This is an attempt to make Clichés equal(ish) in a more balanced and complete fantasy campaign setting. Each Cliché has up to 4 skills. Skills will vary in worth depending on the campaign so you can be flexible – this is a rough arbitrary list of skills for applying to a Cliché.
I have 2 main goals; Firstly, to make Clichés equivalent and with backwards compatibility to base Risus and Secondly; Create a lightweight rule interpretation to enable long term RPG campaigns without some of the imbalance and silliness of base Risus.
You will see on the below list combat skills are split in a seemingly arbitrary manor; this is to avoid munchkin Clichés being able to do everything i.e., “I’m the edgy sister of Elric so of course I can use all weapons and magic and I have a pet dragon”. If key power skills below are balanced, you can add as many fluff skills as you like. The same skill can occur in multiple Clichés.
To create a character all you have to do is name them, describe them, and assign Clichés. You get 10 dice to spend on Clichés, distributed however you like, on as many or few Clichés as you decide (4 is usual as 4,3,2,1 dice). The first 2 Clichés listed for your character are the Primary and Secondary Class Cliché – the Cliché that most clearly expresses how the character sees themselves.
A typical character would look similar to a normal Risus character; however values can of course be moved around.
4 dice Cliché - Class primary (usually the combat skills)
3 dice Cliché - Class secondary (other skills associated with the
2 dice Cliché - Background
1 dice Cliché - Racial/Culture
Skills cost 1 slot each with the exception of combat skills which cost 2 slots each as they are more valuable in play. Also, Magic skills of any type ONLY cover one school – necromancy, illusion, nature whatever – this aids balance. Any time a magic school is used for an effect that isn’t exactly relevant, then reduce you dice pool accordingly. Without having a high cost and access to only one school per skill – it's easy for an intelligent player to cause imbalance with magic skills. Keep in mind players can purchase access to multiple schools if they have enough points (and time).
Academic skills - one skill per area of knowledge, biology, law, history etc
Artistic and performance arts - one skill per activity
Alchemy - creating temporary items, a good way to burn money
Athletics - run, jump climb, swim - catchall skill
Combat - Melee weapon (2 slots)
Combat - Melee Unarmed (2 slots)
Combat - Ranged weapon (2 slots)
Combat - Magic – Melee (2 slots)
Combat - Magic – Ranged (2 slots)
Driving/Piloting - one skill for a group of vehicles
Disguise - subterfuge
Environment Survival - one skill per environ, urban, tundra etc, very tweakable, such as poison survival – affects alcohol as well
Mechanic - repair, build maintain simple tech if you have the tools
Game / sport - one skill per activity
Healing - Magic - Either Nature, Deity, or campaign equivalent
Healing - First aid - a trade-off between someone else’s lost die and yours
Languages - 2 per skill slot used, only your racial language is free
Linguistics - 1 language + basics in most others
Lockpick / Traps - uses tools of the trade
Perception / observation - find traps, spot hidden, look for clues
Persuasion - lying, seducing, convince, bribing, Intimidating
Pickpocket - stealing or planting evidence
Riding - one skill for a group of animals
Stealth - avoid detection - a direct contest against perception
Trade skills - one skill per activity, any that are appropriate to the campaign
It’s highly highly advised to have at least one melee and one ranged ability across your Clichés for all party members if you are running a standard fantasy RPG with combat encounters. Without combat skills a PC is highly penalised in combat game sessions
For party set ups, as in most RPG games, perception, persuasion, healing, and some thief skills should exist somewhere in the party.
An example PC from our campaign:
Character: Alora Thorngage
Cliché (Value): Sorcerer Combat (4)
Associated Skills: Combat (Magic Melee), Combat (Magic Ranged),
Cliché (Value): Sorcerer (3)
Associated Skills: Academic (Arcana), Persuasion, Athletics, Persuasion
Cliché (Value): Halfling Dragon Mashup (2)
Associated Skills: Stealth, Survival (Cold), Languages (Elvish, Osirian), Languages(Common, Draconic)
Cliché (Value): Traveller (1)
Associated Skills: Riding (Axebeak), Persuasion, Combat -Melee weapon
Static Clichés and Demi Dice
From Static Clichés
To make static Clichés work you need to read your dice as demi-dice: the numbers 1 to 3 are read as rolled and the numbers 4 to 6 are read as 0. When read in this way the average result produced by a given number of Cliché dice is equal to the number of dice rolled. This aligns dice rolls, Cliché dice numbers and target numbers rather neatly.
