Fiasco

At GenCon this year I finally had the chance to play Fiasco (I talked a little about that in a GenCon Debrief post).

It was pretty much love at first site and I immediately ran off to buy the game as well as the companion. I finally got around to reading them a couple weeks ago. And, more importantly, played a session of Fiasco shortly after that.

NOTE: The Fiasco Companion is currently my favorite RPG supplement ever. There’s really nothing new mechanically. It has some new Fiasco playsets and a handful of proposed hacks. More importantly are the pages and pages of play advice, not only from the game designers, but from other game designers and players. The best part is huge chunks of the advice pretty much exists in a vacuum. So much of what’s said can be taken away from Fiasco and applied to any other game. A lot of the advice will seem familiar to anyone that’s ever done improv or read up on it, but it’s still incredibly useful information and will positively impact pretty much every other game you play.

It turns out some of the things we did during the GenCon games were unintentional hacks that one of the guys playing had been doing for a while. The hacks were mostly minor, but I was looking forward to playing the game RAW.

The game itself is pretty straightforward: there are 4 dice for each player (2 each of different colors — usually black & white). So, for the 4-player game I was in recently, that was 8 black dice & 8 white dice. All the dice are rolled, which makes a communal pool to pull from. The dice will be used to define elements in the setup of play.

First a playset has to be chosen — think of this like a setting/genre. Each playset has 4 tables, each with 6 elements, each element with 6 details. Each element and it’s 6 details are numbered 1 through 6. So, choosing from the available numbers, people take turns choosing a broad element or choosing a detail for a previously defined elements. By default, the elements are relationships, needs, objects, & locations.

There must be a relationship between each adjacent pair of players, so with 4 players A <-> B <-> C <-> D <-> A. Depending on the playset, the relationship might be pretty broad (homeowner & tradesman) or more specific (bride & groom).

There also must be 1 each of need, object, & location. Like relationships they’re tied between two adjacent players. A need might be a need to get rich or a need to earn respect. Locations are pretty obvious. Objects could be just about anything from the mundane to the bizarre.

Also note that as more things get defined there are less dice in the pool so options start becoming a bit restrictive. It can lead to some really interesting choices, but it’s fun trying to get them to make sense and see what they’re about in play.

The setup is really a lot of fun. As details get added it’s like the fuse on the powder keg just keeps getting shorter and just when it seems like the situation is ready to explode, well that’s where you start playing!

After setup it’s mostly open narration/rp. Players take turns either setting up their scene or resolving their scene (whichever the player chooses the other players do the other). Resolution is basically at some point in the scene it’s going to become important if the character of whoever’s turn it is is going to have things go their way or not. So, resolving with a white die means things basically go well for them a black die for not working out well for them.

Halfway through (once half the dice have been taken) is the end of Act 1 and the Tilt. The tilt is basically one more way to inject even more chaos into what is probably already a pretty fucked up situation. Story-wise two more elements (each with a detail) are put into play. They can either take place immediately at the beginning of Act 2 or come about during play. Act 2 progresses pretty much the same way (there are some slight variations, but not important for this post).

Once all the dice are gone comes the Afermath. Everyone rolls the dice they’ve collected and totals the two separate colors the subtracts the lower from the higher. So, if you had 3 white dice and 1 black die, you might roll 10 white and 5 black, for a total of 5 white. There’s a table to reference, but basically 0 is bad (worse than death, whatever it is, death would be preferable) and higher numbers are better — so during play you want to aim for having as many of a certain color as possible to avoid the chances of low numbers. Each color/number combination has a description that’s a broad outline of how things turned out for your character.

Then there’s a sort of epilogue montage as everyone takes turn narrating really short scenes (we’re talking a sentence or two) for their character. Generally one short scene per die collected. But, it’s okay to trade dice away if you’re low on ideas and someone else really wants another scene or two for their character. Either way, you just use the few final scenes you have to tell everyone else how things turned out for your character based on your Aftermath roll.

I’m really looking to playing more Fiasco. The core book comes with playsets, the companion has 4 more, and Bully Pulpit releases a new one every month. So not only does each individual playset have a lot of opportunity for variety, but there’s also a lot of different playsets available!

Fiasco makes for a great pick-up game for 3-5 people that have 2 or 3 hours to kill. I really can’t recommend this game enough for anyone interested in collaborative storytelling. Hell, even if “collaborative storytelling” seems like a scary concept, I think a lot of gamers will still enjoy this game. Just go in with a willingness to tell a cool story with some friends (or hell, strangers in the case of a con situation), bring your creative hat, and have fun watching your character spiral out of control!

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