Original SA post
Whitehack is an OSR-inspired RPG by Christian Mehrstam. It's very simple, with generally "roll high under" mechanics. It draws heavily from the original D&D booklets--there's only three character classes, very few numbers to define a character (compared to, say, later editions of D&D), and a general emphasis on GM rulings with guidance from the rules.
That said, it's got a lot of "storygame" influence, and the result is a compact, playable, and flexible game that should be on your game shelf.
For more info, please check out the game's website:
Whitehack is very minimal in presentation: there's no art and the text is a simple two-column layout (with the exception of tables). This is actually pretty refreshing, and since it's not a huge tome (like, say, Mythus), so the solid text doesn't make your eyes glaze over. The font is readable and clear, and there's an index.
I'll be reviewing the 2nd edition Standard Version here; there's also a 2nd edition Notebook Version, which is just the 64-page Standard Edition with 128 mostly blank pages (there's small faint dots as guidance for writing or drawing) in the back for your campaign/game notes. The 1e is also good, but the 2e is the one I'd recommend for anyone just looking into it. The website has a complete list of the differences on the FAQ page, but in general there's not a huge difference between them. It's a refinement, not a 2e->3e D&D replacement.
Whitehack's dice requirements are pretty minimal; 3d6 and a pair of d20s are all you need. Rolls are generally a d20 roll. The only wrinkles are "positive or negative double rolls," which are basically advantage/disadvantage from 5e D&D: roll 2d20, take the higher or lower result depending on whether it's a positive or negative double roll. Generally you want to roll as high as possible while being equal to or under whatever the target is.
Character creation is very straightforward and speedy. Characters have the standard six attributes, rolled with 3d6. There's no ability modifiers, though high ability scores can provide extra benefits. The Strong character class, for example, gets a bonus in melee from a high strength. Characters get a point to raise an ability score every other level, so there's some room for advancement. Poor stats (5 or under) give the character more Groups (see below).
Max level in Whitehack is 10, though there are some rules for progressing beyond this, which I'll cover when we get to them in the Referee's section.
There are three basic character classes: Deft, Strong, and Wise. This lines up roughly with Thief, Warrior, and Magical, though there's some variation in that. Character class determines the amount of experience you need to advance (Deft needs least, then Strong, then Wise), Attack Value (AV; your basic to-hit target), Hit Dice (HD; always d6--all dice are rerolled each level and you keep the higher), Saving Throw (ST; a general "avoid bad stuff" target number--Deft is the highest, then Wise, then Strong), Slots (which are special class-related abilities), and Groups (which combine skills, race, professions, etc into one catchall).
: "Deft characters rely on superior technique and skills honed to perfection." The Deft class encompasses thieves, rangers, assassins, monks, spies, and marksmen. They pick a "vocation" (a type of Group) at level 1, and whenever they're properly equipped and doing something that's related to the vocation, they use a positive double roll for it. In addition, this vocation is just noted generally for the character, and is not attached specifically to an attribute.
A short digression: Groups are attached to one or more attributes. When a test is called for against that attribute, if the Group attached relates to whatever is being attempted, there's a bonus on the test. If it would require training to complete, a relevant attached Group means the character's trained in it and can attempt the roll; sometimes this means you make a positive double roll instead of a regular d20 check.
Deft characters have their vocation potentially apply to ALL tests, if they can come to an agreement with the GM about whether it applies. (This is a recurring theme--you're encouraged to discuss things with your GM and work out whether something applies to a given test or not; GMs are encouraged to be lenient with this.) The Deft also can attune themselves to objects, animals, or other skilled people. They pick something to be attuned to and then they can use that item in creative ways: hard tasks succeed automatically, and nearly impossible tasks require standard tests. So this is how you'd model a monk's staff ability: they're attuned to their staff, and thus can do things like knock arrows out of the air, throw the staff like a missile, use it to vault a wall--whatever the GM and player can come up with and agree on.
