South Bay Story Games Day: August 2010

         This was a semi-formal gathering of SF Bay Area gamers organized via the Story Games forum (mostly on this thread), and held at Game Kastle in San Jose.


This was a straight play of Jason Morningstar's game Fiasco - emulating movies of the Coen brothers and a few others. We had three players: Noam, Kathy, and myself. Noam was taking the lead in organizing, and Kathy had played before, while I was a complete newcomer. We used the Flyover playset. We had left unspecified where we were, just somewhere in very small town middle America. The brief version was that it turned into a family drama gone bad from drugs. What we knew from the setup was that:

From this we developed that I played a 50-ish named Rachel who had walked out on her son, but now comes to visit him regularly from her home in Mexico - she was a rich, fashionable, tough new grandmother. Noam played Clemson, who was Rachel's local dealer and an old high school friend of hers who just found out that he had a terminal illness. Kathy was playing Sadie, mother of two young children with Rachel's son Daniel. Basically, it was only the first two lines that drove play - the church friends and house didn't really come in, and the printouts were relatively minor since the same information came through another channel. Our later Twist specifiers were "Love rears its ugly head" and "A Showdown."

In general, my thoughts as someone new to the system were:

  1. The mechanics take much more of a back seat than I expected. Instead, the mechanics only come up once a scene, and they are (a) pretty quick, and (b) non-specific in what they require. It is more like a Jeepform or freeform game, it seemed to me. Most of the mechanic results were very open (i.e. "Love rears its ugly head"), so they were mostly vague pointers. By comparison, say, 1001 Nights has a lot of dice being put out on the table, rolled and passed during each story.
  2. Noam said that our game was on the more serious side compared to the other sessions he'd had of Fiasco, which tended to have more humor and/or wackiness - i.e. Ours was more "A Simple Plan" than "Fargo." I'm not sure what drove this, not having played in the other more wacky sessions.
  3. I had misunderstood how "Resolve a Scene" worked - and it ended up that I think we never used it (or if we did it was only once). That was just a simple miscommunication, but since maybe others might have the same thing, I'll mention it. I heard the mechanic as you either Establish a Scene or Resolve a Scene on your turn, which for a time lead me to think that you could leave a scene unresolved and/or resolve a scene established earlier. I eventually got this, but for whatever reason it took me a while.
  4. With a fixed and limited number of scenes to get through the plot with, I felt like I couldn't have small scenes - like just two guys chatting during a long car drive, or a husband and wife talking over their finances. Also, those scenes seem even harder to define success and failure for. At one point I started to establish such a scene, and then I revised it and jumped into a more meaty plot scene. It worked without them, but they seem like something that could be good to add - perhaps as an optional rule.
  5. One of the interesting points was that we had established Rachel's son and Sadie's husband as Daniel, and he was being set up as a major character. Noam brought him in as the new partner of Clem. Kathy didn't want to play him in that scene since she didn't have a picture of how he was there and she was playing his wife. Since we had trouble with this, I suggested that the thing to do was to kill him - which I did in my scene.

Highlights of the game for me:

Mouse Guard

I had originally signed up to play Apocalypse World in the evening, but I was convinced to run Mouse Guard instead. I've run MG as a one-shot before, but this was different for several reasons (discussed below). I had four players sign up in advance, and for a bit I thought I would have six - but we ended up with five. Carl jokingly commented to me "You'd run Mouse Guard with six players? Are you insane?!?"

The game turned out to be immensely fun, and different for a few reasons from my previous one-shots. My previous one-shots had used the pregenerated characters from the book, and the scenarios there or variants of them. They had fewer players, and they were a lot shorter (less than 3 hours). With five players and some time, I decided at the last minute to put away the pregens, print some character sheets, and have everyone generate PCs. This showed them more of the system and tailored things a good deal. On the other hand, we only played out one Conflict using the full system - with everything else using regular skill checks.

The players I had, and the characters they created were:

  1. Oliver playing Cole, an impulsive patrol guard and the team leader
  2. Heather playing Josephine, a bookish and young new guard mouse
  3. Joey playing Folker, a level-headed and independent patrol guard
  4. Ben playing Lily, a brash tenderpaw assigned to Folker
  5. Owen playing Garrow, a calm and rational negotiator

Luckily we had four copies (one electronic) of the main Mouse Guard book, so character creation went fairly smoothly - although I think it could be streamlined. All the players were good about setting up conflicts among the group. Cole and Folker were set up to clash as the two highest-ranking mice with very different personalities, with Folker in particular being concerned over Cole being a bad influence on Lily.

I then put together the adventure by pulling in as much of the character sheets as I could. The only two characters from the same town were Josephine and Garrow from Sprucetuck - so the adventure was in Sprucetuck. Looking over their wises, I noted they knew about Governors, weasels, poisons, and some others I don't remember now. So those featured. I then made sure to include one of either their Friend or Enemy from each PC. Luckily two shared an enemy - Josephine and Cole both picked the name Ivy for their enemy, and we decided it was the same person, a healer who was Josephine's rival and Cole's ex-girlfriend. And, of course, whenever there was a failed test, come up with a juicy Twist to apply to it.

A highlight was when Josephine tried to use her Archivist roll to find out who three dead mice were. When she failed her roll, Owen (playing Garrow) suggested that it should be someone they know. Looking over my stable of NPCs from the character sheets, I decided that it was... Garrow's parents, and since there were three he had a younger sister who died with them. Everyone had a good time, and all of the characters were fairly involved with the adventure - with Joey's character Folker being the least involved. It included a good mix of everyone's skills, I think - with some outdoor, some fighting, some negotiating, and some sneaking.

A few conclusions that I drew from this:

  1. The pregens and scenarios from the MG book aren't great. I will definitely at least rework them some if I try them again.
  2. While the Conflict system is important to MG, there are many other sides to the system to highlight.
  3. It was a really fun group of players, whom I hope to see again at some future gathering.


John H Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Fri Sep 5 14:25:52 2009