For many months now, there has been a standing plan between Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Wil Wheaton, and myself to eventually get together for a game of Fiasco. There have been numerous instances where any two of the four of us were in proximity, but Emerald City Comic-Con was the first time three were together at once - Ed and Matt and Wil all there for official reasons. So, with the opportunity that close, I grabbed a quick flight up to Seattle to see some other friends who also aren't often all together in one place, visit my cousin's family - and, yes, play Fiasco.
(It sounds less ridiculous if you think of it as an overnight vacation and not "flying two hours each way to play a game".)
We decided to go with the Manna Hotel playset, Dan Puckett's David Lynchian roadside motor lodge. (Playsets are basically setting skins for the game's rules.) Neither Wil nor I had tried it yet; Ed had watched but not directly participated in a previous game (using the LA '36 playset IIRC) and Matt had never played any Fiasco at all yet.
With four players, we needed four sorta-random relationships and four details. With a bit of cooperative back and forth once we selected our elements from the playset, we came up with our four characters:
Todd Burlap (Ed Brubaker): Inclined to heavily drink pretty much anything that will mess him up, from liquor to OTC cough syrup. Todd is convinced that he has great psychic powers, which he really needs other people to witness and acknowledge.
Frank Burlap (Matt Fraction): Todd's twin brother. Frank is trying to stay sober and he doesn't like being around Todd's drinking. Which means he doesn't like being around Todd, it turns out. Frank has recently, without his brother's knowledge, joined some sort of secret magickal order as a new initiate. He might or might not believe in his brother's mental powers, but even if he doesn't believe in them he can still envy them.
Luke Marten (Wil Wheaton): Recently out of prison (whether by release or by escape was undetermined), Luke is bad news all around. He's big and tough as stone and impossible to deter. He's looking for his old cell mate, a guy he did three years with, because he needs to know the truth about something, something that happened to him back then. Somehow… somehow… he knows that old cell mate of his is at the Manna Hotel.
Cedric (Dan Curtis Johnson): A long-term resident of Manna Hotel. In fact, the only current resident of the hotel, staying in room #11; the other nineteen rooms are empty at the moment. Cedric is, of course, the prison cellmate that Luke was bunking with. He got out a year ago and has been here at the hotel ever since. Cedric, unknown to anyone, is also a grand high master of the weird secret magickal order that Frank has recently initiated into.
(We threw the name Travis around a bunch as well. Travis is a good crime name. Didn't really seem to fit for any of what we were coming up with, so we didn't use it at the time, but the name Travis kept coming back around as a name, as a sort of ongoing game reference, and eventually finds a home as you'll see.)
Our four details were:
Object: a death mask of President McKinley
Location: inside a room, taped under a rug
Need: to gain respect for your subtle magical powers
Need: to find out the truth about what happened to you
As we wrapped up the setup, we decided that Frank and Todd were the brand new management of the Manna Motel. And by new, we mean they had just taken over that night. This is their first night. And by taken over, we mean, they had almost certainly killed the previous owner and at some point were going to toss the rooms one by one looking for something they know they need to find, something taped under one of the rugs in one of the rooms.
Only, there's a small hitch, we decided: room 13 is completely sealed, shuttered, bars in the glass and boarded over with a weird sigil painted on it, door hammered shut, can't see in, can't get in, nothing. The key to room 13 has been filed down so it fits no lock anymore. Obviously, that must be the room that has the thing (whatever it is) under the rug, right? But they're going to have to figure out how to get in there. This is going to take more time than they had originally expected, so they decide not to take on any guests while they're tearing the place up. Better turn on the NO part of the vacancy sign.
Oh, yeah: consensus was also that it should be, like, 1983. No cell phones, no internet, no cable. It's early April, when the nights are still pretty cold, the days can be pretty hot, and the tornadoes can be a real bitch. Also, Ed and Matt decided at some point early on that this, their first morning at the motel, is their birthday. (As we were actually playing on the night of the 31st of March, perhaps the morning, and the Burlap boys' birthday, was April Fools Day.)
