Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Manna Hotel - A Fiasco Actual Play

So last night I got to check another item off of my gaming Bucket List: I played in a full game of Fiasco for the first time.

I played in a Fiasco demo a while back with Mike Lafferty, Daniel Gallant and Fiasco writer Jason Morningstar and enjoyed it (you can listen here), but had never had a chance to play a full game. I recently stumbled across the print version in a game shop and pounced on it, becoming so set on playing it that I bought the Companion and new sets of white, black and red six sided dice. After talking about it enough, even my usually non-gamer wife expressed interest in playing it.

So after taking a few weeks off due to various members of the group traveling, we reconvened last night to play Fiasco!

I gave a quick explanation of the game's premise and rules, and we got to work setting up The Manna Hotel playset (available for free here).
Disclaimer: The content is a little stronger than you normally find on my blog, so consider yourself warned.



The way Fiasco works is you add four dice to the pool for each player, half white and half black. Then you roll all of those dice in the middle of the table and set up the elements of the game, including a Relationship between everyone and the person sitting next to them, Needs that drive people to do the things they do, Objects that come into play and the Locations they happen in.

The Manna Hotel is a motor inn outside of Manna, Kansas (population 1,200) that was burned down in the 50s. We set our game in the early 90s (right after the release of Reservoir Dogs, for reasons that will become apparent in a moment), and got to work. When set-up was complete, this is what we had:

I was Ray Hannon, who had gotten caught burning down the Manna Hotel in the late 50s, and took the fall for it so my buddy Jim Bowie Travis Churchill wouldn't. Juvie was rough, and prison was rougher. Now I was a heroin addict performing sexual favors for the Innkeeper at the Manna Hotel so I wouldn't be homeless...which was bad enough until he started abusing me.

The other players included: The Innkeeper, Steve Buscemi (not THAT Steve Buscemi), who forces Ray to call him "Papa Bear" as he abuses the poor junkie.

Emily (just Emily) is a young, naive girl from out of town who is on her first road trip. Planning to visit Ed Keith's Buffalo Ranch, but she doesn't know the way.

Jules Alexander served under Churchill in Vietnam, and she's a bit unhinged from her experiences in 'Nam. As tensions between her and her sister grow, she's setting a pretty psychotic plan into motion...

And Jim Bowie Travis Churchill, former Commanding Officer of Jules Alexander and former childhood friend of Ray Hannon. Developed a taste for young boys in 'Nam, and when Ray Hannon comes to him for help with his situation involving "Papa Bear", he sees opportunity...

The story begins with Ray in Jim's truck, explaining to him that he's fallen on hard times and Steve Buscemi ("Not that actor guy") is taking advantage of him. After some pleading from Ray, Jim says he'll kick the guy's ass for him, since Ray took the fall after they burned down the hotel when they were kids.

Flashback to shortly before the conversation and Ray is explaining to Papa Bear that he's going to have money to pay for his back rent soon, no problem, and they can end their "Sunday Night Arrangement". Papa Bear smacked Ray and told him that he owed the hotel a possibly inflated amount of money. Ray stormed out, screaming that Papa Bear would "see what he's made of someday".

Papa Bear met a pretty young girl at his counter, named Emily, who needed directions to Ed Keith's Buffalo Ranch. Papa Bear gave her convoluted instructions, and tried to get her to rent a room at the Manna Hotel, but Emily's Common Sense kicked in and he got very wary of the help, thanking him for his help and taking off, leaving Papa Bear with a still-empty hotel.

Emily headed to Ed Keith's ranch and stumbled on Jules Alexander arguing with her sister June, continuing a two decades old argument about Jules' role in Vietnam. June shoved a picture of the 1941 Manna High All Asian Football Team in Jules's face and asked how she could be so callous towards Manna's proud Asian heritage and called Jules a "babykiller" who is "dead to me"! Jules sneered and shoved June into the spiked pit she had dug behind the ranch, killing her sister in cold blood, and asking "Who's dead now?"

Jules began to freak and called Jim, moments after he agreed to help Ray with his problem with "Papa Bear". Ray told Jules to calm down. He tried to talk the crazed Jules down and said he would help her out with her problem, if she could help him out with his own.

Jim and Ray drove out to the Ranch to meet with Jules, Jim telling Ray to stay in the truck. When she showed Jim the pit with her sister, he told her it was no problem and he would help her out, if she could lend him a hand with Ray's problem. Jules agreed, falling back into line with her old C.O. and meeting Ray, setting Papa Bear's presumed doom into motion.

Ray had gotten tired of waiting and had to take a piss, and after running around for a place to go, wound up behind Emily's car as she walked up. She startled him and he peed all over himself, then accidentally caught his junk in his zipper. He tried to calmly recover and ask Emily if she'd ever done any heroin (she hadn't), and if she wanted to (she didn't). Emily, freaked out by watching Jules kill her sister and by the heroin junkie peeing behind her car, drove off back to the Manna Hotel to get a room...

As Ray, Jim and Jules returned to the Manna Hotel, Jim sent Ray inside to make sure "Papa Bear" was there. He was, in fact, as he was booking Emily to his "finest room". Ray stumbled in and recognized Emily, who recognized him, and he got off track. He and "Papa Bear" got back on track as Papa Bear berated him and told him to make sure room 7 was clean. Humiliated, Ray stormed out of Manna Hotel and told Jim he doesn't just want Papa Bear's ass kicked, he wants the whole hotel burned to the ground!

