Elegant. Lightweight. Story-Centered. Risus Epic is an RPG for the ages.
Fans of Risus: The Anything RPG agree, the tabletop roleplaying game created by S. John Ross is the system belletrists and word-wranglers have been looking for but didn’t know it.
The version described in this document (a vast update exists at Ode: The Bard's RPG) takes the basics of Risus and welds them together with the best alternate rules from the community as well as other tabletop roleplaying games. This “gestalt” is intended to be a choice system for longer, meatier campaigns where tales become sagas and characters, legends. This is Risus Epic.
Let’s get started.
1 - The Cliché
What really makes Risus so unique, so good, is the elegant simplicity and power of the mechanic at its heart—the character cliché.
The Heart of Your Character
A cliché is shorthand for a kind of person. It implies a whole bunch of associated things like skills, background, social status, desires, clothing, tools and more. It's best not to think of a cliché as a class, but as a role, an archetype or a cluster of related traits. Characters are loosely defined by their clichés and always have more than one to play. By defining a character in this way, Risus neatly avoids getting bogged down in stats and endless out-of-character meta, relying instead on imagination and common sense to infer what's there. More time can then be spent on what is happening, opening up a wider space for what really matters—the story itself.
Here are two faces you might find familiar:
Aragorn son of Arathorn
Silent Ranger (d6), Friend of the Elves (d10), King of Men in Denial (d16)
Mildly Dramatic Warmongering Royal (d8), Hunter Who Can Track a Hawk on a Cloudy Day (d4), Exploiter of Innocents to Further Own Ends (d10)
Each of these Risus Epic-styled characters feature three clichés. Note that they do not have the traditional attributes like Strength or Charm of other RPGs. In Risus Epic, the characters’ clichés are their stats. Each cliché is associated with a polyhedral die geared toward an ideal score. That ideal score is 1.
Unlike most RPGs which reward rolling high, in Risus Epic, the lower your score, i.e. the closer your score is to 1, the better. A 1 is about achieving that brilliant zen-like moment of absolute perfection. In contrast, (d20) represents no special training or familiarity with results that have a tendency to skew all over the place. (d16) is a little better, representing a basic or apprentice-level competence with results starting to show a semblance of focus. (d6) represents widely recognized mastery—you know what success is and what it takes to get there, and so your range of results will be more refined. In essence, advancing clichés gradually narrow their range of possible outcomes the closer a character gets to perfection.
(d0) — Out-of-action
(d20) — Untrained
(d16) — Beginner
(d12) — Average
(d10) — Skilled
(d8) — Expert
(d6) — Master
(d4) — Legend
(d2) — G.O.A.T.
Note that this use of “funky dice” ensures that though a (d4) or (d6) is understandably more reliable, every character justly has the potential to roll a 1 and succeed brilliantly.
At Least d16 at Everything
Since it's assumed that every PC is at least untrained (d20) in every cliché imaginable, at character creation all recorded clichés start at (d16). This means that any untrained challenge may be attempted at 1d16, that is, when no recorded cliché fits the bill.
2 - Creating Your Character
Let’s create a more robust Risus Epic character:
Description: Blonde, blue-eyed, and muscular. Likes to drink and fight and sail to new lands and raid. Dreams of great sagas written about him and to die well and then, in Valhalla, do it all over again.
Clichés: Viking Leader Intent on Legacy (d10), Opportunistic Dreamer with Eyes Like the Sea (d16), Notorious Scourge of England and France (d16)
To create Ragnar, all we had to do was name him, describe him, and assign clichés.
At the start of a campaign, develop 3 clichés for your character and assign (d20) to each. The first cliché you fill out is the Primary—the one that most clearly expresses how your PC sees him or herself. You then receive 5 starting points to spend on lowering the cliché dice for that character. [2 additional points are available once Dreams and Agonies have been filled out. More on that later —Ed.] Each point you spend on a cliché lowers it by one die size. Normally, new PC’s may not have clichés lower than (d10), so Ragnar’s Viking Leader Intent on Legacy is maxed out, for now.
