Play Make Write Think

Fiasco: my thoughts

By Rachel Vellanikaran

Playing Fiasco was quite an interesting experience, to say the least. With some initial difficulty figuring out game-play and rules, we eventually rolled the dice to establish various relationships, needs, objects, and a location. This initial process of deciding these contextual aspects was a little different from the last time we played in class, as this time we actually selected dice before reading the category and descriptions — adding to that surprise factor that’s so prevalent in this game. My fellow teammates, Austin, Cherie, Sadie, Giovanni, and I chose to play with the Main Playset. Taken place in Hickory Smokes “nursing home,” our narrative included multiple adulterous sexual affairs, backstabbing, murder, and more. My relationships included a friendship with Giovanni as a “manipulator” of some sorts, and co-worker of Sadie, non-coincidentally at this particular nursing home. The narrative started out with Austin and Cherie fighting over financial issues in their marriage, and Austin eventually kicking Cherie out of the house. One of our two needs was to get laid, and with the other need already utilized by another team member, I chose to incorporate this into my narrative. My character was working towards a sexual relationship with the newly-divorced Austin, and would take some deceptive measures to do so. Conveniently, Sadie, a fellow colleague of ten years, was friends with Cherie and Austin and thus my way in. The story continued to take creative and unexpected turns throughout our game-play, from Austin and Giovanni’s conspiracy to murder Austin’s grandmother’s best friend to Cherie acquiring loads of money through her gambling habits to my character’s affair with the divorcee who was simultaneously trying to kill and steal from the elderly woman at the nursing home. It was absolute chaos, but quite fun, nonetheless. 

It was particularly interesting to see how events change so drastically before you even realize it. This game is based on your own creativity when it comes to establishing and resolving scenes. You, yourself create the narrative and can manipulate it for better or for worse. I didn’t realize how open-ended and flexible the game design is, where you(and your teammates) create the basis of a story and see how it plays out. Because it was truly up to improvisation and our imagination, as I said before, it got a little chaotic. For example, at one point the hoodlum murders the old lady in front of me, the unsuspecting, innocent nurse, and I decide to cover up for him and end up in jail — where I eventually kill myself. It was a lot…but it was actually very enjoyable to see how everything played out as we all added new twists to the story.  The game design itself does have certain guidelines and rules, but it doesn’t really limit your ability to, for the most part, change the narrative as you wish — at least until the very end where they add in “the tilt.” My tilt was a little out of place for the situation of my character. The description was basically along the lines of “you f**ked up hard; you’re probably going to kill yourself,” when I truly hadn’t had much involvement in major conflict up until then. So from then on, I had to come up with creative ways to set-up this ending for my character — even if it meant some far-fetched additions.

Admittedly, playing the game seemed a little intimidating at first, since I was playing with new people and felt pressure to conjure up captivating story-lines and premises. But, obviously these initial apprehensions subsided as we continued to play. Since much of the the game is about “winning” role-playing situations and acquiring dice, I found myself being a little more assertive or defensive in my responses to others as I took on the role of my character more seriously with the game’s progression. It was important to be strategic in the stories you created. You had to manipulate the situations created by others in favor of your own plot or chosen line of fate. It required a bit of planning, particularly in predicting how others would react and respond. Overall, playing Fiasco was a rewarding experience, as the game was captivating and enjoyable despite its natural chaos and unpredictability. 

Collaboration Story Telling Getting Wild: Fiasco

I played Fiasco with Wenyi, Ruohan, Alan and Keita. Our scene was set on Main street, and my relationships with my neighbors were my fellow thief friend and my fellow drug buddy. So as you can tell, it’s pretty exciting. Who does not want to be the villain when no responsibilities are taken?

