Revisiting Risus

My first contact with Risus was probably way back around the late 1990s or early 2000s, but I dismissed it as hopelessly too simplistic and obviously a comedy game. It might well be a comedy game (arguable) but simplistic, not so much. Second contact was sometime around the end of the D&D 3.5 era, when I was exploring the OSR and more open to lighter games. Again, however, I dismissed it as too simple.

Recent days have seen me revisiting Risus with fresh eyes, largely because I have been enjoying the Lexicon posts on S. John Ross’ blog, Rolltop Indigo, and made the connection between the game’s author and the insights gained from his blog. Yes, Risus is a very light set of rules but it seems that this time I was open to the learning it offered.

In truth, the real eye-opener has been the Risus Companion which S. John Ross wrote around 2003 as, “a 64-page user’s manual for a four-page roleplaying game.” It’s proving to be a fascinating read and something that I have been savouring over past days. Largely, this is because I’d totally failed to see the subtleties in the Risus design.

Aside from reading Risus and the Companion, I decided to take the game for a solo test-drive using the amusing, “Ring of Thieves” adventure designed as a solo introduction. Poor ol’ Lucas Marks got stabbed to death in an alleyway, but I am minded to give the adventure a second attempt. Where I expected the simple rules to lack depth it turned out a little differently.

The magic of Risus lies in the “Clichés” used to define characters. The Risus Companion helped me to see the power of the Cliché, even if I still am not comfortable with the terminology and jokey style of presentation. In short, as a gamer who is exploring ways to encourage players to describe their characters with words and rely less on numbers, this has been an interesting journey.

What I am particularly impressed with is the way in which the author shows you how to build fairly sophisticated Clichés which can be leveraged – using our Invisible Rulebooks – to provide a great deal of conceptual punch in a short descriptive sentence. It’s highly freeform and sits uncomfortably with this more literally-minded GM, but the learning has been positive. Overall, I am curious to see how Risus plays at the table.

That’s an improvement from first and second contact… third time’s the charm, they say.

Game on!

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