Guest Post by Stephen Toulouse: A Mythending Adventure Ends in Fiasco for Munchausen

This guest post is by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at Stepto.com.

If I had to pick three of my new favorite games my gaming circle has introduced me to this past year, it would be Fiasco, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Mythender. All three of these games involve basic improvisation skills and TERRIFY ME BEYOND ALL BELIEF. They are also terribly fun not just to play but to kibitz as well. (note I’m using the non-dick meaning of kibitz where you don’t constantly interrupt the game.)

The problem is I travel in some circles that involve people who write or perform for a living, so playing Fiasco with Wil, or Munchausen with Pat Rothfoss and Mike Selniker, or Mythender with Ryan Macklin can be mega super daunting. I’ll give you a for-instance: during a Fiasco game, Wil’s character was to meet my friend Eric’s character in a cheap bar. It was not the kind of place Wil’s character would ever go if he didn’t have to. Here’s how Wil opened the scene:

“I sit in the seedy bar, noting with disdain and disgust the rips in the vinyl cover of the dirty booth. With a sigh I slowly stir my cheap blend scotch rocks (the best this place could offer) with my finger watching the oily swirls of the cheap booze and the water. The tumbler is dirty and heavy, made from some poor cloudy looking glass. The smell of greasy beef coming from the kitchen well within view of the dining area is making me sick. I see [Eric’s Character] enter from the side, he looks shabby as always.”*

I mean, that’s how he opened. Eric played up to it perfectly but if you’re playing these games and people who have a lot of fun and a background of creativity and improv are playing with you, it can quickly put you in performance anxiety mode.

Thusly, I have tips for playing these games. These aren’t improv or story telling tips, they are just tips centered around the game experience itself.

#1: Don’t feel like you have to play to win.

Yes, most of these games have a form of scoring. But their structure is far more oriented towards everyone enjoying the game itself. I’ve “lost” many a game of Fiasco but much like losing at Chess I had a great time playing and learned something. I find I can relax my mind in these games quite a bit by simply not caring if I win.

#2: Role playing skills vary widely among people, don’t force yourself to try and play at the level of others.

This is by far the handiest tip I can give you, because it helps me the most. So when someone at the table absolutely knocks a scene or moment out of the park, don’t let that little voice who says “Well, I shouldn’t even speak at this point that was so good” stop you. I’ve played Fiasco games where the best role player or improv person actually didn’t win. It’s not about who can consistently turn their scenes into Shakespeare.

#3: Embrace the absurd or impossible when it’s presented.

This is by far the hardest tip to do. During a session of Munchausen, Pat was explaining how his rudimentary space ship reached the moon when Mike interjected and introduced a game challenge:

“But sir, what I do not understand is how you managed the trip being dead the entire time!”

Had I gotten that challenge I would have locked up and probably pushed back the challenge (you can do that in Munchausen), but it’s such a good challenge the other players would have forced it back on me. Pat took it in stride and wove a quick aside of what it truly means to be dead. I saw a similar scene in Fiasco where one character started off the scene describing the other character standing over their character’s own dead body, bloody knife in hand. This forced the other player to completely change what they were planning and explain how the situation came to be.

This is a hard piece of advice for these games because situations like this can happen often and force you into total and pure improv even if you already felt good about where you wanted to go. Take a moment, think about how you really would explain such a thing, and go for it.

#4: Have fun. It’s perfectly ok to stumble a bit or fail.

The most frustrating thing about these games is when people want to play them but feel they just aren’t good enough. Chances are if you are playing these games you are playing them with friends or, believe me, soon to be friends. If you take a moment to react to dialogue, or feel a story you are telling just isn’t working out, that’s ok. Sometimes there’s great fun in these games to playing in a more minimalist fashion with story telling and instead play the role of kingmaker by using your challenges or points to decide the winner. The point being if you’re going to sit at the table because this looks like fun, no one wants you to feel like this 20 minutes into it:

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I hope those tips help. If these games are new to you and you have no idea what I am talking about try watching the episode of TableTop featuring Fiasco!

Stepto

*I exaggerate only slightly. That’s more or less how Wil opened the scene. It was hysterical.

