Saturday, December 31, 2005
Things have been quiet for the last few days because I've been trying to get my Dragonspire setting ready for life on the Risus Monkey. Unfortunately, it's taking longer than I had hoped. But for those of you that are curious, I have two characters from that setting posted already. Krom Domlin is a character of my own design, who originally existing as a GURPS character in the first adventure I ran in this game world. Tam Hammerhand is the first PC from the new campaign to make it up on the site.
More Dragonspire goodness is on the way!
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Last night, I tried my first online game of Risus. A few of my friends who don't live in the area got together using a tool called ScreenMonkey. In addition to having a really appropriate name, it was an excellent fit for Risus, especially when compared to the other virtual table-tops that are available. First of all, clients connect through their web-browsers, which means that it is cross-platform and free for players. It's also free for the GM if he is only using the "Lite" version (which is probably all that is needed for Risus). The tool is also very simple and provides chat, dice-rolling, and basic mapping functionality. Heck, all Risus needs is chat and dice-rolling, but the mapping is a nice touch for dungeon-crawling games.
I decided to try out Dragonspire, a fantasy world of mine that has been in development for a while now (now that I'm using it, I hope to post it to Risus Monkey soon). The session wasn't entirely without glitches. Trusting in the ability to make Risus characters quickly, we didn't have characters made out in advance. This was a mistake, since character creation requires lots of back-and-forth between player and GM and the chat interface in ScreenMonkey made this a tad difficult. We also had a few players who were rather rusty when it came to Risus, so there was much explaining that was needed. Thus, it took over an hour to get going, which is unfortunate because one of us had to bug out before the action started. But we did manage to run an excellent combat, with the party facing down six goblins mounted on wargs. The chat log (which I also hope to edit and post) reveals the strengths of Risus, as the characters came up with some pretty cool moves for the clichés.
There were also some minor refresh issues and chat weirdness, but overall I was quite satisfied. I'd like to move to voice-over-IP next, but that will be a task for another day.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Advanced Option I defines a Hook as a significant character flaw, something "the GM agrees is so juicy that he can use it to make the characters life more interesting". This is all rather vague, which in Risus is all it needs to be. Still, players and GMs that are new to Risus may find it useful to have some examples to play with. With that in mind, I've gathered a bunch of clichés that have seen use in my games and have listed them in Hooked On Risus.
Friday, December 23, 2005
The Risus Companion is a tremendous resource that has provided many useful ideas for my games. One idea that only occurred to me recently (this week) is that the Last Man Standing rules could be used for a wicked game of Diplomacy, Illuminati, or some other game of world domination. The concept is simple: players create Risus characters to represent countries, conspiracies, or megalomaniacal masterminds with armies of mutant monkeys. Clichés could be something like Third World Dictatorship (3) or Kick-Ass Military Industrial Complex (4). The players then roll dice to determine turn order and then dive right into the Last Man Standing rules. The Diplomacy elements come in as players secretly form alliances between turns. Who are you going to attack with your Undeclared WMD Capability (2)? Who will benefit from the low-die from your Adoring and Blissfully Ignorant Voters (3)? More importantly, how will you describe these attacks and offers of assistance. That's where Last Man Standing Diplomacy gets interesting.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Guy Hoyle is the brains and the brawn behind Risus Talk, the mailing list where Risus fans go to ask questions, test ideas, and simply share the love. Guy also has his own excellent fan site called Risus Pieces (which was my first choice for the name of a Risus site before I discovered that Guy had long since beaten me to it). I like Guy's site for the sheer volume of excellent content. He has "scads" (now there's a word you don't hear every day) of brilliant settings. I particularly like Vikings of the Caribbean (best...setting...concept...evar). The site is also a super resource for clichés and cliché building.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
It's that time of year. Snow. The twinkly lights. The scent of pine. The taste of ginger bread. And an epic quest to kill the seven avatars of sin embodied in the form of Santa Claus himself.
Of the seven times that I have run Risus, two of them have been to inflict S. John's hilarious A Kringle in Time upon my players. If it weren't for a pack of werewolves that were demanding that I take them out for walkies, I would have run it again for my current group this past Saturday. Simply put, I have never read a more gut-bustingly funny role-playing product... ever. Alas, much of the humor remained for the GM's eyes only since I couldn't possibly get it all out there for the two groups that I ran it for. This is, I suppose, why I want to try it again.
