Quick Thoughts on Risus

We tried Risus for the first time last Sunday, for another round of the episodic space horror game I run when the mood hits me.  Even though Risus is officially a humorous game (Risus being Latin for laughter), it’s still a reasonably good fit.  Humor and horror have a good deal in common as far as RPGs go: they both de-emphasize realism and tactical play in favor of evoking certain emotional responses, and are well-served by games with simple resolution that emphasize description over game mechanics.

I think the experiment was largely successful, but there are some things that I want to do differently when we resume the game in two weeks.  In particular, I want to encourage the players to be more assertive over the applicability of their Cliches.    There was a bit too much “mother may I?” in our session, with the players asking whether their Cliches cover certain actions they want to take, and too much peering at the super-simple character sheets as if an appropriate Cliche would suddenly jump out at them.  Does Deep-Space Scoutship Captain cover firing a pistol?  It does if you say so, Captain.

As GM I think I need to be more generous with setting target numbers according to the Cliche being used.  I’m used to setting a target and then everybody just sees if they can beat it, but Risus doesn’t exactly work that way.  Making a tricky pistol shot should probably be something like TN 10 for Deep-Space Scoutship Captain, and only 7 for Gold-Medallist Pistol Champion.

14 thoughts on “Quick Thoughts on Risus

  1. gleichman says:

    You know, I can’t agree with with all this. Humor and Horror aren’t that close in my mind and I think the fact that you have the issues you noted come up indicates that.

    Plus the last thing you want in Horror is someone using their ‘Baking’ cliche in a opposed test against the monsters ‘rend and tear’ (example from the rules as I recall).

    Now I agree for classic horror (without action/adventure- i.e. no Predator switch from one the other at the climax) that you do want simple rules.

    Something that breaks things down to just the few elements- and RISUS can do that with fixed cliches.

    Thus:

    Manly
    Brainy
    Faceman
    Virtue

    And maybe one or two more (I leave that to you). Assign the characters levels for each and run with it (all gun fire is of course Manly for example, all social tests are Faceman).

    Virtue is for the good kid who lives through the horror because that’s what the genre says happens- roll on this trait whenever the character is in danger of dying.

    The main different in horror characters outside those basic four concepts is found in disadvantages (don’t recall if RISUS handles those).

  2. Joshua says:

    We really had no problems with people using Cliches humorously to undermine the tone of the scenario. Yeah, the rules are built to allow or even encourage it, but when everybody is on-board with what the game is about it’s just a non-issue. Our problem was the opposite: people trying to be too scrupulous about not applying an inappropriate cliche.

    In Risus a Cliche can cover both advantages and disadvantages. E.g. you could be a Swordsman, or you could just as easily be a Drunken Lecherous Swordsman. The only mechanical difference between the two is the latter might make the cliche appropriate in some unusual situations, or cause the GM to alter the target number.

  3. gleichman says:

    Avoiding the evaluation of when and when not to apply the Cliche was the point of my suggestion- by making them plainly connected to the genre.

    So it’s sort of pick your poison- deciding when and when not to apply a Cliche is the major working element of RISUS when it’s played seriously- if you don’t limit it, it’s what you have to do.

    To avoid, I’d go with the four cliches and add one or two ‘disadvantages’ cliches and call it good.

    Or ditch RISUS completely and use a more structured game.

  4. Joshua says:

    Maybe, but overall I was quite happy with the flow of the game. I think I’d be completely satisfied if I just do more of a “say Yes and apply a target number” approach.

  5. gleichman says:

    “say yes and roll” strikes me as something different than horror where IMO the default should be “you try that and here’s how you’re screwed”…

    Likely we have different views of what horror is.

  6. Joshua says:

    I’m not sure that our views are all that different. Allowing them to make an attempt doesn’t preclude them being screwed. In fact, so far everything they’ve succeeded at has only further revealed to them how screwed they are.

  7. gleichman says:

    As an aside, how can it be horror if you know and expect the outcome?

    The horror genre is as fix as that of the romance novel, but unlike the romance- it doesn’t by its nature typically have a hero.

    I’ve always wondered at the point of it…

  8. Wendy says:

    As the Captain in question, let me tell you — it was pretty damn horrific. I don’t want to reveal the major plot twist (at least the one we *know* about so far), but the sense of DOOOOOOOOM and the urge to survive have been nicely balanced so far. Of course, that urge to survive is just going to wind up screwing us over even more, I know it…

  9. r_b_bergstrom says:

    Avoiding the evaluation of when and when not to apply the Cliche was the point of my suggestion- by making them plainly connected to the genre.

