Two Clichés Walk into a Bar: Teaming in Risus

Teaming in Risus

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.

The basic team rules are pretty straightforward. One character is designated the leader. They roll their dice as usual. Other characters can join in as members of the team, assuming that they have an appropriate cliché to use. For example someone with 3d6 swordsman could team up with someone with 2d6 Viking and someone with 3d6 wizard to fight a powerful troll. The team members also roll their dice. However, team member dice only count if they roll a 6. Thus a team member with 2d6 skill could contribute 0, 6, or 12 points to the overall roll, depending on the number of 6’s they rolled, but no other values are possible. This means that on average the leader’s dice contribute the average for a d6, 3.5, while follower’s dice on average contribute only 1. Of course, by only counting 6’s the variance of the roll is quite high even though the average is only 1. Given that the average for follower’s dice is about 1/3 that of the leader’s, one would expect that every three dice of follower skill would be roughly the equivalent of adding a die to the leader. As can be seen in Table 1, this is basically the case.

Table 1. Percentage Chance of Winning a Single Die Roll

Player Skill Opponent Skill
3d6 4d6 5d6 6d6
3d6 45 19 6 1
3d6 + 3d6 65 41 23 11
3d6 + 2x 3d6 78 59 40 25


However, there is more going on than just a better average roll. Combats are not contests of a single die roll but involve multiple die rolls and damage. While the average roll of 4d6 is about the same as a team of two 3d6 characters, the 4d6 skill is eliminated after four points of damage while it may take as many as six points of damage to eliminate the team. So how does the damage get allocated in team combat? The usual way is for every character to roll their skill dice again and the character with the lowest roll takes the damage. For example, if two characters with 3d6 skill each are teamed up and take a point of damage, they both roll 3d6. Whoever rolls the lowest total takes the damage. In addition to being able to take more damage, it should be noted that follower’s dice are not as valuable as the leader’s dice. So if the damage falls on the followers it isn’t so bad. These factors should combine to make a team of two characters with 3d6 cliché better in combat than one character with 4d6. This is born out by Table 2, which shows the results of one million iterations of a Monte Carlo simulation.

Table 2. Percentage Chance of Winning a Combat

Player Skill Combat Combat with Sacrifice
Opponent Skill Opponent Skill
4d6 5d6 6d6 7d6 4d6 5d6 6d6 7d6 8d6
3d6 11
3d6 + 3d6 56 18 3 95 58 13
3d6 + 2x 3d6 88 61 25 5 100 99 80 34 5

The first section of Table 2 shows the likelihood of teams of one, two, or three characters with 3d6 clichés beating opponents of different skills. The blank cells were not determined. Despite the fact that on a single roll a team of two characters with 3d6 is slightly worse than a 4d6 (see Table 1), thanks to the damage effects the team has a better–than-even chance of defeating a 4d6 in combat.

It should be noted that the values in Table 2 are likely to be ever so slightly too low. In order to make the calculations easier, it was assumed that if the leader’s cliché went to 0 the team would lose. This comes from another rule of team combat. If the team breaks up all team members suffer a point of damage. If the leader is defeated then the team automatically breaks up, causing damage to the entire team. Having lost one member and then suffering the damage from the break up, a team would have a tough time coming back to win the fight. So why take damage for breaking up the team? It prevents players from constantly reshuffling the team. Because the leader’s dice are more valuable than a follower’s, without this rule the team would immediately reform with a new leader if the leader’s cliché ever fell below that of another teammate.

Because of the value of the leader’s dice and team damage if the leader dies, victory is heavily dependent on whether the leader takes damage early on. A casual examination of the detail of several simulated combats between a 3d6 two-man team and a 4d6 opponent supported this conclusion. Most of the defeats came from the leader taking damage in the first or second round. Once the leader took damage it significantly increased the likelihood of taking more damage as well as that damage falling on the leader. The resulting death spiral was quite steep.


This brings up the second way to allocate damage in team combat, sacrifice. A teammate can volunteer to take the damage for the team. That character then takes the damage plus another point of damage. Under most circumstance this is two points of damage, reducing their cliché by two. Given that a single leader’s die on average contributes more than three follower’s dice, this is useful. In addition, if a character does sacrifice  for the team this inspires the team so much that on the next turn the leader rolls double the normal number of dice.

For example, if a two-man team with 3d6 clichés takes a point of damage the follower can volunteer to take the damage. Their 3d6 is reduced to 1d6. However, on the next turn the leader rolls 6d6, for a total of 6d6 plus 1d6 that only counts if it rolls a 6. Given how significant an edge extra dice are, this produces a very good chance of wounding the opponent on the next round if they have 5d6 or less. This may seem a great deal like “pumping”, exchanging a wound for at best a wound on the opponent. However, the larger number of potential wounds that a team can take combined with the lesser value of the follower’s dice should make it a very powerful option. Also, the damage is applied to only one character so if that character is already at 1d6 the extra damage is meaningless.

To test the effectiveness of this option, the Monte Carlo simulations were rerun assuming that the followers would always sacrifice themselves. The results are shown in the second half of Table 2. It is clear that this tactic greatly increases the odds of victory. It does, however, guarantee a fair amount of damage on the followers. So the utility of sacrifice may also depend on how healing is being run.


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.

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