Deft start with 1 attunement and get up to 4 at 10th level. For every "active" attunement, they can have 1 "inactive;" switching them takes a day of practice.
Deft are limited to lighter armor and no shields.
: "Strong characters rely on their melee combat skills combined with bodily strength." These are your fighter-types, pure though not necessarily simple.
If they put an enemy down, they get a cleave attack against another enemy. They get more HP than the other classes--topping out at 10 HD rather than 6 or 7--but their ST lag a bit. AV is also higher than the other two, and they have access to special melee options. There are 8 options listed, and the character will eventually have access to four of them. These options are:
Give up all actions, but redirect all attacks on an adjacent character to themselves.
After a successful attack, push an opponent back 10'.
When fighting Huge opponents (like dragons or giants), the Strong can get onto the monster with a successful Dex test, which gives double Combat advantage (+4 AV and damage) as long as they hang on.
Battle frenzy, which gives them +2 AV and damage but a -3 AC, and they're berserk (have to make a save at the end of combat or keep attacking).
Give an ally a +4 AV bonus once a battle.
Encourage nearby friends (+1 AV and ST) or put the fear into enemies (-1 AV and ST).
Stand still and make a one-handed melee and one-handed ranged attack in the same round.
Parry for 1-3 rounds, and if they don't take any damage, get up to triple advantage (+6 AV and damage) when they do attack.
In addition, they can "hold" a single power from a defeated enemy--this literally means they pull a power from the monster's description and can use it a number of times equal to their level. They have to have dealt the killing blow, and can be used in whatever manner the player and GM can agree on. This ability can be freely exchanged if a new enemy is killed.
Strong characters also get some melee AV bonuses from strength, and can make a number of "free attacks" (think opportunity attacks from 3e) equal to their level--other classes/monsters can only make one such free attack a round.
: "Wise characters have an exceptional aptitude for tasks that require a strong or agile mind." These are the magical folks, who use "magic." This could be a cleric's prayers, a wizard's spells, a summoner's familiars, etc. Wise get a number of active "miracles" equal to their slots (so 1 at 1st level and 5 at 10th), and an equal number of inactive miracles. Again it's a day to swap them.
Miracles are broadly defined powers--examples given are "telekinesis," "banish undead," "fist of the god," etc. The player uses the miracle by describing what he's trying to do to the GM, and how the power applies. The GM will then decide on a HP cost for the miracle (from 1-14), the two then negotiate--perhaps the miracle takes longer to use, but it costs less HP. Imagination's the limit for this. The Wise can't go to negative HP from this cost, though they can go to 0 and knock themselves out. More powerful effects may also require a ST test, which makes the miracle fizzle if it fails. On a natural 20, the character immediately drops to 0 HP and the miracle misfires catastrophically.
Wise characters heal twice as fast as the other character classes, but they don't get any benefit from magical or assisted healing. Wearing armor heavier than leather makes miracles cost double.
Groups in Whitehack are a catch-all for skills, contacts, and information that a character possesses. There's three different kind of Groups: Species, Vocations, and Affiliations.
When you pick a Group, it's generally assigned to a specific attribute (unless you're Deft). From then on, it only applies to tests that involve that attribute and can be related to whatever the Group covers--but when it applies, you get a double positive roll. Every time you level up, you can shift a group to a different attribute; you'll also acquire new Groups as you level.
Note that Groups are just things that have mechanical significance. If you pick Dwarf as a Species Group, for example, it just means that you're specifically emphasizing that part of the character--you embody the characteristics of that Group really hard. You can be a dwarf, but it doesn't have a mechanical impact on the game unless you dedicate a Group to it.
Species Groups are a bit different--it can only be picked at character creation and impacts two attributes. It can also be used positively or negatively--the GM may choose to penalize a dwarf swimming, for example. If you're a "half-elf" or of some other mixed parentage, you can still pick a Species Group, but it only applies to one attribute.
