Blatent cribbing Rule design inspired by from Risus 1.5 by S. John Ross, © 1993-2003, Serious Risus v1.02 by Lars Erik Larson, 2003 and Preliminary Notes on Doctor Who RPG by Karl E. V. Paananen, 2002. Doctor Who play style inspired by a playtest of the Doctor Who RPG by Cubicle 7, 2008, and a playtest of Time and Space by Russell Bailey and Ben Baugh, 2008.
Characters in Doctor Who Risus are defined by Clichés. Clichés are a shorthand which describe what a character knows how to do or what he is. Which Clichés are permitted is up to the GM. Clichés are defined in terms of six-sided dice. This is the number of dice that you roll whenever your skill as a U.N.I.T. Officer, Spunky Reporter, or Time Lord (for instance) is challenged. Three dice is professional. Six dice is mastery. One die is inept.
You create a character by naming and describing them, and then listing their Clichés. When designing your character, you have 10 dice with which to define his Clichés (a less heroic character would be built on anywhere from 3 to 5 dice). A character may have any number or combination of Clichés. A good, balanced character can be made with four Clichés, ranked 4, 3, 2, and 1, but you can divide your starting 10 dice however you want, up to a maximum of 6 dice in any one Cliché.
EXAMPLE CLICHÉS (AND WHAT THEY’RE GOOD FOR)
• Astronaut (piloting spaceships, surviving in zero-gee)
• Athlete (running, swimming, jumping, skiing, javelin-tossing)
• Computer Geek (hacking, programming)
• Con Artist (convincing other people of falsehoods, evading police)
• Female Companion (looking pretty, wearing short skirts, screaming, surviving adventures)
• Fighter Pilot (dogfighting, not blacking out at high-Gs, bragging)
• Future Human/Time Agent (using futuristic technology, familiarity with advanced science, recognizing alien races that humans have come into contact with in the future, understanding future society)
• Male Companion (brawling, running around corridors, surviving adventures, rescuing female companions)
• Outdoorsman (following tracks, building shelters, finding wild food)
• Robot Dog (analyzing data, being literal, shooting laser blasts)
• Scientist (understanding advanced science, building high tech devices from available resources, operating and repairing high tech devices)
• Soldier/U.N.I.T. Officer (firing handguns, leading soldiers, keeping your head while all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you, understanding military protocol and regulations)
• Thief (sneaking around gaining access and objects they shouldn’t have)
• Time Lord (living a long time, possessing alien anatomy, understanding advanced science, understanding time travel, speaking and understanding other languages, regenerating, identifying other Time Lords even after they have regenerated, being aware of own dark side, possessing other latent telepathic powers) Note that this is a “double-pump” Cliché – see “Advanced Dice-Rolling.”
These are just examples to get you started – players should feel free to make up their own Clichés, subject to GM approval. The GM may require the fine-tuning of any Cliché that he considers too broad.
All characters in Doctor Who Risus get three drama dice each session. These dice are not assigned to any Cliché. Rather, they are free-floating dice that can be added to any dice roll (before or after they are rolled) once per session. They count as bonus dice (see “Bonus Dice”), but they only last for one roll. You can add more than one drama die to any roll.
All characters also have to have at least one hook. A hook is some significant character flaw – an obsession, a weakness, a sworn vow, a permanently crippling injury – that the GM agrees is so juicy that he can use it to make the characters life more interesting. A character can choose an additional hook on top of the required one, in exchange for an extra die to use to increase one of his Clichés.
A time-travelling U.N.I.T. officer might look like this:
Lt. Jonathon Noble
Description: Tall, blond, and brooding. Loyal to Queen and country, and excessively proud to be British. Tries to steal alien technology to use in defense of the Empire, and he’s picked up a few things as a result. Good with his fists.
Clichés: U.N.I.T. Officer (4), British (2), Alien Tech (1), Brawler (3)
Hook: Vow to Queen and Country
THE GAME SYSTEM
Whenever anybody wants to do something, and nobody is actively trying to stop him, and the GM doesn’t think that success would be automatic or utterly impossible, the player rolls dice. If the total rolled equals or exceeds the difficulty number the GM sets, success! If not, failure!
Difficulty numbers follow this scale:
5: A cinch. Routine for a pro.
10: A challenge for a professional.
