The Die Also Risus

Risus Cover Risus is a free, simple, universal RPG that can be downloaded here. The rules are only a few pages long, so it’s worth downloading and reading. The game’s simplicity and speed of character creation make it a handy system for light gaming and one-shots. Despite being a simple game there are some things to consider when running and playing the game.

Doing Things

Skills/ abilities in Risus are called clichés. They range from 0, no ability at all, to 6, with starting characters having no cliché higher than a 4. When a task is in doubt a player rolls the number of 6-sided dice for the appropriate cliché and adds up the total. If the total equals or exceeds the difficulty, they succeed. Table 1 shows the difficulties and likelihood of success for 1 to 4 die clichés.

Table 1. Task Resolution

Difficulty Roll Needed % chance of success
1d6 2d6 3d6 4d6
easy 5 33.3 83.3 98.1 99.9
a challenge 10 0 16.7 62.5 90.3
heroic challenge 15 0 0 9.3 44.4
nearly superhuman 20 0 0 0 5.4
superhuman 30 0 0 0 0

The first thing of note is that a cliché of 1 represents pretty minimal ability, the rookie or intern, but it is still supposedly better than someone without any skill. However, a 1 can only succeed on easy tasks. Many GM’s pretty much stick to moderate or hard difficulty numbers, feeling that they shouldn’t even bother with the really easy stuff. But that makes clichés of 1 nothing more than a placeholder to try to increase with experience as they will then always fail. A GM that doesn’t intend to make much use of easy difficulty tasks should really warn the players so that they know just how useless clichés at 1 will be. It’s also worth noting that the chance of success falls off very rapidly with higher difficulty, quickly going from almost certain to almost impossible. Understanding where to set the difficulties is important to avoid the game becoming just a fail fest.


Combat in Risus covers everything from courtroom drama, to horseraces, to actual physical combat. Opponents roll their appropriate clichés and whoever rolls higher wins the round. The looser has their cliché reduced by 1. On ties nothing happens. The combat continues until it can’t go on, say one of the characters flees the scene, or someone’s cliché is reduced to 0. There are some rules for teaming and the like as well as optional rules, but that’s the basic mechanic. The first section of Table 2 shows the likelihood of beating an opponent on a single roll.

Table 2. Chances of Winning a Round of Combat

Add Dice Best Die Add Matches
% chance % chance % chance
win tie lose win tie lose win tie lose
1 1 41.7 16.7 41.7 41.7 16.7 41.7 41.7 16.7 41.7
2 9.3 6.9 83.8 25.5 16.7 57.9 21.3 15.3 63.4
3 1.5 1.2 97.3 17.4 16.7 66 11.1 12.9 76
4 0.1 0.2 99.7 12.6 16.7 70.7 5.5 10 84.5
2 1 83.8 6.9 9.3 57.9 16.7 25.5 63.4 15.3 21.3
2 44.4 11.3 44.4 39 22.1 39 39.9 20.2 39.9
3 15.2 6.9 77.9 28.1 24.8 47.2 24.8 19.8 55.3
4 3.6 2.5 93.9 21.1 26.4 52.6 15.1 17.1 67.8
3 1 97.3 1.2 1.5 66 16.7 17.4 76 12.9 11.1
2 77.9 6.9 15.2 47.2 24.8 28.1 55.3 19.8 24.8
3 45.4 9.3 45.4 35.2 29.5 35.2 39.1 21.9 39.1
4 19.2 6.5 74.3 27.1 32.6 40.3 27 20.6 52.4
4 1 99.7 0.2 0.1 70.7 16.7 12.6 84.5 10 5.5
2 93.9 2.5 3.6 52.6 26.4 21.1 67.8 17.1 15.1
3 74.3 6.5 19.2 40.3 32.6 27.1 52.4 20.6 27
4 46 8.1 46 31.5 37 31.5 39.5 20.9 39.5

Just as with task resolution there is a quick fall-off in the likelihood of success. Even a one die difference is very large. This has lead to people making house rules. Sort of silly to house rule a system as simple as Risus, but some people really hate that steep fall-off.