With one of the groups, I actually attempted to complete the entire mega module in one sitting. Alas, I had to omit the Baby Jesus chapter and things got rather compressed in parts. But I still think it was a success. The players made characters who, through choice or lack of choices, were stuck playing role playing games in a gaming store on Christmas Eve. When the opportunity for heroism comes sliding down their chimney (chimney in a gaming store?), they respond with all the courage that they learned from playing D&D.
In my other group, I sensibly decided to take a more leisurely pace, hoping to complete it in subsequent sessions. Since I only see this group of players for holidays and special occasions, this has yet to come to pass. The premise for this group was that their characters were students (plus one custodian) of a Hogwarts-like boarding school in New England. Each of the kids was from a family what was thoughtless enough to leave them at school over the Christmas break. This premise proved to be well-suited to the adventure, as the tone of a magical boarding school with misfit characters meshed nicely with the epic absurdity of the quest to murder Santa seven times.
Here are the player characters from that second group.
Monday, December 19, 2005
It's happened again. Stefan Shirley has raised an issue on Risus Talk that's been on my mind for some time. In this case, it's the issue of 1-die clichés, their importance to certain character concepts, and the questions surrounding their advancement. The basic issue is that a player will often take a Cliché (1) because it is important that their character concept to have a cliché at "putz" level. In some cases, the player will have the character grow from "putz" into greater levels of competance. And given the standard advancement rules, this will probably happen fairly quickly. But it may be that the character never wants to advance this Cliché (1) beyond "putz" level. It may be vital to the character concept that he always remains a Lowly Wizard's Apprentice (1), even when he advances to Dashing Master Burglar (5).
There's nothing in the rules that say that this second type of Cliché (1) is forced to advance. A player could always forgo the advancement roll for that cliché, even when it would otherwise be offered. However, many gamers would find this choice to be painful since it pits loyalty to character concept vs. a free gain in power.
Stefan suggested treating a permanent Cliché (1) as a Hook (or Hook-like animal), giving a point or two back for taking it. There's something to be said for this approach, since it gives a one-time reward to the player for taking something that is of marginal usefulness in the game yet provides for more interesting role-playing possibilities. Then again, a Cliché (1) is at least marginally useful, and it is certainly better than nothing (or a Hook).
I had a thought that a character may be able to trade an advance from a one-die cliché to give them another advancement roll for another cliché. The rules already support something like this for gaining new clichés; I merely thought to extend this a little bit. But Stefan brings up a good point that this is a gift that keeps on giving, and may affect the long-term balance of a game (if balance could be said to apply to a game like Risus).
Karl Paananen wonders what all the fuss is about, and he may be right. Again, there is nothing to stop a character from just giving up an opportunity to advance. Also, a character could have a Hook that specifically limits the advancement possibility of a cliché. There are no firm rules governing Hooks and I see no reason why I wouldn't allow this in a game.
In other news, I'm continuing to add to my links page. Since Stefan has been getting so much mention in these posts, I thought I'd start with his Risus Jedi Monkey Academy. He's got some house rules (of which, the Funkiest Die is one that I might use in some games). He's also got several campaign settings, my favorite of which being Pulp Adventures in a Hard Solar System (which reminds of a game that I was always intending to run).
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Last night I ran my Silverlode episode "Dances with Werewolves". It was my seventh session of Risus (fourth in this setting) and I was very pleased with how it turned out. We had a full house of eight players, five of them were new to the system. I'll post the full episode write-up as soon I decide that I won't run it again for another group. In the mean time, I have started updating the Silverlode site. I've posted the updated player characters and will add NPCs and locations as soon as I get a chance.
