Category Archives: Random musings

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?

“The hobby is far from being dead!”

This time, the quote is by me. If you ask me, all those doomsayers that think the pen & paper roleplaying hobby will vanish in a few years are wrong. At first, we have to see things in a perspective. RPGs were never a mainstream phenomenon like computer games are today. And the size of the market has been shrinking since the golden days of TSR but the hobby is still very much alive and well.

The hobby is held alive by dedicated people in the industry and by countless fans who continue to enjoy the game. And if you ask me, the current economical crisis may even help bring a few people back to the table. Pulling out your old D&D books and sitting down around a table with a couple of friends is much cheaper than buying that fancy new video game. And while the hobby will change (as it already has changed), I don’t believe it will ever be dead. Just like TV and the cinema did not kill the theater or books.

In my opinion, the hobby will move more to the digital realm, because it’s easier to “meet” people on the internet than to schedule a session in your own home. A lot of roleplayers already play using software like Fantasy Grounds II and Skype or participate in play-by-post games. Basically the game is still the same, but instead of meeting in real life, people play in “cyberspace”. That’s not the same thing as playing a MMO. And better technology will probably make it even easier to play roleplaying games over the ‘net without it turning into a game like “World of WarCraft“.

I still have a lot of hope in our hobby. Our own RPG Bloggers Network clearly shows that there are a lot of talented and dedicated people who still enjoy games like D&D, Savage Worlds and others. And especially when I read blog posts from parents who introduce their children and their friends to the hobby, I am sure, that pen & paper roleplaying games will not die! So, let’s stop conjuring up doomsday scenarios! Stop worrying and enjoy the game!

“Pen & paper games will be forgotten in ten years”

No, that line is not from me, but from game designer Steve Jackson, co-founder of Games Workshop and creator of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. He has said these words in a recent interview with the German news magazine DER SPIEGEL.

And please note that the translation to English is from me, since the interview was entirely in German language, so it might be that some things got lost intranslation.

According to this interview he also believes that the tradition of pen & paper roleplaying games is continued in computer games, since “the most computer games today are just Dungeons & Dragons with pretty pictures and software that rolls the dice and uses the rules behind the curtain.” He continues: “The rules might be more complex but the game concept is the same“.
When he was not misquoted he also stated that one of the problems of pen & paper RPGs “was” that they are depending on the creativity of the players and game masters.

In my opinion Steve Jackson makes the same mistake that a lot of people do, they think that the new technologies, like computers and the internet will replace our hobby entirely. And that’s where they are probably wrong. The new technologies changed and continue to change who roleplaying games are played, created and sold, but I am pretty sure the hobby as a whole will survive.

Steve Jackson is currently developing computer and video games at Lionhead Studios which he co-founded with 2005 together with Peter Molyneux. If you ask me, he just lost touch with the pen & paper roleplaying scene a lot of years ago. Or am I wrong here and our hobby is doomed? What are your thoughts on the matter?