Now that I have released a bit of the details of the setting, I felt it was time to sit down and hash out the particular rules that we will be using for Blackwood. I am aiming to play Blackwood as close to the base Risus as possible, basically because I want the game to be simple and allow the players to expand upon the setting rather than us expanding upon the rules too much. What follows are the rules we will be using for this game.*
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Character Concept & Setting
The first step in creating a character is to decide on an interesting concept. The game is set in early 1893 in Chicago and is a mash-up of cinematic horror-mystery adventure I used movies and books to draw inspiration from, included in this list would be The X-Files, Sherlock Holmes (the original books as well as the recent movie), the works of H.P. Lovecraft, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Sleepy Hollow, the Hellboy movies, the recent Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter book, and any crime noir black and white film you can think of. I would say my strongest inspirations are Jack the Ripper and gaslight Victorian England.
I am aiming for a gritty, rough, terrorizing and serious plot with elements of supernatural, perhaps some weird science or steampunkish feeling thrown in for good measure. The basic premise is a group of persons who belong to The Order of the Blackwood and at the heart is the conflict between Good and Evil. Players should choose characters that would fit within this inspirational material.
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Blackwood 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 are also allowed, but they require special approval from the GM as they are not appropriate for all clichés.
Players are free to be as brief or as verbose as they wish when creating their clichés. Remember that a more elaborate cliché can add much to a character. A Police Detective (3) is not nearly as exciting to play as a Grizzled, old Police Detective months from retirement (3). Players should add a brief description of what they feel their clichés entails (see my NPC entries for more detail on this).
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, remember this is only a small sample of what is possible with Risus. One might notice that clearly missing from the list is anything dealing with supernatural, the reason for this is that in Blackwood I am intending for this whole supernatural thing to be elusive, secretive and not open to general knowledge. Can the character’s still have a supernatural cliché? Yeppers, but you will have to come up with them on your own. In the Blackwood setting (and in accordance with the historical tradition of Call of Cthulhu) you are normal human beings up against something larger and far more dangerous than you can imagine. 😉
- Alienst (Psychological cataloging, using forensic methods; evaluating a person’s mental state; understanding behavioral science; psychoanalysis)
- Antiquarian (in-depth knowledge of architecture; knowing far too much about art and history; understanding and speaking dead languages; investigative procedures)
- Archaeologist (Archaeological procedures; evidence collection; boring people with historic details; knowing the library like the back of your hand; horseback riding, using a whip, wearing a cool fedora)
- Author (Writing stuff; knowing high society types; in-depth discussions on the most acclaimed writers of the early 1700s)
- Captain of Industry (Having lots of money; investing wisely; running a large business; calling in favors; delegating to minions)
- Clergy (Reading latin; psychoanalysis; theology; knowing others of the faith; being an authority figure; giving advice)
- Criminal (Hiding from police; getting into places he shouldn’t; intimidating people to get what he wants; using a pistol or knife)
- Dashing Former Military Officer (Horseback riding; fighting with gun and sword; looking good in uniform; having an air of authority)
- Dilettante (Knowing etiquette; having friends in high places; not needing to work for a living; able to identify wines by smell alone)
- Doctor (Helping the sick; extracting bullets; sewing up wounds; cutting off limbs; knowing various remedies)
- Gentleman of Society (Being wealthy; knowing the right people; member of all the right clubs; sailing a boat)
- Journalist (Creating and using a disguise; Evidence collection; getting information out of people; knowing just the right person; writing stuff; sneaking around)
- Pinkerton Agent (Going undercover; knowing high ranking officials; investigating; being perceptive; shooting people)
- Politician (Bureaucracy; having connections around the city; getting people to give you money; knowing how to get around the law)
- Private Detective (Inventing and maintaining a cover identity; shooting people; brawling with baddies; evidence collection; tailing people)
- Professor (Academic pursuits; library use; authority figure amongst 18-25 year olds; knowing secrets; reading, speaking, writing languages)
- Soiled Dove (Being beautiful; horizontal dancing; inspiring pity; defending one’s self with wits or guns; getting her way with a man)
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Add a Fact
Another rule we will be using is one created on the yahoo RisusTalk mailing list. Boiled down to the simplest form it allows the player to add a fact to the game world whenever they beat a target number by five, and for every multiple five after that as well. Any fact added should fit within the theme and scope of the setting of Blackwood.
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Contacts (Sidekicks & Shieldmates)
The “Sidekicks & Shieldmates” rule from The Risus Companion is available to characters, here we will call it Contacts so as to be more fitting with the setting. Essentially, this rule allows players to trade one or more dice during character generation for three times as many dice to be used on NPC contacts. These contacts are individuals that serve as aides during an investigation and provide services for the players. Contacts 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.
Contacts 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.
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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 for three Lucky Shots or five Questing 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.