I just buy bags of blank Big Cherry Dice and use a permanent Sharpie on them to create the required dice.
The Game System
As per standard Risus whenever anybody wants to do anything, and nobody’s actively opposing it, and the GM doesn’t think success would be automatic, the player rolls dice. If the total rolled beats (equals or exceeds) the Target Number set by the GM, success! If not, failure! Target numbers follow this scale using demi dice (Combat can be very simply balanced using demi dice):
1: A cinch. A challenge for a peasant. Routine for a pro.
2: A challenge for a professional.
3: A Heroic challenge. For really inventive or tricky stunts.
4: A challenge for a Master. Nearly superhuman difficulty.
5: You’ve GOT to be kidding. Actual superhuman difficulty.
The Target Number depends on the Cliché, and anyone can try anything.
Basic rules of thumb:
For added difficulty you add target dice.
If your skill isn’t exactly relevant, then reduce you dice pool.
Combat Changes to Base rules
Players can Pump but only one dice – and no double pumps.
No inappropriate Clichés for combat – too silly for Risus Equivalence.
Lost leaders don’t cause a disband, any party member can step forward to replace them and no disband damage occurs. The only exception to this is when the Leader flees the battle – then disband damage occurs – a kind of morale penalty if you will.
Generally, 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 fleeing, this allows free damage rolls on the fleeing person (range penalties apply) but you can’t defend. If the entire party decide to tactically retreat under fire but take defensive measures, then these penalties are not applied.
If you have no skills for a particular action, rather than core Risus ‘brevet’ dice – I allow a single ‘emergency dice’. Equivalence uses demi dice ‘1,2,3,0,0,0’ while the ‘emergency dice’ is ‘1,0,0,0,0,0’. All players have access to this roll in an attempt to do the impossible, however even if you succeed with this roll it gets reduced to zero after to prevent multiple successes. For example, in a deadly standoff after negotiations fail, our hero protagonist with no combat skills enters a knife fight with Thug(4) Combat - Melee weapon; even with no relevant skill our emergency dice manages to roll 1 while the Thug(4) fails miserably with 0,0,0,0 and is cut down - should have donated at that local shrine he passed earlier. Now even though chance was in our hero’s favour the emergency dice is used up, so when a second assailant arrives, they have no other option but to flee. As the emergency dice is a generic skill it cannot be combined with other players rolls in any team effort.
Remember this is still Risus – play how you want and change rules to fit your group - Vive la revolution!
What Saving Throw?
Wait? Do we have saving throws? Well, no, but skills make a good substitute.
For physical damage saves go with highest relevant physical combat Cliché (combat magic may be used if the magic is purely physical in nature – i.e lycanthrope magic). For mental saves, use highest relevant combat magic (and yes using the ‘relevant’ does allow some wiggle room).
Sometimes highest relevant combat skill doesn’t work so we need a backup! If we have no relevant skills the simply add up all the characters Clichés and divide by 4 rounding down – so for an average new character (4,3,2,1) we get a default ‘Save’ of 2.
So your character has to run out a burning building (TD3 fire damage) and has a Combat Melee skill (4) then it’s a simple standard combat. If the character had NO relevant skills and we had to use the default adding up and divide method then use this ‘Save’ score as a temporary Cliché to see if they get out alive or not.
Let’s look at poison - either it’s a) part of the fight i.e. monster attack die or environmental and its included as part of the combat roll, OR b) if you’ve drank a poison potion it’s a slow combat (hours/mins) between your highest physical combat ability vs the poison target dice (TD) or you might want a sudden death SAC depending on your scenario.