To the best of my recollection, this is basically how I remember the scenes playing out, with some minor editing to hook in some continuity/context bits that kind of fell out along the way here and there as part of the general banter:
Scene 1 (Wil / Luke Marten)
4-something AM. There is mistiness, but it's mostly the miasma of cattle stockyards somewhere in the area. Smell 'em, not hear 'em. A Greyhound bus pulls up in front of the hotel and Luke Marten steps off. The VACANCY sign flips on its NO part as he walks up, only the N isn't working so it just says O VACANCY. Luke will not be deterred. He bangs on the door and the buzzer and the bell until finally Todd Burlap (Ed) staggers to answer it, pissed that the all-night Twilight Zone marathon he was watching on channel 61 (instead of searching rooms) is being interrupted. Todd is deeply wasted on booze and god knows what else. Luke wants a room. Any room will do. "No rooms," Todd slurs at him. Luke looks over his shoulder at the key rack, almost totally full of room keys reflecting the glow of the TV, then back at Todd. Did I mention that Luke will not be deterred? "I just need the room for the night. Just for a few hours, really. Look: here's twenty dollars for you, just for you, not even for the room, just for you, to help me out here." Todd looks at the bottle in his hand that he just finished draining, and then at the twenty, then at the empty bottle. "Okay, I'll put you in room number one," he agrees, thinking to himself that his brother never needs to know about this extra $20. He grabs a key as the Twilight Zone theme plays in the other room.
Scene 2 (Matt / Frank Burlap)
Some hours earlier, maybe midnightish. Todd's just started cracking into that booze and god knows what else and settling in for a night of Twilight Zone before they start tossing the hotel, and Frank just doesn't want to be around it. So he is outside by the property fence-line, smoking. Just smoking. He's going to smoke out here until Todd passes out, maybe? He doesn't really know, he just needs to not be in there with all the booze and god knows what else. Suddenly, out of the darkness, he hears a voice - a commanding, authoritative voice, speaking a series of specific power words that no outsider would know. Secret words of the magickal order! He turns and sees a 7th Circle Master (Dan) - he knows they're 7th Circle because they are wearing the death mask of an assassinated president, President McKinley in this case. (The secret master is also wearing a shabby bathrobe.) Holy shit, the order is here? What are they doing here? What do they want with him? "Why have you come to the Manna Hotel?" the grand master intones forcefully. "What is your purpose for being here?" Frank flips out. He is totally unprepared for his first service to the magickal order already. He tries to lie: "Nothing…? Just, uh, interested in the place?" It doesn't fly. "Do you know what happens to treacherous liars?" the powerful voice behind the dead face of William McKinley booms. Frank cracks: "It's my brother, his idea, it's all him, oh shit!" He falls to his knees and tries to kiss the fingers of the master, completely forgetting all the secret protocols. "What are you doing, initiate? What are we, Jesuits now?" the master sneers. Frank can take it no more: consumed by embarrassment, shame, and fear, he bolts into the darkness of the open fields, into the cattle miasma, crying: "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" He will return a few hours later, fearfully, quietly, timidly, but for now he is panicked and horrified at how totally he screwed up his first actual post-initiation encounter.
(After this scene, Fraction asks, "Anyone mind if I do some quick reading up on the death of William McKinley? I think we're gonna need it." The table collectively tries to remember whether McKinley was shot by Charles Guiteau, whose name all of us had readily to hand, or "the Polish guy whose name nobody ever knows how to pronounce". Turns out it's the latter, Leon Czolgosz. Thank you, Wikipedia. The research would, indeed, come in handy later.)