The Loaded Cliché
“Why are you wearing a mask? Were you burned by acid or something like that?” —Fezzik
Each cliché implies a lot about a character, including his or her abilities and items. It seems likely that Ragnar would be comfortable with blades and battle, be an accomplished sailor and runner, and have a penchant for all-night revelry. No doubt he owns a good sword and axe, and wears a long, coloured tunic over wool or linen trousers tied with a leather belt.
Using original Risus examples, Psychic Schoolgirl (d12) probably has the power to sense (and be freaked-out by) the psychometric residue lingering at a murder scene. She probably owns a cute, plushy backpack filled with school supplies. Roguish Space Pirate (d10) can probably do all kinds of Han Solo-type things and owns a laser pistol, plus a used star freighter of questionable lightspeed capability.
Tools of the Trade
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” —Han Solo
As you can see, each cliché is implicitly loaded with several tools of the trade–whatever makes sense for the campaign. However, equipment can be lost or damaged, which can cripple or limit that cliché’s power. A Roguish Space Pirate (d10) with an impounded space freighter loses all ability to haul cargo to distant suns no matter what his cliché level. On the other hand, a Psychic Schoolgirl (d12) who’s plushy backpack is stolen would lose none of her ability to roll 1d12 to sense paranormal details at a murder scene. Hirsute Barbarian (d10), forced into a gladiatorial arena without his trusty blade can still rely on his bare hands, but would roll one die size higher—(d12)—until he’s again properly armed. The backpack-deprived Psychic Schoolgirl might face a similar penalty when it’s time to do her homework.
During the course of an adventure, PC’s may discover enchanted, cutting-edge or otherwise uncommon equipment. These Special Items might lower cliché die size, or exploit a more interesting game mechanic. For example:
Experimental Navigation Software that lets you reroll and choose the best result.
Elegant Stradivarius alone is able to seduce the Vampire Prince.
Brass Knuckles of Mercy grants a die size at least equal to your foes, but their lives must be spared.
King’s Own Ring allows the wearer to win any ties in a verbal challenge.
Sword of Boasting grants its effect only when an audience is watching.
The Fortune Die
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” —Shakespeare
Instead of allocating all starting points to clichés, 1 point may be exchanged for The Fortune Die. The Fortune Die acts as a seed that grows, ebbs and flows along with the character, providing timely aid when needed. It begins as a 1d4, but can increase in potency as the campaign progresses.
Fill Your Lucky Strikes
At the start of every play session, each player having the Fortune Die casts it. The highest roll determines the number of Lucky Strikes the party has at their disposal. Lucky Strikes can then be spent by any player before any cliché roll to lower it by one die size. This should be roleplayed by the player in some fashion, e.g. as a streak of luck, divine favour, a flash of inspiration, angelic intervention, unusual resourcefulness, etc.
Lucky Strikes may also be traded for Feat Points at a cost of two to one—a useful option when the party finds itself in a challenging situation.
Sacrifice the Fortune Die
In truly dire straits, a sort of “last resort” option is to sacrifice the Fortune Die itself. This may be done before or during a cliché roll, even after you've rolled (just before it resolves). To sacrifice the Fortune Die,
cast your Fortune Die
subtract that total from your cliché roll
“damage” the Fortune Die, reducing it by one size
Fatten the Fortune Die
In the event a PC takes an important step toward their Dream, or along the campaign story arc, the GM may be requested to expand their Fortune Die. [This could be a way to reward PC’s who “stay on track.” —Ed.] If the GM agrees, the Fortune Die is cast. Did it max out, e.g. 4 on a 1d4? If so, expand the Fortune Die by one size.
1d4 — Fortune Seeker
1d6 — Fortune's Friend
1d8 — Fortune's Ally
1d10 — Fortune's Muse
1d12 — Fortune's Favourite
1d16 — Fortune's Peer
1d20 — Master of Fortune
1d30 — Angel of Fortune
Each PC begins the campaign with one Feat Point. These may be spent to activate several in-game special effects called Feats (see Appendix: Feats) and can be saved between sessions.
Feat Points are awarded
by the GM in the event of a particularly heroic act
by a player as gratitude for saving their PC’s life
when rolling for character advancement (sometimes)
“Many of the thieves will resist. My regular enforcers will be inadequate.”
