A long long time ago in a land far far away there were these people who spoke latin. Their word for laughter was Risus. Today, this guy named S. John Ross used Risus as the title to his comedy rules light game. Coincidence you say, the jedi thinks not...
The core rules to Risus are free and they are only 6 pages long. This is the same number as the sides to the only dice used in the game! So, with a pack of yahtzee dice purchased at the dollar store and computer access you can have yourself some side splitting comedy gaming... or you can use it for more serious and sinister purposes. If you want to be cool like me you can become a member of the international order of risus (I have my card hidden away in a safe deposit box somewhere) by purchasing the Risus companion. It is 64 pages of additional goodness cooked up by S.John Ross himself. For this review I’m going to stick mostly to the original 6 pages and talk about what the companion can add to your game toward the end.
Elements Analysis: Risus is nothing if it isn’t rules light... First up - character creation - this process takes 10 minutes You come up with a ~50 word or less description for the character. The GM tells you how many Dice total you get and then you break down your character concept into 1 or more Cliches. A cliche is like a packet of skills or like a character class. Cliches could be “outdoorsman” or “elven ninja” or “grizzled battle weary soldier” - you get to be as creative as you can with the wording which tells a story about what you can do with that cliche. After the cliche in brackets you assign some dice to the cliche. This is a representation of how awesome you are in that cliche. DM’s may say that there is a max number of dice you can add to a particular cliche. In most cases, once you have assigned all your dice to cliches - character creation is done. It usually takes between 1 minute and 10 minutes to make a character - unless there is some GM to player squabbling. If you want to do something, the gM makes up a target number and tells you to roll against one of your cliches (the one that fits the task best (tracking goes with ranger or outdoorsman, cooking a fine feast would fall under the “top chef” cliche)
Additional elements added to the original 6 pages are the idea of Tools of the Trade it is assumed your character has all the items needed to function as their character is laid out. Particular items may be written down on the sheet if the game will last more than one episode. If you battle another character, the GM specifies what kind of combat or skill test it is “sword fight” is different from “car race”. Each round the players roll contested against each other and whoever loses has to remove one temporary die from that cliche. If you have multiple cliches in the same skill set you can switch back and forth for max munchkin power gaming.
If a certain comedy level looseness is employed in your risus game then the idea of “Inappropriate Cliches is enacted to allow all players access to this combat. If you use an inappropriate cliche and win the round - the opponent looses 3 dice instead of one. This is typically not allowed in more “serious” games.
There are a huge number of other ideas in the core rules and the compaion. For example if you want an extra die to make your character with give him a sexy Hook or write up a 2-3 page Tale about what made your character who he/she/it is. In addition, for streching the physics of cliches, you can PUMP or Double Pump your cliches to try and make a critical role in a situation. In regular pumping you add on extra dice but lose that number of dice automatically in the cliche at the end of the turn. For double pump dice (usually saved for extremely powerful cliches such as magician, or telepath, or what have you) - in this case the double pump dice give you two extra dice to roll for each dice you are willing to automatically lose at the end of the round.
Finally - if you want to run a supers game or a fantasy game with wild abilities, enact the funky dice rules - for this characters might be given some d8’s and d10’s or even d20s to add to a cliche. This makes characters who are extremely powerful relative to a normal risus character especially when combined with pumping and double pumping - muahhh ahhh hhaaaa. Sorry, I just had to burst into an evil cackle.
Adaptability (8 out of 10) - these game rules can be used to run any genre possible - look it up - probably somebody made a risus game out of every TV show, movie, or book world ever made. The rules are adaptable. The only reason I didn’t give it a 10 is that sometimes you just want more crunch to go with certain types of games. Traveller type settings or anime type games fall under this umbrella in my head.
Feather Scale (10 for 10) - there are six pages of core rules. This whole rules set can also be boiled down to a single page by someone with better english skills than me. Nuf said.
Combat (5 out of 10) - Risus combat is fast with its action. You can have quite a bit of fun with a descriptive group in fight scenes and the mechanics play out quickly. The loss of dice during combat is a bit clunky as far as “wound” tracking goes but it is part of the flexibility that makes Risus so adaptable.
Longevity (5 out of 10) Risus has a nifty way of advancing characters (you get an extra die in a cliche if you roll all evens on all the dice in that cliche, so character advancement slows as you progress in the cliche. This simple method for character advancement will work ok as long as you don’t take it too seriously. I’ve never played the same Risus campaign for more than about a half dozen sessions so I’m not too sure how Risus holds up over longer campaigns.
I think this game has more to it that most give it credit for. You can make characters quickly and have fun role-playing in a single hour - this is truly a rules light game with some substance. Armed with the risus companion - you are equipped with a lot of extra rules that allow you to adapt Risus to many other situations and handle things like healing, etc.. that aren’t covered in the core rules. The companion also has a whole section on GM’ing that is really neat and something that is left out of many other rules sets. I really like S. John Ross’s list of dirty little thrills. They are something that I have used and thought about in my adventure design with every game since reading the rules for this game.