Whitehack, Third Edition

Cover of Whitehack Third Edition

As a would-be player of OSR modules who doesn’t yearn for pure (or even greased-up) old-school mechanics, this excellent, modern system seems tailored for scratching my itch. I like plenty of old stuff, but for me it’s more about feel than mechanics. Whitehack, by Christian Mehrstam, has OSR feels in spades, but it’s its own thing, too.

The System

Whitehack uses standard stats, with basic classes limited to Strong, Deft, and Wise. Classes determine hit dice (everyone uses D6, totals are VERY low), saving throws, class ability slots (there aren’t many, don’t worry), and number of groups you can join. Groups—roughly, species, vocations, and affiliations—add customization. Wise characters might pick Elvish, Mage, and Mages’ Council, for example. You infer skills from groups. Tracking a bandit? If your vocation is “Ranger,” you roll as if trained. Character creation is quick yet yields huge variety—it’s OSR sensibility with FAE flexibility.

Miracles (spells) are similarly simple—no write-ups, just “wordings” (spell names). Players & GM decide—based on wording, character groups, and situation—what miracles can or can’t do. You have few miracles, and casting costs HP, with costs reduced by complications (longer casting time, etc).

Rolls are D20 vs. stats; the higher your roll without going over the better. Equalling a stat is a critical, 20 is a fumble. If you’re at a disadvantage, you roll 2d20 and take the worse; at advantage it’s 2D20, take the better. Doubles? A negative narrative effect happens for disadvantage rolls (though you still succeed, if you rolled under your stat. Something positive happens for advantage rolls. There are other complications, but that’s basically it. Simple & fun!

I’ve only soloed a few encounters, but it seems fast and fun, especially the innovative bidding system for challenges and chases, which I’m definitely going to steal for other games. My only concern is how well this low-power system would scale for high-level play, or for long-term campaigns. I’m not saying it wouldn’t, but I do wonder.

It’s hard to sell retro mechanics to friends spoiled by the ease of FATE Accelerated and scarred by encyclopedianism of late-stage PathFinder 1e. Whitehack gives such an intriguing take I should be able to lure them in. It inspires a similar level of “they won’t know what hit them” plotting as the fabulous Troika, which adds super-funky aesthetics to a light, suggestive ruleset.

The Book

I got the PDF on DriveThruRPG and the hardcover via Lulu. The digest-size book is beautifully printed and bound, with a dust jacket. It’s 156 pages of mostly text, with just a few illustrations and tables. The writing is tight and clear with only occasional, minor editing errors. “Circumcised” for “circumscribed” was the one noteworthy exception.

Whitehack made me think: I want to try this now—my mark for an excellent game. It’s definitely worth the Money. I’ll write more when I get a chance to play it, but for now Whitehack gets 5 stars.

Note, the first version of this review appeared on DriveThruRPG.

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