Silverlode is a Risus campaign set in the last days of the Weird West. Players will assume the roles of newcomers to the fictional town of Silverlode, a former boomtown in southwestern Colorado that is just getting over the Silver Panic of 1893 and long suffering a reputation for strange occurrences. The mysterious Anasazi were only one of many famous disappearances from the area and foul things are rumored to inhabit the old silver mines that were once a source of great wealth for the region. At the dawn of the new century, Silverlode acts like a magnet for curious occultists, courageous adventurers, and covetous treasure seekers from all over the world.
The first step in creating a character is to decide on an interesting concept. Though set in 1908, this mini-campaign draws its inspiration from the cinematic pulp adventures of the Indiana Jones movies as well as the steampunk fantasy of R. Talsorian's Castle Falkenstein (with elements of The X-Files, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., and Deadlands thrown in for good measure). Players should choose heroic concepts that are appropriate to the inspirational material. This usually means cinematic pulp or western archetypes, but it can also mean concepts that imply some ability to employ supernatural forces or weird science for dramatic effect.
The character's concept will often directly translate into the character's clichés. More importantly, the concept will help define the character's motivation as well as their role in the unfolding adventure.
Silverlode characters are created using standard Risus rules: 10 dice are divided among their clichés with a maximum of 4 dice in any single cliché. Hooks and Tales are allowed and recommended. Double-Pumps and Funky Dice are also allowed, but they require special approval from the GM since they are not appropriate for all clichés (though they may be required for some). In general, Double-Pumped clichés are used when a character can sacrifice energy or health to achieve greater (usually supernatural) power for a given action. Funky Dice are used to build clichés that imply superhuman scale or potency for otherwise human levels of mastery. If Funky Dice are used, characters are limited to 60 points (plus 6 points each for Hook and Tale).
Players are free to be brief or verbose when naming their clichés. If players don't mind long cliché names then The Risus Companion has some excellent advice for cliché construction. Regardless of whether a character is a Gunslinger (4) or a Spiritually Gifted Wanderer of the Old West (4), the player should write a brief description of what the cliché entails. That way, the GM and the player will have a clear understanding of how the cliché can be used during play. In addition to skills and abilities, players should specify what Proper Tools (including Yes-Men and non-portable items) come with the cliché and which of these are required for any particular endeavor.
This following list of clichés is provided to give players examples that are especially suitable for the setting. Players are encouraged to customize these or invent new clichés of their own.
Blacksmith (Being strong; crafting knives and other metal tools; running a small business)
Bounty Hunter (Tracking and apprehending fugitives; shooting; fist-fighting, intimidating; riding)
Captain of Industry (Having lots of money, investing wisely, running a large business, calling in favors, delegating to minions)
Cinematic Inventor (Creating amazing inventions that are either anachronistic or that strain the laws physics; understanding and repairing machines of all kinds, often with inappropriate parts; always having just the right gadget handy)
Cowboy (Ridin', ropin', brandin', spittin', shootin')
Dashing Cavalry Officer (Riding; fighting with gun and sword, on foot or on horseback; looking good in uniform; commanding others)
Demimondaine (Being beautiful, being charming, getting other people to buy you things)
Dilettante (Knowing etiquette, having friends in high places, not needing to work for a living)
Doctor (Extracting bullets, sewing up wounds, cutting off limbs, knowing various remedies)
Explorer (Finding one's way, chatting up natives, surviving in the outdoors, not taking a bath)
Gambler (Playing cards, rolling dice, knowing the odds, cheating, spotting cheaters, getting out of scrapes, shooting a hold-out pistol, running away)
Greenhorn (Riding and shooting under controlled circumstances; having fancy but inappropriate clothes and equipment; being underestimated)
Gunslinger (Being quick on the draw, fancy shooting, starring folks down, having a serious reputation)
Hermetic Magician (Creating magical effects through complex rituals; knowing occult lore; reading and speaking arcane languages)(Usually Double-Pumped)
Indian Brave (Riding; tracking; hunting; being generally athletic; being perceptive; fighting with bow, tomahawk, and possibly guns)
