We Accidentally Fed Hitler Chicken Biscuits in Fiasco

Fiasco is a story-telling RPG system for three to five people -- and one of the major benefits to Fiasco is that you can, essentially, do anything you want with it. There are hundreds of player-made kits for different settings, and each of these settings come with pre-made builds. As a story-telling role-playing system, everyone involved is able to craft their own characters and attain narrative control. But that also means that, of course, it can go completely off the rails.

Our First Mistake Was Adding in Time Travel

When I asked everyone which setting they wanted to do (cowboys, zombies, crooked cops, or time travel), everyone jumped on time travel. It sounds great. But that was our first mistake, because it was incredibly confusing. We quickly found out that the English language is, weirdly, not setup to properly discuss paradoxical time rifts. And that was the least of our problems. There are so many ways that time travel can "work," and most of them don't work well together. We had to keep track of a multitude of different timelines, including each character's individual timeline.

Fiasco is like a cross between a role-playing game and an improv group. Characters either "setup" scenes or "resolve" them. If they choose to setup, the rest of the team can decide how the scene ends. If they choose to resolve, the rest of the team sets up. This keeps everyone involved in each segment. The character generation is a little fiddly; everyone rolls dice into a single dice pool, and then uses dice as a resource to add relationships, places, things, and needs to relationships between people. This merits a lot of explanation and isn't generally intuitive.

But it's what happens during Fiasco that is interesting. Fiasco runs twice around the table, and then there's a pivot (a twist), and then it runs twice around the table again. At first, players are usually extremely hesitant to get involved. At some point, they start getting really involved.

Not a Game for People Who Like Control

There's no way to win "Fiasco." Its inspiration is a Coen's Brothers-esque heist gone wrong, which means, by necessity, things are constantly going wrong. You can have the best things happen to you and the worst things happen to you, but ultimately your story is probably going to end somewhat poorly. And like many roleplaying games, there's always going to be one or two people who just don't want to be in the setting that they're in, and will stubbornly do whatever they can to alter it. 

In our game, we had one extremely confused, elderly, retired time traveler who had no idea what he was doing. We had two time travelers, one of which would murder the other one, and one of which knew that they would be murdered by them. We had a superhero time traveler, using time travel for his own purposes. And we had the chief of the time travel agency, who seemed perpetually confused. Our task, for whatever reason, was to make sure we had the confederacy's civil war battle plans.

We somehow established, there was some genetic propensity that made it easier for some people to travel, and some not. We had to establish that, because multiple relationships involved family, and otherwise it made little sense. Our Elderly Time Traveler bumbled through scene after scene, with pockets full of glitter and batter. (The glitter was filled with cameras, and was recovered from a reality television show placing it in Mt Vesuvius.) Our Chief was constantly looking for their office and had a strange obsession with chicken biscuits. They had ordered chicken biscuits to their office, but they had presumably never arrived -- possibly, because they had never found their office.

Meetings occurred in a Bathroom at the End of Time, which seemed to exist only when people were in it (due to cutbacks). Somehow we all agreed that the bathroom existed at the very beginning of time, and each time it was used, the bathroom's life extended into the past. This made sense to us, at this point.

And Then Comes the Tilt

In Fiasco, everything hinges around the "tilt," which is where things are supposed to go really pear-shaped. The Elderly Time Traveler got stuck in our time travel car -- which, incidentally, always brought (and left) a parking stall with them. He continuously flipped from time to time, confused, until reaching back to the basement of the time travel agency. We still didn't know why anyone wanted the plans for the confederacy, or where they were.

So, when we got to the tilt, it shouldn't have surprised us that our Elderly Time Traveler said:

"The Chief is Hitler. No, literally Hitler."

It was a joke. But then, our Time Travel Vigilante held up his hand, and said, "You realize that makes perfect sense."

"Like, Hitler just hid in his trunk when he was time traveling through space? He'd end up in the time travel company and -- "

"And he'd go insane because he isn't immune to time travel," said the Time Travel Vigilante.

"The first thing he saw was a chicken biscuit, and he's been trying to get to it ever since."

"But you also realize what this means," said the Time Travel Vigilante, five steps ahead of the rest of us.

"That there's no way for us to continue this story with a clear conscience?"

"That he'd become obsessed with the perfect genetics that allow time travel."

"...god damn it."

Do You Want to Play Fiasco?

Fiasco is a fun game that requires a good group. I've tried to run it with some groups, and it just falls flat; no matter how enthusiastic they are, the idea of everything being open is frightening. Moreover, the setup itself is fiddly. A lot more goes into the character generation than really feels necessary, and unfortunately it doesn't give the players a lot of goals to work towards. It's meant to be a GM-less game, but unless someone takes charge and guides people, it usually just ends in some uncomfortable silence.

It's also a long game. It's supposed to go for three to four hours, but in a good group, it's likely to go more like six. Don't try to expand it: if you have more than five players, break into two groups. Be prepared for the setup to be a little frustrating and irritating, even with the most experienced of players -- and know that essentially, you're creating a screenplay more than you're roleplaying.