Fiasco: The Best Game for Role-Playing Newbies

Fiasco RPG inside bookThe Setup

In every social circle I’ve been lucky enough to become a part of, I tend to be the one who has the most experience with role-playing games or, to take it a step further, plays them at all. I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging because it really isn’t. As a result, the responsibility of introducing interested friends both new and old to role-playing games falls on my shoulders.

This is because eventually I will be asked what I do for fun, and I can only overstate my guitar-playing abilities so many times before they find out I break my fingers every time I finger a C chord.

Whenever I do manage to wrangle a group of people who are ready to start using “d20,” “natural 1,” and “I roll to seduce the dragon” in everyday conversation, my go-to game is Jason Morningstar’s Fiasco. The role-playing game, which bills itself as a game of powerful ambition and poor impulse control, has been featured in a shining review on Wired and won awards for being so good. It lets its players act out their own Coen brothers movie, using only a handful of dice and a few pages of prompts.

This is one of the big reasons I think the game does so well with people who can’t tell an aboleth from a yochlol (yet). While many people haven’t read The Lord of the Rings (I haven’t, and I apologize for that), everyone has watched a movie. Everyone can appreciate a good story. Everyone can have fun tearing down their friends’ unsound plans. Fiasco‘s range of playsets, light and intuitive rule set, and inherent level of familiarity make it the ideal game for new role-players.

Twelve white dice Fiasco RPGThe Tilt

New players will appreciate that the only things they have to keep track of are the other players’ names and what has happened in the “movie” so far. There’s no information overload from character sheets and spell lists. No arrows to mark off, no distances to calculate, and no gold coins to account for. And forget about tracking experience points (I don’t know anyone who still does that, but that’s another post).

Building off each other’s contributions to the story is a practiced skill, but if your group has more fun being Michael Bay then why worry? On top of this, learning the rules is a matter of playing through the game once and introducing elements as they become relevant at each stage of the game.

Fiasco can also be a great introduction to getting inside a character’s head. Pretending to be someone else is tough, even if it is in front of your friends and you’ve seen the bottom of a few drinks. Unless you’re a successful conman or an actor riding on the popularity of your name alone, it’s going to take effort. It’s even worse if you are unsure how to proceed. Even if it is entirely possible to throw yourself into your elf or dwarf, it’s easier to play a human being with crazy dreams because we all have that line on our resumes. “A Human Being with Crazy Dreams.”

Rapidly escalating crime capers aren’t the only movies that call for its own Fiasco adaptation starring your players. A playset contains the details of the setting that your group will use to flesh out their characters and motivations, and they are often inspired by movies or general genres. They’re like the costume that the rules dress up in for the game.

Since the game’s publication in 2009, there has been no lack of player-made playsets, and this website catalogs all of them. Your group couldn’t stop laughing during Anchorman? There’s a playset for that. Are rom-coms like Love, Actually you and your bros’ guilty pleasure? I won’t tell anyone. Or, are you all ready to study under Professor X? SNIKT.

Fiasco Companion RPG supplement book coverThe Aftermath

The last time I played Fiasco with newbies, we used The Ice playset, and if I can digress for a moment, can I ask why everyone uses The Ice for their first game? Anyway, I played with my cousin, an old co-worker, and two of his friends from grad school. They were international students, and this was their first time with role-playing games.

I learned a lot about Turkey and Hong Kong that night.

What amazed me is how fully they committed themselves to character. It was like the flipping of a switch. The game took some very gonzo turns—one of the scientists was exporting penguins to pizza manufacturers, and another was involved in a messy love triangle with someone’s niece—but getting to watch everyone fight claw, tooth, and nail for their goals is why I love this hobby.

Important Links

Fiasco at Bully Pulpit Games
Fiasco Playsets
The Ice actual play by The Drunk and The Ugly
Camp Death actual play by Gosh Darn Fiasco
Transatlantic actual play by Role Playing Public Radio

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1 thought on “Fiasco: The Best Game for Role-Playing Newbies

  1. Thanks for linking to our actual play of The Ice! I would also say that Robert Hodgins Must Die is a strong episode as well. Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop also has a solid play where he cheats by bringing on some screenwriters and actors.

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