Risus – Transfer

Risus is a work of genius. A wonderfully complete game that uses wonderfully few resources to realise a wonderful wealth of potential. Nevertheless, it has been sold off.

The inventor, creator, and mastermind of Risus is S. John Ross, whom I do not know in person, but as an enthusiastic fan of his work I can only imagine him as a titan among men, 8 feet tall and so beautiful to defy description.
But enough with the slimy fanboyism.

S. John Ross has sold this cornerstone of… err… has sold Risus.


Not included in this description is a certain disillusioned view of the gaming community at large.

He talked quite a bit about “hight trust” and “low trust” in RPGs, and he seems to be quite convinced that there is no audience or at least only a dying audience for “high trust” gaming, which is, gaming that does not rely on fixed rules to keep things in check. Rules that support the gaming experience rather than keeping wild ideas in check.

Which is not a statement about rules-light versus crunchy rules, it is just a statement about playing intent and style at the table.

These screenshots here are supposed to preserve that moment in gaming philosophy.

For some reason, he is convinced that the future of gaming lies elsewhere, in low-trust, in rules that steer play, and that the gamers, and even the Risus-gamers, want that.

I am not sure why. I firmly believe that his impression of high-trust dying and low-trust being the future is a fluke born of a slanted perception, akin to an echo chamber, but not quite the same. Is that comprehensible? If you look at the world with a mind that fears to see war and death, you will have no problem to see war and death, regardless of where you look. But that does not mean that there is *only* war and death, or that peace is dying off. It is still there, it just does not draw that much attention.

In a similar way, rules arguments and rules debates draw a lot of attention, and newbies who come into a gaming space always start by asking about the rules, and people who hack a system usually bolt on some extra rules that are, often, not really productive. But that does not mean that people are only interested in tight rules or that free play is dying. It just happens.

Anyway, here we are, and Risus gets sold.

There was some vague talk of the fan community pooling cash and buying it, but this must be regarded as a failure at inception: A horde of gamers who cannot agree on the time of day would never be able to develop and publish anything remotely coherent as a game. The realistic option was to let the dice fall as they may.

And then, all of a sudden, they did.

Well, Big Dice Games people, you have bought an important piece of history.

Handle it responsibly.

2 thoughts on “Risus – Transfer

  1. Just for clarity’s sake: my observation that high-trust design is dead isn’t based on the prevalence of „rules arguments and rules debates;“ it’s based on published works of game design.
    Back when high-trust trad was a viable niche, there were works of high-trust trad design (mainly adventures: high trust expresses itself most clearly in adventure design, though also in setting design and resource design to lesser degrees) published regularly. Now, there are not. I read as many new RPG adventures as I can get my hands on, following recommendations from well-meaning correspondents … and with the exception of a few (and not very good) Call of Cthulhu adventures here and there, and the (good!) adventure material that shipped with the Princess Bride RPG (now gone from availability) I haven’t seen any work done in my gaming form in many years.
    It’s not imaginary. It used to be a thing. Now it’s gone, and I’m gone with it.
    That said, the primary reason for selling was to help Paula Repko and to reorganize my life’s energies toward creating new fonts and other kinds of works, also to help Paula Repko. The way it ties back to trust is that the the lack of audience for high-trust work has been draining my soul lately, and harming my health. To be a better for Paula and Sandra, I needed to reauthor my approach to life, and selling Risus, Uresia and Encounter Critical provided both desperately-needed funds and helped pave the way for that kind of life change. Please consider helping Paula if you can; they’ve had a very hard year: http://paula.cumberlandgames.com/


  2. I used to play some TTRPGs back in the 80s with groups of friends from high school, and only very recently took up the hobby again in order to run games for family members. I’m the very clunky GM getting used to running these games again. But I think with close friends and family there’s already an element of “being on the same page” and we can run a high-trust and rules-light game.

    We ran and greatly enjoyed a Risus adventure based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by the way!

    I don’t know much about groups that assemble at gaming shops, conventions or online who don’t initially know each other that well. But I can imagine the dynamics are a bit different.


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