What is it?

Risus, the anything RPG is a minimal-rules Role-Playing System designed for those nights when you just want some quick fun while chugging down beer and pretzels. It's light-hearted, runs extremely well on both Rule of Funny and Rule of Awesome and it's not meant for "serious" gaming (although it can be used for full campaigns). 


How-to

Characters

Risus runs entirely on clichés: preconceived, tried-and-true notions, sometimes done to exhaustion. Character creation can be done in a minute since you only need:

  • A name (titles are optional and may add flavor)
  • Description (optional, may add flavor)
  • Clichés. These provide a "generic" description of your Player Character (PC), as well as his or her skills, powers and/or background. You may have any number of clichés but you must assign 10 points (dice) between them all. You may include example skills for clarification.

Does this mean that I can create a Robot-Ninja-Wizard-Warrior? You may, but overspecialization in Risus can easily turn against you. PCs with varied, bizarre and even apparently inappropriate clichés (more on this later) are what makes Risus games interesting and funny.

Example PC, assuming an Urban, Early 21st Century setting:

Name: Andycyca, Grand Wizard of Pancakes

Description: Andy, a recently graduated Engineer trying to make ends meet
             in one of the world's biggest cities. Has no actual
             magical powers, it's just a stupid nickname

Clichés:
         College Engineer (4): Calculus, Lab work, resistance to sleep.
         Veteran Gamer (3): Knowledge of 8-bit and later games, hand-based interfaces.
         Amateur Baritone (2): Sight-reading, knows a bit of opera
         Fake Pancake Wizard (1): Knows how to make really good pancakes, but has no actual magic.

Please note that the abilities listed in each cliché are only examples of what the character can do and his overall proficiency, but it's not an exhaustive list. A College Engineer (4) can do pretty much the same things that a College Engineer (1) can do, only much better.

Since these are all clichés, it's impossible to make a complete list of abilities and these are left more or less to the imagination or consensus of the players. It could be argued for example, that Andy, being a College Engineer (4) can understand to a limited degree a paper on Biology or Medicine, but will likely have a harder time understanding it than a Surgeon (3) and maybe even a Biology Research Professor (2)

Conflict

There are 3 kinds of "conflicts" in Risus:

  1. For non-automatic actions, the GM assigns a Target Number (TN). You roll as many (6-sided) dice as your most appropriate Cliché has (more on this below). If your total is equal or greater than the TN, you succeed. This category includes conflicts like swinging on a rope over a cliff, successfully cooking a cheese soufflé or bullshitting your way out of a speeding ticket.
  2. Combat is a special kind of conflict. In Risus, it's defined as:

    "...any contest in which opponents jockey for position, make attacks, bring defenses to bear, and wear down their opponent to achieve victory. Literally or metaphorically."

    Therefore it's not limited to people trying to injure or kill each other. The official rulebook (more like rule-pamphlet) provides several examples of "combat": Arguments, racing, dogfights, psychic duels, dueling banjos and seduction. Instead of HP, anyone who loses a round of combat temporarily loses one die of whatever cliché s/he is using (so, a Samurai {4} losing a combat round will use only 3 dice in the next round)

  3. However, there are combat-like conflicts that take only one action, such as two cowboys running to get a single pistol laying on the floor. This kind of conflict is known as a Single-Action Conflict (SAC).

In both Combat and SAC, the GM determines which clichés are appropriate or inappropriate (yes, more on this later) and the players roll dice equal to their selected cliché's power. Highest roll wins.

Target Numbers

TNs are subjective and often left to the GM's criteria. For example, hacking into a government computer might be child's play (automatic success) for a Seasoned Spy, easy (TN:5) for a Cryptoanalist, difficult but possible (TN:10) for a Computer Geek and nearly impossible (TN:15) for an Amish farmer.

Choosing between conflict types

Sometimes conflicts are flexible, depending on pace, setting, importance and, most importantly, the GM's whims. From the rules:

...in nearly any case, the Game Master may jump between the three resolution methods (Target Number, Combat, Single-Action Conflict) to suit the pacing and mood. Sometimes, an arm-wrestling match works best as a combat... sometimes it works best as a Single-Action Conflict, and sometimes (preferably if it’s against some kind of coin-operated arm-wrestling machine) even as a simple Target Number.

About clichés

As a narrative device

A good cliché is more than a broad description of your PC's skills, it can be a powerful tool to create good background, establish an overall theme and grant specific knowledge. The (non-free) Risus Companion delves deeper into it, but I will provide some examples of how much you can shape your PC via clichés.

Andy is...

