Fiasco Session Write-Up for News Channel Six, also general system review

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Summary: Played Fiasco tonight with my wife and a friend, and it went mostly smashingly. Good fun harking back to the days of old style pretend, all with an adult flair. In this case, a couple of news anchors cat and mouse around a porn movie, and there's even a death. With some review of the system towards the end.

BLOT: (22 Jul 2012 - 05:57:18 PM)

Fiasco Session Write-Up for News Channel Six, also general system review

Sat down with Sarah and Becca to play a Fiasco session tonight. Not only our first time playing it, but I think the first time Becca has ever played an RPG. We went for the "News Channel Six" playset—we are connected to a failing news program (and I extended it to a small market TV station in, I think, made up Tungsten, GA) for very little reason besides that when I first saw it, I knew I wanted to play it first. Specific enough to have some quirky workings, and odd enough [none of us are journalism majors, etc], though frankly very little of the story really cared where we worked.

I'm not going to discuss the overall rules of Fiasco, except in specific cases, but the link above has a preview, and there are videos and other blogs that go into more detail [see TableTop's Fiasco Episode 1 and it's "prequel", the "setup" episode, for some samples of game play]. What I'm going to discuss is our specific game, and then what I found to be the strengths and weaknesses of the system.

The first strength that I came across is that the Set-Up stage, where you are figuring our relationships and such, adds far more variety and unpredictability than I thought it would. I had in mind that I would play a reporter, probably, who would end up fabricating some big story, possibly by sacrificing a coworker. What ended up happening involved two old friends (one male, one female) falling for the same young (female) reporter [or well, having sex with, I'm pretty sure the one guy never actually fell for her], a porn movie, blackmail, a lot of booze, a young community college drama major, a murder, a trailer park, and a lot of implied history. Here is a breakdown of the characters to show you how much fun Set-Up (and further character building during gameplay) can be:

Look at that. That's crazy. Some of that developed as semi-jokes and asides in play (including the porn names) and some was more voted upon and discussed. More importantly, though, it was fun as hell to just spend two hours coming up with stuff like that. With the exception of miscasting Stan—who went in-game almost exclusively by his porn name, Dick Longstroke—by first playing him as an older, more sleazy porn star and only later retconning him into a younger, cockier college student that is doing to Susan, somewhat, what Susan did to Tim and Desi; we got into the characters, even did a little on-stage action here or there, adopted voices and accents, used props. This is Fiasco's big strength. It keeps it simple enough that and constrained enough that even people that don't identify as roleplayers can have a stab of getting into character, once the ice is broken. I'd say that it might even replace Risus as one of my "use this one first" RPGs, or at least join Risus and Fudge ["might", because it's focus on failure and two-acts with a set-up and aftermath approach might kind of constrain otherwise viable storylines that new gamers would like to approach].

In the First Act, Desi finds out that Tim has some footage proving what Susan is doing, but she is protective enough of Tim to not want to come out and say it to Susan. Susan is stringing Desi along, but now that Susan holds the top anchor position, she is already sort of moving on from the older woman. Desi knows that Tim wants to tell Brad about the tape, but she hopes that she can have him postpone it enough that she can cover up any and all evidence linking her back to it. A plan complicated when she suspects that Susan is having lots of sex with Stan behind the camera as well as in front. Desi starts to lean towards getting back at both Susan for the betrayal, and selling out her old friend Tim because his constant pressuring her for help and calling up old secrets starts to feel like a drag.

The Tilts were "Cold Blooded Score Settling" and "Greed Leads to a Killing".

In the Second Act, Susan begins to suspect things are unravelling a little but has no idea just how bad. She's getting ready to leave town shortly [the movie is nearly done], which means that her getting Tim fired was mostly just to be an ass. Desi has gathered up all of the footage and the props from the film, and after a confrontation with Brad, has blamed it all on Tim [and presumably Susan]. She makes an error, here, in that she doesn't edit herself out of the footage she is in Around here we find out that Tim had actually showed up to the station at 6am, and found Stan and Susan leaving after a night of porn shooting and post porn frolicking. He followed Stan back to his trailer and tried to get Stan to take a bribe to turn on Susan. Stan refuses, and Tim ends up killing him. Susan finds this scene later but mostly panics and runs. Desi dumps the footage and props in Tim's house. The end of the Act was Tim showing up during the 6-o'clock report and bribing old John to cut to some clips in the middle of the broadcast.