Vocations are basically jobs or titles. Stuff like "wizard," "barbarian," "swine herder"--whatever you want. They're not restricted to a particular class. You can be a Deft wizard, which means you can't cast miracles directly, but you're very knowledge about magic and magical things and practices.
The third type of Group is Affiliations, which is exactly what it looks like: you're associated with a group of some kind. This may provide you with specialty skills ("only the Green Dragon Tong knows how to use explosives") or resources. It can also mean you've got enemies or responsibilities--you and the GM have to work that out. Sometimes it's used for a pseudo-alignment like Law or Chaos.
Whitehack uses bog-standard D&D money (gp, sp, cp); the only unusual note in the equipment tables is the inclusion of firearms (they're not horrible--they do comparable or better damage to the crossbow, but they're shorter ranged and take longer to load). All damage uses d6s, topping out at d6+2. Many weapons have special qualities--flails, for example, ignore shields.
AC ranges from 1 (cloth) to 6 (full plate), with a shield adding a +1 to that. Attack rolls are made against your adjusted AV and must be above the target's AC. So if you've got an AV of 15, and you're attacking someone in full plate+shield, you need to roll between 8-15 to actually hit.
And that's character creation.
Original SA post
The actual mechanics of the game are reasonably simple, as befits an OSR game that's drawing heavily on 0e D&D. The chapter opens up with a quick description of the player and GM roles, basically the usual RPG stuff: the GM describes the world, the player decides how their character reacts.
There's a nod to "rulings not rules" and an explicit inclusion of narrative power for all players:
Whitehack, p. 14 posted:
"... There are also things that the rules don't cover. This is by design. It lets you and the Referee find your balance and gives you space to negotiate. It also urges you to collaborate on game world creation, as the use of groups and many class powers will inevitably say something about the setting. Always remember that you are creating a collective narrative on the game world's conditions, where each agreement serves as a precedent for the next. Even during the course of a single session, you will develop your own borders and content for the open spaces, making this
XP is gained for killing monsters (varies by monster), gaining treasure (1 gp:1 XP), and quest goals. Quest goals should be about 50% of XP gained at lower levels, and that percentage will increase as levels go up.
Saving Throws are just that: there's some kind of hazard and luck and/or experience can impact whether or not it affects you. Roll d20 equal to or under your ST (based on class & level) and you succeed. If something is resistant or vulnerable to whatever is being saved against, a positive or negative double roll can be made.
The basic mechanic for task resolution is the attribute roll. Your character tries something, the GM decides what attribute it best relates to, and you try and roll d20 equal or under it. If necessary, the face value of the roll determines the "quality" of the success--closer to your target number/attribute, the better your success. Rolling your attribute exactly results in a crit, while a natural 20 is a fumble.
If the task is really hard or really easy, the GM can assign a bonus or a penalty to the attribute as desired (+/- 2 is suggested but there's no limit beyond "you're a dick"). If this drops your target below 1, you can't roll; above 20, and 20 is just a regular failure (not a fumble) with a 19 critting. Points above 20 add to the quality if desired (so it's easier to crit).
"Skills" are basically narrow applications of the groups assigned to attributes during character creation. If the character's making a test against an attribute, and the group(s) next to it are relevant to the task (e.g., a Dex roll to climb a wall and you've got "Blackburn Ninja Potluck" next to Dex), the roll is a double positive roll. If the task would seem to require someone trained in whatever your trying to do (pick locks, say), you need to have a relevant group somewhere on the sheet to roll in the first place. If you don't have a relevant group, it's a negative double roll.
Pairs on a double roll result in an additional effect (either positive or negative, as appropriate), regardless of the outcome of the roll.
Contests are just both sides rolling (may or may not be rolling against the same attribute, depending on what's happening), and comparing results. Successful positive pairs are the best, and failed negative pairs are the worst. Quality is compared withing a given category (if both succeed, for example), and if both sides fail the highest roll wins.
