Two years after a “Daily Hotness” post by Darren Nakamura over on Destructoid introduced me to the possibilities of forum gaming with Werewolf, I’m finally branching out and trying to start a new tradition here by introducing Fiasco to the Destructoid Forums. Whether it will take root or crash and burn, only time will tell (though the latter of the two is inevitable given the nature of the game), but I think there’s tremendous potential on these forums for collaboratively telling darkly comic stories about a bunch of hapless shmucks with poor impulse control aiming high and failing miserably in the process.
Before I jump right in, I’d like to give a huge thanks to Darren Nakamura (Dexter345 to us Dtoiders on the forums) for introducing me to Werewolf (not to mention forum games in general) and suggesting that I give Fiasco a try on the forums in the first place. I’d also like to give a shout-out to all of the good folks on the Werewolf thread, for making me feel welcome on the Destructoid forums. Don’t ever change, you crazy bastards.
Now let’s get down to business.
WHAT IS FIASCO?
In a nutshell, Fiasco is a narrative-driven GM-less RPG for 3-4 players in which players collaboratively craft a group of interrelated characters and tell a story broken down into Scenes and Acts. Unlike more conventional RPGs (e.g. D&D) that rely heavily on dice rolls and stats, dice rolls are only used at key junctures (i.e. at the beginning, middle, and end of the game), allowing them to take a back seat to the story.
To give you a better sense of the game’s overall tone, take a look at the Elevator Pitch from the book’s introduction:
“Fiasco is inspired by cinematic tales of small time capers gone disastrously wrong – particularly films like Blood Simple, Fargo, The Way of the Gun, Burn After Reading, and A Simple Plan. You’ll play as ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. There will be big dreams and flawed execution. It won’t go well for them, to put it mildly, and in the end it will probably collapse into a glorious heap of jealousy, murder, and recrimination. Lives and reputations will be lost, painful wisdom will be gained, and if you are really lucky, your guy just might end up back where he started.” (Morningstar, 8)
Before going any further, I strongly recommend that you read through the following:
The free preview of Fiasco available through Bully Pulpit’s Website has a solid Overview section and offers a significant insights into the Setup and the Tilt that deserve a read (pp.7-18). Keep in mind that it glosses over key phases of play which are discussed in the following source.
Fiasco’s Wikipedia page does a great job of breaking down the game as a whole, succinctly describing every phase of play and giving the reader a good sense of the game mechanics at work. Most importantly, it covers parts of the game that were largely omitted from the preview (Scenes/Acts and the Aftermath).
Finally, be sure to take a look at pages Pages 9-12 of the Fiasco Companion preview PDF, available here. Though less essential than the other two, the Fiasco Companion offers some useful information regarding the role of improvisation in scene-building, the importance of pacing, and the use of NPCs.
For ease of reference, I’ve outlined the phases of play below (though I strongly urge you to read through the above links first):
1) THE SETUP
Choose a Playset from the selection offered by the facilitator. Playsets are the heart of a good fiasco - a combination of setting, situation, sub-genre and kick in the pants. A Playset consists of four lists - Relationships, Needs, Objects, and Locations. The last three are collectively known as Details and are attached to particular Relationships.
Roll a bunch of dice into a central pile (4 per player: 12 for 3 players, 16 for 4 players).
Develop a web of Relationships and Details. Each Category and Element corresponds to one of the six sides of a die; go around the table, selecting a Category or Element in turn until no dice remain. Keep in mind, you can only connect characters belonging to pairs of players who "neighbor" each other on the player list. By the end, each character should be connected to two other characters (the players above and below them in the player list).
Create characters attached to those Relationships and Details.
Put all the dice back into a central pile.
2) PLAYING SCENES
When is your turn, your character is in the spotlight. Choose to Establish or Resolve the scene.
If you are Establishing, create a scene. If you are Resolving, ask your friends to create a scene for your character. When creating a scene for a player to resolve, players should try to create a conflict for them to chew on.
Begin the scene. At some point during the scene, determine the outcome (good or bad, represented by the white and black die, respectively).
If you Established, accept a die from your friends. If you Resolved, choose a die and the outcome.
