The Temptation of the White Box

It’s at times such as these– when I’m coming off a hiatus in my own campaign and am looking to start it up again in a couple or three weeks– that I begin to get sorely tempted by the idea of changing from 1E AD&D, which has been my game of choice for the last decade or so, and naturally when it was still the official version, and going to the LBB’s.

On the one hand, I know AD&D. I can run it without the books at all if I wanted to. I’m so conversant with the rules, and where I’ve bent them to my liking (such as with initiative, or taking out psionics) that it’s literally no effort for me to run a game.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the relative simplicity of the white box edition. The trouble is, I’m afraid I’d find myself bringing in enough AD&D material that I do like, such as the expanded spell lists, creatures from the FF and MM2, etc. It might not be worth the effort of running the “white box plus” when I can run “AD&D minus”. (There is the “wow factor” of running a game at a convention, and seeing the jaws hit the floor when I have the white box out on the table, but honestly, I get enough of that just having a 1E DMG and goldenrod character sheets on the table…)

Plus, I don’t find myself as a huge fan of the demihuman-as-class concept. Heresy to some, I know, but the whole point of this post is personal preference. I can dump it very easily by just using material from Greyhawk, Eldritch Wizardry, or Blackmoor, but then we get into “why not just play AD&D?” territory again.

Can anyone come up with any compelling reasons to run “LBB plus” as opposed to “AD&D minus”?

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

13 thoughts on “The Temptation of the White Box

  1. Assuming you know AD&D like the back of your hand already, I think the main argument for playing whitebox is that it's easier to customize it to fir your own fantasy world. The additional material in AD&D basically puts you into Gygax's fantasy world (not that there's anything wrong with that). Whitebox is more of a blank slate. Also, from a practical perspective it's easier (and more fun and creative) to add than subtract material.

    In my experience, the main downside of whitebox is the poor organization of the books. This is mainly a problem during character generation – the only time you actually open the books. The rest of the time you just use the Ref Sheets.

    All in all, it probably really doesn't matter that much. Your DM style is what matters.

  2. I didn't start D&D with the LBB's. My first experience was via the Holmes box set, swiftly followed by AD&D 1e.

    My early games were an entirely player-driven, reactive, model that avoided pre-scripted story arcs and, instead, started with a broad setting overview where the game progressed around the PCs and their actions.

    It was short. It was simple. It won. Later, my games became more complicated with the players desiring more complexity. Everything changes and grows.

    When I had the chance to play with the LBB's, it reminded me alot of those early days of gaming. Maybe it was because I could leave the luggage of my grown campaign world behind and simply slip back into "a simpler time".

    As cyclopeatron said, it really comes down to your style of DMing. No matter which you choose, it is still YOU at the heart of it.

    And, sometimes, it's better just to have a sandbox on a beach with no walls.


  3. I've been toying with the notion that the rules for D&D, in their whole range of various forms including clones, is the gaming equivalent of a salad bar. Pick what you want and go with it. That's how we got all these different rule sets in the first place.

    For the record, I suggest ADD-minus. 'Tis easier to cut loose the baggage already tying you down than trying to decide which new pieces of baggage you'd like to pick up off the floor.

  4. The only reason I can think of, is that you might have some fun building the D&D you want by going back to the LBB's. You may end up where you already are, but it would be an interesting experiment.

  5. I think you're thinking of a different White Box, Justin. My copy of Men & Magic says that elves choose between being a fighting man or magic user at the start of each adventure. That's what I meant by race-as-class…

  6. I started with whitebox. If you feel like playing this, you are either a) a nostalgic grognard who has forgotten what a completely crappy ruleset it truly was, or b) someone who never actually played it and got all your ideas about the LBBs from a).

    Go B/X and save yourself the agony, man!

  7. I highly recommend giving the LBBs a try "as is" without any supplements. Before you start, I also recommend checking out Philotomy's OD&D Musings ( It has some great tips and insight on running OD&D with just the core rules.

    In my opinion, the game runs best with just the core three booklets. If you're adding in any supplements, you would be playing "AD&D minus".

  8. I agree with Fandomaniac – if you play whitebox don't bother with the supplements. Most of the stuff in the supplements is overly complex fluff, IMO.

    Although I definitely don't agree with Dave that the whitebox rules are "completely crappy" they ARE poorly organized and leave a lot undefined. You presumably know this already. This isn't necessarily a bad thing – I run whitebox games frequently and everything works just fine. It's just a different style of gaming.

    I do agree with Dave that B/X is also a great alternative. You can get the original books on eBay for $5-10 each, which is great!

    Having played both extensively, my ideal system is somewhere between whitebox and B/X.

  9. It occurs to me that I've made such progress with Emprise! that I might just end up doing "AD&D Plus", and encourage my players to play a jester, or mountebank, or mystic as a sort of pre-alpha playtest.

  10. If you want some of the options of AD&D with more simplicity like the LBBs, you might take a look at Labyrinth Lord with the Advanced Edition Companion. It's a nice median level between B/X and AD&D IMHO. It uses the rules and mechanics of B/X with the character, spell, monster, and magic item options of AD&D.

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