Monday, 21 March 2016

Where’s the Harm in that?

So, here we are at a crossroad. There are probably two ways that I can go, making this perhaps a T junction? Let’s hope it is not a roundabout, as I'm not sure that the beauty of such traffic management systems have sufficient international currency to keep you with me.

One of the many great things about Uncharted Worlds is the way the game handles Threats. Any opposition, any at all, is boiled down to a narratively flexible description, with assets and some nefarious agenda. Mostly, and forgive if I simplify something that is already elegantly simple, any character opposition in the game is handled with a consensual narrative dialogue. If you have the right assets to handle the opposition, and therefore have sufficient weight to influence outcomes, then you can make your Move and deal with the opposition. We’re talking one combat Move to take out a Threat, perhaps with a little help from your mates.

Now Threats themselves are malleable. They will form and reform around the results of the character Move, fluidly adjusting or expiring depending where you get on your 6-/7-9/10+ range. One Threat could become two if an opposition group splits. If you don’t take them out for the narrative they will fulfil their agenda and start writing story up and down your arse.

As a GM you’ve got nothing other than some cards with Threat names written on them and an enduring capability to make consistent calls on what makes narrative sense, when to trigger Moves, and how to respond to the outcomes. Don’t look for opposition stats (let’s leave starships out of here for now) or weapon capabilities or armour points. Look for what makes sense, be a fan of the characters and lavish descriptions of the action. Scary without the stat blocks? Just a touch. In large part it is liberating. Most of my players responded well and enjoyed the to and fro of descriptions and that the dice were rolled a couple of times. Certainly helps with the ‘play to find out what happens meme’ and a joy for GM prep. I'm sticking with it.

Characters do have Harm tracks and they are well implemented in Uncharted Worlds. Five levels of ascending brutality, the fifth being the great goodbye.

1. Minor
2. Major
3. Severe
4. Critical
5. Fatal

Take a major wound but already have one? Your new wound rolls up to the next level - Severe. Take a third and it rolls up to Critical. There’s only so much punishment that anyone can take. They remind me of the Fate damage stress track. Check out p.60 of the book for a summary.

I can take this path but, perhaps, I’ll back up and offer the more standard Harm tracks for opposition too. I’ll have to note the Harm levels that weapons, or incisive verbal attacks, do and maybe account for the protection of opposition armour, accounting in a way that doesn't require me to roll anything.

I'm conscious that other PbtA games go down this clock route of Harm ratings. My instinct is that I will follow that route, but it feels like a big design deal. Perhaps I'm being a little weak on this, but I did a lot of FGU in the 1980s, so you are just going to have to cut me some slack.


  1. The reason I would embrace the lighter game system is for the referee to have no bookkeeping and no dice rolling therefore the opponent should not have harm tracks

    1. That's where I might end up. It's certainly light isn't it!