Falling in Love with White Box

I never thought I might say this, but I have fallen in love with White Box D&D or more precisely with the retro-clones inspired by what people call D&D 0e. One reason why I am so enamored with the system is that it’s extremely easy to run and to play. The number of rules you need to know is absolutely minimal.

I also enjoy the fact that player skill is more important than character abilities. I know that a lot of roleplaying game fans utterly despise something like this, but I think it can be a great thing. It definitely helps players to get more immersed and more invested in the game. In more modern games you roll to spot a trap, you roll to disarm it etc.
In White Box games you have to describe to the GM how you are looking for said trap, how you want to disarm it. This often forces the players to think instead of just rolling the dice. The fact that the system is inherently deadly also helps to keep the players on their toes. In more modern games people tend to be way more reckless. Of course your mileage may vary.

I also like the fact that it’s extremely easy to make up new stuff on the spot, create house rules, add or change things without breaking the game. White Box allows you to be extremely creative while running the game. I usually improvise a lot in favor of preparing everything and this GMing style works great with rules-light games like White Box.

I also recently stumbled upon A Hero’s Journey which is pretty close to the kind of OSR game I wish I had written. It includes basically every class you could think of, uses damage reduction for armors, adds rules for magic weapons that grow with the players, and much more. White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game has the way cooler character sheet and is a fantastic White Box game in its own right, but A Hero’s Journey just hit the right buttons with me!

I also got White Star when it came out, but I haven’t given it a very close look back then. Now, with my new love for all things White Box, I definitely should give it another chance. I am first and foremost a Sci-Fi fan after all!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

7 thoughts on “Falling in Love with White Box”

  1. I was talking to someone else about this style of gaming where you have to describe the ‘how’ of trying to achieve things. I have always been a bit disappointed with it. Old hands at rpgs who have seen it all and done it all can come up with dozens of ‘Hows’ but your newer players are left feeling rather incompetent by comparison.

    Where do you draw the line? We would all feel justified in asking a thief how he is going to try and open a door but not in asking the healer how they are going to suture a wound.

    If the game world, or the dungeon, or the room, or the door, or the lock was as real to the player as it is the character I could see the justification but actually for the character the lock is real. For us poor players the lock looks like how we imagine it and not always how the GM sat opposite us is imagining it.

    I personally feel that this style of gaming can be very intimidating for new players. My paladin may be highly charasmatic and quick witted but that doesn’t make me so, regardless of the character I play I remain the same old bumbling fool I have been for the last 48 years.

    1. You’re right, the style can be very intimidating and it’s definitely not suited for people new to roleplaying. I guess it depends a lot on the particular gaming group if it works or not. I always try to make sure that my players are having fun. Challenging them can be one way to achieve this, but I have no issues breaking style if it helps them overcome said challenges.

  2. When we have done this I have found myself reverting to type and playing characters types I have played many times before, just so I have the answers. My favourite types of characters are thieves (think James Bond style or Die Hard’s John McClane) or medic/healers. The point is that even for seasoned and experienced players this, I find, puts limits on the players.

    Deadly systems are two a penny and even those that push players out of their comfort zone and challenge their preconceptions are easy to come by.

    It could be just my limited experience but games like White Box tend to be less heroic.

  3. Another OSR type game to look at, that has some popular momentum: The Black Hack.

    Which also has a ton of variants for Cthulhu, supers, gaslight (more like Victorian dime novels than steampunk), and I think space opera.

  4. Loved the original of the White Box hardcover as it hits’ all the right buttons for me of the original from ’74. Delayed on purchasing it because of nigglings (like no theif iirc) and then it was o.o.p. Charlie’s filled in the missing rule spaces that caused me some hesitation. Not gonna miss it this time! Ordered the red dragon hardcover, it’s fantastic 🙂

  5. I know I have arrived very late to this conversation, however having been playing the game a long time there is no right or wrong way to roleplay. The first time we had someone put themselves out on a limb and act out what thier character was doing I remember being shocked, this is wierd but by the end of the next game almost everyone at the table had got into the spirit of the game.

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