This weekend I sat down with five friends to play Fiasco; since the game is for 2-5 players, Edmund was kind enough to act as facilitator for the rest of us. We played Pete Douglas’ free playset “Bravazzo”:
Bravazzo! is set in the Italian city-state of Ferrara in 1435 at the dawning of the Renaissance. It fuses together the vain ambitions of the nobility, the desperate brutality of the peasantry, the venal profiteering of the merchants, and the mystical corruption of the priesthood in a con-fuse-ion of double-dealing, back-stabbing, empire building, and courtly intrigue at a time when the Reason of Man was slowly emerging from the darkness of the Middle Ages. Players will assume the roles of corrupt bishops, murderous nobility, ambitious bankers, pious priests, desperate brigands, virginal maidens, and coarse peasants, in a sordid medieval fiasco.
We set up the following characters: Father Benedetti (Steve W.), confessor to the rich and powerful.
- Relationship: He and François were related but didn’t know it
- Object: A pit filled with stakes and lime.
François de la Porte (Paul), spy and duellist.
- Relationship: He was the spy, Lady Armida was the spymaster.
- Need: To win renown as a great duellist.
Lady Armida di Aramonte de Firenze (Maureen), artist and spy master.
- Relationship: She was the genius artist, Count Luigi was her patron.
- Object: Letter of excommunication.
Count Luigi Bacciagalupi (Steve P.), noble dilettante.
- Relationship: He and Contessa Teresa were rivals at court, vying for power and land from the Duke of Ferrara.
- Location: The Hall of Games at the Castello Estense.
Contessa Teresa de Sinterra de Cavole (Sophie—that’s me), schemer always purporting to be acting on behalf of a husband never seen.
- Relationship: Parishioner to Father Benedetti.
- Location: The Ferrara cemetery.
The First Act
- Paul (setting the scene): François de la Porte arrives at Lady Armida’s house, having been summoned from his previous post in France by the spymaster. He is taken aback to meet a woman when he expects her brother, but Lord Aramonte just died. They chat in her painting workspace and she tells him she needs him as duellist to fight for her in an affair of honour, as a cover for spy work since she has taken over her brother’s role. François is dismissive of Lady Armida, who doesn’t even have a signet ring to prove her spymaster bona fide. He somewhat reassesses her capacity when the male model she was painting, nearly forgotten, tries to sneak up on Lady Armida to murder her and she despatches him by stabbing him through the eye with one of her paintbrushes. Nevertheless, François remains wary.
- Maureen (resolving the scene): Father Benedetti is performing the funeral service for the interment of Lady Armida‘s brother, and the entire cast is present; Lady Armida is now wearing an ornate signet ring. The casket is extra heavy since a second body has been stashed in it for disposal! Father Benedetti discretely kicks some dirt over the side of the grave to hide an extra hand… He also notices François de la Porte and his eyes narrow as he seems to notice something familiar about the Frenchman. Meanwhile, Count Luigi approaches Lady Armida to talk about a commission but starts becoming suspicious of her when he notices the extra limbs in the casket. While she is chatting, Armida notices the resemblance between Father Benedetti and François de la Porte.
- Steve P. (setting the scene): A scene right out of Shakespeare: it’s night and gravediggers paid by François de la Porte are exhuming Lord Aramonte’s coffin. Father Benedetti, checking on the nefarious activity in fear that someone will wander over to the pit trap he has prepared as his “fallback solution” to potential accusations of heresy, also spots Lady Armida watching, unnoticed by François. Count Luigi, suspicious of Lady Armida, has followed her; and Contessa Teresa, out to catch her rival in some untoward activity, has followed him in turn. Observed by many hidden eyes, François opens the casket—but instead of Lord Aramonte and perhaps an unfortunate male model, finds the body of a beautiful woman! He pulls a letter out of her cleavage. At this point, Father Benedetti chases everyone out of the cemetery and, as the ranking man present, pins the blame for the desecration on Count Luigi. The latter is left doubly speechless as he recognizes the dead woman as one he saw earlier in one of Lady Armida’s paintings!
