A bit late to this particular party, but I finally got a tabletop group together to play Fiasco. Folks, it was pretty great.
For those not in the know Fiasco is basically the Coen Brothers RPG. A bit different than my normal fantastic fare at the table, I mean, what’s the point of a game where you can’t play as a wizard?* But stories where dumb people successfully execute stupid plans and then pay for their stupidity are basically the stories from every session of D&D I’ve ever run.** Also, I love Burn After Reading and it’s ilk.
Fiasco is a cooperative game, of sorts. Your aren’t exactly cooperating as the goal is more or less to have horrible things happen to everybody, but it doesn’t have the traditional GM / Player combative relationship of “traditional” RPGs. I realize that this is heresy, but do you know another thing that I like? Heresy. You don’t want gods getting all full of themselves. Or your party cleric.
In Fiasco you play “ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control.” Maybe you think it’s a good idea to steal a baby from a rich family and raise it as your own? Maybe you’re in debt and hire some people to kidnap your wife to extort money from her parents? What could go wrong?
You pick a “play-set” which gives you a certain list of elements that give flavor to the type of Fiasco you want to run. We choose “A Small Southern Town” for our first game. Y’know, the type of place where everyone are outwardly polite good church going moralists, but secretly have vices and bad ideas on how to satisfy those vices. The game helps you set up a web of relationships with the other characters at the table with various needs, objects, and locations. You then basically role play a series of increasingly out of control scenes with your table mates until everything just goes completely and utterly to hell.
It sounds really daunting at first. “What do you mean? We just have to improvise? Like actors?” Yeah, that’s super stressful to consider and one of the reasons I’ve held off for so long. It’s a hard sell to a lot of groups, and videos online often feature “famous” actors like Wesley Wheaton who are honestly going to do a lot better than you are in this sort of game. However, the Fiasco rules do a really good job of making your table interactions easy and hilarious. First, the storytelling is collaborative, so if one player isn’t sure where things are going there are rules for the rest of the table helping out. Second, it really only takes one character doing something bonkers to really get the table working together. In our game it was a unexpected heel turn by a character we thought was a “good guy.” Third, the goal is to fail, so there isn’t much pressure for your plans to succeed brilliantly. Your characters are generally awful people, and most likely awful things are going to happen to them. And awful things are fun.
I won’t bore you with the details of our sessions, but here were the results:
- Unwed Mother of Newborn Baby – Killed in final shoot out between Russian gangsters and good ole southern boys.
- Ex-Husband of Church Pastor – Went to jail for six months on fraud charges.
- Little Old Church Lady / Mob Boss – Killed in final shoot out between Russian gangsters and good ole southern boys.
- Mayor of Town – Left wife to find happiness with one of the Russian gangsters.
- Church Pastor – Living in hiding and stuck raising the baby of the unwed mother.
That sounds way less hilarious when I write it down, but I assure you good times were had by all. Give this game a try sometime.
*In fairness there are fantasy themed play-sets of Fiasco, but we didn’t play one of those.
**Inverted Rule of Game Mastering #3: “Make the players face the consequences.”