Skills in Whitebox20

Whitebox20 is a system where level matters, but not too much. Skills are more important.


Each starting Whitebox20 character starts with a few skills depending on their Mind (called Wits in Gangs & Bullshit). For example, Melee, Missile and Sneak. The skills improve with use and with training, so you can be low level and good at melee, or high level and bad at it.

That’s the point, actually. I was bothered by how bad low level warriors are at fighing in D&D. I was bothered by having a single dial for level-hitroll-saves. I was bothered by having a system where being competent means having oodles of hit points. Despite being aware of rule zero, I felt constrained in how my games felt. So I went for a skill system, of the roll under but roll high variety.

Let’s generate a character. Your PC has usually 3 stats, Body, Mind, Soul, determined with 3d6. [roll roll roll, 3d6 each of the three stats]

Geeno the Goon – Body 12 Mind 9 Soul 14

At chargen you pick a skill for every four full Mind points. Each of these skills has a base stat and starts at stat/2 + 3. There’s a list of skills for inspiration, but only the Referee will know what skills are relevant to the game. We want Geeno to be a backalley thug. Record skills like this, with the base stat in brackets:

Melee 9 = [B] 6 + O O O

Threaten 10 = [S] 7 + O O O

So Geeno’s hit roll is 9 or less on a d20, and will threaten successfully on an 10 or less. Why the three pips? Because you start at stat/2+3. And because every time you roll in a critical situation, and you roll a 1, you get an extra pip (with a maximum of 1 pip per scene, and only if the Referee deems it ok), and you get better at the skill. Training behaves similarly

If you don’t have a skill, you roll under the relevant stat/2 if the Referee thinks it’s ok to make you roll untrained. Some skills let you pick what’s the relevant skill, for example threaten, which can have Body or Soul, or Barber/Dentist/Surgeon which is Mind or Soul. Saves are skills too, can improve too, and get always the character’s level as a bonus.

Oh, I forgot to mention that if you roll successfully and get a 7 or more, that’s a good success. And a 14 or more, a great success. In general if there’s a contest and both characters succeed, the one that rolled highest will prevail, and better successes have increased effect.

Now Geeno needs only their hits, which start at body/2, and since Geeno’s got a big heart (Soul > 10), gets a Karma Point [temporary name]. Karma Points [temporary name] can be used to reroll dice, to cast spells, activate abilities, etc etc.

Level: 1 Hits: 6/6 Karma [temporary name]: 1/1

That’s it. Some Whitebox20 game sttings let you pick a class, or more skills, or more perks, or have 6 stats like Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, etc, and probably your Cleric will start with Exorcism [S] as an extra skill, and your Fighter will get Combat Reflexes as a perk, and your Jedi Mystic Knight can spend a Karma Point [temporary name] to make sure that their next melee attack is automatically successful, unless another Jedi Mystic Knight decides to spend a Karma Point [temporary name] to block.

But Geeno is done, because we are running an incredibly light version of Whitebox20.

Geeno the Goon – Body 12 Mind 9 Soul 14

Level: 1 Hits: 6/6 Karma [temporary name]: 1/1

Melee 9 = [B] 6 + O O O

Threaten 10 = [S] 7 + O O O

Gangs & Bullshit – first playtest

I love crime fiction. The kind of bullshit that happens in crime fiction is of the highest quality.

All my games get to what you’d call “domain game” really soon. Somehow my players settle in an area and start to infest the local society and violence and bullshit starts happening at an incredible speed. The point of the domain game is not to have a fief, but to play the game, that kind of politics that hilariously degenerates in threats and violence.

I’ve been wanting to run a proper crime organisation game for years. What kept me is a horrible feeling tied mostly to these two blokes pictured here.


In 1992-1993 the Sicilian Mafia cranked up the aggression level and started a bombing campaign (google translates okish). They managed to kill a couple of judges, politicians and destroy museums. I was in school back then, and vaguely knew about the existence of Cosa Nostra, the Camorra, the ‘Ndrangheta and the Sacra Corona Unita, but living in a small town in the north of the country their power was not as evident, as their tendrils there were not as strong. One of the my pizzerie caught fire remarkably often, and during trips to the South we had to pay protection money to park the car on the side of the road, but otherwise there was not a lot of crime going on.

The bombing season started because of many reasons, but my favourite (least favourite) is that the heads of the Catholic party in Sicily stopped being as pals with the crime bosses as they were before, and important criminals started to go to jail more often.

This was weird. The State does not fight back strongly, because organized crime means money, and money means corruption, and corruption means, literally, taking one’s money, and therefore power, and giving some as a tribute to someone else that is powerful already, so that they use their power against someone else.

If it sounds like organized crime paying protection money, or countries paying tribute to the Empire, or states paying federal taxes, or you paying taxes, is because it’s exactly the same act. Tributary and tributee enter a beneficial relationship, as ancient as giving a goat to feed the warriors so the reavers from the uplands don’t steal all your goats.

But the change of the political class due to, er, many reasons but mostly because it’s complicated, meant that the powerful were not as powerful, and in power now there were less friendly people.

The State answered with strength, some people started to be brave and stop paying protection money, and the situation started to improve. But elsewhere the crime syndicates made great progress, and nowadays their tendrils reach far apart, not only in historical bases like the US East Coast, but also in the rest of Europe, and are doing business with South American and East Asian crime syndicates.

The mixture of organized crime and conniving politics fucked my homeland too much, and as an expat it is really painful. Because I literally left. And here I am, ten years after and a thousand miles away, praising the effort and ultimate sacrifice of two judges, one of them botheringly right-wing, and all other victims in that war.

Because I am, like my homeland, a complicated mess.

So for years I wanted to run this game about wealth, and power, and threats, and corruption, and shady deals, and turf fights, blades in the night, burglaries and barbershops, real thugs and city watch thugs, firebombs in the night and pies filled with meat of uncertain origin.

All of it for power, the kind of power that despises other power and wants only to make it go away, so it can have more power, all of it, and demand everybody’s respect and tribute.

But the topic made me too sad, and it’s been doing the same for years. I never thought I’d manage.

I managed earlier on this month. It was fucking glorious.

2015 - 1

The name of the game is Gangs & Bullshit

Because all the PCs are in a gang, and there’s a lot of bullshit going on. There are other gangs, and in general they all are not too keen about each other. Because they have power, and are not afraid about using it, and that’s fucking disrepectful.

I’m putting together some kind of playtest package.