- Sophie (setting the scene): A flashback of Contessas Teresa, in confession to Father Benedetti, who mentions strange nocturnal activity frequently happening in the graveyard at night. Father Benedetti becomes agitated, thinking she has seen him dig the pit trap, and admonishes her not to look any further into it.
- Steve W. (setting the scene): Father Benedetti visits Count Luigi at the Hall of Games in Castello Estence and broaches the topic of the previous night’s grave-robbing incident. They talk a walk in the gardens; Count Luigi assures the Father he was merely checking up on things and had nothing to do with the events. Father Benedetti mentions doubts about the Count’s protégée Lady Armida and the burial of her brother. Count Luigi, who is already in shaky standing with Rome, buys indulgences and promises to send Lady Armida to the Father to reassure him on the state of her soul.
- Paul (setting the scene): François de la Porte is hidden outside the window on the upper floor of the priest’s quarters, listening to Father Benedetti and Lady Armida talking about the dubious burial. Father Benedetti spots François’s reflection in a mirror.
- Maureen (setting the scene): Lady Armida walks in on François at his lodgings, just after he opens the letter he found on the dead woman’s body. It reads: “Monsieur de la Porte, I understand that your employer has passed, but rest assured that the post has been left in capable hands.” The note is signed with a glyph. She asks mockingly whether he had been expecting a different letter—of excommunication, perhaps. She says the woman had been her brother’s mistress. She offers François a prestigious duel where he can earn renown, and he cautiously agrees. But Count Luigi observe Lady Armida when she walks out of François’s lodgings…
- Steve P. (setting the scene): A flashback to several years earlier, at the occasion of a festive dinner at the Duke of Ferraro’s. A younger Lady Armida and her brother are there, as are Contessa Teresa—representing her husband, of course—and Count Luigi, both trying to wrangle control of a piece of land from the Duke. Count Luigi embarrasses himself by asking that a novelty dish imported from Spain, a cold soup, be served warm; Contessa Teresa seizes the moment when his gaffe discredits him, and gets the Duke’s favour in the dispute.
- Sophie (setting the scene): Contessa Teresa and Father Benedetti are paired off, playing cards against Count Luigi and Lady Armida. Teresa offers a wager on the upcoming duel in order to draw Count Luigi into intrigue, but he retaliates by cheating and winning at cards.
- Steve W. (resolving the scene): Father Benedetti finally meet François and explains the cause of the duel for Lady Armida’s honour: the Duke of Siena, visiting Ferrara, publicly disparaged Lady Armida’s art; François will fight the Duke’s champion. Father Benedetti turns the conversation to François’s origins and family, learns that he is an orphan raised by grandparents, and has nothing left of his unknown father but a ring. Shown the ring, Father Benedetti makes hasty excuses and staggers out. Once alone in his own quarters, the Father pulls out a ring on a chain, an exact match to François’s. After shaking himself, he sits at his desk and starts writing with renewed energy.
- Guilt: A visit from the authorities
- Paranoia: A stranger arrives to settle a score.
- Steve W. (setting the scene): As Father Benedetti gives his letter to a runner, another brings him a missive with a papal seal. He walks into court, looking very concerned; Lady Armida brings him a glass of wine and inquires after his health. As he tries to fold the letter, his hands shake a bit so she steadies him—and manages to spot the words “Holly Office” and “investigation.” Lady Armida purloins the letter at the first opportunity and learns that an Inquisitor is on his way to investigate rumours of heresy in Ferrara.
- Sophie (resolving the scene): In media res at the Castello Estense, François de la Porte falls to his knees, holding his bleeding side; looking up at Contessa Teresa, who is standing over him holding a bloody dagger, he exclaims: “Madame, this will not stop me from fighting the duel!” Teresa calls out: “Help, help, this man has been wounded!” There is a big hubbub, in which the Contessa claims that a strange man attacked François from behind. In exchange for extorting a certain piece of land, Count Luigi supports her story.
- Steve P. (resolving the scene): Father Benedetti, worried about François’s survival, keeps watch over the unconscious young man and confesses that he is his father but not actually in a priest; he has been excommunicated years ago and changed his identity; at this point, the Inquisitor arrives. Father Benedetti goes to Count Luigi and tells him that the Inquisitor is here to investigate the Count’s reported heresy. Benedetti tells the Count he can get him out of the city safely but wants to come along and bring François. They agree to meet at midnight near the river where it borders the cemetery.
