Detailed Rules

By S. John Ross © 1993-2003
Modified for SCP Field Work by Kondraki and Fifth.
Greatly slimmed down for Tamlin House by Bright.

Risus is a complete Role Playing Game (RPG) designed to provide an "RPG Lite" for those nights when the brain is too tired for exacting detail. Risus is especially valuable to GMs assembling a quick convention game, or any late-night beer-and-pretzels outing. While it is essentially a Universal Comedy System, it works just as well for serious play (if you insist!). Best of all, a Risus character takes about 20 seconds to create!

Inspiration for the nature of this game comes largely from the sadly out-of-print classic, Ghostbusters, from West End Games, sparked against an idea (Clichés) from DC Heroes. The final shape and form of the game was inspired by Over the Edge, from Atlas Games. Other RPGs (most notably GURPS, FUDGE and Tunnels and Trolls), have also provided valuable inspiration. Many friends, fellow gamers, total strangers on the street, and others have provided useful commentary as the game has developed, including Dan "Moose" Jasman, Frank J. Perricone, Jason Puckett, David Pulver, Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch, and the gamers on the Risus internet mailing list.

Characters are defined by Clichés (sometimes several of them). Clichés are a shorthand which describe what a character knows how to do. The “character classes” of the Neolithic Period of RPGs were Clichés: Fighter and Magic-User, Space Marine and Star Merchant. You can take Clichés like that, or choose a more contemporary one, such as Biker, Spy, Computer Nerd, Supermodel, or William Shatner (formerly an actor - now just a Cliché). Which Clichés are permitted are up to the GM.

Clichés are defined in terms of Dice (by which we mean the ordinary six-sided kind you can scavenge from your old Yahtzee set). This is the number of dice that you roll whenever your skill as a Fighter, Supermodel, or William Shatner (for instance) is challenged. See “Game System,” below. Three dice is professional. Six dice is mastery. One die is a putz.

Characters are created by naming and describing them, and listing their Clichés. When designing your character, you have 10 dice with which to define his Clichés (a Normal Schmoe would be built on anywhere from 3 to 5 dice). Paul Drake, Fifth, and Strelnikov provide good templates for character organization.

A character may have any number or combination of Clichés, but more than 10 different Clichés would be odd, considering the number of dice you get. Characters shouldn't begin their career with more than 4 dice in anything, but just because you're creating a character today doesn't mean that he's beginning his career! The GM will tell you if he's requiring “beginners” for the game. It's not our business.
Sample Cliches

Astronaut (Piloting spaceships, not puking in zero-gee)
Barbarian (Beating things up, drinking, whoring, grunting, sweating)
Biker (Riding Harley, brawling, being Invisible to other motorists)
Bimbo (Available in both genders. Distracting, teasing, not teasing…)
Computer Geek (Hacking, programming, fumbling over introductions)
Con Artist (Convincing other people to give you money, evading cops)
Cowboy (Ridin', ropin', brandin', spittin', and shootin')
Fighter Pilot (Dogfighting, not blacking out at high-Gs, bragging)
Gadgeteer (Building a radar out of a bent fork and some gum)
Gambler (Betting, cheating, winning, running very fast)
Gangster (Shooting, speaking with an accent, intimidation)
Geezer (Wheezin', cursin', bitter reminiscin', failin' to understand kids)
Hairdresser (Dressing hair. If anything.)
Kid (Being a sidekick to heroes, making friends with Giant Monsters)
Knight (Riding, lancing, sword-swinging, heraldry, being chaste)
Latin Lover (Seducing, loving, running from irate husbands)
Mad Scientist (Raving, world-domination, trying to play God, cackling)
Martial Artist (Fancy hand-to-hand combat, out-of-synch speech)
Magician (Palming things, sawing ladies in half, public speaking)
Sorcerer (Spellcasting, demon-summoning, speaking in gibberish)
Novelist (Drinking, brawling, cut-rate world traveling, introspection)
Olympic Athlete (Running, swimming, jumping, skiing, javelin-tossing)
Outdoorsman (Following tracks, building shelters, finding wild food)
Policeman (Eating donuts, writing tickets, shooting civilians)
Poltergeist (Being dead, throwing things, scaring people)
Soldier (Shooting, hiding, partying, catching venereal diseases)
Special Forces (Following orders, looking stern, following orders)
Swashbuckler (Stabbing things, swinging from ropes, sailing, romance)
Thief (Sneakin' around gaining access and objects they shouldn't have)
Vampire (Charming people, sucking blood, turning into mist or bats)
Other Kind of Vampire (Self-pity, erotic blood poetry, wearing black)

