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Origins Session Report #5 - Fiasco

B Updated
Fiasco role playing game

Game Information

Game Name
There Will Be Games

I generally like to expose myself to new & unusual games at conventions; things that I can't play at home for whatever reason. This usually means I end up with a widely eclectic variety of games. I am CRAZY insane thrilled about Indie RPG's, and since Fiasco has been getting buzz for awhile now, I decided to sign up.


Friday 1p-5p, $4, Bully Pulpit Games, RPG Event 6432, Fiasco

Fiasco is a game about ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. It is a game about small time capers gone horribly wrong. There will be big dreams and fla3/1/11 execution. It won’t go well for those involved, to put it mildly. In the end it will probably all go south in a glorious heap of jealousy, murder, and recrimination.


I was coming off of a pretty damn good game of Call of Cthulhu, if a little more sedate than my usual Call of Cthulhu fare. Next up was supposed to be an indie RPG, Fiasco. I'd seen Fiasco at GenCon last year and had picked it up several times, ultimately falling back on my "don't buy anything before you play it" rule. But I was close, very very close. Several times. It called to me. Then the game started popping up on several RPG web sites with people RAVING about it. I was through the worst of it though; the "you must mail order it" threshold is very high with me. I can impulse buy all day long, but mail order means I WANT IT, and that's a pretty severe barrier given my minimalist lifestyle. Once the Origins pre-reg catalog came out I did my usual sorting routine. This involves deleting all seminars, all 'spouse' events, all RPGA events, all CCG events, all D&D events, all superhero & furry RPG events, all boardgame events from major publishers and from Gamebase 7, and almost all historical miniature events. I may like to try new things, but I've learned my lessons well. I usually then sort the list by event type and search out three sections: Call of Cthulhu RPG's, PST LARPs, and Indie RPGs. These all go on my 'short list.'


I LOVE indie RPG's. I'm not sure when I first caught the fever, however in looking back it must have been about the time of the first Lacuna release. Or rather, Lacuna Part 1, the Creation of the Mystery and the Girl from Blue City. The cover had a spider-man on it wearing a big fat Russian fur hat with a star on it. Pretty cool ey? I thought so. I followed this with DOZENS more indi games. At each GenCon and Origins I would drop several hundred dollars on these things. Agon. Polaris. Run Robot Red. Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men. Shab-al-hiri Roach. Deaths Door. 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights. Best Friends. I had a huge stack of these little folio booklets at home. They are AWESOME. And so I came to Fiasco. My buying policies had tightened up significantly since the banner years of Run Robot Red and Deaths Door. The indie pickings were a little light in the Origins pre-reg book, and Fiasco stood out, both from the leanness of the offerings and because of my previous interest.


I trundled up from the basement Rogue Cthulhu rooms to seek out my new room and discovered four things. First, there was a row of conference rooms BEHIND the d20 Pro table! Well, it was d20 Pro in years past anyway. I had NO idea there were conference rooms shoved back in there. Second, there was a new bagel shop in the center, right across from the mysteriously appearing conference room. Visions of capers & lox began to dance in my head. Yum!. Third, there was a back entrance to the Hyatt! All this time I had been exiting the elevators on 2, walking past the bar and around the corner to get to the convention center. And there was shortcut. Duh .... Finally, my game room was nearly empty. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a a sparsely populated room, it generally means I can get rowdier. AT some point though you have to ask yourself what this means for the future of Origins. Yeah, I've seen the announced attendance figures. It does NOT match with my experiences. I grabbed an everything lox bagel full of caper-berries, cream cheese, and, unexpectedly, onions & tomatoes. Oh, my breath was going to be in RARE form for this next game. The guy shows up and begins to go over Fiasco with me my fellow players.