15: A heroic challenge. For really inventive or tricky stunts.
20: A challenge for a master. Nearly superhuman difficulty.
30: You’ve got to be kidding. Actual superhuman difficulty.
This can be subjective, and anybody can try anything. Difficulty numbers are relative to the Cliché being used; crossing a chasm by swinging on a rope, vine or something similar would be an automatic success for a Circus Acrobat, but challenging (difficulty 10) for a Gymnast or Thief. Even a Wheelchair-Bound Scientist could try it (difficulty 15, but the wheelchair is lost unless the roll beats a 30).
Every character is assumed to be equipped with the tools of his trade (at least the portable ones). Soldiers are wearing fatigues and wielding guns. Spunky Reporters have a notebook and a portable camera. Time Lords have a TARDIS and access to advanced technology (although a fair amount of it might be broken).
If, through the course of an adventure, a character loses any of this vital gear, his Cliché operates on half the normal number of dice (or not at all, if the GM rules that the equipment was required) until they are replaced. A Soldier (5), for instance, can fight without his guns as a Soldier (3), but a Time Lord can’t travel through time and space without his TARDIS.
Any special advantage or situation that gives an advantage to an opponent (like a special tool or taking time to aim at your opponent) may give bonus dice to your Clichés when used. Characters never begin the game with bonus-dice tools or equipment; they must be acquired in adventures.
Always keep bonus dice positive no matter who is taking his turn. A disadvantage for you means your opponent will receive the bonus dice, even though it is your turn. No one should roll less dice; instead someone else should roll more. For example, if you fire at a running enemy, he will receive a bonus for his defense roll because he is harder to hit while he moves. When he takes his turn and fires at you while still running, you will receive the bonus for your defense roll because he cannot shoot as well when moving. Factors like terrain, armor and superior equipment can all be considered worthy of bonus dice.
Note that damage is taken from the Cliché dice, not from the bonus dice. You could say that the Cliché dice represent your stamina, while the sum of your Cliché dice and any bonus dice represent your power. The exception is armor. Personal armor, such as a flak jacket, vehicle armor or building armor, such as a bunker, all work the same way: The armor will suffer damage until depleted before the character covered by it starts loosing dice.
Whenever the dice come up all sixes, the roll is considered a “breakthrough” roll, a moment of peak performance or special insight. Keep the total and roll the dice again, adding the second roll to the first one. If the dice come up all sixes again, keep rerolling and adding until you get a roll that’s not all sixes.
THE COMBAT SYSTEM
“Combat” in this game is defined as any contest in which opponents jockey for position, utilize attacks, bring defenses to bear, and try to wear down their foes to achieve victory, either literally or metaphorically. Some examples of combat include:
• Arguments: People using whatever verbal weapons they have at hand to make their points.
• Dogfights: People in airplanes or spaceships flying around and trying to blow each other out of the sky.
• Psychic duels: Time Lords using ancient Gallifreyan technology to rip each other’s egos apart using their minds.
• Running: One group trying to escape the other, usually down a series of corridors.
• Seduction attempts: One character trying to score with another character who is trying to resist.
• Actual physical combat: People trying to injure or kill each other.
The GM decides when a combat has begun. At that point, go around the table in rounds, and let each combatant make an attack in turn. What constitutes an “attack” depends on the sort of combat, but it should always be roleplayed (if dialogue is involved) or described in entertaining detail (if it’s physical or dangerous).
Attacks require rolls against character Clichés. The GM must, at the outset of combat, determine what Clichés are appropriate for the fight. In a physical fight, Clichés like Soldier and Martial Artist are appropriate. Clichés like Alien Tech and Scientist are not (but may still be used; see “Inappropriate Clichés”).
An attack must be directed at a foe. Both parties in the attack (attacker and defender) roll against their chosen Cliché. Low roll loses. The low roller loses one of his Cliché dice for the remainder of the fight – he’s been weakened, worn down, or otherwise pushed one step towards defeat. In future rounds, he’ll be rolling lower numbers. Eventually, one side will be left standing, and another will be left without dice in one of their Clichés. At this point, the winners usually decide the fate of the losers. In a physical fight, the losers might be killed (or mercifully spared). In a fast-talk challenge, the loser agrees to do what the winner says.
