Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Higher Struggle

TLDR: a cool, free game that could be used as a campaign sub-system to model the struggle between factions and powers.

One of the things that always impresses me when I read The Lord of the Rings is the time Tolkien spends setting up the higher struggle between powers. Sometimes we see it in the form of councils and plans, other times we see it in the form of a conflict of wills. Galadriel or Aragorn contesting with the Eye of Sauron, for instance. This battle above and beyond the literal battlefield is fascinating. It informs the latter as well, allowing us to see in every clash of arms the larger forces at work.

What am I rambling on about?

Well, it's the desire for that layer in our RPG games. Often GMs achieve it with recurring villains and reveal it through rumors and one-on-one interactions with NPCs. But is there a better way to model it?

I have seen political struggle represented in sub-systems before, or at least models that approach it. There is a nice social combat model in Diaspora, for instance. But I'm not sure I've ever seen anything as useful or simple as this little design by Mark Hunt.


Get the game here!


Scandalous Goons is a hack of Tunnel Goons, which I mentioned in a previous post. The rules of the game are basically the same, but instead of classes Mark supplies the stats of Reputation, Rumor, and Connections. And in place of inventory items we have assets like Military Honors, Spy, Blackmail Information, and Married Well. The third change is really about trading out health for a bank of Influence points.

Two things make this little game an ideal "bolt on" to about any campaign.
  1. It's very easy to adapt to your particular scenario. Change or add stats. Come up with new/different assets. Allow different factions to start with more or less Influence. An hour's work would probably be more than enough to totally customize Scandalous Goons to be completely in step with your group's campaign.
  2. It's easy to implement without interacting or interfering with the mechanics of whatever RPG you are playing.
Oh, did I mention it's also free?! 

I can't wait to take this game and use it to model the politicians, gang lords, and guild masters of a fantasy town. Or to play out some huge space opera game where star lords and planetary tyrants develop assets like warp drive levels, planetary defenses, cloaking devices, trade goods, super soldiers, etc. 

Thanks, Mark!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Simple Skills System (Revised)

TLDR: an idea for implementing simple skills in pre-2e D&D. 

Each character details their background in 50 words or less, using full sentences. This background can be revised between adventures to incorporate an extra sentence per level gained.

When a character attempts something that would require unusual skill, and the GM agrees that it is possible, even if it’s very unlikely, he sets a difficulty at 4, 5, or 6 and indicates the most-closely related ability.

The player then rolls dice as follows, trying to meet or beat the difficulty on at least one die.

  • 1d6 if unskilled
  • 2d6 if skilled (character background suggests a related skill) OR the related ability has a positive bonus
  • 3d6 if skilled AND the related ability has a positive bonus

The odds to work out to be:

  • 1d6 ≥ Dif. 4 = 50%, Dif. 5 = 33%, Dif. 6 = 17%
  • 2d6 ≥ Dif. 4 = 75%, Dif. 5 = 56%, Dif. 6 = 31%
  • 3d6 ≥ Dif. 4 = 88%, Dif. 5 = 70%, Dif. 6 = 42%

If all the dice show a 1, the failure is a “botch” and is worse than a normal failure, if that’s possible. “Extra” successes usually add minor positive benefits.

Example

A player wants his character to run at full speed across a tightrope between high buildings to escape pursuers. . 

The GM says, "that will be a difficulty 5 DEX test." Note that the GM wouldn't necessarily have to call out the difficulty; that's probably a matter of style. The GM should not consider the character's skill at all when setting difficulty. Rather the difficulty should be solely based on the situation. Is there strong wind and rain? Is the character carrying a lot of stuff? How hard would it be for a normal person to do this given the situation?

The character has a positive DEX bonus and, according to his background, was once a circus performer, so he rolls 3d6. If the highest die in that pool is a 5 or 6, the character succeeds. If two or three successes show, perhaps he gets across at high speed and can get out of sight before the pursuers catch up. Or he has plenty of time to cut the rope and not get shot at by crossbows.  

If the highest die is less than 5, he fails. The GM might allow him to catch the rope or a ledge on the way down, but the character will be in dire straights.

If all three dice show a 1, the character plummets to the ground with no chance at grabbing the rope. If he survives, the pursuers probably had people tracking him on the ground as well. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Gakking Goon

TLDR: Nate Treme wrote a neat little game, Tunnel Goons, and has invited people to hack it.