    It didn’t sound to me like his issue had anything to do with Cliches not fitting the genre.

    Instead, they had to do with how Wendy chose Starship Captain, and some other Player (we’ll call them Fred) probably chose Colonial Marine or some more narrow but combat-related cliche. They both want to shoot the monster, using the standard pistol that’s part of the ship’s armory. Wendy’s Captain cliche probably scored some other perks beyond just firing a gun, so she hesitates a little because she feels bad that’s she’s getting more out of it than Fred (or whoever) is.

    Then again, I could be projecting my own experiences into this. I know I’ve had the issue I described with Risus, anyway. I once had a character with a Vampire cliche that just walked all over everyone else, and by the end of the session I felt terribly guilty because I could do everything they could, and with more dice. That is one of the failings of the system (or any system where players make up their own traits), that two characters with the same numbers of dice can have radically different power-levels depending on how broad and applicable their cliches are. A GM who’s really on top of the difficulty numbers can mitigate much of it, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do so the first time you GM it.
    [rq=1576,0,blog][/rq]Fourth-Dimensional Lifeforms

  10. Brian says:

    I hadn’t been going to comment, but since I’m the one who drew the Space Marine (we had randomly assigned pre-gens), I feel compelled to. Although I was slightly surprised to learn that Captain Merryl was better at shooting than I was, I didn’t feel “cheated” at all. In fact, as the only combat-oriented character in the party, I was pleased to know there was somebody else who could shoot. I never worry about my character being overshadowed by another, stats-wise; that just provides more role-playing opportunity for me.

    My hesitation with the game was because I’d never heard of the system before, and if explained it before I sat down to play, I wasn’t paying attention (quite likely). My Latin is nowhere near as good as Joshua’s, so I had no idea it was a humor-based system. I also think that some players didn’t understand the intent behind their cliches. Our playgroup is split pretty evenly between players who play strictly according to the rules, and those who enjoy twisting the rules into pretzels to see what’ll happen.

  11. gleichman says:

    All in all, it seems everyone was happy with the results as is and my suggestions are unneeded. All nice and well- however I find it interesting that no one seems to understand what I was trying to do with my suggestion. It was just a thought experience to what I would consider a weakness in serious game using RISUS- unconnected in a way to any specific gaming group.

    So I’ll give it one more attempt

    @r_b_bergstrom: I think you missed my point. I was talking exactly about your experience of attempting to determine when and when not a cliche applies- not if they were useful.

    Normally RISUS is all about the unexpected use of cliche, and applying them against common sense. Thus it’s very difficult to apply them *with* common sense. If there’s every a point of disagreement on the common sense- it can cause serious problems with the group- such as a player who’s Space Marine that *did* feel cheated to see a Ships Captain out shoot him.

    By focusing things more on those things common to all horror- this issue can be reduced.

    This comes at the cost of some of the charm of RISUS of course. But as I don’t like RISUS, that’s not much of a cost for me 🙂

    Now I think I just drop this, wishing in general I didn’t get involved.

  12. Doug says:

    I agree with Brian. I think it was more that our group hasn’t done a lot of the “really general skills” before. Even with rulesets where you’re supposed to be somewhat lenient (like Savage Worlds) we’re pretty narrow in interpretation of what fits.
    We just need more experience at applying “Cow Tipping” skill to stealth. (After all, they’re kinda ornery after you tip them over, so you’ve got to run and hide pretty well)

  13. Joshua says:

    @gleichman – sorry you feel that way; I found your comments food for thought, even if ultimately I don’t agree.

    @Doug, Brian, et al. I think the key to Risus, whether or not it’s used straight, is for the GM to stay on top of the target numbers. It’s very much in the intent of the system that the Colonial Marine will have lower target numbers for combat, even if he has fewer dice…so there shouldn’t really be any feeling bad because the broader skill has lots of dice.

  14. Risus Fan says:

    For unopposed rolls I would give each player individual target numbers.

    For opposed conflicts I would give Bonus Dice to the player with the most applicable cliché.

    If the Captain and the Space Marine are working together against a common enemy I would have them form a Player-Character Team with the Captain as the team leader since he had the highest cliché level.

    For use of Risus for serious style of play I recommend this site:
    http://www.larseriklarsen.dk/lel/gamerules/risus/seriousrisus.html

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