Uncharted Worlds, a map, and intel as goals

February 27, 2021

I’m starting up an Uncharted Worlds game, and the scenario is developing star system attempting to protect itself against a sudden invasion.

One of the things I wanted to do was play out a bit of strategy in the game; where you are vs. where the enemy is, where your allies are, and where resources are, all being relevant factors. To this end, I made a star system map, and not just “here’s the planets and colony habitats”, but also, “Here’s the last known location of the enemies”, “Here’s the assumed locations of your allies”, and so on.

The player characters are ex-privateeers who have served in the local fleet for a number of years – they are usually entrusted with doing high value cargo delivery – ex-pirates would be the best at knowing how to evade other pirates, after all. So when the invasion occurs, they’re in the middle of a delivery run; no one else in their fleet knows EXACTLY where they are, and generally the fleet is going to be sitting on radio silence except for things that they don’t mind if the enemy learns or assume the enemy can’t do anything about/extra with knowing. So the party starts off with being a bit hidden, but also not knowing the full situation for their allies, either.

A lot of the map has markers for allies and enemies, but in some cases it’s simply “they have a few ships here” “About half of our fleet is usually at the capital” and the players are going to have to figure out how to get more intel if they want to know more. In a way, the map becomes a list of information objectives as much as anything else; the players are going to have to figure out where they can do the most effect/benefit while they have the element of surprise. Likewise, while their fleet is on “their side” they’ll probably want to link up with commanding officers who are more amenable to letting them do what they do best – hit and run tactics, not being a secondary destroyer in a large fleet battle – so that’s a bit of social information they’ll be digging up at the same time.

Note how this is a shift from the usual sort of mapping-strategy of a lot of fantasy RPGs – it’s not that you don’t know where or what the locations are, what you don’t know is why you would go to a place or avoid it – you need more info to make those decisions. I had known the ideas but not the name of, The Johari Window, but that’s effectively what we’ll be juggling with for this game.

Anyway, I’m really excited for this, and it is making me think about different ways we can choose to design map play into games. I’m leaving the map accessible to players between sessions, as I figure they may want extra time to mull it over between each session- while the characters may experience days of space travel between locations, the players are probably only getting a few minutes (“Ok, it’s a week to get there”) so I want to give them that time to think, at least.

(Minor aside; part of this campaign idea was inspired by the Honor Harrington sci-fi novels and the war logistics posts over at A Collection of Unmitigated Pendantry.)

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