Scene 3 (Ed / Todd Burlap)
Back to 4-something AM. Walking Luke to Room 1, utterly wasted Todd wants to impress this short-term guest with his mental powers. "I bet I can guess your name. What's your name?" he says. Luke growls, "My name's Marten." Todd: "Oh yeah? Martin *what*?" Then: "I bet I can guess what's in your duffel bag," he says. "If I can guess right, you have to give me another twenty dollars." Luke isn't really paying attention. "You have… four-hunnert annnnnn… sixty-two dollars. Annnnnnn a pair of Nike shoes. Annnnnn two tank top shirts." They stop at the door. Todd refuses to open the room door until Luke checks his duffel to confirm or refute Todd's mental powers. Luke, irritated, finally opens the damn duffel. Holy shit: there's $462, a pair of Nikes, and two tank top shirts. Even more holy shit: the money and the shoes *weren't in there* when Luke got off the Greyhound bus! (The shirts were, though, that was a pretty easy gimme.) Luke is actually sorta impressed. I don't remember if he coughed up the bet, though, since he hadn't really agreed to it. He just wants into the room.
Unfortunately, the key doesn't seem to work.
(At the time, we debated whether "a pair of Nikes" was something that Todd would talk about in 1983, as opposed to some other kind of shoe. Were Nikes big yet? We eventually decided, yeah, they were entering mainstream awareness by then, as best we recalled. Later I checked - thank you again, Wikipedia - and hey, Nike's first national advertising was in October 1982, about six months before our game setting. All good, guys!)
Scene 4 (Dan / Cedric)
The reason Todd's key to room 1 isn't working is that this is room 11, not room 1. It's Cedric's room. Cedric is in his shabby bathrobe, watching TV as well, but not the Twilight Zone marathon. The death mask of William McKinley rests on its stand nearby. He is probably still seething in his disappointment with the new initiate, the new member of the order who he saw out by the fence, the new initiate who totally failed to respect protocol and everything. Terrible. You just can't get good minions these days. Suddenly, there's key-fumbling at the door. What the fuck? He starts to pull the curtain slightly open, and sees Todd… or rather, he thinks he sees Frank, the failed initiate, since he doesn't know the brother that Frank mentioned is an identical twin. So. What does that fucking initiate think he's doing? Cedric is about to get the McKinley mask to teach this fuckup how the power structure works when he sees that Todd (Frank) is with… oh fuck! It's Luke Marten, Cedric's old cell mate from Lansing! What the fuck is he doing here? No, no, no. Not yet. Not now. Not here. Can this be a coincidence? It must be. No way Luke is out yet, he had years and years to go, didn't he? He can't know where Cedric is yet, right? Well, coincidence or no, Cedric doesn't want to face Luke. Not yet, at least. He doesn't want to talk about what happened to him. He doesn't want Luke to even know he's here, if he can. Punishing the pathetic recruit will have to wait. Grabbing up the death mask of President McKinley, he quietly opens and slips out of his bathroom window, out the back side. At the front door, Luke eventually takes the key, looks at its number, glowers at Todd, and they go down to room 1.
In the distance... a tornado warning siren starts up.
(We talked a bit at this point about what it's like to live in tornado country, which some of us have in the past. Fraction has a recording on his phone that he made of the Hawaiian tsunami siren when the Japanese earthquake wave was inbound a year ago. To help set the tone, we listen to it for a minute, especially the sound of it as it slowly winds back down, which resulted in a truly magical role-playing moment…)
Scene 5 (Matt / Frank Burlap)
After getting a grip out in the fields sometime between fucking up with the secret master and Luke's arrival, Frank has come back to tackle the sealed door of room 13. It has clearly had many many past attempts to get into it. There's a hefty crowbar there; Frank picks it up, experimentally prods at the door in the front, then heads around to the back side of the rooms in case maybe there's a better approach there. When he gets around back, hey, he sees Cedric hiding out on the edge of the property. Cedric is watching the light in Room 1 to see if Luke is going to go to sleep or not, as the tornado warning siren wails all around them. Frank recognizes Cedric's shabby bathrobe. Hey, that's his secret master! Crowbar in hand, Frank gets a sudden surge of courage: maybe he can get a do-over, right? Maybe he can go just talk to this guy, man to man, and they can agree that things got off to a bad start, secret-order-wise, and start again, right? He walks over toward Cedric, who is so intent on the room light that he doesn't notice. He stands there and watches Cedric for, like, half an hour… until the siren finally starts to wail down and it's quiet enough for him to say something. "Hey…" he says, and Cedric literally pisses himself from startled fright. "It's okay, man, I'm sorry I fucked that up," Frank starts saying. "Can we agree to declare a Mulligan? I know the order doesn't really give second chances but this all got sprung on me sorta fast and…"
(So we're sitting there listening to Fraction's recording of the tsunami siren winding down. It's an eerie howl that takes forever to end, lower and lower frequency, and just as it is about to stop, Fraction - in character as Frank - leans forward from my peripheral to direct vision: "Hey, man, we got off on the wrong foot earlier." I was so intent on the siren noise that I literally jumped in my chair, totally startled, and shifted into character as Cedric, who is just as totally off-guard… Just like that we're off and running, Matt trying to get Frank's mojo back with some man-to-man confidence and me all flustered and unprepared. There was something Wil was going to say or ask, about the tsunami I think, but then he sees that we've just dropped into the scene and waves off: "No, it can wait! Go! Go! Run with it!")
