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Human Wreckage
Author: Scott Knipe
Cost: Free
Reviewed by: Ron Edwards, 2001-07-01

This game is a 10-page freebie based on violent action-suspense movies, especially those which sacrifice nuances of character and theme for plain old gore and scary camera angles. It's shallow, sure, but what's really going on here is an experiment with players, characters, GMing, and scenes. Human Wreckage may be added to the list of Soap, Pantheon, Once Upon a Time, and Slasher as an experiment in group-created events that turn out to look sort of like a story. It's an attempt to address exactly what Extreme Vengeance is missing, namely the scene-by-scene structure of a violent action movie.

The basic idea is to go one by one around the table creating scenes. The interesting thing is that any other player-character may be in the scene (by whoever's choice, the current "Director" or the other player), and that person rolls on whatever aspects of the PC they'd like to see expressed in the scene. Successes mean "good business" gets done by that PC, and failure means "bad business" - what I especially like here is that these are not successful or failed tasks in the old-style RPG sense, but illustrations of good or bad sides of the PC's personality. Also, since the Director's PC doesn't roll in this scene, you get this effect of being a player when it's not your scene, but a GM when it is.

It does get a bit complicated, though, because each player is ALSO responsible for at least a couple of supporting characters - responsible in the sense of being able to bring them into scenes and in the case of a Splattertake. A Splattertake occurs between one player's scene and another's; it results when a player rolls all Bad Business, and basically, it means a supporting cast member will die.

There's a very clever set of rules for who plays the victim(s) during a Splattertake, and for who plays the Thing which is killing them, and for what results. It's based mainly on the game mechanic called Blood On Your Hands, and also on the concept that the group, Splattertake by Splattertake is slowly defining whatever is killing everyone through clues. The idea, of course, is to run out of supporting characters and then you're in "the final reel" (a Reel is defined as a full round of scenes, by the way), when the main characters face the whatever-it-is for real.

Unfortunately, in play, Human Wreckage does not yet fire on all cylinders. The principles would work perfectly once everyone has Blood On Your Hands, and if Bad Business generated enough Splattertakes to keep the supporting characters dying regularly, but without these, it stalls out and nothing happens. I hope the following suggestions are helpful in getting over these growing pains.

Problems in Play
Here's a minor little thing, before we hit the mechanics. A lot of the text is awfully concerned with the power issue among players, with a lot of negotiation about disagreeements, and votes, and any similar stuff. I suggest reviewing this material after playtesting proceeds, because I don't think such disagreements come up much. There's really no terrible reason why anyone wants things to go differently during play, as the whole endeavor is highly cooperative to begin with. Disputes ought to be handled by fiat from one of the players as indicated by any game mechanic (least BOYH, most BOYH, whatever else).

Some guidelines for the scope of a scene would help, especially in terms of allowable transitions from the last scenes. Again and again, players wanted to narrate movement from the last scene to the present one, and although one of us (me!) urged everyone just to cut to a new scene and screw the walking-down-the-hallways, others really wanted those transitions in there.

The rule that requires a Director to bring in a supporting cast member as well as the PC in every scene is really contrived; it created a little scurrying sub-cast for each character that ended up not working well.

Now for the real issue: the scene-and-death mechanics. The biggest problem is that the mechanics don't have good early-game, late-game function. At the outset, when no one has any BOYH, no one can play the Antagonist, so Splattertakes don't work. Later, if it so happens that a PC is dead but a supporting cast member for that player still lives, it turns out they're unkillable because only failed rolls by the PC gets the supporting character into Splattertakes. And without killing off all the supporting cast, the Last Reel cannot be entered.

Another problem is that the Business rolls (which we did like, as a concept) do not generate enough Splattertakes. As written, you don't get Splattertakes unless the PC rolls all Bad Business, which is pretty unlikely, as it turns out. We went scene after scene after scene, without killing anyone and knowing that we weren't "moving." Similarly, without those deaths, the players do not have enough Blood On Your Hands for some of the other mechanics to work. If they did, then the existing mechanics would work fine - but in play, without these in place, a lot of things can't happen.

I suggest that a Splattertake occur if a PC rolls any Bad Business at all. It means lots of carnage, sure, as well the possibility of group Splattertakes, but that sounds like a great idea to me.

We were also thinking that the supporting cast could be a bit beefier too, although that may be a function of the number of players. Four or five would work better than three (which we had), as there just wasn't much BOYH to be used, even when supporting cast members were dying.

In Conclusion
Human Wreckage is an excellent idea that needs serious revision and refining to be usable in play. As it stands, it doesn't manage to swing into action - but the basic concept could do so. It's Pantheon without the Gamism, and Soap with dice and cooperation instead of competitive bidding. I like the idea a lot and would like to see it get some consideration as it develops.

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