UW2 Design Thread

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UW2 Design Thread

Post by SGomes » Thu Mar 21, 2019 12:38 am

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’ve been tinkering with some sort of UW2 for a while now. The post-mortem I posted was the first step towards that; identifying the weak and strong points of the system, tightening up the loose mechanics.

I thought I’d share what I have so far. Please note that these are still very very much Works In Progress, and are subject to frequent changes as the design evolves. This thread will be the design equivalent to noodling on a guitar and jotting down notes.


The first major rework is the core Moves and how they create the core gameplay loop.

In original UW, there are 14 Moves of varying usefulness. Some are used all the time (Face Adversity, Get Involved). Some are broadly situational; infrequent, but still seen (Open Fire, Launch Assault, Assessment, etc). And then there are the hodgepodge of corner-case Moves, the ones that happen once in a blue moon (Wild Jump, I’m looking at you).

Note: I’m specifically excluding Cramped Quarters from this list. I have capital-P Plans for that one.

As I noted in the moratorium, the “catch-all” generic moves ended up working very well. They helped with the flow of the action by being easy to remember and quick to resolve. I’m reminded of one of the reasons why modern D&D’s mechanics are easy to teach; at the end of the day, roll 1d20, add something to the result, compare to a target number. Sure there are many secondary elements that affect that, but that’s the core that everything else is built off of. Easy to remember, easy to resolve.

So I set about distilling the expected gameplay loop, and trying to rebuild a small set of core Moves that would create a memorable, flexible core gameplay loop.

I came up with three principle actions:
Arrange: Proactive. Create a positive or beneficial situation.
Deny: Reactive. Stop something negative from happening.
Confront: Oppositional. Resolve conflict between two forces.

Each of these Moves can be a goal, or they can be a stepping-stone to a different goal. A story will see multiple characters chaining these Moves into each other.

For example:
If your goal is to host a great party, you can simply Arrange a party.
If your goal is to expose the shapeshifter ambassador, the first step may be to Arrange a party, lure them out into the open, then Confront them.
If your goal is to Deny the interplanetary treaty, you’ll first need to Confront the ambassador to expose them, but first you’ll need to Arrange a party to lure them into the open.

While these Moves have new names, they are facets of the old Moves. Face Adversity was mostly used as a reactive Move and a non-combat conflict resolution Move. Here it has become a purely reactive Deny, and all conflict resolution has been normalized into a single, stat-neutral Confront.
The biggest departure is Arrange, which is a distillation of Command, Access, and Assessment. Basically, UW gameplay ended up very reactive and seat-of-the-pants (because that’s how scenes were resolved), and I wanted to reward characters that actively tried to create advantageous situations. A few skills in UW tried to accomplish that (Construction, Upgrade, and Program, for example). The Arrange Move codifies that as part of the core gameplay. Arranging an advantageous situation allows for more solutions and better solutions down the line.

So without further adieu, this is the current incarnation of UW2’s core moves.
(This is personal iteration 4 or 5, I think?)

When you engage a hostile target that can defend itself, Roll+Stat. You can’t Confront targets that have the upper hand.
On a 10+ Describe how you defeat them. You control the fight, you decide their fate. Create pressure if you're evenly matched.
On a 7-9 You defeat them, but the GM controls the fight. Suffer harm if you're evenly matched. If you have the upper hand, merely create pressure.
Firefights, ship gunnery (Mettle). Melee combat, competitive sports (Physique). Coercion, slander, interrogation (Influence). Vehicle racing, ramming (Expertise). Hacking (Tech).
When you create an advantageous situation (for yourself or others) or change the nature of a conflict, Roll+Stat.
On a 10+ You succeed.
On a 7-9 You succeed, but the GM chooses a flaw.
• It takes forever
• Poor quality/flimsy/temporary
• Costly/causes minor harm
• Create pressure
Tactics, infiltration, ambush (Mettle). Recon, labor (Physique). Politics, diplomacy, art (Influence). Engineering, sabotage (Expertise). Programming, research (Tech)
When you stop an event, deny an advantage, or clear pressure, Roll+Stat.
On a 10+ You succeed.
On a 7-9 The GM chooses a flaw:
• You merely mitigate, redirect, or delay.
• The GM will name a price (harm, resources, time, etc). If you pay it, you succeed.
Suppress, stealth (Mettle). Dodge, hold, lift, throw (Physique). Subdue, deceive, intimidate (Influence). Fix, disable, rewire, shut down (Expertise). Jam signal, first aid (Tech).