If it is Act One, give the outcome die away to another player. If it is Act Two, keep the outcome die.
3) ACT ONE
Take turns. When it is your turn, your character gets a scene.
When only half the die remain in the central pile, Act One ends.
4) THE TILT
At the end of Act One, roll the dice in front of you. Do some dice math (subtract the higher total from the lower total).
If you have a high number of either color, you will help add a pair of complications.
Roll the unused die in the central pile.
Consult the Tilt table and choose two Elements.
Reassemble the central die pile. Keep dice already assigned in Act One.
Take a break. Talk about where the game is heading (have a tone-setting conversation without getting too bogged down in specific details).
5) ACT TWO
Take turns. When it is your turn, you get a scene.
Tilt the hell out of it! (i.e. try to incorporate the Tilt element in your scenes)
The final die is wild—it can be either black or white. Once the final die has been allocated, Act Two ends.
6) THE AFTERMATH
Roll all the dice in front of your character. Total them by color, as in the Tilt.
Consult the Aftermath table.
Play the Aftermath as a montage, with one “this is” statement per die associated with your character.
When you are out of dice, your story is over.
SOME GROUND RULES FOR FORUM PLAY
1) Only sign up if you plan on playing. I expect players to check in at least once a day, and ideally multiple times throughout the day. I’m not averse to the idea of continuing games through the weekend, but forum play typically slows to a crawl on weekends (we’ll play this one by ear).
2) Keep in mind that a game of Fiasco will probably last a long time. Though a face-to-face game of Fiasco lasts only one to three hours, the Fiasco Companion sets the length of a forum game at anywhere between a month and a half to three months. If you sign up, you should be committed for the long haul.
1) Being able to distinguish the differences between in character communication (IC) and out of character communication (OOC) will be extremely important, which is where formatting comes in. For the sake of this thread, OOC text during the game should be written in standard font, and IC text should be written in italics. Posts establishing a scene should have a header listing Act and Scene number in bold and provide the scene number, scene location, and the characters involved in brackets (see example below). If a scene spills over to another page, put up a heading that at least recaps who is involved, in what, and where the action’s taking place.
Post formatting example:
I’d like to establish this time around, I think it’s time that Julia (the establishing player’s character) confronts Pedro (another player's Mexican drug dealer character) at his trailer. He’s probably tweaked out of his mind.
Act 1, Scene 6: Julia confronts Pedro at the trailer park
In-character text (descriptive text and dialogue)
2) In the absence of the visual cues inherent to the tabletop experience, tone setting OOC conversations will also be important, ensuring the story moves in a satisfying direction (see example above). Check in often and be clear about your motivations and goals.
3) To prevent sequencing issues, if someone chooses to establishing a scene, that player must post first and should include a heading letting everyone know which scene it is, where it’s taking place, and who’s involved. If someone chooses to resolve, someone else must make the first post.
1) Pay attention to pacing and don’t move too quickly in order to make sure that everyone involved has a chance to contribute, even after a die has been awarded. Resist the urge to press on without a slower player, or to overwrite or render their contribution meaningless. If it’s your spotlight scene, take responsibility for ending it with a clear “end scene” message.
2) To keep things from grinding to a complete halt, however, I’m instating a 3-day time limit for player participation (excluding weekends). If your character is in someone else’s scene and the scenario calls for their participation, or worse, you’re sleeping at the switch during your own turn, you’ll have to respond within 3 days or its fair game for other players to jump in and write your post(s) for you. You’ll be given fair warning via PM if you’re on the spot and haven’t contributed for a day or two. I’m really hoping I won’t have to resort to this, since Fiasco’s at its best when everyone’s jumping in and participating in one way or another (whether it’s playing a character [your own or an NPC], adding color to the scene, or guiding the story in interesting directions with tone-setting OOC comments). If this limit proves to be too daunting, I can always revise it once we have a better sense of the overall pace of the game.
3) As the facilitator (the closest thing there is to a GM in a GM-less game), I’ll do my best to keep things humming along by managing the dice rolls, keeping track of the dice count (once half are gone, it’s time for the Tilt), and draw up a visual aid (to avoid confusion over who’s who and what makes them tick), but if someone notices me slip up, please be sure to call me on it and I’ll do my best to fix the problem.