- Maureen (resolving the scene): Count Luigi comes to Lady Armida and tells her she must come with him as he escapes and flees. She says she will think on it; surprised by her lukewarm reaction, Count Luigi tells her to meet at the gate closest to where he is to meet with Father Benedetti. Once he is gone, Armida “updates” the letter of excommunication she stole from the papal envoy’s bag and sneaks it back where it came from.
- Paul (resolving the scene): François de la Porte is approached by Father Benedetti, who urges him to flee this same night and give up the duel planned for the next morning. Benedetti tells the younger man that he will be suspect just for his parentage, and pulls out his own ring as proof of their connection. “If you stay, you die,” he assures flatly; “if you fight you die.”
- Steve W. (setting the scene): Father Benedetti, having packed for travel, comes back to François’s lodgings that night, but finds nothing but bloody bandages and a note: “I must fight.” At a loss for what else to do, Benedetti goes to meet Count Luigi and asks the Count to help him find his son. Luigi thinks hard about the places a duellist might hide in, and takes Benedetti to a den of perdition. They do find François but he greets them with his sword, saying: You cannot stop the fight, Father!”
- Sophie (setting the scene): Flashback to the day before, with a young man is practicing swordsmanship. It’s actually Contessa Teresa—she’s a man, and the Duke of Siena’s champion! Lady Armida comes to see her and pays her off to fight François.
- Steve P. (setting the scene): Count Luigi meets with Father Benedetti, who has knocked François unconscious and loaded him onto a mule. They sneak out in the pouring rain in the dark of night, nearly make it… but are intercepted by the Inquisitor and his troops, accompanied by Duke of Siena’s champion and armsmen. François wakes up, calls out for help against those who kidnapped him! Jumping to his feet, he draws his sword and fall on guard, facing Siena’s champion!
- Maureen (sets the scene): The Inquisitor pulls his papers out and starts reading the letter of excommunication… which only names the Duke of Siena. From the shadows, Lady Armida grins, calling: “Heretics! Get them!” When the ecclesiastic troops try to arrest Siena’s men, both François and “Teresa” refuse—they will have their duel. They fight back-to-back against the Inquisitor’s men.
- Paul (sets the scene): It’s the first light of dawn, the rain is tapering off and rainbows shimmer; the duellists stand with red blades and surrounded by the bodies of the Inquisitor’s men. Only the Inquisitor himself is left, so Father Benedetti tackles him and they both fall into the pit at the edge of the cemetery, filled with spikes and lime. Armida whispers to the Father, “Can you get the papers?” The duellists turn to face each other and fight at last—when Teresa slips in the mud and impales himself onto François‘s sword. François will not know whether he is the better swordsman.
- “Teresa” will survive the wound (white die.)
- Count Luigi won’t get the coveted piece of land (black die.)
- Lady Armida is not linked to the unfortunate events (white die.)
- François will not have his duel (black die.)
- Benedetti crawls out of the pit alive (white die.)
- “Teresa” is not excommunicated (white die.)
- Lady Armida retrieved and reuses the real excommunication papers (white die.)
- François leaves on a Portuguese ship bound for the southern seas (white die.)
- Benedetti gets to say goodbye to his son (white die.)
- “Contessa Teresa”‘s double identity is publicly revealed (black die.)
- Everyone forgets about Count Luigi’s gazpacho gaffe (white die.)
- Lady Armida lost good help—and it’s so hard to find (black die.)
- François is shipwrecked in Japan (black die.)
- Father Benedetti is now a wanted man (black die.)
- “Teresa”‘s next con is actually completed smoothly with Lady Armida’s help (white die.)
- Lady Armida becomes successful as an artist (white die.)
- François makes a mistake at a tea ceremony and has to commit seppuku—badly (black die.)
- Father Benedetti wanders into France during the end period of the Hundred-Year War, throws his lot behind King Charles VI and dies miserably.
We had a great time. Even the board game fan in our group, who typically dislikes role-playing, was happy with the game.