In order to smooth gameplay, NPC's (Non-Player Characters) should be balanced against your PC's. A common thug might have 2 to 3 points, while a major villain might have 4 to 5 (and use his clichés creatively). Allied NPC's might start with 3 to 4 points, unless they're permanent campaigners, in which case more is advisable.
Concerning the creative use of clichés, Dan Suptic has concocted a cracking cookbook on fortifying foes that can easily be modified to Risus Epic.
3 - Playing the Game
“Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...” —Grandfather
From its inception, the essence of rolegaming has been a party of PC's on a journey filled with difficult encounters. In Risus Epic, most encounters are resolved through challenges. A challenge means any situation in which one would wish to roll against an opponent or a target to see who wins and who loses. To resolve a challenge,
choose a cliché (now active)
roll the die corresponding to its level, and
compare the total with your opponent or target
Defeat and Death
“Well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.”
“Search his clothes for loose change.”
The bad news. Any time a character loses a challenge, their active cliché is increased by one die size. If any clichés are increased past (d20), a character is considered out of action (d0); they are defeated for the purposes of that challenge. This could mean that they become incapacitated, or sink into despair, or fall into a coma, or whatever the GM decides under the circumstances. If all of a character's clichés reach (d0), the character is dead. Kaput.
The Three Challenges
Like it's predecessor, Risus Epic features three kinds of challenges designed to govern all in-game encounters:
Contest, one round, character vs. character
Battle, multi-round, character vs. character
Target, one round, character vs. environment
The GM will switch between these three methods many times during an adventure depending on the encounter, pacing and mood. Sometimes, a strength challenge works best as a Contest. If long and drawn out, better declare it a Battle. And sometimes, say, in the event of rubble from a fallen tower trapping your party member, a Target.
Two characters grab for the same coinpurse. This calls for a Contest—a decisive single roll between active opponents. Roll bones, winner-takes-all, no second chances! Let's see what happens.
Madmartigan - Daikini Deuteragonist from Galladoorn (d10); Disgraced and Booze-besotted Knight (d16)
Willow Ufgood - Nelwyn Protagonist Born to Simple Farming Stock (d12); Aspiring Sorcerer Deemed Special by High Aldwin (d16)
The two prepare to contest for the purse. Considering them more appropriate, both activate their second clichés. Madmartigan the shifty Disgraced Knight rolls 1d16 and gets a very focused 5, while Willow, relying on sleight-of-hand as an Aspiring Sorcerer, completely flubs his 1d16, getting 15.
With a lopsided grin, Madmartigan snatches the loot and walks away.
“The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right... and who is dead.” —The Man in Black
Whereas a Contest is over in one round, a Battle occurs whenever two rival characters face off against each other in a series of contested rolls; jockeying for position, launching attacks, activating defenses, or otherwise wearing down an opponent in order to gain victory. This can be literal or metaphorical; Battles can encompass anything from sieges to seductions, jousts to psychic duels, gunfights to arguments, wrestling matches to conflicting emotions, aerial dogfights to dueling banjos.
The GM decides when a Battle has begun, at which time each participant makes an attack in turn. What constitutes an “attack” depends on the nature of the challenge, but it should always be roleplayed if dialogue is involved, or described in entertaining detail.
“To the pain!”
“I don't think I'm quite familiar with that phrase.”
Both parties in the battle (attacker and defender) roll using their chosen cliché. The player with the lowest result wins the round, at which time the loser expands their active cliché by one die size. This “damage” lasts for the rest of the battle, and signifies that the character has been pushed a step closer to defeat.
Cliché damage needn’t always be interpreted in terms of blood or HP. As seen in this famously familiar example, battles can be about tactical advantage where no one is injured, and (like Inigo) the loser needn't die. It can mean a greater loss of focus, stamina, self-control, appetite, ammo, honor, memory, mana, allies, votes, sight, hope, love, and a host of other possibilities. Fully embracing this aspect of Risus Epic is vital to getting the most out of the game.
Bait and Switch
“Why are you smiling?”
“Because I know something you don't know.”
“And what is that?”
“I am not left-handed.”
