Fiasco: A Brief Review Of An *Awesome* RPG
“Do you want to play a roleplaying game with no GM?” my friend Flicker asked me.
“No GM?” I asked. “How the hell can you play a game if there’s no central arbiter of reality? Who creates the plot? Who makes the rulings?”
Yet I have been introduced to anarchy RPGs through the magic of Fiasco, and lemme tell you, it’s pretty fun.
Fiasco is more of a shaped improv class than an RPG; the goal is to create a small-town, Coen Brothers-style narrative like Fargo or Glengarry Glenn Ross, where desperate people do awful things for low stakes. (And as rewarded poorly.) It’s also a game about story, tailor-made for writers, because the whole goal is literally to create scenes that advance the plot and reveal character. You’re not trying to level up your wizard: you’re going, “Okay, we have six scenes left, and three of them need to end on a good note before the bad ending, so how the hell can we make it look like things are going well?”
The way Fiasco works is fascinating: you show up with no characters, intending to build them on the spot. There’s a general situation given: a small-town news office, a crime-infested southern town, a mundane suburbia.
You roll a bunch of dice, Yahtzee-style, and then place a notecard between every playing. Each player goes around, selects a die from the pool, and uses that die to choose a class of relationship between the two characters from a simple table: FAMILY, CO-WORKER, CRIME. Then you choose from a sub-menu, further defining what kind of Crime connects these two people: Corrupt Official, Drug Dealer, Con Man and Mark.
Then, in similar fashion, you choose A Need, An Object, and a Place. Within minutes, you’re all debating what sorts of characters could fit these rough outlines, making them up on the spot. It’s literally like writing a story from a prompt.
Then, you have to create a set number of Scenes to advance the plot of this sordid story. The trick is, when your character has his scene, you can either determine how a scene starts, or determine how it ends – but whichever you leave fallow, the other players get to choose. So you can say that you’re going to confront the mob bookie who has the goods on you, but if you choose that start then the other players will tell you how it ends up, usually determined halfway through the scene as you roleplay it with the other people and see how it ends up.
The dynamics are fascinating, particularly because half the scenes have to end well (i.e., your character gets what s/he wants) and half of them end badly. So you have to juggle a way to keep the plot moving, and make it appear that things are going well, but are actually leading to a horrible end.
You do half the scenes, then roll The Tilt, which is the mid-point at which things go horribly wrong, consulting another table for the way things are going to unroll. And then you play out the rest of the scenes, and act out the denouement.
Thing is, I like Fiasco because it’s very act-y, and very write-y, and totally interactive. You’re all trying to tell a story together, so you share that common bond of “Fuck, we’ve written ourselves into a corner” followed by the thrill of “Oh my God, we know how to make this better!” You’re tossing around ideas for how your characters could work, moving towards the end game. And since there’s no authority to break ties, it all comes down to a collaborative effort that is kind of awesome in its effervescence.
In fact, I think Fiasco is so awesome I’m going to run it at ConFusion next weekend, in Detroit. So if you’re interested, hit me up. I’ll show you how this works, because it’s great.