RPG Reviews – Deviant: The Renegades (Onyx Path Publishing)

Deviant: The Renegades Backerkit Preorder

There’s something viscerally satisfying about a good revenge story. Righting wrongs, standing up for oneself, punishing the wicked – all these elements strike deep chords in their audience. It’s wildly entertaining to watch a plot unfold as the bad guy is taken down, or see the hero battle their way past hordes to reach their goal (or fight them off, if the protagonist only ever wanted to be “left alone”.)

Deviant: The Renegades is a Chronicles of Darkness game about revenge – both achieving it and what it costs to achieve it. It’s about damaged, broken people reclaiming an element of their lives from those who took them, and taking on all others who want to control them. It’s also about belonging and isolation – the need for the former and the imposition of the latter.

The “Remade”, or “Broken”, are people who have suffered a massive life-changing event [to put it lightly]- their “Divergence”. Through some means they have been broken on a spiritual level and their very soul has been damaged. Sometimes by chance or environment, often this is the work of their Progenitor, the twisted instigator of their Divergence. Their Progenitor may have acted out of scientific curiosity, occult ritual, or they may have just had the twisted desire to alter a person. Even if their experiment is a success, to the Remade it is an inhumane act that has torn apart their life. After this experience, your characters cope with being isolated from others due to the changes wrought upon them and grapple with their deep-seated need for revenge upon those who stole their lives. It’s pretty intense.

To make matters worse, the Remade are hunted by “Conspiracies” – organizations who may or may not have been responsible for their creation, but definitely want to harness their power now. These Conspiracies can be government agencies, cults, gangs, any group really. On top of their own temporal power they may also have supernatural beings on their side: altered animals, human agents, or The Devoted – Remade who have sided with the Conspiracy (which makes your players the Renegades).

The mechanics for Deviant will be familiar to anyone who’s played a Chronicles of Darkness game. I found the base rules well-presented and very clear. Deviant is a die pool system, where a number of d10s are rolled for each dot on the character sheet the player has in two (sometimes one) relevant characteristics. Anything 8 or higher counts as a success and on routine tasks only one success is needed. Situational modifiers, gear, and wounds all add or subtract dice to represent relative difficulty of a task.

Combat, Investigation, and Social Conflict all have subsystems built off that base mechanic, each doing a very nice job of representing their particular sphere. Combat can be down and dirty and brief and trying to persuade someone to do something for you requires building a good disposition and rapport between you (and even then sometimes takes a lengthy period of time).

Due to the changes forced upon them, the Remade receive a set of unique powers, called Variations. These are offset by Scars, features of the Variation that limits it in some fashion (frequency of use, collateral effects, etc).

When I first read the premise of Deviant I thought “Like Scanners, Stranger Things, or The Guyver!” and I thought that was very cool. So as an example to show Variations and Scars let’s create “Eleven”, from “Stranger Things”.

As an aside, one thing you decide as a group is the Threat Level of your Chronicle, which will determine how many Variations your PCs get as well as the power of the Conspiracy hunting you. In a game of uniquely-powered PCs this is a great way to establish a baseline power level and set expectations about what kind of game it will be (what impact the Remade will have on their environment).

Once you get to selecting your Remade-specific options, you’re going to choose your Origin, how your Divergence happened (accident, on purpose, etc.), and your Clade, a broad categorization of your particular changes. Eleven probably has Genotypal as an Origin (her Divergence is part of her heritage) and Cephalist as a Clade (they manifest as psychic powers).

For her Variations, I’ll assign Magnitude (levels) to a high-Magnitude Ranged Lash, a power that lets her attack at a distance and here will allow her to grapple, or cause brain hemmorhages; a high-Magnitude Telekinesis that lets her deflect and throw objects; and a lower level Astral Travel allowing her to step from her body and travel insubstantially (a power unique to Cephalists). Scars have to be assigned, so I’ll apply a high-level Concentration to her Telekinesis, Preparation to Astral Travel, and Depletion to Lash, signifying that she can run out of juice (I feel the first two Scars are more self-explanatory). With those choices I think I’ve built a close proximity to the Stranger Things character.

There’s lots more to how those powers are all built, and you’re allowed a lot of variety in how you construct them – crossing Clades and adjusting the effects in different ways. There aren’t really defined cosmetics – so Eleven’s Ranged Lash of Psychic power is the same base power as Firestarter Charlie’s pyrokinesis. In fact, if you happen to be familiar with games like Champions or Mutants & Masterminds then you might find this style of power creation familiar. See, one of the inspirations listed is the TV show “The Gifted”, and initially I thought “Ok, people with powers, on the run from the establishment, makes sense.” After reading deeper into the book though it became apparent that it’s a much stronger inspiration than I thought – Deviant is practically a horror-“superhero” game. And that’s cool! Already I’ve found options that would help make characters like Firestorm, Bloodshot, The Demon, Captain Marvel (the Shazam one), all with a Chronicles of Darkness twist.