In a battle, clichés may be swapped every round if desired. If Cutthroat Corsair (d8) wants to lop heads one round, and switch to Raised by a Troop of Baboons (d12) the next to swing on chandeliers, that’s fine. However, anytime a character has a cliché reach (d0) in battle, he’s been defeated, even if he has other clichés left to play with.
“Run away!” —Arthur
If a character wishes to flee a Battle, he or she must roll once more, as normal. A win means they successfully run off, taking no cliché damage. If they lose, the active cliché is damaged, and the character is forced to continue the battle.
To the Victor...
“Come sir, we must get you to your ship.” —Count Rugen
Eventually, one side's cliché will expand past (d20) to (d0). At this point, the winner decides the fate of the loser. In a physical or magical Battle, the loser might be killed (or mercifully spared). In a courtroom, the loser is sentenced by the judge, or fails to prosecute. In the case of a temptation, the loser succumbs to its power or fails to seduce. While the GM does have veto power in managing proper context, the spoils of war are largely left up to the victor.
Evening the Odds
“My brains, your strength, and his steel against sixty men, and you think a little head jiggle is supposed to make me happy? Hmmmm?” —Westley
Facing a daunting opponent, or several, is not easy. Especially with a ruthless GM! Fret not, memorable games are born in such crucibles. To even the odds, good players practice resource management, making liberal use of Special Items, Team-ups, Focused Clichés, Lucky Strikes, Feats, sacrificed Fortune Die, and above all, creative roleplaying!
Time and Distance
“Three years he said that. ‘Good night Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning.’” —Westley
No standard time or distance scale exists in Risus Epic. Everything depends on context. In a melee battle, each round might represent just a few seconds, while rounds in a negotiation between planetary ambassadors might represent hours or days.
“He's getting away from me, Fezzik! Please!” —Inigo Montoya
In the event your character faces a challenge in which no being opposes them directly, and the GM thinks success would not be automatic, choose a cliché. After the GM sets a Target according to the table below, roll your cliché die and compare the result.
18 — Mundane
15 — Average
10 — Ambitious
7 — Arduous
4 — Extraordinary
1 — Impossible
“Humiliations galore.” —Inigo Montoya
A roll of 1 always counts as a critical hit. On a Target roll, this means an extra in-game benefit, to be determined by the GM, with input welcome from the players. In a Contest or Battle, however, this usually always results in the opponent receiving extra cliché damage. As usual, this should be roleplayed with appropriate flair.
“Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!” —Vizzini
The GM determines what sort of clichés are appropriate for the challenge. Any others are considered inappropriate. In a physical fight, Waif-like Washerwoman (d12) is inappropriate. In a clothes cleaning contest, Apprentice Blacksmith (d16) is inappropriate. However, inappropriate does not mean forbidden—provided it’s imaginative or entertaining enough, anything is possible. Of course, its use must be plausible within the context of the challenge, the genre and the tone that the GM has set for the adventure.
In the case of inappropriate clichés, all challenge rules apply normally, with one exception—the loser adds two die sizes instead of one. Thus, Creative Court Jester (d10) could be dangerous if cornered and attacked unfairly. The stakes are higher, beware!
When in doubt, the instigator determines the type of challenge that occurs. If Maniacal Wizard suddenly casts Magic Missile at Apprentice Blacksmith, it’s a magical Battle, in which case the latter’s clichés will likely be inappropriate. But, if Apprentice Blacksmith smacks Maniacal Wizard in the back with a hammer, it’s a physical Battle and the mage’s clichés will likely be inappropriate. If the challenge is not a surprise, and the parties go at it roughly simultaneously, both sides clichés are appropriate and on equal footing.
“Of all the necks on this boat, Highness, the one you should be worrying about is your own.” —Vizzini
In the face of a big challenge, risk-loving or desperate characters may choose to focus their clichés. This may be roleplayed as an extraordinary effort at the cost of later injury. To stress a cliché,
choose how many die sizes you want to focus your cliché by
subtract that number of die sizes from your cliché and roll
once it resolves, restore the cliché to normal, then
damage it by increasing the number of die sizes you focused
A stressed cliché takes time to heal (see Recovering Clichés). Note also that a cliche cannot be stressed such that its die size penalty would reduce it to an out-of-action state past (d20). Focusing is legal for any kind of cliché roll, provided the GM agrees that “pushing it” fits the action involved.