After Emily has settled into her room, Jim, Jules and Ray have gathered everything together to burn the place down. Jules, at Jim's orders, is moving room to room, making sure there are no innocents to catch in the crossfire. Emily is at the ice machine, when she sees Jules and recognizes her has as the killer from the Buffalo Ranch! She freaks out and runs, and Jules begins to give chase! Emily gets into her car as Jules chases her and, in a panic, runs Jules over!

Jules stares into the eyes of a mangy gray dog who asks her, in her sister's voice, why Jules killed her. Then the Manna High All Asian Football Team appears behind the dog and asks her why she killed their babies. Jules has a moment of clarity, before snapping once and for all and sitting up.

And with that, we hit the Tilt! At the end of Act One, you hit The Tilt, in which you introduce two new, random elements that must be incorporated into Act Two. We got "Cold Blooded Score Settling" and "You Thought It Was Taken Care Of, But It Wasn't", and we discussed where things were headed...namely trying to make sure that Emily didn't drive out of the story too soon.

We resumed with Jim standing in front of the Flagpole outside of the hotel in his fatigues, while Papa Bear was sweeping the sidewalk. As Jim got ready to confront Papa Bear, he heard Jules screaming around the Manna Hotel, and the sound of a car hitting a person! He ran to see what happened...and Emily's car clipped him as well!

Ray was watching from a window inside the hotel and panicked when Jim got ran over, but he pumped himself up and decided he would take care of business himself! He slipped out of the back door of the kitchen with a purpose...and got ran over by Emily!

Papa Bear watched in stunned silence as he heard someone get ran over behind the hotel, and then a man in military fatigues get ran over right in front of his American flag! He helped Jim up and said he would take him to a room to relax, and he would get Jim some medical help, trying to shush talks of a lawsuit. Jim agreed, and Papa Bear locked him in his room! He went around the hotel looking for the other impact victim, and found a bloody, disemboweled dog carcass in the lot, and a bloody footprint and bloody shoeprint limping away. He spotted Ray laying on the pavement as well, and took him to a room, telling him he would get him some "special medicine" before locking him in, heading to Jim's truck and finding the arson materials. He stared at his run down hotel, grabbed the materials, and went to work...

Emily, in a panic as she went down the road, hit her brakes as she remembered why she came...her accumulated evidence on Ed Keith, solidifying his connection to the Kansas City Mafia! She spun her car around and headed back to the crazy Manna Hotel, and when she saw Papa Bear attempting to set fire to the hotel, she intentionally clipped the Innkeeper with her car and ran inside!

However, Jules was lying in wait, covered in dog's blood that she had smeared across her face, and saw the car that ran into her...and the Vietnamese soldier that was driving it climb out and head into the base, where she knew her Commanding Officer was in danger. The War never ended, and like a good soldier, she went back to work, slipping in unnoticed.

Jim smelled the gasoline outside of the Hotel and he realized that Jules was crazy enough to set fire to the place with him inside! He went to the door and panicked when it was locked, so he tried to remove the window A/C unit, but in his panic he pulled it in instead of pushed it out, and got pinned under the unit!

Ray realized that Papa Bear isn't actually going to help him...so he went to the door and, sure enough, it was locked. He knew that Papa Bear had never actually replaced the screen on the window here, so he shoved it open and slipped outside...and found the gasoline. He grinned and got set to work burning the hotel down, until he saw something else that had gotten mixed up in the arson materials: One of his syringes. Ray chose his junk over fire, and shot himself up. He zeroed in on Papa Bear, who was hobbled from Emily's car, and and screamed "Papa Bear! I'm coming to get you!"

Papa Bear freaks as he sees the heroin addled junkie Ray Hannon charging at him...but manages to sidestep and shove him into an open window, where he lands on the window unit currently crushing Jim Churchill! Papa Bear shakes the cobwebs out and sets fire to the hotel!

Emily digs through the room and finds her case against Ed Keith, then calls the fire department about the attempted arson! All is well and good....

...except Jules is standing in the doorway and attacks, disemboweling Emily with glee as the flames spread around the hotel.

So after we rolled all of our dice and got our Aftermaths, Emily, Jim and Papa Bear all actually got GREAT results, while Ray and Jules, not so much.

The narrative wrap-up shook out as follows: Emily got a great ending because she actually left her room three minutes before Jules arrived. In her psychotic mind, she murdered a pillow, thinking it was the Vietnamese soldier that saw her kill her sister. Emily made the case against Ed Keith, and testified to Jules killing her sister, keeping quiet about Papa Bear setting fire to the hotel so he wouldn't testify to her running over three people in his parking lot and damaging her credibility against Ed Keith. Jim agreed to sell Jules out in exchange for a cut of the insurance money, testifying that Jules is crazy and still living in the war.

And Ray, who got everything rolling? He moved from one abusive relationship to the other, becoming a drug addled sex toy for Jim to take out his desires on, becoming a nearly mindless meat puppet.

Everyone had fun, and I served as facilitator, in part because I knew the rules better and in part because I'm the group's GM. My wife doesn't normally sit in, especially on RPG-like games, but she had a blast as well, and everybody contributed elements as the story went. One thing I think we all liked was the set-up, using the dice and charts to construct the game. It looks incredibly likely we'll do it again (especially when I mentioned the Dresden Files playset, as four of our five - myself included - as Dresden Files fans).