Some Lightmaster Details

After yesterday’s post about my progress with Lightmaster included the names of most of the character classes, it occured to me that I haven’t actually talked about what the game is like.

Firstly the elephant in the room. It’s an emulation of an old game, but because of the wording of the Open Game License I’m not allowed to name that old game’s name, which is trademarked. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this then you know what game I’m talking about, but if you don’t it’s the one with all the attack tables and critical tables and has the fumble table where you can trip over an imaginary turtle.

So, with that out of the way, what is the difference between Lightmaster and the game that it clones?

Well, for a start, Lightmaster is not designed to emulate the exact rules of the source game. Those rules are overly fiddly and complex (and inconsistent in places). Instead, Lightmaster is designed to emulate the feel of the source game. Few, if any, of the rules are an exact match for the rules in the source game; but in play, it feels like you’re playing the source game. It has the same kinds of mechanics that produce the a similar feel to playing the original, but run much more smoothly and are much simpler and easier in play – ideal for players who have felt intimidated by the complexity of the original.

Okay, that’s enough waffle. Lets get down to specifics and compare the game’s systems to those of the original…

Dice Basics: The original game uses a d100, but most things in the game are in units of +/-5. I’ve simplified this by just using a d20 instead.

Ability Scores: The original game took the six ability scores of the world’s most popular roleplaying game and split four of them in half (making four pairs) and then turned the last two into a pair of their own for a total of ten ability scores in two groups of five. These were measured on a 1-100 scale, and each would increase as you went up in level. Lightmaster returns to the basic six, and scales them down to a 1-20 scale, but still includes increases as you go up in level.

Classes and Levels: The original game has nineteen character classes in the standard rules, and then each of the many supplements usually added between three and six. Characters can theoretically rise to 50th level, althoughin my experience campaigns rising above the mid teens are vanishingly rare. Lightmaster has eighteen character classes. Fifteen of them are closely based on classes from the original game. One is based on a class from one of the supplements. One is an amalgam of a class from the original game and one from a supplement. One is a modified version of one from the original game. The rules allow for characters to advance to 20th level.

Development Points: The original game gave you a number of points for each of your ability scores (well, one of each pair) and then each class had a different list of costs for each skill. You would spend the points on those skills, having about 35-45 points to spend on skills that cost anywhere from 1-20 points each. Instead, Lightmaster divides the skills into themed categories and gives you 1-5 points to spend in each category depending on your class, but within each category every skill only costs a single point. If you want, you can move points from one category to another at a two-for-one cost.

Skills: The original game would give you a skill bonus for the number of ranks you had in a skill that had diminishing returns as you got more ranks, plus a class-based level bonus, plus an ability bonus from up to three ability scores. Lightmaster simplifies this by giving you just a skill bonus for the number of ranks that has diminishing returns and an ability bonus for a single ability score. The level bonus is subsumed into the rank bonus on the assumption that the classes buying lots of ranks will be those with high level bonuses and vice versa. The result is pretty similar (albeit scaled for a d20 scale instead of a d100 scale) but the numbers are simpler and there are fewer of them.

Static Skill Checks: The original game has you roll 1d100 and add your skill bonus and a variable bonus or penalty for difficulty and you need to roll a total of 101+ to succeed. Many skills have charts on which to look up partial successes and extreme failures. Lightmaster has you roll 1d20 and add your skill bonus and you need to beat a target number based on the difficulty of the task. It’s much simpler and has less calculation.

Manoeuvring Skill Checks: The original game has you roll repeatedly and look up the results on a chart which gives you progress to skill completion based on difficulty. Lightmaster just has you roll a simple static skill check.

Casting Spells: The original game has you roll a casting check based on the type of magic you are using and the type of target, apply penalties based on what you are wearing, and then read a resulting bonus or penalty from a table. This bonus or penalty is then applied to the target’s saving throw for the spell. Lightmaster just gives the target a simple saving throw that works like a skill check.

Combat Sequence: The original game has a very confusing combat sequence where there are distinct phases for different types of activity, but this is combined with a fiddly percentage action system. It’s a bit of a mess, frankly (and I think the authors knew this since they provided so many alternative systems in the supplements). Lightmaster uses a much simpler system where everyone declares actions and then takes turns after an initiative roll.

Attack Rolls: The original game has a full-page 150×20 table for each weapon where you look up your roll against the type of armour the opponent is wearing. Lightmaster uses the same system, but each table is only 30×12 due to the consolidation of the armour rules and the switch from 1d100 to 1d20.

