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This is a two-part question about Locations in Fiasco:

  1. How do I make Locations important to the story? In every Fiasco game that I have played so far, the story has been driven by the Needs of the characters. Most of the time when a scene is established, the players look at the Needs and figure out what would be the most likely next course of action. Once this has been decided, we set the scene in whatever place makes the most sense, regardless of the Location that was picked during the setup. A lot of the time, the Location feels too constraining or doesn't seem to be a good fit for the scene at all.

  2. How does a frequently visited Location improve the game? Assuming that there are ways to make the Location more important, possibly by forcing it into the scene, how does this improve the game? We have thought about dictating that the Location should be part of the next scene, but we rarely felt that it would improve the overall story. I have also noted that some of the movies suggested in the rulebook have important scenes take place in several different locations (such as Burn After Reading, which takes place in the gym, the park, the embassy, and at least two different apartments - including different rooms in those apartments).

An ideal answer should address both of these questions.

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Can you clarify why you feel this is better as a two-part question than as two separate questions? I'm not challenging your decision, it's just that often each part of a question gets more love and attention if it's not bundled with other parts, unless there's a clear reason they have to be answered as one. –  BESW Aug 27 '13 at 15:11
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I feel that any advice given here would be unlikely to be followed (by me and by others) unless it's also made clear how it improves the game. I have thought about simply forcing the Location into our scenes - which would normally be the most straightforward answer to this question - but without some motivation, that would simply seem like rules coming in the way of enjoyment. –  Jakob Aug 27 '13 at 16:36
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4 Answers 4

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Locations are important to the game because they are important to your characters, just like the Needs and Items are. (It's actually a matter of "It's important, because the rules say it's important", but that's not an answer that's of any use to you.) Locations are places where something either has happened or will happen that's going to have an impact on the story.

The exact details are going to vary from story to story (or Playset to Playset), but the good news is that you and the other players get to determine exactly why a location is important. You get to hammer out the details that would change a constraining Location into a great one.

Like your Needs and Items, Locations need to be evocative and they need to be able to feed into conflict in some way. While you are brainstorming them, the Locations should provide a lot of inspiration about the story and the characters. If the name of the location provided from the Playset doesn't seem helpful, spice it up with details until it is. A good question to ask is "What could go wrong at this location during the game?" and go from there.

For example, something like "Mr. Smith's house" may isn't very interesting at first. But fill in the details about it! Is it a huge mansion? Is it a tiny hovel? Is Mr. Smith making meth in his basement? Is there a shelf of prized glass figurines in the living room that's itching to be smashed? Is there a body under the floorboards, or buried out in the rosebushes?

Ideally, the Location should 'hook' the players into wanting to use it. Keep revising/adding details until everyone wants to be the first to set their scene there.

Frequently visited Locations improve the game by building continuity of the story. Most likely, bad things are going to happen during your scenes. When they do, the Location will be changed to reflect that. Maybe somebody got murdered, so now there's a huge stain on the rug. Maybe a gun went off and there are bullet holes in the front door. Maybe somebody hid something illegal in the couch cushions. Maybe something valuable is missing. In any of these cases, there is now something to use to further build conflict in a later scene.

More subtly, you can vary the tone of the scenes that occur at a given location. Maybe there's a scene in Bob and Connie's bedroom early on that shows how much they love each other. Then there's a scene where they get in a screaming match. Even later on, we might revisit the bedroom as Darla drags Bob in there to take advantage of him after spiking his drink. By using the same location with different tones, you're showing how the characters have changed, or how far they've fallen during the story.

Another thing to note is that if you don't like Locations, you don't need to use them. I've had Locations, Items and Needs that seem really interesting during Set-up get dropped in favor of something else during the actual game. We weren't doing anything wrong, they just weren't as cool as the things we were already doing. It doesn't have to be "Well, the rules say there are Locations so we HAVE to use them", but "This is our toolbox for the game; Which tools do we need this time?"

