Fiasco is one of our more popular RPGs at the Waccamaw Neck Branch Library, in Pawleys Island, because of the wide variety of settings, sessions that run in a shorter period of time than many other RPGs, and zero prep is required by Game Masters because there is no Game Master. The entire premise of the game is “people with poor impulse control making bad decisions”, and the game is best when people play it in that vein instead of attempting to beat the scenario or come out on top. Lead your characters down the path of comic misfortune and dire tragedy and you will have fun.
Gaming tends to be an exercise in power fantasy, wish fulfillment, and overcoming incredible odds to save the world or achieve victory; it isn't always easy for players to come to grasp with the idea that failing can be fun, at least in a narrative sense. A chain of consequences from one bad decision at the beginning can create a much more memorable experience than being the smartest, doing the best, or easily overcoming all obstacles. Few games offer an opportunity to intentionally explore folly and dire repercussions in a way that is also empowering and fulfilling.
Getting into Fiasco is inexpensive, one book is all you need. If you order directly from Bully Pulpit Games the rules and PDF run $25, and all you need to get started is the core rules book. The Bully Pulpit website also has a great collection of resources to download including a Fiasco Play Mat and a facilitation sheet, both of which really help when you moderate the game.
Playing the Game
To play Fiasco the players will need to pick out a playset, gather up pencils, note cards, and a collection of standard six sided dice, two each in two colors per player. You can use the insta-setup at the back of the playset, or roll the dice and create an inter-connected web of character relationships and motivations.
Once the setting and characters are established players take turns creating or resolving scenes where their character is a primary actor, but also involving one or more of the other characters. At the end of each scene one of the dice are distributed; in the first half of the game the active player gives the dice they receive from the other players to someone else but in the last half of the game the active player will keep the dice they receive. In the middle a tilt happens that changes up the actions and levels of frantic bad decision making.
Once it's all over players roll the dice they have received and refer to the aftermath table. The table describes the ultimate outcome of the scenario for the character, but we enjoy using each of our dice as a seed for a vignette that provide a bit more context. Frequently the best or worst things to happen to a character are described by the players at this time.
In addition to the Fiasco Rule Book we also recommend the Fiasco Companion which provides less graphic versions of the results that wrap-up a scenario and work better for our teen room. If you choose not to get the Fiasco Companion, then you may need to moderate the final results of the game when revealing the final fate of the characters.
The base book and companion comes with a variety of playsets, which act as setting, scenario hook, and character generator, but there are also several volumes of playsets in print providing even more scenarios in which to make poor choices and expand the playability of the game. Some sets are problematic for use at libraries teen programs, but that’s to be expected because poor choices frequently include drugs, alcohol, violence, and dubious sexual encounters. And the books themselves are written to match. Most of the book is fine, but the language of the Aftermath Table may be something to watch out for.
The playsets included in the core rules are only a glimpse of the diverse stories players can explore using the Fiasco system. Many more settings are available in the three existing Fiasco Playset Anthologies.
There are also hundreds of playsets, created by the community that loves the game, available at http://www.fiascoplaysets.com/. In these sets players can be anything from cultists in lovecraftian tales of horror to house cats. These are great, and I recommend you flip through the pages and pages of options to find your favorite IP mockingly presented as a playset.
Why bother with the anthologies when so many playsets are available for free? If you are trying to encourage circulation of gaming materials then the Fiasco Playset Anthologies are excellent source-books to have on-hand for people interested in this particular style of role-playing game. They have also been edited by Bully Pulpit, so someone besides the playset designer has reviewed the content.
We have played several of the playsets from both the anthologies and from downloads in our personal home groups, with strangers at conventions, and of course here at our library. All of them were interesting, but, while often exciting, the playsets from the website tended to have a higher likelihood of content that wasn't appropriate for our core library teen audience.
Creating Your Own Playset
Even this vast wealth of source material wasn’t enough; we went one step further and created our own. We needed playsets that are exciting and interesting but unlikely to have teens playing characters engaging in rampant substance abuse or other non-parental approved activities. Sometimes we edited existing playsets, but occasionally we didn't find any that suited our needs.
If there is a secret to creating your own playset, and I'm not saying there is, it is deciding what kinds of bad decisions you'd like to facilitate and then stacking suitable tropes into the template. None of this is terribly difficult, but it is significantly easier if you have played through a few sessions with existing sets to get an idea of what helps setup an entertaining story. But in short, an entertaining story is created by unlikely allies, dynamic or unexpected conflicts, and also making things easily accessible to the audience. The world you establish in 144 lines of textin a Fiasco Playset don't have to define the whole world, they just need to inspire shenanigans. Fiasco is all about shenanigans.
We have created several playsets at our branch, one set in a library, one as part of an LSTA Eco-literacy grant, and one based on Pokémon, inspired by the wild success of Pokémon Go and the release of Pokémon Sun & Moon. We will release those in upcoming weeks.
Check out this Fiasco Playset Template, it's an excellent fill-in-the-blank guide to creating your own. We have used it to create all of our playsets.
We will post our play-sets in the future, all of which are teen safe.