The Fiasco Method

Fiasco is a great game, and one of the things that is great about it is how the story and characters are built up.

A traditional approach to character creation (in games as well as writing) is to think about the background and how that feeds in to the skills and personality of the character now. So, you might have a dwarf magician with a history of poor decision-making and a penchant for humiliating audience members in his stage act, or a former policeman who was discharged from the force after an incident in which he lost his leg to a crocodile (I have actually played that character – he had two prosthetic legs, one for walking that looked very much like a normal leg and one for running which was more like the leg blades Oscar Pistorius ran with – although his Brummie accent was bit tiresome to put on after a while).

The downside with individual character creation is that you can end to end up with isolated characters and no immediate impulse for a story. At least, that’s what happens for me.

In Fiasco, you start by describing relationships and then fill in the details of the characters based on the relationship and the other elements of the story.

Now Fiasco, obviously, is a game and as such it is based in part on chance: you roll dice to shape the options available for the relationships and story elements, and the intent is to build a complete story setting to play in, but the same basic approach will work for building characters in a pre-existing setting. That’s something that you can do in a writing exercise, and the story treatment I mentioned in the Fiasco post is good evidence of that, but it also requires a playset for your setting which may be impractical when you’re building something in a significantly different milieu*.

So, let’s have an example.

The story is set in a future prison, one where every inmate is under constant surveillance. Privacy is almost impossible in an absolute sense, but is more available from other prisoners than is usual in current prisons. I am going to say that there are three primary characters, A, B and C.

  • A and B have a mentoring relationship, where A is the senior and B is the junior. Let’s say that B is a prisoner starting a new occupational activity and A is the activity trustee.
  • A and C have dealer/customer relationship, where A is the customer and C is the dealer
  • B and C share a secret. No, let’s have C with the secret that B knows – perhaps C is a disgraced cop looking to recover some cred by informing on the other prisoners, and B knows that C used to be with the police.

That’s pretty interesting. There are hints there of the kinds of needs and objects which might appear in a Fiasco game – for a three character setup you would have a detail attached to each relationship: one need, one object, and one location. I’m thinking for this one I’d have the location be the occupational activity room, the object would be a packet of drugs or whatever is being dealt, and need would be to get even.

So now we have a small setup for the situation, who are the characters themselves?

  • A – Anton is a veteran of a decade-long gang war. He has scars, gang tats and the dangling earlobes of big piercings removed, but he is still only in his early thirties. He’s an expert in making virtual environments, a skill he used for phishing scams on the outside but he is now the trustee in the virtual environment lab. He just wants to get through his sentence and get out in the next five years. Unfortunately, he has an on and off habit for Bounce, a modern meth variant.
  • B – Brian is a recent arrival, a late-forties enforcer who is trying to get out of that game after his latest conviction. He has been learning virtual environment programming from Anton. Despite being the older guy, Brian looks up to Anton both as a programmer and as a role model for going straight.
  • C – Chuck has just been transferred to this prison from a lower security facility, or at least that’s the story. In fact, Chuck is a former cop who has been sent in to expose Bounce usage in the prison. However, he has become corrupt and has been making money off the back channel supply he is supposed to use as bait for the suppliers. Also, rather unfortunately for Chuck, Brian knows him: Chuck was in on a deal which Brian was the muscle on. Chuck hasn’t realized that Brian is someone he should recognise yet,

That’s obviously not the whole story: where do the drugs come from? How does the prison security system play into all of this? How will Brian react when he finds out that Anton is a user? How will Chuck make use of his connections to garner more influence? But that’s an interesting set of characters to begin with, and if you spend more than fifteen minutes on your own characters you’ll undoubtedly have something even better.

[*] you can compile a playset for your setting if you like, but that’s a different skill than using one that’s already in existence and you don’t probably don’t want to be making a playset every time you write a story. Conversely, there are a lot of playlets already floating around so you may be able to find one that’s appropriate already available.

One Reply to “The Fiasco Method”

  1. This makes me think of the classic TV show The Prisoner (constant surveillance, ways to get around constant surveillance, people identified by letters or numbers — and there was even an episode called “A, B, and C”).

    Probably no relation, I realize.

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