Saturday, December 10, 2016

First Thoughts: White Boxes

On a recent Lulu jaunt I picked up a small softcover called White Box because of its Stefan Poag cover. It's a revised version of Swords & Wizardry Whitebox. Both are pictured above with what I think are their best covers: the original S&W:WB by Pete Mullen and the new WB by Poag. Both books are pretty similar in size, and both are quite affordable. White Box is all of $5.99 in print. This is quite a contrast to the actual OD&D woodgrain box that just sold for $22,100 on eBay.

If you've read the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox book before, White Box's contents are immediately familiar. Taking advantage of the original's use of the Open Game License, WB contains a lot of the S&W:WB text, though it puts it into a fresh and attractive layout. The internal art uses William McAusland's fantasy stock art, which you will find familiar, particularly from Labyrinth Lord. It's a funny feeling to see images like McAusland's mace-wielding cleric repeated, although slightly nostalgic for those of us who cut our teeth on 1990s TSR products, when pictures were in heavy reuse. Still, as a whole the look and feel of the book is a step up from S&W:WB, which felt like it was printed off of a word processor.

A Thief class sneaks into this game, with a simple "Thievery" die; this made its way from James Spahn's White Box Omnibus. It's an ultra-light solution to the thief class, fitting with the White Box approach, using a d6 roll for all thief skills. It starts off with a 2-in-6 chance, working its way up to 5-in-6 by 10th level. If this system seems simplistic, the probabilities wind up being favorable to the low-level thief. In White Box, 3rd level thieves have a 2 in 6 chance of performing a thief task, or 33%. No B/X thief at 3rd level has a skill over 30%. Likewise at 6th level, a 3 in 6 chance (50%) beats B/X's 45% chance to pick pockets or open locks. It's only at 9th level or so that thieves slip behind.

Mason expanded S&W:WB's hopelessly thin "Playing the Game" rules with a list of extra rules adapted from other sources. Overland movement from Delving Deeper makes its way in, as do the basic dungeon exploration rules (here credited to Douglas Maxwell, though I'm not sure where his rules are available). This goes a long way toward making White Box a more complete game than the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox version. Similar rules have made their way into other S&W iterations but S&W:WB has stayed in more or less the same form since 2010.

A few other rules make their way into combat, such as jousting (credited to John Stater from Bloody Basic) and a morale chart – the latter is not given specific credit but it's a fine and simple table. The rest follows, pretty straightforwardly, from S&W:WB. Curiously, the example of combat from S&W:WB has gone missing. I'm not sure how useful it was, as I wouldn't have read it if not for doing this overview. It's certainly not the densely written combat examples of Holmes D&D or the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

White Box takes the rest of the book fairly literally. The one change to spells is that an overlap in the tables for the Sleep spell is removed. There are more monsters, and a few monster entries are tweaked, but what you get is pretty much what you'd expect. Treasure follows the monster-based system in Swords & Wizardry, which is probably the only real disappointment for me; I'd have preferred if Mason could have brought over the stocking rules from Delving Deeper, but that would have been a bigger shift.

This is a complete RPG for $6 in print, and captures much of the earliest edition of D&D in 166 pages at 6"x9" size. It's a good update of Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, which has sat fallow for years, and if I may have liked a further-going revision, this one is welcome. I'd recommend it over the original, particularly in the Stefan Poag cover. The edits and updates make me feel better about it as a complete game that could be run by a referee with no experience with OSR or older D&D games.


  1. I think the WhiteBox edition is my "perfect" retroclone -- I bought one of each of the three copies available. Still thinking about using the Delving Deeper's thief abilities at a straight 3+ though...

  2. Douglas Maxwell runs a S&W forums and posts his stuff here

    1. Thanks. I did a good bit of searching and didn't find it, so that's an interesting place.

  3. It sounds very similar to this.

    Specifically the thief skills, which in this instance were ported from dysons blog. I'm guessing not the same game? Different cover anyhow

  4. They are the same game. I have 3 different covers for the rulebook. Cause art is cool :)


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