The marvelous Nate Treme recently created a rules-light role-playing game called Tunnel Goons as part of his amazing Eternal Caverns of Urk.* A few days ago he announced Goon Jam, a call for people to hack his game. To help, Nate offered up a text-only version to help people get started.

I've been "called" lately to design something fun that isn't combat or violence focused. My first response to the Goon Jam was to use this opportunity to scratch that elusive itch. So let's take a quick look at what there is to hack in Tunnel Goons and what kinds of games it might support.


Bounty from Nate's Patreon


The Game

In a nutshell, you divide three points between three classes and select three items to add to your inventory. In Tunnel Goons the classes are Brute, Skulker, and Erudite. When you try something you roll 2d6, add the points from your relevant mode and a point for each relevant item. Your inventory can get up to ten items in it before it starts imposing a penalty on your Brute and Skulker rolls. Sometimes tests are merely succeed/fail; other times you are fighting enemies and difference between the difficulty score of the enemy and your roll is the damage you do (or take). Damage reduces the enemy's difficulty, so that there is a death spiral kind of mechanic. Each hit makes the next attack easier to land and makes higher damage more likely.

So what is there to hack? Without changing the basic rules – and I think not changing those too much is in the spirit of the challenge – you have the three classes, the equipment list, and whatever flavor text you add to work with.

Classes (Modes)

I'm going to rename the classes as "modes" just to shift your thinking away from any associations with traditional RPG terminology. In calling them modes, I want to highlight that they are essentially an angle through which you address any challenges. The most obvious change here is to rename the modes. For instance, you could make them Wit, Soul, and Antics to create a game about bards who use logic and riddles or heart-felt performances or humorous capering to make their way through life's minefield. You could also increase or decrease the number of modes, with corresponding shifts in the initial points a player can spend on them. Be careful to set a limit. The game is based on a 2d6 curve, so every +1 is a really big deal. Since the original game has an initial limit of 3 on any mode, I would stick with that.

Equipment

It is a time-honored tradition in RPGs to define characters by equipment. Many look down on this because it seems a little superficial, but it doesn't have to be. The things you carry around with you say a lot about you. But more to the point, the initial list of things you offer to players when they make their characters does a lot to determine the type of game. If you want to move away from a "fighty" game, for instance, don't supply a fighty mode and certainly don't list a bunch of weapons that players can choose for their inventory. In the aforementioned bards game, I could supply all kinds of bric-a-brac, but no traditional weapons. Though I might supply a few things that could be used as a weapon – like a jester's scepter (club) or pocket knife (dagger). I think the primary goal here should be to supply interesting items that aren't necessarily useful in an obvious way, or at least not useful for doing things you want to de-emphasize in the game. If you give players a bomb, you can't complain if they go around blowing things up, right?

Is That All?

Yeah, I think so. Modes and items are the core of the game. You could bolt on other stuff, but ... I guess I would caution against adding mechanics of a different kind. If you find yourself adding other kinds of dice or a roll-low mechanic, you are getting away from the heart of the original.

For my money, the equipment list is a wide-open space for tinkering. After all, who says it has to be equipment? It could be spells, stunts, assets, or just about anything you can draw on in a situation for a dice bump.

Good luck! I can't wait to see what y'all make.


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* I hope I don't sound disingenuous throwing around words like "marvelous" and "amazing;" let me assure you they are well earned. Of all the Patreons I back, the ones for Nate Treme and Evlyn Moreau have been giving me the most joy – with apologies to all the other Patreons that also give me joy.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Do You Play It RAW?

TLDR: rules-as-written (RAW) means different things to different people. Here are some distinctions that I personally think make sense.

Rules-as-written, or RAW, as most people like to write it. What does it mean?

RAW
Used literally, it means whenever you have a question about how to play you follow what the rulebook says to the best of your ability. If you make a ruling at the table and a player looks it up then, or after the game, and finds a contradiction between your ruling and the text, you go with the text. It also means, in a literal sense, that you aren't subtracting, adding, or modifying the rules in any way.

RAI
It's pretty hard to play any game like that. There are bound to be some awkward and unclear phrasings, typos, or missing rules that make playing RAW difficult. The next step away is, I believe, rules-as-intended, RAI.

Rules-as-intended means that you stick close to the rules and play them as you believe they are supposed to be played. You are not adding, subtracting, or changing the rules unless there's clearly an error in the text, a rule is unplayable (wasn't play-tested), or you have to fill in a gap where the rules are silent. When you do fill in a gap, you do it by following the logic and spirit of the rules. You aren't inventing so much as extrapolating. Personally, I still consider this RAW, especially if the rules encourage you to invent/fill in the gaps.

