Playtest Time! Fiasco - Reunion: Class of 1994

Thursday night, I gathered with 2 of my friends to run my first RPG session since last summer. When you're nearing 40, life gets so busy that it's hard to get into a new hobby that requires so much time in one sitting as an RPG session can. It's also hard to find people interested in playing an RPG if your current circle of friends isn't already into the hobby, and I've been itching for a couple months to play the Fiasco playset that I wrote back in November.

It's got the makings of a Fiasco!
There were three of us.
Sam is a gamer.
Julie is not.
I wrote the playset.

We met at Denny's to play. Don't laugh.

If you're not familiar with Fiasco, it's a very improv-heavy roleplaying game that relies on storytelling and player collaboration. There's no game master, but one person generally facilitates, and since I was the only one that had experience with this game, I took the helm.

Dice are used, but mostly for character creation and scenario building, then used during the game to determine whether scenes end well or badly for the characters in the spotlight. There's no number crunching, so it's very easy for anyone to pick up on it.

We rolled the dice and took time to establish our connections. My character, Edward Pacanowski, was at one time very close friends with Johnny O'Malley (Sam's character), but at present, we were sworn enemies. Between us was an Object - the class ring of a girl who had gone missing.

Johnny's relationship with Leah Johnson (Julie's character) was that of two friends who had known each other since freshman year, with a need to reconnect.

Leah's relationship with Edward was that we were outcasts -- we dressed funny because neither of us could afford the current styles that everyone else wore. We had a shared location, which was a party bus that was picking up random people on the way to the reunion.

To spice things up, we added a bonus element, an object: the disk with the nefarious computer virus on it.

After creating our connections, we gave our characters some background: Johnny, Leah, and Edward were all close friends in high school, in a small Midwestern town called Centreville.

Leah was the happy glue that kept everyone together. Since high school, she had moved around a lot; present day, he had been living in Miami for the last 9 months, but it was never fully established what she was up to. Johnny was the driven, vision-minded computer genius, who had a brilliant idea for a computer program called ChatKitchen, which would allow people to chat with each other in instantaneous real time, an application that hadn't been fully realized yet in the early internet age. In present day, he had been divorced for 10 years, was working customer service, and is coming to the reunion to try and reclaim some of the peace he once had as a young man. Edward (not Ed, not Eddie, but EDWARD) was a shy, non-confrontational type who had a creative streak -- he designed his own clothes (mostly because he couldn't afford the boss threads everyone else liked) by reclaiming and repurposing fabrics and materials from other sources, such as horse blankets, furniture upholstery, cow dung, et cetera. Present day Edward is a fledgling clothing designer, whose custom-made pieces were picked up for distribution by a local boutique store, and he has dreams of leaving Centreville for greener pastures (or maybe blacker asphalt).

2 other characters that were introduced during Act One were Melissa, whom Edward was in art class with and had a major crush on, and who eventually went missing. Jessica, Melissa's best friend, became good friends with Edward after Melissa's disappearance, and Edward developed feelings for her ... again, never acting on them.

At some point, the ChatKitchen program that Johnny had been working on gets tanked, and Johnny comes to believe that Edward had something to do with it. At the same time, Johnny expresses his intention to ask Melissa out, which causes Edward to view Johnny as a rival. This is the beginning of the rift between Edward and Johnny, and the springboard from which everything else connected.

One thing that stuck out to me was the potential for this playset to lend itself well to expository flashbacks, something that I'd never considered when writing it. Someone who critiqued this playset for me pointed out that the relationship options had a good grounding in the present day, while the needs seemed to be hovering in the past. This was partly by design, but I understood his point. From my perspective as a writer, I was drawing from my personal experience of thinking someone was exactly like you remember them 20 years ago -- whatever their personality was at the time you last saw them, that's exactly how you expected it to be the next time you saw them, no matter how much time has passed. The concept of who they were has been stuck in your brain, because you have no other basis for comparison.

However, given the fact it's a high school reunion, I completely overlooked the fact that flashbacks are almost a given with this playset. And we had plenty of them in the Act One. Then things took a turn when we got our Tilt elements.

That's right, Innocencen. Don't judge me.
Tilt 1:
Paranoia -- the item you stole has been stolen
Tilt 2:
Innocence -- somebody is not so innocent after all

I won't replay the way the story unfolded, but I'll just say it got kind of convoluted, even with only 3 player characters. The end of Act Two felt like a natural progression of dissolving friendships, something that emotionally had the punch of real pain, even though it was a game. We could all feel the things we'd held onto for so long slipping away from us, and none of us could control it.

It's easy to create drama when you think you know what the other characters are going to do. But when it comes to the denouement, the Aftermath, we quickly found out that even though the endings might make sense, all bets are off.

Our aftermath was tragically classic, poetic, and brilliant at the same time.

Johnny's aftermath description was Horrible ("You are probably dead"). The computer virus finally reared its ugly head, and the case of the missing girl was solved (thanks to those meddling kids). Johnny gave up any chance of living, ridding himself of his earthly pain while simultaneously exacting his revenge on the entire world.

Leah's aftermath, The Worst Thing in the Universe, saw her past evil actions finally catching up to her, but she gets to have her much-needed last words with her children to steer them in the right direction before she never saw them again.

And Edward's aftermath, Harsh ("A big black cloud of hurt is going to rain all over you"), saw his quest for seeking justice ending with the justice he sought, but also with him having a psychotic break, creating fashions for his fellow inmates at the insane asylum.

The best thing about Fiasco is that it is truly a collaborative game. Everybody brings something to the table, the story develops best when players build off of the ideas that other people. There was one point where I had an idea, and I shared it with Julie by writing a note and passing it to her -- I did this because if she also thought it was a good idea, it wouldn't have worked if Sam's character had known about it.

After the game, we talked about how else Fiasco could be implemented, who else we knew that would enjoy playing it, and what kind of setting we'd like to play next.

One other thing... As part of the setup of this playset, I created a playlist of songs that would have been popular around 1994, when the characters would have graduated high school. I had that playlist queued up on my laptop, and we used it as background music while we played. Good thing for us Denny's wasn't pumping music into their dining room, and we found that having the music going in the background was a great way to enhance the experience. When the first scene started, we heard Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like a Hole"; when one of the characters was working through not getting to be with his crush, we heard Meat Loaf's "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)"; when the scene on the party bus started, it was C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat"; and when we were working through the aftermath, the lyrics to Faith No More's "Epic" rang out...

"You want it all, but you can't have it."


If you like good storytelling, and the idea of creative collaboration sparks your interest, check out Fiasco. If you'd like to try this particular playset, you can download it on

Can't wait until the next game.

There Is No Box.