Indian Shaman (Creating magical effects by invoking certain spirits; consulting other spirits for occult knowledge; venturing into the spirit-world; preparing herbal remedies)(Often Double-Pumped)
Kid (Being a sidekick to heroes, making friends with Giant Monsters, running, hiding, being cute)
Lawman (Riding, shooting, calling a posse, hanging desperados, bossing folks around)
Mad Scientist (Creating diabolical inventions that blatantly violate the laws physics; being extraordinarily well educated; megalomaniacal ranting; recruiting minions)
Mechanical Man (Being strong; being rather sturdy; having interesting accessories; operating in inhospitable environments; performing mindless and repetitive tasks)(Funky Dice appropriate)
Medium (Channeling spirits, wearing funny clothes, putting on a good show, telling fortunes)
Mentalist (Possessing a psychic power like telepathy, ESP, or telekinesis)(Usually Double-Pumped)
Mountain Man (Being strong and tough; thriving in the wilderness; knowing Indian languages and customs; having wild animals for pets)
Muckraker (Digging up dirt, inventing stories, getting paid to write, inciting public opinion)
Outlaw (Hiding out, surviving in the wild, riding, fighting, intimidating, running a gang)
Pinkerton (Going undercover, investigating, being perceptive, shooting)
Pioneer (Farming, ranching, being hardy, homesteading, hunting, cooking)
Preacher (Preaching, arguing theology, making converts, commanding respect, casting out demons)
Prospector (Prospecting; panning; mining; defending a claim with force or guile)
Pulp Archaeologist (Recovering ancient artifacts; being knowledgeable about occult history; fighting with gun, fist, or whip; avoiding and disarming traps; knowing many languages; being generally athletic; riding; being mostly fearless)
Secret Agent (Inventing and maintaining a cover identity; shooting; brawling; participating in cinematic chases; using the latest surveillance equipment; assassinating enemy agents)
Servant (Being unfazeable, being well mannered, assisting the master in all endeavors)
Snake Oil Salesman (Hawking phony elixirs and formulations; conning people out of money; getting out of town in a hurry)
Soiled Dove (Being beautiful; horizontal dancing; inspiring pity; defending one's self with wits or guns)
Vampire (Being supernaturally strong, fast, and tough; not aging, breathing, or suffering from most poisons or diseases; soaking most forms of damage; recovering quickly from wounds; having acute senses; dominating progeny and blood minions;physically attacking peopleand sucking their blood)(Funky Dice appropriate, Double-Pumps possible, actual powers may vary, comes withadditional Hooks)
Werewolf (Changing between wolf, human, and hybrid forms; being strong, fast, and tough; soaking most forms of damage other than silver and supernatural attacks; recovering from injuries quickly; fighting with tooth and claw)(Funky Dice appropriate, may come with various Hooks)
Sidekicks & Shieldmates
The "Sidekicks & Shieldmates" rule from The Risus Companion is available to characters. Essentially, this rule allows players to trade one or more dice (or Funky Dice points) during character generation forthreetimes as many dice (or points) to be used on NPC allies. These allies can be regular individuals or they can be something more unusual like a piece of magical equipment, a really good horse, or a grunt-squad of loyal followers. Sidekicks are limited to a maximum of four dice in any single cliché and they should not have any clichés that are better than the player character's best cliché.
Sidekicks & Shieldmates are usually under the player character's control, though the GM is free to use them as required. They do not advance like player characters and will only gain cliché dice in special circumstances. Note that it is possible to have minions and special equipment without spending dice on them, as they could be handled with the Proper Tools rules.
Lucky Shots & Questing Dice
Another rule from The Risus Companion that we will be using is "Lucky Shots & Questing Dice". During character generation, players may sacrifice one or more dice (or multiples of 6 Funky Dice points) forthreeLucky Shots orfiveQuesting Dice. A Lucky Shot can be used to increase a character's cliché by one for a single roll provided the player explains how luck will benefit the character. Additionally, characters can spend two Lucky Shots to completely recover all the dice in a single cliché during combat (effectively a second wind or heroic surge). Lucky Shots are recovered at the end of the session and they do not carry over if unused.
Questing Dice work just like Lucky Shots except that they must have a narrative or thematic limitation that restricts their use to certain situations (such as when a character is pursuing a specific goal). Questing Dice must be narrowly focused and approved by the GM in advance.
It should also be noted that the "Eye of the Tiger" rule from The Risus Companion are also recommended.
