Sunday, December 04, 2005

Roleplaying: Risus, by S. John Ross

I've already talked about roleplaying several times on this blog, but haven't mentioned Risus yet.

Risus is a wonderful little free roleplaying game. The game was designed to be a "universal comedy system", e.g. a roleplaying game that could be used for comedy games in any genre (fantasy, science fiction, soap opera, etc). But you can use it for playing more serious games, too.

Most roleplaying games give you ways of describing how strong your character is, how quick, how hardy, how intelligent, etc. Risus allows you to describe your character in terms of character cliches. For example, instead of saying, "My character has a strength of 18 but an intelligence of 5", in Risus you might say, "My character is a 'Somewhat dim, but strong as an ox, barbarian from the Northlands'". The bit between the single quotes is the character cliche.

A character cliche can be a phrase or a sentence that describes some aspect of your character. The cliche can describe physical, mental, or social attributes, or it can give insight into your character's motivations. At its most basic, a cliche describes a set of skills and abilities your character has, and why they have those skills and abilities.

In the 'Somewhat dim, but strong as an ox, barbarian from the Northlands' example, we know that the character is going to be very good at anything requiring brute strength, and pretty bad at anything requiring pure intellect. We also know that the character is from the Northlands, so that gives us a clue as to their culture, and how they might be received in, for examples, the Southlands.

So cliches tell you what your character is good at, and what they are not so good at. Each cliche also has a rating, such as 'Somewhat dim, but strong as an ox, barbarian from the Northlands'-3. The 3 rating means that this person is competent with that cliche. A 1 would mean they are a poor example of a Northlands barbarian, while a 6 would mean they're legendary in their abilities.

So, to recap: The phrase portion of the cliche tells you what sorts of skills and abilities the character has, while the rating tells you how good they are at those skills and abilities.

And that's pretty much it. There are no lists of character attributes, as in other roleplaying games. Just cliches. And that's the real beauty of Risus, is that you can literally play any sort of game you want using the system, because it makes no assumptions about what sort of game you're going to play. Want to play a Star Trek roleplaying game? Just use appropriate cliches. Want to play a courtroom drama roleplaying game? Just use appropriate cliches.

If you have a roleplaying group that is used to more traditional roleplaying games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, or Call of Cthulhu, it will take them some time to get used to Risus. The freedom of character cliches can be a bit odd for players who are used to only having a set list of skills and abilities to choose from, but it's worth it in the end.

Risus itself is available for free, at There are plenty of links on that site to other Risus related sites as well.

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