The Aftermath had Tim going off to try and get a better job down in Atlanta, obviously not getting it since he showed up drunk on air and destroyed a colleague, and ending up starring in a series of webporn episodes set in prison (he was Inmate #17, porn name: Skweali Bich). He suffers nightmares from killing Stan, but since his Aftermath was surprisingly positive, things were not so much horrible for him as kind of soul crushing. Tim actually didn't realize Desi was trying to screw him over, and therefore Tim thought Desi was doing him a favor by bringing him all that footage and never outed Desi as being on the tapes. He's probably a little confused she doesn't talk to him anymore, but suspects that she suspects him for the murder. Susan was fired and her porn movie, now in the hands of Tim, only exists at-large in clips that were leaked by John, and they were not that good. Her one consolation is an old, kind of creepy, porn fan fell in love with her clips and proposed. He's not mega-rich, but well enough off and, you know, maybe he'll die soon. Possibly from the STDs she has passed on to him [she got them from Stan, the male-slut]. Desi was also fired, and was unable to get Brad, whose station is nosediving now after the "porn at 6" incident, to give her any second chances. She ends up doing McDonald's as a night manager, stuck in the same small town they started in, which means she probably had the saddest, though least porn-filled, ending of all the characters. Well, besides Stan, whose murder was unsolved, but it turns out he had tons of skanky girlfriends, and maybe some boyfriends, at college, and the police chalked it up to an act of jealousy. The porn linking him to Susan wasn't outed. The calls between on his cellphone might bite her on the ass later, but not directly in the story we looked at.

If the strength of the game is in the way that the Set-Up brings out storylines with surprising angles even for the people playing the game, the weakness is how the Aftermath felt too constricted. I mean, the above paragraph makes it all work out, but the time spent on the Aftermath would be about the time you spent reading the paragraph, if that. Even with the caveat that this was the first time we played Fiasco so we didn't quite stack the scenes with the proper expectation the last scene (that I played as Tim) was the conclusion of the action [and there was only three of us which meant we got only 12 total scenes with six in the last half], it still felt like the least fun we had all night. Partially because the game is banked on two colors of dice, one is positive and one is negative, but in the Aftermath, they are treated as something like cancelling forces and their definition changes. It actually means that someone can game the system and go for completely negative scenes because if one color of dice completely outnumbers the othert the chances that the game ends up really good increases [presumably they get the "so screwed it actually worked for them" scenario]. And a game that is all about dialogue between characters (with even action scenes tending to be played out with constant feedback), it suddenly comes down to a very individual moment where players just list off a montage of brief events that happen to their character. I have some ideas about how to play this differently, but I would like to read the Fiasco Companion before I talk about them, and probably play another game, with four players, before I 100% vouch for them.

As for our own game, our biggest mistake was probably not having some sort of side-story with the porn movie that made it viable. Maybe Susan has already contacted a distributer, or maybe some flashback to explain why she is really making the film [we had this sort of side discussion that she considers sex to be power and really thought of it as an empowering experience]. In the end, Tim's drunken quest for revenge, and eventual mutually-assured-destruction, became a bit too much the focus with Desi being swept up with trying to to pin it all on Tim. Susan finding Stan's dead body was an appropriately crushing scene for her, but, in retrospect, having something built up for her character besides her porn and career might have helped to add to the madcap aspects at the end. Maybe after each loop of scenes (each time around the table), build in a 3-5 minute discussion where the group can decide what is missing.

Overall, a Good game and I will be playing it again. You can even get Fiasco and the Fiasco Companion as a PDF bundle on DriveThruRPG for $20. Then playsets can be gotten as free to download PDFs via a playset-of-the-month set up, and there are four each in the base game and in the Companion, with several of those eight basic playsets being broad enough in setting to probably withstand a few replays. We turned a setting involving a low-rated station into a reason to kill someone and more porn than you can shake a stick at. Just imagine what you could do with, say, a playset set in all girl's dormitory? I need to go write that playset, now...

Roleplaying Games: Fiasco


Written by Doug Bolden

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