Thursday, March 6, 2014


A quick side note: I received a new laptop from my wife for Christmas, due to my old one being fairly out-o-date (I think I got it back in 2007 or 2008), the expected emphasis on my “writing career” (ha!) while unemployed, and the difficulty with finding quality hardware (for reasonable price…even American-brand toys manufactured in China are two or three times as expensive as they are in the USA, and I don’t even shop at WalMart!).

On my old Mac, I had copies of MSOffice for Mac so that I could use programs like Word and Excel. The reason for this was two-fold:

MS programs like Word and Excel are the ones I’m familiar and proficient in, due to using them for years on my (prior) job’s PC computer.
As a person who sometimes found time (or made time) to work on personal projects ar my (prior) job, I needed the ability to work in the same software both at home and office.

Mac’s equivalent programs (Pages and Numbers) can “translate” Word and Excel documents, but the process is only really one-way, and I learned early on during the book writing thang what a pain in the ass it was to try working in two different systems…plus my lack of familiarity with the Mac software made me uncomfortable (that’s putting it mildly). Sure, “Mac Word” isn’t an exact duplicate of MS Word (there were issues with missing fonts and margin limitations), but the differences were small enough that I could work with them with only minor frustration.

However, when we got the new laptop, I decided NOT to get the corresponding MS programs loaded on my computer. My thought was that I needed to learn how to use Pages, etc. and I would never do that with the MS programs…plus, since I’m not actually working anywhere besides my personal computer, there’s no reason or requirement for me to have PC compatibility. I figured by the time I got back to the USA, I’d be fully proficient (or at least competent) in my Mac programs and all my writing/publishing/whatever would be handled in the Mac programs.

Of course, I completely forgot that ALL my documents (including all my books, published and non-) are still in MS Word format. Trying to edit them for typos, or get them ready for upload (I was planning on making The Complete B/X Adventurer available for sale as a PDF), has turned into a giant clusterf**k. Crap on a stick.

But that’s not the “fiasco” to which the title of this post refers. That refers to Jason Morningstar’s excellent and award winning game, of which I’d never heard…up until December.

Bully Pulpit Games first released Fiasco back in January 2010…back around the time I was trying to figure out how to make a cardboard box for my B/X Companion book. Gosh, only four years ago? Comparing Mr. Morningstar’s work to my over over the last few years is an exercise in envy (on my part)…not only has he won multiple awards and sold thousands and thousands of books, the guy seems to design nothing but GM-less RPGs, of the kind I’m only now starting to really explore.  It’s really enough to make you feel like an antiquated schlub.

PVP Action? Yes!

I was introduced to Fiasco through a friend of one of my semi-infrequent, drop-in gamers. I mentioned (back in November or early December) of my interest in checking out a collaborative RPG or two (I’d previous had some experience, as mentioned with games like Capes and Pantheon) and Jon (Redbeard) suggested Fiasco. His buddy and his buddy’s wife (really don’t remember their names at the moment…sorry!) showed up to the Baranof one Thursday night, and we ran Fiasco with my brother, AB.

[my brother has recently returned to Seattle in October and has since been attempting to reenter “normal society” after a couple years of homeless wanderings and mental illness in the Hawaiian Islands. He’s not what one would call an “indie gamer” by any stretch of the imagination. In a conversation about game design, he once espoused that a game could not be a “real” role-playing game without a combat system and some method of character advancement. He is (or rather was) also a big fan of World of Warcraft]

Fiasco is a great game. Very fun, very interesting and a real collaborative challenge to craft a good story. We all enjoyed ourselves…even my brother, who was extremely hesitant to try such a game. Usually, AB is the type of gamer who will poke fun at/derail games that he doesn’t understand or doesn’t appreciate or that I am taking “too seriously.” He doesn’t do this to be malicious…it’s just how he is, that “little brother” annoying prerogative. However, he actually had a good time and was able to get into the spirit of the game quite nicely, making for a satisfying, Story Now gaming experience.

For people who aren’t familiar with Fiasco, the idea is for 3-5 players (though I’ve been assured four is the optimal number) create characters from a number of random narrative elements (rolled on tables) that define what they have in common with each other. It’s quite simple in practice, and negotiating how the distributed elements interact (i.e. what they signify) both creates the characters at the table and creates an idea of the story at hand. Game play consists of players taking turns to create scenes with negotiation and dice rolls helping determine how those scenes play out. The game session is divided into acts with twists (or “tilts”) that help the story slide in unforeseen ways until you have some climactic resolution (that’s “climax” in the narrative sense…it’s not necessarily a big, blow ‘em up kind of event).

