[Fiasco] In a Nice Southern Town

Started by drhoover, January 18, 2010, 02:40:45 PM

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My group tried Fiasco for the first time this weekend and had a blast. There were four of us, 3 lifelong roleplayers and 1 a more recent convert. We used the "In a Nice Southern Town" playset. I played Butch, a middle-aged former high school football star with bad knees and a good heart. Butch ran a landscaping business where he occasionally employed day laborers and members of the high school football team looking to make an extra buck. Butch was married to Tina who worked over at the New Outlook Tanning Salon & Weightloss Center on Commerce Street. Unbeknownst to Butch their marriage was in rough shape and Tina had a serious thing for Junior Everett, the current high school football QB and a sometime employee of Butch. Tina's boss over at New Outlook, Sonny Carter, had recently lost his seat on the local School Board due to some nasty rumors that he was secretly filming his customers at the tanning and weightloss center. The author of this rumor, Jed Cox, the proprietor of Susie Bell's Restaurant, ended up with Sonny's seat on the School Board and Sonny ended up with quite a chip on his shoulder. To complete the relationship circle, Jed and Butch were friends from way back, both of them having been on the high school football team and they'd remained friends. We had a fiasco in the making.

Act 1 saw the birth of a pissing match between Sonny and Jed that quickly spiraled out of control. By the end of that act Jed had drunkenly vandalized the weightloss center and Sonny ended up spending the night in jail after a random confrontation at Walmart got out of hand. Jed was proving to be the Machiavellian hinge of the story as he shared with Butch an eviction notice naming Butch's wife Tina as the occupant of an apartment Butch knew nothing about. By the end of Act 1 Butch had discovered the secret apartment (and its mysterious foul odor), chased the high school QB from its doorstep (wrenching his bad knee in the process) and got beaten up by a wheelchair-bound local tough guy who lived in the apartment below Tina's. Meanwhile Tina was busy sidestepping trying to resolve her pending eviction from her secret apartment and holding things together at the New Outlook center.

The destabilizing Tilt between Act 1 and 2 brought us "Paranoia: What seems like dumb luck isn't...things are afoot." and "Mayhem: An out of control rampage." Act 2 was a hot spiral of doom and things got really convoluted for us here. But to hit the high points, poor Butch found himself framed (a dead body under the tarp in his truck), betrayed (his wife was using her extra apartment to film her extracurricular activities with the football team) and did I mention betrayed (his friend Jed, murderously unbalanced, was the one who framed him and was also selling the tapes of his wife's extracurricular activities)? Butch ended up going on a vengeful but ultimately impotent rampage that ended when he tried to grab a gun and shoot Jed but got shot and killed by the cops instead. Sonny managed to get some photographic evidence on his cell phone that proved Jed was a killer but poor Sonny got accidentally hit by a car (actually one of Butch's landscaping trucks) and killed before he could share it with the police. Tina discovered that the rumors about Sonny secretly taping his customers were more than just rumors and ultimately used that information to discredit his memory and weasel her way into ownership of the New Outlook center. Jed ended up going to jail after all as Butch had secretly re-planted evidence back at Jed's house shortly before he went on his fatal rampage.

All in all it was a real hoot. We had a great time coming up with the setup and playing out the scenes. There were a couple "laugh until you cry" moments involving Tina who ended up being the star of the show despite hardly ever leaving the weightloss center. And everyone really enjoyed playing their characters and fell right into picking up background characters as needed in other scenes.

Some observations:

We let things get super convoluted and near the end of Act 2 I felt like we needed a continuity editor. The highlights above are a pretty streamlined version of what went down in Act 2. For example there was a whole "organ-legging" piece of the story I left out because it was so poorly defined I can't make it fit with the rest. I think a lot of this was just excitement about the game and us trying to squeeze in as much cool sounding stuff as we could. In some places we didn't take the game's advice to always use the elements from the setup instead of creating new stuff and that was partly responsible for how complicated things got. Some of it was also our unwillingness to pin down certain things early on and I think that hurt us. For instance, the nature of the eviction notice object from the setup never really got fully hammered out and as a result everything that touched it (and that was a lot) ended up being a little shaky. We knew it was for a property Tina was the occupant of, but why she was getting evicted and ultimately Ted's motive in sharing it with Butch never got totally worked out. By extension what exactly Tina was doing there and how Ted was involved didn't get revealed until very late in the game. It was cool to have some things revealed later on in the game but by that time so much had transpired it was hard to "retrofit" things into the events that had already happened without a little hand waving or some retroactive editing.