Friday, December 16, 2005
For the werewolves in Silverlode, I have "soaking most forms of damage other than silver and supernatural attacks" as part of the cliché description. That means if the werewolf is fighting an opponent who is attacking with a mundane weapon, the opponent would have to invoke the "When Somebody Can't Participate" rule if the goal is actually to harm the werewolf. This can vary with the situation, though. If it's an attack that would cause massive damage (like the blows of a very strong opponent), I may give the strong opponent a penalty for lack of Proper Tools instead. If the opponent's goal is to inflict non-lethal damage (as is often the case in Risus), then he will probably be able to attack normally.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
In yesterday's post, I implied that the Risus Companion actually tells people how to play Risus. This was not my intent and I apologize to the Companion for my poor choice of words. I've corrected the post accordingly. Please remember, there's no wrong way to play!Dances With Werewolves
Check out the Silverlode episodes page and you'll find a description of the long-awaited "Episode 4: Dances with Werewolves". My regular gaming group is between sessions of our Buffy the Vampire Slayer campaign and we are finally getting around to continuing Silverlode. It's been a long time and schedules have not been very cooperative. But I'm hoping that this will mark the beginning of some regular Risus play once again.
Alas, you won't see a write-up of the episode right away, since I am seriously thinking about running this adventure at the spring NC Game Day. But I'll save my notes and post a summary then. Maybe I'll even post write-ups for both times I run it?
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The Risus Companion offers a suggestion for what to do when a character attacks a group of characters with something like a machine gun or a fireball (or public-speaking). In a nutshell, the characters affected may become a grunt-squad for the rest of the combat.
I have found that this works in some, but not all circumstances. For one, it doesn't cover the possibility of the player characters being attacked as a group. For another, the GM may not want to have individual characters be subsumed into a grunt squad for dramatic reasons.
Therefore, I simply let the character in question attack anybody that he or she wants.
What? Isn't it a little unbalancing to allow a single character to have an arbitrary number of attacks per round? Not really. This is Risus, after all. Every character that is attacked has an opportunity to fight back. Attacking more opponents means that you have more chances to get yourself wasted before your friends can step up and take some of the risk.
To keep some semblance of sanity, I typically only allow this if the character has an area-of-effect attack or if he or she is wielding a high rate-of-fire weapon. And the type of attack determines how the foes can respond.
If the attacker is casting a fireball, tossing a grenade, or reading Vogon poetry then the defenders can decide which among them will try to halt the attack before it occurs. That character then engages in a regular combat exchange with the attacker. If the defender wins then the area-of-effect attack never gets off properly and the rest of the defenders are safe for the moment. If the attacker wins this first exchange, then all the other defenders can do is take cover, dodge, or stand there and take it with their manly toughness. Using My Take On Combat, these secondary exchanges are purely defensive and cannot result in a cliché loss for the attacker.
If the attacker is using a high rate-of-fire weapon that attacks opponents individually, the attacks proceed sequentially as normal. The attacker picks a target, they exchange blows, and damage may be applied to the loser. The attacker may or may not be able to proceed to the next target depending on circumstances, but any cliché loss is applied before the next exchange. It should be noted that using a high rate-of-fire weapon to attack the same character several times only counts as one attack (the amount of ammunition expended is a special effect with the only additional benefit being a change in the appropriateness of the cliché against certain opponents).
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
I continue to go through my old files. Here is another example combat. This one features Amalan trying to use a rifle against some western outlaws. Lacking a cliché that gives her skill with a rifle, she is forced to rely on the "When Somebody Can't Participate" rules. Thus, this example is useful in describing how this rule is applied in my style of combat.
Monday, December 12, 2005
My first day of paternity leave has proved busier than expected. As a result, I'm reaching back into the archives of Risus Talk to pull out my old post on armor.
Like other equipment, armor is just a special effect. Having armor as a Tool of the Trade for your cliché means that you can pursue slightly different tactics during combat. A Knight In Shining Armor (4) can opt to "let my armor soak my opponents blows until he makes a mistake, at which point I smite him". Whereas the Butt-Naked Celtic Spearman (3) would describe his defenses as relying on "mystical invulnerability" (otherwise known as dumb-ass-luck) to avoid getting killed while he attacks the weak points in the knight's armor.
I tend to rely heavily on combat descriptions for situational modifiers. If a fighter's tactic is clearly ineffective against an opponent's armor (but not so ineffective as to be totally inappropriate) then I'd assess an Improper Tools penalty to the attacker. I would use this to penalize an Old West Gunfighter (4) when he starts shooting a Bullet-Soaking Vampire (5).
