Lighthouse System: Modifiers

Today I want to talk a little bit about modifiers. If you haven’t read about the core mechanic yet, go do that first. This builds on those ideas.

If you’ve played a tabletop roleplaying game before, you know about modifiers. When something gives you an advantage, you get to add a bonus to your die roll. If some condition places you at a disadvantage, then it’s a penalty and you subtract a number from your die roll.

Most games have two types of modifiers. The first are ability modifiers, reflecting what your character is and isn’t good at. The other are situational modifiers, handling just about everything else including the quality of the tools you’re using, visibility, range, and so on. Between the two, you can end up with a pretty complex system that cover every possibility in the game.

All Modifiers in the Lighthouse System are Situational Modifiers

What does that mean? It means that characters don’t have fixed numbers assigned to their abilities. If a character is supposed to be good at something, based on how they’ve been described and played, they factor that into the modifier assigned to a roll. If they have no experience with what they’re trying to do, or it’s established in canon that they’re bad at it, that goes into the modifier.

Hold your questions until I make the post about how characters work. I’ll explain in detail how that works.  Let’s stick with modifiers for now.

There are only three numbers you need to worry about: 1, 3, and 5. Good, better, best. Bad, worse, worst. Small, medium, large. Looking things over, if you’ve got a big advantage, add 5 to your roll. If when all is said and done you’re at a slight disadvantage, subtract 1 from the roll.

You don’t do the math. Just move up or down. If you’re kind of bad at something, you might start at -1. If someone who’s pretty good at that task is helping, which would be a +3, it’s not a +2. It’s a +1. If they were as good as you were bad, it would cancel out and be a zero. Their help does a little more than negate your issues, so it’s a net small advantage.

Modifiers in Play

It didn’t take my group long to get their head around it. The process become reflexive after a while. I rattle off the factors, you’re competent at this but they have the high ground, +1. It doesn’t slow things down.

Someone out there is thinking, this puts a lot of power into the hands of the guide. It’s basically all done by caveat. And to you I say, all tabletop roleplaying games are run by caveat if you think about it. We ignore and modify rules on the fly all the time. You can argue rules and point out crunchy bits. All it does is slow things down trying to prove you’re right.

That matters when you’re playing a tactical game and characters can die arbitrarily. This is about collaborating on a story. You still get to narrate the outcome of the action, succeed or fail, 50% of the time. The guide has to be fair, but you also have to recognize that there is such a thing a player caveat in Lighthouse. You narrate, that’s what happened, period. It shifts the power away from the numbers, and back into the way the results are described.

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