There is and isn’t surprise…
A surprise attack is effectively a perception vs invis/stealth roll “Single-Action Conflicts” (SACs) however the damage is NOT applied to the perception or stealth skill (as it would in a normal skill contest). Instead, if stealth beats perception, then it’s a free attack roll from the attacker (who if unlucky could still roll all zeroes using demi dice and miss) with the damage being applied to the losers highest combat dice instead. If perception wins and invis/stealth loses, then we commence standard combat. This scenario works as a SAC which segues into normal combat, if instead we had 2 characters in the dark attacking each other relying on repeated ambushes then we could apply damage to the stealth/perception skills if that was more thematic.
First Aid and Healing – Magical and Otherwise
The number of dice lost in combat become a Cliché of their own, a Cliché which a healer, in true Risus fashion, can take on in healing combat. Let’s say that Orm Strong Arm takes three dice worth of damage to his Bear Skull Wearing Berserker (4 Combat - Melee weapon) Cliché. Well, now Frater Angelico, Leather-Footed Healer (4 Healing - Magic) can take on Grievous Wound (3). Standard First aid requires tools of the trade otherwise apply a penalty. While healing or being healed the involved players cannot contribute to combat. If 2 players have exactly the same healing skill they can combine skills as a team up.
Movement, Range and Other Penalties
For movement, you can play fast and loose, if you must measure then players, NPCs and monsters can all move 30 feet per ‘finger in the air unit of time’ – just make sure to apply the same rules to all. I tend to use time in combat (i.e., a round is 6s) vs time out of combat (a round is 10min) so magical flying say, can be done longer out of combat where someone isn’t trying to gouge your eyes out.
How does an enemy roll/defend though if attacked from range when they don’t have a ranged response? What does it cost and what cost to the initiator if the enemy dodges?
Zac (Pyromancer 4 Combat - Magic – Ranged) flings a fireball at Groflnar (Viking 4 Combat - Melee weapon) as he runs towards Zac. If Groflnar make the roll, he knocks the arrow to one side with his axe - this means no one loses a die as the viking has no ranged combat attack to retaliate, if Groflnar fails the roll, he loses a die. This may seem punitive but highlights the importance of having both a ranged and melee combat abilities and gives some idea of why these skills are split as they are.
For melee combats, anyone in the immediate area can melee – don’t worry about PCs or NPCs being in the way.
For ease of use, all range weapons and spells have the same range penalties and cover penalties. Range attacks also have a melee attack range penalty.
Range is in feet (1 mile = 5280 feet), on a battle map 1 inch is 5 feet
Ranges Distance Penalties for ranged attacks
Melee 10’ or less +1
Ranged 10’ to 150’ 0
Penalty ranged 150’ to 300’ +1
Telescopic 300’ to 1000’ +2
Ludicrous 1000’ or more +4
Cover penalty – partial +1 and complete/invisible +2
For travel, players can (using RELEVANT magic/skill), modify their speeds - teleport /speed boost/fly = this is basically combat against reality - do a check per round, failure reduces dice and puts a soft cap against speed and distance limits use a DC of 3 for standard ‘reality’ checks. If the players skill is +3 dice above the target number required and they player ISN'T in combat then I don’t bother rolling normally.
For speed increases, a ‘sprint’ increases distance travelled by +30 per round and equates to a +1 TN increase.
Magical Crafting and Alchemy
Magic is ephemeral and the mage is the point of origin, permanent magical effects require a roll and the permanent loss of the requisite die if successful.
Creating magic items is personally costly to the mage. Creating a permanent item costs one die of the Cliché used, permanently, per bonus die of the created item. In other words, an Elvish Aeromancer (4)( Combat - Magic – Ranged) who wishes to create a one-die wand of lightning rolls against the difficulty determined by the GM. If successful, he expends one die and becomes an Elvish Aeromancer (3). This loss in dice is permanent, though lost dice can be regained through character advancement as normal. In addition, the mage must be the crafter, so craft skills will take up slots. This limits magic item inflation but also adds flavour for elderly Mage relatives wanting to pass on inheritances. To create an item you need someone with the relevant magic skill and also someone with a relevant crafting skill (doesn’t have to be the same person) – only the mage ’donating’ the skill loses a dice.
