I recently had a chance to play the storytelling RPG Fiasco, "a game of powerful ambition and poor impulse control" from Bully Pulpit games. It's heavily inspired by Coen Brothers films, but any out-of-control, often darkly comical ensemble cast story can be seen in the gameplay, and quotes from True Romance, Three Kings and even Office Space show you some of the range the game has.
It comes with four "playsets" that you use to build your story: A Nice Southern Town, The Old West, McMurdo Station Antarctica and the one we used, A Suburban Community. You can get a lot more details about how the game works from these two excellent articles at Gnome Stew reviewing the game and then providing an example of play. The above is all just context for my write-up of the game we played.
1. Petrov, First Generation Ukranian Immigrant
Who is a cousin of
2. "Tim," a.k.a. Yuri, a Mob Informant in Witness Protection
Who is the bookie for a gambler known as
3. Jackson, Owner of a Failing Car Dealership
Who was a drunk driver that killed Petrov's wife
The characters were quick ideas from each player, and the relationships are part of the setup of the game. The other part of the setup included coming up with these three elements, each tied to a relationship:
1. Jackson's Need to get respect from himself by standing up for himself at last, tied into his relationship with Tim
2. Petrov's Unsavory Object of Night-Vision Goggles and Flexi-Cuffs, tied into his cousin Tim
3. Tim's Location on Red Bud Cort, a van with no tires surrounded by rotting newspapers, that was tied into his relationship with Jackson (possibly an old car he bought off Jackson's lot, although we never quite established this)
With these details in mind, we set out taking turns, creating the six scenes that formed the First Act. Dice are used to determine how each character is doing... sort of, but I'm leaving that part out as I don't recall the exact apportionment of dice, and we also discovered later that we hadn't quite done it right, using the mechanics for Act Two for both acts. It still worked out, though we'll definitely use the right rules next time out.
Scene 1 was a flashback to one year ago, the night Petrov's wife died. Two cars are slammed into each other, a dead woman sits in the passenger seat with a nine-iron (or possibly a seven-iron, there's some debate about that) in her chest, and her husband, Petrov, is kicking the living snot out of Jackson, the thoroughly drunk driver who just crashed into them.
As the two of them battle, Petrov yelling and cursing and Jackson feebly defending himself, insisting that he's not drunk, a cop pulls up, takes one look at the scene and just keeps on driving.
Scene 2 takes place a year later. Because the cop drove away, and because Petrov nearly killed Jackson, the case never went to trial. Jackson plead out, and got off without any jail time. But the local news had a field day, and Petrov has been picketing his car lot, and as a result, Jackson's business is in the toilet, even though he's legally in the clear.
Petrov, angry and bitter, is on the phone with his cousin Tim. He suggests that he needs to get revenge. They need to kidnap Jackson's wife for ransom and then kill her (it was at this point that Jackson's player realized he had a wife.) "Do you still have those old nightvision goggles?"
Scene 3 involved Jackson and Tim on the phone, and Jackson trying to get an extension on his loan. He had "a whale" on the line to buy a Cadillac, and once that sale went through, he could pay off all his gambling debts. Tim, hearing Jackson's wife nagging him on the phone, wondered if he had any life insurance, which put a nasty idea into Jackson's head. He suggested that he and Tim meet at a bar later to talk about it.
Scene 4 was a solo scene of Petrov, fumbling around in the dark with the night-vision goggles, and generally proving himself to be a violent amateur. This does not bode well.
Scene 5 involved Tim going out to his van, to find that it was pristine on the inside, covered in plastic wrap and full of sharp knives. Tim was clearly a much more professional killer than his cousin.
Scene 6 involved Jackson talking with his insurance agent, a genial fellow who agreed to let Jackson pay off the higher life insurance premiums after he landed "the whale" even though he'd put the paperwork through now. All Jackson had to agree to was getting a blood sample from his wife (for medical checks) and picking up $10 grand in "hail insurance" for the cars on the lot.
That was act one, and then came The Tilt. The elements added were Mayhem (Cold-Blooded Score Settling), Paranoia (Somebody is watching, waiting for their moment) and Guilt (Visit from perhaps unofficial authorities). The story more or less suggested itself from there.
Scene 1 began with Petrov killing Jackson's wife. He was supposed to kidnap her, but his need for vengeance overtook him, and the result was a bloody massacre at the Jackson house. He ended up with a body in three pieces and blood everywhere. (Mayhem)
Scene 2 saw Petrov rolling up in his car to Tim's van. Tim was livid when he saw that Petrov had brought him a thoroughly trackable dead body rather than a live woman they could ransom, but he had a larger problem. An FBI agent, agent Carver, who had been watching for some time (Paranoia) came up on the two men and wondered "Well, what do we have here?" (Guilt)
Scene 3 began again with Petrov, running across a field, and we didn't know from what, but he was still covered in blood, terrified and carrying Jackson's. Wife's. Head. He reached the highway and thought he was safe, and tried to flag down the oncoming car.
Only problem being, the car was being driven by Jackson, roaring drunk after having missed his meeting with Tim. He crashed right into Petrov, knocking him onto the side of the road, and his wife's head bounced right off the windshield. He was too drunk to be sure what he saw, but he knew one thing: The last time he stopped in a situation like this, he very nearly got killed for it. So he kept on driving.
Scene 4 was Agent Carver walking up to Petrov, broken and bleeding but still alive. "Petrov, it just ain't your day." He took his pistol and shot Petrov in the head.
Scene 5 was a flashback to a few minutes earlier, as Agent Carver explained the deal to Tim and Petrov. He had a tap on Tim's phone and an eye on his van, and now he wanted the life insurance money. Only problem being, when there's a murder, there had to be a murderer. He pointed his gun at Petrov, saying sorry, as Petrov took off running.
Scene 6 found Jackson returning to his home to find it covered in blood. Tim and Agent Carver showed up to explain what had happened, and Jackson managed to stand up for himself and demand half of the insurance money, because without him, there was no deal. They got a blood sample from the copious amount available on the walls, floor and curtains and went about their grisly business.
Aftermath: At the end of the game, we rolled the dice we'd gotten in playing our scenes. Petrov, fittingly, wound up with a result that indicated he had probably died. Tim wound up in the same place he had been, which is to say he wound up moved into witness protection in a different town, still running small-time gambling. And Jackson? He made out the best. He got his half of the insurance money, Petrov's murder helped him win back a little public sympathy and it looked like he might pull his car dealership out of the tailspin. The only hitch was, though the life insurance had gone through, the hail insurance hadn't, and a huge hailstorm had wiped out most of his inventory, so most of his money was going to have to go to fixing up the cars he had.
Next up for us is trying out Lucky Strike, set in a World War II basecamp in France.