Cedric is panicking. He feigns ignorance. "What… what order?" he stammers unconvincingly. The mask is tucked under his bathrobe but without it on, his persona is nullified, he's weak, he can't do it. He can't even make himself take it out and put it on. He's not the avatar of McKinley right now, he's just Cedric, he's just this bum in a bathrobe, and this big guy has a crowbar. Cedric is shit scared. All he can do is stammer and nod and squeak and tacitly nod agreement to whatever Frank says. Frank suggests they wipe the slate clean and they'll have a new first-time meeting and Frank will do all the right stuff and it'll be all good, right? Right. "I'll just go wait around front or by the office or something, and you can approach again - you know, in the mask and everything - and we'll do it right, okay?" Cedric can't refuse. Frank, satisfied that it's going to be okay after all, saunters off feeling much better, as Cedric realizes he's peed himself. The sky has begun to lighten, purple fading to warmer hues - but not quite "correct" hues, because tornado weather does tricky things to the sunlight. Everything seems to be just a little… off. Artificial. But it's a dawn nonetheless.
Scene 6 (Dan / Cedric)
Now it's Cedric who can't handle the shame and humiliation and fear. He runs back into his room, fleeing the growing outside light, no longer worried about Luke or any of that, because he has let down the spirits of the assassinated presidents! How could he let an initiate just turn the tables like that? The death mask of President McKinley begins to talk to him. No: to berate him, to chide him for losing control of the situation, for not being worthy. Cedric is weeping. He promises, he promises the Assassinated Presidents - all of them, not just McKinley whose avatar he carries - that he will teach this initiate about power and control and authority once and for all, and that if they (the dead presidents) will not strip him of the power to do this, he will make a sacrifice to them. "Send the tornado!" he implores. "Make the funnel come to us and I will give you a live sacrifice!" The dead presidents, speaking through the mask, tell him the tornado will come by noon. Six hours. The TV then finishes its station ID with the national anthem and turns to static. Cedric sits, staring at the static. Time passes and the sun comes up, that unholy pre-storm light.
Scene 7 (Ed / Todd Burlap)
Todd has been hiding in Cedric's bathroom this whole time. He thought maybe, while Cedric was out of the room, he'd have a chance to tear some of the carpet up to look for the "thing" that's under one of these rugs. Whatever it is. But he didn't have enough time. Cedric came back and has been talking to the mask or the TV or thin air or something, and it's really weirding Todd out. He's edgy. Doesn't like this. As Cedric has his one-sided conversation (and who's to say some of the words of the Presidents didn't come from Todd himself…?) Todd empties the medicine cabinet of all the various things in it, and ingests them. Mostly Robitussin, but maybe who the hell knows what else, right? Once Cedric settles into staring into the static, after maybe a couple of hours, Todd thinks now is maybe his chance to quietly slip out - through the still-open bathroom window. But no. All 'Tussined up, he slips, knocks the soap into the tub, makes noise. Cedric hears. He quickly dons the mask - no being caught unprepared this time! - and heads into the bathroom where, goddammit, he sees who he thinks is the *same fucking recruit* again. Because he still doesn't know there's an identical Todd. He thinks Todd is Frank. Again. "I warned you, initiate!" he shouts and, grabbing up a lamp stand, begins to beat the shit out of Frank in the bathroom. His fear is gone again - now he has the mask on. "You wanted a second chance and I gave it to you, and this is how you break protocol? Spying on me?" He grabs Todd by the throat, drags him to the door shouting about how useless and unworthy he is, and throws him out into the parking lot. Then he hastily closes his door back up before anyone could see him in the mask in the (now) daylight.
