Risus Fantasy

Risus Fantasy

WHY KeyPhrases?

It's been brought to my attention that the the keywords and keyphrases I'm using might make the game more limiting that it's supposed to be by making things harder.This isn't the intent. I'm using them to make some things slightly easier. I'm also using them to avoid the problem of too broadly defined cliches. In non-combat situations, it less a matter of *relative* incompetency than of slightly better skill in the KeyPhrases than in the other abilities.

The Short Answer

You have two warriors cliches. One has the Melee Combat KeyPhrase (and what warrior doesn't?) The other doesn't. Obviously we have a standard, fully competent Warrior, and we have an incompetent Warrior. Cliche Dice being equal, the competent warrior has the edge, as he should. The Incompetent Warrior is Incompetent by choice. This KeyPhrase and the -5 penalty achieve that in opposed tests. In unopposed tests, KeyPhrases simply help the GM (me) set Target Numbers (Better at something means it's easier, ie: a lower TN). Anything else the Cliche can do under normal rules can still be done, at the usual chances. Some things are just a tad easier for some people, even with the same training.

The Long Answer

In the Original rules, and again in Risus Magic, S. John Ross gives us many example Cliches, each with 2-4 (usually 3) short examples of what the Cliche is good for. On the theory that the better you are at something, the more about it you know, I've extended this to one such example per Die placed into the Cliche. I'm calling these KeyPhrases (or KeyWords) and using them to describe what the character is really good at.

There is also another reason for this: restricting too broadly defined of a Cliche, and to make sure that all players get their full 10 dice of ability. For example, 4 dice into Elven Warrior gives you everything Elven, and everything Warrior. Four Dice into each of Elf and Warrior foes the same, and costs 8 dice. Yet one is the epitome of an elven warrior, with the elven approach to warrior things, and the warrior's approach to all things elven, while the other is all things Elf AND all things Warrior. The 8 dice Character should avoid some of the inherent tunnel vision that the 4 dice character would have. Hopefully this approach will work that out. And, of course, there can be overlap. This is especially good for combat, when combat KeyPhrases in more than one Cliche can keep one in the fight a bit longer.

Another example is the whole of Risus Magic, which is about Specialty Mages. Why should 4 dice into Sorcerer or Wizard give you an unlimited access to magical effects, when the same 4 dice into Plant Mage limits you to botanical spells?

So, now customization of a Cliche to an individual becomes easier on the GM. Two people with the same cliche (Witch, for instance) can take different approaches, and the KeyPhrases used by each help the GM keep straight which Witch is which. Are you a natural Mage rather than a trained one? Don't take Universal Mage Abilities (common to all mages and described in Risus Magic). You can still do all the functions of this ability/KeyPhrase, of course, Just not as well as if you had the training that every apprentice mage, whatever their area of specialty, gets.

As always, any Cliche at any level has a CHANCE of doing everything that could conceivably be done by that Cliche, but you don't expect a Wizard's Apprentice to be able to do what the Wizard that is training him can do. That's reflected in the fact the apprentice has 2 dice in Wizardry, not 6. But you also don't expect him to KNOW as much as the Wizard does. That's reflected in the 2 KeyPhrases vs the 6 KeyPhrases. Two areas of training in magic, rather than 6.

Success is, as always, determined by the GM based on the charts provided by S. John Ross in Risus and Risus Magic, modified by the GMs take on the situation. This is just another tool to use in determining difficulty. You're better at the things your actually trained in, than at the things you're not, even of you're capable of success at both. The only time a number actually matters to the player is in opposed tests, such as combat. An infantryman and a cavalryman are both warriors, but one has training in mounted combat: He has an advantage if both are mounted during a fight, but the infantry man still has a chance, and a better chance than the Sushi Master on the third horse does.

So, that's all KeyWords and KeyPhrases are: the same Cliche examples we've always had, used as discreet definitions so that Player and GM are on the same page as to what the characters can do easily, what they can do adequately, and what they may or may not be able to do at all. Yes, when I note them under a Cliche on my copy of the character sheet. Oh, they're not as picturesquely phrased as Cliche Definitions usually are, but they're being used as game mechanic guidelines by a GM that's flipping between characters in the middle of combat. it's easier on me if I can interpret once, and them just glance to learn what I need for the situation.

What ARE Keyphrases?

