Fiasco's Fiasco

Category: Fiasco
Last article published: 22 September 2019
This is the 13th post under this label
This article is about Fiasco's first edition. Not having played the card-based 2nd, I cannot tell how it treats the issue discussed.
I've played Fiasco more than a few times, and each time we get to the end of one of this story-telling game's finish line, I feel like it stumbles. Why? It's this whole Aftermath mechanic. Basically, the game/story takes place in three rounds: The set-up where dice give you choices in whatever scenario you're using and you decide relationships, motivations, settings and props for the story; then, two Acts divided by the Tilt, which is another moment of dice/choices as to what twists and turns lay beyond. Through both Acts, players are given white and black dice, according to the fate that seems reserved to them - white dice for good outcomes, black for bad. The Aftermath then acts as a narrated, not played, third act/epilogue/coda. The dice you have gathered through the game are rolled, one color subtracted from the other to give you a number, and that number corresponds to a general outcome. Here's where it gets awkward:
Playing the Aftermath you're give as a described montage, per player, is fine, and in the practice of it, has not typically been a problem per se. It's the exact results you get that are the problem. Let's say you got both good and bad dice during the game, you should end up kind of Even Steven, right? No, because then you have a better chance getting a terrible result. See, after you roll your dice, the wider the gap between black and white, the better the outcome. And there's no difference between the colors despite saying things in a different way. If you had all black dice - presumably because you and the other players thought you were heading for a Fiasco - you come out smelling like roses! What?! Same for white of course, I mean, what's the difference between some who rolled 5 Black (Rough) and 5 White (Miserable)? I don't find the descriptions of your fate all that useful either, they kind of sound all the same.

And I'm not the only one who thought so judging by the content of the the Fiasco Companion. This second book discusses the Aftermath and how it could be tweaked to your tastes, but generally tells you to suck it up, buttercup. Well, what if I don't want to suck it up, sweetcakes? Let's look at some options (including the Companion's).

The Tabletop Variation
Wil Wheaton's YouTube show Tabletop, where I gather many discovered Fiasco (as it's one of the best two episodes, or three, as they eventually released the Set-Up), offers a slight tweak on the Aftermath. Basically, since you get one "moment" in the montage for each dice, try to make the white dice a positive scene, and the black dice a negative one. I've played it like this and it doesn't always work. If you had only black dice, for example, you would have an Awesome result, but all made up of negatives? It's a strain to make this work and is thus not a perfect solution.

Grading on a Curve
The Companion suggest you change the numbers, making some results rarer than others, and others more common. So you might say that 0-5 Black is a good range for terrible, while on the White side only 0 is terrible, while you get to Fantastic from 7 on, or something. While it helps, it's a stop-gap measure.

A Third Act
The Companion warns us away form playing a whole third act, as it was attempted in playtesting, and was more often than not pretty tedious. I agree, with each round taking about 45 minutes in my experience, tacking another one to what is already a 2h15 of game play (that's if you have a four-person, or optimal, group), is pushing it. And anyway, what about all these dice you've been accumulating? Unless there's a way to "spend" them during this last turn, why hand them out at all?

The Overachiever's Option
I'm one of those so I gave serious thought to creating an extra mechanic for the endgame. Imagine homemade cards with results both good and bad. Imagine a white deck and a black deck. You trade in your black dice for black cards, your white for white cards (no roll - though you could conceivably roll them afterwards, with 6s allowing you to discard and redraw, if a card doesn't suit what you have in mind... no pun intended). But then you'd have to create these, print 'em out... like I said, an option for overachievers. A good card or Tarot reader (the latter is better because there are extra cards in a deck) could actually do it without the custom cards, simply revealing the basic meaning of a card, the player having to make it positive or negative based on the die color. So for example, if the 10 of diamonds is a voyage (as I'm told it is), it might be an escape (white) or an exile (black). If, with a Tarot deck, you pull the Emperor (society, law), the character might be thrown in jail (black) or win an election (white). And so on. I just think that that's a lot for the drawing player to take in if they don't know the symbolism themselves.

The Soft Aftermath
It must be noted that the Fiasco Companion features a Soft Tilt and a Soft Aftermath for games that aren't about murder and devastation. That wedding that's a complete disaster, or that My Little Pony Fiasco, they can't abide the violence and crushing nihilism, death-row, overdose stuff of the Core Book's twists and results. It's a good idea to use the Soft tables in such circumstances, but it doesn't fix the central problem I have with the game.

Well Okay, So We Can Rewrite the Aftermath
Yes, agreed, an enterprising host might redesign, rewrite, and focus the Aftermath for the scenario at hand (beforehand obviously). Say you played one on a transatlantic journey, you could make the descriptions more nautical and à propos. While you're at it, you could decide to make the White Table go from Pyrrhic to Amazing, and the Black Table from Bittersweet to Apocalyptic. That way Fate really is based on the color of dice you received. You could redesign it once (with generalities) and be ready to go. This is probably what I'll end up doing by the next time I play.

Have I fixed it? Or am I heading for... a fiasco?

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