Risus Epic

Elegant. Lightweight. Story-Centered. Risus Epic is an RPG for the ages.

by Colin MacIntyre

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)

Prince Humperdinck

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:

Ragnar Lothbrok

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.

Creation Dice

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.

Special Items

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,

  1. announce it

  2. cast your Fortune Die

  3. subtract that total from your cliché roll

  4. 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

Feat Points

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)

Creating NPC's

“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,

    1. choose a cliché (now active)

    2. roll the die corresponding to its level, and

    3. compare the total with your opponent or target

Defeat and Death

“Well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.”

“What's that?”

“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.

Cliché Damage

“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

Critical Hits

“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.

Inappropriate Clichés

“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.

Focused Clichés

“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,

  1. choose how many die sizes you want to focus your cliché by

  2. subtract that number of die sizes from your cliché and roll

  3. once it resolves, restore the cliché to normal, then

  4. 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.

Recovering Clichés

“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.

Character Teams


“We'll lose.”

“Then we'll do that together, too.” —The Avengers

To form a team of characters,

  1. declare it

  2. let each team member choose an active cliché and roll

  3. 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.

Brute Squads

“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.

Buying Items

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.

Three examples:

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.

  1. Choose one cliché you wish to advance.

  2. Roll it.

  3. 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.

Devising Clichés

“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:

  1. Ascend to the Spiritual Realm

  2. Assassinate the Unjust Prince

  3. Avenge the Death of My Wife

  4. Become a White Wizard

  5. Become Immortal

  6. Blot Out the Sun

  7. Bring My Enemies to Ruin

  8. Bring Peace to My Nation

  9. Build the Tallest Ziggurat

  10. Conquer the New Frontier

  11. Complete My Pilgrimage

  12. Deliver My Village Out of Poverty

  13. Discover the Lost City of Gold

  14. End the Royal Bloodline

  15. Eradicate the Faithless

  16. Find My Long Lost Children

  17. Find the Holy Grail

  18. Find the Meaning of Life

  19. Free My People from Slavery

  20. Keep My Sister Safe

  21. Kill the White Whale

  22. Kindle Ragnarok

  23. Leave These Lands and Never Look Back

  24. Never Need Again

  25. Outlast My Oppressors

  26. Raise a Crusade Against the Invaders

  27. Repay My Debt

  28. Reconcile With My Family

  29. Reconcile My Faith

  30. Reform the Ruling Regime

  31. Rescue My Father

  32. Restore My Family’s Honour

  33. Repay My Crushing Debt

  34. Return Home Again

  35. Rise to the Top

  36. See the Edge of the World

  37. See the Face of God

  38. Surpass My Mentor

  39. Take Back the Throne

  40. Unbind Myself From My Contract

  41. 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:

  1. Abandoned My Post

  2. Abused By My Father

  3. Accidentally Killed Someone

  4. Accused of Witchcraft

  5. An Innocent Paid For My Crimes

  6. Bastard Child of a Prominent Noble

  7. Betrayed My Best Friend

  8. Born in a Bawdy House

  9. Called Worthless My Whole Life

  10. Cursed by a Gypsy

  11. Disappointment to My Parents

  12. Dishonored My House

  13. Entire Childhood Was a Sham

  14. Excommunicated From My Order

  15. Failed to Protect my Children

  16. Fathered an Illegitimate Child

  17. Fled the Battle Like a Coward

  18. Gambled and Lost Everything

  19. Left at the Altar

  20. Lost My Only Child

  21. Shunned By My Family

  22. Sold My Soul For a Pittance

  23. Suffering From an Incurable Disease

  24. Too Late To Achieve My Dream

  25. Unjustly Imprisoned

  26. Unrequited Love

  27. Unwittingly Unleashed a Plague

  28. 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.

  1. the Absent-minded

  2. the Addicted

  3. the Aggressive

  4. the Aimless

  5. the Anxious

  6. the Arrogant

  7. the Big Mouthed

  8. the Bigoted

  9. the Blind

  10. the Callous

  11. the Childish

  12. the Close-minded

  13. the Controlling

  14. the Cruel

  15. the Cursed

  16. the Cynical

  17. the Deaf

  18. the Dependent

  19. the Delusional

  20. the Deranged

  21. the Dishonest

  22. the Disloyal

  23. the Drunk

  24. the Dyslexic

  25. the Eccentric

  26. the Entitled

  27. the Erratic

  28. the Fanatical

  29. the Fickle

  30. the Fierce

  31. the Flirtatious

  32. the Foolish

  33. the Frail

  34. the Gluttonous

  35. the Gruff

  36. the Gullible

  37. the Hedonist

  38. the Humourless

  39. the Hysterical

  40. the Illiterate

  41. the Impatient

  42. the Impudent

  43. the Incompetent

  44. the Indecisive

  45. the Jealous

  46. the Judgmental

  47. the Klutz

  48. the Lame

  49. the Lazy

  50. the Liar

  51. the Manipulative

  52. the Meddlesome

  53. the Megalomaniac

  54. the Melodramatic

  55. the Mute

  56. the Naïve

  57. the Narcissist

  58. the Neurotic

  59. the Nosy

  60. the Obsessive

  61. the Overambitious

  62. the Overprotective

  63. the Overzealous

  64. the Pacifist

  65. the Paranoid

  66. the Passive

  67. the Perfectionist

  68. the Pessimist

  69. the Phobic

  70. the Predictable

  71. the Prudish

  72. the Rebellious

  73. the Reckless

  74. the Remorseless

  75. the Sadist

  76. the Self-destructive

  77. the Self-pitying

  78. the Self-righteous

  79. the Selfish

  80. the Senile

  81. the Shallow

  82. the Short-tempered

  83. the Soft-hearted

  84. the Spineless

  85. the Squeamish

  86. the Stubborn

  87. the Superstitious

  88. the Tactless

  89. the Thin-Skinned

  90. the Timid

  91. the Unkempt

  92. the Unlucky

  93. the Unreliable

  94. the Vain

  95. the Vengeful

  96. the Violent

  97. the Weak-willed

  98. the Wounded

  99. the Withdrawn

  100. the Xenophobic

(Dreams, Agonies and Flaws based on Epic of Dreams RPG by Drew Cochran)

Comments? Feedback? Give me a shout at colin@empress.cards

In the meantime, wheel your ox-cart on to the Middle Ages:

Created 03/17/2020 during COVID-19