Playing Fiasco was probably the first time I “write” a fictional story. Creative writing was never easy to me: it is hard to gain inspiration, and sometimes if the inspiration or creation went too far, the story starts to disconnect and fall apart. From my point of view, an interesting creative writing work is somehow related to the actual society no matter is the morals or possible events going on in the real world that the readers can somehow relate and be affected. That being said, Fiasco was pretty hard for me, because the story falls apart, everyone has ideas in their mind about where the story is going to be, and everyone’s anticipated storylines are different. So, adaptation and interpretation are really crucial. As I played, I had to change my story line constantly: when my ally decided to turn her back on me, when someone gives me a white/black dice, or when the person I tried to kill in the story got a helper to keep her safe. I had to modify the story lines, adapt them, and interpret whether my allies/enemies are wishing me to go certain ways. These elements, without writing down, can be forgotten in future story line. That is when the story starts to get messy and ambiguous. Players starts to ask: “wait I thought we said A at the beginning and why are you saying B now? That does not follow what is actually happening.” That actually happened twice or three times in the game I played. Making up stories is already difficult to some extent, not to mention people had to come up with them without a lot of thinking and had to follow the relationship of so many characters. Five gamers were in my game, and everyone is the protagonist. That does not happen very often even in formal books. It is more like some sort of complex episodic TV show that the camera shifts between different populations and bring them all together as a resolution like Lord of the Rings. I personally found coming up with a rather complex story with certain limitations like locations, objects and relationships were challenging. But part of the fun was to justify your story: to make the nonsense make sense. Even though it took a lot of brain cells, I had to find ways to make the seemingly dead characters come back alive, or the lost item is found. We make up events that seems not related to explain the mistakes we made in our storylines and let them make sense eventually. In one case when I was playing the game, everyone is trying to fight to gain the mystery suitcase that is supposed to have ton of cash in it. By the end of our part 1, according to one player, it is actually a poisonous snake in the suitcase. Now that does not make sense, because why would the entire first part of the story be fighting over a snake! That is when everyone starts to justify for the story, and it ended up being a revenge drama that the person who is carrying the suitcase is trying to kill the specific character that is about to get the suitcase. I found it fascinating that at the beginning we were all going off our own tract and manipulating the story set up to whatever we wanted it to be. But as soon as we realized that we have to fix the story, we started collaborating very well. We started to make predictions about what everyone else’s story and going off fluently from that.

Overall it was hard to set up the first half of the story and keep track of what everyone said, but it was definitely fun and trained ability to come up with stories within instance and connect small chunks of information into larger scale storytelling.

What a Fiasco

Morris Johnston (Me), mayor of Main Street, is found in a pool of his own brains in an abandoned road house. Testimonies flood in, uncovering the corrupt nature of his leadership. Johnston had been engaging in underground sports gambling, as well as selling class A drugs with the help of his close friend and collegue, Commisioner Jordon (Jessica). The mayor had also been linked to the death of a baby. A drugs customer of his, Shiela (Will), was unconsious in Johnston’s house, having tested out a sample of his new shipment of Ketamine. While under the influence, she rolled over and smothered the baby of her ex-husband, Nate (Kimberly). Shiela was not a parent of the baby but had kidnapped it in an attempt at revenge at her ex-spouse. Since his passing, the Mayor’s family have receieved countless death threats and their homes have been graffitied relentlessly. Johnston’s grave has been dug up 4 times since his death. It’s fair to say the people of Main Street are doing the best they can to get their revenge at the corrupt politician for what he did to their beloved town.

The passage above is a brief retelling of my groups Fiasco story, centered around my character, Morris Johnston. The initial phase was a lot of fun, the combination of creative freedom when formulating one’s character and the restriction of only being able to use each rolled dice once leads to a really unique and natural story set up.

The scenario telling portion had a bit of a bumpy start. Our group was tempted to create a large portion of the storyline before acting out a single scenario. Maybe this was because there was an unaddressed anxiety about having to improv scenes (at least there was for me). As David stated in class in reference to the Fiasco Tabletop episode, they are all trained actors while we, emphatically, are not. For me, this aversion to improv acting faded as the game went on but was never fully eradicated. The group’s confidence certainly grew as the game progressed; because of this, I think if we were to play another round of Fiasco it would be an even more fun experience.

