Cowboys and Indie Bands

Cowboys and Indie Bands

A musically themed setting for Risus by Dan Suptic ©2011

A note about Risus

Risus: The Anything RPG is a free and easy to learn role-playing game (created by S. John Ross and is Copyright ©1993-2013,2021 by Dave LeCompte) that is used to play Cowboys and Indie Bands. The whole system is 4 pages long, and that’s all you’ll need to play. Download it, print it, heck, even put it in a nice 4-page binder. So long as you read it too, you’ll be able to play Cowboys and Indie Bands.

Brent Wolke also did a nice spit shine and polish of this setting, putting it all in a fancy pdf file you can download here.

Gather ‘round the campfire, y'all, and let me tell you a tale of this new band I’m sure you haven’t heard of yet

The year is 1880. The place; the untamed lawless lands of America’s west. These are hard times for folk, where the day’s work is grueling, thugs and bandits threaten the safety of families and mainstream sellouts pander to a docile society who wouldn’t know inspirational music if it came up and slapped their chaps. The American federal government does its best to keep things calm, but their resources are simply stretched too thin to help out every small town and family farm in need. Well pardner, that’s where you and your friends come in. You’ve got that gung-ho spirit, able to handle stampedes, banditos and bored crowds in need of something new to listen to. All you need to tame the Wild West is some courage, some grit, a six shooter and a musical instrument you customized to play how you need it to play. Saddle up, hipster, and become the hero the people need!

Character creation – Let’s see what yer made of

Ladies and Gentlemen and other assorted riffraff are allotted 10 dice in which to create their characters. Standard limits of 4 dice per cliché are in effect as normal. Hooks and Tales are available for those souls who need a little more polish on their boots, and give an extra die each for character creation. Hooks can range from 'Gets mighty violent when drunk' to 'Uncertain as to whether any band is currently too mainstream to admit to enjoying'. Tales should be at least a couple of well writ paragraphs to entitle the aspiring writer an extra die. In trying times an individual is free to use the pumping clichés option as well, although double pumped clichés are not represented here. Any other options from the Risus Companion may be used at the GMs discretion.

Musical clichés – Soothing the weary soul

As a member of you band, you need a cliché that represents your contributions to your band's unique musical sound. Many different instruments have been seen and used by various bands, and anything you can imagine being dragged on stage can be incorporated into your music. The general clichés for musicians are detailed as follows.

Guitarist – You play a guitar, banjo or some other stringed instrument in flowing and slightly off-putting melodies and rhythms. The cliché Guitarist can be slightly changed to Fiddler for violins and violas, or even changed to Weird Twangy Asian Guitar Player in order to play that weird twangy Asian guitar thing. Sitter? Sitor? You know the thing. There are many stringed instruments you can pluck and play on stage, and some variation of Guitarist is required to play them. Perfectly tuning a guitar before a show is an excellent way to sabotage a rival band’s Guitarist before a shindig.

Pianist – While it takes considerable effort to get around with an upright piano or, god forbid, a mini grand in tow, the careful and methodic plinking of a muted piano adds a lot of richness to your band’s music. More exotic instruments like harpsichords and even the dulcimer can be played with the Pianist cliché as well. A good pianist remembers not to overpower the guitarist’s gentle strumming or your singer’s mumbled words. In fact, some of the best indie pianists can hardly be heard at all.

Percussionist – This member defines the beat of their band’s music with an assortment of snares, cymbals and bass drums. Nearly every drum set includes some non-drum objects to strike, personalizing the percussion of a band even more. Drum sets are another instrument that fall into the ‘Kinda hard to drag around’ category, so some clever percussionists simply use tambourines and other hand held drums to accompany their band mates. Care should be taken to not hit two drums at once on the drum set; otherwise the beat could get too overwhelming for the audience’s sensitive ears.

Singer – The Singer provides a message to the music through softly sung, deep and meaningful phrases. Every Singer will develop a certain unique feel in their voice, often choosing some variation or combination of mumbling, high pitched, whispery or throaty styles. The singer’s instrument is tucked conveniently in their own person, though a desperate rival can remove it by sufficient force. A lot of Singers also have a Lyric Writer in their band (either themselves or another member) in order to come up with deep, thought provoking lyrics. This isn’t necessary mind you, and many Singers do just fine singing whatever random thoughts flow through their minds.

Other Instruments – There are more exotic and unique instruments available to a player than there are stars over the Oklahoma plains. Any instrument not covered by the 4 clichés listed above will require a single cliché devoted to playing it, and that cliché will only be good at playing that one instrument. This can be good to give your band a much more unique sound, but if that band dissolves or changes direction, the owner of that exotic cliché will need to learn a new instrument fast.

Other interesting clichés – Do yah feel lucky, punk?

Just like indie band members of modern times, a character in this setting will need a day job that actually pays the bills. Off the stage, the west can be a very dangerous place. Your character will need to know how to deal with more serious issues than “Are my piano melodies too derivative of neo-romantic styles?” to survive, and these are the clichés that’ll help you.

