I asked James Spahn, of Barrel Rider Games, for a review copy of “White Box Gothic: Adventures in Horror & Shadow” (link to affiliate program). He was gracious and sent me a Portable Document Format (PDF 📖).
There are 6 classes: Monster Hunter, Metaphysician, Spiritualist, Wanderer, Dhampir, Reanimated.
The Monster Hunter reminds me of a more focused ranger. They are all around useful, but will shine when the campaign focuses on their chosen prey.
The Metaphysician feels like a multi-classed cleric/magic-user with a bit of odd lore mixed in. They learn all of their spells (divine and arcane) through transcribing scrolls, so you know they are going to be hungry for adventure. Their Foresaken Lore gives them access to all semblances of campaign back story. This is my favorite class of the bunch; They need to adventure to unlock their most potent class feature (spell casting). They also provide a conduit for the Game Master (GM 📖) to narrate exposition.
The Spiritualist is creepy. The can see and affect incorporeal creatures, turn some of the types of undead, and through spiritual guidance channel the power of spirits all around them; Albeit with tremendous risk. I’m uncertain if the risk is worth the benefits; failing a saving throw with a penalty results in level drain.
The Wanderer is the other side of the ranger coin; with a bit of rogue mixed in. They have keen senses, will always find enough to sustain them, minor spell casting, some rogue’s luck, and an ability to scrounge through their pack for odds and ends. A clever class, with several “skill” like options.
The Dhampir is half-vampire, half-human. They are capable fighters with a keen senses and stealth abilities. A solid class.
The Reanimated is the Frankenstein’s monster class; They are beefy bruisers with a very limited advancement. An interesting take; I’d prefer to see one of these as a hireling.
Staring into the Abyss
The section on Corruption provides rules for a spiral into the corruption that afflicts the world. It’s a straight forward system with more overhead in adjudicating player actions.
Dread provides a light weight mechanic for areas of chaos and evil. There are spells that build on or mitigate the effects of dread. A useful system that a Referee can quickly add to their repertoire.
The Curses rule provides a procedure for uttering curses (eg. may your hair fall out and never grow back). It builds on the Corruption sub-system. It is a nice sub-system in that a GM can bring this out when a character wants to get “even” with another character (Player Character (PC 📖) or Non-Player Character (NPC 📖)) and wants to make sure they suffer.
Sorcery Most Foul
Some of the spells and magic items build on the Corruption, Dread, and Curses; The others build on the Gothic Horror theme.
Of the cleric spells, I find “Mask of Death” the most interesting; donning the visage of death and dread. The “Bind Beyond Death” spell of the wizard is great. It doesn’t take effect until the affected die - thus building on the sense of impending dread and doom.
I’m not a fan of “Conjure Holy Symbol”, using a spell slot to bypass the need for a holy symbol. It feels weak.
Children of the Night
My favorite creatures are the bloodraven and breath stealer. They play to different aspects of the macabre. I also appreciate the stats for a Dementor-like creature; Everyone needs a bit of judgement in their life.
I’m a huge fan of the Open Game License (OGL 📖), as it requires attribution in the license. For those keeping score at home:
Section 15: Open Game License v 1.0a Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc. System Reference Document Copyright 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, John D. Rateliff, Thomas Reid, James Wyatt, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Swords & Wizardry Core Rules, Copyright 2008, Matthew J. Finch Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Rules by Marv Breig, copyright 2008-2011 Matthew J. Finch.
To comply with Section 6 of the OGL, I believe Barrel Rider Games should add the following to Section 15 of the OGL:
White Box Gothic: Adventures in Shadow & Horror by James Spahn, copyright 2016.
Barrel Rider Games is prolific in its Old School Renaissance (OSR 📖) contributions; I believe when an idea strikes they are often quick to write it down and get it out the door. White Box Gothic would benefit from additional editing. None of which detracts from its usefulness at the game table, but instead from the readability.
The PDF is missing a bookmarked and clickable table of contents (though the 3rd page of the PDF has a table of contents). I encourage Barrel Rider Games to adopt gender neutral pronouns when describing characters. I hope to see them adopt the acceptable “they” or “their” in future writings.
I also hope that once Barrel Rider Games releases the Print on Demand version that the Print on Demand (PoD 📖) includes (at no additional cost) the PDF. I have a few hard copy Barrel Rider Games books, but did not opt to pay extra for the PDF.
In the spirit of the Save or Die Podcast, I give it 3.5 Dragons. There is some great stuff to add to any campaign that features the undead.