Fiasco What?

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I should maybe explain what Fiasco is.

It’s a tight system with fairly minimal rules that is designed to play a one-shot game in 2-3 hours. It’s good for 3 to 5 people, and there is no GM. The setting is defined by the playset you use; if you want to play in your own setting, you have to write your own playset. The rules guide the story firmly into a fairly dark place: the PCs are almost certainly going to have bad things happen to them. Think Coen Brothers movies, or Breaking Bad, or even some of your darker caper movies.

In the first stage of play, you generate both characters and the setup, which is where the playsets come in. They contain setting elements — Relationships, Objects, Locations, and Needs — which serve to give definition to the characters. You figure out who your PC is after you find out how he or she is connected to the various other PCs by the setting elements. Elements are chosen semi-randomly, which is one of the two things that makes the game awesome for me.

The key here is that the random element constrains the narrative and keeps me from controlling it. When I have too much control over the narrative, as a player, I tend to lose interest. I need a GM to say no to me, or to introduce something I wouldn’t have thought of, or I can’t get any of the immersive play that I personally need. Fiasco is perfectly tuned: there’s enough choice so that you aren’t getting ridiculous combinations that make no sense, but you don’t have a completely free hand.

Also, you don’t own your own setting elements. I.e., in phase 1, I’m not necessarily the person who’s defining the relationship between my character and the others. Maybe I had the option to choose Crime or Family as the top level Relationship element between my PC and Susan’s, and I chose Family. Colin, bless his soul, promptly chooses “Kissing cousins” as the specific relationship, and that’s what we’re stuck with. So there’s another bit that’s outside my control, satisfying my usual need for a GM.

In the second and third stage of play, you tell the story. Act I is setup; there’s a twist in the middle, also semi-randomly determined; and Act II is the rush to conclusion. There’s some montage stuff at the end to wrap everything up. You’ll get two scenes involving your PC per act, guaranteed, plus you might wind up in someone else’s scene. Each scene is pretty concise. There’s no particular randomness associated with each scene, and you’re not rolling dice to determine outcomes or anything, but there is shared control. You can either define your scene or determine the general outcome, but not both. If you want to make sure your PC comes out of the scene in a more or less positive way, you don’t get to set the scene. If you want to say “OK, it’s Kevin and Carla in the back alley behind the MGM Grand, and they’re arguing about whether or not they should give the lions the sedatives before Leon goes on stage,” you don’t get to decide that plucky Kevin gets his way.

That choice is really good. For me, it means I can set the scene and then just roleplay without having to worry about the “right” outcome. My fellow players become the GM for a moment, and I get to react to the world, the way I want to. If you hate the idea of having to define scenes off the top of your head, you can have your fellow players do it for you. I think this rule serves as a safety valve, particularly if you’re not into narrative play as a general rule.

I strongly recommend this game. There’s a lengthy excerpt available, and a bunch of free playsets, which probably aren’t that informative by themselves. The excerpt has a bunch of the example of play, and a sample playset, and a lot of flavor.

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2 Responses to “Fiasco What?”

  1. Christopher Tatro Says:

    Thanks for writing this up. I haven’t been looking much at other games of late so I missed what I now see is a LOT of chatter about this game and its awesomeness.

    I’m a little leery, as always, of games that have you define the outcome of a scene ahead of time instead of letting it play out organically but I look forward to giving this a shot!

    • Bryant Says:

      Nah, you don’t define the outcome ahead of time. You (or your fellow players) frame the scene; then you start playing it. You don’t choose positive or negative until you want to choose positive or negative, so there’s none of the pressure to fill a predetermined destiny. Morningstar notes explicitly that this isn’t a game where you set the stakes at the beginning of the scene, so it’s not like you’re saying exactly what happens, either. It literally is just “this scene ends positively/negatively for your PC.”

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