Critical Damage: The original game has a bunch of tables for critical damage of different types, each of which has 5 severities and is rolled on 1-100. These tables give you detailed damage results over and above hit point loss. There are rules for healing herbs that can cure this detailed damage, spells that can cure it, and rules for healing naturally over time. Unfortunately these different parts of the game lack clarity and it is not always apparent what healing will cure what critical damage. Lightmaster switches to a 1-20 scale for criticals, and cleans up the damage so there is consistency and clarity across the different parts of the game. It is always obvious which spells or herbs will cure the damage caused by which critical hits.

Magic Items: The original game includes a detailed set of rules for characters to be able to make magic items. It also includes a pricing system for magic items based on their abilities, and a set of magic item tables for finding random magic items. None of these three systems are compatible with each other. The price list bears no resemblence to the crafting rules, and the magic items you can find bear no resemblence to eiahter of them. Lightmaster takes the crafting rules and uses them to generate a pricing system so that again there is clarity between parts of the system.



Lightmaster – Project Update

So, the Lightmaster project is going well.

Of the two books (the Rulebook and the Book of Tables), I’ve started both. I’ve made the most progress with the Rulebook, in that I’ve got chapters 1-7 (of 13 total) fully written, edite, and layed out with artwork. Other than any last-minute edits that I have to do when proofreading, those chapters are completely finished.

Although that’s only just over half of the book in terms of chapter count, it’s well over half in terms of page count since it includes some of the longest chapters.

For reference, here’s the full chapter list with those I’ve finished crossed off:

  1. Foreword (1 page)
  2. The Game’s Setting (4 pages)
  3. Basic Mechanics (6 pages)
  4. Skills (17 pages)
  5. Creating a Character (26 pages)
  6. Equipment (18 pages)
  7. Magic (13 pages)
  8. Adventuring (estimated 5 pages)
  9. Combat (estimated 10 pages)
  10. Injury and Healing (estimated 4 pages)
  11. Lightmaster Travel (estimated 6 pages)
  12. Crafting (estimated 8 pages)
  13. Extras (estimated 12 pages)

So – assuming my estimates for the size of as-yet unwritten chapters is correct – I’m around 60% through the book.

My estimates should be pretty accurate for the most part, I think, since for all the chapters that are left I already have the raw text from earlier drafts. The Adventuring, Combat, Injury & Healing, and Crafting chapters are largely unchanged from Blood, Guts & Glory and big chunks of the Lightmaster Travel chapter draw heavily on the material in Dark Dungeons. It all needs tweaking to match the new rules, of course, but the core of it isn’t significantly changing.

The Book of Tables is much more straightforward, in that it has a lot less ambiguity. There’s much less formatting and layout to be done, since the whole point of it is that it is designed to have individual pages printed off – so it doesn’t have the fancy formatting or atwork that the Rulebook has.

Since I went through the Rulebook’s chapters and their page counts, I suppose I should do the same with the Book of Tables, and this will give you a sneak peek at the character classes that exist! Again, I’m crossing out the sections I’ve already done:

  1. Crafting Recipes (10 pages)
  2. Chirurgeon Spell Paths (6 pages)
  3. Conjurer Spell Paths (6 pages)
  4. Empath Spell Paths (6 pages)
  5. Haruspex Spell Paths (6 pages)
  6. Necromancer Spell Paths (6 pages)
  7. Occultist Spell Paths (6 pages)
  8. Priest Spell Paths (6 pages)
  9. Ravager Spell Paths (6 pages)
  10. Rhymer Spell Paths (5 pages)
  11. Runesmith Spell Paths (6 pages)
  12. Spellsword Spell Paths (5 pages)
  13. Visionary Spell Paths (6 pages)
  14. Warden Spell Paths (5 pages)
  15. Warlock Spell Paths (6 pages)
  16. Witch Spell Paths (6 pages)
  17. Common Arcane Spell Paths (10 pages)
  18. Esoteric Arcane Spell Paths (10 pages)
  19. Common Divine Spell Paths (10 pages)
  20. Esoteric Divine Spell Paths (10 pages)
  21. Common Psychic Spell Paths (10 pages)
  22. Esoteric Psychic Spell Paths (10 pages)
  23. Attack Tables (46 pages)
  24. Critical Strike Tables (8 pages)

As you can see, there’s a huge amount of work still to be done on this – by page count I’m only about 35% through this one. However, the task isn’t as daunting as it first appears because like the Rulebook chapters I already have all the spell paths written – it’s “just” a matter of tweaking their formatting and making sure the spell descriptions match the new rules (which the vast majority of them do already). Tweaking the formatting won’t take much doing, either, since the formatting of the spell paths isn’t significantly changing. So despite the extra page count I reckon this should actually go much quicker than the Rulebook.

New(ish) Project – Lightmaster

Yep. It’s been a while, but I have a new project in the works – Lightmaster.

