Risus, the “Anything” RPG

I was browsing around, thinking about fan fiction writing within the Firefly / Serenity universe, and ended up on a website with an adaptation of Firefly to an very interesting roleplaying system called Risus: The Anything RPG by S. John Ross, who has an e-mail address at the old illuminati domain io.com … which is the kind of thing that not many people would think is as cool as I do. (Then again, I did score 47.14004% on a Geek Test.)

Risus is a very nice, quick and, in a good way, simple system. It reminds me of the feeling I had when reading the materials for Toon or Amber diceless game. One of the most compelling things about Toon is a built-in rule that if a player can manage to rationalize something in an entertaining way, that they should be allowed control outcomes. For Amber, the diceless aspect of the game allows for a straight-forward ranking of the characters based on their stats, such that a character might be the strongest, and therefore able to win in all contests of strenghth, another character might be smarter and therefore be able to outwit the first. No dice, just self-evident outcomes based on rankings.

The system in Risus is worth a look. The premise is that characters are built around clichés, which can be simple or complex. These clichés are give scores which are used to, essentially make “save” rolls for any kind of activity. In addition, these clichés are also used to record damage from conflicts, which is another surprisingly good way to simplify.

The beauty of the systems I’ve mentioned, including Risus, is that they are minimal frameworks to help contain a collective storytelling experience. I find myself thinking that Risus might be a great way for an author to keep track of characters in their work, whatever kind of work that might be. It could be a nice shorthand for keeping character notes.

Additionally, there’s a whole, amusing intentional culture around the Risus system, with a special “Order” to which fans and customers of the Risus Companion can sign-up. The writing is humorous and the extensive use of stick figure illustrations add to the overall effect.

The simplicity of Risus reminds me of Andy Looney’s Fluxx or Peter Suber’s Nomic, especially in the primary rule, articulated by the author Ross, that “there is no wrong way to play.” A completely minimal set of Nomic rules consists of the rule that “All players must agree to the rules.” And the initial rule card of Fluxx is the entire rule set at the beginning of the game: start with three cards, and draw 1, play 1.

I guess the only thing left is to wonder if, somehow, Risus could be used to finally make a variation of Tafl that makes it fun to play and whether there’s a way to combine Risus and Icehouse Pyramids in a fun way.

As I’m reading the Risus Companion, I’m realizing that this is as fun as reading the old West End Paranoia books which has apparently been re-released by Mongoose Publishing.