The last die mechanic is auctions. These are used for longer contests, like chases or card games. Depending on the contest, the GM determines the relevant attribute. Each participant (GM included) secretly rolls d6 and adds that to their attribute. Then everyone bids what quality they will equal or exceed on the actual task roll. The other participants then have to either bid higher or "take a 1 bid" which ends the bidding. This continues until no one is willing to up the bid, at which point the hidden d6s are revealed. The highest bidder then has to roll against their modified attribute. If successful and the roll exceeds the quality bid, that participant wins whatever is being contested. If he fails, the next highest bidder makes the attempt, and so on. If everyone fails, the lowest bidder automatically wins. Multiple 1-bids roll normal contests to determine a winner.
This is a bit weird, and I'm honestly not sure how well it plays in practice, but an example:
Joe and Bob are a pair of thieves chasing a target through an alley. Briggs, the GM, decides to make it an auction to see whether or not their target eludes them in the twisting slum. She decides it's a WIS roll, as they try to maneuver and corral their prey. All three roll a d6 secretly. Joe's got a 10 WIS, and rolls a 3. He bids 2, which means he'll need to roll between 3 and 13 to succeed. Bob's got a 15 WIS and rolls a 6; he bids 8, which means he'll need to roll between 9 and 19, with a +1 on the quality (since 15+6 is 21). Briggs, running the target nobleman, decides he's got a 12 WIS (he's been in these alley a lot, slumming) and rolls a 1. He decides to take a 1-bid and end the auction.
Bob would then roll a test--if he rolls 9 or better, he and Joe successfully catch their target. If he fails, then Joe gets to roll. Should both fail, their target automatically eludes them.
We've covered the basic die mechanics, and now we'll start getting into some specific applications of them (like combat).
Time in Whitehack is generally pretty loose; rounds are the only specific "game time" unit, and are about 10 seconds. Within that, a character has a turn, which is their place to act in that 10s period. Movement is couched in terms of feet per round, though rates in 5' squares are also given. Movement is affected by both species (with smaller folk getting a slight penalty compared to, say, humans or elves), and carried weight.
Given the fairly vague combat rules, the inclusion of specific movement values and encumbrance is a bit annoying--it feels like one of those obligatory OSR things. On the plus side, however, it's remarkably easy to ignore, since there's not a lot of rules emphasis on it.
Combat's pretty straightforward: roll initiative, take your actions, repeat until one or both sides are defeated.
Initiative is a d6 modified by high Dex (+1/+2 depending on the score). This is rolled once, at the beginning of combat. If you don't do anything during a round, you can change your initiative to a 6 for the following rounds. You can also voluntarily drop your initiative to any lower number.
Surprise is entirely up to the GM; surprised characters can only move and draw weapons and don't actually roll initiative until the second round (presumably everyone else goes before them, though this isn't explicitly stated). Any attacks made against them have "combat advantage."
You can do three things in a round: attack, make a move, and do a small action like drawing or dropping a weapon. You can convert actions from left to right but not vice versa, so if you (for example) forgo your attack, you can move twice and do a small action.
Attack rolls are straightforward: Add any bonuses or penalties to your AV and make a d20 roll. To hit, you have to be successful and beat your opponent's AC with the quality. (I think this is functionally equivalent to subtracting the AC from your AV, but less math? I dunno.)
Melee and missile attacks are pretty straightforward; missile attacks getting a -1 to AV for every range increment ala 3e. Firing into melee means you hit a friend if you don't beat the target's AC by 4 or more--so if they've got AC 2 you need to roll a 7 or you peg one of the other combatants.
If you're not "on guard" (that is, you're doing something besides trying to prevent the other guy from bashing your head in), and you're in melee with someone, they get a free attack. Most characters and NPCs only get one free attack a round, no matter how many opportunities are given. Strong characters can make up to their level in free attacks in a round, though, giving them *some* capability to prevent a horde from rushing by them.