Well, to be honest, it’s not that new. Let me explain…

Back in 2012, I published Blood, Guts & Glory. To refresh your memory, that was a kind of retro-clone/mash-up that emulated an ’80s game (as usual, I can’t name it for legal reasons – but it was famous for its critical hit system and its many, many charts) and mixed it up with the SRD produced by Wizards of the Coast to simplify parts of it.

That was a fine game, and I’ve had lots of fun playing it (and I’m sure others have too). However, while it’s a “fine game”, I never thought it quite broke the “great game” threshold.

In hindsight, I think the game has three major flaws that prevent it from being great:

  1. When doing character generation, I tried to emulate the source material too closely, while also trying to present it in a very different way to the original in order to avoid any copyright issues. This resulted in a character generation system that was overly complex and rather counterintuitive. It worked. But it was fiddly and awkward – and this went against the whole idea of creating a simplified version of the source game. It actually ended up more complex than the source game in this aspect.
  2. This one’s very similar. When putting in the ability to resist magic and poisons and the like, I definitely simplified the source material – but there was one “sacred cow” that I wanted to keep, and that was the ability to “fumble” a spell and have it not work. Because of this, instead of using something simple like the Saving Throw mechanic from the SRD I ended up reversing things and having a Penetration Check that worked like a saving throw but was rolled by the attacker rather than the defender (so that a natural 1 on the check could be a fumble). This sounds fine on paper, but it meant having a skill-that-was-not-a-skill for the penetration score and it worked really weirdly for spells that had lasting effects. Rather than the actual target of the spell being able to repeatedly roll Saving Throws until they managed to throw off the effect, the attacker would have to keep re-rolling their Penetration Check to keep the effect going, even if they’d left and gone off to do something else or even if they were dead. Again, it worked mechanically but was just counterintuitive and confusing. The real irony here is that in the end I took out the rules for fumbling spells as being unnecessary – so all the added complexity there was for nothing.
  3. Originally the game was meant to be your typical “generic fantasy”, like the source game and like your average Dungeons and Dragons game. However, after having written the rest of the game I decided it needed some kind of setting of its own, so I added a chapter describing one. I actually quite like the setting that I added (anthropomorphic animals in post-apocalyptic Elizabethan England) but it did the game no favours. The setting material, being added as an afterthought, didn’t really extend beyond the single chapter describing it, and – worse – even though the game was supposed to be primaraly generic fantasy with this setting as an optional thing that you could use if you wanted, I failed to get that across in the text. I’ve seen more than one person simply dismiss the game as “a furry game” and not see that it was actually intended for a much wider scope.

Hence Lightmaster.

Lightmaster is kind of half way between a new edition and a sequel for Blood, Guts & Glory. At heart, it’s the same basic game. It still emulates the source material with its attack and critical tables and lists of spells and detailed damage and healing system. However, it fixes all three of those flaws.

  1. Character generation has been completely re-done and vastly simplified. It’s no longer the baroque mess that it was. Rather than the overly-complex system of base skill bonuses and additional skill ranks and every skill having a different cost for each class, you have a much simpler system. Skills are divided into groups and each class gets a different number of skill ranks to distribute in each group with the ability to move excess points from one group to another. Also, the whole “base skill bonus” and “additional skill ranks” thing has gone. It’s much, much simpler now; and it still produces the same end result.
  2. I’ve ditched the whole “Penetration Check” thing and reverted to a nice and simple Saving Throw mechanic. It’s actually mathematically identical to the old system, but far, far, easier and more intuitive.
  3. The new game (and this is the main reason why it’s a sequel with a different name rather than a second edition) has a setting that’s baked in throughout the text rather than added at the end, and it’s far closer to “generic fantasy”. It’s no longer got the anthropomorphic animals, because they just distracted people. Instead it’s “generic fantasy with a pulp twist” that owes more to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H. P. Lovecraft than it does to J.R.R. Tolkien and Jack Vance. However, the setting material is painted in broad strokes only – you won’t find maps and big lists of NPCs and timelines. The GM is expected to fill in their own details or crib them from a pre-published fantasy setting.

The other main difference is that Lightmaster is squarely aimed at people who like the source game (or like the idea of it, at least) but want something simpler and easier to learn and teach. Its presentation is worlds away from Blood, Guts & Glory in that I’m splitting it into two books. One is the rulebook and has a friendly, modern design. The other is just all the tables and charts (and has minimal formatting – it’s designed for you to print off the individual pages that you need, so there’s no artwork or rules text, just a full-page table per page. Obviously the table and chart reference won’t be riveting light reading, but taking them all out of the main rule book makes that book a much easier read and much less daunting.

Things may change during formatting, but it’s looking like the rule book will be around 100 pages in length, and the table and chart reference will be around 225 pages.