When in doubt, use RISUS

RISUS - The Anything RPG
RISUS - The Anything RPG by S. John Ross

During the creation of my one-page dungeon “The Horror of Leatherbury House” I thought about easy ways to provide stats for the different NPCs without using a specific set of rules. One idea that kept coming up was just using RISUS instead of going system-less.

As you all know, I didn’t include any game statistics in my final version of the dungeon (mostly because I ran out of space and the rules specifically said that the dungeon should be in a system-less format), but I still like the idea.

So, how does RISUS work? Let me quote from the rulebook:

Characters are defined by Clichés (sometimes several of them). Clichés are a shorthand which describe what a character knows how to do. The character classes” of the Neolithic Period of RPGs were Clichés: Fighter and Magic-User, Space Marine and Star Merchant. You can take Clichés like that, or choose a more contemporary one, such as Biker, Spy, Computer Nerd, Supermodel, or William Shatner (formerly an actor – now just a Cliché). Which Clichés are permitted are up to the GM.
Clichés are defined in terms of Dice (by which we mean the ordinary six-sided kind you can scavenge from your old Yahtzee set). This is the number of dice that you roll whenever your skill as a Fighter, Supermodel, or William Shatner (for instance) is challenged. See Game System,” below. Three dice is professional. Six dice is mastery. One die is a putz.

Characters are defined by Clichés (sometimes several of them). Clichés are a shorthand which describe what a character knows how to do. The “character classes” of the Neolithic Period of RPGs were Clichés: Fighter and Magic-User, Space Marine and Star Merchant. You can take Clichés like that, or choose a more contemporary one, such as Biker, Spy, Computer Nerd, Supermodel, or William Shatner (formerly an actor – now just a Cliché). Which Clichés are permitted are up to the GM.

Clichés are defined in terms of Dice (by which we mean the ordinary six-sided kind you can scavenge from your old Yahtzee set). This is the number of dice that you roll whenever your skill as a Fighter, Supermodel, or William Shatner (for instance) is challenged. See Game System,” below. Three dice is professional. Six dice is mastery. One die is a putz.

The cool thing is that you don’t even have to understand more than that about RISUS to understand what a RISUS character is about, when you read something like that: Grolfnar Vainsson the Viking; Viking (4), Womanizer (2), Gambler (3), Poet (1).

Don’t you think this could come in handy when creating an adventure or even a complete campaign, but you’re unsure what system you want to use? Now imagine, you want to use Grolfnar in your D&D campaign. Let’s look at the most defining cliché: Viking. There’s no Viking class, but Fighter or Barbarian may fit, so let’s use this. If you play 4th Edition D&D, Womanizer, Gambler and Poet won’t be reflected in the stats that much, but you should keep those clichés in the back of your head when you roleplay the character. In other systems, those Clichés may be represented by certain skills, edges, drawbacks, et cetera. In most cases you probably won’t need any detailed statistics (for example when you don’t intend the players to fight that NPC), so the Clichés serve as a reminder on how to play that character.

And there’s another advantage to using RISUS: your adventure or campaign can easily be played as a RISUS game. So, if you want to run an adventure you’ve written at a game convention for example, you don’t have to take your heavy D&D books with you. Just print out a copy of RISUS (which fits on three sheets of paper) and you’re done.

What do you think? Is using RISUS for your “system-less stuff” a good alternative?

3 thoughts on “When in doubt, use RISUS”

  1. Yes and no. Thinking of characters in terms of cliches is a good way to describe them in shorthand, and using a 1-5 scale is a good way to convey levels of expertise…but combining those the way Risus does probably isn't useful outside of Risus. The extra information provided by Cannot Refuse a Damsel in Distress 3 vs. Cannot Refuse a Damsel in Distress 2 probably makes it harder for a non-Risus player to use. Also, if you actually use the minimalist chargen rules in Risus it may encourage you to put more or less into an NPC than is really necessary for what you're statting up. 10 dice may be more info than you need about an NPC if you spread it around, and too high a cliche if you just pick the one or two things you care about.

    I think you'd be better off using the Risus-inspired idea of Cliches, with optional ratings where ranking actually helps, but not using Risus itself…unless it's important that it be playable as a Risus module.
    .-= Joshua´s last blog ..Adding Crunch to Super Simple Combat Maneuvers =-.

  2. I do that too. After being Risusified you start seeing other rps and ways and wonder if it wouldn't just be easier to write it up Risus style.

    …and Joshua:

    Remember that you don't HAVE to use 10 dice to write up neither a NPC or a PC. The 10 dice is for a starting PC. A more experienced PC would have more dice. You can give a NPC any number of dice you fancy (of course keeping to the 6 dice limit per cliché).

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