5 thoughts on “Guest Post by Stephen Toulouse: A Mythending Adventure Ends in Fiasco for Munchausen”

  1. That’s how Wil opened the scene, except it was even more dramatic. I’ve never experienced a more intimidating moment while role-playing in my entire life!

    It. Was. Awesome.

  2. Wil was on fire that night and, seriously, I think that was a pretty fiery convention for Fiasco overall. Lots of great games at a lot of great tables that weekend. Fiasco’s a great game for a skill that Wil already brings well to the table: the rising tide. Great RPG play, in my opinion, is so often about lifting up the whole shebang and getting things to sync or harmonize. That kind of killer opening sets the tone for the scene and helps everyone harmonize better because it’s a great foundation on which to build. It’s like a good, friendly dare.

    That passage, Stepto, is almost exactly how I remember it, too.

  3. You guys are so lucky to be together so often and actually play games.
    I am addicted to the game Gloom which I played at my brother’s who lives in Wales right next to where most of Doctor Who is filmed; much to his dismay — when he tries to get in his house and find that he has to wait until one of those urban outside takes is done.
    (I know that I am cussing in the Church on this forum but like my brother Dr. Who doesn’t do it for me — it’s so cheesy :D Let me ask you before you all try to hurt me!!! If you stab me do I not bleed?)

    I liked playing Gloom at my brother’s so much that the next day me and my sister-in-law walked into Cardiff , into the very appropriately named “Arcades” to the games store. YEAH! Gloom was still there nice!!! Ooooh and two expansion kits. Let’s buy the last game and the last 2 extensions. I am sure I would do my sister in law or my brother a favour by giving them either extension — they are relatively poor research students, who are done with their research and have to get by on their savings writing their thesis. And I admire their hard work for gaining their REAL Dr title (Unlike this time lord thingy who is called THE Doctor ;) )

    Unlike my brother me and my sister-in-law left this whole thing that everybody is raving about (and my brother as actually practicing as we were in town behind…)
    What was it called??? Oh yeah SPORTS!

    So I let my sister-in-law guide us to the best pub she knew as long as it was not more than 1 mile away (my estimated maximum walking distance).
    I got the beers and called my brother. Who said: “Oh I just finished my 16 mile run, where are you guys? O’Neils, playing Gloom, you bought Gloom too COOL? I walk there right away!” — I said we can drive over and pick him up,so he did not have to walk another 2 or 3 miles. But “Geekboy” appeared in no time *I am sure that in his evil bio laboratory he created a muscular cell accelerator* He never used to be fast, in the past. Hell in the past I was the sporty one and we always had… to… wait… for… him….. to…. get…. somewhere…. When I hit my 30s I started to degenerate, when he hit is 30s he started to regenerate (SCREW YOU DR WHO!!!! AND CARDIFF!!!)

    We sat down and played and yes we played to win — at least that’s what we think we were doing — but we played for laughs, beers and each other’s company. The fact that I had not seen my brother in 2 whole years made it even more special. And the last time I saw him I was with my ex-and she ended up needing dental surgery and was so sick from the antibiotics that our visit was only 2 hours.

    The oldies (our parents) also went to Wales to see their two sons and they were doing the Museums (boring old sods ;).
    They called me and I gave my phone to my sister-in-law as to guide them to this pub where we were at.
    When my dad and mum arrived I saw him smile and looking interested and the filthy bar table, which I had tried to clean with the most filthy cloth I got from that hot barmaid.

    So I had put down my close-up pad as not to smear stale beer onto these new cards; don’t ask, I always have a close-up pad with me in my shoulder bag when I am on holiday or a social gathering. Just in case someone pesters me in to performing a magic trick.
    The old man was more interested in the close up pad then the cards, touching it, petting it, poking it and looking at. I guess that this is what sex is after age 45! Stroking and seducing inanimate objects.

    Finally he spoke and said: “That’s a giant mouse mat!”
    I looked at him puzzled, wondering whether he with his 70s years, started to mentally deteriorate or that he was pulling my leg.
    “C’mon old man!” — I said: “This thing is always on the main table up stage in my mentalism show, it’s where my wine prediction and the lying games props are placed — a nice black surface with white marbles and cards great contrast.”

