Recently I had the pleasure of playing in a game of The Whitehack run by Horst Wurst, The Gardens of Ynn! I was pumped for it as of sign-up and dang, it exceeded my expectations. Let me talk a little bit about why, both regarding impressions of the module and the system, as it was my first time actually playing The Whitehack.
This module is super cool. We were adventurers going to get rich and looking for some kids in this surreal garden. Not exactly a revolutionary premise, but as soon as you enter the garden, shit gets real. The procedural generation of the spaces (based on the results of the three d20s being rolled) is very evocative. We are only one session in and I definitely want to discover more about this setting, even after only venturing into a few areas.
There is time fuckery. Literal machinations beneath the ground, in fact. We were told we always have the option of staying in a given space to spend time with it or just take off. We were also told that we should be thinking about using our items craftily and that generally if we just wanted to go murder things... we'd probably be having a bad time.
If you stay in an area, then time passes. It sounds nefarious. We didn't really get the connotations of what that means though. And I like that! Are we going to emerge from the gardens into an altogether different time period or something? Are we going to age rapidly when exiting? The possibilities are exciting.
We only got to navigate a couple of these spaces but all had strange sensations described when entering the space: smells, sights, taste, sounds, etc. Again, all evocative and interesting. I hope that continues and wonder if this is described in the module or is a product of Horst’s GMing.
We met a talking cat. Saw some skeletons littered around in the same area where a group of human-sized peacock things were mesmerizing a boy, presumably ready to devour him. Things are going swimmingly. Can't wait to see what happens next~
Some people may know that I have barely any working knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons. I played a couple adventures I recall very little of when in Elementary, then reentered the hobby 5-6 years ago by way of DnD Encounters, Pathfinder Society, etc. I hated it, eventually found online gaming, finally found The Gauntlet and have done all my gaming online since.
So, two years or so ago (ish), when I purchased The White Hack, I was very excited by the design work and could imagine how it might play. So much so, in fact, that I took inspiration from how class creation worked to put it in my game Veil 2020! Thanks to Horst, I finally got the opportunity to play it and, my word, I just loved the whole experience.
The Deft, The Wise, and The Strong are the character classes. Elegant, subjective, open to interpretation. Evocative names with good examples in the text. If you’re Deft, you can choose one "thing" in the game and succeed with unerring precision. The Wise has miracles that are negotiated and cost HP. So. Much. Cool. Stuff regarding character classes and creation.
The game uses Groups to craft character life experiences (lifepaths) and other associated background fiction. It is a bit of a mental hurdle at first, but, I think, ultimately very helpful to decide up front what is important about your character. This is directly coupled with mechanics to provide you with the relevant fictional positioning for those decisions you just made about your character, which was a breath of fresh air for me. I felt like ideas I conceived regarding what my character ought to be good at actually mattered and were supported by the system even as I came up with them on the fly.
I ended up deciding to play a wandering Deft monk. In the gardens we came across a suspicious, foaming at the mouth, talking cat. I asked the Referee, Horst, if I might have experience with these things having wandered about for ages and encountered strangers often. Specifically, I wanted to know if they were trying to ambush us or otherwise lie. Because I might have been set upon before in my travels, I gained that fictional positioning and rolled with Advantage, or a "double positive roll," as the system calls it.
These things about my character I decide are important are also tied to a stat, which I'm less crazy about. Why not just have it so fictional positioning grants Advantage, right, why tie that to a specific stat I’m rolling? Most of the time characters will be rolling specific stats for what they're good at anyhow, I'm sure. I'm super high in DEX and my fictional positioning (beside high DEX) is that I was trained in martial arts at the monastery, for instance. Super cool. And chances are I’ll be using that most often and so getting the double positive rolls, but it seems weird that a large part of the characters’ life is only structurally supported via that specific score.
Another thing I loved was critical roll target numbers being the exact stat value; a small but fun thing. The design work really does make it feel like it's all about the characters. Empowering them with just enough fictional positioning that they get excited about contributing... without dictating too much and possibly getting in the way of some of the principles stated in the book.
One thing I didn't like much was that you can also be squishy AF. I myself and one other player started with just 2 HP, which made me feel way too precious about my character. Sure, they could die and I could roll up another... but I just thought up all these cool ass things for my monk! I want to gain levels and gain even more Groups! In that sense, it feels a bit at odds with the system goal of empowering the characters. Horst told us there are some fail-safes in the text that make it a little harder to die; I'll have to revisit the text in greater detail to discover more of the system intricacies.
The end result was a Venetian Deft Thief, Vincenzo di Pasqua (Jason Cordova); a wandering Deft Monk (myself), a Wise Clockwork Tinkerer (Paul Staxx Spraget) and a Strong Bodyguard (Shane Liebling) all walked into the mysterious Garden of Ynn!
How fucking cool is that, right?!
If you'd like to travel to the Garden of Ynn! you can find it here.