The original game setting is built on the “crime caper gone horribly wrong” premise…the film Fargo is the often cited sample inspiration (not to mention all those British films by Madonna’s ex-husband). However, what makes Fiasco so playable (and commercially viable) is the ability to change and customize the setting to all sorts of different “plans-gone-wrong” ideas; Bully Pulpit Games was issuing a “playset” of the month (with new random element tables and “tilts” specific to each new setting) and many fans of the game have contributed their own playsets. For our game, we used a “high fantasy” setting…D&D-esque…based on my brother’s request, though we could have done Renaissance or Elizabethan England or Old West or whatever. The folks who ran the game (why am I blanking on his name? Kevin? Phil?) has a whole folder full of  possible playlets he’d printed.

The fantasy setting was a concession to my brother, but the story was nothing like a dungeon crawl. “Phil” played a the daughter of the local thieves guild master, who masqueraded as a man, my character was an elven princess who was his betrothed (the guild master’s plot being to move up into “high (elven) society” or possibly blackmail the elven nobility by the scandal), my brother was the princess’s bodyguard/master-of-arms/champion (who also happened to be female AND a werewolf), and “Sarah” (“Phil’s” wife) was the wolf that AB’s character sometimes turned into…she was kind of like the Dark Side of the PC’s consciousness (or her “kill ‘em all” id) while AB was the honorable, duty-bound warrior-woman.

[why did all the guys end up with female characters? It just worked out that way based on the elements that came up and what would make for a good and coherent story…I don’t remember anything requiring that any of us had to be specifically female and (at least between my brother and I) we aren’t ones to play “gender-bended” characters in RPGs. We all remarked it was a little weird, but as said, it made for a better story/adventure/session and we all did our best to play our characters in serious fashion]

Anyhoo, it made for a good night’s play, though I can’t recall exactly what happened (this was back in early December and, as usual, there was a lot of drinking involved). At one point, my princess led a big battle charge against an orc village, and there was a lot of discussion about the “wolf fighting style” that she needed to learn to be a true leader of her people. I think the characters did actually end up getting married and being “unhappy ever after,” but I don’t really remember. Like I said, it was an enjoyable and satisfying, story creating experience, and another good foray (for me) into the world of collaborative role-playing.

That being said, Fiasco felt much more like a parlor game to me (albeit a very fun parlor game that did involve role-playing and characterization). It’s not really designed for long-term or serial play, and thus lacks the development over time (and subsequent character identification and attachment) that I enjoy. There were also some difficulties with the “choose to set the scene or choose to resolve the scene” mechanic that is inherent in the game. Either Phil and Sarah didn’t explain this succinctly enough, or I was too drunk to understand, or it’s as murky in the rules as it was at our gaming table (having never read the rules, I can’t say). Whatever it was, at some points it felt like we were just negotiating what happened and kind of “winging it” depending on A) the needs of the story, and B) the dice rolls. And in that regard, Fiasco was was a little loosey-goosey for my taste.

I tried to get hold of a (print) copy of the game before I came down to Paraguay to study up on it, but was unable to do so. Fiasco’s a good one to have on-hand if you’ve got enough players and nothing else planned for the evening.


  1. LibreOffice or NeoOffice should give you the MS Office compatibility you are looking for, for free. The Apple apps are "interesting" if you intend to stay in the Apple eco-system, but to interact with the rest of the world LibreOffice is the way to go. LibreOffice was formed by the team that left OpenOffice when DELL Computers demanded too many changes to the Open Source model they were using--OpenOfffice is still out there, but LibreOffice is where all the best developers went. NeoOffice is a Mac only branch that charges for the latest and greatest version, with older versions being free. The Mac's PDF management tool called Preview is pretty respectable, but not as good as a full paid version of Acrobat Pro. Good luck!

  2. @ DonsSword:

    Mmm...thanks. But you may be crediting me with a lot more technical savvy than what I have. I can't even upload a picture to an on-line forum!

    1. It's super-easy. Go to the LibreOffice site and then to the Downloads page. Click on "Download", and then run the file that shows up. Select the default settings and don't try to configure it. Boom, your own free Office Suite, fully compatible both ways with every major file format.

    2. Oh, shoot. There is one complication. You have also download the help file. Just download that from the download page, then run that file after you run the main installation.