An Introduction to Lighthouse, the RPG System I Wrote

A lighthouse is a navigational aid, guiding ships so they can safely get to where they’re going. This Lighthouse is a tabletop roleplaying system designed to emphasize storytelling. It is easy to learn and simple to run, but incredibly versatile. Using polyhedral dice, you determine not only the degree of success or failure of a character’s actions, but who gets to narrate the outcome. You can tell any kind of story, in any setting or genre, with minimal preparation. Here’s an introduction to Lighthouse, to give you a feel for how the system works.

A System, Not a Rulebook

A system is a way of doing things, a methodology or set of principles that can be applied to achieve the result that you want. While a good system is orderly and has boundaries, some flexibility is implied. Rules, on the other hand, are about control and regulation, which can be the antithesis of creativity and imagination. When you use Lighthouse as intended, it will be a guide rather than a set of fixed limitations. Use the system when it works, but deviate from it and ignore it in those moments when it doesn’t meet the needs of your story. To extend the metaphor, the story is the ship, and you are the navigator; the Lighthouse is only there to assist as needed.

Cooperation, Not Competition

Tabletop roleplaying has many styles of play, and arguably not all of them meet the definition of a game. Lighthouse was created to support the idea that roleplaying is a collaborative storytelling activity, rather than competition. There’s no need to keep score, or determine who the winners and losers are. Goals will be met and characters will grow as they do in other forms of fiction, but it should happen more organically, based on what makes sense within the context of the story rather than arbitrarily.

Creativity and Imagination

If you’re looking for a roleplaying game where you kill monsters in order to collect treasure and level up, so that you can kill bigger monsters and get better treasure and level up again, Lighthouse might not be for you. It’s a perfectly valid style of play and a lot of fun, and I enjoy those games too, but that’s not what this is. If you’re interested in exploring why your character seeks adventure, learning what the monster’s motivations are, and making that into a great story, you’re in the right place.

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4 thoughts on “An Introduction to Lighthouse, the RPG System I Wrote

  1. Any thoughts (or reasons pro/con) on a meta-currency as many other story-games use? I keep comparing Lighthouse to Fate (and Freeform Universal), where it feels like there’s not as much incentive for players to give themselves disadvantages.

    Yes, the story is cooler, but there are cool players (willing to gain an point for a setback) and there are unicorns (willing to gain nothing because it’d be cooler for the story.) There are also power-gamers, but let’s not discuss those.

    Given the Big/Med/Small things granting 5/3/1 bonus to a roll, a Beacon Point could grant +2 if spent (I am toying with a +1d4 vs. a straight +2, or in the spirit of the game, a few flavors 1d4/1d6/1d8).

    You gain them in the usual ways – doing something awesome, using your big/med/small things as a setback (the Orc (+3) walking into the human settlement causes a huge scene and likely a confrontation from the guards), adding a detail/fact to the scene (why yes Mr. GM, there IS a fire escape on the side of the building), conceding a conflict, etc.

    1. An early version had both point and drawback mechanics. The action points were tied to a crit/fumble system, where if you roll a 20 (already high/even) you got a bankable bonus equal to whatever you had bid, (d4 = +1 up to d12 = +5). Players stopped using it because it became a bookkeeping nightmare, and without target numbers there was no real reason to want to roll egregiously high – they succeed 75% of the time on their Big Thing, 65% of the time with Mediums, and 55% of the time with Littles. It also violated the “this is not a game” spirit of the system by making it crunchier.

      The drawbacks were somewhere between pointless, crippling, and redundant. Not getting to narrate turns into the place where character weaknesses got called out. Complications are already temporary drawbacks.

      If I were to do anything like this, I’d do it like this:

      You take a drawback to give you a weak spot. No outcome roll penalties, but it’s somewhere you’ll get hit with drawbacks. Bad knee? You’re going to get kicked in the knee. Afraid of snakes? There will be snakes.

      Whenever your drawback gets pulled into a complication, you get a point.

      Point can be spent to flip an odd/even. You roll odd, but really want to narrate the outcome? Spend a point. Antagonist rolled even, but you really want to narrate it? Spend a point. That keeps it in line with the spirit of the system.

  2. Interesting suggestion to flip narration – it doesn’t disrupt things, and as you stated – sticks with the spirit of the game.

    I appreciate the suggestion/explanation. I’m always interested in the “why” behind the rules. As someone who picks and hacks and tweaks, it helps me understand the landscape, and avoid some of the same traps.

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