Today I wanted to take a little time to discuss my design goals for the new edition of the Lighthouse System. While the core mechanic and most of the basic concepts remain the same, it’s going to look more like a traditional roleplaying game and less like a toolkit. Those DIY elements will still be in there, but there will be more examples to guide you. It will be far easier to pick up and play “out of the box” than the original edition with what’s included, while also supporting your own creativity and originality.
Utilitarian on Purpose
In keeping with the Black Box Manifesto, as well as my personal preferences and minimalist sensibilities, it’s going to be very utilitarian. There is as much there as you need to get started. The toolkit elements are present to allow you to expand it as you see fit, based on the game that you want to run. It’s not intended to be the game you run instead of some other fully developed system/setting combination. The Lighthouse System is intended to be the thing you turn to in the absence of a system/setting you want, and to provide a framework that you can hang your own creative worldbuilding, character development, and storytelling effort on.
Less is More
Most “universal” rules try to go big. They include a lot of options in order to cover every conceivable genre and setting. That leads to large, comprehensive rulebooks filled with all sorts of abilities, equipment, and esoterica. There’s nothing wrong with that approach. I love me some GURPS, for example. On many levels it’s one of my inspirations. I just prefer to go small. Less is more.
A functional core mechanic centers on task resolution. Did you succeed or fail? Beyond that, you need to determine the degree of that success or failure, and the effects. If you explain how things work, and make it possible for players to create their own abilities, you don’t need catalogs of skills, spells, and powers. You need examples, and a simple system for creating what you need.
Leave Room for the Players
One critique of “rules-lite” systems that I’ve seen is that they offload the work from the system to the player. They see that as a bug. I see it as a feature. We’re back to those laundry lists again, along with special situational rules and all sorts of bells and whistles. Certainly there has to be a happy medium. Provide common abilities, and useful examples, then let players come up with their own material that fine-tunes the system to fit the specific needs of the game they want to play.
To fall back on old, familiar terminology that I don’t entirely agree with, I think those people hold a very gamist stance. They want to play, not create. Official lists provide a level playing field. They can apply various strategies to optimize their character, so they can “win”. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t the problem I’m solving for.
If a label applies to me, it’s narrativist. Make up whatever sort of character you want. Balance comes not from all characters being identical in terms of power, but from the guide providing each character with challenges appropriate to their abilities. If one player makes up an ability that seems more useful than an ability a different player made up, remember that they’re different characters. They should face different obstacles.
One Size Does Not Fit All
The key, then, is to know what problem you’re solving for. I have no doubts that there will be people who don’t like the Lighthouse System because it’s not to their tastes. That’s fine. I wrote it for people who do like rules-lite, narrativist games. I wrote it for the people who will enjoy story-focuses, character-centric styles of play. Or whatever semantics you choose to apply to your personal jam.
We live in a world where a lot of people think that everything needs to be just one way. That way, invariably, is the way they like things. They look at anything outside of their personal preferences as an attack. My design goals aren’t an attack on anyone. That’s like saying Taco Bell is attacking Burger King because they sell tacos instead of burgers. More than one thing can exist. One size does not fit all, and it never will.
Which brings me back to the paradox of writing a “universal” system. It’s strength is in its flexibility. In designing it to tell stories and create characters, rather than to simulate a specific genre, it will theoretically work with everything. It can’t possibly be as good a science fiction game as one that was specifically designed to only do science fiction. Especially if it was designed for a particular definition of science fiction, and a unique setting. But systems are perfectly designed to get the results that they get. If you need other results, you need a different system. The Lighthouse System was designed to do exactly what it does. I think it fills its niche pretty damned well.