Fiasco won this year's Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming. (The Diana Jones Award, I just discovered, has nothing to do with the author Diana Wynne Jones. Huh.) I'd just like to say, good choice!
Fiasco epitomizes the new-school of tabletop role-playing game that I've been on about lately, the no-preparation, no-GM school:
- The mechanics are incredibly simple, mostly boiling down to choosing black and white dice (effectively stones, as faces don't matter during conflict resolution) to decide how scenes resolve. The epitome of "rules-light", and the opposite of recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons.
- Where a lot of "game master-less" games actually have a rotating game master, expecting every player at the table to be able to do that nebulous stuff a game master does, Fiasco distributes the role - in particular, with the "scene framing" role of the GM. Fiasco's main rule is - on your turn, you either frame your scene, in which case the other players get to say how it turns out, or you let the other players frame your scene, in which case you get to say. So somebody uncomfortable with making up a scene never has to do it.
- So with such light rules, how do you decide what happens? I've found when I play it comes down to a mix of voting using the dice, and following the fiction. In other words - "karma" and verisimilitude. Sometimes you want to see a character get hurt because it makes sense for the moral of the story; sometimes you want to see a character get hurt because it makes sense from what's happened so far in the fiction.
- It is great for newbies. I've played it with people who have never roleplayed before (including my dad, age 74), people who couldn't care less about the difference between D&D's standard and full-round actions, and seen them shine as improvisational actors and storytellers.
- The setting and genre gets away from trite swords and sorcery and usually finds itself in the present-day: lately I've found that it's easy to roleplay present-day stuff, because we all know it. (It's easy to roleplay fantasy because anything goes - but it's hard to roleplay, say, historical fiction. Suddenly there's an onus on you to be right about stuff.)
- Borrowing from In a Wicked Age, it has a system for setting up random situations and backstories that start your play. Very quickly you get a pregnant situation from which a story will emerge - so there's not much 'what if?' or back-and-forth at the table as you try to hone in on what your game for tonight will be about. And the constraints breed creativity. (I tried to steal these ideas and put them on playing cards with my own That's Drama, but In a Wicked Age and Fiasco have something that That's Drama is sorely lacking: specificity. Where That's Drama might introduce "Wealth" as a prop, Fiasco will introduce "a mason jar full of gold coins." Details sell the story.)
The way I see it? Kind of like Wil Wheaton says in the introduction to the Fiasco Companion, Fiasco is the new "red box" Basic D&D. A gateway drug to this new school/old school roleplaying - and hopefully it'll have the same sort of success that Basic D&D had in its day. (It's already very succesful as indie rpg's go - but I think is it has a shot at the same sort of mainstream success D&D has. If Fiasco has a fatal flaw in that department, it's that it's not suitable for children, and although the Fiasco Companion partially fixes this (I still wouldn't want my 10-year old reading the text) I'm imagining that a "Fiasco Jr" would be at home on the shelves of Wal*Mart next to Apples To Apples. Jason & Steve: if you're reading this, and you do that, I want a cut.)