[RISUS] Death spirals

shockvalue

The Puncher Strikes!
Validated User
I'm thinking about running my first Risus adventure soon. (Maybe.) Obviously, it's not a hard system to master, but one thing about it does worry me: the death spiral of losing dice to your Cliche each time you lose a round of conflict.

This is all based on not having played it at all, granted. (But if you can't make snap judgements on little or no information, what's the point of life?) But it seems to me that if Cain and Abel start a fistfight, each with 4 Dice of "Angry Brother" cliche, and Cain wins the first round, then Abel is pretty much screwed, barring a minor mathematical miracle. Beating the sum of 4 dice with 3 dice is a really hard call, it seems to me.

This rubs me the wrong way, and doesn't seem in the anything-can-happen spirit of Risus, so what am I missing? Is there a rule I'm not getting, or an obvious way to deal with this I haven't seen? Or is really just not as big an issue as it seems?
 

S. John Ross

Husband • Cook • Writer
Validated User
You're not imagining things. In a one-on-one combat where two characters have only one cliche each, the spiral is very extreme. That's not an accident; I designed Risus to be exactly the way it is ;) Some points you may not have considered, though:

First, It's a spiral of defeat, not of death. Risus combat is rarely deadly, and defeat is just as funny (or dramatic) and potential-rich as victory. It's just a different fork on the many roads of what-can-happen. This requires a slight shift in mindset if you're used to games where "losing" means "dying" or coma or something most of the time.

Second, things change tremendously when other characters become involved, with or without use of Teams.

Third, things change rather a lot when you remember that characters can swap out cliches in mid-conflict. As long as you don't wait 'til a cliche gets knocked down to nothing, you can change tactics.

And finally, if you want to flatten that curve, just alter it to a high-die or high-set approach instead of high-total approach, or to a player's-option approach where it can depend on how literally-deadly the conflict is (one of the alternates in the Risus Companion covers this approach in more detail, but that's gravy; it's an easy switch). But before you flatten it, explore the fun of it ;)
 

S. John Ross

Husband • Cook • Writer
Validated User
shockvalue said:
Obviously, it's not a hard system to master [...]

An additional note: Don't let its apparent simplicity fool you, either. Once your players learn the ins and outs, and once your own brain adjusts to the way the rules alter the shape of the GMing toolbox, you'll find that Risus has many subtleties you can't spot just by looking ...

But they're fun to discover, as I can attest from many many years of GMing it.
 

shockvalue

The Puncher Strikes!
Validated User
Straight from the horse's... mouth. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Thanks for the response.

Okay, good to know I'm not imagining things. I'll play with it as it is. My only concern about "learning the subtleties" is that I won't be running it that often, and the players will have few opportunities to explore all the ramifications. Still, I like it's simplicity, "apparent" or not, for that very reason.
 

S. John Ross

Husband • Cook • Writer
Validated User
shockvalue said:
Straight from the horse's... mouth. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Thanks for the response.

Okay, good to know I'm not imagining things. I'll play with it as it is. My only concern about "learning the subtleties" is that I won't be running it that often, and the players will have few opportunities to explore all the ramifications. Still, I like it's simplicity, "apparent" or not, for that very reason.
Cliche-swapping, in particular, is a very valuable player tool that most players hit on very quickly ... often in the very first combat scene.
 

BlackSheep

Wise and Insightful
Validated User
S. John Ross said:
Cliche-swapping, in particular, is a very valuable player tool that most players hit on very quickly ... often in the very first combat scene.
I suspect it gets pulled out at around the point when someone's primary combat cliché gets knocked below one of their others...
 

Stephen Tannhauser

- - -
Validated User
Risus was actually one of the primary inspirations for the Tangency Monster Hunters RPG, published here on these boards, and I noticed the same thing.

The way I handled it was to change the effects of winning a high roll. Instead of the simple "highest total knocks a die off the loser's score", players accumulated Victory Points equal to how much higher than their opponent they'd rolled -- if one player rolled 10 and the other rolled 8, the first player scored 2 Victory Points, or VPs. You needed to build up 10 of these points to inflict the Will damage that was the quickest way to win (reducing someone's Will to 0 was the easiest way to beat them, although it didn't kill them). For 15 VPs you could reduce someone's die pool temporarily, for 20 you could reduce it permanently -- but building up that many VPs, unless you were seriously better than your opponent, took time, so a weaker foe could think of ways to change tactics in his favour.