Rules+
Taking another step away from RAW is adding things that don't obviously change or interfere with existing rules, but clearly weren't intended by the original rules either. Let's call this Rules+. For instance, you bolt some kind of sanity mechanic onto Oe D&D. Or allow two-handed weapons to do more damage than other weapons to make up for the fact that their wielders are forgoing the use of a shield and may be attacking late in a round. The thing about adding rules is that no matter how careful you are, you are affecting existing mechanisms. Perhaps adding a Sanity mechanic makes the Intelligence ability score in D&D less important? Or adding a differentiation for two-handed weapons begs you to add rules for parallel instances, e.g. dual-wielded weapons, reach weapons, rate of fire, etc. Adding rules is a slippery slope, especially if what you liked about the original rules set was their "simplicity." Adding rules begets greater complexity.

Rules –
Clearly, if there is a Rules+ there is a Rules–, meaning you drop some rules because they feel clunky, slow down play, aren't meaningful, etc. Subtracting may reduce complexity, but you may also be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As with adding rules, you can quickly find yourself playing a different game. For example, the Save progressions are part of class strength and weaknesses, as well as a way to differentiate between the peril of various threat types, in Oe D&D. If you dump those in favor of straight roll-under tests by ability, you may be losing one of the classes' primary advantages (good Saves) or negating one of its drawbacks (bad Saves). Also, dropping Saves means dragon breath, poison, and rays are all roughly the same type of threat, aside from prescribed damage (and in Oe it's all d6 based).

Hacking
Finally, there's hacking. It's hard to see where house-ruling ends and hacking begins sometimes. Changing the setting is a clue for a lot of observers, but you could very often change the setting of a game without touching its mechanisms, other than perhaps relabeling a few weapons. It's a distinction of quantity and quality. One big change or lots of little ones can result in the feeling that you are playing a different game. And the minute you feel like that, you have hacked the original. You have voided the warranty on play experience; if it goes south it's on you!

So, Are You Playing RAW?
It's my opinion that if you are doing literal RAW, RUI, or perhaps even light Rules+, you are. It's a matter of not believing you know more than the designer of the game and taking care to try the rules as written first before you make any adjustments or outright changes. Any such adjustments or changes should be governed by making the game play to its strengths, rather than making it feel different or fit a different style/genre of play. If that isn't your mindset, then you probably aren't playing RAW.

Fair enough?

Monday, July 29, 2019

Design Noodling in the 2d6 Space

TLDR: I couldn't sleep so I made a game. Skip down to Give It a Name! to get past the process notes.

If you were to ask me what my favorite die was, I would probably say the d6. While it's odds are rarely intuitive or seemly, there are so many things you can do with it that are interesting and quick to read at the table. The point of this is that I am up late tonight working on yet another way to use these basic cubes to make an interesting resolution engine. 

The Idea

Here is the game in a nutshell:

Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" and roll 3d6 instead, and drop the lowest die. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates the degree of success/failure. A high die on successes is the damage you do. (No separate roll to resolve damage.) 

The odds work out that you succeed 41.67% of the time on 2d6 and 68.06% of the time on a roll 3d6. Which is kind of nice in that 3d6 puts you above the 50-50 threshold, AND moves the middle of the curve above the 8+ success line. 

Criticals

Success is its own reward, since you do more on a high roll. But I wanted to give the GM permission to screw people (make a "move" in PbtA parlance) when a player rolled really poorly. So I started with the idea that any failure that includes a 1 is a critical fail. That was problematic because the odds were way too high (31% on 2d6, 19% on 3d6) and it ran counter to the idea of high die (not low die) indicating degree. In fact, the idea of high die indicated degree of failure as well as success came after I looked at the odds. Before it was high die on success, low die on fail.

As a result, a critical fail became any failure that included a 6. The odds of that came out to 5.56% on 2d6 and 1.39% on 3d6. That seems to be in the right range and I left it there for a while. But as I was jotting down design notes, I realized two things:

Raising the Bar

The first was that I wanted some way for the GM to raise the bar on really tough things. I came up with two variations. Since players need to roll 2d6 to hit an 8, the GM can't take away a die. Variation 1 was for the GM to raise the bar by requiring 2 or even 3 fictional advantages for the push. The other was for the GM to make 5's and 6's a critical fail. Or even a 4+ on the high die a critical fail. (The odds of a high die of 5 on a fail are 17% for 2d6 and 5% on 3d6. The odds for a high die of 4 on a fail are 33.3% on 2d6 and 11% on 3d6). I didn't like either of these options because they didn't feel good or were too fiddly to explain/not intuitive enough.

