Larry Bullock is a Java web developer by day who moonlights as a haiku author at Haiku 575: http://575.tumblr.com/ ; he is also one of the originators of the Risusiverse wiki: http://risusiverse.wetpaint.com/ ; and posts occasionally at Risus Thought of the Moment: http://risus.tumblr.com/
Before I explain why Risus is my utility system, here’s a quick review of what Risus is about:
Risus is billed as “The Anything RPG”. It was designed 20 years ago as a beer and pretzel, comedy system. However, once you are all “Kwai Chang Caine” about the system, it works for any style of game you want. Being a free system, it is well worth checking out ( http://risus.cumberlandgames.com/ ).
The rules are a quick read (being only 6 pages long); like Othello, it takes a minute to learn, and a lifetime to master. Your character is defined by clichés: shorthand methods to describe something about your characters and what they might be good at.
It can be something as simple as Fighter: 4 (the 4 being the number of dice you roll when your ability as a fighter is being tested), but it can be quite amazing once you sprinkle some spices into your cliché.
You could sprinkle a little salt and be a Dwarven Fighter: 4 (if you are into the species thing); or really add the jalapeños with something like Kardakeep Home Guard Ax-wielding Fighter with a Lust for Blood: 4. Technically, they are all just Fighters, but adding some description into your cliché turns a boring character soup into a hearty stew. It gives your character some background (a home, a role, a specialized weapon, and a roleplaying hook).
You usually get 10 dice to define your character, and their are options available to earn a couple more dice, but you can define a really strong character with the defaults.
Risus utilizes a dice pool to resolve conflicts. Take your rating and roll that number of dice. You need to know what type of conflict you are in: a test against a target number (for something quick and easy); a single action contest against another character; or full out combat. If you beat the target number or the dice total from your opponent you win (in combat, if you lose, your cliché rating will drop by one until you run out of dice). There are some nuances in there, but that is the gist of things in a nutshell. You can read the rules in a few minutes and see the details for yourself.
So why is Risus my utility system?
Simply put, I love the flexibility of Risus. You really can use it for anything. Any genre, any setting, anything at all, and it will never leave you feeling like you are missing out on anything. I also love the simplicity of it all. You don’t have to spends hours or days building your perfect character. You can probably build a wonderful character that you’d enjoy playing in minutes.
I prefer a system that encourages creativity. Once you are riding the zen of Risus, it is amazing the things you will come up with. In Risus, you are encouraged to ignore Yoda’s advice and TRY. Even my kids love it and have a great time with it.
I haven’t been granted the luxury of just being a player of any RPG in 20+ years (unless you count a couple of awesome play by post games). I enjoy how easy it is to define everything in Risus so that coming up with adventures isn’t a chore (not that I usually follow a script any more, but it is nice to have some prepared notes). Everything from challenges to NPCs can be defined quite quickly with no real fuss (especially if you are into Shemping as presented by Asparagus Jumpsuit: http://asparagusjumpsuit.wordpress.com/games/systemless-game-aids/).
Another factor in my choice of utility system is the pressing specter of time. Simply put, I don’t have a ton of it. While there are a large number of awesome games out there, I find it much easier to harvest the settings and other concepts and just use Risus as the system. Risus really does work for anything.
I will be honest. Risus isn’t necessarily for everyone. It plays a little more loosy-goosy than some structured, try to define everything a player can do and try to hold them to some semblance of the game’s reality, system. You might hear whispers in the dark about how there is a “death spiral” inherit in Risus where once you start losing a conflict, you have little hope of winning (to which I like to remind people that losing in Risus does not necessarily mean death like it does in other more serious games – you can see my thoughts on it over at Risus Thought of the Moment: http://risus.tumblr.com/search/death+spiral).
Risus just works for me. It might work for you if you give it a chance.