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Fiasco - The Debt


Retired User
Fiasco – The Debt

an Actual Play Report

by deadlytoque

(Buy Fiasco here; download Gangster London here.)

My regular Tuesday group is made up of gamers at the lower end of the experience range. Some of them had never played an RPG before they met me. They have a really good sense of story and pacing, though, and have writing experience. It also helps that they're all pretty sharp.

So four of us (I'm going to use initials throughout, just in case future employers Google their names), ES, TS, JG, and me, were scheduled to play A Taste For Murder when through a series of bizarre circumstances, we ended up ready to roll on a game of Fiasco instead. Out of respect to Graham (and a deep-felt love of Guy Ritchie crime flicks) we chose the Gangster London playset. ES's background is mostly D&D and White Wolf, and -- other than me -- is the most experienced of the group. TS and JG are my “gaming disciples”, and considering I introduced them to the hobby with Polaris and we have a bi-weekly DFRPG game, I like to think I'm steering them right.

I give them a basic rundown of the rules and roll some dice. We have red and blue dice, but I'll call them white and black here to keep it clear. I don't go into too much detail when explaining the rules. Having played Polaris, everybody groks the freeform structure pretty well. I do tell them about the idea of giving white or black dice, and that you give them away in Act One and keep them in Act Two, and if you want your character to live/be successful, you want your dice to be the same colour. I don't show them the Tilt or Aftermath tables, but I say “Halfway through, there's going to be a Tilt, which will add some chaos to the game, and then at the end, we're going to have some montages to show where our characters end up.”

ES started: when she moved out of her hometown, she reduced the population by 6%. I don't recall the exact order in which relationships were developed, but I can tell you that my group preferred to add a new broad category rather than define an existing one. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe they just prefer having the big picture first. But here's what we ended up with:

ES: Family/Cousins + Need: To get some answers to a question of parentage :TS
TS: Odd/Alcoholics Anonymous + Object: Unfortunate/forty chickens in eighty cages :JG
JG: Work/Me and this bloke I bought something off of + Location: Food and drink/Stan Fish's Gentleman's Entertainment Club :Me
Me: Crime/Con-man and mark + Object: Weapon/ “Jesus Christ, it's a fucking katana!” :ES

Here's how it all broke down:

THE DEBT – A Fiasco

Starring ES as Sam, the daughter of William Price, a rich gent who recently kicked off, leaving half of his estate to his daughter, and half to his niece – the daughter of his wife's sister. He tended to raise his kid without luxury, and so she has little sense of the value of some of the objects in the collection. She's kind and very helpful, but maybe a little naive.

Starring TS as Louise – a lovely bird who dances under the name Slinky – Sam's cousin. Bill Price's strangely paternal affection for his niece, combined with the estate, and the fact that Slinky's mum and Sam's mum hated each other (and each other's daughters), has left Slinky with a couple of questions about who her da really was. She's lived a bit of a rough life, which has led to her having a rocky relationship with the bottle. Which is where Stan Fish, AKA Uncle Stan enters the picture: he's her AA sponsor. Recently, however, the both of them fell off the wagon, and when they recovered from the blackout, Slinky's back garden was filled with eighty chicken coops, and Stan's office was overflowing with hens.

Starring JG as Stan Fish, club owner and... businessman. Uncle Stan is known for having his fingers in a lot of pies, and if it isn't his fingers, it'll be the fingers of his goons, Vinnie the Hammer and Reg No-knees. A recovered alcoholic, recognizable by his ever-present tumbler of ginger ale on the rocks, Stan has a friendly relationship with Slinky, but he has a less-than-positive relationship with one of his club's regulars: Tracy Three-Eyes, who just sold him a load of stripper costumes that fell off the back of a truck. What Three-Eyes neglected to mention was that the truck was being driven by Croatian mobsters, and when the gunsmoke settled, Stan had to buy off a Crown prosecutor, and he wants Tracy to pay him back.

Starring me as Tracy Three-Eyes, who really doesn't want to talk about his nickname (he used to wear glasses, but when he got whacked in the eye during a squash game, he had to wear an eyepatch, too. Turns out the injury was bad enough that he needed lens replacement, and when he recovered, he didn't need to wear either, but the name stuck). Tracy is one of those guys who always has a scheme. In this case, he has a scheme to acquire the ceremonial katana of the last Emperor of Japan himself, currently in the private collection of the grieving Samantha Price. Of course, he only needs the blade to give it to Stan, in the hopes of squaring their debt for that whole Croatian lingerie mess...