THE FUN OF FAILURE
Fiasco is an unwinnable game. The dice and the other players have it in for your guy, so don’t approach the game trying to make your character the last man standing. Playing solely to see your character come out triumphant at the end can often lead to a dull game of Fiasco. That said, that doesn’t mean you should write off your character entirely, either. Fiasco is at its best when players play the hell out of their characters, going for broke on their big dreams, completely oblivious that they’re in way over their heads until it’s too late, ultimately rushing headlong into disaster. Above all, you must acknowledge that your characters are tools, literal and figuratively, making up a larger story. They’re not rocket scientists, they’re just normal folks in unusual circumstances making terrible decisions, often for selfish reasons. Certain characters may be relatively marginal to the main story at the start, but they’ll undoubtedly be dragged into the colossal clusterfuck as the story develops (most likely to their detriment). So roll with the punches, taking the good and the bad, and who knows, you might not end up maimed or in the gutter. Either way, you’ll end up having more fun in the process.
SHARING THE LOAD
It’s important to keep in mind, if you aren't feeling particularly creative during your turn, you can opt to have other players establish your scene (set up the characters, location, and conflict) for you to resolve (i.e. decide whether the outcome is positive or negative for your character).
It also bears mentioning that the brunt of the creative writing won't fall solely on you. For this to work, other players will need to pitch in on any given scene, whether it's "voicing" characters (their own, or an NPC), describing their behavior, or adding small details to a scene, any of which could alter the flow of a scene in interesting and possibly unexpected ways. By fostering collaborative play, Fiasco takes pressure off of individual players and allows everyone to have fun.
Scenes don't have to get bogged down in lots flowery descriptive language (unless you think a specific situation calls for it). When establishing a scene, it's often enough to establish the setting and characters within it before throwing the characters into action (the Setup alone should give you plenty to work with). Other players’ contributions will fill in the blanks, enriching the story and giving you more interesting stuff to riff of. In the end, everyone wins.
SETTING THE SCENE
It helps to view your scene construction in cinematic terms, after all, films were this game’s primary source of inspiration. The game’s story structure (pacing the narrative with good and bad outcomes), character interaction/dialogue, staging, and cinematography all harken back to these influences and are often subconsciously put to use by those who play the game. If you’re at a loss, just go through your mental movie rolodex for ideas of how to stage your next scene. Use the tools of film-making to showcase the hapless “tools” that populate your scenes.
What Makes a Good Scene
Ideally, during a scene you want all of your friends involved and throwing in ideas, an opportunity for some character interaction, incorporation of stuff you’ve authored into the game, and questions both asked and answered. Scenes should also try to introduce a clear conflict, especially if a player chooses to resolve on their turn. Just make sure to avoid scenes that are aimless, don’t advance the plot in an interesting way, or are self-indulgent. You don’t get many scenes (four per player spread over two acts), so make them count.
Extra Elements: NPCs, Locations, Objects
While it’s possible to play an entire game of Fiasco without introducing any NPCs. If you find other characters entering the fiction, however, be prepared to sell them as hard as you can (ditto with Objects and Locations). Each and every one of them should, in some way, be an antagonist. Use them to push other players and create tense situations. You might even end up playing these characters more strongly than your own, if you find that your guy’s outside the orbit of the conflict at hand. Every time you introduce a secondary character, give him a name and make a note of them for future reference so that other players will see and re-use the character in later scenes. Otherwise-extraneous characters can be blunt instruments to hammer a Relationship’s Need.
As a general rule, however, try to reincorporate Elements that are already on the table before you introduce anything new. This is especially true for Objects and Locations, which should be focal points for your story. When you do, however, look for things that are striking regardless of their origin, and then look for ways to reintroduce those things into the game. Ideally, you’ll want to bring them back in a way that recontextualizes them (a pair of decorative katanas over the mantelpiece in a Japanophile yuppie’s suburban home are used by his white collar dad to exact bloody revenge on his boss who shitcanned him after 30 years with the company).
