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What a Fiasco!


Stylin’ Steve is a lying, thieving, drug-dealing, prostitute john. He grew up in a podunk town in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the Deep South, where he and his friends would lick toads to get high. His criminal career truly began when he masterminded a meth dealership operating out of a Chicken Hut (gotta watch out for those blue mashed potatoes!), and eventually he would go on to run a drug and prostitution ring in Las Vegas, before being nearly killed by the police on his way out of town when the proverbial crap hit the fan. Where he is now, nobody knows.

At least, not until the next time he’s brought out in Fiasco, one of the most fun role-playing games I’ve ever played. You see, Stylin’ Steve is a character I created for one of my first games of Fiasco, and not only did he survive (rarely a guarantee in this game), he was so much fun to play that I proceeded to tell his origin story across two further Fiasco sessions, which served as prequels to his Las Vegas shenanigans.

So where did Stylin’ Steve come from? Was it a pre-generated character I chose from a list? An archetype I just slapped a name on? A meticulously min-maxed set of stats I hunched over for hours? Absolutely none of the above. Fiasco’s character creation is one of its shining points, as it is simultaneously entirely under your own control and yet a fully collaborative effort for the group playing. A set of tables with very loosely-worded and open-ended character-relationship concepts gets the creative juices flowing, but from there, the details are up to you, with the encouragement to solicit and employ feedback and ideas from the rest of the players.

Those tables also help you set the stage upon which the characters act, as a “Playset” provides you some kind of geographical location – anything from a specific town to somewhere in outer space – and some related situations and interactions from which to customize your group of oddball characters. Further, to keep it interesting and provide an easy basis for setting up outrageous scenes, each player also gets to help define the relationships among the characters – HOW each character knows two of the others, and what is one important factor in that relationship. This ensures that there’s always some facet of a character or a relationship to explore in any scene. Sometimes the hardest part is deciding which to focus on first!

Anyone who is familiar with RPGs that have some concept of a Game Master (Dungeon Master, Storyteller, World Master, whatever a given system calls it) knows what can happen when the players are given no real direction and are not kept on any kind of story-leash: total chaos. And Fiasco doesn’t just allow this, it leans into the concept fully by having no GM whatsoever. Players go around the table, setting up scenes or vignettes that revolve around their own character (even if their character isn’t even physically present), to create a hypothetical movie in the style of Cohen Bros. movies (Fargo being an oft-cited example), complete with twists and turns and often betrayals. There is a trade-off there, as before each scene, the player whose character has the spotlight gets to choose between full creative control over the setup of the scene at the expense of having any say over its outcome, or determining whether the scene ends well for their character but allowing the rest of the table to set it in motion.

By the end of the game, the story inevitably ramps up to some sort of outrageous climax, and even if your character dies, it’s usually either poignant and heartrending, or hilariously extreme. The grand finale has each player narrating how their character gets from the end of their last appearance to their ultimate fate, in a very cinematic, clips-over-the-credits fashion.

After playing this game so many times, I’ve played everything from Stylin’ Steve, to a dramatic gay astronaut, an Antarctic scientist smuggling contraband in penguin butts, a helplessly inept news anchor, a Wild West gunslinger, an evil-clone superhero, and even a young gold-digging woman trying to woo the father of the bride at a wedding – complete with the groom being my wingman! The sky is the limit and as long as everyone at the table is having fun, you can do just about anything you can think of.

All you need is a Playset – and there is a rich community of Playset-builders to supplement what’s in the manuals, and you can even make your own – and a handful of six-sided dice, and you can be on your way to outrageous hijinx with your friends.

Ando’s Rating: 9/10