Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fiasco: How I Learned to Stop Caring and Love the 12-pound Mountain Howitzer

When it's firing on all cylinders, Fiasco might be my favorite game of all time. It's a weird mishmash of mechanics and GM-less roleplaying that basically lets you create a Cohen Brothers film. I just had one of the best sessions I've played yet and figured it was worth sharing. We used the Boomtown playset, which I've had good luck with; people seem to be comfortable with Western tropes, and they work well with Fiasco's themes. [gameplay details are in brackets. In Acts 1 & 2, each paragraph was a “scene.”]

The Setup
[Lacey & Anglebolt – The Past (relationship): a criminal & a detective – Weapon (object): 12-pound Mountain Howitzer]
[Anglebolt & Brisbee – Community (relationship): elected officials – Residence (location): a squalid apartment above a newspaper office]
[Brisbee & Doogal – Crime (relationship): gamblers – To Get Rich (need): through fraud and trickery]
[Doogal & Lacey - Work (relationship): professional/client – Information (object): contract with the Pinkerton detective agency]

Brisbee, a portly Southern gent with the sort of charisma possessed by used car salesmen, has been Mayor of Pendleton for quite a number of terms. This is because he's supported by...

James Doogal, a powerful crime lord (read “legitimate businessman”) who owns most of Pendleton legally or otherwise, including its mayor. Brisbee fell in with Doogal after accruing horrific gambling debts at his tavern, but he's been riding high ever since. However, the Mayoral election looms in a few days, and there are two relative newcomers he fears. One is a Lawyer, the other is...

Thomas Anglebolt, Pendleton's Treasurer. He's a rising star in Pendleton's community, but he has a dark past. He used to be a notorious outlaw, and staged a bank robbery with a 12-pound Mountain Howitzer he recovered from his days in the Civil War, but he has escaped to remote Pendleton to clean up his act and used his illicit gains to establish himself as a respected political figure. He has temporarily stashed his Howitzer in a small apartment he owns above the newspaper office, but he needs a more permanent hiding place lest it be discovered by someone like...

Dick Lacey. He's a private investigator with the Pinkerton detective agency who served alongside Anglebolt in the war and is convinced he is the masked outlaw he has been tracking for years, and he's come to Pendleton to find proof and closure.

Act I
Doogal confidently strides into the Lawyer's home. They exchange forced pleasantries and Doogal is given a sarsaparilla. Doogal explains that he has a longstanding “arrangement” with the current mayor, and after his goons draw weapons, the Lawyer hurriedly agrees to leave town (and even asks him to keep the glass as a parting gift).

Lacey comes into town and immediately heads for the saloon for information. The bartender doesn't know much about Anglebolt other than that he is very upstanding citizen, but he suggests Lacey should pay him a visit at his office above the local newspaper.

But Anglebolt isn't at his office, he's in a dank basement beneath the saloon playing high-stakes Poker and winning big. He slaps down another big bet and nobody will match him until... Doogal saunters out of the back room. He owns this place, it's where Brisbee first got in his debt, and he doesn't like the attitude of this upstart who is looking to challenge his friend's campaign. They agree to play another hand; if Anglebolt wins, Doogal agrees to take his “business” to another town. But Doogal's men rig the deck, and Anglebolt loses. Doogal lets him go unharmed (though significantly lighter in pocket), but says Anglebolt owes him a “favor.”

Brisbee pays Doogal a visit. He's glad to hear that the Lawyer has been run out of town, but he's nervous about his other opponent, the much-loved Anglebolt. Doogal says Anglebolt is too entrenched in the community to simply scare away or bump off without consequences, but his criminal network knows some things about Anglebolt's past that will serve useful, and he's heard that a new lawman has come into town...

Doogal arranges a meeting with Lacey. He tells Lacey that his network observed Anglebolt hauling a large crate into his office, that he thinks Lacey has been involved in illegally-requisitioned Civil War materials, and he's willing to hire Lacey for a substantial amount to expose the truth. Unbeknownst to Doogal, Lacey was already hot on the case, but he's happy to accept a bribe and some useful information.

Lacey pays a visit to the newspaper, but the receptionist won't let him upstairs without Anglebolt being present. He decides to stake out the place.

