In case you think I only watch Ze Frank and Vlogbrothers videos on YouTube, I also watch Geek and Sundry. Especially Wil Wheaton’s show TableTop, in which he gathers together his famous friends and they play table top games for the amusement of the home audience. This show is why I now own a copy of Small World. It’s also how I learned of a game called Fiasco, a GM-less role playing game published by Bully Pulpit Games. They put the game up in three parts, following the three major portions of Fiasco game play. The whole thing is roughly 95 minutes long. If you don’t have that time, and only want to watch the portion relevant to this post, that would be the set-up.

For those who don’t have the time for even the set-up video, a quick rundown. Fiasco is an RPG about characters with ambitions and no control. The story is generated not by a GM, but through a series of playsets and a pool of D6s, which provide some randomized chaos. During the Set-Up, each player establishes a relationship with the player to the left or right, which could be familial, business, or criminal. These relationships are spiced up with various needs for motivation, objects that the plot will revolve around, and locations where the story takes place.

In the end, it’s as much an exercise in multi-person collaborative story telling than it is a classic RPG.

I bring up Fiasco not as an advertisement for the game (though you can buy it here) but because it’s to be the focus of my next experiment in writing. Sometimes I like to try something new to shake up my process, see if it works. In the Fiasco Companion (buy it here) there’s a short interview near the back with writers using the game as part of their creative process, including one who used it to plot his Nanowrimo novel. Thoroughly intrigued, I’ve started building a playset that will form the basis for my next project, currently called “Untitled of the Fourth Planet.” I’m still in the process of building the playset, which is enjoyably difficult. I’ve started with the Locations table, where everything needs to be evocative. For example, here’s just one sixth of the Locations table from the playset used in the TableTop episode:

  • Clubs:
  1. Third-rate discotheque with a first-rate crowd
  2. All along on a crowded dance floor
  3. Inside Studio 54
  4. On the light-up dance floor of Medallions
  5. Last night of a club called Glamorous
  6. On the balcony at The Nyx, overlooking the dance floor

Evocative. They’re not plots in and of themselves, but they’re specific enough to get the creative juices flowing. It’s interesting that the exercise involves coming up with 35 that I probably won’t use to get to the one that I will. I started with locations not because they’re the most important aspect of the set-up, but because they’re most closely tied to world building and that’s typically where I like to start things.

I suspect, and the interview in the book bears it out, that the set-up will be the only part I actually play through to create my starting point. The game is great as a game, but…it’s a game. It’s designed for players to take turns, which doesn’t necessarily work in a story. It’ll be interesting because there is a certain amount of chaos in the set-up process, and I’ve had both positive and negative experiences with creating stories from prompts outside of my control.

If people are interested, I’ll do another post on this next week or the week after about how well this worked for outlining. If people really like, I can also post the playset once I’m done creating it. It’s all an experiment, trying to approach a story from a different direction. It could crash and burn entirely, but I’m hoping for at least some success.

About the author

DLThurston DL Thurston is a writer of novels, screenplays, and the occasional short story. He has short stories due out soon in the Steam Works anthology from Hydra Publications and in The Memory Eater. When he's not writing, he also brews beer and even drinks it sometimes. Check out his exploits either on his blog or on Twitter.