The second note I made was that I was originally hoping that the math would work out such that a player who pushed not only increased their overall chance to succeed and their chance for a "critical success" (which I suppose equates to hitting a 6 on the high die), but to also increase their chance for critical failure

In writing that second one out, I realized I could meet both of my design goals with one simple change.

The Final Version?

Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates the degree of success/failure. A high die on successes is the damage you do and a 6 gives you an extra benefit in the fiction. On the other hand, a fail with a high die of 6 is a critical failure; the GM can heap on the pain!

If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" and roll 3d6 instead, and drop the lowest die. This of course increases your chance of success and your chance to get in some big damage. However, when you push, any fail is a critical fail in that the GM can do things to make your character's life a lot worse than a simple failure. 

I liked this idea, but wasn't fully married to it yet, and I'll explain why in a moment. First, though, I want to show the odds:

2d6 chance of success = 42% and critical fail = 6%.
3d6 chance of success = 68% and critical fail = 19%.

This makes pushing dramatic! 

I suppose my one reservation is that it may not be very logical. Yes, putting extreme effort into something can raise the stakes on failure. On the other hand, higher skill, the right equipment, or a relevant ability, which I give as the justification for a push, probably shouldn't result in a higher chance of critical failure. 

One more tweak? Let's give it a shot.

The Final Version (Probably)

Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates the degree of success/failure. The high die on a success is the damage you do, and a 6 allows you an extra benefit in the fiction. A fail with a high die of 6 is a critical failure, and the GM will make your character's life worse!

If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" the roll; Use 3d6 and drop the lowest. This increases your chance of success and your chance to get in some big damage or gain that extra benefit. 

If you don't have a relevant skill, power, or specialized gear,
you can still push. However, any fail is a critical fail. Whether you roll a 6 or not, the GM can do things to make your character's life a lot worse than on a simple, non-critical failure.

Now the odds look like this:

2d6 chance of success = 42% and critical fail = 6%.
3d6 chance of success = 68% and critical fail = 1% when you use skill, power, equipment or 19% when you use pure willpower, desperation, or reckless effort.

Give It a Name!

Hmmm. I'm not sure how original this mechanic is. I've never seen it before, so I'm going to name it and release it under a Creative Commons. (Yes, I know you can't really copyright mechanics. Humor me. If you use this mechanic somewhere, stroke my ego by giving me credit.)

The text of the rules may change a little over time for brevity. But for now you should use some variation very close to the following. Feel free to use it exactly as written.

Dice Punch 
Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates your degree of success/failure. The high die on a success is the damage you do, and a 6 allows you an extra benefit in the fiction. A fail with a high die of 6 is a critical failure, and the GM will make your character's life worse!
If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" the roll; Use 3d6 and drop the lowest. This increases your chance of success and your chance to get in some big damage or gain that extra benefit. It also reduces your chance of a critical failure.
If you don't have a relevant skill, power, or specialized gear, you can still push. However, any fail is a critical fail. Whether you roll a 6 or not, the GM can do things to make your character's life a lot worse than on a simple, non-critical failure. 
Text of Dice Punch is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, 2019, Ray Otus. 

What Is It Good For? 

I feel like this bit of mechanics would be great for a micro-game or a very cinematic game where characters are defined by only a handful of adjectives/labels. It leaves the question of what damage means wide open. I would give most characters/opponents d6 hp per "level" and consider 0 hp to mean "out of action" (dead or the equivalent in most cases, probably something impermanent for player characters). Here's an example game written with Dice Punch.

Dice Punch Bowl 

In know, the name makes no sense whatsoever.

Get together with a small group of friends and three dice to share. Each of you should add one element of inspiration: e.g. Jedi knights, a death race, and neanderthals! Figure out some kind of world where these things make sense together. These rules assume you know a bit about role-playing games. One of you will be the Game Master; the rest will make characters as follows.
 