Before playing Fiasco, I had played through, in my head, how I expected the game to go. One aspect I hadn’t considered is the almost competitive nature of it. There was a real temptation to get one’s own character to ‘win’. None of the characters existed 15 minutes previously, yet we all genuinely cared about them and how they were perceived by the others. We all had an idea of how the story was going to go for our own character, and we would do what we could to achieve that vision. I recognised that the story could only really go well for one or maybe two of the characters, so around midway through the story I decided to revel in the disaster that was unfolding for Morris Johnston instead of resisting it. This was a difficult decision and required swallowing some of my pride. It is a testament to the power of RPGs that I was so fully immersed in the mind of Mayor Johnston that I almost forgot that I was playing with other people and that the overall playing experience is more important than my characters ending. This game is about telling a story about a group of people and their relationships, not a way to manifest one person’s need for success. Thankfully, I think I may have been the only person in the group that felt this way because nobody acted in the selfish way which enticed me so much.

They say that you overcome fears through exposure; that seemed to be the case for Fiasco. I am terrified of acting, yet it definitely became easier as the game went on. Fiasco also helped me look introspectively. Stepping outside yourself and playing through the facade of a made up character makes it easier to spot patterns in your behaviour. As Daniel Kahneman states in his amazing book Thinking Fast and Slow, it is much easier to spot biases and patterns in others than in ourselves. This is what caused me to notice the overly competititve and selfish style of play I was tempted by, and do something about it. RPGs are an incredibly powerful tool, whether you use them for fun, mental exercise, relaxation or self realisation.

The Town Take-down

Five people convene at the abandoned roadhouse on Main Street. There is a Mayor Johnston who sells drugs on the side to a woman (Sheela) who recently divorced a man (Nate), now left with a newborn baby, whose cousin (Zee) is the bookie for the Commissioner Jordan with a gambling addiction who works with the mayor. We crafted this game based on the die in front of us. Our goal: to get even with this town for what it turned each of us into. This is a story of revenge

I am the Commissioner. I chose to be a 40-year-old man with a position of power – something typically given to middle-aged white men. However, my character, Commissioner Jordan, had a weakness: gambling. He cannot control his urge to make money. While he has been Commissioner for many years, he is still power hungry and making money through the underground crime hub at the abandoned roadhouse, makes him feel powerful.

I developed a relationship as an elected official with the drug-selling mayor on my left. He and I were both corrupt, but the town made us that way. At the abandoned roadhouse, I meet with my bookie who is the person to my right. We had the first scene. It felt weird to all of the sudden snap out of reality and improvise as a bizarre character. My bookie and I did not quite know what the relationship between a bookie and a gambler was like. This is where the rest of the team offered their input at the beginning of our scene.

The five of us worked collaboratively to make our story. We broadly decided the most interesting objects that the die were willing to give us: a newborn baby and a stash of porn with sex gear. Our brains each creatively worked out ways to imagine how this story would unfold. These objects, along with the need to get rich from a misplaced suitcase full of cash, drove our original decisions. I found the suitcase and chose to call the mayor who was my ‘partner in crime.’ This spawned the need for the drug addict to call her ex-husband who went psycho trying to protect his own baby.

The tilt in our story is when we decided to make things as interesting in dramatic as possible. Ultimately, it didn’t change how predictable our story was once we established the main conflict. The couple who split up each still had lingering feelings for each other. Since the ex-husband knew that his wife, Sheela, spent a lot of time with the mayor, I fostered his suspicions of them hooking up. The mayor invited Sheela with full intentions of using his stash of porn and sex gear.

The twist: Sheela had stolen Nate’s newborn baby and brought it with her to the mayor’s house. Once Nate found out, everything blew up. Guns became involved especially with a vengeful cousin determined to bring down Mayor Johnston and Commissioner Jordan. I found as the role-playing game continued, the more you lean into your character and the acting that surround it, the more interesting your story gets. People get more passionate about something when you show you are passionate about it.

