Risus GM Guide

Risus GM Guide

This work was originally published by Larry Bullock and is intended as a Game Master aid for Risus: The Anything RPG. There's no super secrets or anything to worry about keeping from players in this guide; it's just here to help those who are new to Risus get the most out of the game.

Help for the would be GM


There is one rule you should remember above all others: there is no wrong way to play Risus! As long as you and your players are having fun, don't worry too much about what some rule in some document says (even the official Risus document). What is presented here are just some guidelines that may help you out - these guidelines are not meant to be taken as gospel. Use what you will, throw away the rest.


Inspiration for this supplement comes from the gamers on the Risus internet mailing list. Much of the material presented here is based upon my recollections of discussions on the list (which I can't cite properly; if you are a member of the list, give yourself credit).


Before you begin playing Risus, you will need to work with your players to determine what kind of Risus game you are interested in running and that they are interested in playing. There are many pregenerated campaign worlds available to you (check out the links section at the main Risus: The Anything RPG site for details).

If you are interested in creating your own campaign world (and who isn't), you will need to take some time to envision just what sort of environment you're working with.

It may help you to try to apply a Genre label onto your campaign. Some good genre labels are: Anime, Cartoon, Conspiracy, Cyber Punk, Detective, Espionage, Fantasy, Gangster, Horror, Martial Arts, Modern, Romance, Sci-Fi, Space Opera, Super Hero, Swashbuckler, War, and Western. Feel free to combine multiple genres for a single campaign; it can be fun and may generate your most memorable campaign.

You will also need to decide on a tone for your Risus campaign. Are you planning on using Risus for a serious campaign or for a funny one? Once you know the genre and the tone, try to come up with a quick synopsis (a few sentences, a paragraph or two at most) that summarizes your campaign and what the characters may do in it.


Once you have a general idea about your campaign, you will need to determine which of the Advanced Options presented in the Risus rules you will allow for your campaign. Below are some guidelines.


This option presents a way for players to start out with more points/dice for character creation provided that they are willing to a) do a little work, and b) live with the consequences.

Hooks provide you (the GM), with ways to manipulate and torture the player, I mean make the character's life more interesting. A player's hook needs to be something that the GM can use to motivate the player into doing something she may not want to do or something that predisposes a character to act a certain way despite the consequences or hinders the character in some significant way (otherwise, it's just character description and doesn't deserve an extra die).

A Tale provides background material for the player. It makes it a lot easier to roleplay (and a lot more fun) if you know the character's history. A Tale also provides the GM some insight into the character that can be incorporated into the campaign. This option is perfect for long-term campaigns. It might not be worth the effort for a one shot adventure.


There are times when the characters will become desperate. They will need to dig deep to overcome the obstacle in front of them. Pumping Clichés allows Risus to simulate that. Basically, a character can temporarily increase his rank in a cliché, but this increase comes at a price. At the end of the round, the cliché rank is lowered by the same amount it was raised.

This option is perfect for heroic campaigns where the characters will display strength of character. It also is great for campaigns where you want to add a touch of the absurd (to be funny).


A double-pumped cliché represents a cliché that requires great finesse, skill, or power to function properly. It gives a character more options when using her cliché as it allows the character to get double the number of dice pumped (i.e. if you pump 2 dice, you really add 4 dice to your roll).

This option should be required for campaigns where there are certain clichés related to things like magic, mental powers, super heroic abilities, etc. (and it is recommended that the players are forced to buy the special cliché as a double-pumped cliché).


Want a high power campaign? Funky-Dice allows you to simulate a high power world, without having to have an unusually large number of dice. Basically, it gives you a way to scale dice based on ability. Works great for super heroes and other campaigns with high-powered scope (Angels & Devils, deities, etc.).


Once you have a general idea about your campaign and what advanced options it uses, you will need to determine a starting point value for your players to use when generating their characters. Risus characters are generally built with 10 dice (or 60 points if funky-dice are used). This gives you a pretty decent character, but there is nothing to stop you from increasing that total (or decreasing it) to fit what you and your players are interested in playing.


