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Opportunity Actions: A Fiasco Review

I don’t care if you’re the Pope of Rome, President of the United States or Man of the Year; something can all go wrong.


This quote, from Blood Simple, is on an early page of Fiasco, by Jason Morningstar, from Bully Pulpit Games. I’d say it’s more than fair warning for what you’re about to get yourself into.

Fiasco is not, by strict definition, what I’d necessarily lump in with your standard role-playing games. It’s really something else. It’s a starting block for storytelling in a particular style. I’ve often heard this style referred to as “Cohen Brothers”. Fair enough, but I think the definition is far broader. Before I get into that, though, let’s open the lid on this.

The Look Of It

First off, I have to say, the presentation is incredibly quirky. That works in Fiasco’s favor. Everything’s very blocky, the fonts are all off-kilter, and there’s no traditional portrait style art at all. It’s got a sort of minimalist style reminiscent of great film posters of the fifties, such as The Man With The Golden Arm, Love In The Afternoon, Vertigo, and others. While these movies are not all of the same genre that Fiasco hopes to emulate, the influence of that look gives Fiasco a very distinctive feel.

The Rules

A strange thing happened the first time I read through this game.  I started thinking about the rule set, and came to the realization that I wasn’t aware of one. I went back to the book. I looked at specific rules. I already knew them. The reason for this has something to do with me, but it also has something to do with the manner in which it’s written.

I am an improviser and an actor. Much of what this book details are things I have learned, unlearned, and re-learned throughout the entirety of my life as a performer. Also, I have an absolutely atrocious attention span (but a gift for alliteration, it seems). At times, I have been known to read something and absorb it without even being totally aware of what I was looking at.

The material, though. Fiasco, either by accident or design, integrates the rules into a very conversational book. It is very clear with its direction, and offers tips side by side with the hard and fast rules of the game. It’s almost as though the game is giving you play advice while you’re learning how to play it. If you’re curious how something works, just flip ahead to the “Things To Look For” header, and you’ll probably find your answer.

As rules systems go, this one’s complex enough to handle the different variables a play group will encounter while being intuitive enough to let people just play the game. If there’s a game I’d ever recommend to get non-gamers into role-playing, this is really it.

Subject Matter

This game is so often described as “Cohen Brothers – The RPG”. It’s a cute idea, but I think the concept is much deeper than that. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good Cohen Brothers movie. Give me Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?,  or Burn After Reading any day of the week. Scores of directors have worked in this style, being a caper story lousy with offbeat characters. A short list of some of my favorites, in no particular order:

Regardless of what famous film people you attach to the genre, Fiasco is all about the caper, and, as the title implies, a caper with horrendous consequences. Like a lot of RPG systems that try to appeal to wide audience, Fiasco is a universal system, one that includes a few settings (called “Playsets”). Unlike a lot of those games, Fiasco doesn’t falter in the slightest when it shifts from setting to setting. You never feel like you’re playing what is basically an overlay on top of the system. Since it’s a game that relys on story more than anything else, you don’t need to worry about accidentally mixing your sci-fi/fantasy/zombie apocalypse rules (though that can be fun).

Playing The Game

I must confess. I have yet to play through a Fiasco. I wanted to read through it and get a sense first. I’ll hopefully get a game in soon. Hell, if all goes well, my comedy team will work it up into a show format. That’s something you could never say about D&D.

Even More!

And, if that STILL wasn’t enough, you can go to the Bully Pulpit Games website, where they churn out a new Playset every month. Want more? RPGGeek (as well as others) has a list of unofficial playsets that fans have thrown together. With all of these different Playsets running around, it’ll be extremely easy to find one you like. Even then, if you want to make your own, it’s as simple as picking a movie style you like, filling in the lists, and running hog-wild. Which means, if you are a writer here at RPGMusings you can finally play My Little Pony. (That was for you, psychopez!)


If you don’t own this game already, fix that. This looks like a good game to play, and, even if you don’t get to right away, it’s a great read. There’s even a suggested viewing list in the back for movies that inspired the writer and should inspire players. For additional buffoonery, check out the “Resources” section in the back. You may already be an accessory to a felony just for reading it!

So, the bottom line:

  • Look & Style: Awesome!
  • Rules System: Fantastic! (although it might be intimidating for more strategic gamers)
  • Subject Matter: A recipe for an incredibly good time.
  • Support from the makers of the game:  Unparallelled.

You get the sense that this was written with an appreciation for the great movie thrillers. After a read, I imagine Hitchcock playing with John Cassavetes, Quentin Tarantino and Vincent Price. A boy can dream.

Anyone else have anything to say about this? Let the conspiracy out, and watch who you let into your threatened squares.

(Dig the new logo I did special for this post!)


The Opportunist (a.k.a Seamus) has been playing D&D and/or some other form of RPG for the last 24 years. For the past two years he has been at the head of the table, behind a screen, in the role of the DM. He began at Cub Scout Camp, played through high school, and still enjoys gaming today. Seamus is a graphic designer by day, a devoted husband and father of two all the time, and an all around good guy. That is, until you get him behind the DMing screen, then he can be a nightmare (in a good way, no, really!).

10 Responses to “Opportunity Actions: A Fiasco Review”

  • I picked up Fiasco about a year ago and only recently played it for the first time. Like you, I found it incredibly easy to learn the rules and I would agree that it’s great for people who have never played a RPG in their life. My review/recount of our first Fiasco is here if you are interested.

  • My improv troupe just used this last night as a long form. We really enjoyed it, though we’re going to tweak things a bit to more quickly get numbers from the audience. (Cut them out and draw them or get numbers in the first part of the show so we can quickly go through them at the end.)

    Our rehearsal of Fiasco, Action News Six, wasn’t particularly funny, but it was pretty interesting and twisted. :) Touring Rock Band went REALLY well at the show.

  • @Mikel – My thought was to open the house a half hour before curtain, and let audience members have input on the Setup. I’ve seen many improv shows that don’t draw much from the audience (as much as I don’t like that, feels like bad sketch), but giving the audience some influence over the start might be good.

    Essentially, it’s going to differ by the group, and that group’s dynamics. It’s good to hear that you made it work!

  • We had the audience choose the playset (we gave them two choices) and then got a series of numbers from 1-6 from them. Took awhile, but we’re considering some other ways to do it.

  • How about this? You pre-roll everything. Each audience member puts a card into one of two boxes where each box represents a different playset. (This can also work if you want to offer more playsets) The box with the most cards is the set for the night. Roll all the dice before you start. I waver about doing the Setup in front of the audience. I’d have to see how it works in practice. Before starting Act 1, have each player introduce his or her character, and offer a one or two sentence description. “Hello! My Name Is:” tags might be useful.

    I’m curious about how you played out the Tilt and Aftermath. I have ideas, but I’d love to know how that worked out.

    I’m all about doing everything out in the open so that the audience (at least some, if not all) doesn’t think they’re being cheated on a truly improvised experince.

  • We didn’t really do the Tilt or Aftermath portions of it, though I’m considering adding it in next rehearsal. We did a basic tag-out, using the initial choices as set-up.

    I may have the group actually play it like a regular game next time and maybe we’ll work it up that way.

  • It’s been 15 days without a post, which is very unusual for RPG musings.

    Is everything ok?

  • Noted. While I can’t speak for the others, I know I have a couple of things in the pipeline, so expect to see something in the next day or so.

    On my end, I know everything is well, so it’s just a matter of getting something put together.

  • Oh, I wasn’t complaining!

    It was a genuine expression of concern. Thanks for the reply.

  • I didn’t take it as a complaint. Sorry if I came off that way. :)