Let's say that Ivar the Boneless, Viking Warrior (d12) is attacked by Björn Ironside, Known in Valhalla (d8). Ivar has little chance in a physical duel, so he opts for a trick, switching to his Ruthless Strategist (d12)—an inappropriate cliché for physical combat—and focusing it by two die sizes. Ivar, Ruthless Strategist (d8) is going to gamble everything on his ability to lay a verbal trap.
In round one, Björn Ironside, Known in Valhalla (d8) rolls and Ivar also rolls, with the latter telling him that he has kidnapped Björn’s wife and children. “Their lives depend on your surrender!” If Ivar loses, his Ruthless Strategist would swell to (d20) for the focus damage, then to (d0) for losing the round (actually, it’s worse than that since an extra die is lost for using an inappropriate cliché). In RP terms, Björn sees through the bluff and defeats him.
But what if Ivar's ruse succeeds? Björn Ironside, Known in Valhalla (d8) swells to (d12) for losing to an inappropriate cliché, while Ivar's Ruthless Strategist (d8) becomes (d20) for the focus damage. In round two, the latter may switch back to Viking Warrior (d12), in which case he has successfully evened the playing field from the jaws of almost certain defeat.
“Westley's got his strength back. I'm starting him on the machine tonight.” — Count Rugan
Once the challenge ends, cliché damage is recovered at a healing rate determined by the GM and based on the nature of the attacks involved. If mounts or vehicles were used (mules, starfighters, mechs, Spanish galleons) then they are likely damaged too and must be healed or repaired. This can be accomplished by rolling or roleplay, or ideally both.
For example, if a character has been defeated and thrown into jail with a cliché at (d0), the GM may require time or a special roll for the cliché to heal. But, sometimes, recovery is dependent on conditions and not time or chance. Consider what really “feeds” the cliché. If it’s physical, such as Star Athlete, or Bare-Knuckle Brawler, it may simply require rest and a bandage, yet note that the former may recover just as well via a rousing speech from coach, and the latter a swig of potent mead.
“If one should attack him, the two will stand against him. And the triple cord will not be quickly snapped.”—Qohelet
Two or more characters may team up for a Battle or Contest. For the duration of that challenge, they may contend as a single unit instead of as individuals. Teaming up is an effective way to focus offense and spread out damage in defense.
There are two kinds of teams, Character Teams for PC’s and NPC’s, and Brute-Squads for nameless NPC hordes.
“Then we'll do that together, too.” —The Avengers
To form a team of characters,
let each team member choose an active cliché and roll
the lowest roll represents the team's effort
In the event a team loses a challenge, the dice loss is taken by the player with the highest roll. If the highest roll is a tie, the player with the most advanced active cliché takes the loss. If a teammate’s cliché reaches (d0), that character is incapacitated until the end of the challenge, whereupon the victor will decide their fate.
For example, a character has a cliché that, though indirectly related, could aid another in a task—a Goblin Mechanic (d12) asking an Airship Captain (d16) for help in fixing a steam dirigible. If the GM agrees, the two would-be repairmen would roll and select their best result, proving that two heads are potentially better than one.
“Beat it or I'll call the brute squad.”
“I'm on the brute squad.”
“You are the brute squad.”
When a swarm of a thousand locusts attack the PCs within the lair of Osiris God of Egypt (d4), the GM needn’t keep track of a thousand dice. Instead, they may be declared as a brute squad. This means that the horde participates as a single entity, e.g. Swarm of Locusts (d8).
In-game, a brute squad is identical to a single foe, but it will probably have more cliché dice due to its strength in numbers. Returns can diminish of course: three party-loving Prince (d12)s banding together would conceivably form a liability as Inept Trio of Drunken Royals (d20).
Brute squads stick together until they’re defeated, at which point survivors may flee (though at least one will remain to suffer whatever fate the victor decides). In this way, an entire ship’s crew, an elven forest, cities as economic rivals, or nations at war can be represented by a single cliché.
