Fiasco Friday: Chatty’s Tale of Suburbia, Act 1

Short Warning: This post deals with mature subject matter.

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!

Dramatis Personae:

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.

Act 1

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.


  1. TimsMartini says:

    How close did you stick to the scene resolution? I.E. how did you decide what a ‘good’ ending was (when choosing a white die in scene resolution) or a “bad’ ending to a scene (when choosing a black one)?

  2. @Tims: Thanks for moving this discussion from Twitter to here.

    At first, we were kinda confused how to define what was a good or a bad outcome. We had one particular scene where Frankie had chosen a good outcome (he wanted the DVD) but Mike didn’t want to give it out… and since there were no clear conflict resolution mechanic, they more or less compromised that Mike’s PC would provide a disc later.

    Apart from that, as we grew more accustomed to the game’s mechanic (and our story) we stuck very close to the dice mechanic.

  3. The way I’ve played, we’ve said it’s “does this scene go well for your character or not” and usually furthermore “does your character accomplish his/her goal in this scene.” That sometimes means stopping and asking whoever set up the scene what the goal is, so then whoever gets to resolve can decide if that goal is going to be accomplished or not.

  4. Days of Our Lives – The Game. This seems like you’re role playing a soap opera. I’m very interested in where this is going and how this is played.

  5. TimsMartini says:

    @DaveTheGame agreed, through my limited experience (one game). Though, sometimes the scene can end well for the character by not accomplishing their goal, or badly by accomplishing their goal (if their goal is self-distructive). For instance, my character (roadie in Touring Rock Band playset with the need “Prove to everyone we aren’t just posers” sucker-punched the venue owner when he cancelled our act and insulted my boss (the band manager). I decided it ended badly, though he accomplished his goal and need, when they guy dropped, hit his head on the pavement in the back parking lot, and died 🙂 Things went downhill from there…

    It’s a tough one to get a handle on but after a few tries, like the 3rd/1st issue, pretty much goes away. Having a hard time getting players together around here and hoping to play a bunch of games at PAX Prime next year.

  6. Pointed here by Linneus…

    It’s important to remember that outcome (positive or negative) is entirely divorced from character goals or intentions, and you never set explicit stakes. If they line up, great, but if they don’t, go with what the fiction suggests.

    So Ray-Ray shooting the stripper is awesome; he gets his hands on the drugs the Mexicans are looking for and she’s out of the picture and he totally got what he wanted. But Ray-Ray is stupid and killing someone is never a good move, and that’s a negative outcome even though he’s celebrating.

    OR Maybe Ray-Ray spares the hooker and gets a brutal beat-down from the Mexicans, epic fail and a broken coccyx, but it’s a positive outcome because he’s got a true friend now and the cops aren’t looking for him. Positive with consequences is the best.

    The person (or people) choosing outcome DECIDE. No need to negotiate. If it is going to be positive, everyone should accept that and make it positive, whatever that means in the fiction.

    Can’t wait to read Act Two!

  7. @Jason: Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate the insight.

    So if I get what you mean, the “Outcome” directly relates to the character, at the point he/she is in the story “as it happens”. So the positive/negative outcome is called when the scene seems to approach it’s natural point of resolution and people call it for what’s happening now… not for what agenda the PC has… unless that’s exactly what the player is going for…

    I’ll keep that in mind!

    Thanks for the kudos, part 2 should be up by Monday morning.

  8. You can both define and invoke “outcome” however you like, really – the way you describe sounds fine. Certainly it is common for a scene to reach a point where you HAVE to know whether it is going to be positive or negative before you can go on, and it’s good to watch for this. Sometimes people play a scene and go back and forth, hemming and hawing, instead of realizing they need a decision before they can move forward. In those cases it’s good to just state this and get the resolving party to do their job.

  9. The worst part of December is I can’t buy anything for myself. I just learned about this game, and fear my christmas gift request wont make it in time. At least there’s a pdf option, so in the event of the worst I can pick it up and start reading asap!