There are a couple of concepts there that I'll expand upon later:
- "Harm" can be physical, mental, social, or economic. This is the quintessential "Hard" GM Move.
- "Create Pressure" is a catch-all for adding new threats, creating blocks/hazards, and generally using "Soft" GM Moves.
- "Upper Hand" is a concept in conflicts. Whoever has the most advantages (either innate or positional) has the upper hand. You can Deny advantages, or Arrange your own.
- Career Skills will have a big effect on these three core skills.

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Re: UW2 Design Thread

Post by SGomes » Tue Mar 26, 2019 2:48 pm

So I got to thinking about what BlckKnght posted in the Post Mortem thread, about the stat-to-action distribution.

After a bit of retooling and a lot of discussion with my weekly design group (formerly my weekly RP group but we haven't actually thrown dice in a while, we mostly talk design), I'm going to be working with a new-ish stat set. I'm hoping this doesn't create too much "brand" conflict.

Physique becomes Force. Not much change, though it loses its "pilot land vehicle/mech" stuff. it gains heavy ranged attacks, making it the choice for hard, tough, combat-ready characters.
Mettle becomes Finesse. It looses its "pilot shuttle/ship", and the whole "discipline" concept. It is now more closely tied with precision, speed, and agility. It's the stat of choice for rogues, snipers, infiltrators, and other sharp characters.
Influence stays the same. No one has a problem with Influence.
Expertise loses medicine and science stuff, and gains everything related to vehicle piloting, mechanics, goods and gear.
Interface becomes Science. It gains everything having to do with medicine and education, while keeping the scanning, programming, and computer-related stuff.


Force: Heavy/sustained firearms, melee combat, athletics, lifting, throwing, physical intimidation.
Finesse: Precise/small firearms, vehicle/ship weapons, stealth, acrobatics, dodging, sleight of hand.
Influence: Social interactions, negotiation, diplomacy, charm, psychological intimidation.
Expertise: Repair, piloting, construction, economics, mechanics, manual labor.
Science: Programming, scanning, study, medicine, data sifting, hacking.

Career breakdown:
  • Academic - Science / Expertise
  • Clandestine - Finesse / Expertise
  • Commercial - Expertise / Influence
  • Explorer - Force / Science
  • Industrial - Expertise / Force
  • Military - Force / Finesse
  • Personality - Influence / Science
  • Rebel - Influence / Force
  • Scoundrel - Finesse / Influence
  • Technocrat - Science / Finesse

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Re: UW2 Design Thread

Post by Bloodwork » Sun Mar 31, 2019 7:55 am

Hi I'm new. I've tried a bunch of PbtA games and UW is one of my favourites.

I'm a big fan of the simplified core moves and I like the idea of abstracting out combat to be no different than any other challenge where there is risk involved. I addition to combat, I would like to use the Confront move for:
- bypass a security feature (rewire alarm, loop camera, avoid patrol)
- negotiate a deal
- tail a wary suspect
- navigate a dangerous asteroid field

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Re: UW2 Design Thread

Post by AaronGriffin » Sun Mar 31, 2019 7:51 pm

Sean, this is awesome. The three core moves of UW are like a fancier version of World of Dungeons, and I like the way you've distilled them here.

When you start getting materiels together, I'd love to playtest some UW2

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Re: UW2 Design Thread

Post by piccamo » Mon Apr 01, 2019 11:22 am

Have you taken any inspiration from Forged in the Dark games? Specifically, how are you going to differentiate this from Scum and Villainy?

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Re: UW2 Design Thread

Post by BlckKnght » Sat Apr 13, 2019 12:26 am

I like these new attributes a lot! There's still a little overlap (most notably between pilots and engineers), but that's probably inevitable given there are only five stats and innumerable things to do with them.

