Lighthouse Roleplaying System™

Introducing the Lighthouse Roleplaying System  – easy to learn and simple to use. The subtlety and nuance lies in how you choose to interpret the die rolls and use them to tell your story. Here’s a quick overview of how the system works.

There When You Need It

Most of the time, you can use the context of the story and established abilities of the characters to decide what happens without having to roll any dice. Do what makes sense, seems logical, and makes for an interesting story. There are only two times when you need to roll dice:

The outcome is uncertain. The action that a character wants to undertake could succeed or fail, so you roll dice to find out which. Or, there are risks inherent in undertaking the action, so you roll to see if the character succeeds and overcomes those risks, or fails and has to deal with the complications.

You need to determine the degree of success or failure. You know that the character will probably succeed, but how well they manage to do so will matter. Or, even though you know the character will probably fail, the degree to which they fail holds some significance. The rewards and complications can impact the story going forward, so die rolls are required to help better define the outcomes.

Bid on Risks and Rewards

When you decide what action you’d like your character to take, you bid a die type (d4, d6, d8, d10, or d12). This represents both the risk you’re willing to take and the reward you’d like to achieve. The bigger the die, the greater the degree of success or failure. The more the character stands to gain if you succeed, the greater the injury or other complications the character will suffer if you fail.

Roll a d20 and Add Modifiers

The player declares what they’d like the character to do, and then rolls a 20-sided die. Add any bonuses the character is able to use, as well as any situational modifiers that the guide might impose, to the rolled result. There are no target numbers to compare the total to; all you need to keep track of is whether the total of the roll and modifiers is high or low, even or odd.

High or Low, Success or Failure

If the total of your roll plus modifiers is high (11 or more) your character succeeds. If your total is low (10 or less) you character fails. That’s it. No charts, no tables, and no screen are required to figure out whether your character succeeded or failed. You can focus on the story, not the dice.

Even or Odd, Narrating the Outcome

If your total of roll plus modifiers is an even number, you get to describe what happens. If your total is an odd number, the guide describes what happens. You can make your successes sound far more impressive, and your failures less painful. The guide can make your victories look like luck, and your failures look embarrassing.

Nobody Dies Accidentally

Because Lighthouse leans toward being a storytelling activity and away from being a game, it’s impossible for characters to simply die randomly because of bad die rolls or even poor choices. A character’s death has to make sense in the context of the story. It should also have emotional impact, as it does in fiction. Finally, the player and the guide have to agree that the character’s death is appropriate and adds something interesting or important to the story.

Lighthouse Roleplaying System™ Copyright 2017 Berin Kinsman. All Rights Reserved.

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10 Replies to “Lighthouse Roleplaying System™”

  1. As much as I love the Lighthouse system, there’s one kind of scenario which seems conspicuously absent: the “success leads to complication” scenario. For example, Indy successfully whips the poker from the Nazi’s hand before it can burn Marion’s face, but in doing so, he sets the bar ablaze. I have my own idea as to how I might handle this, given my reading of the rules, but I’m curious as to how you would handle it. Thanks.

    1. There are a couple of ways that it could be handled. The most obvious is to do it in narration. I don’t think I’d allow a player who rolled low/even to say “I actually succeeded at the main thing I wanted to do, but I made a mess in the process” but with a low/odd roll the guide could. Either the player or the guide can do it on a successful roll, because it’s not causing any sort of direct damage and it makes things interesting.

      Another way to handle it, and I actually considered something close to the mechanics of the current Doctor Who RPG, was to have a d4 marginal success be a “yes, but…” where you barely succeed but cause some minor problem (like Indy gets the poker with the whip but starts a fire). The opposite end of that would be a d12, which would have been “yes, and…” and added some extra affect. I think the real reason I threw those out was because it started feeling too complicated. It would mean some die types work differently than others.

      The way I might actually handle it would be to have a lingering complication, something like karma that will probably show up in some of the things created with Lighthouse but isn’t in the main rules. Depending upon the context, the character takes a complication but it doesn’t bite them right away. The slot gets taken up and they lose the die, but the effect doesn’t hit then. Later on in the story, to make things interesting, the player or guide can say “Oh yeah, and NOW that d6 complication shows up”.

      Hmm. There could also be a “sell your soul” mechanic where on a failed roll you could beg for a success now in return for a random complication later. Lower/higher die type, like you bid a d8 and fail, but rather than taking a d8 complication now, you get a d6 success in return for a d10 complication later. That’s a lot to keep track of, though. I very much want to the rules to be “in the moment”. I’ll stick with keeping the rules as-is and either allowing the guide to save a failed roll and allowing the player to nerf a success.

  2. I just read the rules and have a question about combat. What happens when the attacker uses a die type that the target has already received a complication for?

    For example, two fighters are facing off against a dragon. One bids a d6 and succeeds, and narrates a d6 complication for the dragon. The second fighter also bids a d6 and succeeds – what happens? Does the Guide (playing as the dragon) get to choose another complication slot? Does it automatically move up to the next highest available slot? Does the attacker choose?

    The same thing would happen if the combat was just between two foes, and one combatant bid the same die type two round in a row.

    1. The answer is on page 35.

      Recording Complications
      You can only have one complication for each die type. If you already have a complication for a given die type, and have to take on another one, it must be assigned to a different die type. The player gets to make this decision, and the person narrating the outcome will have to adjust their description to fit.

      So if two fighters each bid a d6 against a target, the first would do a d6, and the guide would need to pick an available die type to assign the second attack to. This means it could be lower (d4) or higher (d8, d10, d12). It means that sometimes a character will get off easy by shifting a complication to a lower die type than bid, but they can also end up with a worse complication. It changes things up, narratively, so that there’s some variety to things. There is no repetition of light, ineffectual attacks, but no repeated brutal assaults either.

  3. It would be great if you could do another pass through the Lighthouse document and eliminate the typos and grammatical errors that are still in there. I am looking to use the system for my Lockwood & Co. game, but I have to admit to finding simple errors like those in the document to be distracting. I can help with proof-reading and highlighting the niggles if that would help.

    Well done on creating a thought-provoking system.


  4. One thing I wanted to ask. Is this a system where only the protagonists get to roll dice? I am not clear on whether Antagonists played by the Guide get to roll attacks against PCs. If they do not, why do they get 1 Big Thing (etc.) bonuses?



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