Exploration in UW

General Uncharted Worlds and tangential matters discussion
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Exploration in UW

Post by LarpWellington » Sat May 04, 2019 1:51 am

As I mentioned in the No GM's Sky thread, it had made me think about exploration stories in UW and chewing over some possible Moves for it. An exploration story is focused on going from system to system, seeing what's there, and maybe looking for something specific (which could be "home"). Breaking this down:

Outside civilised space, every Jump is in theory a Wild Jump. But that Move is highly focused on getting the hell out of here, with getting where you want to go a 10+ result. Narratively, I think a planned jump under safe conditions (outside major gravity wells, not being shot at) but without a stable route could be represented by a different move. Something like:
Exploration Jump
When you make a planned jump under safe conditions without a stable jump route, roll (-Range?)
On a 10+: You get to your destination, and pick one:
  • You do not use too much fuel
  • You find a stable jump route
  • You suffer no ill-effects
On a 7-9: You get to your destination.
Suggested consequences on a 6-: you end up in the wrong place (either the wrong system, or a brown dwarf, or some hyperspace sink), the ship suffers severe damage, Wild Jump nightmares ensue.

Which makes it risky, but there's a good chance of getting there. For a safer move, it could be pick two / pick one.

Obviously this works well with the optional fuel rules in FBH: an Exploration Jump is stressful by default, but you can avoid the fuel roll on a good result.

Range is optional, if you want to worry about distance. But it can also represent whether a system has stable jump routes, or hyperspace attraction.

What's there
There are two big considerations here: how you actually find out what's in a planetary system, and style preferences.

On the first, we found stuff in our own system first by looking for bright things that move from night to night or month to month (which got us the first six planets), then by using telescopes to find dimmer moving objects (which got us the next two, plus a host of dwarf planets and large asteroids), and more recently by using automated sky-surveys, which are steadily cataloguing rocks as fast as we can confirm them and give them numbers. We can find planets in other systems too, and in UW civilised systems or exploration-focused factions may have exoastronomy programmes. But in UW, probably the easiest way to find out what is in a particular system is go there and look. Jumping in at the edge of a system and either waiting to see what moves, or moving and see what moves against the background (as in Elite: Dangerous). By this method, finding the gross details of what's in a system might take a couple of weeks (it takes a week for a ship to travel to the edge of a system to the inner system, so that's probably the baseline to spot bright moving objects then look at them through a telescope). Characterising orbits and determining the details of each planet would take longer.

On the second, there's really two ways of deciding what's there. The first is Traveller-style random tables, updated for modern knowledge of exoplanets. But I think what matters in UW is the narrative: have you found anything useful or interesting? Most of the universe is junk, and in the default setting implied by the UW flavourtext, most systems are uninhabited transit systems. Its not that there's nothing there, or that people can't live there if they want to live on a rock and mine ice while staring at a crappy red dwarf all day, but there's just nothing attractive about them. The upshot of this is that we can represent exploring a system with a Move:
When you explore a system and characterise its major bodies, roll (+Habitability?)
On a 10+: Pick three positive features from the list below. Some features can be chosen multiple times.
On a 7-9: Pick one positive feature from the list below, and the GM chooses one flaw consistent with this:
Positive features:
  • Easily exploitable mineral resources: what are they? (can take multiple times)
  • An obvious and easily accessible source of fuel: a well-positioned gas giant, obvious icy rings, or a small world with liquid water.
  • A potentially habitable / terraformable world (pick a second time to make it habitable?)
  • Stable hyperspace field (-1 Range on Jump rolls from here; can be taken multiple times)
  • Something mysterious (pick a mystery track)
On a 6-: There's nothing here but rocks and ice, and the GM picks a flaw:
  • Intense radiation / flare star
  • Too much rubble / hazardous to navigation
  • No minor bodies, only planets.
  • No gas giants (fuel may be obtained by other sources)
  • Unstable hyperspace field (+1 Range on Jump rolls from here)
  • Something threatening (pick a threat track).
Learning more about planets either requires Assessing them, either with the right workspaces from a distance, or by going there and visiting them.

Characterising other bodies in a system (dwarf planets, rocks, minor satellites) requires time and an appropriate workspace.

To add an economic push, system characterisation could generate 1-data, which could be sold in a civilised system / used to boost an acquisition.

"Habitability" could be used to represent whether some systems are more attractive than others. I'm imagining the default play setup has a map with predetermined spectral types (conveniently, there's a relatively good 2d6 mapping for the most common ones), and if some star types are more habitable (e.g. G-types), then they can be tagged with a bonus.

Mystery tracks: I think this is something No GM's Sky did well, and if your exploration campaign centres on or has mysteries (e.g. finding the lost expedition, or accidentally stumbling on mysterious alien runs), then this is a way of encouraging the characters to land and investigate, or to kick off a new Jump Point. Threat tracks are the same, but for explicit threats: hostile aliens, or space squid, Inhibitors or whatever else you find out there in the void.

The other reason to land (also in No GM's sky) is to refuel if you can't find an easy fuel source. Its easy to see Moves for this.

I'm interested in people's thoughts on this. Does it seem workable?

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Re: Exploration in UW

Post by zircher » Sun May 05, 2019 7:52 pm

Good stuff and thanks for the kind words about NGS-UW. I could easily see using FBH to build a custom ship for exploration duty. Unlike the resource crunched scouts, I image you would want something with lots of fuels, interface craft, and workshops.
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Re: Exploration in UW

Post by LarpWellington » Fri Jul 12, 2019 1:37 am

If anyone is wondering BTW I'm beating this into shape and adding other material for publication. I've done the core of it, but was planning to add a campaign frame as well, maybe inspired by GDW's Traveller 2300 adventure Bayern.

Unfortunately, writing is on hiatus due to franticly prepping to run a larp. And if it turns out to be big enough for hardcopy publication, then this time I'll delay until the hardcopy is ready to go, rather than doing the usual PDF-first approach.

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