I'm a bit sad to see that Starfarer is off the career list, since there's not really another career that obviously covers what it did. Maybe Clandestine could be renamed and get some piloting or EVA related skills? On the other hand, maybe its OK to not have a dedicated piloting career, since any player character who wants to should probably be able fly a shuttle or starship, even if they're not a full time pilot. In many settings there will be autopilots available on everything, and flying by hand might even get you in trouble with traffic control.

A few suggestions for the lists of activities for each stat:
  • I suggest adding linguistics as a use of Science, in order to make it more obvious sense why the Personality career would benefit from that stat. Maybe anthropology or xenology too?
  • Under Expertise, I'd suggest renaming "manual labor". While that term does technically describe skilled work with handheld tools (e.g. welding, woodcarving, etc.) it's more often associated with unskilled physical labor (like hauling something in a wheelbarrow, or swinging a pickaxe) which would probably fit better under Force, since "skill" at it more a matter of muscle than refined technique. Perhaps "hand crafting" would be a narrower term that would be more specific to Expertise? I wouldn't use the general term "crafting" in because in the future, making things might often be a programming job for a CNC machine or a 3d printer (and so Science), rather than a task for hand tools.

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Re: UW2 Design Thread

Post by SGomes » Wed Apr 24, 2019 12:10 pm

I've been tooling around with the core design of UW. Really going back and examining the guiding principles and fundamental "flow" of the game.

I found myself less and less happy with the Arrange / Confront / Deny moves. Mostly because they weren't different enough. So I'm re-approaching the issue by trying to consolidate what I've designed into a single base-line, default Move. I'd appreciate your thoughts on it.

When you act despite danger, hardship, or opposition, Roll+Stat at a pivotal moment.

On a 10+ You achieve your goal. You overcome danger, win the conflict, recover from a mishap, or create a new, more advantageous situation.
----- Against an opponent: The conflict creates Pressure.
----- Against a superior opponent: You suffer Harm.

On a 7-9 You achieve your goal, but only if you’re willing to pay the price or make the hard choice the GM offers you. Your victory may be temporary, shoddy, or incomplete.
----- Against an opponent: They also retaliate, causing Harm or creating major Pressure.
----- Against a superior opponent: They also retaliate, and they’re merely weakened.

On a 6- Things go poorly for you. This will be painful, costly, or create a whole new set of problems.
----- Against an opponent: They also gain ground, and are now in a much better spot.
----- Against a superior opponent: They also win the conflict, and/or achieve their goals.

Basically, you have a generic Success / Partial Success / Fail system, BUT being directly opposed makes things harder, and facing off against a foe that has a notable advantage over you in that conflict (diplomatic, tactical, economic, etc) is going to be painful even if you do win (so it's better to set yourself up for success, so that they won't be a "superior" opponent).

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Re: UW2 Design Thread

Post by zircher » Wed Apr 24, 2019 7:23 pm

Interesting, it builds the need for 'create advantage' into the system unless you want to take it on the nose. :-)
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Re: UW2 Design Thread

Post by SGomes » Fri Apr 26, 2019 11:42 am

Yep. Not quite sure if I like the format, though. I think I may be trying to cram too much into that expression of the Move, specifically the "if you are opposed" stuff. I'm considering having an "opposition" rule as a blanket guideline of resolution, rather than baked into the Move itself, if that makes sense. I'm toying with framing and presentation with this Move: if it's going to be THE core move of the game, it needs to be elegant, grokkable, and... "presentable"? Will have an update later.

Another big thing I'm constructing is the "downtime" Move. I'm starting with Cramped Quarters as a base-line, adding the "isolated/alone" elements from Far Beyond Humanity, and giving it a TON of mechanical utility. I'm actually quite proud of how it's shaping up, and I hope to have a version to show you folks soon.

Thirdly, I've changed the "Science" stat to be "Ingenuity". Not a huge change, but it plays better as a mirror to Expertise. While Expertise is about experience and knoweldge and manual ability, Ingenuity is all about experimentation, creativity, artistry, and data manipulation. Theory vs Practice, Digital vs Manual, etc. Obviously there's significant overlap in the real world, but the divide needs to happen on some axis.

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Re: UW2 Design Thread

Post by zircher » Fri Apr 26, 2019 10:34 pm

Sweet! Turns out Cramped Quarters is one of my favorite moves.
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