For disposables (i.e., alchemy), you have a target number as above, it requires a formulae and materials that have a cost, takes up time and effort and the result has a short shelf life. The difference with alchemy is that there is no permanent loss of die – just a loss of valuable material. Alchemy tools of the trade should not be available automatically and will require some effort on the players side. Any potion or salve created this way will decay over time – 1 month per die used in the creation. As we are again using an arbitrary mechanic rather than number crunching you might want to limit this to one potion game session per Cliché die of the creator unless you have a pressing urge to track gold and components.
A half-way house for splitting up die pools is the summoner – they can split of their dice to be an animated minion(s) with the proviso that the minion is temporary and can’t go beyond ranged, if the minion gets destroyed then ouch but no permanent loss. Of course, with the right ritual the summoner can create a permanent autonomous minion but with the same rules as a magical item.
A Necromancer(4) (Combat - Magic – Ranged) can simply attacks at range describing their summoned minions as part of their normal round) or we can have a more complex playstyle for specific situations – sending in a 1 die skeleton into a room to explore triggers a trap which destroys it resulting in the player raking damage to become Necro(3).
You can of course manage gold income and outcome if you like - alternatively Characters have enough to pay for moderate lifestyles, housing and repairing or replacing tools of the trade – for anything extra – fancy mansions, the magic ring they’ve been lusting after (if anyone is selling one…) etc, they need to trade in that chest of fat loot they picked up. Small pouches and sundry coins they acquire get disappear into normal living expenses. Give the players the option.
Rules Shape the Game
So how do these rules shape Risus? Well the magic rules do have an impact! As it’s a big sacrifice to make a permanent magic effect in ‘Risus Equivalence’ then magic item inflation won’t be a problem – magic items will exist, but as a rule they aren’t going to be up for general sale. Magic items demand a sacrifice of self and will be kept within families and organisations. Items aren’t indestructible and any loss will be hard to replace.
Combat skills for character teams have some interesting potential knock on effects. While any ‘2 slot’ combat skill is ‘appropriate’ for team up combat rolls, having an identical skill – particularly magic – gives rise to interesting ‘Coven Ritual’ magic. Provided the magic school is identical you can train up magic defenders for your Town or City to work together in a ‘Round’, I’ve imposed a hard cap in my games for this – any Ritual Circle number is limited by the skill level (number of participants is 5 times the LOWEST skill level of any participant). It does mean that, as appose to other fantasy games, major defensive magic items will have to be replaced with teams of similarly trained mages.
Imagine and described your actions! While in other games an action is usually from a pre-defined list – you cast a ‘Fireball’ or hit with a ‘Flurry of Blows’ – Risus is…more open. While it's easy to fall back to just shouting ‘Attack’ and rolling a pool of dice, having a skills list can help mitigate this.
There are many sources we can draw from to provide inspiration to players
For ‘Sword and Board’ there are many historical treatises such as MS I.33 (1295) with a list of stances ‘1st Custodia - sub brachia’ and strikes ‘Schiltslach (shield strike)’. The poleaxe has Fiore de'i Liberi ‘The Stance of the Shortened Serpent’
There are many, many martial arts to draw from i.e. Karate ‘kizami-zuki – jab punch’ ‘mawashi-geri – round house kick’.
For Magic there are too many fantasy Sources to list – D&D early spells (Prismatic Spray) where heavily lifted from Jack Vance’s Dying Earth Series and this type of magic system is known as ‘Vancian’. Another easy fallback is liberal use of Google translate – Latin being an old favourite; ‘Fire ball’ becomes ‘Ignis pila’ etc (and yes this is probably done incorrectly but I’m going for flavour here not accuracy)
A final thanks to my poor playtesters
Karen, Sinead, Flora, Mya, Rowan, Genevieve, Ygraine, Eloise