Patrick DeWitt’s western, The Sisters Brothers is, for me, a lighter version of a Cormac McCarthy novel. An acquaintance of mine had it pushed to her as a hilarious, funniest book ever kind of thing and it set her up for immense disappointment. I mean, it is funny but in a dry, dark, taking horrible things seriously kind of way. I can’t remember if the Coen brothers comparison is on the cover of the book (mine was an e-copy) but it’s funny in the Fargo way, not The Big Lebowski.
In any case the story is about a couple of bounty-hunting brothers (whose last name is Sisters, which makes this another addition to the collection of books that cause misreadings of their titles based on imagined apostrophes – my favourite other example being Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End) going down from Oregon to San Francisco to kill a guy. There are shitty horses and merciful decisions and badass gunfighting (badass in the brutal “there ain’t nothing honourable about shooting a man” kind of way), and it definitely fits in the picture of the time painted by Deadwood or Unforgiven.
I liked it, but anyone selling it as a funny book is emphasizing the wrong aspects, I think. It’s a story of brutality and masculinity. And it has a great cover.
I played my first Fiasco game on Saturday with Jonathan (who’s a boardgamer and RPG dabbler) and Jamie (who had never played a tabletop RPG before). I’d just bought it at Emerald City Comicon, so it all seemed very serendipitous.
Fiasco is a GM-less storytelling game and it’s often pitched as “a game for creating a Coen brothers movie.” Unlike a more traditional RPG, the dice are more of a pacing mechanism than strict determinants of success and failure. Characters are generated through the relationships they have with each other before you really get into the specifics of what makes them tick. The other keys to the game are Needs, Objects and Locations. Each of those, along with the Relationships, are supposed to be things that will get the characters into a huge mess of trouble.
The game rotates through scenes focusing on each of the player characters. Halfway through a Tilt element is added, and then in the end you show what happened. Setting things up is done through a mix of choice and randomness based on the charts in each Playset (which are a basic setting).
Our game was set in the old west. We had a sick lazy Sheriff, his “doctor,” and his deputy. The doctor and deputy were trying to steal Widow Tompkins’ inheritance and get away with murder. The sheriff just wanted some pie (and everyone else at his beck and call). In the end, the doctor got away scot-free, the sheriff was an invalid being tended to by a disgraced deputy.
The game is definitely fun. There’s a lot of choice and everything feels pretty meaningful (as far as sitting around telling stories about made-up people can be). I think the next time we play, I’d want to push our scenes to have slightly higher stakes and stronger conflicts. We could have ramped it up to be a bit more madcap by the end. A gun was drawn in anger, a widow was defrauded, but it never got out of control.
Part of that was just because this was our first game and we were learning the ropes. We sometimes stumped ourselves deciding what the next good scene might be, and we could sometimes go a bit overboard in the establishment, leaving little for the scene itself to do. I can see how with a bit of practice and sense of short clear questions that the scene will resolve this game will produce some awesome experiences. I can’t wait to play again.
Tomorrow I do my first storytime. It’s an easy theme to do because it’s all song-related. And it’s easy to be goofy and make kids like you if you’re all singing silly songs (with puppets). My favourite book we’re going to do is a book telling the story of On Top of Spaghetti, with plenty of room for the kids to join in. Today I sat in on my coworker’s Time for Twos which is less my cup of tea, but whatever. Those kids don’t get jokes yet. I volunteered to start doing the storytimes right away on purpose, so I can feel a bit more legitimate in not doing as much with the little bitty kids.
Tonight, after spending the afternoon finishing Anathem (very good but all in all I prefer the Baroque Cycle), I went to see Burn After Reading. It took a while to get into it, but by the end I really liked the movie. At first it felt a bit too Intolerable Cruelty, but got to something more in the good Coen Brothers stuff once Frances McDormand got screen time. There are clear parallels to The Big Lebowski and The Man Who Wasn’t There, but it felt most like they were trying to remake Fargo (without the funny accents). So yeah, not as good as any of those three, but it had its heart in the right place.