Impression and Tangent: FIASCO RPG

Sorry for the hiatus. I’ve been having an insane couple of weeks, and progress is roaring along with the collaborative project with the OnePageRules group. To resume, I’m going to touch on a fantastic RPG, as well as the possibly unorthodox way I use the system.

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The Game:

The game is the absolutely fantastic FIASCO RPG, from Bully Pulpit Games. It’s an almost entirely narrative RPG, designed for fast, one-off games that can be completed in a normal D&D session length (So 2-4 hours). All you need is dice, some notecards, and between 2-4 friends to play with.

First Thoughts:

This game plays incredibly quickly and easily. It’s focused one roleplay, so is fantastic if your group enjoys exploring characters and creating narratives, and less-than-ideal if they want to just kick in doors and slay monsters. The game tries (and succeeds) at modelling everything-goes-to-hell scenarios, such as those seen in Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Rocknrolla, Burn After Reading, etc. Basically 90% of the works of the Coen Brothers and Guy Ritchie. There are an absolute boatload of settings to use, ranging from quiet southern town, to old west boomtown, to antarctic research base to start. Online on their website, there’s everything from Vietnam soldiers, to passengers on the Titanic, to expys of popular characters and other RPGs like Doctor Who (“All the Damn Time”) and the Amnesia RPG (“Alpha Complex”). Characters are made from an assemblage of Relationships, Needs, Locations, and Objects, and accumulate white and/or black dice to indicate luck going well or poorly for them, with characters who have middling luck (Some white and black dice) ending up dying horribly or getting the worst outcomes in the endgame.

My Experiences:

I’m recounting what I’ve played and made for FIASCO, as the mechanics are incredibly simple and not really the meat of what I want to get at in this post in any case. Personally, I’ve played in two FIASCO games, one with a local gaming group that only got a few rounds in before something came up and had to call it prematurely, and the other was an online game that fizzled out when one of the players slowed and eventually stopped posting.

While the first game used the “Boomtown” (Old West) playset included in the rulebook, the second game used a ruleset I designed: The Burning Ice, a playset heavily inspired by the Game of Thrones books and TV series. The second game was going phenomenally, with my conniving Iron Islander lord trying to pass off the bastard son he fathered on a rival’s mistress as his own son through trickery and having his wife wear false bellies, while his daughter tried to stop him from stealing her inheritance from her and poison his wife. The wife ended up getting pregnant by the man his daughter sent to kill his wife, and that’s approximately where it fizzled despite myself and the other player being pumped to see what happened next.

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The main thing I want to talk about, though, is how amazing of a tool FIASCO is for a GM in other RPGs.

Weaving characters and settings:

So one of the things I love about this is how unique and detailed of a relationship you can end up building with the Relationships, Needs, Locations, and Objects. You and an adjacent player share a Relationship and a Need/Location/Object, and how you’re related to the adjacent players you determine who your character is and how they are related to the other players. I’ve actually used this to create the web of relationships for a trio of characters in a high court players are interacting with in a prototype test of my Precedence RPG, which ended up giving them a detailed and intriguing net of relationships.

Oftentimes I’ve found that random character personality generators end up giving odd results; Each person might have a list of character traits as long as my arm, but little to nothing that would tie them to other characters, and as a result you have to crowbar in the details of how they connect with other NPCs and players, resulting in decent characters dropped into really artificial feeling relationships. With FIASCO’s relationship creation as a base, I find that gives me a fantastic springboard for ideas and fleshing out characters, and the relationships between them and the other players is inbuilt from the ground floor, rather than creating a full character and then trying to wedge them into the setting and party.

Related to this, I heartily endorse GMing methods encouraging players to sit down and figure out who their characters are and how they’re connected before ever rolling an ability or putting pen to paper. It helps make very detailed characters who feel connected with each other (And, with a GM willing to integrate the countless tie-in possibilities they’ve just given him, connected with the setting/NPCs as well), a stark contrast to the traditional “You all meet in a tavern” group who are tied together by little beyond the motivation of wealth and vague obligation to the meta concept of the adventuring party.

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Another example of this is for my rewrite of The Smoke Convergence, a story I wrote for the 2013 NaNoWriMo competition. I wanted to try randomly generating the map, characters plot arcs, and so on, and make a story off of that. While I finished at 55K-ish words and have two freebie copies of it sitting on my desk (Thanks CreateSpace!), it wasn’t very good and had bland, flat characters. I want to rewrite it, and so I used FIASCO and my own Smoke Convergence playset (Basically the Burning Ice playset, but with the GoT elements changed to be more focused towards my setting instead). Rewriting for NaNoWriMo is a nono, so I’m just doing this on my own time. I’ll likely still use a FIASCO setup for this year’s competition though, possibly a pulpy dieslpunk noir story if I can manage.

I made a web of 12 characters (Normally more than 5 players is heavily discouraged by FIASCO’s rules, due to the issues with time and players getting bored b/c they haven’t been in the limelight for too long), and ended up getting an amazing set of characters, including a smarmy lord who reminded me heavily of Joffery from GoT,  a few handmaidens who have way more depth and ambition than they present publicly, an aspiring lord and his former-pirate uncle he tries to not associate with, a noblewoman trying to seduce a young lord to ensure her control of her lands, etc. All I used was a D&D dice roller to roll 1d3 for each character to determine if their second relationship aspect was Need, Location, or Object, and then rolled 4d6 for each character to determine their Relationship and Need/Location/Object details. I also cobbled together a name* and a brief description for each character using some of the fantastic tools available over at Chaotic Shiny, as I am absolute rubbish with creating good names and coming up with an engaging character appearance out of whole cloth. This gave me a fantastic group of characters, and a massive set of possibilities for story threads right off of the bat; a huge improvement to the method I’d used originally where each character was decently-well-rounded, but felt like they’d been slotted into an alien setting versus meshing smoothly and in an interesting way with the other characters.

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I’ve also made a custom playset I’ve tentatively called Ruins of an Empire, which is designed specifically for designing (In this case) fantasy nations and countries for a fantasy RPG. With this, you can create a kingdom using the same method as making a FIASCO character, albeit with larger scope (Locations might be continents or entire cities instead of streetcorners or buildings, Objects might be armies or groups of spies instead of swords and cloaks, etc). I used it to help with the reworking of a D&D campaign I’m currently running, in which I tried to put most of the heavy lifting on random generation, and ended up with an uninteresting and unengaging mess. Now, after running this for the six nations in my setting in the region the players are in, I have interesting backstory, possible story threads, and an idea of who the moves and shakers of each nation are or might be. Eventually, I’ll do a scifi one as well, but feel free to use mine as a skeleton if you want to make your macro-scale playset for something like a steampunk or apocalyptic setting!

So, let me know in the comments; Who out there has played FIASCO? What happened in your game(s)? Have you ever tied FIASCO to other RPGs in any way?

*I’ve found that modern name generators tend to get great names for fantasy settings as well, as most “Fantasy” name generators end up with something that sounds like you need three throats and lisp to pronounce correctly.

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