Grokking Risus Fu
First, let me apologize for the mixed metaphor. However, if you have difficulty processing it, maybe you’re not quite ready for Risus…

One of the trickiest things for Risus virgins to ever figure out is how Risus handles combat. This is because, I believe, most are introduced to roleplaying games like D&D and others. In those games, you pick a weapon, roll some dice, check the result against a table that cross-references the weapon type versus your ability versus the opponent’s defensive rating. If you are successful, you roll more dice and deduct the result from the opponent’s “Hit Points,” or HP. Then you go back and forth taking chunks out of each other until someone runs out of HP. The last one standing is the winner.

At this point, we need to make a very clear distinction that occurs in Risus. Please say it with me very slowly. CLICHÉ DICE ARE NOT HIT POINTS! Good. Now repeat it several times until it sinks in. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now that we know what cliché dice are not, let’s look at what they are. Cliché dice are simply a mechanic to rate the effectiveness of any cliché in task resolution. Combat is no different than any other task resolution, except that someone is actively trying to stop you. Note carefully what it says in the rules: ”Combat” in this game is defined as any contest in which opponents jockey for position, utilize attacks, bring defenses to bear, and try to wear down their foes to achieve victory. Either literally or metaphorically (Risus: The Anything RPG v. 1.5 by S. John Ross, page 2, emphasis added)! In Risus combat, you are not hacking away at each other physically, but strategically.

Think of it like this. Watch a fencing match. I realize that it might not be your cup of tea, but look at how the opponents work each other (if this doesn’t work, try a boxing match, whatever). They are testing their opponent out, exploring his style, looking for strengths to avoid and weaknesses to exploit. Each combatant is not whaling away at the other, but trying to wear the other down, looking for an opening to achieve victory. Each roll is not a swing of the sword or a shot from a pistol, but could be a series of moves or shots, designed to flush out the opponent so that you can nail him. Each time you win, your opponent’s effectiveness at avoiding your coupe de grace is lessened. Each time he wins, his position is strengthened. When at last one side is reduced to zero cliché dice, then another one of the beautiful rules in Risus kicks in: the victor can decide what happens to the vanquished (Risus, page 3). Should you win, you can describe an appropriately gruesome death for the opponent, or you can mercifully decide that your opponent was otherwise incapacitated so that you can tie him up and mercilessly torture him later. It’s your call, should you win.

What about wizards who want to sling fireballs, or leathernecks who like to toss grenades? How does Risus combat deal with them? In the same way. Each time a die is lost in the round, it only means that the opponent has somehow managed to avoid certain death. Recently, I have seen previews for the upcoming Mission: Impossible 3 movie. One scene features Tom Cruise running down a highway. Suddenly, there’s a huge explosion behind him. Now if it were me running down the highway, I’d have been crushed by the blast. But not Tom Cruise (hey, isn’t that now a ham-handed reference cliché?). He is merely thrown forcefully up against a car where he can get up to continue the fight. But he would be weakened (i.e., lost a cliché die) in the effort. Combat then continues. Of course, you may not want to go that route, and decide that Target Numbers are better for simulating fireballs and grenades. But keep in mind, even D&D allows saving throws.
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