In my quest to play as many different RPGs as I could before settling on new campaigns after the holidays, I finally got to play Fiasco last Friday. Here be the game report, part 1!
I’m not going to focus on the mechanics much, for the curious, I refer you to Linnaeus’ excellent and comprehensive review of the game. Instead, I’m going to do my usual thing of mixing my experiences both from inside and outside of the game’s fiction.
Of Suburban Blackmail and Revenge
We had 4 players. The rules states that the one coming from the smallest town starts setup, so Mike was first. The others were seated so that Mike’s brother Frankie was next, then myself and finally Math.
Note that this game has no game master, everyone plays and shares how scenes are built and resolved. While going through the game’s available playsets (i.e. the settings of the game), Math expressed interest for “Tales of Suburbia” while everyone else weren’t too sure what to pick.
In the absence of clear directions, go with the most audible grunt says I.
We picked the playset, a bunch of numbered charts, and rolled a handful of 6-sided dice (4 per players) and we used their results to build our game’s starting point. We took turns creating relationships between each of our yet-to-be-defined characters and adding details (location, objects or needs) to each relationship.
So Mike and Frankie’s relationship was one of drug manufacturer/dealer. Frankie and mine was that of a Professional Supervisor and his employee. Mine and Math’s was that of a drunken driver killer and the victim’s next of kin (Drama!) and Math and Mike’s was of current lovers.
As we kept adding details, a pattern of PCs appeared to us. Mike would deal drugs stolen from the place where Frankie worked under my PC. We created a clinic location between Mike and Frankie, making it the place of work of Frankie’s PC and mine. We then added a Need between Frankie’s PC and mine:
Must get laid by random party people because, why not?
We didn’t know what that would be about, but it was preferable to leave it to be defined during play.
The rules mention that sometimes the creation of PCs (who have no stats whatsoever by the way) becomes self evident somewhere in the middle of setup. For us, the whole thing crystallized when Math picked a “Need” and placed it between his PC and mine: “Get even with a local Community Police Officer”.
Brilliant! Mike’s character naturally became a corrupted cop who saved my PC’s butt when she killed someone’s parent/sibling while driving drunk. After that it all tumbled into place…
The last element added to the already explosive mix was a DVD home movie attached to Math and Mike’s relationship.
We were ready!
Deputy Rosco Dirk (Mike): Local cop with a porn star name dealing drugs on the side. Covered the DUI death caused by Dr. Persand.
Marcus Glassglow (Frankie): Male nurse at the A.M. Persand clinic. Steals drugs and provides them to Dirk for a cut of the profits.
Dr. Anne-Marie Persand: Alcoholic general practitioner and only doctor in town. Racked with guilt for killing a young man a year ago. Heavily involved in the town’s swingers parties.
Fernanda Ramirez Gomez: Sister of the man Dr. Persand killed, mistress to Dirk and scheming some dark plot to take both down.
As all new game experiences are wont to go, we were a bit confused as how play should go. What helped a lot was this choice each player had on their turn: You either set the scene (like a GM would do, with a location, characters and a situation) and let the other players decide how the scene would eventually be resolved or the opposite, letting others set the scene but you get to control how it would end.
Thus, somewhat awkwardly at first, we had a few scenes where we explored the PC’s relationships. We often found opurselves describing the elements of the scene, and likely elements that would come up without really knowing how we should shift from 3rd person to 1st person. (Hint: You don’t have to do that switch). Funnily enough, we would often be discussing what would happen and we’d slip, without realizing it, into 1st person and play the scenes as set.
For instance, at first, we discovered that the DVD Home movie was that of a swinger’s party where many of the city’s influential members had been very active participants. Anne-Marie was also there, playing the Dominatrix.
In Frankie’s first scene, he had Nurse Marcus try to get his hands on that disc, to force my character’s hand into cranking up his pay a little (the little prat, he was already robbing me blind). Deputy Dirk reluctantly agreed to provide a copy of the next upcoming party. Dirk kinda liked the good doctor and didn’t want to see those movies distributed around (i.e., he liked enjoying them for himself, hint hint).
Then we kinda caught on the whole thing, alternating 3rd person descriptions and 1st person dialogues more comfortably and really got into the spirit of the game.
Math and I explored our relationship and I set a recent flashback scene where I was calling Fernanda, my AA mentor (!!!)
Anne-Marie: I can’t do it anymore Fernanda, I’m so overwhelmed, things are crashing down on me and all I can think about is… (and she looks at her desk’s drawers)
Fernanda (Walking to the desk, grabbing the bottle of Jim Beam and breaking it against the wall): Girl, what you need is to transfer your need for booze into something completely harmless and liberating!
Anne-Marie (Sobbing): Like what?
Fernanda: Sex! Lots and lots of meaningless sex!
(End of scene)
We later had another flashback scene with all four of our characters. Fernanda acted as a silent witness. We played out the minutes that followed the accident that killed Fernanda’s brother. We decided that Fernanda had been ejected from the wrecked car and fell into a nearby ditch, relatively unharmed but stuck. She wasn’t found, but she was conscious and heard what we said:
Anne-Marie (Slurring heavily): Deputy, please, you HAVE to help me. I can’t go through this again. I promise I’ll do ANYTHING, just… make it go away…
Paramedic Marcus (Doing CPR on Fernanda’s brother): We’re losing him… we lost him. Yo deputy, we got a stiff here.
Deputy Dirk (taking charge): All right Dr. Persand, I’ll make sure that everything turns out fine for you. Just get in my car and we’ll work something out.
When the wrecked cars were removed and the scene cleaned, Fernanda slowly got up, painfully climbed out of the ditch and hobbled home, tears of rage trickling down her mud encrusted face.
(end of scene)
Another key Act 1 flashback scene was this one…
Marcus (Entering the Clinic): Dr. Persand?
Anne-Marie (from her office, sounds of glass and drawers closing rapidly): Coming! What can I do for you sir?
Marcus: I’m here for the nurse job.
Anne-Marie: I’m sorry, I don’t need a nurse
Marcus: I’m a very good paramedic and you might recall that we met about 6 months ago out by the road. I showed you my skills by patching you up.
Anne-Marie (Blanching): When can you start?
(End of Scene)
That more or less completed Act 1 for us. We all realized how powerful flashback scenes could be to anchor our character’s relationships and set up all the shit that what was to come in act 2.
Up next: The Tilt, Act 2 and the Aftermath.