  • Hunt the Orcs

  • Genre: Fantasy

  • Tone: Serious

  • Campaign Options: Hooks and Tales, Pumping Clichés, Double Pumps, 10 Dice PCs

  • Description: A medieval campaign world (think Dark Ages) where Orcs (short humanoids with pig-like features: snout, short tusks, ears, etc.) are sought after for use in potions. Players may either take part in the hunt or try to put a stop to the inhuman practice (what did an orc ever do to you?). Will you use magic in your quest?


If there's one think that your players will need, it's a list of clichés. Coming up with that list can be a pretty intensive task. The best place to start is to check out some of the freely available campaigns listed on the Risus: The Anything RPG site. The participants of the RisusTalk mailing list have started a database of clichés that you could check out. You could also use a database program such as my own RisusGM application to keep track of all of the clichés you have created for specific genres.

Probably one of the best sources for clichés, though, is from your players. Your players will envision the perfect clichés; you just need to help define them in game terms (to determine what the cliché is good for) and let the players loose. With details of the campaign, most players will easily think of clichés that both fit the campaign and their vision for their characters.

For further reference, S. John Ross has made Risus: Anatomy of a Cliché from the Risus Companion available online.


As GM, you will need to determine if any of the clichés your players have chosen require any special rules. Some clichés may need some extra rules around them to help define just what the cliché is good for. Magical and mental powers are good examples of clichés that many campaigns will develop special rules to describe just what the player can accomplish with the cliché (this extra work can help add flavor to your campaign). Many of these special rules revolve around things such as duration, range, area of effect, etc. You can check out some samples of special cliché rules by examining the many pregenerated campaign worlds available to you (check out the links section at the Risus: The Anything RPG site for details).

Note: it is quite possible to have an enjoyable campaign with special clichés that take no other rules into account other than requiring that the clichés be purchased as double-pumped clichés. For example, most uses of magic can be seen as either adding or taking away cliché ranks. It is a simple matter to follow standard Risus rules and you either assign a target number (for adding ranks) or you use regular combat rules (for subtracting ranks). The GM determines durations, etc.


Here's something you may not have considered: why not describe parts of your campaign world in terms of clichés? Describe locations (the local tavern, the city, the country), heck, even the weather, in terms of clichés. This can help you to visualize the game world better, and can even make for some interesting game situations. Imagine Eric the Wise attempting to use his magical powers to make it rain when it is a Beautiful Sunny Day Without a Cloud In The Sky (3d20) kind of day.


Hopefully you've defined your campaign well enough that you know what types of adventures you want to throw at the players. However, if you are feeling a little bit pressed for an idea, check out S. John Ross' Big List of RPG Plots.


It really isn't much of a chore to liberate content for Risus from other game systems (especially those popular gaming systems that rely on classes). Hopefully, setting is all description; description can be used for any game, right? The challenge is converting characters and challenges from the other game to Risus. But even that isn't really all that hard.

Just keep in mind the cliché scale:

  1. Putz (from Risus rules)

  2. Greenhorn

  3. Professional (from Risus rules)

  4. Whiz

  5. Old Hand

  6. Mastery (from Risus rules)

Then, just work on converting characters from the old system to Risus using the scale. The trick is to figure out just what the clichés are in the other gaming system (but just think about the character for a bit and it should be fairly obvious). Keep in mind that important characters will have multiple clichés. To make the clichés more accurately reflect the image of the character in the other system, don't forget to use adjectives to dress up an otherwise boring cliché (i.e. brooding, angst-ridden ranger (4) is better than ranger (4) - it says something a bit more about the character in question).

Challenges can be converted just as easily. Just use the cliché scale as a danger meter (hidden pit with nasty, rust covered spikes (4), for instance, instead of spike filled pit 3d6 damage). Monsters, aliens, etc., are pretty much the same, but keep in mind Grunt Squads from the main Risus rules to handle your basic monster hordes.


There isn't really a lot to expand upon for the game system as described in the Risus rules. I will leave you with this thought: rolling dice is not always necessary. Only use the dice when the situation warrants them. You and your players will probably have a lot more fun.