Playing Fiasco really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I quickly had to bond with people and reach a level with them that made me comfortable enough to act differently and abnormally around them. You can connect this type of gameplay to the human relationships and networking you do in everyday life. Everybody has something they are passionate about and sometimes our passions are not revealed until you are put in the weird situation of playing a role-playing game with essentially five strangers.

Fiasco: Off the rails, but on track

My group’s game session of Fiasco was an entertaining, creative, and thought-provoking experience. My name in the story was Edward Anderson, Winslow’s was Collin Anderson, and Greg’s was Russell Cooper. The game required us to make many choices that turned out to be the framework of the story. For example, our story was set in the wild west because we chose the Boomtown set. We then formed relationships with each other by rolling dice. I was Collin’s parent and Russell and I were former lovers. We then rolled the rest of the dice and figured out that we needed to get rich through robbing a business using a railroad hand car at boot hill across the tracks. 

The story we told was based off Russell and Collin’s relationship as gambling partners who are being chased for money. The game started slow as we were trying to develop storylines and follow directions properly. My group decided that to get rich, we needed to carry out a heist. This helped guide the plot and we added details and threw in twists in every scene in preparation for the big heist. For example, I was part of the mission to get back with Collin rather than get money. This may seem like a minor detail, but it was noticeable in the second act when sacrifices and choices were made to resolve situations. More details allowed players to understand everyone’s personality, interests, and motives. However, we all put our individual interests aside and worked as a team to prevent a train from going through boot hill and retrieve the $1 million dollars that was on board the train. 

The tilt happened when we were escaping with from police with money. The tilts suggested that everyone dies in the second act except for Edward. This added a new challenge because every player needed to incorporate their tilt at some point, and we did not know when that would happen. This forced resolvers to think on their feet and continue to drive the plot. In the end, Russell was shot on the handcar because he saved Edward, his ex-lover, from getting hit. This left only the father-son duo of Edward and Collin remaining. Collin died from a gunshot wound and Edward killed himself in a shootout with the police because he thought the two people he cared about died. However, Russell was still alive.

Overall, I was expecting the game to be more structured, but I was pleasantly surprised with the flow of the game. We were able to make the game more fun and less stressful because of looser rules. Each of us had moments where we drove the plots forward and sat back and reacted to what others did because of the roles chosen at the beginning of each scene. Our roles varied throughout the game, so everybody contributed by adding details or bringing the story back to our objectives. The learning outcomes that were fulfilled while playing Fiasco were rhetorical composition and collaboration. Fiasco was a new type of game to me because it required us to create our character and story rather than having structured guidelines. In these roles, all players collaborated and communicated clearly with each other to add to the story and work towards our group goal of getting rich. 

I believe the skills and strategies I used during gameplay were effective because I was one of the last characters remaining. Playing Fiasco showed me that I could improve on thinking quickly in an uncertain situation. For example, there were times when it took time to think of a reply. I can improve on this in other games we play this semester and on future assignments by pushing my boundaries and taking extra time to get my creative juices flowing. The more creative I get, the easier it becomes for me to think of a response and improve my reaction skills.

I am proud of the Fiasco story my group created. It took a lot of teamwork and collaboration to form a story that flowed and integrated all our objectives. In my opinion, we successfully did that. This was my first experience playing a role-playing game. The most interesting part of forming the story was trying to resolve each scene after the establisher. It was much more challenging than I anticipated, but it was overall enjoyable and showed me that I am more creative than I give myself credit for. 


Random Thoughts

The experience of playing Fiasco brings the memories of Beginning Theater classes back to me. The improvisation games are much simpler then, of course. Every student in the class says one word to a one-minute dialogue, depending on the rules, and together the whole class tells a story. No matter the number of words a student gets to say or the size of the class, the goal remains to keep the story flowing. Those games were much more lighthearted than Fiasco, but the mechanisms of the two resemble each other. The winner in Fiasco does not have to be only the ones who survive and get away with the prize. The entire group of players could win when it narrates a logical and intriguing story together. 

