50 Games in 50 Weeks: Fiasco

Jan 02 2012

'Brother' by linuz90 on Flickr

'Brother' by linuz90 on Flickr

Man, I loved Fiasco.

Fiasco is a tabletop RPG that approaches die rolls from a radically unorthodox angle. The players roll the dice at the beginning of the game, and those rolls tie into various elements of the setting (the book comes with several starter settings). Once those dice are rolled, they’re never rolled again.

The first half of the game involves describing and explaining the elements rolled, as well as their relations to each other. If the dice connect a child’s chemistry set to a protagonist’s law offices, someone will get a chance to explain that connection at some point before the game’s mid-point.

Halfway into the game comes the Tilt, a major plot point that disrupts the ongoing story and rolls it towards disaster. The rest of the game involves narrating the characters’ reactions and fates.

As a result, Fiasco is a story-driven game, to the point of being story-obsessed. The game hinges on players collaborating to narrate whole scenes without a single die roll, skill, or attribute to fall back on.

Only one in our group of four had played Fiasco before, so he guided us through the dice-rolling and story-telling process. Most of us found the system awkward at first, but we warmed to it, especially in the second half. Our story of a small Southern town and its corrupt cop, his innocent niece, and the drug-dealing lawyer and his daughter quickly spiraled out of the character’s control, into dark places. We felt gripped by the power of our story.

What better praise can I give to a role-playing game?

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