Fiasco is a tabletop RPG from 2009. The blurb for it says that ”Fiasco is a game about ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. There will be big dreams and flawed execution. It won’t go well for them, to put it mildly, and in the end it will probably all go south in a glorious heap of jealousy, murder, and recrimination. It’s designed to be played in a single session, usually around two and a half hours, with no prep.”
For some reason my brain always wants to compare it to the Coen brothers movie Fargo: Intersected story lines that end up in some pretty grim/hilarious violence (that’s a poor description of Fargo, but it’ll do for our purposes today).
Why am I telling you this? Because you can use the set-up part of the game to brainstorm short stories and novel outlines. It’s mostly useful if you want to jump start and idea or perhaps come up with some subplots for you novel, but I can see it being used for a lot of different stuff.
I should mention that this is not my idea. The Fiasco Companion book discusses its use as a writing tool and there’s a series of blog posts on the Unleaded – Fuel for Writers blog. I’m just writing this up largely for my own reference and because some people showed interest in my write up.
How it Works
I’m paraphrasing from the Wikipedia article here.
Although there is no one standard setting, each game of Fiasco uses a playset that indicates the setting of that specific game.
Each playset consists of a basic description of the setting and:
- six groups of six relationships between two characters in the setting
- six groups of six needs to be shared by two of the characters
- six groups of six notable objects
- six groups of six notable locations
Each group and each element within that group is numbered from one to six.
To put it simply, each playset has a theme and is essentially a list of Relationships (father-son, sheriff-criminal), Locations (behind the barn, the library), Needs (to get out of town, to get rich quick) and Objects (a revolver, a picture of a woman).
Creating your own Playset
This website contains most of the available Fiasco Playsets out there. They are free to download. If you happen to be writing something that fits exactly the theme of one of them (say, the Salem one, because you’re writing a period piece about Salem witches), you’re probably all set. If not, you’ll have to do some extra work.
The novel I’m writing, which I’ve already outlined to some degree, is about two buddies who are trying to save their small town from a Lovecraftian entity that is manifesting. I hunted around for playsets that dealt with small towns, horror and monsters.
I picked up Cults of New England, Dark Shadows, Last Frontier, Back to the Old House, Sucker Creek and a couple of others. You can find all of them here.
I started with relationships. I just went and picked out whatever looked good or seemed to fit with my plot, themes and established characters. Since I’m only experimenting, I didn’t include any of my own ideas (I could have put in ”Childhood Friends” or ”Diner regular and waitress” since I know these two relationships will feature in the novel).
You’ll need some dice. You can use an online dice roller.
The ”players” in this imaginary session of Fiasco are the following novel characters:
- Michael, one of the protagonists. He lives in cabin in the woods he’s trying to fix up.
- John, the other protagonist.
- Sarah, the town sheriff.
- Jack, the teenage cult leader the Lovecraftian entity is manipulating.
- Mary, unknown.
- I wrote them on a piece of paper, in a general circular shape, as if they’re sitting around a table.
- I rolled 4 dice for each player, so 20 in total. It’s great if you can use 2 colors of dice, 10 each. If you don’t have dice, just use 2 instances of the online dice roller, each for 10 dice.
- If you’re using the dice roller, it might be prudent to write the results down so you can cross them out as you use them.
- Once you roll the dice, it’s time to choose the relationships between the characters.
There are a couple of ways to do this: The most boring one would be to look at the list and choose whatever looks good, removing dice as you go. This is likely to create boring relationships, but as the available dice get less, it might force you into some creative positions when it’s time to choose Locations and Objects. I don’t recommend it though.
Another way is to force yourself to pick different color dice each time, going from white to black and then white again.
My method is much simpler: I just look away for a second and grab whatever dice my eye falls on first. It should work for online dice rolls too. You don’t know what each number corresponds to anyway, so you’re not likely to ”guide” the results.The first dice number you pick gives you the category (Town, Romance). Once you pick one, write it down between the first two characters. This is what connects them. Then move on to the next, without further defining their relationship.
You should now have 5 less dice than before, since you’ve used them up. Now you start over, this time choosing specific relationships between characters, belonging to the category that has already been established between them.
There’s a part in the story where Michael and John are in the woods hunting and they find something weird. So this was a bit of a happy accident. I wasn’t planning on them finding something to take back, but it’s not a bad idea.
- Michael doing the friends and benefits thing with the sheriff sounds like it could get complicated, so that’s cool with me too.
- Sarah and Jack (the human antagonist) having the same repeating dream. I can see it working and it implies they’re both under the influence of the Lovecraftian entity, at least in the beginning.
- Jack and Mary being stoner pals tells me that Mary is likely Jack’s schoolfriend. In this case Fiasco helped me create a whole new walk on role.
- Mary and John being ”drug people” likely means that either John sells pot to Mary or Mary sells pot to John. It doesn’t say a lot, but it’s a link that might come in handy as the plot moves forward.
To be completely honest, I ran the experiment twice and picked the most interesting results of the two to create a super-relationship map. You can do that too.
Seems to work pretty well, and will likely be even better when we do Needs and Locations. Might have to do it one more time using unknown characters, just so that I can create some subplots for the novel. Next time we’ll tackle the rest of the connections between characters, so stay tuned.