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In the core rules for Risus: The Anything RPG, one of the optional rules is "Pumping" -- this allows the player to temporarily add one die to the cliche he's using for a contest, at the cost of losing one die from that same cliche at the end of the turn. N.B.: This is not "Double Pumping", which is generally required for magical, psychic, or superhero type cliches.

That is, your Hard Riding, Hard Roping, Hard Drinking Cowhand (3), when roped into a poker game with a Lower Than a Snake's Belly Cheating Scoundrel (4), could temporarily avoid the "Downward Spiral" and roll an equal number of dice for one contest round -- but afterward, even if he wins the roll (roughly even odds), he'll be reduced to Hard Riding, Hard Roping, Hard Drinking Cowhand (2), while the "damage" reduces his opponent to Lower Than a Snake's Belly Cheating Scoundrel (3) -- and the good guy's still one die lower and virtually certain to lose the contest.

I've read the entire Risus Companion and a boatload of optional rules and play aid sites, but I've never seen any way for Pumping to have any advantage unless it's combined with other tactics such as Teaming Up, switching cliche, or Inappropriate Cliche (where the opponent takes triple damage if you win).

Clearly, then, I'm missing something; I'm pretty certain S. John Ross wouldn't have kept that rule in a game with only four pages of rules (not counting stick man artwork), even for a game intended to be silly in tone, if it would never make sense to use it by itself. So, what's plain Pumping good for?

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2 Answers 2

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Pumping lets you at least get a hit in against a superior foe.

Suppose you have a 3 dice cliche and you're facing an opponent with six. If you don't pump, there's a good chance you will lose and take a die of damage every round for the next three rounds until you're all out.

But if you do pump, you might actually chip a die off the enemy and deal some damage for your loss, and that's better than none. You can sacrifice yourself to weaken the enemy enough that your allies can come in later, or you can step in with another more powerful cliche that you've been keeping in reserve.

Risus suggests that this is typically used in an emergency when the odds are against you:

In an emergency, any character may pump his Clichés. If the Ninja(3) comes face to face with a Monster(6), it might be necessary.

This is more useful in combination with the Inappropriate Cliche rule: If you pump and win with an inappropriate cliche, you deal three damage instead of one. You might blow an entire Poet (3) cliche in a single round of a swordfight by pumping it to 6, but if you can pull it off, you just cut the enemy from, say, Swordsman (5) to Swordsman (2), and this both weakens his effectiveness and leaves him vulnerable to a subsequent attack by yourself or an ally.

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Is it weird that it's not good plain?

The example of pumping in the basic four-pager involves pumping an inappropriate cliche for a comedy suckerpunch, so a fight between appropriate cliches can continue on more even ground. That seems like a pretty good indicator for how it's intended to be used - not to advance anything about a 1-on-1 struggle, but as setup for something different.

You're right in that trading 1-for-1 isn't going to get you better odds on what you're trading with. (The upshot: 5 vs. 4 has about 22% on the 4, 4 vs. 3 has about 20% on the 3, and it goes down from there.) Why is it weird that it's used to set up something else, whether it's on your character sheet (supposing your cowpoke was also a Disgraced Professor From Out East(3)) or a buddy's?

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