  • ...a Gamer. OK, must be someone who knows his way around a modern gaming console or a PC. Probably has an account on Steam or something like that.
  • ...a Veteran Gamer. Must be someone who has been playing for a long time. Probably remembers (rather fondly) all those games from the NES and SNES era
  • ...a Hardcore Gamer. Maybe it's one of those that plays WoW for more than 40 hours a week. Probably doesn't even touch a console.
  • ...a Professional Gamer. One of those guys good enough to make a living on FIFA Tournaments. Might not know about indie games or non-competitive games.

Let's try it in a fantasy setting. Sir Cumstance is...

  • ...a Knight. Good when fighting dragons and saving damsels.
  • ...an Outcast Knight. What did he do? Is he excessively violent? Doesn't follow rules?
  • ...a Lone Knight. Why is he lonely? Was he part of a group? What happened to them?
  • ...a Crazy Knight. Just like Don Quijote? Awesome.
  • ...a Down-on-his-luck, Bitter Knight bent on Revenge. Sweet. You're getting the idea.

As a combat device

A good Risus game is not all about physical combat. Risus' definition for "Combat" allows for thousands of whacky situations where people will try to outdo the other. A noob or munchkin will immediately create the living incarnation of War, and a good GM will delight in Schadenfreude upon this sight.

A very important rule of Risus is how appropriate a cliché is to the kind of combat that is happening. In a nutshell, inappropriate clichés deal more "damage" to "appropriate" players (losing 3 dice instead of only one) but they suffer no such penalty.

How are clichés determined to be in/appropriate? The GM decides, based on what kind of combat it is. When the players enter a traditional combat scene, a Judo Teacher is appropriate, while a Pro skater is not. However, when the party needs to impress the local King with their talents ("talent show combat"), the roles are reversed and ollies are more appropriate.

Inappropriate combatants must, however, describe and roleplay how their inappropriate cliché is being used. How would a Sous Chef defend against an Evil Overlord attacking with his hordes of Evil? That's the magic of it all: you either get a hilarious scene, a nonsensical way of dealing with trouble, or both. 

This, of course, is highly subjective. Maybe the GM decides on it being incredibly specific ("Long-range Firearms combat") or very general (an example from the rules is "Fantasy combat" where magic and swords have equal footing). Discrepancies should be resolved by discussion, although a good round of kickboxing can do in a pinch.


What do you think, Andy?

I like this game system for a number of reasons:

  • No specific theme means it can be whatever you want it to be, even whacky settings like "Saturday Morning Cartoon World".
  • Easy set-up means that it can be used for short stories and epic campaigns alike.
  • Serves as an alternative RPG when Joe forgets to bring the goddamned books.
  • It's gratis. You can't beat that price. Couple it with almost 2 decades of fans creating and sharing material about it and you're set for pretty much anything
  • Uses regular 6-sided dice (cheap and easy to get) but can be scaled so you can use your forgotten d12s
  • It's an excellent RPG for newbies. If you notice, it emphasizes roleplaying and discussion over rules. It's made to avoid minimaxing and munckhin-ing. Its rules are easy to remember, character creation takes a few minutes at most and you don't need to take notes on everything your character can or can't do.

However, there are some cons to these pros:

  • Risus requires a really good GM and/or really good players, people who know how to tell a story. Since this game is driven almost exclusively by plot, it needs a set of good storytellers that want to create something bigger than their own PCs. If someone is selfish and only wants his/her character to survive, s/he can bring the whole thing down. Risus is made for people who know protagonists are full of flaws.
  • In the same vein, highly competitive players can make a mess out of Risus. Since the rules allow for all kinds of weird shit, everyone must know how to strike a balance between parties so that conflicts are a challenge and not a battle of wits between GM and player(s)
  • Risus is, as you've seen, meant to be quick. Improvisation is good, as it will often lead to poor decisions, which will in turn lead to hilarious results. The game can go to a drag if someone disrupts this pace (trying to come up with a perfect solution)
  • Risus is meant to abuse the aforementioned Rules of Awesome and Funny. If you're not comfortable abusing rules for fun and profit, you might not like this game. 
  • Also, this game is inherently and highly biased towards sillyness. It's hard to use it for horror/suspense settings like the Old World of Darkness, In Nomine, The Call of Cthulhu and similar.

That said, if you like crafting stories (especially those with a cast of bumbling idiots for heroes, nonsensical worlds, a World of Ham and historical figures fighting the undead), go for it. If you want a simple game when the mind is too tired for anything serious, go for it. 

Coo, I want it!

You can download the whole game for free here. The newest version is incredibly concise, but the original "extended" version was only 6 pages long.

This page has more information and more materials available for free with the permission of the Publisher.

You can also support the creator of this game buying The Risus Companion, which has even more information on the system and philosophy of Risus. It's only 10 USD, so you can get it without breaking the bank.

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