The discussion part of Fiasco makes the storytelling collaborative, so it becomes every player’s duty to consider whether the story flows smoothly. It tends to be challenging to accurately portray a character, especially when he/she is of a different gender. In addition, to truly be able to think and act as another person takes much longer than half an hour. Questions from where did the character grow up to the character’s favorite song could be considered to bring him/her to life. Limited time means players may not have perfectly adapted to the character, so discussion becomes crucial. When a player plans something completely out of character, others could suggest a more logical action. 

In addition to discussion, the acting, or improvised dialogues scenes, are collaborative. As in improvisation theater, “Yes! And?” serves as an important rule. You do not tell your fellow actor “No, that did not happen,” while they act. In Fiasco, you can disagree during the discussion or add in new information to twist the story, so long as it fits in logically. When a player makes a decision during the act, however, the rest of the group follows. They could discuss before the decision is made, but once it sets, it sets. Although the players adopt characters (deterministic laws), each of the players (five in my case) can still act unexpectedly (randomness). You don’t know what other players have in mind. They can give you a dice of the opposite color to the one you had in mind, or add in information that leaves you in an unanticipated situation. Sometimes a decision might subvert the whole plot; yet, if other players halts the course of acting by saying “no,” part of the fun in the game is lost. Also, the design of Fiasco doesn’t ensure a good ending, or winning, of a character even if he/she remains alive at the end of Act II. A dice roll could still lead to a bad ending. 

During our gameplay, I was the one that attempted to subvert the plot. At the beginning of the game, Robert (Kathy) and Easi (that’s me) planned to steal some cargo (2 kilograms of high-tier cocaine) from a source. Then, after the rest of my group planned on obtaining a case with unknown, valuable content from a Mexican restaurant, I revealed that the case they were after was the one already stolen by me the night before. The other players decided to follow my narration, and I became targeted by three players immediately. As the plot unravels, four players began calculating each other to gain the lion’s share of the cocaine. We made plans, and the tilt happened. Surprisingly, it fitted well into the narration. Someone panicked, and someone died. After discussion, we decided that Robert was the most likely to panic, as he was under stress from his family (his mother going through chemotherapy), a debt coming due, haunting memories and hatred towards his thief partner Easi. Joseph (Alan) catalyzed the process by revealing that his goal amidst the chaos was to protect his son Molly (Keita), get rich, while staying clean. This way, him leaking his employee Robert and partner Kylie’s (Ruohan) plan to their target Easi was justified. In the end, Kylie, Easi and Robert all died, and the case with cocaine fell into Joseph’s hands. However, a poisonous snake was set up in the case for whoever took the case from Easi, so the snake killed Joseph, too. 

It is fun to stay alive in Fiasco. However, the equally entertaining part is to tell an engaging and logical story. As in classic noir films, some characters are destined to die. The protagonists are designed incapable of resisting the charm of the femme fatale and the lure of social mobility, while the femme fatale plays to her own downfall. A film may be successful with the protagonist and antagonist both dead, as Fiasco could tell a successful story with no individual victory.

Bookies, Druggies, Dead Babies >> Fiasco Game Reflection

Fiasco offered an experience full of tantalizing objects, needs, and people in the hands of a few dice and an online guidebook. This was a difficult session amongst the five players who played; one was replaced with another player, ultimately changing the social dynamics from the start. The frozen tundra pre-set game changed into a small-town scenario game. Primarily, the game relied on social relations and creativity. Immersion of this roleplaying game similar to Dungeons & Dragons required a re-telling of a story and its characters. Thus, the interactions and acting of the group led to a verbal form of text that followed conventions of writing techniques and referencing outer resources.

