Risus: New cliches for Old
When Samuel Goldwyn said “Let’s have some new clichés!” he wasn’t wrong. The beauty of it all is that new clichés are happening all the time. Any TV show that’s made it beyond a second series, or any movie that’s birthed a sequel has already spawned clichés aplenty. I’m looking at you Horatio Caine, Jack Bauer, Gibbs, Shrek, Ace Ventura and all the rest – now clichés all, gawd bless ‘em. They’re all bundled character types all wrapped up in a short name or phrase that we viewers, readers and gamers can immediately identify and relate to. And that’s what Risus clichés are all about.
A cliché could be something as simple as “Rogue(4)” which, if coming from a D&D perspective, we’d immediately recognise that this was someone good at disabling traps, sneaking up on folks and stabbing them with short pointy things. Likewise, “Wizard(4)” means they’re wearing their dressing gown outdoors, carrying a staff and can wield loud (and frequently blasty) spells.
One of the joys of D&D is that pretty much everything about it is a cliché. It’s a comfort-zone game where we gamers are fully conversant with it’s quirks and tropes. Perhaps that’s why we get in such a hissy tizz when a new Edition of the game is released – our nice comfortable boat is being rocked, and we don’t like it one bit. It’s only when the water settles down once more that we discover it’s pretty much the same as it always has been, just with a new lick of paint. (And if you’re thinking of making an anti-4e comment right now, don’t. Really. It’s old. Go spread your 4e hate someplace else, ok? Thx.)
So, with everything in D&D being a cliché and Risus being all about clichés I could, for example, create a character like this:
Gnome (4), Wizard (3), Forest-dweller (2), Nudist (1)
and we’d all immediately know, relate to, and be able to play that character. Not that many of us would want to play a naked Gnome Wizard, of course, but there you go. That mental image is stuck now, isn’t it? Yeah. Me too.
The last time we played Risus we joked that even the idea of a Dungeon was, in itself, a cliché, so you should be able to play a game session where the characters try to “battle” the Dungeon(6) and if they defeat it they get the treasure. So, being reasonably drunk at the time, that’s what we did.
Laziest GM session ever. The session (as best I recall it) went something like this:
GM: What do you do?
Rogue: I try to enter the Dungeon (Rogue cliché vs. Dungeon(6) )
GM: You fail. The door lock is trapped and slices your fingers! Drop a dice from Rogue
Fighter: Stuff this. I charge the door (Fighter vs. Dungeon(6). Makes it!)
GM: The aged door splinters and you head straight through. The Dungeon is down to 5. There’s a crossroads and it’s dark.
Wizard: I cast Light (Wizard vs Dungeon (5). Fails)
GM: Knock a point off Wizard. The eerie glow barely reaches into the gloom. You hear the sound of small footsteps to the north. Goblins! And lots of ‘em!
Fighter: I charge again!
Rogue: Sneak attack!
Wizard: Magic Missile!
GM: Ok, that’s a team-up. Fighter’s dice count, plus any sixes you other two get….
Dice are rolled against Dungeon (5), the “Goblins” are defeated after a few rounds, and the game goes on.
Silly? Yes. But totally playable, and that’s what makes Risus such a darned good game.
So, clichés are good. But great clichés are better.
A character who is a Wizard (4) is one thing, but a Seductive Moon Elf Sorceress (4) is an entirely different matter. How about a Dour Dwarven Runesmith (4), Halfling Illusionist Prankster (4), Runaway Apprentice with a Too-Powerful Magic Wand (4) or Exiled Noble from a Long-Lost Magocractic Empire (4). Wizards, all, but all different. And all equally just as much fun to play.
And of course: sometimes a Wizard is just a Wizard.