Fiasco: an RPG for collaboratively generating caper/heist stories

On the most excellent TableTop web-show, a two-part episode on the RPG Fiasco, which Mordicai Knode on sums up perfectly:

...a game in which you capture the dark comic confusion of the Coen brothers, where snappy Tarantino dialogue in the midst of mounting carnage is provided by the players, where the good-hearted charm of Simon Pegg’s bumbling runs smack dab into the harsh realities of a Greg Rucka spy comic. Quirky characters in unfortunate circumstances with the odds piling up against them, turning on each other and going out in a blaze of…well, going out in a blaze of glory might even be asking too much.

In this episode, Wil Wheaton and his pals Bonnie Burton (late of Lucasfilm and a frequent suggester of awesome Boing Boing stuff), John Rogers (showrunner for Leverage and former Cosby writer, and Alison Haislip (late of Attack of the Show, now on Hulu's Battleground) play out a round of Saturday Night 78, a 1970s nightclub module co-written by Wheaton (it's a free download). The four players improv a series of short scenes, each funnier and more improbable than the last, collaboratively making a complete (and fantastic) debacle out of the lives of their characters.

There's a bonus episode as well, showing the character generation sequence. This is a great look at a very different kind of RPG, played out by a gang of extremely hoopy froods and happy mutants, and by the time it was over, all I wanted to do was hop on a plane to LA and ask to sit in on another round. I've embedded part one above, the other two episodes are after the jump.

TableTop’s “Fiasco” Captures the Heart of Roleplaying


  1. Fiasco is a tremendous amount of fun. Oddly enough, some friends and I have hit on the idea of using a Fiasco session as a way to kick off a new DnD campaign, which makes for an oh-so much better narrative than “You all meet in a tavern…..”

  2. I think Lord of the Rings was actually fallout from a Fiasco game. “So at the end of this game, Numenor sunk , Sauron is living in Mirkwood, Isildur is dead, the magic ring is totally missing, and so are most of the Palintirs. Good game, everyone!

    1.  Ha!  Yes, I said much the same thing before reading your comment.  “Oh, well, then my character Feanor is going to tell his sons to swear a ruinous oath!  Red die!”

  3. I watched these episodes when they first came out, and the players were all pretty awesome. The players, though, were all writers of one sort or other. What if you’re not a writer?

    1. Then you are apt to be less awesome.

      But, as with all such things, you get bonus awesomeness for doing it anyway.

    2. I’ve played Fiasco with many non-writers.  And they have generally been as awesome or awesomer than what was shown in the video.  Trust in your own ability and your friend’s abilities and they’ll surprise you with how creative and fun they can be.

    3. I’ve played this with normal people. Still pretty awesome. One player was a little meh on it (she didn’t like the on the spot nature), the other 3 of us loved it and can’t wait to play again.

    4. You really don’t have to be a writer to enjoy Fiasco, but you do need to be reasonably comfortable with improvising. The only times I’ve ever seen a Fiasco game not work are with people who are just too stuck in a traditional tabletop RPG mindset.

  4. The author Jason Morningstar’s earlier game,  Shab-al-Hiri Roach, is also quite unique for the RPG genre– essentially an RPG with no GM.  The game provides a rough outline of scenes that must be narrated by the players. 

    1. No longer unique; GM-light and GMless games are fast becoming design staples of the indie scene.  (See Microscope, Fiasco, Forsooth!, Inspectres, Bliss Stage, etc…)

      That said, Shab-al-Hiri Roach is a classic and anyone even vaguely inclined to that genre should try it.

  5. Skimming this headline, I read it as “an RPG for collaborative gender capitalism.”  I don’t know what that means, but I’m going to try to create it.

    1.  So a game where the winner is the one that can pimp out their fellow player’s characters most effectively?

  6. They should be careful with that cover art… Spike Lee was threatened with a lawsuit for their Clockers homage/ripoff (depending on your perspective). This isn’t nearly as direct as that was, but still Saul Bass’ Anatomy of a Murder work was the first thing I thought of when I saw it.

    Anywho, cool idea for an RPG!

    1. The Anatomy of a Murder titles have been endlessly “homaged” to the point where many graphic designers have no idea where the style came from (though a graphic designer friend of mine learned about it by watching the title sequence in class in college, along with a bunch of others, I don’t think that’s standard). 

      The insurance company that uses the “mayhem guy” in their TV ads uses this style – with the pointing hands and everything – in their print ads.

  7. “snappy Tarentino dialogue”? Poor Ben Hecht. His writing style has been co-opted by a crap artist, who now stands in as a descriptor for it.

  8. I’ve been gaming since 1979 (1st ed D&D). I’ve played a bazillion different systems and got rather burned out “dice rolling” rather than “role playing.” I’ve also been gaming with the (more or less) same group of people for about 25 years. We recently started playing Fiasco and its riotously fun. I’m glad to finally play an RPG where I only have to roll dice three times and not consult 47 different tables to try and create some semblance of verisimilitude. No offence intended, but playing with a bunch of writer sounds like there would be a lot of ego at the table. You just need people who you are comfortable with. 

  9. This was the only episode I didn’t enjoy. So much actor “business” going on, it reminded me of  the community theater group from season 2 of Party Down.

    1.  RPGs aren’t meant to produce a final, polished product for an audience; they’re meant to produce a fun game for the people playing it.

  10. How do you determine whether a character gets a red die or a white die? Rogers seems to be handing them out from the central pile according to whim.

    1.  If you establish your scene (saying where it is, who’s there, what’s going on), the other players decide if it turns out well for you (white die) or badly (red/black die). If you let the other players establish your scene, you get to choose the outcome. In the first act you give the die to someone else, in the second act you keep the die. At the end you roll all your dice and subtract one color from the other, then look on the Aftermath table for how things turned out for you. A high number is good, low number bad.

  11. They did a great job showing what Fiasco is like to play. If you’re going to Gen Con this weekend and want to pick up a copy, Indie Press Revolution will have it at their booth.  It’s great with 3 or 4 players, OK with 5, and for 6 or more it’s best to split into games of 3-4 people each. Bully Pulpit releases a new free playset (scenario) every month at — my personal favorite is Manna Hotel.

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