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This is version 1.4.1 of RISS official, canonical theory. Previous version is here.

Getting on the same page about which techniques are kosher and which are iffy is SUPER IMPORTANT to us humans! It’s the outside-in approach to finding common value ground.

Now what is RISS? It stands for Railgnusto, Impronitfol, Sandboxblorb and Skillfrotz.

Railgnusto, Rails for short, is about making a prewritten story unfold at the table, seeing it play out and seeing the other participants react to it. This could be a GM writing “First the players are gonna do X, then they’re gonna do Y, then they’re gonna do Z” style notes before play, this could be a player writing ten pages of backstory for their character to slowly reveal during play, or pre-writing story beats that they want their character to hit over the campaign. The core technique is: “Pre-write story”.

Impronitfol is about building on each other’s ideas during play, with or without a twist. A typical Impronitfol game is about characters with inner or outer conflict that are worked through in play, such as “Should the hard-working cop abandon her family in order to protect them?”. The play isn’t about what’s best for the character but what would have the most interesting outcomes within the game’s tone, and choices aren’t always made with the character’s victory in mind. The core technique is “Swerve to create story”.

In Sandboxblorb, players want the games shared imagined space to be consistent and tangible and feel real; real even if magic makes the chairs float or the beholders shoot eye lasers. Precommitment to some of the facts is a common technique, both concrete like “The statuette in the second desk drawer from the top” and generational like “Roll on this table every time a player searches a strangers pockets to see what they find”. The core technique is “Stick to the truth”.

If Impronitfol is about the character’s choices, Skillfrotz (Skills for short) is all about the player’s choices. Choices that make meaningful differences in how−or sometimes even if−overcoming challenges. “Should the hard-working cop equip a +1 one beastmaster sword or a x3 mod lightning round gun in order to best protect her family?” The choices can be about game mechanics and system mastery, or it can be a very rules light game filled with puzzles, obstacles and mystery. The goals when making such choices can be victory or it can be something else the player set out to do (“Wonder if I can make an Unchained Rogue with only one arm and still break the tier ceiling?”). The core technique is “Make it difficult and possible.”

Wait, there’s more! These four corners of the RISS quartet may sound like mortal enemies. But that’s not the case, they are the best of friends! Here is the official poster for the RISS kumbaya of FRIENDSHIP:

The corners can cooperate in many ways and it’s possible to design a game to leverage all four corners to some extent.

Railgnusto and Impronitfol are close friends because they care about story. Dramatic arcs, story structures from all over the world, the theatre and narrative tradition. Seeing meaningful things play out and come to a satisfying conclusion.

Railgnusto and Sandboxblorb can also work together well. Either using Sandbox techniques to create a believable, solid world where the pre-written Rails events can take place, and with a wide area around the tracks where play can stray before finding its way back, or sing Rails’ technique to string together a sequence of interesting Sandbox areas limited in scope.

Skillfrotz and Railgnusto have often been seen hand in hand down by the boardwalk, K-I-S-S-I-N-G some might say. D&D 4e and Pathfinder are sometimes played in this manner, with Adventure Path play. A game where the big story beats are outlined can also design its challenges to be surmountable, possible and fair. The players skills can be tested and they still get to experience the story. Skill challenges is a typical mechanic for this sort of play.

Sandboxblorb and Impronitfol fold their hands together tightly and pray “Let us play to find out”. A pre-written story or a fair challenge isn’t interesting to them if that’s not what would’ve happened. An Impro player putting their character’s heart out there in Psychodrame, waiting for the hammer to fall as their loved one hesitates to give an answer they don’t want to hear. A Sandbox player crossing their fingers and chanting “eight eight eight eigh” as they hope for the best possible random encounter for their Fear-stricken NPC friend as he darted around the corner.

Impronitfol and Skillfrotz are strange bedfellows but they snuck away at the prom, leaving their boyfriends by the punchbowl. Losing in style is winning. “Playing to lose” and “playing to win” come together in a game of portraying your character truly, completely and to the hilt, taking the consequences both mechanical and diegetic, but taking the challenge seriously. My friend said, and I’ll never forget this: “I do want to win. But I want to win as Joanne.”

Sandboxblorb is Skillfrotz’s main squeeze. Their parents set them up after church dinner and they hit it off right away. They have so many common values. Adhering to the consequences of the game’s mechanics, making sure that the DM is a neutral referee, reading Sage Advice regularly to sort out any rules issues. Sandboxblorb’s obstacles and challenges are played for keeps and this is exhilarating to Skillfrotz. Welcome to the big leagues.

