As open and evocative as the title A Body Was Found is, the game lives up to it. Based in Pinebox, Texas, the fictional rural town that is also the setting for Savage Worlds new East Texas University game, A Body Was Found can be used to tell stories in that setting but is not meant to be used as part of a campaign. In fact, it does not actually use the Savage Worlds rules. Instead it uses the Protocol Frame Work rule set.
This Protocol Frame Work is notably similar to Fiasco. However, in true Savage Worlds style, rather than using die rolls to determine the different pieces that will make up the characters and plots it is all determined by card draws.
One of the first draws is one of the creepiest and most important. The players each draw and the unlucky player with the low card is the one whose character is going to die at the end. Another draw by that player determines exactly what the odd occurrence is that kicks off the chain of events that eventually kills his character.
Card draws then determine the roles, relationships and motivations of each of the characters. And, like Fiasco, each character should have a relationship to one of the other characters. Also, like Fiasco, this is, essentially, the extent of the mechanical aspects of the characters. Within 3 card draws, the players each have the framework around which to build their characters. And nothing more is really needed.
This framework is not the end for the characters, though and players are encouraged to use these basics to really create deep characters. In fact, like many other story type games (though Fiasco is not necessarily in this category as caricatures seem to work best in that game) the deeper the players think about their characters, the better the story is going to be.
After that background is set, each player acts as the “director” for 2 scenes. This is done in any order with the only rule being that the same player cannot direct 2 scenes in a row. The basics of these scenes including type and themes as well as the locations are also determined by card draws, one for the type and theme and another to determine the basic location. Though the suit and number each determine a different aspect in each of these draws, things are kept generic enough that a pretty solid foundation for each scene is provided while giving the players plenty of freedom.
After each person directs their 2 scenes, there is an intermission. Again, this is a great deal like Fiasco and even includes another card draw that determines a twist for the second half of the game. This intermission is run by the doomed character’s player as an ensemble scene and that player determines exactly when in the scene the twist takes place.
After the intermission, the players each take turns drawing cards and running 2 more scenes in the same way as the scenes before the intermission. Some of these scenes can be very short, which is a good thing, since some quick math tells you that with a group of only 4 players, you would play more 10 scenes counting the intermission and the vignettes that end the game.
The game concludes with players describing a number of vignettes that describes how the plot resolves. The number of vignettes is determined by the number of Fate points. Each player gets to describe 1 vignette for each Fate point they have left over.
These Fate points are one area where the Protocol Frame Work diverges widely from Fiasco. There are a number of ways for players to earn Fate points, but they are all mechanical and dependent on the types of scenes that are drawn from the deck and the characters involved in those scenes. This means that the amount each player ends up with is more a matter of chance than anything else. The game specifically says that there are no specific limits on what a person can do with a Fate point though there are examples that give the general level of power. These examples include adding or removing a character from a scene, altering a scent slightly or resolving conflict in a scene in addition to determining the vignettes at the end.
Conflict resolution in the game is dealt with in an interesting way. Essentially, if two player’s characters come into conflict, they are allowed to play it out but the director decides the outcome, unless one or both of the players decides to play Fate points. At that point, it becomes a bidding war using Fate points with the director determining the outcome to any ties.
A Body was Found is one of those good, collaborative games that stays out of its own way without completely abandoning the players to their own devices. There is enough of a framework that most groups should be able to play without getting lost but not so much that their creativity will be stymied. While it would be difficult to make an ongoing campaign out of it (especially since a character dies every time it’s played) that’s not the point and there is plenty of variation, even in the basic plot, that a group could play it several times without it getting stale and it can make an excellent interlude for a Pinebox, Texas or East Texas University campaign.