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I like the idea of fleshing out Locations a lot more in order to make them interesting, but how does this mesh with the philosophy that you should not "play the game in advance" during the setup? You don't know right away which way the story will go, and you don't want to lock yourself into too many details ahead of time. Any advice on what type of details you should add during the setup and what type of details you should leave out? –  Jakob Aug 31 '13 at 18:59
    
You want to strike a balance between extremely broad strokes and making the Location interesting. A quick description of the place that notes any features that stand out would be sufficient. You want enough set dressing that you can easily visualize the Location, so creating one or two big details are fine. ("There's a really big fireplace.", "The stairs out front are ready to fall apart.") If you have an idea for a scene based at this Location, you can start planting the seeds for it, just don't feel like you HAVE to use those details later on. Sometimes, a Chekov's Gun won't really be fired. –  Discord Sep 2 '13 at 18:00
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You don't have to. Either they will be important (as in a game I played where one location was the old run-down mansion that ruined my character with renovation costs, and the "place where she is secretly buried" nearby), or they won't be important.

What is important about Locations is that they give you a springboard and framework from which to launch and then hang the story, along with all the other details. Not every detail must be important, and due to the scene economy, it's very hard and likely artificial to make every element important. If your games of Fiasco are actually going at all, Locations are serving their design purpose perfectly.

A frequently-visited Location improves the game via [reincorporation][1], which means that it inspires meta-textual thoughts that themselves inspire more details of play. However, making a Location important is, again, entirely beside the point – you find out which places are important by playing and seeing what places come up repeatedly. If you never visit one more than once, or at all, then it's no loss at all to the game. As you note yourself, shoehorning a Location into the game rarely actually improves anything, because it's artificial and not synergising with what you're already imagining. As your intuition told you, that's to be avoided.

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The way I see it, it's not necessarily a frequently visited location, although it can be. I have played a game where the location 'Captain's Quarters' was only visited once or twice, but it was a pivotal moment for the whole arc of the characters involved. I have also played a run through where we used the named location over and over again, so it's up to you, is it just important once, or is it frequently important?

It's the importance that matters as far as I know, so if it's just somewhere that the scene happens to be set, then fine, but it's better if the location matters: isn't it more interesting if Bob and Mary have their massive argument in a sleazy bar in Soho than in their own dining room? The location can give ideas for the scene, or ideas for extra characters to pop up, or scenery to use to enhance your scene. It can make things more interesting, don't feel pressured to include it, but try to work out why your characters might be there, what it means to them, and how it can add to your scene.

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Ultimately locations are merely scene dressing for any story unless you actively make the location a character unto itself. A great example of this is the way action movies (particularly martial arts movies) frequently involve the setting of the scene of a showdown to influence the course of the fight and its ultimate outcome. The cliche of the villain failing to heed his surroundings and give into his worst flaws (arrogance, lust, rage, etc.) only to have the hero use the surroundings to their undoing. The Legend of the Drunken Master is a great example of this.

This sort of use of scenery is not always appropriate though if you're playing a fiasco game that is more about the tension between the characters and their goals rather than a direct confrontation. In such instances the location should always be used to set the tone for a scene. You aren't just meeting the other character in a bar, you're meeting them in a rundown gin-mill where prostitutes pull johns or in a glitzy establishment that is the epitome of style and service. Both are bars, but the difference in how the scene is set for the characters is tremendous.

Likewise if you're creating a central and/or recurring location you can use that location as a mirror darkly to reflect whats going on in the story. As the highs and lows come for each character (and them all together) changes should occur to the location that reflect this. A location should always make sense for the type of story you are trying to tell. In Wil Wheaton's Fiasco play-through, almost all of the action takes place in one location, a slimy death-trap of a disco club which is incredibly appropriate for both characters and the type of story the end up telling. You could equally choose a very inappropriate location to tell the same story (say the dance hall on a senior's cruise ship), but the inversion of the expected usually makes for comedy rather than drama.

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