Scene 8 (Wil / Luke Marten)
In room 1, Luke is also not sleeping as the sun comes up. But he's not watching TV either. He takes out an ornate, arcane-looking knife, removes his tank-top, and begins to cut into himself - his chest, his arms - blood flowing out and down onto the floor where it begins to… not pool, but almost flow into a strange shape formation. To the uninformed eye, it might just look like random rivulets, but to someone who knows the sealed room 13 well, they might recognize this as a variant of the sign painted on the sealed room's window boarding. Luke peers intently into the glistening emblem as if trying to divine something, looking for a message or a clue… but he scowls. What he sees here is not what he wanted. This is not what he expected. This isn't telling him what he wanted to know yet, what he wanted to know about the truth of what was done to him. But something about the way the blood lies on the floor, on the carpet, is strange… He takes the knife, cuts the carpet away…
There, taped on the underside of the blood-soaked patch, is a sealed envelope.
(Fraction interjects with a sudden flashback suggestion that we all agree is absolutely perfect: Cedric, in his slovenly bathrobe, earlier - caught off guard by Frank, staring dully at his TV set, etc. When his robe opens for a moment, we can see that Cedric's chest is scarred with knife carvings back and forth, just like Frank's now, only Cedric's are old, years old, mostly as healed as they could ever be. What did they do back in prison??? What did Cedric do long ago that Frank wants to repeat now???)
Wil and I end up getting to select the Tilt elements. These are twists that inform the back half of the game and help insure that things get really messed up. Rather than exercise them as mini-scenes immediately (which is how my home group has started doing it) we put them on the table and wait to see how we can insert them. The two tilt elements were:
"A visit from the (perhaps unofficial) authorities"
"Something precious is on fire"
Also, because it was getting well on into the evening (already earlier there had been some more general socializing with other folks, and pizza, and playing with Matt & Kelly Sue's kids before they went to bed, and such) and everyone but me still had one more serious professional convention day ahead of them, we decided to run an abbreviated Act II - one scene each instead of two - so that folks could get to bed at a reasonable hour. That, of course, meant that we had some ass to haul.
(I think it was during the Tilt that we started cracking jokes about the various kinds of horrors that might be inside of the sealed Room 13. Maybe there's, like, a shoggoth in there. Not a very good one, mind you, since it's only trying to fuck up roadside Kansas, though, y'know? An underachiever shoggoth. This theoretical shoggoth not living up its full potential, of course, is where we finally landed the name Travis. Travis Shoggoth.)
Scene 9 (Matt / Frank Burlap)
Frank's been waiting around outside for couple hours, messing with sealed room 13 a bit more maybe, expecting that at some point, Cedric will emerge in his Secret Order Master role, wearing the mask, and they'll redo their first formal interaction the right way. But it's been awhile, no sign of Cedric (who has been staring at the mask & TV all this time having his one-sided conversation), and he's getting a little worried, a little impatient. Suddenly, he hears the sounds of Cedric tossing Todd out of the room, shouting about how he fucked up his chance at a do-over and don't even bother trying to come back to the secret order, it's over, his initiation is nullified. Todd, confused as hell, goes into the managers' apartment, his face all bruised. Frank's brain slowly puts it together as he realizes that his identical twin brother just fucked him out of his secret magickal order membership. He starts to seethe, then rage: this is the last straw. Their whole lives, Todd has been getting them into shit and he always gets away with it while Frank takes the blame but NOT THIS TIME! Frank storms into the manager's office with the crowbar. Todd is sitting in the bathtub in the back, holding a towel full of ice to his head where he got repeatedly hit with the lamp stand. He's just starting to relax, all the booze and DXM and god knows what else in his bloodstream taking it all away calmly, when Frank comes in screaming: "You SON OF A BITCH - and you KNOW how much I loved MOM so you know how much it hurts me to say that!" For the second time in, like, ten minutes, Todd is under bathtub bludgeon attack. But Frank is crying, completely out of control, and he just starts flailing almost randomly around the bathroom with the crowbar, hitting virtually everything except his brother. Finally, Frank runs out of steam and collapses by the side of the tub, weeping, feeling like a complete failure at absolutely everything. Todd carefully extricates himself from the bathtub, shrugs it off - "Man, you always try to kill me on our birthday, every year, whatever" - and cracks open the office fridge/freezer to start another round of drinking and get fresh ice for his head.