We now come to the Nature vs. Nurture portion of our musings. Do indie RPG's attract hipster/posers or do they create the hipster/posers who play the games? Or, perhaps, if we go META, do the expectations of seeing hipster/posers in an indie RPG then cause the observer to see everyone else through anti-rose colored hipster/poser glasses? Please debate. But be assured, the game was full of hipster/posers. Rejects, or perhaps winners, or an Elvis Costello impersonator contest. Every. Single. One. Well, except for the infinitely clever, witty and intelligent overweight, balding, older guy. He was cool. Really!


Back to the show. Mechanically Fisco is pretty simple. You need a lot of 6-sided dice and some index cards/markers to help keep track of things. The players sit in a circle and the index card lie between the players. They form a 'bridge' so to speak between the two players, with whatever is written on the card. For example, it could say 'married', or 'in jail together', or something else. In this way each player has two shared commonalities/relationships with the player on their right and on their left. You get these shared commonalities & relationships via a Fiasco playset. A playset is nothing more than setting, or backdrop for use during the game. You choose one at the beginning and that's the setting you are playing in. Modern gangster London, A wedding, or an Arctic research station are all example of playsets. There are HUNDREDS of these things for Fiasco, with a new one coming out at least once a month. Beyond a simple backdrop for the story the playset also contains a series of tables and these are how we form those relationships. At the beginning of the game a number of 6-sided dice are rolled; we'll say two for each player in the game.  (The actual number eludes me.) Each player then in turn takes a die and matches it to a chart on the playset. For example, number 2 might mean "personal relationship". That will then have a subchart. Another player takes a die and that number can dictate what kind of personal relationship it is. Let's say #3 is 'marriage.' If you take a #3 die and apply it to that relationship, then you're married. And if there are no 3's left, then it can't be marriage. Thus choices for commonalities & things are easy to make early in the set-up process but pretty constrained later in the process, as your variety of numbers rolled diminishes to one die. Ta Da! Each player now has a relationship of two to the people sitting next to him/her, which he and the other players helped define.


During play each player gets to make a choice between two options: setting a scene or receiving a scene. If you create a scene then the rest of the table will decide what kind of die you get. If you allow the rest of the table to create a scene for you then you get to choose the die at the end of the scene. Dice? Huh? What? Yup, you recall those dice we used at the beginning to create our play framework? Well now we are collecting them. The dice rolled are in two colors, let's say blue and white, in equal amounts. At the end of the game you roll all of the dice you have and subtract the smaller colors total from the larger colors total. The number you get determines the fate of your character. The closer to zero the worse your characters fate, thus in order to get a nice outcome for your character you want as many dice as you can in the same color. So, we've got this giant two-color dice pool in the middle of the table and from that either the table is assigning you a die or you are selecting a die, depending on if you created the scene or the table created the scene. Then, you get to give the die away. You see, the game is divided in to two rounds. During the first round you take the die you were assigned, or selected, and give it to another player. In the second round you keep the die you were assigned/selected. In retrospect it sounds like there's an opportunity for screw-age here, which I am always delighted to partake in. In practice however screw-age didn't seem like that large of a motivator. Which is sad. Because I REALLY like screw-age. Note that there's no GM involvement. This being an indie RPG full of power/hipsters, having a GM would mean that the players options were somehow limited. So no GM, just free-form storytelling guided by the relationships, with the dice involved in the endgame resolution for your character.


The other players expressed a desire to play in Gangster London. This is the playset that describes play like that seen in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and any other movie about small-time inept criminals in London. I expect Trainspotting would fit the bill also. I wanted to play the Wedding playset, but wisely kept my mouth shut. "Oh No! The flowers that were delivered are white roses instead of red! Whatever shall we do!" Seemed like a good idea to me. Ok, so I have relationships with the people on my right & left. On the left I end up with "Married" and "Baby" and on the right "Hoodie" and "WW2 Bomb." Hoodies, for those of you not familiar with true-life Orwellian England, are a generic underclass criminal elements/boogie-man in England. Essentially, they are kids who wear hooded sweatshirts and commit petty crimes, like shoplifting. Yup, that's it. They tend to serve as the generic villein in many English dramas, either real, teleplay, or political. In the British series "Survivors" there has been a worldwide epidemic or horrific proportion. ABout 8 people survived. Oh, and an army of Hoodies that serve as generic villeins to menace them, of course.