"Combat advantage" is given out at the GM's discretion, and amounts to +2 AV and +2 damage. This is used for things like flanking and surprised folks. The GM can double or triple this if they decide it's warranted. In general, conditions and effects are at the GM's call, and can be combat advantage, AC penalties, or whatever seems appropriate. There's a short list of suggested formalized options for things like charging, grappling, etc, but the gist is you're supposed to decide on it and write it down somewhere so you can use it again consistently.
Casters are hampered in combat: they have to concentrate to use a miracle, and anyone in melee with them gets a free attack when they start. If they take damage while casting, they need to make a ST or have the miracle casting disrupted.
Damage and Healing
Damage is straightforward: roll your weapon damage (generally d6 or some variant), add bonuses/penalties, and subtract from HP. If you're at 0 HP, you're knocked out. Negative? Make a ST or die (you can substitute a Con task roll if you like). Any further damage to someone at zero or below means they're dead, no save. Once a battle you can opt to try a ST when you get damaged. Success means d6 damage is removed from whatever you would have taken.
If you die, you take on "Ghost Form." You basically follow the party around as a ghost--you can talk to them and you have you full abilities.. except you can't affect anything corporal. You can't pass through doors or walls despite the incorporality, but you
fight undead or incorporal opponents as normal. At the end of the session, if you're not brought back to life (or presumably on the way to that goal) you have the option of giving up and just making a new character.
If you're at positive HP, you heal one HP every morning and evening; two if you succeed at a Con task roll. 48 hours of rest will restore all HP. If you've gone to negative HP and aren't dead, someone with a healer-type vocation needs to treat you before you heal or you'll get a permanent disadvantage (like a limp, nasty scar, etc.). Basically, you heal to 1 HP normally and then you can choose whether to try and wait for a healer or take the disadvantage and heal up. Wise characters heal at double this rate (4/8 per day) but can't be affected by magical healing.
Whitehack is pretty broad with its definition of magic--it's the old "anything sufficiently advanced" rule, though it also covers traditional D&D-style magic spells.
There's a discussion about setting HP costs for miracles a player uses. Basically, depending on the effect desired, the wording of the miracle, and the character's vocation, the GM will set a HP cost. There's a scale used: 1, 2, d6, d6+1, d6+2, 2d6, 2d6+1, 2d6+2. Based on that, the player can try to rework the wording or the effect to reduce the cost. More specific wording, allowing the target a save, limited duration, etc can be used to drop the cost; large area of effect, long duration, or lack of save can bump the cost up--there's no set list of elements to choose from. The GM and player *are* expected to write down the miracle and the cost, so there's consistency. Since each miracle's "base" cost is dependent on the specific character's traits, you make up the character's spellbook in play. (Later, in the GM section, there's some discussion about coming up with miracles and costs before play begins, with the examples given being very close to D&D spells.)
Scrolls, potions, and other items can be used by those who don't have the ability to use magic themselves (i.e., Deft or Strong characters), but there's some restrictions/tasks to do so successfully.
Creating magic items isn't hard--you essentially have to write down some kind of "make scrolls" or similar miracle or vocation--but it bumps up the HP cost. Multiple charges multiple the HP cost--no 50-charge wands in Whitehack. Permanent items can be created, but it's a permanent loss of HP until your next level and requires a ST. Failing this ST drops you to 0 HP.
The rest of this chapter is a series of gameplay examples illustrating all of these rules. These were added in the 2nd edition and are very helpful--it was a bit unclear how auctions were supposed to go, or how miracle HP costs were determined. I'm not sure why they're all bundled at the end instead of being in the section they refer to, but at least they're in the book.
This is the end of the player's section--everything else in the book is for the GM's use.
: We start the Referee's section of the book, which includes advice on running the game, campaign and hexcrawling, and a complete campaign setting and sample adventures.