From left to right: Hazel the Druid, Mayte the Fighter, Ivy The Rogue, and Ebb The Sorcerer       — Art by the incredible Meghan Dornbrock (@meglish)

A month or so back, my friend Nicole wanted me to help her get into Dungeons and Dragons and tabletop roleplaying in general. She had already been seeding the idea among some friends of ours, and I had a group of interested people who were all new, or practically new to tabletop roleplaying. They were eager to learn, but their experiences were all pretty tangential to what D&D was.

Some of us had played some Fiasco before, and in talking with the players about what they were unsure of in the upcoming game, I struck upon an idea — Fiasco is the perfect thing to introduce the new players to Dungeons and Dragons. While it may seem an unlikely lead in to a pretty standard D&D game, a slightly modified game of Fiasco set in a standard fantasy gaming trope universe might be the perfect thing to get the new players used to the roleplaying aspects of the game and the fantasy/adventuring themes.

Hacking Fiasco

Fiasco is the perfect thing to introduce the new players to Dungeons and Dragons. 
There are some problems using straight out of the book Fiasco for this exercise, the first of which is that Fiasco’s outcome table and play style usually mean that things end poorly with multiple of the players having betrayed, killed, or otherwise done another player wrong. That doesn’t bode well for the party unity style of most traditional role-playing games. The core interactive element and acting focused parts of Fiasco are perfect for the exercise. So, in order to use Fiasco as a lead in to other sorts of gaming, it was time to hack it all to heck. There were a couple of different tactics I took while hacking Fiasco to fit my needs.

  • Pre-setup – Part of the purpose of this experiment is to get the players ready for a D&D style game, so before setup even occurs, I built a section into the playbook I was creating that had stereotypical D&D style Races and Classes. These sections have a little bit of explanation of why this is important to the game world and of the unique features of each race and class. For the setting I was using, I realized that I could gain a little more buy-in if I leveraged familiarity with a world that the players knew. While they were familiar with Lord of the Rings from the movies, I wanted something that they could map more real world experiences to. The setting I was going to be moving into was Eberron, for the sake of more modern analogues that they could mentally grasp more easily, so I made references to the world being like Harry Potter’s wizard world and the muggle world merged together, circa the 1700s. They never developed technology, because magic filled that niche. All of the pre-setup materials were built towards this concept and mapped to D&D classes and races so that character concepts were established before ever even looking at a d20.
  • Setup – The actual setup worked exactly like Fiasco, except that the elements are built to foster player relationships aimed at building the party together—Relationships In The Adventuring Party, Needs That Outlined Character Goals, Locations In The Magical Metropolis, Objects Of Magic, and lastly, Rivals. I wanted to build in the idea of an external Rival right from the start. Since the players drive the plot with Fiasco, I wanted to make sure that they had a Rival front and center as they were crafting their “First Adventure”. While they would be busy incorporating their connections with each other, the importance of the magical items they got from the table, and the locations they would be in, they would also buy into the rival right off the bat.
  • Act One and Two – I made some pretty big changes to the acts as well. Act One had 2 good dice and 3 bad dice in the pile. Using this playset would require someone to play the Game Master and act out the Rival and most of the NPCs. Someone to help the new players through the Fiasco turns, establishing and resolving, and enforce the idea that they were collecting good dice or robbing the rival of bad dice. At the end of the game, they would pool their dice and roll against whatever bad dice the rival had left. That would determine their outcome and how to play out the final scene. This breaks a core tenet of Fiasco, but builds it into a narrative game where the players are overcoming the external rival and finding reasons to build their character concepts together. Act Two had another different mechanic. Rather than establishing and resolving, I had them always establishing, and choosing to hinder the rival (take dice from their pile that just went away) or gain advantage (get more good dice for themselves). They had set up the skeleton of the story with the first section, now they would all work together to play out the scenes. The “Game Master” for the Fiasco part would determine if they succeeded or not in turn 2. This helped establish the player/Game Master relationship that would come up in the actual D&D game.
  • Outcome – Finally, at the end of the acts, the players roll their collected dice (good and bad) and the person playing Game Master rolls for the Rival. Comparing the dice to each other to get an outcome and comparing that to the custom outcome table, the players have an idea how the final scene resolves and can play it out.

In Practice
I put the Fiasco experiment into practice as the group’s first adventure, and it was an incredible success. As a first session, it was far less stress. The players developed their character concepts and I could take more time to explain elements of the setting and some of the tropes of gaming, rather than getting into the mechanics and overwhelming them. I could help the players get used to narrating their own actions and acting out their characters without worrying about balancing other new things they would have to learn. The group also built an incredible backstory together. They determined that one of the locations—an old opera house—was the place in the city where they were squatting, and built up many player concepts like Mayte the Orc’s dislike of birds, Hazel the Druid’s use of alchemical supplies like the juice of a “truth turtle”, Ivy the Rogue/Pirate’s willingness to trick her party mates but remain loyal, and Ebb the mage’s lack of enthusiasm for following the rules of the communications guild. The group built a strong Rivalry with the gnomish head of the horned crusaders (Reggibill) and snatched the Dragon Orb from his clutches.

Moving Forward
I gave the players the option to make their own characters for the game, or if they wanted me to, I could make D&D versions of the characters they established during the Fiasco game. Two players were intimidated by the spell-casting classes they picked, so I generated a sorcerer and a druid with spell cards so they wouldn’t have to remember everything. Two others built their rogue and their fighter with a little help. We moved into the next session with a focus on their characters and learning the rules, but with a narrative of meeting for their first adventure already established, they had a much easier time focusing on the mechanics. Roleplaying came easy for the D&D game elements, and the transition from describing to rolling the dice to determining success went well. There was a little hitch in reigning back narrative control over what was possible, but I would personally rather have the players suggesting incredible ideas than feeling limited in what they could do.

Final Outcome
The experiment was hugely successful, and I’d recommend it as a way to introduce new players to gaming in general. One of the things I’ve found most players hesitant to do is to act out their characters. We all have a model for the rules of a game in the boardgames that most people have played, but not everyone is used to acting out their characters. Jointly, the tropes of D&D gaming are like many of the elements of fantasy movies, but they are hard to map if you aren’t well versed in action fantasy tropes. The experiment was so much of a success that I cleaned up what I used to run the initial game and released it with Encoded Designs as a playset for others to use Fiasco for teaching gaming to new players. That playset, titled The First Adventure, is available here for free. I hope you consider it when you’ve got a group of new players that you aren’t sure how to get used to the tropes of gaming.

What do you do to get new gamers into your games? What is your best gateway game? What are the things new players seem most hesitant about when they are trying to learn?

If you want to grab a copy of The First Adventure for yourself, find it here for free. We released it through Encoded Designs and we sincerely hope it helps bring new gamers into the fold in an easier way!
Please feel free to share it and spread the word!–A-Fiasco-Playset-to-Teach-DD-to-New-Gamers