Each Dice put into a Cliche will allow for one Keyword or KeyPhrase. This will define specific training or aptitude. a 6 Dice Warrior knows a lot more than a 2 Dice Warrior. All warriors know Melee Combat, for instance, but Mounted Combat? Ranged Combat? Brawling? Commanding an Army?

It also mean you might want multiple more general cliches, rather than a single complex Cliche. An Elven Warrior has to split his Cliche Dice between Elven Keyphrases and Warrior KeyPhrases. An Elf who is also a Warrior doesn't. On the other hand, An Elven Warrior might be a great artist and Chef. he's got 6 more dice, after all. An Elf who is a Warrior might be a passable Chef. Or he might not be. With only 2 dice left, the choices become more important.

Also, you'll have any needed tools (within reason, no Alchemy Labs in your backpack) to every KeyPhrase, but not, necessarily, to other applications of the Cliche. You can always buy whatever you feel is missing, of course...once you get some money.

You can still do anything reasonable for a Cliche that you don't have a Keyword for, but it will be at a penalty of -5. A Chef with a Bakery Keyword, but not a Sushi Keyword can still fix Sushi. It's up to you if you let him prepare the Puffer Fish. Also, the same Chef can use his knives in melee, but combat rolls will be at -5, unless he has Knife Work (melee) for a key word. Actually, it's not that likely a baker would, but a Sushi Chef might.

Also, for spellcasters, I'll be using Risus Magic by S. John Ross and Jason Puckett. Mages might want to take multiple Spellcaster Cliches to expand their spells (each Keyword is a narrow category of spells) and accessible sorts of magic.

Some sample Cliches, with sample Keywords:

  • Dragon: Winged Flight, Breath That Can Scorch the Wood Off of Paint, Clawing Paladins to Tiny Pieces. As supernatural entities, the Dragon Cliche qualifies for the Funky Dice option. Dragons grow BIG.

  • Dwarf: See in the Dark, Retrace Path Underground, Resist Spells

  • Elf: Stealth outdoors, Universal Mage Abilities (racial), Perception

  • Hunter: Ranged Combat, Stealth, Butchery. Campfire Cuisine

  • Warrior: Ranged Combat, Melee Combat

  • Sorcerer: Universal Mage Abilities, Magical Combat, nearly any spell Keywords

Other House Rules


Allies (at least as I'm using them) are limited to one Cliche, so they may not start with more than 1 die each (giving them 3 of the allowed 4 starting dice). They may be increased to 2 dice through experience, giving them 6 dice worth of their Cliche.

For the most part, all they can do is Aid the Character, including take the damage.

One dice spent on and Ally buys 3 dice worth of Cliche for an Ally. I'm allowing for the following sorts of Allies:

Sidekicks: a companion, whether groupie, aide de camp, familiar, or whatever. May use dice, as appropriate to Aid character. Usually has a Cliche that aids in combat of some sort. (Archers aid in ranged combat, Familiars in Magical combat, for instance)

Familiar: a side kick that general has the following KeyPhrases at a minimum: Universal Mage Ability(racial) and Host master. Further Keyphrases will vary by type of Familiar, but generally include Stealth.

Followers: A group of Followers. Each die in the Cliche is generally a separate person. Their keyword is usually for some sort of combat. Cannon fodder and someone to attend to camp.

Magic Items: 3 types for Aiding combat. Damage taken must be repaired. It doesn't heal naturally. If all dice are taken as damage, that item can no longer be used as a Cliche Tool. Keep a spare weapon handy.

Weapons: 3 or 6 dice to aid combat (either melee or ranged, depending on weapon) Melee weapons may be used for defense (frontal and right side), and so, maybe damaged. Missile weapons rarely have to worry about damage.

Armor: Protects against all attacks: melee, ranged, magical

Shield: protects against frontal and left side attacks the wearer is aware of, as per armor.

Other Magic Items

An Amulet or other device with a single spell capable of being cast at will. 1 Ally die buys 3 dice of spell effect. This is a noncombat spell, such as water breathing, etc.

The above rules are flexible. In an Arabic campaign, a Genie, living in it's bottle, could be created as a sidekick with 3 dice and keywords: Flying on Legs of Smoke, Grant Wish (a 3 dice wish, of course), Magical Combat. Or a Flying carpet with 3 dice into a Fly Spell (and hopefully the owner has Pilot Carpet as a KeyPhrase).