With 4 players it might have helped to take some quick notes on each scene's conflict & resolution. Some of them and their outcomes had become fuzzy ten scenes later.

Our group had never played a game without a "GM," so cooperative scene framing took a bit of practice but by the end of Act 1 we were doing just fine setting up and resolving scenes without skipping a beat. In Act 2 setting up scenes became a bit trickier. Mostly this was when the group was asked to establish the scene for a character and we'd start down one path to frame the scene then change our mind and go somewhere else. The rules' advice to setup a scene that answers a question you'd like to know the answer to proved really helpful here...as long as we remembered to follow it. Still as a group I think we were so giddy over all the possibilities that we were hesitant to be pinned down and our scene framing sometimes became extended "what-if" conversations.

By the time we reached the aftermath we felt like we were pretty well done. We narrated a few bits and pieces but I don't think anyone went through all their dice. I think next time we won't be in such a hurry to totally finalize the story by the end of the Act 2 so we can really use the aftermath dice since we all thought it was a cool mechanic.

Our game took about 4 hours but we were learning as we went. I'd read the rules a couple times but no one else had. So every time we'd hit a new part of the game I'd stop and read the appropriate section out loud so everyone was on the same page. It helped a lot but obviously slowed us down. Despite the fact that we got a very late start and didn't finish until the wee hours of the morning everyone was totally engaged in the story the whole time. When we were done everyone was pretty jazzed and we started immediately doing a post-mortem and talking about what we might do differently in the next game. So I think we learned a lot from this first run through and we're all looking forward to playing again. 


Jason Morningstar

Hey Damon,

Thanks for writing this up!  I'm really glad you guys had a fun time and a wretched fiasco.

I think there's a natural tendency to want to build and build, but as you observed, sometimes it's better to keep things simple and rely on what's already been introduced, or just go with the first suggestion. I have definitely played games where we had to stop and figure out exactly what happened to who in the early scenes, and where the spear-gun was dropped, and stuff like that. And it isn't uncommon to arrive at the Aftermath with everything pretty much tied up. That's not a problem at all. You are crafting an epilogue, but sometimes the final few scenes of Act Two really serve that purpose.

I love that Tina became so central. The game's pivot point is often so surprising. I always try to play the most prosaic and boring characters I can for this reason.

Tim C Koppang

Quote from: drhoover on January 18, 2010, 02:40:45 PM
I think a lot of this was just excitement about the game and us trying to squeeze in as much cool sounding stuff as we could. In some places we didn't take the game's advice to always use the elements from the setup instead of creating new stuff and that was partly responsible for how complicated things got.
I thought this was an honest bit of observation, and a common problem when playing many games for the first time.  A group's enthusiasm can get the best of the story.  And I can only imagine the convoluted plots that could arise in Fiasco (from the play report, I can't stop thinking about "Burn After Reading").

So what's the deal with the setup phase?  Does everyone generate a list of story elements?  Is it set in stone?  How does that limit the potential twists and turns of the story?

Steve Segedy


the Setup involves the players going around in turn and selecting elements from the playset lists, using a pool of rolled dice to limit the choices.  So if the pool is all 5s and 6s and no 2s, you can't select any of the second categories or elements.

The list of elements includes Relationships between players and additional details (Needs, Locations and Objects) that you attach to those relationships.  Once you have a full set, the players should have a pretty good idea of who the characters are and what motivates them.  All they have to do now is light the match...

The general advice of the game is fall back on the established elements whenever possible, to keep the story tightly-focused.  However there is plenty of opportunity for authoring additional stuff and introducing it into the game.  For example, our game last night had a Location of something like "Smuggler's Beach", and we had several key scenes there, but we also spent a lot of time in and around the army hospital and one scene involving a corpse, a wheelbarrow and an ice cream factory.
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