Planning for the Unexpected
My First Encounter with Fiasco
11 May 2016
On Saturday, February 27th, I attended a pilot session of the Octavia Project RPG club.
Chana, Leigh and Meghan set the mood with eerie tones and homemade potato skins. It was just the four of us and a table. Now RPG, obvs, stands for Role Playing Game, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Like most people, when I hear the term “RPG,” I think of console or online games–Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft are two popular names that immediately come to mind. But I knew we weren’t going to be playing video games and I wasn’t told to bring a laptop (which is good since mine doesn’t have a great graphics chip). We were going to play a table-top RPG.
This may make me lame, but I don’t know that many/haven’t played that many table-top RPG’s, save for a stint I had with Arkham Horror–and while I did manage to beat the game without losing my mind, I don’t think that makes me any kind of expert.
Someone might ask, what is a table-top RPG? Well, as the name suggests, it’s a role playing game played atop a table. Arguably, the most well-known of these: Dungeons and Dragons. That you must have heard of. No? Here are some trigger words that might jog your memory: dungeon master, statistics, die rolls, experience, armor class. The way these games are normally played, you select or build a character and then play that character through the game. It can become very sordid, but shouldn’t be intimidating especially since not all RPG’s are necessarily complicated. Case in point: Fiasco.
Now to the good stuff…how to describe Fiasco. Thankfully, the internet did that for me.
Fiasco is a role-playing game by Jason Morningstar, independently published by Bully Pulpit Games. It is a GM-less game for 3–5 players, designed to be played in a few hours with six-sided dice and no preparation. It is billed as “A game of powerful ambition and poor impulse control” and “inspired by cinematic tales of small time capers gone disastrously wrong—films like Blood Simple, Fargo, The Way of the Gun, Burn After Reading, and A Simple Plan.
Thank you, Wikipedia.
In a nutshell, there are four themed-settings the game play can take place in. Each setting has a sub-set of places where the action happens along with a series of other variables that are supposed to influence your game play: relationship types, desires and objects. Setting up these games takes a while, collectively choosing where you want to be and letting the dice dictate everything else, but it’s also one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. Why? Because Fiasco gives you full control over whom your character is. If you’re a RPG connoisseur, you know that’s not particularly common. After the dice gave us our choices for locations, objects and desires, we sat for a heated 10 minutes trying to think of the characters that we were going to be for the next few hours.
Perhaps it would have been ideal, or at the very least smart, to try and create backstories that could in some way be plausible to the conditions we chose–but smart and ideal don’t make for an interesting story. My character was Maeve (Myles) McPherson. I know what you’re thinking: what’s that “(Myles)” all about? I’ll tell you. I happen to be a creative writer, (…or maybe just a creative thinker since I don’t do so much writing anymore) and Maeve is this splendid character who has a recurring role in a lot of my fantasy stories. In her original form, she’s a young woman of indeterminate age, with a morass of tousled red hair on her head. She’s mysterious, snarky, meddlesome, sensual and objectionable to most conservatives. Every iteration of her character is accompanied by a twin brother with whom she is mostly estranged. For Fiasco, however, I gave her a bit of a different background. I believe this is what was written (in very cramped unabomber handwriting) on the back of my index card.
Maeve McPherson was a happy 24-year-old who was very close with her twin brother Myles. They lived the life in NYC until one day, Myles was killed in an accident. Now, Maeve’s best friend had died a meaningless death. Unable to carry on in the big city, Maeve attempts to find solace as far away as she can, at McMurdo Science lab in Antarctica. However, the trauma of Myles’ death left her emotionally unstable. Her inability to cope forced Maeve to develop a split personality, with Myles being the other inhabitant of her mind. He takes control when Maeve’s fragile persona cannot. Upon their arrival in Antarctica, Myles approaches a woman at the local bar and the two spend the night together.
Hilariously, the woman Myles (Maeve) meets at the bar is “Linka,” Meghan’s character (and, yes, this is named after the Captain Planet character). We were led in this direction by the relationship the dice (semi) chose for us, “one-night stand.”
But you know what? That whole paragraph I came up with on Maeve’s backstory and her brother, it was pretty great right? Pretty solid character development? I thought so, but the game didn’t. It was so hard keeping all of that information relevant as the plot progressed. Ultimately, most of it fell away. Don’t get me wrong, it was difficult in the most hilarious way possible. Imagine trying to remember that Maeve is a fragile character trying to cope with the loss of her brother when the player across from you is slurping up handfuls of urine from a barrel with a dead body in it. I know, right?
Granted, one thing should be made clear or, if nothing else, pointed out. Table-top RPGs aren’t like WoW or Final Fantasy. You’re not in front of a console or keyboard. Though that seems obvious, it’s important to note that the inherent solace and anonymity of playing a video game is lost here. For someone like me, who prefers the solitude, table-top RPGs can be almost intimidating, but they also have the capacity to be exhilarating and humorous, if you let them. Physically being in the same room as the other players requires you to improvise and react to the decisions they’re making. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no actor, but I had a great set of players to try this out with me. Chana, Leigh and Meghan couldn’t have been more welcoming. Playing with people who want to be having fun is an essential part of the process.
I know you’re dying to hear it, but there is no way to recount the entire story of the game we played. You could opt to play in the same location we chose and end up with a completely different set of events. Just know that Maeve got shot full of nano-bots, became a drone, then got caught in an explosion, but survived and was arrested and taken to federal prison. Haha. Yeah.
In hindsight, I actually felt that Fiasco was and could be, for many people, a great learning tool for character development. I began the story knowing exactly who I was, but after being forced to react to so many unplanned and humorously absurd encounters, now I’m not so sure. I was able to explore a side of a character I thought I knew through and through.
So all in all, if you’re looking to do some fictional soul searching or just looking to kill a few hours being ridiculous, Fiasco is a great place to start your RPG journey.
Ximena Callisto (Castillo)
Armor: Introverted Behavior
Weapon: Stark Sarcasm
Ximena graduated with honors from Eugene Lang College for Liberal Arts in 2015, majoring in Literary Studies and Creative Writing. An aspiring novelist in the fiction genre, Ximena spends much of her time thinking of new ways to tell familiar stories. A self-proclaimed Trekkie, she gains much of her inspiration from current events and hopes to build worlds and characters that readers can’t help but fall in love with. When she isn’t struggling with the blank page, Ximena enjoys the finer things in life: napping, collecting figurines, a glass a wine and a new ball of yarn.
In the past, Ximena has interned with and participated on the Youth Board of Girls Write Now, a non-profit organization devoted to aiding teenage girls with a passion for writing. Afterward, she spent time aiding the Octavia Project during their inaugural summer program.
By day Ximena spends her time juggling the hectic life of an administrative assistant, by night she… well she sleeps.