As I mentioned earlier, the primary antagonists of Deviant are the Conspiracies and the agents at their disposal. The Devoted and others are certainly compelling, especially as you are intended to design the Devoted as being particularly connected to the PCs – giving your characters an even more personal connection to the enemy. What I like best though are the rules governing the Conspiracies themselves. They’re not just flavor text to contextualize various NPCs, they’re actual characters with statistics and actions and mechanics. This is the closest I’ve seen to official Organization rules in the Chronicles of Darkness and I love them. In a game where the protagonists should feel beleaguered and dogged, having proper rules for the pursuers is sensible design. Game-wise it means the players of the PCs never have to feel the ST is being harsh and cruel out of whim or fiat, as they have their own rules to follow. Conspiracies themselves sit in a construct known as the Web of Pain, which nests Conspiracies within Conspiracies, allowing PCs to take down one, only to find there’s a greater threat after all (Deviant 2: Revengeance anyone?). Great inclusion overall.

Four sample locations are given, complete with conspiracies, of which Ankara, Turkey, is probably my favorite. It’s a city where reality fractures and layers upon itself, creating stairways and doors to nowhere and features an excessive number of Coactive Remade (the Origin which harnesses and channels energy, whether mundane or eldritch).

The last things I want to talk about I believe seriously elevate Deviant. Chronicles of Darkness games are typically not what one would call “beer & pretzels”(insert favorite beverage and snack of choice). While you can, of course, play them casually, they reward most highly when you dive in deep and really feel the characters. It’s one of the reasons you find as much discussion about consent and content warnings as you do – it can get pretty heavy. Deviant does not break with tradition.

The Remade are, by nature of their existence, Other. They may find common ground with the protagonists of Changeling: the Lost, having both had terrible things and transformations inflicted upon them. However the Lost still have fae magic to fall back on and mask themselves – the Remade can’t necessarily hide who they are. As a result, the Storytelling section has a fair bit to say about the logical outcomes of the existence of the Remade. Written rather profoundly, there’s a lengthy examination of being pushed to the outside of society. Having become Other, the Remade have a lot to cope with – the inability to get or hold down a job, for example, whether it’s due to an inherent part of their Divergence or because they’re constantly on the run. The treatment of poverty and homelessness is frank and gives a good idea of how the Remade navigate that situation.

It also focuses in on the themes of the game, of Isolation, Empathy, Revenge, and Hate, and the impact those have on a person. A good amount of space is devoted to the particular kinds of horror Deviant lends itself to and how to manage that. From Body Horror and one’s relationship with their form, to the after effects of a history of violence. If your group is going to dive fully into Deviant, the Storytelling chapter is invaluable, both to help evoke the feel of the game but also to keep everyone at the table safe.

When it comes to rules and tone, I’m a firm believer in the idea that the rules support the story and guide what story is intended to be told. If you have a robust social conflict mechanic but spartan physical combat one, then my assumption is you intend the game to be about intrigue, interpersonal relationships, and so on. If you say you want your game to be about a certain topic, or to promote a certain element, then I like it when there are mechanics to support that. Vampire wouldn’t be the same without The Beast and a Humanity score, for example. Related to some of what I just mentioned in the Storytelling section, Deviant uses its mechanics to push home the revenge story narrative, with all its consequences.

Deviant replaces the baseline Virtue and Vice willpower system with Loyalty and Conviction. Loyalty governs the connections the Remade makes with those who stand with them, the allies who refuse to run in the face of danger. Conviction is what pushes the Renegade to fight, the anger that drives them. Both of these are tied into Touchstones, which play a prominent role in Deviant. These are people (and sometime places or things) that the Remade feels hatred towards (Conviction Touchstone) or protective towards (Loyalty Touchstone). The interplay between the two guide the Remade in their quest for revenge, providing focus and giving them something further to fight for. They ground the Remade in the world and when Loyalty or Conviction becomes predominant, can provide an emotional and narrative transformation.

For the latter, imagine the hero standing above the bodies of their foes, soaked in blood and panting heavily (28 Days Later – In A Heartbeat?), looking up at the shock and horror on their friends’ faces……

For the former, picture the end of the movie, after our hero has fought off the forces trying to capture them. Along with their companions they retire into the sunset, possibly to a farm somewhere, and the Remade remains to protect them. But nothing ever lasts and other Conspiracies may lie in wait, eager to find a way to bring the Remade into the fold, at which point the sequel begins…

Deviant: The Renegades is an exciting game. It’s a very cool entry into the Chronicles of Darkness series, covering horror ground previously untread. It has solid mechanics designed to support its particular narrative and a set of powers allowing players to create truly unique protagonists. It covers its themes and subjects responsibly and respectfully and I’m very eager to get this to the table and see what my players come up with.

You can currently preorder Deviant: The Renegades through Backerkit and purchase it at DriveThruRPG in PDF and Print-On-Demand!(Affiliate Link)

This copy was provided for review purposes.


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