The simplest house rule is to take the highest of the dice as the result. So a roll of 4 dice resulting in 1, 3, 3, and a 5 would be read as a 5, the highest roll. This system is shown in the second section of Table 2. The fall-off, while still significant, is not as steep as the original system. However, the chance of ties goes up dramatically. This is because there are now only six possible outcomes and the more dice that are rolled the more those outcomes cluster at the high numbers.

An alternative, more complex, house rule is shown in the last section of Table 2. It is intended to keep the shallower fall-off of the highest die rule but reduce the chances of ties. This rule involves taking the highest die roll, but matches are added together. So a roll of 1, 3, 4, and a 5 counts as a 5, the highest roll. However, a roll of 1, 3, 3, and a 5 counts as a 6, the two 3’s are added together to get 6 which is higher than 5. As expected, the fall-off is steeper than the take the highest rule, but not as bad as adding all the dice, while the chance of ties is somewhat reduced. Overall the statistical differences don’t seem to be worth the added complexity.

Another thing to keep in mind is that combat tends to favor higher skills more than single rolls do. The likelihood of winning an entire combat, rather than just one round, is shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Chance of Winning Combat

% chance of victory
Add Dice Best Die Add Matches
1 1 50 50 50
2 5 15.2 12.6
3 0.1 3.2 1.6
4 0 0.5 0.1
2 1 95 84.8 87.4
2 50 50 50
3 8.2 20.7 16.5
4 0.3 6.2 3.1
3 1 99.9 96.8 98.4
2 91.8 79.3 83.5
3 50 50 50
4 10.5 23.8 19
4 1 100 99.5 99.9
2 99.7 93.8 96.9
3 89.5 76.2 81
4 50 50 50

Notice how drastic the fall-off becomes for the base system and the steepness of the death spiral. If two characters with 4 die clichés fight, the character that is wounded first goes from a 50% to a 10% chance of victory. Either house rule gives a lesser opponent a decidedly better chance.


One optional rule is the ability to “pump” a cliché. This allows a character to increase their cliché for one round by a number of dice in exchange for taking that many points of damage to their cliché. So a character with a 3 could go to 5 dice for one round but at the end of the round reduces the 3 by 2 points to a 1. Under basic combat this option is useless. Since the minimum damage a pumping character takes to their cliché is 1 while the maximum damage the can inflict is 1, the best that can be obtained is keeping the same difference in clichés as at the start. Given the advantage of higher dice there is no reason to pump if your cliché is higher. If it is lower then pumping just guarantees loosing. If the skills are the same you go from a 50% chance of a win to a tie being the best that can be hoped for.

However, under some very specific circumstances pumping can be useful. If an inappropriate cliché is used in a conflict, say hairdresser to win a horserace, then the damage inflicted for a win is 3 points. Of course, one needs to come up a pretty impressive excuse as to how the cliché applies. But that gives the possibility of doing more damage to the opponent than the character takes by pumping. Also, if a character has more than one appropriate cliché they can switch back and forth between them each round. This opens up the possibility of pumping with one cliché to inflict damage on the opponent and then switching to the other to finish the fight.


As appropriate for a simple system, healing is basically left up to the GM. Someone using lawyer to fight a court case may loose, but will probably have their lawyer skill back at full once the case if over. Though if they suffered some massive blow to their self-confidence or reputation the damage might be longer lasting. Given the steepness of the death spiral, healing really bears thinking about. If physical damage takes some time to heal, the characters will either need to face progressively easier foes or retreat to heal up between fights.

Final Thoughts

There are other aspects of the system like fighting as groups and other optional rules, but this commentary is already about as long as the rules. Overall, even very simple systems seem to have their share of unexpected complications and pitfalls.

One Response

  1. […] A previous post discussed the mechanics of Risus, a free, simple RPG. It showed that skill differences were very stark in combat and an opponent was highly unlikely to beat someone of higher skill. This might give the impression that Risus has no way of dealing with such situations, but it does. Risus has rules for teaming up on an opponent. […]

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