Oh, and what happens when the dragon eats your sidekick, or the magic sword you've depended on for years falls into the lava pit? The Dice spent on Allies and items go into a pool of unspent Ally dice, and you go looking for a new sidekick, or a group of sycophants, or an even better magic sword. Only, when you find the,, you can pay for them and use them right away.

Cash And Equipment including other sorts of magic items

Characters will start out broke, with whatever gear is appropriate for basic use of their Cliches and KeyPhrases. They will also have a set of clothing as appropriate, and a dagger (the universal tool of medieval times).

New Cliches acquired through experience will not automatically come with the necessary tools for use.

Coins will be part of treasures found, of course, and more gear can be bought later. Whether it's for a new Cliche, a minor bonus to an existing Cliche, or just something you think might be handy, stores will abound. Eventually, even Magical gear will be able to be purchased or commissioned.

Bonus Items:

Mundane gear or tools of masterwork quality will often give a bonus of +1 (possibly more) to die rolls when used as required tools for a Cliche.

Permanent Magic Items (range of bonus is generally +1-+5):

Generally armor or weapons for use with Combat Keywords.

Wands add to Spellcasting Cliches, generally only adding Ranged magical combat or support spells such as Healing. Wand are often specialized (Fire Wand, Ice Wand, etc)

Staves may be either melee weapons, or Melee weapons AND add to spell casting Cliches. Staves are usually specialized to a particular Spellcaster Cliche, rather than particular spell types. A few aren't specialized at all.

Athame: really just a dagger that's also used in ritual magics. Like a Staff an Athame does double duty by enhancing combat and Ritual spells. Ritual Spells are the ones that take pentagrams, props, herbs, and time to cast.

Wearable items:

Usually casts a specific spell a limited number of times a day. Cliche Dice of the spell varies by device, as does frequency of use.

Consumable items:

Potions and the like. Usually one use of a specific spell, such as Healing. Number of dice for the effect will vary.


Things like packs that are bigger on the inside than on the outside, self erecting tents, or anything else I'm willing to let you have without paying Cliche Dice for.

There are of course, other sort of items listed above, under Allies. These, too, may be found in treasure troves. But you wont' be able to figure out how to use them on anything but a temporary basis until you have the spare Cliche Dice to pay for them. they're likely to be rare, or planned to fill in empty Ally dice already spent. In fact, finding them might well be the center point of an adventure.


A note on perception, as I've already added two perception KeyPhrases:

Many Cliches have a built in perception ability, although it might be of limited use:

Hunters and Elves have Innate Perception abilities that reflect noticing animal traps, animal tracks, ambushes, or the like. They dont' do much good against trapped chests, but deadfalls are found.

Thieves find traps in chests and locks, but don't have the innate general perception of outdoorsmen.

Mages of many sorts can do some sort of perception spell, or just trust to their Familiar's animal like senses, if any.

So, if an appropriate Perception KeyPhrase exists, rolls are at normal numbers. If an appropriate Perception ability is possible for the Cliche, rolls are at -5. This assumes that at least some perception tests are opposed tests, either vs an opponent's stealth, a trap maker's skill, or whatever. Unopposed tests will reflect this in setting Target Numbers: how easy would it be for the oblivious to find?

However, worst case, anyone can use their highest Cliche at -10 to the roll for perception (assuming there is some default possibility to sense things inherent in the Cliche. A Narcoleptic Meditation Instructor probably won't notice anything, ever.) -10 is the definition of Oblivious in this case. If you want even worse perception, build it into the character as Hook, and we'll make it half dice, as well.

Combat: 1 vs Many:

Risus seems slanted towards one on one combat. Attacker and defender both roll their dice, loser takes the damage. A group aiding a leader still is essentially one on one.

But.. what about several of you all attacking a single opponent at once? Or each of you being attacked by 3 kobolds? Multiple single combats vs a single foe.

This is how I will handle it: IF the opponent has multiple attack weapons, such as a dragon with teeth, a couple of claws and a tail, them it's normal one on one combat with the dragon getting full results against each attacker, until he runs out of dangerous body parts.

When it's a single weapon against multiple attackers, such as three kobolds attacking each of you, the first attack (or attack of players choice) with be defended against with the chance of doing damage, the rest of the attacks will be more one sided, a defender win doesn't do damage to the attacker, but it avoids damage received. yes it's better to fight one on one, if you're out numbered you're at a disadvantage.