As mentioned, the power of clichés lie in their ability to brilliantly abstract details, and economics is no exception. There are no artificially static equipment lists or currency tables here; everything is roleplayed. Clichés allow players to demonstrate how value truly lies in the eye of the beholder; that supply and demand is no zero-sum game. Clichés like Velvet-tongued Card Sharp, Charming Prince, or Resourceful Merchant become prime agents for amassing wealth and items, just as in the real world.
Want that mithril-gilded tower shield or luxury spaceliner? Enter a Contest or Battle with Tight-Fisted Seller (d12) and choose your best bargaining cliché.
A More Lively World
“Well, one thing I will say. The fire swamp certainly does keep you on your toes.” —Westley
With a little time and creativity, personifying otherwise inanimate objects can make for a more memorable encounter. Instead of a Target, the GM could declare a Contest and have the party roleplay saving their companion from under Ridiculously Heavy Fallen Log (d10). A leap from the keep to a tower might pit a PC against Vast Empty Space (d8). With enough imagination, Targets could potentially be eliminated from the game, and the world itself feel more alive.
Places as Clichés
“We'll never survive.”
“Nonsense. You're only saying that because no one ever has.”
One other power of clichés is their ability to deftly abstract cities, dungeons, rivers, planets, or any location imaginable.
New Vegas, Jewel of Mars
Description: Astride the River Thoth sits a bustling city that never sleeps. Birthplace of the Martian Queen, New Vegas boasts impressive cultural attractions, luxurious inns, hidden gambling dens and a thriving black market.
Clichés: Tourist and Shopping Mecca (d12), Underground Crime (d10)
Khazad-dûm, Dwarven City
Description: A fabled dwarven city built underground and frozen in time. Rumored to be haunted, but more likely abandoned. A godforsaken complex of crumbling fortifications, crypts, trapdoors and lairs, it is a place both lusted after and feared by scavengers hunting for old gold and secrets.
Clichés: Haunted City (d10), Ancient Traps and Secrets (d12), Scavengers (d10), Hiding Places (d16)
Description: You find a lucrative port in the West Indies.
Clichés: Ship Traffic (d10), Rich in Trade Goods (d12), Heavily Guarded (d12)
There are two ways to use clichés in locations:
Location vs. You
The location wants to challenge the PC’s. The Seaport is Heavily Guarded (d12) so, while they’re sneaking around, the Seaport rolls 1d12 against them. If the Seaport wins, the PC’s have a run-in with the local militia. In New Vegas, the GM might use Underground Crime (d10) if the players try to pull off a heist. Does the local criminal community object to the PC’s muscling in on their turf? Roll 1d10 against the PC’s Reformed Ex-Con (d10) or Infamous For a Crime He Didn’t Commit (d12).
You vs. Location
The PC’s want to challenge the location. They want to fence some stolen goods from their heist. Can they find anyone? They contest Underground Crime (d10) to make an unsavoury connection. Or, in Khazad-dûm, the PC’s are making their way down a dark corridor, searching for loot. They contest Ancient Traps and Secrets (d12). If they succeed, something valuable is uncovered. If they fail—it's a trap! The alarm sounds, and the PC’s scramble to contest Hiding Places (d16) as they hear the roar of Balrog, Demon of the Ancient World (d4) approaching.
4 - Advancing Your Character
“Fezzik, you did something right!”
“Don't worry, I won't let it go to my head.”
Character advancement occurs if
the adventure session has ended
the GM wishes to reward a player mid-adventure for exceptional rolegaming
Character advancement consists of two steps.
Staging the Soliloquy
The first step is to perform a soliloquy. Soliloquies are Shakespearean moments when in-game time stops and the GM prompts one PC to reveal his or her soul to the table—no constraints, no interruptions. It could be an aside to an imagined audience, an impassioned cry to the brass-like sky, or a prayer of gratitude to a deity. It might involve how the PC feels about the present situation, the past up to that point, or their future hopes and dreams.
Once the PC performs their soliloquy, they may advance to the Roll of Fate.
(Inspired by Epic of Dreams RPG by Drew Cochran)
The Roll of Fate
“Have you ever considered piracy? You'd make a wonderful dread pirate Roberts.” —Westley
The second step is to roll in an attempt to advance your character's stats.
Choose one cliché you wish to advance.
If the result is equal to or higher than the cliché's current level, decrease the cliché by one die size.
