Locations are probably the least important element of a Fiasco game. They exist primarily to provide colour. But it doesn’t have to be that way – there’s no reason why a Location can’t be vital in and of itself, although using that way tends to push it more towards being an Object in game terms.
Fiasco Locations should be appropriate to the setting of the game – and whatever settings are cliches of the genre should always be represented in the playset, even if they never get used. For instance, Hit The Mattresses! would hardly capture that classic Mafia feel without including a barbershop.
HIT THE MATTRESSES!
1: The Mob
The opulent home of the Don
A mob-run speakeasy or strip club (depending on the era)
The Don’s favourite barbershop
An understanding mortuary
A safehouse that may or may not still be safe
2: The Law
The detective’s bullpen
An interrogation room
The evidence lockers
In a police car
3: Neutral Territory
St Joseph’s Cathedral
The best Italian restaurant in town
The agreed meeting place
A kosher butcher
4: Disputed Territory
A shooting gallery
A subway station
A classy brothel
A much less classy brothel
A backroom crapgame
5: Bad Places
A dead end alley
A deserted factory
A drunken mob-doctor’s surgery
6: Around Town
A run down pool hall
The best bakery in town
A Chinese laudromat
A classy hotel
An average cinema
Some notes about generating locations:
More than any other aspect of the game, Locations set the mood and genre. They have to be true to our pop-cultural expectations.
Like Relationships, Locations are best kept broad with most of the details to be filled in by the players unless you’re specifically trying to evoke a particular time and place. That said, it is a good idea to give some direction to the emotions they inspire. Above, I included a whole category of Bad Places, specifically intended to make the point that if something is happening in these locations, it’s going to be unpleasant for everyone, and potentially fatal for someone.
Objects are the next element. They follow on from Needs logically: the Need is the reason to fight, the Object is usually one or the other of the stakes for the fight or a complication to it.
Objects can be tricky. Unlike Locations, they can imply other Needs and Relationships than are already specified, which adds to the complexity of the game, although usually in a good way.
HIT THE MATTRESSES!
An officer’s service weapon
A signed warrant with no details filled in
The keys to the evidence lockers
A blood-stained judge’s gavel
The police light from an unmarked car
The contact details of an informant
A shipment of very hard drugs
A stolen sculpture
A car with no plates
The take from this week
The Don’s ring
A taped statement
A confiscated weapon
The murder weapon with the fingerprints
Security camera footage
Handcuffs (police but not in police custody)
A policeman’s badge
Hard to explain porn
Love letters from the wrong lover
A take out pizza
A child’s toy
A pack of cigarettes
Someone’s lucky dice
A dozen red roses
Some notes about generating objects:
Objects need to be broad, so that they can be attached to nearly any relationship. One example from above is the police officer’s badge – it logically goes with the police officer, but it’s so much more interesting if it’s someone else who has it.
Many of the objects listed above can easily wind up in the game even if they’re not chosen during set-up – in Hit The Mattresses!, for example, very few characters will be without guns, even if such isn’t specified above.
The next step in creating a playset is the Needs. This is probably the section of the game that requires the most attention, because it’s the Needs that drive almost all the action and generate all the conflict.
I like to think of Needs in Fiasco in terms of the three questions that JMS once described characterisation. He said you have to know what a character wants, how far they’re prepared to go in order to get it, and how far someone else is prepared to go to stop them. This being Fiasco, the answers to the latter two can safely be assumed to be “stupidly far”, leaving the remaining question, what does the character want?
But in Fiasco, Needs are applied not to characters, but to relationships – and thus a need has to be something that either or both the people in the relationship can have. Most times, it will only be one or the other of the characters, because if they both want the same thing, there’s no conflict, and without conflict, there’s no game.
HIT THE MATTRESSES!
1: To Get Out…
Of this family
Of this war
Of the blame
By any means necessary
Smelling like roses
With your skin intact
2: To Prove…
Yourself to your superiors
Yourself to your enemies
Yourself to your lover
Yourself the better man or woman
Who really did it
Who the rat is
3: To Get Even
With the one who betrayed you
With the one who cheated on you
With the one who showed you up
With whoever set you up
With the one who stole from you
For that thing that time
4: To Make It Big…
In your organisation
In an opposing organisation
In the eyes of your lover
In the press
Even if it kills you
5: A reason…
To keep going
To do the right thing
To give a crap
Why you shouldn’t do it
For this war
6: To Show…
That you still have it
That the old ways are the best
That the new ways are the best
That you keep your word
That you’re a badass
Some notes about generating Needs:
It’s good to go broad with Needs. That’s why, for example, I have a category labelled “To Get Even” rather than ‘To Kill” – it’s more surprising, and more fun, when the players can decide what form their revenge should take
One of the ways in which Fiasco differs from other games is that the way characters are defined, initially, is in terms of their Relationships to each other. Every player character has two Relationships that are spelled out in detail: one with each of the characters of the persons sitting either side of them.
