[Risus] The “Problem” With Risus

Over on the Yahoo mailing list [Risustalk] Brent Wolke of the 8 Page Worlds has really summed up Risus and reasons people have issues with the game. I humbly admit that I have struggled with the system for years, probably for the reasons he mentions here.

I have come to the realization that my past in traditional games such as D&D has soured my ability to easily change modes and thoroughly enjoy a system such as Risus, but I am working on it. His recent work on his Old School Risus module has really put the game in a light I had not seen it in previously and inspired me to write my own little module. This week I am working on a second, much more ambitious module that should showcase the non-combat aspects of the game, least that is the goal. Instead of a combat laden dungeon crawl, this will be a murder mystery set in a blizzard locked inn.

Enough of that nonsense, here is Brent’s very astute  thoughts*:

Risus is a game of beauty. Sublime. It was built for comedy, but serves just as well for serious gaming. Ah, but therein lays a nasty issue, the so-called, “problem”. Built for comedy, it plays to its strengths. Take it out of its natural niche, and it requires effort from the players. It becomes a horrific hybrid of old school gaming and indie narrative style that can be a shock to the system, unless you have a penchant for horrific hybrids. Lemme’ explain.

If I were to play a D&D, I would dare say that nearly EVERY situation imaginable has some kind of rule that attempts to address it. I could reference stats versus rules, and tables; take into account listed advantages and disadvantages; situational modifiers and more…perhaps even spread over multiple books. By God, by the time you roll the dice you know EXACTLY what the result means, and can apply the various stats, rules, tables, advantages, disadvantages, modifiers and more as appropriate. I’ve nothing against D&D, it’s a style of play some prefer, but here’s the point…it’s all spelled out to leave nothing to ambiguity or vagueness.

Risus on the other hand challenges the players and the GM to essentially generate all those rules D&D has, on the fly, in our heads, hand waving what you don’t have time to contemplate or is really unimportant, and then rolling a some dice where even the results are not hard or fast, but vague and unknown. In Risus, you could lose for winning, and vice-versa. It requires players to think not of rules, but of story, and the dice results are not end conditions but rather variables that guide the narrative. My character lost a die in combat. Was he wounded, or just pushed into a corner? What if he was pushed into a corner, but now another character has distracted the enemy allowing my character to get free of the corner. Does he get the lost die back? Risus is not black and white, but rather many shades of gr…er…purple.

Risus demands more from its players than most games (oh yeah, I said it!), and that’s the “problem” with getting new people to play, or those familiar with lots and lots of rule books. For such a simple comedy game, it requires intelligence, thoughtfulness, and awareness. I know people who can’t play Risus simply because they cannot grasp that those dice can mean nearly anything.

For most of the Risus converted though, it’s not a problem… it’s a challenge, and opportunity, to explore some really fun ideas without limits.

Thanks for reading,

* Posted without asking. :/
I hope you don’t mind Brent, I thought this was way too good and insightful not to reshare.


3 thoughts on “[Risus] The “Problem” With Risus

  1. No worries, Matt!

    It took me a long time to get the zen of Risus, and I still occasionally struggle with it. I don’t pretend that it’s a perfect or somehow more enlightened game system, but for what it is, and what it can do, it suits 90% of anything I could want out of an RPG.

  2. Zen is the right word. I’ve never run or played it, but I have designed for it and I might yet get a game of it going someday, but the process thus far has been a sort of meditation on gaming and design for me thus far. A sort of game koan.

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