You needn’t use the same Cliché every round. If a Soldier wants to shoot one round and use Alien Tech to scan for a weakness the next, that’s perfectly okay. However, anytime a character has a Cliché worn down to zero dice in combat, he has lost, even if he has other appropriate Clichés left to play with.
Dice lost in combat are regained when the combat ends, at a “healing” rate determined by the GM. If the combat was in vehicles (cars, space fighters, wooden sailing ships), then the vehicles themselves are likely damaged, too, and must be repaired.
As stated above, the GM determines what sorts of Clichés are appropriate for any given combat. An inappropriate Cliché is anything that’s left. In a physical fight, Scientist is inappropriate. In a struggle between two Time Agents to complete or cancel a temporal loop, Master Linguist is inappropriate.
Inappropriate Clichés may be used to make attacks, provided the player roleplays or describes it in a really entertaining manner. Furthermore, the “attack” must be plausible within the context of the combat, and the genre and tone that the GM has set for their game of Doctor Who Risus. This is an opportunity and reward for creative thinking and good roleplay, but it still has to work within the confines of the established game.
All combat rules apply normally, with one exception: If an inappropriate Cliché wins a combat round versus an appropriate one, the “appropriate” player loses three dice rather than one from his Cliché! The “inappropriate” player takes no such risk, and loses only the normal one die if he loses the round. Thus, a clueless human companion can be a dangerous factor in a time war.
When in doubt, assume that the aggressor determines the type of combat. If a Time Lord tries to argue his case against a court full of armed barbarians, then it’s a debate. If the barbarians attack the Time Lord with their swords, then it’s physical combat. If the defender can come up with an entertaining use of his skills, then he’ll have the edge.
PREVIOUS ADVENTURES (ANOTHER TAKE ON INAPPROPRIATE CLICHÉS)
As characters experience more of time and space, they can use that knowledge to help them in later adventures. However, not all of their travels end up being played out at the table. As such, a player can try to temporarily convert an inappropriate Cliché into an appropriate Cliché for one roll. This must be accompanied by a quick explanation of how you learned something from a previous (and unplayed) adventure. If the GM finds the explanation suitably entertaining and appropriate, you can roll the inappropriate Cliché as an appropriate Cliché, but your opponent still loses three dice instead of one.
In essence, it’s the same core idea as the inappropriate Cliché rules above, but instead of trying to justify how the Cliché applies to the situation (“As a Scientist, I can try to find a weak spot in the Sontaran’s armor,” using the Scientist Cliché in a physical conflict), you’re creating a prior justification on how the situation is actually appropriate to your Cliché (“Of course! In my travels, I once got embroiled in a conflict between the Gelf and the Sontarans, and I remember that Sontarans never turn their back on their enemies, so their rear armor is weaker than their front,” using Time Lord as an appropriate Cliché in a physical conflict).
A WORD OR TWO ABOUT SCALE
No standard time or distance scale is provided for Doctor Who Risus; it really depends on what kind of action is happening. However, the GM should try to stay consistent within a single conflict. In a physical fight, each round represents a few seconds. In a long-term fight between rival scientists trying to disprove each other’s theories, each round might represent an entire day.
Two or more characters may decide to form a team in combat. For the duration of the team (usually the entire combat), they fight as a single unit, and are attacked as a single foe. There are two kinds of teams: NPC teams (grunt squads) and player character teams.
Grunt Squads: This is just special effects. When you want the heroes to be attacked by a horde of robots inside the ship of the Space Pirate (5), but don’t feel like keeping track of hordes of sets of dice, just declare that they’re a team, fighting as a Robot Horde (7). Mechanically, the Horde is the same as any other single foe, except it has more dice! Grunt squads can have any level of Cliché the GM feels is appropriate. Grunt squads stick together as a team until they’re defeated, at which point many survivors will scatter (though at least one will always remain to suffer whatever fate the victor decides).
Player Character Teams: When PCs (or PCs and their NPC allies) form a team, the team leader is defined by the highest-ranking Cliché in the team (a title that must be designated if there is a tie). Everybody rolls dice, but the team leader’s dice all count. Other team members contribute only their sixes; team members who roll nothing above five don’t contribute anything to the team leader’s total for that roll.
