Lighthouse System Designer’s Notes

There are three elements that made me fall in love with tabletop roleplaying back when I was 14 years old. They’re the same reason I still love them today. All of them are, in my opinion, unique to the form. First, I got to control my own protagonist. There’s a level of participation and self-expression that doesn’t exist in other types of games. I wasn’t limited to pre-programmed decision trees. The character’s personality, their motivations, their hopes and dreams, came from my imagination. That’s magic, right there.

The second element is that I got to play around with worldbuilding. As the gamemaster, I could take published settings and add my own ideas, or tweak them to fit what the players wanted. I could create settings from scratch. Even as a player, my actions had the potential to affect the world and cause changes. My friends and I got to collaborate on a potentially massive creative project, and make something that we could all enjoy together.

What I really loved, though, was that I was participating in a story. Characters had relationships, with each other and the supporting characters. They could pursue their own interests and goals. You could play the same scenario with different characters and get wildly different outcomes. We had to interpret the random die rolls to create a coherent narrative, but mostly we influenced the plot through the choices we made.

In putting together the new edition of the Lighthouse System, those elements were at the forefront. Rolling dice and counting bonuses weren’t going to be the point. I wanted mechanics that would support character development, worldbuilding, and storytelling. The “game” bits had to fade into the background when they weren’t needed. It had to follow the flow, and sometimes the structure, of other forms of fiction.

It’s up to you, ultimately, to decide whether I was successful in meeting those design goals. I’m happy with the results, though. Over three years I’ve put the system through the ringer, testing it out with various genres, settings, and styles of play. I think it does what I wanted it to do quite well.

Download your copy of the Lighthouse System now!

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. That’s the thing about game design … or the classic cartoon shorts from Warners or MGM … or even such things as The Lord of the Rings. They’re created to satisfy the creator, not an audience. IF there’s an audience who shares the sensibility, there can follow other kinds and degrees of success.

    I had to reconcile myself to this during the latest revision of my Fudge System home build. I kept asking myself “how do I make this more appealing to all player types?” Finally I quit torturing myself and accepted that I was never going to appeal to everyone, so I should just make something that made me happy.

    Sidebar: I’m glad you’re back to blogging on gaming topics. I discovered your previous ursine incarnation during the time when it was being dismantled … so I missed out on much that I’d have probably enjoyed reading. Looking forward to joining the journey onward!

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