Game Review: Risus: The Anything RPG by S. John Ross

Games must have rules so everyone can play fairly. Why? Because when you play games where the rules change, typically it adversely affects one or more people while the others profit from that misfortune. (The only exception I’ve ever seen to this is the card game Fluxx, where you can change the rules multiple times during a game and each rules change affects everybody in the game from that point forward.) But with tabletop roleplaying games, often the rules can get in the way. This has led to a movement towards “rules-light” games that can deal with multiple situations in a more agile manner without bulky rulebooks.

Though I am a strong supporter of rules-light games, often when they try to work as generic systems they fall into the same trap rules-heavy games run into… Namely the fact that sometimes one rules system simply doesn’t work in all genres without a great deal of work or re-work on the part of the GM. And that leads to jury-rigging house rules or finding ways to shove square pegs into round holes, often with entertaining results.

I’m not opposed to the whole “square peg/round hole” problem (I’m a Fitzpatrick after all and our motto seems to be “If at first you don’t succeed, continue bashing against the problem until it submits or you pass out from blood loss.”), but I like it when something comes along with rules that are easy enough to be used in damn near any situation with a bit of creativity and a little improvisation. That’s where Risus: The Anything RPG fits in from S. John Ross.

The main mechanic behind Risus seems to be using “clichés” to define a character and then assigning a certain number of points to those clichés. When you think about it, clichés in gaming are everywhere. The traditional wizard, the Conanesque barbarian, the dark and mysterious private eye – each is a cliché unto themselves. So why not throw a few together to define a quick character? You get ten points to divide into whatever clichés you come up with, and each “point” equates to a d6 (unless you’re using the optional rules which I’ll skip in this review). The fun part is that even if you come up with clichés that don’t really fit the bill as far as “easy to figure out what to do with”, you can still use them. As the rules say – “Inappropriate clichés may be used to make attacks, PROVIDED THE PLAYER ROLEPLAYS OR DESCRIBES IT IN A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY ENTERTAINING MANNER.” So “floozy” might be useful in combat if you get really creative!

A few characters I created in about 5 minutes include:

  • Cohnan the Blahbarian – Barbarian (4), Swordsman (3), Ladies’ Man (3)
  • Dr. Strange(r) – Doctor (3), Sorcerer (4), Intellectual (3)
  • Sheerluck Ho(l)mes – Detective (4), Puzzles (3), Boxer (2), Musician (1)

If you can quickly come up with 2-4 clichés and assign points, you have a character. It’s that simple.


Image via Wikipedia

And guess what? Encounter resolution doesn’t fall too far from that KISS principle either. If a player is trying to do something that has a chance of failing (like jumping a giant chasm), the player rolls dice and tries to hit a target given by the GM (somewhere between 5 (easy) and 30 (impossible)). Anybody can try anything with any cliché. Just some of them may take a bit more inspiration than others.

Combat resolution (everything from arguments and wizard’s duels to racing or gunfights) works pretty similarly. Each player (or player and GM) rolls against their chosen cliché and the low roll loses. Each loss takes away a point from the clichés point pool through the end of the fight and the first left without dice loses the fight.

What I really love about the system is that it seriously encourages maximum participation. Let’s say that a PC is in combat and simply doesn’t have an appropriate cliché to use. They (and everyone else involved in the encounter) get 2 free dice to play with to apply to it. Characters with appropriate clichés can simply add the two extra dice to their existing totals, but this at least gives a character without one to do something during the fight.

There are rules for teaming up, character
advancement, character advantages and disadvantages (hooks and tales), pumping and double-pumping clichés, and funky dice. Pretty much anything you’d need to use the rules for a one-shot comedic adventure or a longer adventure.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think that Risus would be a great system to try a Scooby-Doo style of adventuring for kids. Create a few kid detectives as characters and set them loose on the set of some cool monster mystery. I might have to give it a shot with my daughters, who are huge Scooby-Doo fans!

There are a ton of freebies at the Risus website, from adventures and character sheets to GM screens, licenses, and more. Plus, the game itself is free to download. So if you’re looking for a new game to try during Play a New RPG month in October, this would be fun for a one-shot or longer!

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