If it fails, not to worry. Simply roll 1d6 instead and
1 — replace a Tool
2 — find a Special Item
3 — gain a Feat Point
4 — expand the Fortune Die
5 — add or change one cliché descriptor
6 — add a new cliché of level (d16)
“Have fun storming the castle!”
“Think it'll work?”
“It would take a miracle.”
To perform a feat, expend a Feat Point and declare one from the list below. Roleplay it, preferably in cinematic bullet-time! Each feat can be purchased only once per player per game session.
Berserk. Affects all opponents in the challenge. You roll once, against which each opponent rolls their cliché. If you beat all opponents, they each take one cliché damage. If you beat some opponents, you and those beaten each take one damage. If all opponents beat you, you take damage.
Eye for an Eye. If you lose this round, your opponent loses too.
High Stakes. Next round, instead of normal damage, whoever loses must expand their active cliché 1d6 die sizes. (Thanks to René Vernon)
Intensity. In place of taking an action, prep a nominated cliché. Next round, the cliché is lowered one die size, at which time you may either continue building intensity or attack. If you are attacked, the intensity aborts, with no chance of retaliation.
Miracle Heal. In a non-battle situation, immediately restore a damaged cliché to full strength, even if (d0). In a battle, this may only be used to recover one die size.
Near-Perfect Moment. Instead of rolling as normal, the result is 2.
Overdrive. Focus a cliché, but take only half damage rounded down.
Rage. If a roll involving a PC's Agony fails, reroll. The new result is final.
Scrounge. Instantly replace a broken or missing Tool of the Trade for any one cliché.
Total Focus. Lower your cliché by 2 die sizes when rolling against a Target.
“Who are you? Are we enemies? Why am I on this wall? Where's Buttercup?” —Westley
Can't think of a cliché? Here are some questions to help you come up with that perfect phrase:
What is my character's profession?
Race or species?
Living background? Shantytown, Remote Village, Capital City, Underworld
Personal history? Rightful, Former, Once Known As, Haunted by, Defrocked, Last of the,
Level of dedication? Amateur, Veteran, Devoted, Zealous, World-Weary, Reluctant, Diehard
Religion, philosophy, ideology? Mystic, Worshiper of, Pious, Impious, Extremist, Anti-magic
Social class? Heir, Aristocratic, King of the, Freeman, Commoner, Slave
Group? Guild, League, Alliance, Legion of, Would-be, One of, Initiate
Demeanor? Jolly, Surly, Gentle, Starry-eyed, Sinister, Haughty, Stalwart
Appearance? Square-jawed, Beady-eyed, Pale, Voluptuous, Scarred, Giant
Self-image? Legend in His Own Mind, Humble, Unfit to Live
Relationships? Father/Mother/Son/Daughter of, Adopted by, Disciple of
Dreams? Determined to, Bent on, Eager to, Plotting to, Secretly in Love With (see Appendix: Dreams)
Agonies? (see Appendix: Agonies)
Flaws? (see Appendix: Flaws)
(With thanks to Anatomy of a Cliché, by S. John Ross)
Alternatively, flesh out your PC by filling out this questionnaire:
Who are you?
Where are you from?
Why are you here?
What are you looking for?
List three things your character does better than the average [race]?
List three things your character does worse than the average [race]?
List three things everyone knows about you.
List three things no one knows about you.
List three things you believe are true.
List three things you want but don’t have.
List three things you have but don’t want.
(From Maximum Risus Fun! by Guy Hoyle)
“I will never doubt again.”
“There will never be a need.”
A dream is a lifelong goal; the quest that surpasses earthly desires to move directly upon a person's soul. Throughout history, heroes and heroines have left behind their past and risked the present in order to respond to the siren call of the future. Dreams are the primary cause for why characters strive to do great things, and a source of frustration if too long unacted upon. Over time, dreams will be challenged, and the character will have to make a choice to either stay true to their dream, or to compromise and squander it. A warning, however: one's dream may be only a lesser one, a waystation on the path to something more that must be sacrificed like an old wineskin in order to attain the greater.