Clichés joined in a team need not be identical, but they all must be equally appropriate or inappropriate. This means five Cybermen could band together in physical fight with no problem. It also means that a Time Lord, a Robot Dog, and a Spunky Reporter could team up in a physical fight if they have a really good description of how they’ll use their skills in concert to take out the Cybermen!
Whenever a team loses a round of combat, a single team member’s dice is reduced by one (or three), as per the normal combat rules. Any team member may “step forward” and voluntarily take this personal “damage” to his Cliché. If this happens, the noble volunteer is reduced by twice the normal amount (either two dice or six), and the team leader gets to roll twice as many dice on his next attack, a temporary boost as the team avenges their heroic comrade. If no volunteer steps forward, then each member must roll against the Cliché they’re using as part of the team: lowest roll takes the (undoubled) hit, and there is no vengeance bonus next attack.
Disbanding: A team may voluntarily disband at any time between die rolls. This instantly reduces the Cliché each team member was using in the team by one (not a permanent reduction – treat it just like “damage” taken from losing a round of combat). Disbanded team members may freely form new teams, provided the disbanding “damage” doesn’t take them out of the fight. Individuals may also drop out of a team, but this reduces them to zero dice immediately as they scamper for the rear. Their fates rest on the mercy of whoever wins the fight!
Lost Leader: If the team leader ever leaves the team for any reason (either by dropping out or by having his personal dice reduced to zero), every member of the team immediately takes one die of “damage” as if the team had disbanded (since, without a leader, they’ve done exactly that). They may immediately opt to reform as a new team with a new leader, and if the old leader was removed by volunteering for personal damage, the new team leader gets the vengeance bonus to avenge his predecessor!
This is another way to detail and structure combat scenes where you want more detail than the normal, faster combat rules. You should stick to normal resolution in non-important fights to keep the plot moving along, and save this for the important fights. This method permits a combatant with initiative to get his attacks in first and be able to react to the enemy’s actions.
PHASE 1: INITIATIVE
Initiative is determined by rolling against an appropriate Cliché. Highest roller has the initiative. Reroll for ties. In order to keep things simple, initiative is only determined once in a combat. Larger battles may be broken down into smaller combats to keep things dynamic.
If there are more than two combatants, initiative goes from highest to lowest roll. For some combats like ambushes, initiative is predetermined as belonging to the attacking side, but individual initiative order on each team still needs to be determined.
PHASE 2: DECLARATION
In reverse initiative order (lowest to highest), players state their action for the next rough segment of time (five to ten seconds for a life-or-death combat, or a few minutes for a lengthy debate). Moving, firing, making a speech, giving medical assistance or any other action or part of an action that can be carried out in that time frame is allowed. Players with higher initiative will know what the slower combatants are up to and can plan their own action with this knowledge.
PHASE 3: ACTION
In initiative order (highest to lowest), the players now try to carry out their declared action. The results are found, and the damage taken. If the combat is not over, a new combat round starts with a new declaration round (phase 2).
SINGLE ACTION CONFLICTS
Many conflicts that arise in the game cannot be defined as combat; they’re over too quickly, defined by a single action. A classic pistol-duel isn’t combat – the two duelists simply turn and fire, and then it’s all over. Two characters diving to grab the same gun from the floor isn’t combat. There’s no wearing down of the foe or jockeying for position. Such single-action conflicts are settled with a single roll against appropriate Clichés (or inappropriate Clichés, with good roleplaying). Highest roll wins.
In case of a tie, both parties mutually succeed (the characters shoot each other or grab the gun at the same time). If that’s not possible, the character who rolled the least dice succeeds. If the number of dice is the same, the one who rolled the highest “set” of dice succeeds (for example, two fives on the dice would be one six and one four). If there are no sets to compare or if the sets are the same, then reroll.
WHEN SOMEBODY CAN’T PARTICIPATE
It will often occur that characters will find themselves involved in a conflict (defined as combat or otherwise) where they simply have no applicable Clichés, even by stretching the imagination. Or maybe one character will have an appropriate Cliché, while the others feel left out.
In situations like this, give everybody two free dice to play with, for the duration of the conflict. This includes characters who already have appropriate Clichés, giving them a temporary increase. This temporary promotion applies only in opposed conflicts, not in challenges based on target numbers.