But not everything is a paradise in the RISS land! Here is the official diagram of the official RISS Hatred Parade of Eternal Enmity:

When Impronitfol, Sandboxblorb and Skillfrotz get together, they gossip about how Railgnusto sometimes have gone behind their back in the past. Promising to play by their rules, pretending to do so, but the minute they look away, bam! Manipulating the group to do what Railgnusto wants. “Why did you roll the dice if you had made your mind up already?” they say.

Every day Railgnusto, Sandboxblorb and Skillfrotz sit at the same lunch table. Sometimes the topic goes to that emo, Impronitfol. “What a drama queen!” they protest. “Always going on about emotions and conflicts and psychology. Oooh, I’m sooo dark and mysterious. Get over it, not every story is about The Agony of Getting Braces.”

One day after class, Railgnusto whispered to Skillfrotz and Impronitfol. “Can you believe that nerd Sandboxblorb raised their hand seven times in class today! I mean get over it, not everybody wants to dwell on all of that physics and geography and history. Like, get to the point. The three of us, we know the core of play and we know the value of sticking to the point. We want to get right to the fight, the story, the drama!”

After Skillfrotz broke a femur climbing a tree, their three friends were walking to the hospital to visit. They wondered why Skillfrotz wanted to make a game out of everything. “Who cares who can drink their soda fastest? We’d rather savor every sip and not feel bad because we weren’t as fast or clever as them by some arbitrary contest rules they’ve set up.”

Friday afternoon, Railgnusto and Impro where having the theatre club to themselves of the room dark except for a soft light on the stage, where they were practicing. “Why are you wrecking my script!” Railgnusto shouted, tossing the stapled pages on the floor. “You’re supposed to say Yes when he proposes marriage and then cry when he dies in act two!” Impronitfol put down a set of bongos. “I feel you but I’ve got to stay true to the character, and she decides that this isn’t the guy for her.”

Railgnusto went to Sandboxblorbs house to find a shoulder to cry on, and propose they take a vacation together, flashing two train tickets. “Stuck on a train all day? I wanted to go hiking,” Sandboxblorb said. “I wanted to explore the woods by the shore, I wanted to see what we could find if we wandered around freely. Maybe we could build something there.” “But… what if it’s boring there? I’d rather know my destination, if we get on this train now – and I already spent a lot of money on the tickets – we can savor the journey there and we’ll get a Banana Split when we get there.”

Some months later, Skillfrotz and Railgnusto were dancing cheek to cheek to a slow song under the disco lights. “Don’t you know the steps?” asked Railgnusto. “I do,” said Skillfrotz, “I’m just doing them faster, try to keep up.” “C’mon, let me lead”, Railgnusto replied. That’s when Skillfrotz took a step back. “Railgnusto… Are you cheating on me?” “What do mean?” “Are you going behind my back? You know I’m all about fairness. That’s my One Rule.” “But… but… you wouldn’t let me do what I wanted!”

Later, Impronitfol tried to tell Sandboxblorb about the problems at the theatre club. “So we were standing on the stage…” “How did you get there?” “We walked… anyway, it was dark except for a soft spotlight.” “Who operated the lights, I thought you were the only ones there?” “We set the lights before we got on stage. Anyway, I was trying to add some bongos to the big proposal scene, when…” “Where did you get those bongos?” “I bought them at the pawn shop, remember? You were with me. Anyway…” “Where did you get the money for that purchase?” “Will you please just let me open my heart to you and not fiddle over every single detail! Why can’t you just trust me when I’m speaking?”

After the big game, Skillfrotz gave Impronitfol a scolding. “How could you drop the ball like that? Oh, cut the sulking. Everyone depended on you outh there! We were one point away from winning and you could’ve scored a two-pointer easily; the net was wide open!” “You don’t understand my angst and my fear, and you never have!” Impronitfol said through gritted teeth.

Skillfrotz was frustrated. “Oh, come one, eighty orcs in one fight? How is that fair, Sandboxblorb?” “But… but… that room had eighty orcs. It’s their annual gathering to celebrate Gruumsh.”

The key to getting the corners to work together is to identify their conflicts and making a choice in favor of one of the two for that particular problem area. For example, when Skillfrotz, which is all about player’s choices in challenges, and Impronitfol, which is all about character’s choices in challenges, get together, a common conflict is when a player makes a choice for the sake of being true to their character, but the choice endangers the rest of the characters, whose players would rather make choices to try to succeed that particular mission. Adressing the issue with a choice in favor of one or the other corner, through rules (“You should do your best to succeed. This is a challenge based game.”) or conveyance (“When you stay true to your character and that puts the character in risk, you get an Inspiration token”) is key to making the corners work together. If that’s what you want. Usually focusing on one, two or three corners and deliberately excluding three, two or one corners can make an interesting and coherent game.

Any questions?