These are just examples to get you started - players should feel free to make up their own Clichés (subject to GM approval). In particular, Note that the GM will require the "fine tuning" of any Cliché that he considers too broad. If the game is about sorcerers (for example), then "sorcerer" becomes too all-encompassing for the game, and Clichés like necromancer, mentalist, fire-wizard and wise woman are more the order of the day.

Whenever anybody wants to do something, and nobody is actively trying to stop him, AND the GM doesn't think that success would be automatic, the player rolls dice. If the total rolled beats (equals or exceeds) the Target Number the GM sets, success! If not, failure!

Target numbers follow this scale:
5: A cinch. A snap. A challenge for a Schmuck. Routine for a pro.
10: A challenge for a Professional.
15: An Heroic challenge. For really inventive or tricky stunts.
20: A challenge for a Master. Nearly superhuman difficulty.
30: You've GOT to be Kidding. Actual superhuman difficulty.

This can be subjective, and anybody can try anything: Crossing a chasm by swinging on a rope, vine or something similar would be child's play (automatic success!) for a Swashbuckler or a Lord of the Jungle, easy (Difficulty 5) for a Pulp Archaeologist, and challenging but definitely doable (Difficulty 10) for a Gymnast, Barbarian, or Thief. Even a Wheelchair-Bound Eccentric Occultist could try it (Difficulty 15, but the wheelchair is lost unless the roll beats a 30)!

Every character is assumed to be equipped with the Tools of His Trade (at least the portable ones). Warriors are wearing armor and wielding good weapons. Cowboys have leather chaps, lasoo, a couple of pearl-handled six-guns and some chaw. Netrunners have an expensive jack-in laptop and funny clothes.

If, through the course of an adventure, a character LOSES any of these vital totems, his Cliché operates on half the normal number of dice (or not at all, if the GM rules that the equipment was REQUIRED) until they are replaced.

A Barbarian(5), for instance, can fight without his sword as a Barbarian(3), but a Netrunner can't run the net without his cyberdeck. If the Netrunner manages to find another computer to play with besides the kind he's used to, he can operate at half-dice.

Some special tools (magic wands, hot-off-the-line military cyberdecks, and so on) may give bonus dice to your Clichés when used. When creating your character, you are allowed to begin with two items that each give one bonus dice to different skills. If you have any questions regarding equipment, ask a GM.

“Combat” in this game is defined as any contest in which opponents jockey for position, utilize attacks, bring defenses to bear, and try to wear down their foes to achieve victory. Either literally or metaphorically! Some examples of combat include:

ARGUMENTS: People using whatever verbal weapons they have at hand to make their points. Truth is the first casualty.
HORSE-RACING: People on horses running around and around a dirty track, trying to get nowhere first.
DOGFIGHTS: People in airplanes or spaceships flying around and trying to blow each other out of the sky.
ASTRAL/PSYCHIC DUELS: Mystics/psionics looking bored or asleep, but trying to rip one another's egos apart in the Otherworld.
WIZARD'S DUELS: Sorcerers using strange magics and trying to outdo the other.
DUELING BANJOS: Banjo players using strange melodies and trying to outdo the other.
SEDUCTION ATTEMPTS: One (or more) characters trying to score with one (or more) other character(s) who is(are) trying to resist.
COURTROOM ANTICS: Prosecution vs. Defense. The goal is victory. Justice is incidental.
ACTUAL PHYSICAL COMBAT: People trying to injure or kill each other.

The GM decides when a combat has begun. At that point, go around the table in rounds, and let each combatant make an attack in turn. What constitutes an “attack” depends on the sort of combat, but it should ALWAYS be roleplayed (if dialogue is involved) or described in entertaining detail (if it's physical and/or dangerous and/or normally requires contraceptives).