Choose:
  • A folk (like human, lizardfolk, trollkin, or cat-people)
  • A calling (like sailor, mystic, librarian, or psychologist)
  • Three to five mundane bits of equipment that might prove useful
  • One "special" – a power or bit of specialized equipment that is unique to your character.
  • Your character starts with 6 points of health. If you lose all 6 you are out of action for a while. The GM will tell you what it will take to get going again, if you aren't actually dead.
When you do something risky, roll the dice!

Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to succeed. Succeed or fail, your highest die indicates your degree of success/failure. The high die on a success is the damage you do, and a 6 allows you an extra benefit in the fiction. A fail with a high die of 6 is a critical failure, and the GM will make your character's life worse!

If you have a relevant skill, power, or specialized bit of gear you can "push" the roll; Use 3d6 and drop the lowest. This increases your chance of success and your chance to get in some big damage or gain that extra benefit. It also reduces your chance of a critical failure.

If you don't have a relevant skill, power, or specialized gear, you can still push. However, any fail is a critical fail. Whether you roll a 6 or not, the GM can do things to make your character's life a lot worse than on a simple, non-critical failure. 

Failure can mean you take damage. The GM will give you a wound or two. 

When you play the game, the GM frames scenes and poses questions. You answer for/as your character. It's a conversation! Keep up the exchange until the GM tells you it's time to roll. After you roll, the GM will describe what happens or ask you to describe it, and the conversation continues.

After a session or major accomplishment, the GM may award everyone an "advance." An advance gives you an additional d6 of health; roll a die and add it to your total. An advance also means you can add a stunt. To add one, write down a bit of useful gear you used, or a special trick you did in the fiction of a previous session. In any subsequent session, you can name a relevant stunt (once per stunt per session) to reroll the dice. You must take the second result, however.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Is It Worth Spell-ing It Out?

TLDR: the simplest expression of a spell may be the most fun in play and engender the most creativity.

For your consideration, five iterations of one of the most basic of all D&D spells, by edition (skipping over a few):
Light: A spell to cast light in a circle 3” [30'] in diameter, not equal to full daylight. It lasts for a number of turns equal to 6 + the number of levels of the user; thus, a 7th-level Magic-User would cast the spell for 13 turns. 
[Oe Men & Magic, WotC collector's edition "reprint"]
This is our baseline. As far as I can tell it is faithful to the '76 Whitebox edition. I am trying to find an earlier scan.
Light*     Range 120' / Duration 12 turns
This spell casts light in a circle, 30' in diameter. It is bright enough to read by, but not equal to full daylight. It may be cast on an object. The light may be cast at a creature's eyes. The creature may make a saving throw, but if it fails, the victim will be blinded for 12 turns. In the D&D BASIC rules, a blinded creature may not attack.
* Reversible
[Moldvay/Cook Basic]
The spell gains a fixed duration, range, and some adjudication text because somebody decided to cast it "on" a creature's eyes and some GM allowed it. Note that the monster gets a saving throw. Also, it's now reversible. 
Light (Alteration) Reversible 
Level: 1   /   Components: V,S
Range: 12"   /   Casting Time: 4 segments
Duration: 6 turns + 1 turn/level   /   Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: 2" radius globe
Explanation/Description: This spell causes excitation of molecules so as to make them brightly luminous. The light thus caused is equal to torch light in brightness, but its sphere is limited to 4” in diameter. It lasts for the duration indicated (7 turns at 1st experience level, 8at 2nd, 9at 3rd. etc.) or until the caster utters a word to extinguish the light. The light spell is reversible, causing darkness in the same area and under the same conditions, except the blackness persists for only one-half the duration that light would last. If this spell is cast upon a creature, the applicable magic resistance and saving throw dice rolls must be made. Success indicates that the spell affects the area immediately behind the creature, rather than the creature itself. In all other cases, the spell takes effect where the caster directs as long as he or she has a line of sight or unobstructed path for the spell; light can spring from air, rock, metal, wood, or almost any similar substance.
[AD&D PHB]
The spell now has a school and components, the duration is a level-dependent length, and the area is increased to a 40' diameter (assuming a 1":10' grid square). The spell gets a physics justification, and the brightness is characterized more specifically as torch-like. Details on the reversible version are given (and vary in duration). Magic resistance is mentioned, and there is some text about what happens if the target resists or saves vs. the spell.
Light     Evocation [Light]
Level: Brd 0, Clr 0, Drd 0, Sor/Wiz 0
Components: V, M/DF
Casting time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Object touched
Duration: 10 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No
This spell causes an object to glow like a torch, shedding bright light in a 20-foot radius (and dim light for an additional 20 feet) from the point you touch. The effect is immobile, but it can be cast on a movable object. Light taken into an area of magical darkness does not function.
A light spell (one with the light descriptor) counters and dispels a darkness spell (one with the darkness descriptor) of an equal or lower level.
Arcane Material Component: A firefly or a piece of phosphorescent moss.
[D&D 3.5, Online SRD]
The spell school is changed, and it gets a clerical domain. Components are expanded and specified. Range is reduce to touch, duration is still level-specific but simplified, and the spell is no longer reversible but instead "counters" spells of its opposite. Note that it's a lot harder to tag an enemy's eyes with Light now! 
Light     Evocation cantrip
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, M (a firefly or phosphorescent moss)
Duration: 1 hour
You touch one object that is no larger than 10 feet in any dimension. Until the spell ends, the object sheds bright light in a 20-foot radius and dim light for an additional 20 feet. The light can be colored as you like. Completely covering the object with something opaque blocks the light. The spell ends if you cast it again or dismiss it as an action.
If you target an object held or worn by a hostile creature, that creature must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw to avoid the spell.
[5e PHB]
Light is leveled-down to an at-will cantrip (probably happened in 4e, actually), duration is fixed, and a Dex save is included for unwilling targets. So it's even harder to tag an enemy; you must first touch them and then hope they fail their Dex test? Or, perhaps there is no longer a touch attack roll, you just do it and then they try to dodge it. Yeah, probably that; I'm not a 5e expert yet.

