Chapter 4: Monsters
Obviously, the chapter about Monsters is still part of the Referee’s section of the game.
Monsters in Whitehack don’t have a lot of information and entries are thankfully very short. Here’s an example:
Gargoyle, HD 4, AC 4, MV 20/40, Special: Statue disguise, claws, hunt in pairs
Let’s look at it in detail:
HD (hit dice) and AC (armor class), MV (move) are the same as in other old school D&D games. Movement rates differ slightly from Sword & Wizardry WhiteBox, the progenitor of Whitehack.
What does Special mean?
This is a catch-all for monster abilities, miracle wordings, and what-have-you. They are used as guidelines for the Referee and as indicators on what the Strong class can siphon when delivering a killing blow (see my post about character creation). If the monster uses miracles, it has to pay with hit points like player characters.
Still, the vague descriptions do work for me as a Referee. It’s enough information to get a feel for the monster and to know what it is capable of.
From this short stat block, you have to derive some stats: ST (saving throw), AV (attack value) and damage.
Monsters have STs equal to HD+5 (a roll of 20 is always a failure), AV equal to HD+10. Unarmed base damage is d6.
Higher HD monsters can have multiple attacks, for example, an HD 15 monster gets four attacks per round but the last attack is weaker and it can’t move.
If you need to make task rolls, you use AV for what would be a good attribute, ST or HD for poor attributes.
As you can see, the whole monster concept is pretty open and up to the interpretation of the Referee.
There is an XP table for monsters. An HD 1 monster is worth 30 XP, an HD 13 monster is worth 2.600 XP.
The author also included a new mechanic which wasn’t part of the 1st edition: Boss Monsters. There are some cool mechanical twists to them, i.e. boss stages. Basically, the monster is several separate monsters with own entries and you need to defeat one of the stages to enter the next one.
Boss Monsters have some more distinctive features, but I don’t want to spell out the whole rulebook here.
The last part of this chapter has examples. There is a double-sided table with short monster entries (Basilisk, Dragon, Ghoul, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Kobold, Orc, Sea Serpent, Werewolf, Zombie etc.). The table doesn’t come with descriptions, just the bare stat blocks.
Furthermore, there are some more detailed specimen which illustrate the White Curse setting. There is also a boss monster included, so you can see how the mechanics work out.
Converting monsters from other D&D games is easy enough. You can read it up in the previous chapter. Monster HD is roughly the same, AC can be converted using the conversion table. Spells and special abilities can be shoehorned into the Special category. Done.
I like how old school D&D games approach monster entries. Compare this to 3.5 or later editions (yes, 5e, too) where a monster entry has much more stuff to read through. For me as a Game Master, it’s fairly easy and straightforward to run a Whitehack game as I can look up the stats at a glance.
Chapter 5: Magic Artifacts
This is an expansion of the magic rules found earlier in the book. First we have some general advice on the topic and then some sample artifacts, again from the White Curse setting.
There is some guideline on how to create an artifact (start with the “why?” and then answer more questions like “where is the object and how to get there?” or “what must be sacrificed to use it?”). This was very useful for a beginner old school Referee like me.
The sample artifacts look interesting. There is a living torch (a will-o-wisp has been magically chained to an artifact) and a Dagonite Needle pistol (an advanced invention which isn’t magic but looks like it) as well as a Ghost Box (a dead voice transmitter).
Additionally, there is another table with magic item concepts. This is nice if you need something on the fly.
The monster chapter shows the lightweight approach of Whitehack. A lot of things are not hard-coded into game mechanics but are precepts of the game world (and ultimately fall under the umbrella of the Referee’s responsibility).
The great thing about this method is that it is fairly easy to pick other old school D&D monster manuals and use them with Whitehack. (For example, you can lift a lot from the free Basic Fantasy.)
The advice on magic items is enough to get me started and to create my own artifacts. In the spirit of the book, the instructions are more along general guidelines than detailed generators or tables.
For a beginner Referee, this could prove to be a problem as the advice can feel a tad vague. For players and Referees familiar with (old school) role-playing games, the writings provide good impulses to brainstorm and to come up with your own stuff.
Again, the 2nd edition consists of more material than the 1st edition: the addition of boss monsters and the table with 49 artifact entries come to mind.