That said, be as economical as you can with stuff that wasn’t authored in the Setup – always use what you have unless you absolutely need to bring in something else.
Playing with Time
Keep in mind that time can be flexible in Fiasco. A story may play out chronologically from beginning to end, proceeding from scene to scene like clockwork, or it may jump around through the use of flashbacks, flash forwards, and flash sideways (i.e. using a smash cut to temporarily cut away to another scene happening concurrently). If you’re stumped on where to go next, try pushing the time frame ahead to give the story a sense of direction, or consider using a flashback to provide new context for past events, informing the scenes to come.
This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: during your turn, your character should be in the spotlight, and it should focus on things that are important to your character: their relationships and, where applicable, their needs, objects, or locations. Most of the time it should feature other characters as well (“voiced” by other players), and other players should feel free to chime in with tone-setting OOC comments to nudge the story in the right direction, little parenthetical details that add color to the current scene (e.g. the trailer’s air was rank with the smell of week-old bacon grease and B.O.).
The unspoken rule is that you can control your own character’s words and actions and describe other characters in the scene, but other characters’ words and actions are largely off-limits to their respective players (with the exception of the establishing player, see two paragraphs down).
For instance, you can engage another character in conversation, but you can’t speak for another character. You can have your character observe that another character has a bloodstain on his shirt and a haggard look if it makes sense given past events, but you can’t describe the same haggard character hacking a man to pieces unless the other player initiated it. All that said, if you see potentially interesting tangents, make sure to fire off a tone-setting comment to see if the player in question is on the same page (for instance: Pedro’s still out of his mind on meth, right? Maybe he shouldn’t be waving around his prized machete so close to his hostage…). Adding details that enrich the existing fiction can be great if other players are on board. Hijacking potentially powerful character moments, not so much.
One notable exception to this rule is the player who establishes a given scene for someone who’s chosen to resolve. Though the resolving player can always make tone-setting suggestions, the establishing player essentially has carte blanche to drop the resolving player’s character into any number of precarious situations (within reason – it still has to fit the narrative), after all, players who ask to resolve must be presented with a clear conflict to mull over (though other players may balk if the establishing player take this too far). Handled properly, however, having someone establish a scene for someone else can take the story into new, unpredictable directions (e.g. flash-forward to two days from now and the hood trying to pull one over on his boss in the present is shackled to a radiator in a dank basement).
COLLABORATIVE VS. COMPETITIVE PLAY
Much like in improv, playing a game of Fiasco works best when those around you are enabling and building upon your crazy ideas (literally or figuratively saying “yes, and…”) instead of shutting them down. Doing so not only validates players’ contributions, it has the potential to enrich the characters and/or scenario, driving the story in interesting new directions (or, at the very least, opening up new possibilities) by introducing new information. By contrast, saying no tends to bring a scene to a screeching halt, leaving other players casting about for something to say. ‘No’ definitely has its place, whether it be towards the end of a scene that calls for a negative outcome, or in a dramatic moment. On the whole, however, the “yes, and…” philosophy is the way to go, allowing you to inject some crazy into a potentially dull scene.
Playing strategically with dice
Even as the game’s storytelling aspect fosters collaborative play however, there is a strategic layer lying just beneath the surface. Though the allotment of dice at the end of a scene may seem trivial at first, it’s an important considerations in the game. Ideally, you want to walk out of Act 2 with a high black or white dice total (i.e. mostly black or white dice). Anything in between spells disaster—the closer a player is to zero, the worse off they are in the Aftermath (an even spread of black and white dice often leading to the worst possible outcome).
In Act One, the establishing player must give away the dice he receives, making it difficult to collect a particular type of die. In Act Two, however, establishing players keep the dice they receive from resolving players, allowing savvy players to earn particular kinds of dice by
weaving a kick-ass scene that other players feel deserves a particular outcome even if it comes at the resolving players’ expense (as other players may be angling for the same color dice for their own characters). Some characters may be irredeemable scumbags that players want to see get their just desserts in a particular scene. Others might be victims of circumstances beyond their control that you want to see come out okay in yet another scene. It’s perfectly reasonable to assign dice this way if it’s in the service of a good story. Ultimately, however, it’s up to the resolving players in that situation to make that call.