I don't always apply an Improper Tools penalty if a character who normally has armor is currently going without. It depends on how the cliché description is written. One could assume that a Knight In Shining Armor (4) needs his armor to fight a Swashbuckler (3) (a reasonable assumption given that "In Shining Armor" is part of the cliché description and his foe is used to fighting unarmored). I'd probably allow my players to write a Knight cliché description to include the ability to fight without armor if they found themselves in such a situation, but would certainly slap them with an Improper Tools penalty if they faced another Knight who was wearing armor while they weren't.
You could use Bonus Gear (or even Sidekicks) for magic or extra-special armor. You could also just invent a cliché such as "Grim Vigilante in Adamantium Power Armor (4d10)" and rely on assessing Improper Tools penalties to all foes who try brute force attacks with weapons that are clearly ineffective against such potent armor.
Depending on the type of game you are running, "stuff" (i.e. Phat Dungeon Loot) may be important. In this case, I wouldn't have a specific suit of armor be attached a character's cliché. I'd allow them to upgrade during the adventure with found/purchased gear. This armor could be Bonus Gear, or merely provide situational advantages (as described above).
Thursday, December 08, 2005
The folks at Risus Talk have a nasty habit of reading my mind. First, there was Stefan Shirley posting on the beauty of the Risus Monkey name before I had made public my intention of starting a Risus Monkey blog. Now, cu0r3matt0 has brought up the subject of critical hits just as I was debating a post on that very subject.
According to the standard rules, only the use of an Inappropriate Cliché can cause an opponent to lose more than one die of damage at a time. However, I have occasionally used a house rule that allows 1d6 dice of damage (rather than one) if the margin of victory is high enough. I'm still undecided as to whether 10 or 15 is the best margin for this "critical", but I'm currently leaning towards 15.
I like the rule because a) players love to roll critical hits and b) sometimes it makes sense that a combat could be cut short by a brilliant or lucky move.
Pat V. has a different critical hit rule called "Doubling Up" on his brilliant MYSTERYMEN site.
I'll be out of town and off the Internet until Monday. Look for new content then...
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
I think I should explain why I depart from the standard rules for combat. Even before that, I think I should explain how I depart from the standard rules, since it may not be obvious to newbies.
In standard Risus, the appropriateness of a cliché depends on how it fits into the type of combat, as defined by the GM. The rules state that if a Wizard attacks a Barbarian, it's magical combat. If it were the other way around, it would be melee combat. If both characters were interested in fighting each other then it would generic fantasy combat, where both clichés are treated as equals.
I approach things somewhat differently. In my games, there is no set type of combat. When a Barbarian attacks the Wizard, he specifies his tactic (in this case, let's assume he's attacking with his sword). If the Wizard defends with a blocking spell followed by a quick magic missile then the Wizard cliché is appropriate. If the Wizard tries to parry with his dagger, then the Wizard cliché is inappropriate. The Proper Tools rules can be used for more ambiguous situations, such as when the Wizard tries to defend with his staff. Clearly, a Wizard is not as good at melee combat as a Barbarian, but the cliché isn't entirely inappropriate since the image of a Wizard fighting with his staff is a fantasy cliché (and Risus is all about the cliché). Thus, I'd assign a Proper Tools penalty to the Wizard (for lacking the proper combat training and weaponry against this particular foe).
There are two reasons I approach combat in this way. The first is that I don't usually play Risus as a comedy game. There are often hilarious moments in my games, but I prefer to use comedy as something to add spice to the drama, action, or horror of the adventure. The Inappropriate Cliché rules don't really suit this kind of style, since a successful use of an inappropriate cliché is so much more effective than a successful use of an appropriate cliché. So instead of favoring inappropriate cliché use, I expand the boundaries of what is actually appropriate my making the appropriateness entirely depend on the player's description of the attack or defense. This means that many attacks that would otherwise be inappropriate in the regular system (and therefore do more damage), simply become appropriate means of attack in my system.
The other reason for the rule change is because I like to have combat flow directly from the narrative, rather than the other way around. I like players to describe their characters' actions and then determine how the rules fit those actions. The standard rules seem to encourage the reverse approach.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
As I continue to go through my old files, I'll keep posting things that might be of interest. Today's nugget is another example combat. This one features Amalan and Sylvia battling an old rival in the desert of Iconic Mars. This combat is interesting in that introduces some unusual Bonus Gear, specifically ones that add pips rather than dice. The Hulking Martian Barbarian  also has armor that only helps prevents loss of dice, as well as a weapon that adds to the damage done in certain situations. I'll get around to talking about Bonus Gear in a future post.