    He smiled and joked: “I only saw your show once 3 years ago, I guess me not remembering that’s saying something!” His wink and a loving brush through my receding 39 year old hair line felt so tender and lovingly — we always sorta bitch at each other that’s our sort of geeky humor.

    My mum and dad got their pints as we finished our first game. We asked if either one would join in but my mum doesn’t really like to learn new games and my dad , whom played with us the night before and being the first ever geek I ever met, and for the record I adore! And yes he is my stepdad too like Wil’s kids are his stepsons.

    I saw the little micro expression in his eyes but he decided to sit with my mum. Then you get that loving pensioners (though with 59 my mum isn’t technically a pensioner) quarrel: “C’mon honney play with the kids dear! I can entertain myself!”
    His soft soothing voice said lovingly: “Noooo… we can play tonight, those cards don’t go anywhere.”

    We played one more game. From time to time the oldies stood around us. My mum asking intriguing questions my dad doing his trademark: “hmm hmm hmmm” — which is the way he laughs.
    My father is one of those guys that initially laughs with his face and not really with his voice. It took me and my little brother years to figure out when or whether he was having fun… or being alive. Sometimes we’d jokingly get a spoon from the cutlery drawer and hold it under his nose when he sat reading the paper. The one doing the gag would shout: “NO WORRIES!!!! HE’S STILL ALIVE!”

    Just being all together… That was what was important I can’t even remember who won the first game, probably my little brother. I do know that last game when my brother killed of all his relatives had over hasted his math… He said he overlooked the new expansion we played with.. SURE!!!
    And we all had -150 points, a 3 person draw YAY!!! Like the wonderful American school system: “NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND! EVERYONE IS A WINNER!”

    We actually wanted to play that evening as well but after the immense lovely Indian restaurant which our parents taken us and the fact that I had to drive back from Wales to Ashford the next morning to show some ideas at my magic supplier (that is “real” magic guys not that card game ;) ) I had to withdraw myself to the hotel.

    These “old fashioned” board and card games, or as we call them here in Holland, Old-Dutch Family Games — naah sounds better in Dutch. Really bring your friends and family together.
    And indeed the game comes second to each other’s company. Or even third when we count the drinks, snacks and cigars.

    It’s a shame that all of my friends and family are scattered over the country and the world for that matter. Usually it’s a 2 person gathering, not enough for most games. And when we finally meet (sometimes after 2 years or more) we have too much to catch up on and the game would intervene with the social aspect of live. But I know that when we play a traditional game, it’s a special moment and I cherish those.
    Which is weird because we used to play games at home almost every friday or saturday night and going to the movies was a real treat. Now going to the movies is mundane (and with the shizz coming from Hollywood these days more often than not a sad let down) and playing the games is the real treat.

    Do we get more sentimental when we get older? Or just wiser and see what games really mean?

  4. I don’t think the whole concept of winning and losing applies well to most RPGs. I’ve been in D&D campaigns that ended in TPKs that were a blast, and I’ve been in campaigns were my character ends up fat, dumb, and happy on top of a pile of dead orks that were meh at best.

    I’ve never played Fiasco; my only exposure being seeing Wil and friends play it on Tabletop. I think it is a game where you really need to be able to separate the idea of a player winning from a character winning. Look at Shakespeare: No one can say that Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet “won” at the end of the story, but those are the characters that everybody loves and actors want to play.

    1. Correction, Anglo Saxon Actors want to play Romeo and Julliet and Hamlet.
      I’ve never seen a Dutch, Belgian or German actor say: “Okay! Let’s do Hamlet! But we first translate it to our old dialect!” ;)
      The German version would then probably be called Gunter and Ahuva, taking place in 1940s Germany.
      Gunter’s dad is the head of the Gestapo and Ahuva the daughter of a militant Rabbi.

      BTW what is it with Anglo Saxons and melancholy? I bet when you enlist at stage school in the British Common Wealth (including the US). Accompanied with the stationary required for the course, is a box which says: “To be or not to be! That IS the question” and it contains 12 extra sharp razor blades to slid your wrists with from the pure depressive Shakespearean curriculum.

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