Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lunch with Risus: The Anything RPG

After reading Spacejacker's post entitled "Solo RPG?!" over on Tiny Solitary Soldiers, I realized it was time to stop saying "I want to give Risus a try" and just do it. So I did.

With about 15 minutes of prep time I was up and running on my lunch break Friday.

In Risus: The Anything RPG, you create your characters using cliches that you invent - the rules provide some examples in case you get stuck. Cliches function as sort of a mix of class/attributes/skills/professions (depending on what gaming system you're used to). Creating my characters consequently took the longest part of setup and that was primarily settling on my cliches.

Ultimately, I decided on 1 PC and 2 hireling NPCs. The PC would use the 10 dice build suggested in the rules, while the NPCs (in my mind, the equivalent of 0-level D&D b/x humans) would have 5 dice:

  • Blorg Runetreader: Barbarian(4), Thief(3), Con artist (2), Gambler (1)
  • Reginald the Sickly: Torch bearer (3), Farmer(2)
  • Otto Headinstein : Treasure bearer(3), bar room brawler(2)
Great,now what kind of adventure? 

Given my penchant for dungeon crawls, that part was obvious, but I always like to have some kind of plot, no matter how thin. Enter, The Big List of RPG Plots (from the Risus folks too!). Skimming the long list, an idea jumped out at me (not on the list but a variation on "Man hunt" i suppose):

A monster has been killing livestock and recently killed the son of one of the townsfolk. Some members of the town watch tracked it to it's lair, but only one returned and he died from terrible wounds before he could tell anyone what happened. Justifiably, no one is in too much a hurry to go up there, but the livestock continues to be slain and it's only a matter of time before another towns person. A reward has been posted for the head of the thing and that's good enough for you.
For the adventure itself, I used a combination of Rory's Story Cubes, RPG Labs Solo Story System (which yields "yes and", "yes but", "no but", "no and" results. I would have used Mythic but I didn't have it with me) and a set of "tables" I made up on the fly.

By way of example:

The party descends into the lair, it's cool, dark and smells of decay.

(Roll story cube: parachutist. I decide this means an attack from the ceiling)

Unbeknownst to the party, they are being watched by a 6 foot diameter arachnid who is feeling a little peckish. Without warning, the giant crab spider drops on the party (using the Solo Story System, I ask, "Does it land on anyone?" and I roll "no but" which i take to mean it gets a surprise attack. Rolling a d6 1-4 Blorg 5- Otto 6- Randal. I roll a 6 and it attacks Randal.

Here I need to stat out my giant crab spider. I go with Giant Spider(3), Biter(2), Grappler(3). Why? I figured Giant Spider covered things like traversing walls and ceilings, being poisonous, making scary clicky sounds but i wanted it to have two distinct kinds of attacks - grappler because of its gigantic spidery legs!

Combat in Risus requires both sides roll - loser takes a loss of die to the cliche. Ideally, your character has an appropriate cliche. If not, fret not, the rules account for that too.

The spider in this case rolls 3 dice for its Grappler cliche, but what cliche will Randal use? I figure Torch Bearer covers things like lighting fires, holding his arm up for a really long time, etc. But being a farmer, he'd surely have had to wrestle a steer to the ground right?(as you can see, I know nothing about farming), so he'll use Farmer.)

The spider attempts to grab Randal with it's long furry legs but Randal, having been chased by chickens, geese and an angry bull or two, dodges, and as he does so, wields the torch like a club and hits the spider.

(The spider's grappler cliche down to 2 dice. I decide to roll initiative like I would do in most RPGs I've played. Blorg et al will roll as a team - an optional rule in Risus - which means they use Blorg's appropriate cliche and then roll against theirs, but only submitting 6s. For Blorg it's his 4 dice Barbarian cliche The spider rolls 3 dice - giant spiders are quick and intimidating!

Initiative to Blorg and company.)

Blorg charges the hideous beast and swings his sword and strikes the spider, the blad crunching through the hard exoskeleton (spider down to 1 die for its grappler cliche). Otto tries to join the fray, whiffs, and is hit by the spider. Amazingly, Randal swings for the stars with his torch, and he kills the spider (at 0 dice in any cliche, the combatant is out of the fight - I rule in this case it means they killed it). 

Wiping the spider goop off of his hands and tunic, he mocks his party-mates,"Who's sickly now?" (W00t!)

(I ask the story system "Do we find any loot?" and get a "yes and it's gold!")

Rummaging through the debris in the room, on a decaying, bodiless hand, Blorg sees the unmistakable glint of gold in the torch light. Encrusted with sapphires and intricate engraving, Blorg, with the deserved confidence earned by years stealing and skulking around the seedier parts of the city of Sirus, assesses that this ring can fetch (roll 1d10) 80gps on the open market.

And so on.

All told, I explored two rooms, some length of hallway, rolled 4 story cubes, and then got beat down by some goblins. Blorg may be dead or he may be a prisoner - Risus, by not using any hit points, allows for this kind of cliff hanger without any special rules for it.
The game was surprisingly engrossing. While the system i came up with to generate the dungeon on the fly wasn't anything noteworthy, it worked and supported the game play. I had a blast sketching the dungeon, rolling the story dice and wondering just what I'd encounter next. Making up rules and tables as I went worked just fine. It was an opportunity to be creative on the spot and rely heavily on my imagination - it was play, pure and simple.

Risus will definitely get more play time. Coming up with cliches is a fun game in itself even. I also  look forward to trying this low prep method again - probably with the D&D B/X characters I rolled up back in September or so!

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