Browse these examples, or roll to choose at random:
Ascend to the Spiritual Realm
Assassinate the Unjust Prince
Avenge the Death of My Wife
Become a White Wizard
Blot Out the Sun
Bring My Enemies to Ruin
Bring Peace to My Nation
Build the Tallest Ziggurat
Conquer the New Frontier
Complete My Pilgrimage
Deliver My Village Out of Poverty
Discover the Lost City of Gold
End the Royal Bloodline
Eradicate the Faithless
Find My Long Lost Children
Find the Holy Grail
Find the Meaning of Life
Free My People from Slavery
Keep My Sister Safe
Kill the White Whale
Leave These Lands and Never Look Back
Never Need Again
Outlast My Oppressors
Raise a Crusade Against the Invaders
Repay My Debt
Reconcile With My Family
Reconcile My Faith
Reform the Ruling Regime
Rescue My Father
Restore My Family’s Honour
Repay My Crushing Debt
Return Home Again
Rise to the Top
See the Edge of the World
See the Face of God
Surpass My Mentor
Take Back the Throne
Unbind Myself From My Contract
Win Back Her Heart
Writing your character’s Dream into a cliché nets you 1 extra point at character creation.
“Do you hear? That is the sound of ultimate suffering. My heart made that sound when Rugen slaughtered my father. The man in black makes it now.” —Inigo Montoya
The problem is, even a past left behind has the tendency to ambush one's future. A character’s Agony has the potential to really spice things up, for it is their unspoken secret; a deep-seated emotional wound from their history in which brokenness was born. Whereas a Dream is something a character wants to achieve in their future, an Agony is likely something they wish could be removed from their past. Agonies function as negative motivations; either to avoid or to prevent something similar from ever happening again. Though painful, Agonies are the foundation for true epic storytelling, for when faced squarely alongside the twin companions—Truth and Love—pain is unveiled as strength and fear as opportunity.
Some poignant examples:
Abandoned My Post
Abused By My Father
Accidentally Killed Someone
Accused of Witchcraft
An Innocent Paid For My Crimes
Bastard Child of a Prominent Noble
Betrayed My Best Friend
Born in a Bawdy House
Called Worthless My Whole Life
Cursed by a Gypsy
Disappointment to My Parents
Dishonored My House
Entire Childhood Was a Sham
Excommunicated From My Order
Failed to Protect my Children
Fathered an Illegitimate Child
Fled the Battle Like a Coward
Gambled and Lost Everything
Left at the Altar
Lost My Only Child
Shunned By My Family
Sold My Soul For a Pittance
Suffering From an Incurable Disease
Too Late To Achieve My Dream
Unwittingly Unleashed a Plague
Wife Left Me For Another
Writing your character’s Agony into a cliché gets you 1 extra point at character creation.
“They were great men with huge flaws, and you know what, those flaws almost made them greater.” —Harry Potter
Agonies tend to bear inconvenient fruit. A flaw can be a vice, a shortcoming, a character defect or other negative trait that diminishes your PC, even in their moments of glory. Though not the disease, flaws are the visible symptoms of Agonies.
Examples abound in fiction:
Lord Macbeth of Overambition and Hubris (d12) assassinates the king, becoming King Macbeth the Guilt-ridden and Paranoid (d12).
Oskar Schindler the Greedy Industrialist (d10) experiences an epiphany and becomes Daring Rescuer of the Oppressed (d8).
Captain Hook the Pan Obsessed (d12) and Ahab the Fanatical Whale Hunter (d8).
Iago the Cruel and Manipulative (d8) exploits Othello the Unreasonably Jealous (d12) to drive him to murder.
Veruca Salt the Unbearable Brat (d10) receives her just desserts upon meeting Willy Wonka the Eccentric Confectioner(d8).
Doc Brown the Absent-Minded Genius (d10) manages to help Marty the Brave but Accident-Prone (d12) save George the Painfully Timid (d12).
For the purposes of the game, physical defects have also been included as flaws. Browse the list below for a suitable flaw to work into your PC's cliché. Or roll 1d100 for a random touch.
the Big Mouthed
(Dreams, Agonies and Flaws based on Epic of Dreams RPG by Drew Cochran)
Comments? Feedback? Give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, wheel your ox-cart on to the Middle Ages:
Created 03/17/2020 during COVID-19