Inside the fridge, surrounded by booze and bottles of cough syrup, is the head of the previous motel manager.
Scene 10 (Wil / Luke Marten)
Luke decides to force a confrontation with Cedric. Oh, of course he knows Cedric is here. Cedric is why he came. When he hears Cedric shouting at Todd, throwing him out then closing the door to room 11 again, he decides it's time. Cedric is back in his room? Let's go talk about what's going on. It's time to make Cedric tell him the truth about all of it. He stomps down to room 11, the letter from the sealed envelope crumpled up and blood-stained in one hand, the ritual knife in the other. He bangs on the door with the letter fist. When Cedric puts his face up to look through the spy-hole, Luke drives the ritual knife right into and almost entirely through the door! Cedric lurches back, barely missed by the point of the blade coming through. He hastily drags a chair out into the middle of the floor, then returns to the door as Luke begins throwing himself against it. Did we mention that Luke is big and tough as fucking rock and that he will not be deterred? Yeah. The door is budging. The doorframe is splintering. The flip-over deadbolt starts to crack out of the wood. One more good smash and the door is coming down. Luke throws himself… and Cedric yanks the door open! Luke goes through, into the room, over the chair, and ends up prone on the ground. He turns over to look up… just as Cedric drops the TV right on his head.
Scene 11 (Dan / Cedric)
As Todd is trying to drink the head pain away in the office and Frank is sobbing in a fetal curl in the bathroom, the tornado siren starts up again. There's a sound at the office doorway. It's Cedric. He tosses the crumpled letter to Todd. "This will explain all of it," he says. "Everything you want to know about the sealed room and how all of this is supposed to work." He looks past Todd at the weeping Frank - ah, a twin, they're twins, I see - and at the chopped off head in the open fridge. There was a time these would have been impressive, important, intimidating details, but not anymore. After all, he's got an unconscious, twitching Luke Marten at his feet that he dragged over here by his hair. He shrugs. Todd shrugs back. "Anyway," says Cedric, "do whatever you want now." He reaches into his bathrobe, takes out the death mask of William McKinley, puts it on. "I gotta go feed the tornado," he intones, and drags Luke out into the field as the funnel begins to form. "Assassinated presidents! Are you there?" he calls into the rising wind - and they appear! The faces of every murdered American president form in the dark boiling clouds, looking down - a visit from the unofficial authorities. With difficulty, Cedric lifts Luke up off the ground: "I have done as you commanded and brought you a living sacrifice! Take him, not me!" The tip of the tornado funnel winds down from above… and pulls Luke Marten up into the dark clouds. The tornado lifts up and away from Cedric, who is sobbing with relief. The whirling funnel passes overhead. Cedric turns and watches… as the deadly twister descends again, directly onto the Manna Hotel.
Scene 12 (Ed / Todd Burlap)
Todd Burlap picks up the crumpled letter. He looks back at his wreck of a brother, the brother who always envied his psychic powers. Fuck that pathetic loser; he doesn't need to know the truth about any of this. Fuck all of this, in fact. Todd swigs another mouthful of moonshine, pulls his lighter out, flicks a spark, and blows flame all over the letter, the precious letter that they murdered a man in order to search for. It bursts into flames, is quickly consumed to ash…
…as the twister touches down and the Manna Hotel begins to rip into a million pieces…
At the end of all the scenes, players have accumulated two or more dice from their successes and failures during the scenes. Success and failure results tend to cancel each other out. There is a game mechanic for rolling the dice to determine how, at the end of the story, things are going to turn out for you. Then you use your dice, the number of dice, to play out the epilogue details.