Cowboy – Here’s your all-purpose shootin’, ridin’, cussin’ hero of the Wild West. You’re tough as nails in and out, and you can handle a six-shooter just as well as a six string any day of the week.

Lawman – You’re a sheriff, a deputy or a federal agent. You’ve got a gun and a badge and that’s all you need. You can officially arrest and lock up people who break the law, and even, with the right paperwork, throw away the key.

Bandit or Ex-bandit – On the wrong side of the law too many times, you know how to handle yourself in situations that most polite folk aren’t even comfortable discussing. You have a knack for dodging gunfire and thrown beer bottles.

Indian – You’re quite the exotic one, aren’t yah? You’ve thrown off society’s view of you as a savage and have joined a band, giving it that certain je ne se quois that excites the common folk. You prefer throwing axes or a bow and arrow to the noisy, flashy guns of your band mates.

Farmhand – Living or working on a farm has given you a healthy tan and a respect for hard work. You own a gun, but it’s more for shooing off animals than for real combat. You may even own a nice barn which is perfect for hideouts and shindigs of all sorts.

Doctor – You got a knack for keepin’ people lively, and we’re not talking with an arpeggiated melody on the ivory keys in a 7/8 time signature. Once the guns get put away, your surgery bag comes out, stitching up those who need (and deserve) it.

Cook – You prepare a fine meal and set it out nicely as well. A well fed crowd can be very well-dispositioned to enjoying your band’s music later.

Clerical – You are a banker, a lawyer or a writer of some kind. Your work may bore people to tears when they hear tales of it, but you can keep things running smooth with relatively minimal effort.

Prostitute – Well…it pays the bills, right?

Your Band – Listen here hombres, we’re not bad, we’re ironic, got it?

Your band is your way to sway and influence the audiences of jaded people who’ve had to put up with corporate sellout bluegrass bands and those terrible saloon piano playing hacks. Your band may be composed of any combination of musicians – 2 guitars, drums and 2 singers; 4 guitars and a singer; 2 pianos, a trumpet, an accordion and no singer at all; literally any combination of musicians can make up an indie band. Your band name likewise can be anything agreed upon by the band members.

Your band is built like a normal character, except that it has 8 dice total, and has exactly 3 clichés which all indie bands use – Music, Message and Style. You may not have more than 4 dice in a cliché at creation, and ­all­ three clichés must have at least 1 die in them.

Music – This determines how original and well performed your band does musically. A high Music cliché means a really unique sound that people get into. A low Music cliché means you’re either very derivative, or you just plain stink.

Message – This describes how thought provoking and how well delivered your band does at sending their message. Most of the time, this refers to your singer’s lyrics and delivery, but a band without a singer will send a message as well (usually, “We could not find a singer, please enjoy us anyways”). A high Message cliché means your message is deep, interesting, meaningful and communicated well to the crowd. A low Message cliché means your message is trite, pretentious, insulting and hard to decipher through the mumbling and odd vocal style.

Style – Style is that certain something that either a band has or just doesn’t. It’s a combination of looks, attitude and performance that either draw people in or push them away. A high Style cliché means your band has a certain consistent look and feel on stage that people find enjoyable. A low Style cliché means your band is a disorganized mess of unattractive elements that turn people off.

Band’s clichés level up just like character’s clichés do. When a band’s cliché would level up to the next die, the band may instead choose to NOT gain a die, but to rearrange the band’s cliché numbers so long as the totals all add up to the same previous amount, and that every cliché still has at least one die.

A completely unique and really cool band (although I liked them better before they got so popular) is listed below for your convenience.

The Stockade Fire

  • Music – 3

  • Message – 1

  • Style – 4

Whenever a band performs, they use the team up rules found in the basic rule set of Risus. One person is the leader, and the rest of the band adds their sixes to a single roll. That single roll is rolled against a target number (abbreviated TN) for the crowd, as determined later. The catch is this – the band must choose 1 aspect to focus on in their performance, either Music, Message or Style. Band members cannot roll more dice than the cliché rating in the chosen cliché for the set. So even if The Stockade Fire’s singer is a Singer (4), if they’re focusing on a performance based more on Music, he’ll only get to use 3 dice in the performance roll. Why you’d want to choose a style other than your best is described later in the shindig section.

The Shindig Section – Howdy, San Antonio, are you ready to romp?

