Sunday, June 25, 2023

mini-review: White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game

One of the earliest retroclones was Matt Finch's Swords & Wizardry, published in 2007 or 2008, if I recall correctly. S&W was an updating and reworking of original D&D. In 2009 Swords & Wizardry: White Box came out, which was a version of S&W that stripped the game back to the original three little beige books. White Box: Fantasy Medieval Adventure Game is Charlie Manson's 2016 reworking of the 2009 game.

Since this is an old school D&D type game (If you don't know what that means, good luck reading the entire blog archive.), I will only hit a few rules points for those of us who are really finicky about these things:

  • Stats are -1 for 6 or less, +1 for 15 or more.
  • Hit dice are d6. Fighters start at 1+1.
  • Single saving throw
  • Four classes but thieves are listed as optional.
  • All class charts go to level 10 except MU which goes to 12.
  • 'Thievery' is a skill that covers all thief stuff except backstab. You start at 2 in 6 with it. It goes to 3 in 6 at level 4.
  • Four races. Per OD&D elves switch between fighter and MU.
  • Both ascending and descending AC is supported.
  • Weapons generally do d6. Two-handers do d6+1.
  • The spell lists are unnumbered. I hate that.
  • Monster list is a bunch of old standbys but also includes Death Knight, 4 demons (balor, imp, succubus, lemure), and a neat little take on the Sidhe.
  • The magic item section is pretty nicely fleshed out.
  • There are some nice little jousting rules.
If there's a major revelation in these rules, I have yet to find it. But that's hardly the point, is it? As a retroclone, it's first job is to be a serviceable version of the Game. By that standard, White Box hits the mark nicely. One can both dungeoneer and dragonify using these rules. My only real complaint (other than failing to number the spell lists) is that it lacks a starter adventure, sample level, and/or dungeon generator.

What really makes White Box stand out to me is its physical format. The book is only 8.5" tall and 5.5" wide, 144 pages, paperback, black & white, and cheap. A copy on Amazon goes for only 4.29 in US dollars! The paper is a greyish newsprint quality, but the printing on it is all clear and quite legible. No index but the table of contents is robust. The illos by William McAusland are frequent and evocative. All-in-all if you need a small, cheap rpg to give out to newbies or to throw in a travel bag, White Box fills the bill nicely. Add a handful of dice, some paper, a writing implement or two and the gates of adventure lie open unto ye.