Monday, December 05, 2005
I've added a new section called Monkey Business. I'm not entirely sure what's going to live there, but it is definitely not settings (as I intend to place those under Risusverse). The first item of Monkey Business will be my own little Rogues' Gallery, which I'll call Unusual Suspects. This is where I'm going to place Risus characters that cannot otherwise be found in the Risusverse.
The first Unusual Suspect is Professor J. Robert Hinkley. Yes, he's the same character as the Hinkley that appears in Silverlode 1908, just older. The Professor actually came first. I designed him for a PBEM Pulp game that never really got off the ground. I always liked the character and thought it a shame that he didn't see more than a few posts of play time.
Little Known Fact: Silverlode was originally conceived as a standard Weird Western set in the year 1876. The reason I moved it to 1908 is that the alternate history world of Hinkley's PBEM Pulp game diverged from our history in 1908 when the Tunguska Event hit Saint Petersburg instead of uninhabited tundra. I thought it might be cool to connect my first Risus game to the PBEM game through that event (which hasn't happened in my world yet).
Sunday, December 04, 2005
For all you folks within striking distance of Raleigh, North Carolina...
The January 21 Game Day will feature a Risus adventure called Taskforce Topeka. It's being run by a friend of mine who is a fantastic game master. He's never run Risus before, but I have no doubt that it will be a hell of a lot of fun. His games at GenCon 2005 were the highlight of the Con for me.
The awesome folks over at EN World are largely responsible for these Game Days. EN World started out as a D20 site, but it has evolved into an excellent general purpose role playing forum as well. The Game Day thread is here (note the hilarious PCs that will be provided).
Saturday, December 03, 2005
My first act in support of Risus Monkey is to go through all my old files to clean them up and get them out for the world to see. The first product of this endeavor is a polished Amalan. She was developed for Silverlode 1908, but she may appear to be a rather odd character for the genre. She isn't even from Earth and she has no listed hooks that tie in with the setting. I created her as an exercise in free association, using a Python script to randomly select a JPG from my vast collection of inspirational RPG images. When the image of this half-naked D&D monk came up, I was initially stumped. But then I remembered that Silverlode would ultimately evolve into a cross-dimensional game (more on that in future posts). One of my iconic characters, Sylvia Franco, was already mentioned as being an extra-dimensional archaeologist. In was only a small leap to bring in a character from another dimension. In this case, I decided to make her from Iconic Mars, drawing upon my love for Ken Hite's GURPS Cabal mythology, as well as some Star Wars nostalgia. The bits about Varenspire are kind of esoteric; suffice to say that it is a fantasy city that was to serve as the centerpiece for a proposal for WotC's campaign setting contest. I suppose I'll get around to posting details on that setting at some future date.
Amalan will feature in two more example combats that I'll post in a bit. And perhaps she'll even appear in future episodes of Silverlode 1908 (I do intend to resume that campaign, even if it is only at cons).
For those that are interested, I've posted my idea generating script here. You'll need Python to run it. Place it in a top-level directory and it will walk the current and child directories looking for certain types of files. It will then generate an html file with 10 random selections. I've found this technique to useful and really fun when I'm otherwise at a loss for ideas.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Risus Monkey is finally up and running. Of course, there's not much to see yet. I have the framework in place, as well as an about page. I've also got a link to my existing Silverlode 1908 site. But everything else resides either in my head or in an incomplete form on my hard drive.
But I have grand ambitions for the site. First off, this will become my first blog, where I hope to report on my explorations of the Risusverse. I'll post cool new ideas for rules, characters, and settings. I'll also try to shine a spotlight on all the other Risus Monkeys out there who are doing great work in support of this wonderful game. I'll also occasionally write about general interest role playing stuff. Specifically, I'd like to talk about how I use ideas from Risus in other games that I play.
I'd also like to provide specific resources that aren't out there yet. Yes, I'll post new settings, characters, rules, and cliché lists. But these things are pretty well covered by the community already. What's lacking are examples of Risus in play and ready-to-use Risus adventures. I'd also like to start a repository for Hooks (called Hooked on Risus) since I've never seen such a list before and think that it might be useful for new players.
Created: 2 December 2005 / Last modified: 9 February 2006