You could adapt a similar approach for Risus -- it will slow the game down, but it makes a 2d Cliche vs. a 3d Cliche not quite so much of a wipe-the-walls-with-the-weaker-guy fest. (Do a search on "Tangency Monster Hunters RPG" in Tangency to find the game.)
 

Jim Bob

New member
Banned
Also, there's the Fudge Risus rules I wrote up once... the spiral is much less extreme with them. As they say over on the Risus list, "there's no wrong way to play Risus." Though SJohn Ross is heard to express puzzlement at serious play... but he just wrote the game, we don't worry about what he thinks!


Funny, Yummy & Sticky
(Risus Fudge)
Fudge and laughter go together​
by Kyle, copyright no-one at all. (That means that if you copy this or distribute it in any form while claiming it as your own work. I'll be flattered, and will write you mocking emails.)

Disclaimer I won't put the usual ones here, or they'd be longer than these rules. Suffice to say that Fudge belongs to Steffan O'Sullivan, and can be found at http://www.fudgerpg.com and Risus belongs to S. John Ross, and can be found at http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/risus.htm The following assumes you are vaguely familiar with both systems.

Now for my stuff
I have always liked the descriptors in Fudge. To say, "I'm a Good Cook" is much more natural than to say, "I'm a 67% Cook." I also liked the fact that your skill performance hovers around your actual skill level, because of the additive dice (four six-sided dice, each with two sides of +1, 0, -1; giving a result of -4 to +4). So someone who is good, is consistently good. Someone who's terrible, is consistently terrible. Other systems can be a bit too random. I have always liked the simplicity and cliches of Risus. To say, "I'm a Temp Iron Chef [4] - can walk into any kitchen with any menu and be ready for service in half an hour, frightens co-workers into submission," is much more natural than to say, "Cook 67%, Intimidation 75%, Perception 80%" or whatever. So, why not combine the two systems I like so much?

Character Creation
FYS character creation is as simple as in Risus. In normal Risus, you choose Cliches, putting between 1 and 6 dice in each. In FYS, you do the same, but you use the Fudge scale (numbers altered for clarity):

+5 Superb
+4 Great
+3 Good
+2 Fair
+1 Mediocre
0 Poor
-1 Terrible​

You get 10 points to spend, a maximum of 5 points in any one Cliché. The default of anything you've no ability in, as usual with Fudge, is Poor (0) Of course, Risus lets you put up to 6 points - but that would take you to above Superb - to Legendary, in fact. So, a character will have somewhere between two Clichés which are Superb, and ten Clichés which are Mediocre. I'd note that in Clichés I include "attributes", like "Strong as an Ox", and "Smart as a Whip", and "personality", like "Arrogant Snob," and "Sullen and Nasty."

Hook & Tales
As with regular Risus, if a player gives their character a Hook - some nasty stuff which makes their life harder, yet more interesting - they get an extra level to put in their Clichés. Also, if they have a Tale for their character - a little life story or something - they get an extra level for that, too.

Pumps and Double Pumps
As in Risus, a character can pump their skill. That is, add one level to it, for each level above Poor, just for this one action. They then lose that many levels off their Cliché for the next action. This represents someone who really performs under pressure, then collapses in a heap afterwards. A character, when selecting a Cliché, may choose to make it Double-Pumped. This will be indicated by a "!" (exclamation mark) after the Cliché's name. Double-pumped Clichés cost double during character creation (that is, two regular levels make one double-pumped level). The benefit of the Double Pump is that when you pump your skill, you get two extra levels for each one you drop. This represents someone who SHINES in the heat, and almost dies from heat exhaustion afterwards.

Equipment
As in Risus, equipment appropriate to the Cliché will be available to their character. Spanners for a Racing Car Mechanic, etc. It is assumed that the character is using this stuff. If they're not, then they lose one to five levels from their skill, such as the Brain Surgeon who only has a penknife (minus 5), or the Racing Car Mechanic who forgot his spanners at home (minus 3). Sometimes you might have helpful stuff. Suppose that the Badarse Marine - Great, her normal equipment is a submachinegun. Let's suppose that this time she's managed to score a hand-portable mortar. Well, that will give her a bonus while she has it. She's now a Badarse Marine - Superb.

Resolution of Actions
Actions are of two kinds: Opposed, and Unopposed.