Elsewhere around the table my 'wife' was involved in an importing business with eastern european prostitutes and had a house. Another player wanted to gang respect from the players on the other side of the prostitution ring. And he was involved in home burglary ring with my hoodie mate on my right. The game starts. My wife and her business partner are in an AA meeting in a church basement, discussing how they are going to find some new prostitutes to import. I start talking at the same time, as 'Ludmilla', who is new to the AA group, and new to the country. COming the Ukraine where she was a streetwalker, she is looking for a new life. I am total ignored. Not on purpose mind you, the other two guys are just SO involved in their discussion that they are completely oblivious to everyone else. The rest of us are giving incredulous loos to each other. Finally some else decides to play the Pastor hosting the meeting and tells them to be quiet, it's group sharing time again, and hustles them back from the coffee and doughnuts table. Becoming aware of their surroundings they pick up Ludmilla. I had something special in mind for her. Now, once upon a time the girlfriend and I wanted to see a movie, and we were in the mood for a comedy, so she picks out Eastern Promises. Those of you in the know know where I'm coming from. A) Eastern Promises is about forced prostitution rings in Eastern Europe with a naked knife-fight in a sauna scene with Aragorn in it. Second, and to spoil the movie for everyone, Aragorn is an undercover agent. I decided Ludmilaa was also. She had been coming to the same AA meeting week after week giving her spiel, but the two idiots were so self-involved and inept they kept missing/ignoring her. They finally pick he up and head out. Hilarity ensues as she beats up a trick in a bar, tries to save another prostitute that is the obsession of the players who Wants to Get Respect, turns out to be a man from the home office (English FBI), and eventually gets shot by my wife. Poor Ludmilla.


In the meantime my wife is bitching at me because our relationship has fallen apart since the baby came. It turns out she got pregnant in order to make me marry her. Bitch. The baby doesn't have a name, BTW; I call it 'it.' Turns out it was never given one. My hoodie buddy and I need to hide the WW2 bomb he's found, so I stuff it in the babies carriage and put the baby on top of it. We then proceed over to pub for a few drinks. It is decided that we should pull a job with the bomb. We'll set it off at the end of a row of houses. Everyone will run outside to see what's up, and we'll burgle the houses while they are outside. "Perfect", I say, intending to NOT remove the baby from the carriage when it goes up. We hook up with the Guy WHo Wants Respect and hit the houses. I modify the plan a bit and put the baby in the street, held in place by a manhole lid to keep it from squirming off. I figure the emergency vehicles or the debris will solve my baby problem for me. The bomb ends up being a dud. Salvaging the plan, we break in to an empty house at the end and smash off all of the gas fixtures. *BOOM* off goes the gas, while we three kings make our way to the busstop with a plasma tv and some clear shopping bags full of candlesticks & other assorted goodies. While on the bus some old lady says 'excuse me' to my hoodie mate, and he smashes her in the face, right in front of a bobby that was riding the bus also. He klleaps out while I kick out the window and follow with the shopping bags. #3 uses us a diversion and stays on the bus while the bobby chases me & hoodie mate. He ends up riding back to the apartment, fencing the gear to the other end of my wife's business, and getting away scott free with a decent ending. I run right in to a police gathering at the local 'cop bar' and hightale it away. I make it out, or so I think, because I'm hit by a random passing car and killed. Ourch. Bad Ending. Wife gets the worse of it. Picked up after shooting Ludmilla, but by an ambulance since she was injured in the gas explosion. She is reunited with the baby that was rescued from the scene. Only the ambulance runs over my body in the confusion, the baby falls out, it's head it run over and popped like an overripe Scanners FX, all of which she witnesses from the back of the ambulance. She's then jailed for Ludmilla murder. The guy rolled 'worst ending possible. Worse than death.' Game over man, and the table breaks up while I got find The Pretty Girl and the You Too gan for dinner.