Wil happened to have the most dice, four of them, and he also got the best (highest) result. Matt had three dice and the second best outcome. Ed had three dice, I had only two, and we both ended up with very bad outcomes - Ed's slightly worse than mine.
Here's how it played out:
LUKE: Flash back to a year earlier. Luke Marten is in prison, in Lansing, reading a book on the occult, a book about occult rituals and gaining magickal power and weird sacrifices and such. There are scrawled margins in the notes, a set of extra information added there in the handwriting of none other than his former cellmate, Cedric. Cedric was only just released. Cedric has apparently performed the ritual described in this book and has some interesting suggestions for it...
TODD: The motel is torn asunder in slow motion, walls and ceilings and furniture lifted up and pulled apart all around Frank and Todd. Miraculously, everything comes apart except for the manager office. Todd, completely amazed and drug-addled, steps out through the partial doorframe that's still standing, looks down the row and sees that Room 13 is now exposed, its barred door and window and walls all torn away. There is a piece of rug flapping in the still-intense wind. Todd begins to walk down the row of shattered rooms, realizing now that the letter wasn't the thing under the rug that they needed to find after all.
FRANK: The motel slo-mo explodes around Frank. The wind blows the ashes of the burned letter away. His brother is walking away, leaving him behind. Maybe Frank calls out to him, maybe not. Doesn't matter; in all this wind, Todd would never hear him anyway. Frank's eyes settle on the open fridge, the booze, the bottles of cough syrup, god only knows what else. Frank gives up and gives in. He gingerly reaches in around the severed head, grabs a bottle of fuck-you-up in each hand, and just starts to pour that shit into his mouth as the first emergency vehicle lights appear on the horizon.
CEDRIC: Out in the field, Cedric watches the motel explode into splinters. It's beautiful! Suddenly, he feels two impacts against his body: splinters of wood propelled by the cyclone winds at bullet speed. One only grazes him but the other strikes deep in his gut. Yes, he thinks, with an ironic smile. Just the way it was for William McKinley. Of course. He clutches his stomach, falls to his knees and then onto his side.
LUKE: Flash back eight hours earlier, the Greyhound bus arriving in front of the motel in the wee hours, appearing through the cattle miasma. But now we see inside: a scene of gore, every passenger murdered, mutilated… except one. Luke Marten leans forward to the bus driver whose face, we see, has been largely flayed off and pinned back to his seat. "I think this is my stop," he whispers into what's left of the man's ear.
TODD: Oblivious to the arriving emergency crews, Todd pulls the flapping rug out of the way to expose an iron grate below, in the foundation of room 13. He reaches down, un-bars it, lifts it open and looks into the seemingly infinitely deep, dark tunnel that stretches below it… and something even darker that seems to be rising up. (I dare you to start chanting "Travis Shoggoth Travis Shoggoth Travis Shoggoth" in that chugga-chugga train rhythm. Try it.)
FRANK: Cops and emergency vehicles arrive at the motel in a swarm. What brought them so fast, so many of them? Were they warned? Was it the tornado? (On hindsight, no, it must have been the bus driver…) It doesn't matter. The cops swarm into the wreckage of the motel and find Frank guzzling from a bottle, the severed head of the previous owner next to him. As they lift him up and drag him toward the nearest cop car in cuffs, he screams "But it's my birthday!"
LUKE: Luke Marten comes to as he is pulled up from Cedric's hands, up into the tornado funnel. Suddenly, all around him, he sees the faces of the spirits of the Assassinated Presidents - yes, even McKinley. They look upon him approvingly and suddenly he feels knowledge, understanding, comprehension, awareness. Looking upon the dead presidents here in the maelstrom, he at last understands what was done to him, what this is all supposed to be.