The session began with five players in a small town using “Main Street”. Five relationships were in play: bookie/gambler, former spouses, cousins, commissioner/mayor, and drug buddies. I took on the role of a young male office worker unlucky with women and was divorced to an older woman. Will was the former spouse and druggie, Shiela. Zamirah was the cousin and bookie, Z. Some inspiration transpired from Tabletop’s Youtube episode on Fiasco, and I was surprised to find similar relations from a previous session. Act 1 adopted slow build-up due to reorientation of players and scenario: five people in estranged, manipulative relationships try to get rich or get revenge for their fates. Rough drafts were significant in this portion as we would often revise how the story goes when the collaborative effort of the group explores down a narrative path. For example: Nate and Sheila dying from suicide generated and explored two possible endings as a group; discussion chose one. The constraints-the number of dice deciding relationships-led to a focus on relationships between players left and right of themselves. Thus, I found limited interactivity such as my character Nate not meeting Commissioner Jordan till the end of Act 2. The initial setting in Act 1 felt forceful as it occurred under the purpose and audience expectation of creating an under-ground crime hub in a small town with the mystery/tragedy genre.

The story unfolds slowly, starting with my cousin Z and Commissioner Jordan playing bookie and gambler. A mysterious suitcase comes in with drugs and money which from the start involved the mayor and Sheila in the majority of Act 1; all 4 meet up with a personal agenda, strike deals, and double cross others. A secondary narrative was created, because group criticism revealed slow progression due to the writing convention of narrative introduction. I was most active in the secondary where estranged divorcees Nate and Sheila deal with a dead baby, drugs, and an introduction of the mayor potentially having an affair with her. Initial build-up of character was determined at the beginning of the “Set-up”; thus, I went for the pitiful divorcee wanting his ex-spouse back and pulled much of the darker elements as the story transitions from mystery into tragedy. The naivety and pitifulness of Nate gave me a tragic role which supported the group collaboration of tragedy/mystery as Nate gets pulled into the fiasco by Sheila, manipulated by his cousin Z, and killed the mayor in revenge. The group has a habit of pre-determining outcomes in spite of limitations like dice, so I was not surprised by Nate’s eventual insanity. However, the purpose of the game changed due to the constraints. Act 2 invoked a hurriedness to elevate the tragedy; description transformed into acting and improvisation. As an audience member and player, the purpose changed to maximize tragedy for entertainment which required constant discussion in establishing one’s own scene and reference to the guide for endings. I found acting quite immersive with the finale of all 5 characters at a stand-off gun fight while yelling.

Ultimately, the set-up of Fiasco with its stages of “Set-up, Acts, and Aftermath” took on a literary form with our version of a slow introduction, a build-up of exposition through mystery to tragedy, and a twist ending where Nate received the “pretty good” ending, coming out forgiven in society, recovering from mental trauma with a caretaker, living as a hermit. The others included: Mayor Morris died with his grave desecrated (“horrible” end), Shiela locked up in an insane asylum (“savage” end), Z escaped with barely any fortune (not too shabby end), and Commissioner Jordan arrested and wounded (“bitter” end). References during the game session were the online guidebook and Youtube gameplay. The collaboration and editing of scenes after criticism of pacing were important. Given these points, the skills to build a Fiasco game allowed for the complexity of a collaborative and thoroughly explored literary work within the confines of a tabletop game.


Fiasco Doodle poll

Please indicate the times you’re available between now and March 3rd to play Fiasco in this Doodle poll. I basically made the poll open from 10 am to midnight every day after tomorrow.

Note that you only need to indicate stretches where you have a three-hour block of time since you’ll need about that long to play the game. I know it’s a bit of a crazy huge block of times for a Doodle poll, but just check the times you’re available for at least three hours at a chunk. For example, if you are free on Friday 2/21 from 2:00pm on, except for a meeting from 6:00-7:00, then you’ll check the boxes saying you’re available on that day from 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, 5-6, 7-8, 8-9, 9-10, 10-11, and 11-12. I’ll look for overlapping three hour chunks of time and assign you into groups of 3-5 players.

Edited to add: Please mark all the times that you’re available, not just one time. I will need to find times to schedule you together, so just marking one time that will work will for you will not be enough.