My Smallville game was cancelled last Friday because of illness, so we decided to try out Jason Morningstar’s Fiasco instead. Morningstar won his second Diana Jones for it, because his mind leaks genius rpgs like a stricken oil tanker onto the penguins of gaming. Except good oil. Never mind. Anyway, here’s a replay of how it went.
We couldn’t decide on which playset to use so we narrowed it down to six and rolled a d6, and got the Golden Panda. This was cool because almost all of us liked Kung-Fu Panda, and it was a big inspiration. Since we weren’t using one of the playsets in the book, I can’t really comment on those. Each playset contains lists of ideas for character relationships, items, needs and location – you have a relationship with the player to your right or left (which took some sorting out since we were playing on line, god bless Google Documents), and each relationship ends up with either a need, an item or a location. Like I said, I can’t speak for the core game but the ones we got from Golden Panda were a little bit uninspiring, although obviously they have to be very general to allow for freeforming and interpretation. Still, I’m used to systems doing a bit more of my grunt work. Fiasco depends a lot on everyone being ready to throw in lots of ideas about the genre and to produce conflict, the system doesn’t do much of that for you. Which is okay, you just need good improvers/creative types or there will be a lot of humming and harring. Which is okay too though, humming and harring can be part of the fun.
We also didn’t do much actual “roleplaying” in the strictest sense, because (as I’ve always found) when people have more authorial control they tend to stay in author mode. This is why a lot of people think sim-ish play is the best for creating the actor voice – when all you can control is one person, it is easier to slip into acting through them entirely.
You can see the diagram of relationships we came up with and the characters in this post on my Smallville campaign blog. Also the text of the game follows below that. I was playing Old White Beard. I originally saw him as the wise master but when I realised the game desperately needed lots of cross-purposing, I recast him as a revenge-seeking bastard in his second scene.
Once you’ve got those, everyone does a scene around the table, repeating until there’s four scenes. Each scene involves your character and you get to decide if you establish the scene (set up what it’s about) or resolve it (choose how it ends). Being a GM, of course, I was used to doing neither! In most traditional RPGs, players set scenes and dice resolve it! Luckily, we had dice so most of the time I rolled to see which one I would do (odds/evens).
Halfway through there’s a thing called the Tilt, but mechanically it does bugger all, which I felt quite let down by. Again, I’m used to my mechanics doing a lot more. I was kind of expecting things to be a lot more random in general, too – we pretty much knew where the story was going by half way (and had a good idea about it before that). Which again, is okay. I guess I was just expecting the tables to be throwing up a lot of the Fiasco stuff, but in fact, what makes it a fiasco is the scene resolution mechanic.
There are four scenes per player, and half of them have to end badly and half of them have to end well. That means you need a lot of things to go wrong, and trying to come up with ways for that to happen is generally what creates the Fiasco. Bad things happening means people working at cross purposes (who are forced to hang out, because you guys are the only principle characters) or people having terrible luck or misfortune. And because most gamers tend to be nice, the bad things get shared around to everyone, so that even the “bad” guys have bad things happen to them. And that’s really what makes a fiasco (or a farce) – everybody has a bad day all at once, not just the heroes first, then the villains.
Interestingly, this ties in with my post from last year about how if your chance of success is 50% or lower, things tend to feel grim. The way to mess with Fiasco would be to change the black/white ratio. Increase the black dice and people’s lives go down the toilet even more – everything falls apart, the center cannot hold.. Increase the white dice and things come to fruition – bad guys do strike, but then are later foiled by heroes.
Which I found interesting: although it is a shared story-building experience with very strict, formal rules for scene composition, and thus the antithesis in many ways of most RPGs, in the end, the biggest factor, the biggest influence on tone is your chance of success. Something to think about there.