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.

Hurt, broken, sliced and torn – long term damage in RPGs or lack thereof


RPG combat wounds are boring (usually “lose hit points” which means either “nothing” or “you lost your last one, gg”) and unrealistic because most people short term don’t want their player agency impacted, and long-term don’t want to play crippled characters, or don’t want their character to die in their bed. Those who want to play crippled characters are ok with long term wounds, but the real consequences of wounds can be unfun even for them. And magical healing can either do nothing against these long-term consequences, or fix them at a leisurely speed and make them immaterial, as if they never happened.

I have a few examples here of scenarios that are totally realistic. Well, the first scenario happened to me.

Case 1 – Broken

Last year, while bouldering, I fell. From the proverbial 10′ up. Breathless, squirming on the ground for a minute, was overcome by the pain.

Then I got on my feet, shrugged it off and kept on climbing for hours.

That night the pain kept me awake quite a bit. Bad bruise.

And it kept on keeping me awake. Breathing was painful. Walking was painful. Getting dressed was so painful. Don’t get me started on putting on shoes. I was basically in pain all the time and severely impaired by it. Every movement, iincluding breathing, was hard or impossible.

Case 2 – Sliced

Andrea is a soldier, and gets bayonetted in the arm. Andrea manages to stab their opponent in the face, and survives. But who knows where that bayonette has been, and Andrea wound gets infected. The wound is septic, but the arm is perfectly usable. The army medic amputates the arm, because Andrea gets worse and worse and does not want to die. Andrea is now an armless war invalid.

Case 3 – Torn

Jools is a dragoon, currently busy in a mounted charge against a unit of musketmen. The crossbowmen shot them, and bullets bounce off her cuirass. As the charge connects, mayhem ensues as per use, and Jools somehow gets shot in the lower back. Nothing dramatic, as they manage to get back on their feet, win the battle and route the enemy, and the wound gets treated, but the wound is really deep and the bullet perforated bowels and Jools dies of sepsis a few days later.


The consequences of damage could be more varied. Your characters could end up in one of the three above scenarios: fine but later one of the following:

  • medium-term disabled
  • permanently disabled
  • totally dead

I have the above results in my critical hit tables. I had player characters suffer those outcomes.

Sometimes they had magical healing staving off long-term death: as if it never happened, because “you’re going to die in 3 days/be invalid from wounds surgery can’t fix” means nothing if you can get magic healing before the PC dies.

Some other times, people were left with no limbs or eyes, or bedridden because they had no access to magic or modern healing. Players abandoned their characters. Hell, once a player abandoned the campaign after their PC lost an eye playing with a black pudding. At level 2.

The Gamable Part – And lack thereof

There is no good gamable part in this post, sorry. I think it’s kind of useless. So instead you get a rubbish table.

Every time a pc gets a critical hit or they are dropped to zero (depending on the august Referee), roll 1d4 in secret on this following “Long Term Additional Damage Table” after the combat, and then roll a hidden save: if the save passes, nothing happens. If not, this is what happens:

  1. hurt. Nothing beside the wound itself
  2. broken. In 1d6 hours you’re borderline paralysed, or can’t use a limb (roll at random). Lasts for (3d6 drop highest) weeks.
  3. sliced. One of the wounds on your limb is festering. In 1d6 days, unless amputated, save or die.
  4. torn. Something went bad with that wound to your head/torso/abdomen. Sepsis is going to kill you in 2d4 days.

Magic healing fixes these problems.

Case 1 – Followup and reflection

I went to the hospital because after a month that bruise was still hurting a lot.

Turn out? I broke two ribs, and while I had scores of bike crashes and motorbike accidents (mostly because people driving cars only dodge pedestrians and cars) I never broke anything (I’m seriously not a frail person) so, what are the chances, right? I broke two ribs because when I fell on the security mat I connected with my elbow, and my ribcage banged on my elbow, and elbows are damn hard. Harder than ribs. My elbow was fine all the time.

This is the poster child of the argument, for me. I fell and took 1d6 damage. I was fine climbing until nightfall, then more or less useless at most physical stuff for a month. I could not dodge an attack. I had effectively 1 hit point for weeks, as was not in shape for dodging in melee, and pretty much any amount of shuggling would just make me bowl over.

Maybe the only good part about not dying the now on a critical hit is that you get to fight for a few more rounds and kill the opponent. So, you win, but you’re going to die anyway. Grim.

Whitebox20: Combat & Goblins

Combat rules took a while to decide. Literally, it’s what I thought about for the past few weeks when I woke up at night.

I wanted it based on the W20 check rules, and Melee and Missile be skills. It could have been a number of different solutions:

  • Opposed checks a-la FIGHTMORE, where who wins deals damage to the opponent.
  • Trying to beat someone’s armour.
  • Something with awkward math

Instead, I decided that every round you have ONE action.

You can Attack (make a melee check to deal damage) and if you’re hit and have not used your action you can use it to Defend (make a melee check or save to counter an attack). There are small other adjustments but that’s it.

How much damage? 1d6 + 1/3 of the margin or so. Much respect for Moldvay.

Armour? Reduces damage, from 1 to 3. Shields give +3 to defend/save.

Body modifier to damage? It already impacts on the hit roll, and the hitroll margin carries to damage.

By the way, here’s how I’m going to present monsters in the handbook (not in the adventures, where they will have a slightly different treatment).


Whitebox20’s Kinds of Magic: Eclectism and Disciplines

whitebox20 There’s this thing in fantasy that is essentially needed, and that’s the supernatural. Things must happen that defy mundanity and verge into the supernatural.

Fantasy needs magic, and there’s a school of thought that if there’s magic, it’s fantasy (and that would put Star Wars in “fantasy” because of Jedi Juju).

Said that, you might now that who’s writing is a big fan of magic systems. So when I started writing W20 I deliberately ignored the thorny question of how to write magic.

But at some point it dawned on me that with skills and margins I could do some really simple things like:

The Voice – you can spend a round and one mana to subtly change the tone of your voice and give an order to a person. If you win a contest of Voice (Soul) over the victim Save (Soul) they will carry our the order for up to 1 turn. Giving a directly self-harming order or orders going against the core beliefs of the victim requires an Awesome success or otherwise the victim will instead be confused and take no action for 2d6 rounds.

And I could also use AFG’s Traditional Magic (named this way because of its traditions). Casters could spend mana for casting spells.

And Wonder & Wickedness’s Sorcery. Casters would spend mana for memorizing spells.

And Vancian Rotes. Barkerian Lore. Words of power. Rune Magic. Psionics. Alchemy. Shapechanging. Maenads.

Or I could use them all. All their different mechanics. At the same time.

Disciplines are ways of doing magic. There would be different disciplines, and casters would get one at character creation, plus one every few level (probably instead of a stat increase). Traditional Magic would be a discipline, Vancian Rotes would be another, the Seven Sorcery Schools would be 7, the Voice would be one, and so on.

They are not necessarily compatible: while the Traditional spells can be cast through Vancian Rotes, the Voice gives no talent in Alchemy, but they all burn mana, and mana is mana.

And mana comes from within, and from other places too.

And is going to be a horrible pain to design properly in a non terribly messed up way. Wish me good luck, Freddie.


Paolo, weren’t you going to keep this clean and simple?

Yes. The baseline mode would be Traditional Magic. It’s really really simple. But if someone wants to play something simpler, they can just pick up Voice or some other simple, self-contained discipline. They can all be tucked away in a separate book and never mentioned again.