In this way, the dice serve as both a narrative pacing mechanism (good and bad outcomes) on the character level (IC) and a strategic element on the player level (OOC). This creates a fascinating dynamic between the two layers, with certain players assigning dice to players whose characters they want to see come out O.K. or fail horribly in a given scene, and others assigning dice to certain players just to mess with them (primarily in Act One). Odds are you’ll see a bit of both over the course of any given game.
DEATH IN FIASCO
In a game of Fiasco, it’s not uncommon for player-controlled characters to wind up dead for one reason or another (poor impulse control is the name of the game, after all). This isn’t the end of the world, all that means is that your scenes will, by necessity, be flashbacks or won’t include direct conflict. They should still be all about what your character wanted, and you can definitely incorporate other characters into your scenes. These scenes could explore character motivation (what made your character do the things he did), using your character’s death as a starting point as opposed to an ending point. If done well, revelations in these flashbacks can paint the events of the game in a new light and move the story in interesting new directions. If your character is dead, their Aftermath should be all about that character’s legacy. Did they achieve their goals and ambitions? Did they destroy their reputations?
As a general rule, however, it’s polite to refrain from killing other players’ characters until Act 2. Another positive of playing a dead character is that it frees them up to play the secondary cast of NPCs (who are almost always antagonists in some way).
That about wraps it up for now. I’ll probably think of several things to add to this opening post in the days to come. If anything was the least bit unclear, please feel free to PM me with any questions you may have.
Hopefully you've had a chance to look over the OP and familiarized yourselves with the game's mechanics. Once the game gets going it should all feel pretty intuitive, but if you're still unclear about anything (or want out) please contact me via PM with any questions or concerns.
Current Player List
2) Blue Lion
Alright, folks, it's time to decide which playset to use for our first game. To recap, Playsets provide a framework we'll build on to create characters and situations. The Playset you choose will inform the game in a huge way, so make sure to choose one you like.
Without further ado, here are your options, accompanied by images and brief descriptions of their respective settings:
MAIN STREET (Small Town America)
BOOMTOWN (The Wild West)
TALES FROM SUBURBIA (A Suburban Community)
THE ICE (McMurdo Station, Antarctica)
Which playset(s) are you guys drawn to? Ideally, the final choice should be something that you're all on board with.
Those all seem pretty fun... This is gonna be a tough choice.
I want to go with Boom Town because I like the Old West, but I think we should probably go with Main Street since it seems like a standard setting that could let us get a better grasp of the game. Then again, Tales From Suburbia and The Ice both sound like they're packed with potential.
You pretty much hit the nail on the head, Lion; 'Main Street' is essentially the baseline Fiasco experience (the first Playset in the book). That said, there really are no bad choices here. Characters can get up to all kinds of crazy shenanigans in the Wild West, Suburbia, or McMurdo Station.
Let's wait and hear back from Browneye before we reach a decision.
Blue Lion: Main Street, Boom Town Kir: Boom Town BrowneyeWinkin: Tales from Suburbia
All right, so we've got some enthusiasm for 'Main Street' (Lion), 'Boom Town' (Kir, Lion) and 'Tales from Suburbia' (Browneye).
Would you be down for playing 'Boom Town,' Browneye? Kir and Lion have already expressed interest in it and it would really smooth things along, allowing use to move right to the Setup phase. If you don't want anything to do with it, though, you guys will need to discuss things further before we can proceed. Ultimately, I'll go with whatever you guys agree on, since they all sound fun.
Let's start by determining character Relationships (we'll work out Details after). I'll kick things off by establishing a Crime Relationship between Browneye and Kir with a 5. Lion can now choose an Element from that Category, further describing Browneye and Kir's Relationship, or establish a new Relationship by choosing a Category.
D ------------ Blue Lion
D ------------ Kir
- 5. Crime
D ------------ BrowneyeWinkin
Pile of Dice (15 remaining):
Keep in mind:
-Dice color is irrelevant at this point, only the numbers matter. This will change during the game, however (where die color determines a good or bad scene outcome).