Diceless role-playing games are (thankfully) few and far apart, and with precious few exceptions, they all suck. Only Amber sticks in my mind as being one that was pretty good. The rest – not so good. So here’s another one to add to the pile!
Rock Paper Scissors (abbreviated to RPS from hereon) is a game that’s been around since the dawn of time itself. Or at least, since the day they invented scissors. Presumably before that they played Rock Parchment Spear or something. I dunno.
But anyhow. It’s a simple resolution system which is near-as-dammit universal and seems tailor made for handling in-game conflict resolution – in other words, it’s a role-playing mechanic!
Disclaimer: This idea is neither clever nor original, but I like it.
Just to be clear, here’s how RPS works. Two players square off, count to three then make a gesture with one hand: a clenched fist represents Rock, two fingers pointing is Scissors and a flat palm is Paper. Who wins is decided by this little mantra:
Rock blunts Scissors
Scissors cuts Paper
Paper covers Rock
To turn this into an RPG we just need to replace the words with something appropriate to the genre and assign ranks.
For a Fantasy setting (and taking a leaf from 4e D&D’s Power structure) we could use:
Martial thwarts Arcane
Arcane corrupts Divine
Divine humbles Martial
If it’s a Superhero genre, how about:
Brick clobbers Blast
Blast targets Speed
Speed outruns Brick
Allocate 5 points across the three elements with at least 1, and no more than 3 in each one. This means the valid combinations are either 3/1/1 or 2/2/1. NPCs can have any number of points as appropriate, from Minions with 1/1/1 to high-powered Demons, Dragons and Cosmic Beings with 10/10/10. Good luck against those.
Here’s a few example PCs:
Borys the Axe
R:Martial 3, P:Arcane 1, S:Divine 1
Lady Minerva Elfhart
R:Martial 1, P:Arcane 2, S:Divine 2
R:Brick 2, P:Blast 1, S:Speed 2
R:Brick 1, P:Blast 1, S:Speed 3
Note that having Blast 1 in a Superheroes game doesn’t necessarily mean he’s got a really crummy blasting power – it might be that he’ll throw something at his opponent such as a manhole cover, pickup-truck or passing Wolverine.
Here’s how this works. Anytime there’s a conflict (which might be combat but in the best RISUS tradition doesn’t have to be – it could be anything from a diplomatic discussion to a race to bake the finest cake. Coming up with cool and clever uses for your talents is all a part of role-playing!) play Rock-Paper-Scissors against your opponent (usually the GM, but it could be another player). Loser deducts one point from the attribute they played. If that attribute reaches zero they can’t use it again in that conflict. When all attributes reach zero, it’s a defeat.
The key here is to describe your actions after each turn, whether you won or not. Heroes always get to describe their actions before their opponents and the GM is encouraged to bounce off a players’ ideas as much as possible.
It’s High Noon in the Old West, and Lucky Larry is facing off against Whiskey Joe, leader of the Liquor Gang.
R:Aim 2 , P:Cool 2, S:Speed 1
R:Aim 1, P:Cool 1, S:Speed 2
Aim outguns Speed
Speed outdraws Cool
Cool unnerves Aim
Round 1 – Larry:Scissors, Joe:Paper
Larry goes for his gun while Joe is still bragging about how he’s going to take down this do-gooder once and for all. Joe dives for cover and all semblance of cool is lost as he eats dirt (Joe’s Cool is at 0)
Round 2 – Larry: Rock, Joe:Scissors
Larry takes careful aim and lets off a shot just as Joe tried to dive between some stacked barrels. He’s winged in the leg for his trouble. (Joe’s Speed in now 1)
Round 3 – Larry: Rock, Joe: Rock
It’s a draw as they trade gunshots, but the bullets do little more than shift air.
Round 4 – Larry: Paper, Joe: Rock
Larry shouts out “It’s over Joe! Come out now or I’m going to have to kill you!”. Joe is unnerved, and misses widely. (Joe’s Aim is now 0; he’s only got Speed 1 left)
Round 5 – Larry: Paper, Joe: Scissors
”You got one last chance!” Larry calls, then lets out a yell as Joe’s bullet hits him in the arm. He switches gun hand. Now he’s gone and done it. (Larry’s Cool is down to 1)
Round 6 – Larry: Rock, Joe:Scissors
Larry takes careful aim, waiting. Joe pushes the barrels over he’s hiding behind and Larry dives and fires. The barrels bounce over his head and when the dust settles Joe is on the floor, shot clean through the heart.
Healing and recovery
All of the PC’s attributes are restored to their full values at the end of each conflict. If any hero reaches 0/0/0 in a conflict they may be dead, captured, unconscious or at –1 to one of their attributes for the remainder of the session, depending on the nature of the conflict and the whim of the GM. You have been warned.
Either have the heroes square off one-on-one against multiple foes or (preferably) total the stats for multiple opponents and treat them as one larger foe.
For example, five Goblin Minions (1/1/1) could be represented as (5/5/5). Simply reduce the number of surviving Goblins as dramatically appropriate.
After each successful session, add 1 to any one attribute. No attribute may be more than 2 higher than the rest (i.e. 3/1/1 is ok, but 4/1/1 isn’t – raise one of the lower attributes first).
And that’s it – a quick and slightly silly system for those times when you’ve left your dice at home, or are stuck in the middle of a field somewhere.
Comments welcome, as ever.