When playing a set for a crowd, it’s important to cater to what the crowd wants. Every crowd will have a write up similar to the band character, but instead of cliché levels, the crowd will have associated TNs with each indie band cliché. A crowd's TN levels can be anything the GM wishes. A sample crowd might look like this:

Independence Missouri crowd

  • Music – TN 8

  • Message – TN 12

  • Style – TN 25

This determines what you need to roll in order to give the crowd a nice experience in each different type of cliché. So, this crowd would be pretty easy to entertain with a Music focused performance, not too tough to entertain with a Message focused performance, and very difficult to entertain with a Style focused performance. In this case, The Stockade Fire would be way better off focusing on the Music, even though that’s not their best cliché. Beating this TN by a lot will hold the crowd’s rapt attention and likely earn free room and board for the band’s stay. Missing the TN by a bit means the crowd isn’t impressed and won’t really care too much what the band does after the show. Really botching the TN roll will turn the crowd hostile and likely get the band ran out of town.

The crowd’s TN list is NOT something the band is going to know off hand. Some investigating before a show will help the band get some general ideas of the TNs of the crowd. Doing a few odd jobs or side quests for some important locals can help sway these numbers as well, either up or down. And, if the shindig is hosting multiple bands, the players can wait to go later, watch other bands do well or bomb on stage and figure out what the crowd likes the best. Observing a band playing will tell the players which of the three band clichés they're using, and give a general feeling of how well they did (not an exact result of their roll, but a decent enough range). Crowd’s TNs can be estimated by their reactions to the other bands, as an entertained crowd is obviously dancing and enjoying the music, while an unimpressed crowd has folk dour and still, shaking their heads and muttering “They really lost a lot of their talent when they changed their philosophy”.

Other troubles – There’s a snake in my casual wear lace-up boot that features a side zipper and a beautiful faux leather exterior with a slightly weathered look!

The life of the thrill seeking, crowd pleasing band member is never a dull one, and even off the stage there are plenty of dangers that can come out of nowhere or haunt you from city to city. Of course, learning how to use these little obstacles to the ultimate advantage of the band is the mark of a great team of heroes!

Gun fights and barroom brawls – Combat is, as always, a popular pastime of Risus characters in this setting. Combat follows all the normal rules including teaming up and pumping clichés, and there exists plenty of bonus gear of all sorts to boost your combat abilities even more. Combat is also a great way to keep important rival band members bandaged up and in bed, instead of healthy and on stage.

Duels – The classic duel, 10 paces, at high noon, is also a great way to get rid of an annoyingly good rival. Instead of combat, a duel is usually settled by a single action contest. 1 roll, 1 winner. Winner’s need not necessarily kill their opponent – a solid shot in the arm is usually enough to keep someone home from the shindig.

Heists – A well thought out bank heist or train robbery can get a band the funds to replace rare or expensive equipment. Thwarting a bank heist or train robbery can get the gratitude (and possible reward) from the mayor as well.

Cattle round ups – Herding cattle and stopping stampedes are hard jobs. A grateful farmer could be convinced to let a band use his barn for a performance or two.

Defend the ranch! – Bandits are common problems for common folk, and many families are willing to pay a good amount in both money and supplies to keep their land safe.

Attack the ranch! – Wait, if those ranches are doing so well, maybe the bandits are on to something…

Adventure Seeds – If you find yourself in a hole stop digging. Yah dig?

These little adventure seeds can grow into great big campaign trees with the right love and care. Keep the coyotes and wolves away, water ‘em daily, and read it some inspirational free-form poetry to help it keep an open mind in the face of overwhelming conformity. I hear trees like that.

You again! – A new band has been following the PCs around and playing shows in all the cities that the PCs are playing in. And the problem is, they’re good. REALLY good. The PCs will need to dig their spurs in and either cowboy up, or find a way to knock the other band of their high horse.

Tough Crowd – The PCs are currently camped in a major city with a lot of people and money in it. If the PCs can put on a really good show, they can get themselves a nice paycheck and afford that dream equipment they’ve always wanted. But unfortunately, the local indie crowd here has some HIGH expectations. The PC’s band is unknown here, so that’s good at least, but they’ll need to do some major work to get expectations down to their band’s abilities.

Uh, that’s supposed to happen? – During a particularly inspired performance by the PC’s band, the shindig is attacked by bandits! Do the PCs break their set to deal with it, or do they go on with the show? Once dealt with, the PCs rest easy figuring this was a onetime occurrence. Until it happens again at their next show. And again during the show after that. Something is definitely up.

¡Hola, Mariachi! – A touring mariachi band is converting the folk of several nearby cities and towns into die-hard mariachi fans! Can the PCs stop them and undo the damage? Or will they incorporate mariachi style into their own music and ride out the current trend?

Oh no…we’re…POPULAR! – The PC’s band is starting to become a household name. Their fame is spreading across the Wild West, and it’s destroying the moral of the band! The PCs need to change it up, reinvent themselves and learn some new tricks in order to stay out of the mainstream music scene.

Boots, chaps and ironic t-shirts…. nothing else matters

This concludes the setting for Cowboys and Indie Bands. It’s completely up to your group whether you run it as a western game with musical intermissions, as a musical drama with gunfights or some other middle ground between the two. There’s no wrong way to play, or so I’ve heard on the dusty trail. Comments and criticisms are always welcome, and can be sent to – Adios, amigo.