Final Character Bits
The final steps in character creation involve fleshing out the details not immediately apparent from the character's clichés or hook. The player should note the character's appearance and other physical details. The player should also note which languages the character speaks or reads (and to what level of proficiency). Some clichés allow the character to have command of a large assortment of useful languages. In these cases, the player should only note what languages the character definitely does or does not speak (or read), while other languages can be known with a Target Number roll.
Finally, the player should note any additional equipment or possessions, beyond those that were agreed to be included with the character's clichés. The GM will approve most reasonable requests, so long as they are properly justified.
Magic & Other Dramatic Effects
The Risus Companion section entitled "Target Numbers and the Single Showoff" will be my guide to handling the rather open-ended use of superpowers, magic, psionics, and weird-science gadgets. Target Numbers are assigned to tasks based on the dramatic impact of what the character is attempting. The following table is for players who lack The Risus Companion (it also borrows from S. John Ross' article on Elemental Magic):
To the above Target Numbers, I will add a modifier based on how appropriate the cliché is to the given task: +5 if the cliché implies a secondary ability, +10 if the cliché implies a distant ability to handle the task, +20 if the cliché implies a remote chance of success.
Just what is actually possible and how it can be achieved depend entirely on the cliché description. When describing their character's supernatural or super-science clichés, players should consider the following:
Nature of the Ability: Players should describe the nature of the ability as well as any peculiarities of its use. Does the cliché allow the character to perform magic rituals? Does it allow the character to invent super-science gizmos or alchemical formulations? Perhaps it is an inborn psychic ability? The possibilities are endless, though players should consult with the GM to make sure that the nature of the cliché is appropriate to the setting.
Repertoire of Effects: Players should specify, at least in general terms, what it is that the cliché allows their character to do. Perhaps the character knows one or more spells and can research and invent more? Perhaps the character has broad powers within a narrow metaphysical domain? A Mad Scientist might have a technical specialty and supernatural creatures usually have very specific powers. It is also possible that characters can gain access to more effects as they gain dice in their cliché (drawing inspiration from other game systems). Players should consult with the GM to make sure their cliché is specific enough and that the GM and the player are interpreting the cliché in the same manner.
Proper Tools: Unless it only grants a handful of specific effects, players should specify interesting and inconvenient Proper Tools for their cliché. For clichés that grant the ability to research and invent new effects (such as Hermetic Magicians or Mad Scientists), it is appropriate and recommended that the exact Proper Tools depend on the specific ritual or invention. In these cases, the GM can help assign Proper Tools appropriate to the task at hand. It is also important to remember that Proper Tools are not always physical objects; gestures, forceful incantations, special talents, and auspicious times are examples of interesting and inconvenient Proper Tools that enhance the atmosphere of the game.
Double-Pumps: If the cliché is Double-Pumped, players should be prepared to explain the nature of dice loss due to Double-Pumping, as well as under what circumstances a Double-Pump can be used.
Failure: Finally, players should specify the possible consequences of failing their Target Number rolls. The player has three choices. The simplest, and least interesting choice is that nothing happens on a failed roll. This option should only be used for clichés that produce very limited effects. The other choices depend highly on the nature of the cliché. In cases where a little knowledge is worse than no knowledge (such as most magical and weird-science clichés), characters who fail their Target Number roll will still produce effects appropriate to the magnitude of the roll, only the effects will be unpredictable and most likely annoying or dangerous to the character and the party. In other cases (such as for most innate supernatural abilities), rolling low is bad thing and the severity of a mishap will depend entirely on the margin of failure. True mishaps would be rare and even narrowly missed rolls can produce some beneficial effects with side effects.
Bonus Gear & Other Enhancements
Characters with the ability to produce supernatural or super-science effects will likely want to create lasting enhancements with their special powers. This can be handled by trading dice from the character's cliché to buy either cliché augmentation for themselves or others, or to gain three times as many points in Bonus Gear or Sidekicks. For as long as the effect is still considered temporary, the character will roll to advance using the old value. Permanent effects permanently reduce the character's cliché and advancement rolls are thus made at the new value.
Note that a Target Number roll is still required to create Bonus Gear or enhancements. Most lasting effects will be Complex or Difficult, as they tend to hog the scene a bit. Also note that minor "enhancements" that alter the nature of a cliché without changing its level are possible. In these cases, a minimum sacrifice of one die is still required.