RPG.Lab Report – Fiasco

I once saw Fiasco designer Jason Morningstar speak on a panel while I was attending DragonCon. He was sitting up there with a bunch of pretty serious designers including Richard Garfield and Monte Cook. He was the fourth person to introduce himself and instead of a resume he simply said “Hello. I’m Jason Morningstar. I’m here to destroy RPGs as we currently understand them.” After this month’s RPG Lab and its two great games of Fiasco, I welcome his apocalyptic vision.

FIASCO is in no way a traditional RPG as most folks define such a thing. There is no GM. There is no exhaustive preparation, and the entire story is played out in a few hours. Characters are literally defined by their relationships and other things shared with the other characters. New player controlled characters spontaneously arise out of the story, as do props, locations, and dramatic events. Although all of these things could occur from time to time in a traditional RPG, they are THE intent of FIASCO’s design.

Perhaps the most defining element of FIASCO is its concept of the playset.


The basic story premise of FIASCO is that there is some sort of caper (however you want to define that word – FIASCO permits a very general definition) that goes terribly, terribly wrong. The most frequently name checked property are the films of Coen Brothers.

The playset is basically the setting you have chosen for a specific game of FIASCO. The playset is generally a time and a place and consists of four lists. These lists are varieties of relationships, objects, events and other things that are selected during play in order to form the characters and their relationship to one another. This is done by drafting dice from a pool that correspond to things on the lists. Once this process is done, characters, the setting, and the circumstances have been formed. Each playset is going to vary wildly based on the players and the tone of the game.

“We really liked the playsets that we picked. As [one of the participants] said, we tried the first one in a failed attempt, but found it too restricting. This wasn’t the case. It seemed to embody everything I would think a game about producing a black comedy would have and it was incredibly fun.”

“The Elizabethan playset was a hoot. In general, the play sets in the book are generic enough to be able imprint the personalities/imaginations of the people that are involved in the creation process.”


There are only two print supplements for FIASCO. The FIASCO core book and the FIASCO Companion. We only used the core book and downloaded a playset (London 1593). The playset we used from thecore book was “The Ice”.


The rules of FIASCO are both incredibly tight and incredibly light. The game comes with some player aids which help to some degree (our group did not find the playmat helpful) but it’s really a good idea to read the book in its entirety and also consider some of the finder advice on pacing and keeping the game moving forward. I found it easy to lose focus of some of the rules.

Once, play begins, there are a number of dice (generated by the number of people playing) in the center of the table. These dice are drafted until half of them remain. Each time a die is taken, the player either establishes a scene that is resolved by the other players OR the player chooses to resolve a scene which means the other players need to establish it.

Each die represents one of these actions. Once a number of these scenes has caused half of the starting dice to be taken by the players, there is an incident called “The Tilt” which creates the mayhem that is resolved in the second half of the game. Once the second half of the game is resolved, the dice generate a result which determines the ultimate fate of the characters.

Although this might sound confusing in written language, I assure you, the mechanics are incredibly easy.

“As for things that the game could be improved on. . . I always am a little hazy on act two, or at least how to proceed. Probably just where my own attention span wanes.”


Like I mentioned before, FIASCO is not a traditional RPG. However, it is a very entertaining one that requires no setup, no previous experience with RPGs (although I bit of acting or other uninhibited storytelling method might be helpful), and can be played in under three hours.

I had a great experience with FIASCO and I’m definitely looking forward to the next chance I get to play.

Thanks again to the kind folks who played with me this month!