These Relationships may, of course, imply other relationships: say your character has two Relationships: Husband and Wife, Father and Daughter. By implication, the people either side of you have a Son-In-Law and Father-In-Law Relationship. It’s this sort of density that makes Fiasco so entertaining to play: because each character has two Relationships, nothing can happen in a vaccuum. In addition, the other elements of the game – the Objects, Needs and Locations, are all attached to a Relationship, not a character, which helps to drive the action.
Structurally, Relationships – like the other three elements – are defined on two levels. There are six broad categories, such as Work or Family, and then each of those has six actual Relationships in it.
In this particular case, I’m writing a playset that will be set against the backdrop of war between two rival Mafia families in a major (but unspecified) American city. This logically suggests several categories to begin with – Family and The Law quickly spring to mind, as does “Family” and Love (which is a category that appears in almost every playset just because of its fantastic potential to screw things up). For my mast two categories, I choose Bystanders, to broaden the range of characters, and Miscellaneous, for those relationships that belong in this setting, but that I couldn’t fit elsewhere (either because their more appropriate category was already full, or because they didn’t really seem to fit in any of the other categories).
HIT THE MATTRESSES!
Heir apparent and resentful sibling
Parent and child
Husband and wife
The grown-up child and their real father
Don and Consigliere
Capo and Soldier
Friends from different families
Enemies from different families
Third Family mediator and the one who doesm’t trust them
3: The Law
Undercover cop and unsuspecting partner
Crooked judge and bagman
Cop and witness
Cop and informant
Double agent and handler
Crusading DA and contact who’s on the take
Clean and dirty relations
Witness and wannabee
Didn’t see a thing and Doesn’t believe that for a second
Guy who knows a guy and Guy the guy knows (non-gender specific)
Protection racketeer and “protected”
Helpful witness and Lying witness
Lovers across family lines
Lovers across legal lines
Cheating lovers (on other people)
Cheating lovers (on each other)
Criminal and civilian
Undertaker and best customer
Out of town gambler and contact in town
Legitimate businessperson and “legitimate businessperson”
The Fed and the Local
The reporter on the crime beat and their source
Confession-hearing Priest and the one doing the confessing
Some notes about generating relationships:
Paired opposites are one of the most fun kinds of Relationship – I’ve used that above a couple of times, notably the Helpful & Lying Witnesses and the Heir & Resentful Sibling, but also with Legitimate Businessperson & “Legitimate Businessperson”
Relationships should be left fairly unspecific, so that the details can be filled in later. Didn’t see a thing and Doesn’t believe that for a second is a good example of this – it doesn’t specifiy who saw anything, or even if they saw it, nor does it explain who doesn’t believe them and why.
A certain portion of relationships fall under the heading of necessary connective tissue, because something has to connect across categories rather than just in them.
It’s frequently impossible to avoid hierachical relationships, which means that one player is going to be able to give another player orders at some point. Don’t worry about avoiding this when writing playsets or playing the game: Fiasco is a game of screwing up big time, so disobeying orders you don’t like fits right in.
I love Fiasco. It’s just about the most enjoyable role-playing experience I’ve ever had, and it’s all done in just a few hours. (If regular roleplaying campaigns are like a long term relationship, Fiasco is a one night stand.) This will make a lot more sense if you have some familiarity with the game (buy it now in either pdf or print forms.)
I’ve always wanted to write a Fiasco playset, but it’s trickier than it looks. It does after all require one to create four role-playable lists of 36 items: one each for Relationships, Locations, Objects, and most importantly, Needs (motivations). But the very first decision that has to be made is the setting.
In Fiasco, setting roughly means genre, although it can also mean a time and place. Selecting that has to come first, because it’s what determines the boundaries inside which all the rest is going to be set.
I’ve been considering what setting I want to use, but so many of the good ones have already been taken – I have a collection of literally dozens of them. So it’s taken me some time to think of one that interested me that hadn’t already been done. Naturally, when I did, I thought of two. They are:
Hit The Mattresses — set in a war between two mafia families.
November 12, 1975 — Set on the day after the most shocking event in Australian political history. br>
So I guess that gives me a week to decide which one I want to go with.
EDIT: the finished version of the playset can now be downloaded as a PDF here.