Playnotes for the Fiasco Playset: The Murderists

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Summary: The Murderists is a Fiasco playset from the new Run, Fool, Run playset package. You take on the role of killers. It is ok, but somehow ended up lacking a little bit of the magic of other playsets.

BLOT: (26 Sep 2013 - 12:24:09 AM)

Playnotes for the Fiasco Playset: The Murderists

Upon glancing through the three playsets offered in Fiasco's Run, Fools, Run—"The Last Heist", "White Line Fever", and "The Murderists"—it was the lattermost that caught my attention. Not only by name, but by the introduction of the Snitch Rule. One of the characters might by a snitch. Maybe not. Distrust is sewn in the weave of the start-up.*

Got together with Sarah and Niko, whom I have played a number of Fiasco playsets with, and tried it out this past Saturday. Now, it was a little late when we started so part of the creative juices were tired, but overall we liked the playset to start. We played the snitch card (see footnote, below) by taking a deck of cards and taking three 6's and one joker. Joker was the snitch. We then rolled up Relationships, et al [if you do not know Fiasco's rules, see Tabletop's Fiasco Set-up video to get some ideas, as well as Parts 1 and 2 of their play-through, if you have time and inclination]. "The Murderists" has another change in rules, and that is that Locations and Objects are replaced with Target (the person you are to kill) and Methods (how you are to do it). This alters the starting flavor of the game in a couple of ways, the primary way is that it imbalances, at least slightly, the pairing of those elements to the Relationships. This can lead to one of three interpretations on how to handle it:

  1. Presumably the intended way: divvy out Needs, Targets, and Methods as appropriate. For four players, add another Need. For Five players, add another Target (I would say). Those Relationships designed around Targets probably have degree of personal stake; those around Methods, probably some technique. See also my recommendations below.
  2. The mildly adjusted way: the Needs are for the group as a whole, as are the Targets and Methods.
  3. The more so adjusted way: each Relationship gets a Need. Targets and Methods are rolled, again, with four or more dice afterward, and apply to the group as a whole.

Whichever way you go, an issue that was not immediately apparent is that this adds in a more definite direction for the game, if you assume this playset is all about the killing itself. Locations and Objects sometimes play off of each other in a weird way, and one of the joys of Fiasco is the organically synthesizing various play styles with disparate elements. If two-thirds of the extra-Relationship elements are built around a "you will do what to whom", it actually makes the game feel a bit shoehorned around the starting rolls, less organic. Four scenes per character felt a bit too much to tell the story at hand, and we had to add in a few diversions to fill in some gaps. Had we been more awake, we probably could have made the diversions more fun. Thrown in an ex-wife character, or maybe had some run-ins with the locals. A flashback or two.

What we ended up with was a pair of ex-pat Mexicans (one being second generation Irish immigrant to Mexico, to start) and an ex-INS agent who was fired due to corruption charges, charges brought about to save his boss's ass. Said boss running a drug-and-flesh trafficking ring around all the many illegals that he was keeping that way. Now the three barely-making-its are making most of their cash working for the man who holds reams of blackmail materials against them, and are chosen by him to be a trio of killers for a contact, a cartel jefe vacationing for Christmas in Baja. The hit is to be made to look like an inside job to split the cartel. The snitch is me [no surprise to anyone who has played Fiasco with me, since it seems like I always end up being the one who screws over the group] and I take this to be my guy trying to sell out the other two and the corrupt boss to Mexican police in exchange for both amnesty and a shot at working with their captain to do some trafficking of my own.

That's a pretty good mix for a story. Great scene when Niko's "Mick" ends up doing the killing after seducing a proselyting vegan teen so that she will take drugs back to the States for him. Perhaps even greater scene when it turns out all the little fuck-ups my character had been doing were purposeful manipulations of the other two to get them to take up more of the responsibility and blame [basically, my guy had done absolutely nothing that could be traced to him outside of getting drugs from the local police as part of the set-up].

It just ended up lacking the pure poetry that other Fiasco playsets have provided. It felt too streamlined. And, perhaps sadly, the Snitch Rule ended up being a tad bit underwhelming, mostly because in your average Fiasco game, someone is trying to play that exact character anyhow when they realize that their plans are being usurped by the rest of the group. Fiasco is like a group of creative types at a ouija board and they all have fingers on the planchette and people are sort of pulling it, subconsciously at the best of times, outright at the worst, to what they think is the answer. When someone is getting the answers they do not want, they might step up and pull a little harder in their direction. The Snitch is a formalization of that, but unless you tend to have a lack of betrayals in your game or you are particularly fired up by a recent watching of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, you could likely skip it and let it happen more gently. I would almost think that having something like elements of the Tilt table assigned to cards, where they could be played to interrupt the flow of the game, might work out more sublimely.

I think if we play it again, and I would like to replay it, I would take the Targets and Methods in much the same light as Locations and Objects: flavors that aren't necessarily what they seem at first glance. Maybe the Method is a calling card. Maybe the Target is an old hit that is now causing issues. Maybe the Target is the Target of those two characters, though they are keeping it mum from the others, for reasons, or maybe the Target is someone else's Target, or the payment goes to the quickest killer. Don't let the kill-in-game be the first kill, or even necessarily significant in and of itself. Make the game less about the kill and more about the behind-the-scenes and the little betrayals. The Snitch works best if everyone thinks they get along [none of us really liked one another and had actively been betraying each other prior to start]. Start the game with the kill just being finished, and now everyone is trying to avoid fallout. Have it end right before the kill. That kind of thing.

My general review of the playset is that it is fair. A score of 4/8, +1 if you like the hitman genre and are up to adding diversions, -1 if you tend to take elements literally and need stuff to feel a bit outrageous to get your juices going. Maybe another +1 for the "False Flag" Methods, with such choices as "Choose from the Subtle List and add a suicide note in the target's own hand".

We might play the other two Run, Fools, Run playsets in order, and try to make them something of a series with another shot at "The Murderists" with the above paragraph in mind. Not sure. As a bit of reference point, my absolute favorite playsets, so far, are "Manna Hotel", "Back to the Old House", "News Channel Six" [all three of which can be downloaded for free from Bully Pulpit's website, see July (2010) Playset, October 2012 playset, and April 2011 Playset, respectively], and "Fiasco High" [from Fiasco Companion]. If you know those, and have opinions on those, you can view my review through that lens.

* Take a number of cards as there are players. Then add in a different one that is the snitch card. Hand them out in a way that each person can see if they are the snitch, but not each other's card. Then discard the final card without showing it, so that it could be the snitch card, or it could be one of the normal cards. Play the snitch/betrayal card as most appropriate, whoever has it.


Written by Doug Bolden

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