Despite Doogal being the “unbiased” moderator, Anglebolt crushes Brisbee at the mayoral debates. Brisbee waxes about his dam projects and the expansion of a nearby mine (which Doogal just happens to have stake in), but Anglebolt's plees for education and a railway win over the hearts and minds of the people. With the election a couple days away, Brisbee is getting hot under the collar.

Deciding that Doogal's approach is taking too long, Brisbee decides to take matters into his own hands. He discovers that Anglebolt owns insurance policies on several of Pendleton's amenities, including the mine. He drafts a document detailing an elaborate plan to break the dam and flood the mine, and he crudely forges Anglebolt's signature on it. He then attempts to break into Anglebolt's office and hide the document so he can later alert the Sheriff. However he lacks athleticism and struggles to try and reach the upstairs window, and he is discovered by Lacey (who has been staking out the premises) and flees into the night before he's identified, dropping some of the pages detailing the alleged plan!

The Tilt
[Innocence: the wrong guy gets busted – Mayhem: a frantic chase]

Act II
Lacey finds the pages and brings them to the Sheriff. The Sheriff happens to know that Doogal has stake in the mines and thinks he finally has something to solid on him. They immediately head to the saloon and arrest Doogal.

Seeing that nobody appears to be around, Anglebolt attempts to sneak the Howitzer out of the newspaper office so he can bring it somewhere where people aren't asking around for him. He loads it onto a wagon with the help of some criminal assistants, but Lacey returns to his stakeout just in time to spot him and the two recognize one another. A chase ensues! Lacey is in hot pursuit along with the Sheriff's men on horseback while Anglebolt flees with his men! Anglebolt manages to lose most of his pursers by escaping into the mine, but Lacey has a hunch and gives chase on foot. He meets a couple of Anglebolt's goons and without instruction (not knowing who he is) they decide to beat him within an inch of his life with mining equipment. Even though Anglebolt has no idea this even happened, Lacey lies in a hospital bed, consumed with boundless rage, thinking that his old friend ordered the beating. Now he doesn't just want Anglebolt brought to justice, he wants him dead.

Brisbee visits Doogal in his jail cell, panicking about his campaign. They both piece together what happened (though Doogal has to violently strangle Brisbee through the bars to make him explain that he went behind his back with the forged document plan).

Doogal is furious, but the evidence against him is shaky at best. He is told that he will be released.

Brisbee is summoned to Lacey's hospital bed. Lacey offers him a solution to his problems: they'll kill Anglebolt together.

Anglebolt wins the election in a landslide.

Brisbee arranges for the inauguration to take place just outside the mine since it's “a symbol of the town's prosperous future.” As he ceremoniously passes off the key to the city, he makes sure that he gets Anglebolt to stand directly in sight of Lacey, who hides in the mine with a rifle. However, Lacey's injuries, combined with an untimely glint of sunlight in his scope, cause him to miss his target and strike Brisbee directly in the heart!

At that very moment, Doogal arrives at the ceremony and steps out of his carriage with a theatrical flourish. Unfortunately he does this precisely as Brisbee is shot, appearing to have signaled the attack, and the Sheriff immediately takes him back into custody for murder.

The Aftermath
[Brisbee – 3 black]
[Doogal – 10 black]
[Lacey – 3 white]
[Anglebolt – 15 white]

As Brisbee lies dying on the ground, with nobody around caring all that much, he thinks to himself that if he were to be involved with further crimes, he probably ought to just leave it up to the professionals.

Doogal calls in his favor with Anglebolt and is soon after released again. He decides it might be best to move his enterprises to a different town.

Lacey lies injured in the mine, fleeing further inside to avoid the authorities. With nothing left to lose, he searches for Anglebolt's mysterious crate. Locating it, he uncovers the 12-pound Mountain Howitzer. In a blaze of fury, he arms it and fires into one of the mine's primary support structures, causing water to rush in and bringing the whole thing down around him and his enemies!

Except that Anglebolt is long gone. Settling nicely into his new position as Mayor, he's surprised to discover that some insurance policies he held on the recently collapsed mine will be paying him substantial dividends, and he uses them to help fund a new railway and usher in a golden age for Pendleton! Sometimes he wonders what ever happened to his old war buddy Lacey though.

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