So, I ask you, did the spell get "better" along the way?

What I believe is going on in this progression is an illustration of the attempt to systematize all the common aspects of the game – to replace GM rulings with set rules. There is good and bad in that.

By spelling things out (yuk yuk), the player experience is possibly more consistent from session to session and table to table. Also, the player has the fairly complete knowledge of how the spell works. One might even argue the load is lighter on the GM, though it's really a question of whether the GM prefers to memorize/look up rules or just make them up as needed.

However, spelling it out constrains the use of the spell. The more words devoted to the exact behavior, targeting, etc. of the spell, the narrower its usage becomes. This gets dangerously close to that strange argument about whether you can only do the things the rules say, or whether you can do anything the rules don't expressly forbid. I'm not getting into that tedious argument with anyone, but I think it's safe to say that this spell description rules out certain things. The phrase "one object that is no larger than 10 feet in any dimension" means that the spell has to be cast on an object – not living tissue like an enemy's eyes (reinforced by "if you target an object held or worn by a hostile creature") and it can't just emanate from you. This, very clear picture of how Light works – down to letting the caster choose the color – shuts out other choices that might be made for flavor or utility. What if I wanted to use a jar of fireflies as a component? Or cast the light on my palm so I could open and close my fist to send morse-code like signals? Maybe I wanted a halo around my head so I could look angelic.  

For fun, here are two more descriptions of light, one from a streamlined take on the old school rules, The Black Hack, and one from a Oe retroclone, Delving Deeper. To my way of thinking, the brevity of these entries rules! 

Light: Creates dim light from a Nearby spot or object that lasts for Ud8 Minutes.
[The Black Hack 2e, "Ud" references the usage die mechanic.]

Light (reversible, duration: 12 turns, range: 120ft) Causes an object to shine as brightly as a torch, illuminating a 15ft radius. The reverse, darkness, creates a sphere of impenetrable darkness with a 15ft radius. [Delving Deeper v3, Vol. 1]

* Froth of the Thought Eater Podcast has suggested the spell summary in D&D 3.5 to be an excellent resource. There we have this gem: "Light: Object shines like a torch."

Sword & Backpack: On Dice

TLDR: Dice are cool. 
... each player should possess a personal 20-sided die. The die is used to resolve combat, make skill rolls, and so on. Sharing a die is fine, but it’s weak magic. In Sword & Backpack, dice aren’t just tools, they’re a direct line to fate, a link to the great mystery. As such, they should be respected. Your personal die should be carried in one’s pocket at all times. It’s a totem. Respect it as such.
Emphasis mine.

You can find a primer on, and links to, Sword & Backpack here. S&W is a tongue-in-cheek presentation of the simplest RPG rules imaginable. Basically roll a d20 and see if it's high or low, and how high or low. Sounds simplistic, sure, but what more do you really need? Also, the formatting of the rules is kind of cool; the small pages are meant to be printed, cut out, and pasted into a 3.5" x 5.5" (or thereabouts) notebook.