Now, what constitutes the ability to counter attack more than one opponent can vary by situation. an unarmed giant is only going to be able to step on one of you at a time. However, if he pulls up a tree and uses it as a bat, he can likely hit a couple of you at once.

This cuts both ways, of course. if you're the swashbuckling sort, you can have a weapon i each hand, and fight off two opponents at once, for instance. Of course, you won't be using magic shields.

Also, remember, a round of combat is everyone in their turn. The guy you just beat on is going to beat on you next. So, after the dragon knocks 4 of you on your posteriors, he gets to breath.

Example KeyPhrases and Spells

Armed Combat: Using weapons for melee combat. Lack of this keyword (or a similar melee keyword) reduces die roll total by 5 in combat.

Brawling: unarmed combat. Lack of this keyword (or a similar one) reduces dice by 1/2 (If Melee Combat Keyword is possessed. If no melee combat possessed, but armed combat is allowed by Cliche, then both 1/2 dice and -5 total apply. An unarmed cook that didn't take Knife Work(Melee) shouldn't be in combat)

Breath That Can Scorch the Wood Off of Paint: Flaming Breath Weapon, Risus style

Butchery: the ability to field dress, skin, and completely butcher animals of all sizes.

Campfire Cuisine: the ability to do basic cooking while roughing it. Quality is based on available ingredients, which must be carried, foraged, to hunted. Bring your own salt or spices.

Clawing Paladins to Tiny Pieces: Draconic Melee combat, Risus Style

Host Master: a familiar KeyPhrase that allows the Mage to use his familiar's senses, or, with higher rolls, even take full control. may be initiated by either Familiar or Master.

Knife Work(melee): a chef with knife skills beyond food prep. Also assassins.

Magical combat: this is both ranged and melee combat, and may be further modified by Cliche (usually just as a special effect)

Perception: noticing things, especially hidden things.

Ranged Combat(various): Missile fire as appropriate to Cliche No dice are lost for failure, but opponent might fire back.... Can not be used without at least a rock to throw. A rock would count as no tools (1/2 dice) for an Archer

Resist Spells: Defense only Magical Combat. This is usually a racial ability, but individuals of other races may be highly resistant as well. Usually this is incompatible with and Mage Cliche, but Dwarves may be Resistant and take item creation based Mage Cliches, such as Alchemist.

Retrace path Underground: Dwarven ability to know where they are underground, and to find their way back to where they've been

See in the Dark: Perception for pitch black darkness.

Stealth: Die roll determines target number of perception test. Includes both sight and sound. Some Stealth keywords might be limited to outdoors (an Elf Cliche, for instance)

Smite Sinner: blunt weapon melee combat for religious types that pretnend not to spill blood.

Universal Mage Abilites: This KeyPhrase is a must for all Mages of any sort, although need not be taken in more than one Mage Cliche. Without it you know a few tricks, with it you're a trained mage. See Risus Magic for a list of what this Keyphrase does. Again, ANY mage can use this at a -5 penalty. This may also be taken by certain magically sensitive races (such as Elves), although Dispelling isn't available for most Racial version of the Cliche.

Use Magical Device: The ability to use magic items that normally couldn't be used (in a basic fashion only), without any magical ability. A wand of fire +1 would shoot bolts of fire, rather than add to fire spells, 1 healing wand could still be used to do a basic healing spells, etc. Bonus of the item still applies. Staves that boost general magic ability can't be used. They're of too general an effect. Other items that might be limited to certain cliches may also be able to be used.

Winged Flight: Flap and fly.

Some of the above may also be used as Spells.

Sample Spells:

Armor spell: every full 5 points rolled is a temporary Ally die that can be used in combat to aid defense and/or offset damage. It's short lived and best cast to defend against ranged combat, as casting it IN combat means you aren't otherwise defending that round (ie, not counterattacking).

Healing: Target of 5 per dice of damage healed. (total 5 heals one die, 10 heals 2 dice, etc). Will not heal Ally(item) dice, but will heal sidekicks and followers (each follower in a group is a separate casting)

Invisibility: the die roll, doubled, is the target number to see the invisible person (as opposed to just the die roll for the Stealth keyword)

Purify Evil: ranged magic combat against undead, removes some possessing entities, and reverses some defilements.