As expected, once we completed setup, we had a world of trouble just waiting to come down on us.

The first round was a little rocky. People had a hard time with the idea of making the scenes BIG and shooting for conflict right away. It was suggested when we were done that some kind of Tilt table or really directed advice for good first scenes might help. It's possible that if everyone had a chance to read the book beforehand it might have been easier, since they would have potentially had a better sense of where the game was going, but we made it work. Despite trouble, people found it easy to integrate their relationships and trappings into scenes, and everyone had a great time with the lack of cross-table relationships – a case of false identity, when Stan Fish pretended to be Shaun the Antiques Appraiser, led to some laughs. The second round, once trouble was already brewing, was easier.

By the end of Act One, several weeks have passed. Sam and Slinky were on the outs, having gotten in a fight over the mystery of parentage. Slinky was managing to stay dry, but her emergency gin supply was calling her name. At least Stan had managed to get all the chickens INTO their cages, and they had found out that if they could get the other forty back (from wherever they had ended up) they could get their money back. Further, Slinky had asked Stan to track down her mother, Stella, since if anyone would know the truth of Slinky's parentage, it was her. Stan, however, had been having a bit of a kerfuffle in his office at the time, and when the call was suddenly disconnected by Stan having a heart attack, Slinky had been left with the impression that Stan had put a hit out on her instead. Tracy was doing everything he could to work his way into Sam's life, but had inadvertently worked his way into her heart and her bed while he was at it. Still, he had her convinced that he was hooked up with antiques dealers – albeit strange ones who like to meet in warehouses in the middle of nowhere – and could get her a fair price on any of her dad's “old junk”. ES was holding two white dice, and everyone else had one of each. It was also revealed that Louise's nickname “Slinky” didn't come from her smoothness on the dance floor, but from the time when she was six and she fell down the stairs, and her mum thought it was all kinds of cute.

The Tilt hit, and we ended up with Mayhem/A dangerous animal (perhaps metaphorical) gets loose and Mayhem/Magnificent self-destruction.

And then we took our mandatory break.

During the downtime discussion, we talked about options for what the “animal” might be. We realized that since Stan and Slinky were trying to keep those chickens in mint condition to return them, a real animal, in fact a fox, might make a great tilt. As for self-destruction... well, the situation was ripe for that.

Act two went much more smoothly than act one. Everybody knew their characters better, and understood the relationships, and we could see the whole precarious house of cards. When Slinky got a phone message from her mother, saying she was coming by to chat and show off her new feather boa, she relaxed about the hit, and popped down to Marks & Spencer for the sandwiches Stella likes. She came back to a kitchen full of blood, body glitter, sequins, and feathers. Assuming that Stan Fish had taken her mother out of the picture, Slinky hits the bottle. She never looks in the back garden (why would she?) so it never occurs to her that a hungry fox might have chased in a chicken or three and overturned her trunk of dancing supplies. Stan Fish, recovering in the hospital, gets an unexpected visit from an angry Stella, wondering what he'd been up to to get her daughter into so much trouble. They bicker, not unlike an old married couple... but I'm sure that's nothing. Stan swears up and down that Slinky hasn't been drinking and he's been taking good care of her! Stella demands proof.

Tracy puts his plan into motion, but is caught off-guard by Sam making an unorthodox move and proposing to him. He's also caught off-guard because she puts the ring into a pie, and he chokes on it. He finds out about her cousin's chicken situation – that she wants to buy some chickens for unknown reasons, and knowing that his old buddy Stan Fish is having a bit of a chicken situation himself, he thinks about solving two problems at once. He also convinces Sam to let him take the sword... after he accepts her proposal. Or at least he accepts the ring...

Sam rushes out to meet her cousin and share the good news, and so she's present when Stella and Stan... wait, Stan? Isn't that Shaun the Antiques Appraiser? Anyway, she's there when Stella and Stan show up to find Slinky dead-drunk on cheap gin, and Stella bares her teeth and chases Sam out. Then, after some sloppy interrogation by her drunk-as-a-monk daughter, Stella reveals the truth: Bill Price was just a good man who wanted to do his best by his wife's family, and did what he could to make sure Louise did alright in life. Slinky's father wasn't Bill Price. It was Stan Fish.

Tracy is on his way over to Stan's club when out of the blue, a couple of badly-dressed Croatian gangsters show up to get some revenge on him. He books it, and nearly manages to escape, but they corner him, and he draws the katana...

