Off-White Cube 0.13

UPDATE: There is a more recent version available here.

There’s little point denying that D&D has a lot of clout in the RPG scene. Its fifth edition is hugely popular, and one of its few remotely plausible rivals for the market share – Pathfinder – is essentially a retroclone of a previous edition. If someone wants to play a fantasy RPG, chances are they will find themselves learning D&D.

But I was struggling to maintain enthusiasm for 5e. After just shy of a year of running Lost Mine of Phandelver, I brainstormed some ideas for bring 5e more in line with my tastes, and we played a very mutilated form of it in a new campaign. This lasted eighteen months but it never felt quite right, and as real life started getting in the way for both myself and players, things ground to a halt. I was burned out, and looked to a system of my own creation to kickstart my interest again.

Wretches & Riches is my passion project, but it has proved much harder to entice people to play something quite so removed from D&D’s mechanical structure. So instead I’ve focused on a very light system, a hack of a hack of a hack of White Box D&D.

Giants’ Shoulders

Off-White Cube is built off the chassis of White Box: Fantasy Medieval Adventure Game, a splendidly laid out and streamlined version of Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, itself a version of the original Dungeons & Dragons game which came in, you guessed it, a white box.

WB:FMAG fixed a lot of what I had proved obstacles to enjoying older versions of D&D and their offshoots (did a Thief really need a completely separate dice mechanic to other classes to do the same thing slightly better?) but I found myself wanting to push it further than its requirement for just a d20 and d6 – why not something you could play simply by raiding a monopoly box?

And so Off-White Cube came to be.

Printed on off-white paper, no less

How Off-White Cube differs from other retroclones

D6s only

It’s what most people have to hand, and most of us grasp the odds of the humble d6 a lot better than we do the reigning d20.

Players always want to roll high

I understand that D&D has a lot of heritage, but I’ve never understood why some find it preferable to have some situations where a players wants to roll high and some where the opposite is true. My biggest hurdle for roll-under systems, as much as I appreciate the simplicity of the roll correlating to the attribute score, is the idea of having to explain to a new player that the 1 they rolled to hit in combat was the best thing they could have rolled, but the subsequent 1 they rolled to damage was the worst thing they could have rolled.

Four attributes

Mixing Strength and the largely redundant Constitution together, and removing Charisma, I find myself using the nearly-alliterative MiNiDiWi set:

Might
Nimbleness
Wits
Disciple

A character’s mechanical impact on a social interaction depends on how they’ve approached it – an intimidating threat may use Might, while a sly lie could use Wits.

Single-roll combat

I like combat in RPGs – I came to this hobby from a tabletop miniature wargaming background – but I don’t like drawn-out fights where every other combatant or so finds themselves looking up a rule to clarify just going to make the mechanically-optimum left hook, or brawls between two agile boxers constantly missing each other.

Combat is weapon damage dice roll modified by the opponent’s armour, with the roll of a 6 allowing the player to add another d6 of damage on top of that (and on top of that, and on top of that…).

Avoids all that ascending vs descending armour class business too.

Monsters are pretty easily converted from other OSR-friendly sources: just adjust a d8 to be a d6+1, a d10 to be a d6+2, etc. This offsets their lack of to-hit bonus.

Tag-based backgrounds

Players get a single-world descriptor to define their character’s background. This can be a profession, or a race, or whatever the players wants to mark their adventurer’s identity. They can avoid rolling for tasks that, if failed, would have made their character look grossly incompetent, or they can add an appropriate attribute modifier to a roll. It stops people picking races on a purely mechanical basis, but if someone really wants to be an elf, then they can be.

Inventory-based injuries

Rather than death at 0 HP, characters start accumulating injuries which take up inventory slots. They die once their inventory slots are all full of injuries or other conditions (exhaustion, illness, etc) which brings it largely in line with the idea that characters die at -10HP. The difference, however, is that the weakening characters remain conscious, able to choose whether to keep fighting or drag themselves to safety. Players with unconscious characters are bored players.

Quantum adventuring gear

You remember that exciting story of when five experienced adventurers walked for three days to a big hole in the ground, then realised nobody had brought rope and had to come back six days later? I like to assume a relative degree of competence on the part of the characters, so they can stock up on Supplies which can be converted to cheap, mundane adventuring equipment as and when they need it. They’re fairly limited in how much they can carry, and this encompasses rations and bandages too, so while it makes certain aspects of the game easier it doesn’t undermine the inventory management too much.

And no more hours-long shopping sessions deciding between a crowbar and a net. Character creation zips by.

Zone-based movement & distances

I don’t want combat to slow down because someone has to measure whether their character is a fraction of an inch too short to shoot something, nor do I want to have to remember that over three rounds this creature ran 30ft a round, but that creature ran 25ft a round, and slowed down once to open a door. Even counting squares takes an age.

Four zone: Close, Near, Far and Distant. If you’re in a room, unless it’s an especially large one, the chances are that you can charge most visible enemies, and certainly shoot them.

I find a hard copy so much easier to reference

Formats

I’m a tactile person – I find it far easier to remember the location of something on a physical page than where it falls in conceptually and structurally in a set of rules – so I wanted to have a simple print version that I could easily flick through, and I took a leaf out Old School Essentials‘ and Index Card RPG‘s books and worked to fit most rules and classes to a single page or double spread.

Also helps to avoid class feature bloat – only so many paragraphs at a character’s disposal

Bearing in mind that a lot of its gameplay would be online, I put together a small wiki to allow for speedy access and reference, and mobile-friendly too so that I might quickly look up a spell or class feature. I’m also working on a bestiary which might help avoid flicking backwards and forwards between pages and between books.

On the field of play

Online take up for Off-White Cube proved much easier than for Wretches & Riches – the recognisable D&D mechanics and classes possibly making the difference. It’s run through a few different modules from various stages of the D&D timeline, both voice-based and play-by-post gameplay (for which the single-roll combat is particularly handy), and we’ve just started an open table campaign using Greg Gillespie’s Barrowmaze which has so far proved an absolute joy to run – and the players seem to be having a good time too. Combat is fast, character creation is painless, and the action is full of pulpy goodness.

But there’s still much room for improvement. Playtesting continues.

If anybody happens to use it themselves, I’d love to hear how you got on!

EDIT: Ahem, I had completely neglected to link to the PDF.

9 thoughts on “Off-White Cube 0.13

  1. Have you considered converting Turn Undead to 1d6? The probabilities would be a bit off, and you’d lose the one-point modifier Barrowmaze applies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did ponder making Turn Undead a challenge roll, incorporating the undead’s HD as some sort of penalty to the Cleric’s level bonus, but found that generally it made Turn Undead either too likely or impossible. In the end I stuck with the system which people seem to like (in that it’s still in play all these years later – and since it doesn’t go against the grain of highest is best with d6s, I didn’t see much reason to change it).

      I didn’t want to completely nerf it since it’s so iconic, but I didn’t want it to be too easy to use – I feel that Clerics are already a pretty tempting class as it is as martially capable armoured casters.

      If I were to go for a class-based system without looking to go for all the D&D favourites / traditions, I’d probably do away with the cleric as a holy undead hunter altogether and make them a bit more of a multiclassing fighter / caster, but one shouldn’t spread oneself across too many heartbreakers!

      Like

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