Roleplaying games

Swords & Wizardry Whitebox

The third version of Swords & Wizardry, the Whitebox edition, is the only version that isn’t written directly by Matt Finch.  Based on the Core version, Marv Brieg took the text and made an even more streamlined set of rules, based on the original 3 booklets of Dungeons and Dragons.  There are even fewer rules, and more places for a Gamemaster and the players to bring in their own ideas.  The total page-count isn’t much lower, but there’s a lot less text (and therefore rules) crammed onto each page; it’s one of the few one-column layouts I’ve seen, and it’s so easy to read even on a small tablet or phone!

Offered as both a free PDF or a wonderfully compact digest (my favorite format!) paperback or hardcover from Lulu, Whitebox is a beautifully simple set of rules.  Like Core or other retroclones, the inherent simplicity of Whitebox may be just too bare for some players to get into.  It won’t offer a whole lot to start with, but for those who are ready to go their own direction or have grown tired of bogged down rulesets will find Whitebox a very refreshing change. That’s not to say newcomers to RPGs should avoid this ruleset, but even I would admit it’d be better to start with Swords and Wizardry Core or Labyrinth Lord and then give Whitebox a try.  Like the other editions, there are alot of side-bars of optional or alternate rules for certain things.  Most or all of these can be ignored at first, and then as you play you may find yourself wanting to use some of them, or use them as the basis for your own house-rule.

An interesting thing about Whitebox is that all the character classes use D6 for their hit dice. This was something that I found odd at first, but now it’s starting to be something I agree with. In Core and Labyrinth Lord, I never understood why human thieves would only get a D4, while halflings would get a D6. I could understand fighters getting a D8, but in Whitebox all characters are equally at risk from the dangers of the world. Again, if you’re looking for a high-level epic campaign, Whitebox, with its low hit die and max of 10 levels, won’t be the right fit.

Another quirk is that the weapons all use D6 for their damage; unlike the original game, which strictly used 1D6 for all weapon damage, Whitebox does add or subtract a bit to account for differences in daggers, large axes, etc. Again, some may not like that other die types aren’t used, but it can be used to allow for the deadly damage of a dagger in a fighter’s hand, for example.

The spell list of Whitebox is shorter than in other games, but still offers plenty of choices for Clerics and Magic-Users. A few iconic spells are missing, such as magic missle, so if you have a magic-user in your group they likely won’t be able to provide much in combat at low levels. There’s also no thief class; cleric, fighter and magic-user are the 3 choices. Just like Core and Complete, the race choices remain the same: human, elf, halfling and dwarf.

The monster section is even briefer as well; there are no illustrations at all, and each monster’s description is very brief; like the other editions of Swords and Wizardry, the idea is for each GM to describe creatures and villians in their own way.  With such a small stat-block it is very easy for GMs to create their own monsters, but they’ll need to make sure they match up fairly to the lower levels and hit die used in Whitebox.

There aren’t too many OD&D retroclones, as OD&D is such a loose foundation to build a game upon.  There’s a group of dedicated players who prefer this rule-set to all others that followed, but even they can be split upon which OD&D supplements (or any) to include in their own games.  The great thing about Swords and Wizardry is that there’s an edition to cover from none to all, and so much can be easily borrowed from the other editions, let alone all the other clones.  Whitebox is a very bare foundation, and I would highly suggest those looking for a quick play session or something to build their own rules upon to check it out!