An All-New Edition!
This book is written in an informal tone, because I’m tired of rulebooks that read like automotive user manuals. I’ve written some of those books, and they’re no more fun to create than they are to read. Let’s just pretend that we’re hanging out, having a conversation. That’s the core of roleplaying anyway.
I don’t even like calling the Lighthouse System a rulebook. That implies a level of rigidity that I don’t enjoy. If a rule says so, it has to be that way. There’s no allowance for context, what works best for the story, the characters, or the setting. It. Says. So. Right. Here. No, not everyone plays that way, but that’s mostly what’s supported by the official text. People forget that the original rules for Dungeons & Dragons were pretty fast and loose. Gary Gygax only created Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to codify the rules for tournament play, so gamemasters would all be on the same page. You can’t have an apples-to-apples comparison of results if everyone is doing their own thing.
My preference is for the word “system”, which is a method of doing things. Knowing how things work on a fundamental level, it becomes easier to make things up on the fly. You can handle things that aren’t explicitly spelled out. It also significantly cuts down on the size of the book, because once you get the gist of things you can figure out the fiddly bits on your own. Some people find that limiting. I find it freeing. It reduces stress for the gamemaster, and it lets players exercise their imaginations. The Lighthouse System is a toolbox to help you make things, not a catalog of things someone else has already made.
When you’re designing a system, you need to know what problem you’re solving for. The things that I enjoy most about roleplaying are the fundamentally creative elements. I love character development, not just crunchy bits where you gain new abilities, but the way that the fictional people you’ve created will learn, grown, and become more interesting and realistic. Worldbuilding is a must. I’m one of those people who had binders upon binders of setting ideas for my favorite games back in the day. Storytelling is at the root of it all, really. You can create characters and worlds all you want, but the story is where those other elements get used.
The intersection of those three elements, character, setting, and story, is where the Lighthouse System lives. They’re the three pillars of roleplaying. Any one, without the other two, doesn’t feel complete to me. That means, by extension, that the system is about creativity. The fun comes from making stuff, and then using the stuff that you’ve made. It means that roleplaying is about cooperation, not just between those elements but the people who create them, utilize them, and play them out.
This system also leans into a style of play commonly called “theater of the mind”. Players describe what’s happening and work things out through discussion. Miniatures, maps, and other props are entirely optional. Use them if you want, but they’re not required. It’s not a board game or a war game where those pieces are essential. All you need here are pencils, paper, and standard polyhedral dice.
Instead of gamemaster, I use the word “guide”. Roleplaying has always been on the fringes of what can be defined as a game. There are stacks of systems that talk about how it’s not a competition, emphasize that there are no winners and losers, and play up the cooperative elements. Any sort of “master” sounds too much like an authority figure, the person that knows more than you do and wields all of the power. It’s way too confrontational for my tastes. To me, “guide” fits the actual role better. That’s the person who helps the players, fosters that essential cooperation, and keeps things moving forward.
On a final note, I wanted to mention why this is called the Lighthouse System. A lighthouse is a navigational aid, used to help ships get where they’re going while avoiding hazards. The metaphor should be clear. This book can help you, but it’s not the ship or the crew. The name is also drawn from the fact that this is the Dancing Lights Press house system, used as the basis for all of the games we publish.
I hope that you enjoy the Lighthouse System. It’s a labor of love, a manifesto expressing my opinions on roleplaying, and a solid basis for creating a shared storytelling experience. In the end, though, it’s whatever you use it for. The characters, worlds, and adventures that you create using this book are what matter most.