While I was away dodging weather, my “Town and Gown” playset for Fiasco came out!
Fiasco is a role-playing game that re-creates neo-noir stories like those found in Coen Brothers movies. Given my history with small-town universities, I couldn’t resist creating a Fiasco setting based on one.
Universities are strange places, and small town universities even more so. Faculty fight viciously with each other because the stakes are so low. Students grub for grades, or give up and drift through school. Townies hate the school, but it’s the only thing keeping the town alive, and many of them go to school part-time.
Given the pressure and the fault lines that run deep beneath, it’s no wonder that sometimes cracks appear.
I learned a lot about writing a Fiasco playset in the process, much of it thanks to feedback from Jason Morningstar, creator of Fiasco. The trickiest part was getting relationships right. Because of how you generate a Fiasco setup, all relationships have to work with all other ones. My first draft had people playing faculty members, students, and townies. That led to some odd potential contradictions: what if two people had a relationship that indicated they were faculty members, but one of those two had a second relationship that indicated they were students? That’s why many Fiasco playsets carefully segregate the relationships into non-exclusive groups such as family members, people who work together, people who know each other through hobbies, etc. In my case, once I made the default assumption that all of the players were students, I could much more easily put together relationships that meshed well.
(You can break this rule, of course. Jason’s Lucky Strike playset assumes that everyone’s an American soldier in World War II. There’s a set of special-case relationships, like “German prisoner of war and guard”, that break this assumption. They’re grouped together and labeled “use with care” to help players realize that they’ll have to work harder if they want to incorporate these relationships.)
I had fun mixing very specific and more gonzo elements (like the “Neophyte Marxist revolutionaries” relationship or the truly unfortunate object “a roomate who died”) with more prosaic and simple ones (like the cafeteria and coffee shop, or the thirty-ought-six rifle). I hinted at possible story lines for players to run with: there are suggestions that something unsavory is up with the local YMCA, that bad things have been going down at the gravel pit down by the river, and that the town mayor may not be on the up-and-up. Even if the elements related to those story lines aren’t used in a game, they tend to inform players’ choices and vision of what the university and surrounding town are like. I chose a couple of elements to refer to multiple times, because I like claustrophobic Fiasco settings. I also spent a lot of time thinking, “How can this relationship, need, location or object be troublesome?” That lent the playset a seedy, sinister undertone that I really like.
“Town and Gown” is free to download and guaranteed to cause quite a fiasco.