How to Play Fiasco in EpicTable

Posted in EpicTable Blog, Games on November 27, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Fiasco-tabletopFiasco is a really cool game from Bully Pulpit Games. 

Unlike a more traditional roleplaying game, in Fiasco, your group creates a cinematic story inspired by films like Blood Simple, Fargo, The Way of the Gun, Burn After Reading, and A Simple Plan

You can learn more about Fiasco at the Bully Pulpit Games site.  It’s really worth checking it out.  They can explain Fiasco way better than I can, so the rest of this article focuses on how EpicTable supports Fiasco.

Game Setup

For this game setup, I’m using a hypothetical playset dealing with art thieves and Cthulhu relics. 

Cards and Dice

During setup, you create the characters and their relationships, objects and other things they have in common.  You use an index card to track each of these, so the basic setup consists of character portraits with index cards between them.  EpicTable makes this easy with built-in support for index cards. 

Fiasco uses white and black six-sided dice, two of each per player, and you move them around on the tabletop during character creation and during play.  EpicTable lets you drag dice onto the tabletop, change their color, and clone them to produce lots more.  From there, you can drag them around, roll them, whatever you need to do.

Characters and Players

I like to have pictures of the characters, so that I can visualize them as we’re playing out a scene.  In Fiasco, the index cards lie between characters and one of them describes the relationship between the characters, so it’s important that the characters are on the tabletop.   I’ve used plain old images (you can just drag them onto the tabletop and they’ll automatically get sent to the other players) and text fields to represent the characters. 

Another interesting point is that I haven’t made any actual characters in EpicTable for this game. In Fiasco, everything about a character is right there in the index cards, so the only thing I wanted to add was a portrait to help me visualize the characters.

Beta note: Had I made characters, I could have just dragged down character portraits but in the current beta, EpicTable turns into pogs (round tokens), which is not what I wanted for my Fiasco game, and it’s kind of pointless to create a character if all you want is a picture.

I’ve also added player portraits.  There’s no reason why you’d have to do this.  I’m not even sure it’s not a little distracting, but some of the beta testers have asked for player portraits, so I thought I’d show an example of how they could be used.  All I did, in this case, is add a portrait from each player’s Skype or Google profile, along with a text field for their name.  It’s a good example of how you can do something yourself, even if that lazy EpicTable developer hasn’t gotten around to adding it for you.

Future possibility:  There’s an outstanding feature request to be able to show character tokens in portrait mode, with captions or nameplates like those shown here.  I’m inclined ot do that just as soon as the opportunity presents itself.  That would have eliminated the need for separate text fields.

 

Use of Text Fields

Just a couple notes on text fields.  You have a lot of options in how you want to represent text on the tabletop in EpicTable.  I used a somewhat larger font for the character names, compared to the player names.  I also gave the character names a semi-transparent background to make them stand out a bit more.

Playsets

Fiasco uses something it calls a “playset” as a context for the story.  It’s essentially a setting, the set of relationships, needs, objects, and locations around which the story is built.  There are many playsets for Fiasco to choose from—both ones created by the makers of Fiasco as well as those created by the gaming community.  Because the playset is the scaffolding on which your story is built, you refer to the playset often during game setup and character creation. 

There are a couple ways you could do this in EpicTable.  If you have the playset as a PDF, you can likely export the relevant parts of it as images and use handouts.  Handouts in EpicTable are images that you can share with the other players. 

Another way you could go is to create a “Playset” tabletop and use one or more index cards or rich text cards to hold the various lists that make up a playset.  The rich text cards support importing RTF files, so if you happen to have your playset available in that format, you could just import it into a rich text card. 

Future possibilities:  Several people have asked about direct support for PDF.  This is something I’d love to do, and every few months, I look around at tools for integrating PDFs into EpicTable.  Why “PDF support” isn’t straightforward is a larger topic than I want to cover in this post.

GM-less-ness

Fiasco is a GM-less game.  I know that sounds a little unusual if you’ve not played a GM-less game before, but in my opinion, it’s really worth trying this form of gaming.  When everyone around the table has an equal part in building the story, you get a very different kind of game.  Rather than the surprises coming from behind the screen of the all-knowing GM, they come from other players incorporating your ideas to take the story in directions you never could have foreseen.  I don’t know that I think it’s strictly better, but it’s a different kind of fun and much more creatively demanding.  You can’t coast when no one person has responsibility for the “reality” of the game world.

EpicTable supports GM-less play out of the box in that there are very few constraints on who does what.  For instance, in the Fiasco setup, anyone can edit cards, move dice or cards around—just like your physical tabletop.  I’m actually having to add some (optional/configurable) constraints for those who want more power in the hands of the GM.

Beta note:  As of beta 13, the only constraint on non-GMs is that only the GM gets to choose any character as his chat persona.  Players can only choose characters they own.  In addition, the roles are fixed in this beta—the host is the GM and everyone else is a player.  In the released product, the host will be able to set the role of each participant, so there’s no need for the host to always be the GM.

Chat?  I Think Not.

Fiasco is such a fluid game, I’m not sure I see it working over text chat.  I’d be more inclined to use Skype and just hide the chat window, reclaiming that real estate for the tabletop.  If I had wanted to use text chat, however, it would have been worth my while to create characters, rather than just using images like I have in this setup, because EpicTable would then let me speak as my character, associating their portrait with my speech.

Wrap-up

I hope you’ve found this helpful.   Go give Fiasco a shot, if you haven’t already.  It’s a very different experience if what you’re used to is D&D, but don’t let that intimidate you.  It can be a pretty good time, especially if you have a group that is used to gaming together.  In any case, Fiasco’s a good example of a game that makes non-traditional demands of a tabletop, and hopefully, this discussion will give you a few ideas about how you can use EpicTable in ways you’ve not thought of before.

— John

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