Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The White Box One-Sentence Background

So one of the common arguments I see regarding Swords & Wizardry White Box and White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game is that it's too narrow. Characters have no abilities beyond their combat or class related listings to give them any definition, background, or motivation. I regard this as a strength of the system as it keeps things simple - but I understand how it could frustrate some people.

So, I tried to come up with a solution that kept to the core of White Box's simplicity. I give you the One-Sentence Background.

The One-Sentence Background is exactly that. A character's background defined in a single sentence. This sentence must include some form of motivator and some kind of profession or skill outside the character's class.

Example One: Arki the Dwarven Fighter was a Blacksmith who wants revenge for the destruction of his clan.

Example Two: Jana the Thief is a former Woodworker who took to the road to search for her missing daughter.

The profession is something the character can attempt to use as is appropriate to the situation and with Referee approval. This can be narrative, or mechanical. If a mechanical system is used, I'd recommend having the character simply make a Saving Throw, but receive +2 to any saves tied to using their profession.

The background has no mechanical effect. It simply serves as a springboard so players can call back to their character's primary motivation and have a sense of how their character will act in a situation.

Simple enough?


  1. I agree with you that this is one of the strengths of OSR gaming that it need not be explicitly stated.
    The one sentence thing is a good compromise. There need not be a complicated backstory yet for those that want it, there is a bit more context for their character's motivation.

  2. How do you know who your man is until he tells you? Writing a background doesn't make OSR sense. I think your idea: he was X who now wants Y, has merit.

  3. It's funny, I was just thinking along these lines after reading a blog complaining about the single save mechanic of S&W being to generic for a class based system compared to D&D's original 5 save system. I enjoy how open-ended the single save system is, considering that most classes get a save bonus against at least one type of effect. I hadn't quite gotten there on my own, but I really like the idea of individualized, very specific save bonuses based on a character background.

    Um, not to focus too much on the one sentence about mechanics. I like painted-in-broad-strokes feel of a single sentence character history.

  4. I've used one sentence backgrounds for several years. Wrote it into my latest rules. Love it.

  5. I like the idea of it - another possible alternative to getting a +2 related to the profession would be to roll with advantage (roll twice and take best result) when background would directly aid the current task.

  6. Have you seen Zenopus' list of 18 backgrounds taken from ODD and Holmes?

  7. Great catch and concept. I play 13th Age and it basically enhances character creation and developement through backgrounds (something that 5e does well too, without the courage of actually being a bit more hardcore on that). :)


Please confirm that you are neither a robot, nor an undead creature, nor a spammer. Thanks!