Remember when I said I was crazy insane in LUV with indie RPG's? I misspoke. What I actually meant to say is that I can't STAND them. I LOATHE them and I never want to play another EVER again. This then was the final outcome of Fiasco; it made me realize what a load of claptrap indie RPGs are. There's no actual game in these things. It's just a 3 hour group wankfest of coming up with some bizarre shit and spreading it around. It's not 'free-form & exploratory narrative role-playing', it's telling a story for a few hours in a pointless exercise. The lack of a moderator in these things makes it even more ludicrous; there's absolutely no control at all on what goes on. It's a free-for-all/ It reminds of a 4.0 D&D game at DDXp in Fort Wayne this last year. We had to perform a "skill challenge" or whatever 4.0 calls it, in order to sneak in to a castle. I hate this nonsense, so I used Knowledge-Religion. Making my roll by 20 I declared that it was the holy day of St. Ignantz, and no guard ever looked left that holy day. The "DM" was not amused, but I was. These games are just like that role: complete silliness with no controls over what goes on. "Oh, let's work together to make an interesting story." That's great. But it's not an RPG and I'd say it's not even a game. It's some kind of activity that one engages in. You want to sit around in a bar and play Baron Munchausen? That's great. Have at thee. But it's not a damn game. There's absolutely no risk in these things, ESPECIALLY those without a moderator/ref/GM. What's the point? Nothing ventured nothing gained, and there is certainly nothing ventured in these little piles of nothingness.


In retrospect I'm going to say that my earlier adoration of these things was tied up in two different things that hit about the same time. The first is D&D 3.5 & 4.0. While 3.0/3.5 cleaned up the rules quite a bit, it also added a ridiculous expansion of the rules in to almost every area of gameplay, which was only worsened by 4.0. The abstraction of large parts of the game in to "die rolls/skill checks" had narrowed the role-playing & narrative element quite a bit. Thus the hidden ennui I was feeling over 3.5/4.0 was taken out on games in which the narrative was king and went wholly in to that camp. And by "wholly in to that camp" I mean I ran a session of Enemy Gods and one of Shab-al-hiri. You see, I never actually played all those damn indie RPG's I bought. I know this is the name of the game with many gamers; you see a boardgame or new RPG and buy it, only to play it once or not at all. Same with these. The indie RPG's I was buying represented in some way the narrative and simple rules that 3.5/4.0 was not providing. This is where Thing 2 comes in to the house. Somehow games have come to represent 'fun' to me, and I use FUN in a traditional sense. Buying games means that I have an opportunity for fun and good times are here again. In the end though, they just sit on the shelf and end up being sad; a shelf full of unrequited fun is a very sad thing indeed. Several times in the past 15 years or so I've gotten disgusted with the mocking looks of my Fun shelf and ended up selling off all of my games. Let a year or two pass and I'll fill the shelf again with more & different games. Only to be faced day in & day out with their mocking stares, and end up getting rid of them also. The root cause, of course, is that games are NOT fun.  The Pretty Girl, growing up as an only child, has stated that 'The box lies. It doesn't contain the people you need to play the game.' It's playing the games with people that is fun. Ultimately it is the Party Gamer crowd who are winning and will continue to win, because they recognize the importance of the social element in a game. Having structure in a game allows us to win or lose, but ultimately that is not what the game is about. The game is an excuse to interact with other people. Spreadsheet simulations, as well at 3.5/4.0, go too far in one direction while indie RPG's go too far in the other. This realization was the ultimate outcome of my Fiasco session.

There Will Be Games Fiasco role playing game

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