ADVANCED DICE ROLLING
In an emergency, any character may pump his Clichés. If the U.N.I.T. Officer (4) comes face to face with a Dalek (6), it might be necessary. When a Cliché is pumped, it receives a temporary boost in dice. This boost lasts for a single round of combat, or for a single significant roll. However, after that round or roll is resolved, the character loses a number of dice equal to the number he gave himself in the pump. This is treated like “injury” to the Clichés sustained in combat, and must “heal” in the same fashion.
Example: Lt. Noble has come face to face with a Dalek, who attacks him. Noble doesn’t have much of a chance against such a powerful foe, so he opts for a tricky tactic: Since the Dalek is attacking physically, Rudolph decides his response will use his skills as a British (2) man – a decidedly inappropriate choice, but the GM accepts his entertaining rationale. He also opts to pump it by one die up to three.
The Dalek rolls six dice, and Noble (trying to convince that Dalek that his response is particularly inappropriate and, indeed, un-British) rolls three dice.
If Noble loses, then he is instantly defeated. His British Cliché drops by one to British (1) just for the pump, plus another die for losing the round. The Dalek decides to capture Noble as bait to lure his companions into a trap.
If Noble wins, however, the Dalek (6) is dropped to Dalek (3), and Noble’s British (2) drops to British (1). In Noble’s next attack, he’ll switch to more his more appropriate U.N.I.T. Officer Cliché – and be on equal footing with the confused Dalek!
Pumped Clichés are legal in any situation except single-action conflicts.
Characters may be created with double-pump Clichés. These Clichés, when pumped, give you two dice in the pumped roll for every die you’ll lose at the end of it. Thus, a Time Lord  could be a Time Lord  for a single combat round, at a cost of three dice. This option is appropriate for any Clichés based on supernatural powers or incredibly advanced alien cultures, as well as any other Clichés the GM approves them for.
Double-pump Clichés cost twice as many starting dice to buy. [Square brackets] indicate a double-pump Cliché. If the GM considers any Cliché to be too powerful, he may require that it be purchased in this way, to insure some sort of balance. Overall, double-pump dice are less useful than ordinary dice at the beginning, but since they improve at the same rate as ordinary dice, they are a good investment. Double-pump Clichés must be purchased at character creation.
At the end of each session, each player gets an experience point. If the session ends a story or if the stakes were particularly high, the GM may give a second experience point. Also, anytime you do something spectacularly entertaining that wows the whole table, the GM may give you a third experience point.
To increase a Cliché, spend a number of points equal to the current number of dice you have in the Cliché plus one. So, to increase your Spunky Reporter (3) Cliché, you will need to spend four experience points. A new Cliché costs one experience point, but you can’t buy a new double-pump Cliché. All experience point expenditures should be cleared with the GM, who may ask you to wait until something in game explains the increase.
This all started when my wife and roommate decided to watch a marathon of the first three seasons of the new Doctor Who while, in an unrelated conversation, lamenting that they haven’t played a tabletop RPG in a while. Even though my good friend and co-worker Russell Bailey had designed a really cool Doctor Who-inspired RPG that I playtested, for some reason something in my head said “No, you have to do a whole new game for this.” Maybe it has to do with some kind of strange DIY ethic I have with RPGs now that I write them for a living. Maybe it was a subconscious way to apply vaguely understood assumptions about the program(me) to some mechanics to better help me with playtesting on Time and Space. Maybe it was my latent desire to find any excuse to tinker with a new RPG system. Or maybe I’m just mad.
I managed to convince my brain that I didn’t have a lot of time to write a whole new game for it, so I opted instead to convert an existing system for the kind of game I had in mind. After spending a few hours with Fudge and not getting any further than the skill list, I decided on Risus. It’s designed to be a comedy game, but it had a lot of the flexibility and ease in adapting to the multitude of bizarre and unusual situations and characters inherent in a game based on the Doctor Who franchise. Plus, while Doctor Who is more serious than default Risus, it’s still not a property that takes itself too seriously. So, I poked around the web for a few rules patches, found the start of a decent set of Doctor Who rules from a few years back, took out some rules I didn’t like, added in some rules that I did, put it all into a document and revised it about half a dozen times to add my own flavor to the whole thing. All told, this probably took me maybe seven hours to cobble together, which I could have saved by using one of the four other Doctor Who RPG systems I have access to.
But hey, maybe I’ll actually run a Doctor Who game now.