Leaving Stella with her... or rather their... now-passed-out daughter, Stan decides to go track down Tracy and get this whole chicken situation dealt with. He finds him by nearly running him down, has No-knees haul Three-Eyes into the van, takes the sword, and then tosses Tracy unceremoniously back into the street. Tracy smiles, thinking he's just gotten away with a great scam: Fish just relieved him of a murder weapon!

We all roll for resolution, and everyone else does rather well. Sam and Stan both end up with 9-white: Nothing to crow about. Their lives go on, mostly unchanged. A few new problems, but a few new happinesses, too. Slinky scores an 13-black: Awesome. Everything has finally come together for her! Poor Tracy, though, well, he rolls really well... on his one white die. His black dice all roll middling, and he ends up with 6-black: Pathetic.

Sam recovers from the lost property, and the heartbreak, and it gives her great pleasure to watch Tracy's arraignment. Slinky dries up, now attending her AA meetings with her dear ol' dad. She opens up a new club of her own, and uses the proceeds to fund a farming co-op for exotic dancers. Stan, bum ticker and all, gets to enjoy watching Tracy twist as well, but he knows how much it cost to make sure the prosecution was a success. That's twice the bastard has made him pay off a Crown! He's also a bit choked when he discovers that Bill Price, more sentimental than he had a right to be, had the historical sword engraved, rendering it nearly valueless. Tracy, well, he didn't have much going for him. He was on his way to pawn the ring he got from Sam for a ride out of town when it slipped out of his hand, rolled down the street...

...and was eaten by a fat little fox, covered in body glitter. Which is, of course, when the fine ladies and gentlemen of the Metropolitan Police Force showed up looking for him. So Tracy's in gaol now, folks, but not to worry. He's got a plan.

The End

Everybody had a great time with the game. The rules are really simple, and even a framework-level understanding of them was enough to get everyone involved. The building of the relationship map made everyone really excited, especially as the general outlines of our fiasco started to become apparent. It was quick: about 3 hours from start to finish, including explanation, setup, and break.

One observation that we had was how the lone Location was almost never featured as a Location, and yet it still really defined the relationship it was part of. JG and I had a “work” relationship, but it was the fact that someone was selling something in a “Gentleman's Club” that made us decide that whatever “work” we had together was not above-board. Since I also had the con-man relationship, it made sense that the club was JG's, and that he was therefore Stan Fish himself. It functioned as more of a high-level definition than a more active one. At least one of the other details (the need and two objects) were present in basically every scene, so I think that worked.

Being fans of the genre of playset we had chosen really helped. JG really fell into character as the Guy Ritchie-style mob boss, and though he (thankfully) never tried to do an accent, his use of language and full-immersion roleplaying brought that character to life in a big way. ES mentioned that the game lends itself to Commedia del'Arte-style play, and thinking back, we did all somewhat revert to archetypes that could potentially be seen as Commedia. I was certainly playing an Arlecchino, if nothing else.

Our game was remarkably non-bloody. Some Croatian mobsters got cut up, but that happened off-camera; same with the chickens who were eaten. I can, however, see how any slight change in details and relationships might have created a situation where violence would have been more prevalent. We certainly didn't shy away from the potential for it, it just never really seemed necessary. The only characters who would've been likely to do anything violent were Stan and Tracy, and their only scenes together usually had Stan THREATENING, but not performing, violence.

We also played a bit with the order of the scenes. I've presented things here in basically chronological order, but because we were playing around the table, sometimes we would say “OK, this scene happens before Stan and Slinky get the chickens, but after Tracy meets Sam for the first time” and then fill in the details. It got a bit confusing, but since everyone's only getting 2 scenes each per act, there isn't too much to juggle.

Overall, Fiasco is definitely my favourite GM-less game, and ranked up with In A Wicked Age for my favourite no-prep game. Maybe even a bit higher than IAWA because the setup feels much quicker. I also like it as a party game, since the zany action, low-prep, short play-time, and minimal rules interference mean that even folks with little or no RPG experience can pick it up and go. I will without a doubt be playing it again (we're thinking The Ice for next time). I'm also looking forward to trying it with three players and with five.

I know I'm far from the first one to say it, but count this one as a winner, Jason.


Retired User
Thanks for posting this! Your session sounds great, and I'm really glad you guys had a good time.

So what's next? After A Taste For Murder, I mean...


Retired User
Well, I'm thinking we might even do a little more Fiasco tonight. We'll see. With a different group, too, so a variety of options await.
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