An Opposed action is an arm wrestle, or a game of chess, or an Iron Chef Cook-Off. An Unopposed action is shooting fish in a barrel, taking candy from a baby (unless it's a Real Tough Baby - Superb), kicking a football (unless it's Pesky Wonky-Shaped Gridiron Ball - Mediocre), and so on. The Game Master or Mistress sets a difficulty level. "You'll need to be a Superb Quarterback to kick that goal from 80 yards, Bob." The player then rolls good old 4dF, and adds the result to their Cliché. If they equal or exceed the level required, well then Bob kicks that goal.

In an Opposed action, you roll your appropriate Cliché against theirs, and if you get higher, they lose a level of the Cliché. The action keeps going until their Cliché drops to Terrible, at which point, they realise, "hey, I'm doing worse than the Average Guy at this." (Average Guy would be Poor, not Terrible) and they give up.

At that point, they are generally at the mercy of their opponent. (It would be embarassing to be at the mercy of a Pesky Wonky-Shaped Gridiron Ball - what would it do to you?) As with Risus, effects of dropping to Terrible will vary. If it was just a friendly game of chess, well, the Chessmaster Fair who's dropped to Chessmaster Terrible, he'll just have a cup of coffee and have another go. If it's Hard-Drinking Tough Guy who just lost a drinking contest with Skanky Bar Ho, well, he might need a day or two to get over the hangover.

In Opposed Actions, if a person does not have a relevant Cliché, their default, as I said, is Poor. It will only take one lost round for them to give up. Of course, if the player can argue for it, then Clichés can combine for certain actions. The character gets to to add one to their 4dF roll for that action. Like, Badarse Marine - Great, and Strong as an Ox - Good - well, that combines well for kicking down doors, doesn't it?

Deadly Contests
Depending on the type of game, your contests may or may not be deadly. If you have those crazy players who want to play a Wolfenstein campaign, and go around with machineguns and humungous guns, then you can use this rule: Beg for mercy. When you are reduced to Terrible in the relevant Cliché, beg for mercy in the most hysterical, pained, over-acting way you can. If the GM or the other player laughs at you, you are dead. If they manage to keep a straight face, you live. Of course, whether a contest is deadly will have to be judged by the GM, and argued with by the players. Two Badarse Marines slugging it out, it's easy to imagine that's deadly. Two Iron Chefs having a Cook-Off shouldn't be deadly. at least, I've never seen a defeated chef end up accidentally poisoning himself, then begging for mercy and dying horribly.

Character Improvement
There are two ways your character can improve.

Firstly, you can give your GM fudge. If they eat it and like it, and are satisfied with the amount, you get to add a level to a Cliché of your choice. If it makes the GM sick, you lose two levels from a Cliché of the GM's choice. If it makes the GM sick from overeating, you have a greedy GM, so you don't get anything.

Secondly, tell or write a story of how your character improved their skill. If the words move the GM to great belly-laughs, you get to add a level. A generous GM may also choose to be impressed by awesome writing of any kind, giving them a sense of wonder, amazement, fear, sadness, nostalgia, or disgust, as appropriate.

The End! - Superb​
 

Gentleman Highwayman

Registered User
Validated User
shockvalue said:
This rubs me the wrong way, and doesn't seem in the anything-can-happen spirit of Risus, so what am I missing? Is there a rule I'm not getting, or an obvious way to deal with this I haven't seen? Or is really just not as big an issue as it seems?
When I first read this, my response was "yeah, you're pretty much not getting the whole game". ;) As John points out there is cliche swapping, but don't underestimate the power of atypical dice rolls. 4 dice should on average beat 3 dice. But on any given roll the result can vary widely.

Risus is a damn simple game and you're probably best to move along rather than try to fix it. There isn't much to fix without essentially creating a new game. Kudos to John for making a nice light system that is always consistent.

Iain.

PS: Don't forget about Pumping and Double Pumps.
 

S. John Ross

Husband • Cook • Writer
Validated User
Gentleman Highwayman said:
PS: Don't forget about Pumping and Double Pumps.
Or things like Lucky Shots (which appear briefly in Ring of Thieves for those who aren't IOR members) and Questing Dice and many of the other optionals, but I didn't want to confuse things more by wandering into all of the HEAVY DUTY CRUNCH that is hardcore Risus. In particular, the most combat-effective use of pumping involves cliche swapping (suffering pump-damage to one cliche to make for a "one-two punch" using a second cliche) so at that point we may as well just be playing Aftermath with a 400-page binder of added houserules. :)
 
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