TODD: The thing that has come up from below (Travis Shoggoth! Travis Shoggoth!) enters Todd's face, slams inside him, subsumes him. Maybe it, too, thinks this is Frank, not realizing it has the wrong twin? It doesn't matter. The man is replaced, inside, by the monster. Todd Burlap rises, standing up from the smashed rubble of the motel, snarling as he sees the police and firemen and paramedics. He rushes forward toward them, a blur of violent horror. Their first round of gunfire barely slows him down, as he tears into them. It will take a while for them to finish him off, but eventually… eventually, they do.
CEDRIC: Cedric finds himself in a hospital. They found him in the field, badly wounded by still alive. He's healing in a hospital. McKinley's wound killed him because of gangrene and infection, but medicine is far more competent now. The doctors are going to save him. But… but that's not how it's supposed to happen. He's supposed to die of infection in his wound. How? How? He takes the only source of infection he can get to, here in the hospital bed - his own feces - and rubs it into the wound when the nurses are not around. Indeed, the wound turns bad and foul and mortal once again, to the doctors' great surprise and shock. As the infection spreads through his innards, he finds the death mask in his bedside drawer. As his life ebbs from him, he places the mask one last time over his own face, and draws on McKinley's own last-day words: "It is useless, gentlemen. I think we ought to have prayer.”
FRANK: In prison for murder - many murders, possibly, as there may have been some confusion among the survivors of the slaughter at the motel about whether all the killing was done by Todd, or if Frank joined in. (So hard to tell them apart.) He is never going to get back out - or at least, he won't ever be released. But he gets back on the wagon, finds Christ, and writes a book about his experiences, the lessons he feels he's learned, the questions he still feels are unanswered. Son of a Bitch becomes a huge true-crime success, like Helter Skelter. Frank isn't allowed to have the piles of money from its success, but lucky for him there's a trust set up - perhaps by the secret magickal order? - for the money to go into, where it is used to create a new roadside motor lodge, the William McKinley Memorial Hotel, complete with its own sealed room 13. Frank doesn't ever expect to be allowed to go there, and he doesn't really understand why he felt the need for it, but it's enough for him to know that it's been made.
LUKE: Some time later, maybe months, maybe years, the door to Frank Burlap's cell opens. "You got a new cell mate," says the guard, and in steps Luke Marten, tough as a rock and impossible to deter. Whatever happened after he went into that tornado, he lived and now the path of his life has brought back to prison - to this prison, to this cell, to Frank. The scars on Luke's body are old, mostly healed now. "I can tell you what you want to know, Frank," he says, "I can tell you the truth about what happened to you."
Some Additional Thoughts
It was, as you might imagine, precisely the blast we were hoping for. And we even wrapped up, like, before midnight.
There ain't nothing that injects that little extra sense of setting into a game like a good prop - Fraction's phone recording of the tsunami siren, in this case.
Speaking of props... If only we'd known in advance, man, how awesome would it have been to have a real death mask of William McKinley to pull out? We should scare one of those up for the future, just in case.
I wish we had a picture of Wil acting out the knife carving ritual on his chest.
Everyone finding their character's "face" was great - Wil settling into Luke's stone-cold fuck-you-up Luke expression, Ed's sliding drowsy lucid-then-incoherent Todd, Matt's wide-eyed frantic fight-or-flight Frank. I hope whatever face I had for Cedric was half so good.
I continue to think it's tricky to insure that the Tilt elements come into the game doing what they're supposed to do - twist the direction of the story, not just add flavor to scenes you're already planning to do - without really specific effort to do so. Maybe requiring that the first two scenes of the second act each include one of the Tilts? More experimentation still needed there.
Most of my Fiasco experience has been with three players, which makes for tightly wound trouble. Wil's tried five and said it's pretty unmanageable. But four is nice. Four means that you have a couple, just a couple, of character combos with no direct relationship to each other, which means the potential for mayhem between people who never even cross paths but not a whole sea of unconnections.
I didn't step foot on the convention floor, not even for a minute, which I regret now. I heard lots of good about the show, and missed at least as many friends as I managed to see. So next year, I think I may try to hit the convention for real. And maybe we can get the band together for another game.