Boxcars clarification

I'm not sure I understand boxcars, or rather, why it is put so much weight in the game. It is described as "Wildly pumping up successes and horrifyingly worsen failures" but that isn't really true is it? Yes, it drastically increases the chances of a Way Awful Failure, but it doesn't actually "wildly" affect the outcome of a roll since both sixes cancel each other out. You can still get a swerve of 0 if the next roll is double but not 6's. A single exploding dice will do more (statistically speaking) to affect the outcome since it has no "competing" dice that is being rerolled against it. Or am I missing something? And there is no positive equivalent to a Way Awful Failure afaik, a higher result can do more damage or let you use stunts but those aren't affected by a boxcar result.
Have i missed something, or is boxcars just something that is likely to cause a Way Awful Failure?

Statistically, boxcars has no effect on the final roll, since it's essentially a "roll again" result. The Outcome you eventually get is going to be the same as any other open roll in Feng Shui.

The whole purpose of boxcars is to create a dramatic effect. Feng Shui is a cinematic game, which creates some unique challenges for a game designer. You want the action to be over-the-top and on the "implausable but really cool" side of the realism spectrum. Feng Shui does this largely by putting narrative control in the hands of the players, and they describe the action according to their own sense of creativity and cinematic kinks. The problem there is without some mechanical rules to nail things down, you get a "storytelling" activity but not much game there. The players automatically succeed because they are awesome and they just kick ass because they say they do.

The dice are there to provide a rough structure to the game and to parcel out successes and failures to the actors in the unfolding story. You say you shot him and he dies, how WELL did you actually shoot him? Can you really kick him through that plate glass window, roll the dice and let's see. And the typical open rolls cover that success/failure mechanic fairly well: sometimes everything you say does happen exactly that way, and sometimes it doesn't.

Many games like to include a "critical hit" or "fumble" result. And many, many, many players love this idea... usually to their detriment (most critical hit/failure mechanics tend to punish the players more than the antagonists). Crit/fumble systems tend to be popular in more cinematic games because they create a great deal more drama than more "realistic" systems. Feng Shui has two different methods to model critical success/critical failure:

  1. Positive/negative die explodes. One die rolls a '6' and you get a way-out success or a way-awful failure. This is simple to adjudicate and it's fairly easy to determine who it affects, as it's usually a personal result tied to whoever is rolling.

  2. Boxcars. This is supposed to represent something really unusual happening, but in practice is somewhat underwhelming, as you make another open roll that generally doesn't explode, and it's hard to see how a +1/-1 or +2/-2 caused something interesting to happen. The rulebook says that this magnifies success/failure, so you can use that to treat a minor swerve result as if it were something that exploded. You can think of it just as a variation of option 1) above.

However, what I like to do with boxcars is if it's not readily apparent what went horribly wrong or what went stupendously right, then I change something in the environment. So you get a slight success or failure (whatever the Outcome was), but something unexpected happens that doesn't necessarily involve whoever was rolling. Some examples:

  • Whoever is holding the Macguffin drops it, and it's now loose and sliding around the floor.
  • The terrain changes, like some huge aquariums get shot up and water cascades across the floor, complete with flopping fish or lobsters or venemous cone snails.
  • The enemies suddenly change tactics, like the spitting demons stop spitting green fireballs, sharp spines burst out of their arms and backs and they close to melee range for some reason.
  • A chasm opens up in the floor and belches yellowish smoke into the scene.
  • Power line or lighting fixture fails, dropping a live electrical wire down into the fight scene.
  • The catwalk the combatants are standing on lurches unexpectedly, and is now hanging by a single bolt.
  • A coolant pipe breaks, filling the area with thick fog and impairing ranged attacks.
  • An unexpected ally/enemy shows up, tipping the scales of the battle one way or the other.

But it all boils down to a mechanic that creates dramatic moments in the flow of the game.

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Ok, this makes sense, I think I just got hung up on how it's phrased and framed in the book. It's phrased as "shit WILL go down" but apart from the Way Awful Failure rule there is no word on what it mechanically does. I was at least expecting a sidebar with GM advice for how to make boxcars exciting.
I'm cool with a "GM decides" rules, but it was phrased as if there were definite, mechanical effects that would kick in.

In combat, this is what I do. It's not enormous, but since the original rules don't have actual mechanical effects, my group finds it fine.

Success after Boxcars against mooks : The player hits as many mooks as his final outcome allows, regardless of how many targets he had declared (it's still limited to how many the GM says are in range, though : a suggested maximum is 5-6)

Success after Boxcars against Featured Foes and Bosses (or a PC) : The character doesn't substract their Toughness from the damage taken.

Way Awful Failure (against anyone) : you take damage equal to the absolute value of your swerve, with a maximum of 5 damage, that no Schtick can help you avoid or reduce.

If the attack used Sorcery or Guns, you don’t use this rule and suffer the backlash or malfunction rules instead.

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Thanks for sharing how you handle Boxcars in your FS games. I'm reading through FS2 and had the same impressions about Boxcars canceling out one another and mechanically it just seems underwhelming. Your interpretation on how to handle Boxcars in your game has me thinking about either using what you've shared or coming up with some ideas for situations where Boxcars comes up in my games. Good stuff!