting at +2 and being capped at +2 ended up limiting potential avenues of growth (see below)

Advancement Triggers: This one is actually somewhat of a positive: players gain XP by doing the things that the characters wanted to do. Might need to be tweaked a bit, but overall a solid idea.

Skills: Wildly uneven in usefulness, often minor in effect, and some were just poorly implemented. Starting with 4 of them also made each individual one less important/pivotal. Gaining more skills just made the problem worse; they were forgettable and homogenous. Even with the sheer number of available skills (50 career skills in the base game), characters started overlapping each other. No niche protection.

Injuries and Debilities: I liked the level of mortality in the system; you could really get eff’d up by a high-powered space-gun if you weren’t wearing armor. That said, injuries and especially debilities still lacked a bit of flavor, and the overall system could be more closely tied to other mechanics.

Workspaces: A cool idea that was muddied/reduced by my own cowardice with the whole “you have a ship” thing. I didn’t want to commit to a single style of play (starship), and in an effort to keep things open and undefined, the workspaces took a hit. That said, workspaces might work better as Assets than “character choices”.


Conclusion
A big takeaway from reviews and feedback was that long term campaigns weren’t satisfying, mostly because character growth was limited. In fact, I’d go one further and say that character growth was pointless, because of a simple yet important realisation: UW’s starting characters are actually end-game characters. Between Moves that covered every eventuality, and a wide array of skills right off the bat, characters could essentially do anything.

This also ties in to the previous part of the Post Mortem, because the lackluster economy cut off the other avenue of growth: "chasing" gear. Upgrading items was also very fuzzy and not well implemented.

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