In combat, cliches may be used for both attack and defense. The winner deal damage versus the losers health. Physical health starts at seven, and can be regained at a base rate of one level per day, due to the Tamlin Houses influence. Mental Health is regained at one per week.

As stated above, the GM determines what sort of Clichés are appropriate for any given combat. An INAPPROPRIATE Cliché is anything that's left … In a physical fight, Hairdresser is inappropriate. In a Wizard's duel, Barbarian is inappropriate.

Inappropriate Clichés may be used to make attacks, PROVIDED THE PLAYER ROLEPLAYS OR DESCRIBES IT IN A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY ENTERTAINING MANNER. Furthermore, the “attack” must be plausible within the context of the combat, and the genre and tone that the GM has set for the game. This option is more valuable in silly games than in dead-serious ones.

When in doubt, assume that the aggressor determines the type of combat. If a wizard attacks a barbarian with magic, then it's a Wizard's duel! If the barbarian attacks the mage with his sword, then it's Physical Combat! If the defender can come up with an entertaining use of his skills, then he'll have the edge. It pays in many genres to be the defender!

Note: If the wizard and barbarian both obviously want to fight, then both are aggressors, and it's "Fantasy Combat," where both swords and sorcery have equal footing.


Players may expend an XP each to create a 'team-up' move with another player. This move is more powerful then acting alone, but must have an interesting name, and a cool description, and make sense.


Many conflicts that arise in the game cannot be defined as “combat;” they're over too quickly, defined by a single action. A classic pistol-duel isn't combat - the two duelists simply turn and fire, and then it's all over. Two characters diving to grab the same gun from the floor isn't combat. Two cooks preparing chili for a cookoff isn't combat; there's no “wearing down of the foe” and no jockeying for position.

Such “single-action conflicts” are settled with a single roll against appropriate Clichés (or inappropriate Clichés, with good roleplaying). High roll wins.


At the end of each adventure, each player should roll against every Cliché that was used significantly during the game (using their current number of dice). If the dice land showing only numbers 3 or higher, this indicates an increase by one die for that Cliché. Thus, advancement slows down as you go.

Anytime you do something really, really, really spectacularly entertaining that wows the whole table, the GM may rule that you may roll instantly (in the middle of the game!) for possible improvement, in addition to the roll at the end of the adventure.

Adding New Clichés: There may come a time when a character has grown and matured enough to justify adding an entirely new Cliché to his character sheet. A new cliche costs one XP.


Players can bargain for extra beginning dice by giving their character a Hook.

A Hook is some signifigant character flaw - an obsession, a weakness, a sworn vow, a permanently crippling injury - that the GM agrees is so juicy that he can use it to make the characters life more interesting (which usually means less pleasant).

Beginning characters can take one hook to gain one extra point.


Over the course of the game, the GM may award unique bonuses to players for memorable actions. The players may also suggest perks for

In an emergency, any character may pump his Clichés. If the Ninja(3) comes face to face with a Monster(6), it might be necessary.

When a Cliché is pumped, it receives a temporary boost in dice. This boost lasts for a single round of combat, or a single significant roll otherwise. However, after that round or roll is resolved, the character loses a number of dice equal to the number he gave himself in the pump. This is treated like "injury" to the Clichés sustained in combat, and must "heal" in the same fashion.

Example: Rudolph the Ninja has come face to face with a Monster, who attacks him. Rudy doesn't have much of a chance against such a powerful foe, so he opts for a tricky tactic: Since the Monster is attacking physically, Rudolph decides his first-round response will use his skills as as a Cajun Chef(3) - a decidedly Inappropriate choice! He also opts to pump it by two dice up to five … He's REALLY putting his all into his cooking for this fight.

So, the first round happens. The Monster rolls six dice, and the Ninja (quickly whipping up a tempting Gumbo spiked with Ninja sleeping drug and offering it to the monster) rolls five dice.

If the Ninja loses, then he is instantly defeated. He takes more damage then he normally would. The Monster decides to eat Rudolph instead of the Gumbo.

If the Ninja WINS, however, the Monster is critically injured, maybe fatally so. In Rudolph's responding attack, he'll will switch back to ordinary Ninja tactics - and be on equal footing with the sleepy Monster!

A risky maneuver, but worth it.

Pumped Clichés are legal in any situation except single-action conflicts.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License