Lighthouse System: Core Mechanic

The core mechanic for the Lighthouse System is simple. Roll a d20 and add modifiers. If the roll is high, 11 or greater, you succeed. If the roll is low, 10 or less, you fail. There are no variable difficulty numbers, no charts, no tables. High or low. Everything else is accounted for in the modifiers, assigned by the guide, and those are bog-simple as well. I’ll explain those in another post.

You also need to pay attention to whether the result was even or odd. If it’s odd, the gamemaster narrates the outcome. This is the standard situation in most roleplaying games. Whether you succeed or fail, they describe what happens. In Lighthouse, an even result means that you describe the outcome. Make your successes look awesome. Have your failures seem less painful.

The shared narration has had some interesting results in playtest. What it’s ended up doing in my group is fostering greater cooperation. You don’t want to get too arrogant about describing your own successes, because that can come back to bite you the next time the guide narrates. The descriptions end up being cool, but generous toward the involvement of other characters.

Descriptions of failure, interestingly enough, don’t always come down to excuses. They can be, but it’s been fascinating watching players own the characters’ mistakes. They tie it in to recent events, things on their characters’ minds, and plain bad tactics. It gives them something to roleplay off of in the next turn, and throughout the scene.

Core Mechanic

This mechanic provides the random element that makes tabletop roleplaying fun, without getting in the way. It’s there when you need it, but you don’t need to bring things to a grinding halt. Pause, roll, interpret. My players have tended to stay in character longer, making the experience more immersive. They react to “bad” rolls, whether that means failure or not being able to narrate, in ways that show me that they’re invested in the whole story, not just their characters.

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4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Hey, that puts a question in my mind. How do you do playtests? Do you have a local group, or Roll20, or what?

    (Question is perfectly suitable to become a blog post topic, so I’m in no hurry for a response.)

  2. Closed playtest/home group, ideas bounces off of friends whose opinions I trust, copies sent to other game designers whose opinions I trust. Nothing exciting or spectacular. I might write a post explaining my reasons for doing things this way, but the short answer is “a camel is a horse built by committee”.

  3. And then another slow-motion comment enters my head. I love the idea of a universal target number. But as a GM, I also like keeping mystery about new situations.

    For instance, a monster is tough … it’s a -3 situation mod to get leverage over it. If you put that into the roll, everyone knows right away: tough! On the other hand, if you put that into the target … now Target 14 … when they roll a 12 and cheer, the GM can say “not quite…” and the party realizes there’s more to this challenge.

    What I’ve probably wandered into here is a deeper philosophical question about the nature of roleplay and the relationship between guide and players. How that question gets “solved for,” as BK often puts it, makes some difference in the game, if only at the quantum level.

  4. If the player rolls odd, you can explain their success or failure however you like. That sort of reveal sounds like a perfect thing to pull out to explain what they failed — there was something they didn’t know, or they was a factor they couldn’t account for.

    When they roll even, though, they get to narrate. Whether they succeed or fail, they can take things in a direction you never intended or expected.

    Target numbers are very tactical, and the problem I’m solving for is story. Situational modifiers can also be tactical, but the transparency of those modifiers supports story. Everyone can incorporate it into the narration of success or failure.

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