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29 Oct 2015

[Let's Study: Whitehack 2nd Edition] Part 6 - The Setting

Go to part 1 The final part of the book is about the setting: the White Curse. It serves as an example campaign setting which also illustrates the instructions given earlier in the book. The tone is grim and the world feels somehow post-apocalyptic. Centuries ago, an evil Witch King oppressed the population until he was defeated. Unfortunately, his cursed blood contaminated the land and twisted everything. The landscape changed and a cold came. This is called the White Curse. The Witch King’s spirit remained in the afterlife and gained strength in the Shadow Realm. As you can see, there is a feeling of desperation and struggle which is enforced by further explanations about the situation. The wilderness is very dangerous because of the everlasting winter. Old cities have sunken, roads are abandoned. Civilizations centers around small communities but they are full of intrigue and disaccord as the curse makes people greedy.
The reptilian Dagonites have escaped their collapsed empire under the sea. These poor refugees tax the sparse resources, too. Evil artifacts of the Witch King have awakened. The players can be part of several factions. There are the Watchers (the good ones) and the Witch Cult (the bad ones). The Watchers want to lift the curse and hunt the shadow agents while the Witch Cult serves the king and want to advance his agenda. Part of the setting are the Twisted. Mechanically, they are an example of a species template as they can be applied to every character. The Twisted are beings who were corrupted by the curse. Non-humans change more visibly than others. Being twisted is considered a stigma but comes with a small benefit of a minor supernatural ability. Additionally, there is a short paragraph about the city Ode. It’s built into a mountain, full of terraces and governed by a corrupt council.
A Whitecloak chapterhouse is also present. The Whitecloaks are religious fanatics who believe that the curse is a test of perseverance. They herd the Twisted into correction camps.
There are of course different deities the characters can choose to follow, but they are not fleshed out in detail. Another paragraph is dedicated to the Shadow Realm, a parallel shadow world of the living which doesn’t follow the rules of time, space and dimension as much as the real world. The author included some advice on how to run the campaign: his design notes, some mechanical tips etc.. There are tables with rumors in Ode, affiliation groups, random encounters in the Shadow Realm and NPCs. Furthermore, there is a schematic layout of Ode. While it looks very pretty, it’s a bit hard to decipher how things are supposed to work out as it’s not a map in a traditional sense. Altogether, you get a good overview over the setting: how the world is, how people are and how things work. While the content is a tad barebones it evokes enough feel and describes the tone well. Moreover, there are two adventures included: The Chapterhouse Murders, a sandbox style urban mystery campaign starter for beginner characters, and The Pale Orc, a straightforward adventure for level 2-3. I’ve run a shortened session of The Chapterhouse Murders with 2e and The Pale Orc with 1e. Both adventures are good introductions into the setting but as a Referee you should carefully prepare them beforehand because the information is very terse and can be hard to spot in the midst of running the game. Some background information is packed into previous chapters so sometimes you need to flip pages.
(Here you can find my modified notes and other resources for the campaign starter.) In comparison to the 1st edition of Whitehack, the new book contains more facts, more tables, schematic maps and some slight differences. For example, the 1st edition Dwarves were technologically more advanced, now it’s the new species of the Dagonites.


Christian Mehrstam’s writing style is very succinct so it’s easy to overlook things. Make sure to reread stuff if you want to run a game in the default White Curse setting. It is pretty grim and has enough hooks and interesting bits to make a good starting point. One of my players described it as “gray” and that’s what it is: it’s gritty, dangerous and perhaps a bit dark. The looming winter and the curse overshadow everything.
Still, it has some very compelling aspects: the Marionettes and Dagonites, Rock Snails as means of transportation, the Twisted etc.
Lots of character concepts and play styles fit into the White Curse, so players and Game Masters alike should find something to their liking if they are on board with the premise of the world. Go to part 7

Links: Whitehack 2nd edition Buy the game at lulu