Welcome back, faithful readers!
Last Time we talked about the elevator pitch for Deviant: The Renegades, the newest Chronicle of Darkness game. Deviant will be the eleventh main gameline in the CofD, the third to be written entirely for a second edition ruleset, and if you include every monster, faction and creature ever published in the “blue” books like Changing Breeds or Second Sight… Well, it’s a lot. Any new game has to do something to make itself stand out from the crowd. Unique points of interest, compared to its big siblings. Why should you play Deviant, rather than a “mortals” game using the Lost Boys in Hurt Locker? What does Deviant have to say about the fallout from trauma that Changeling doesn’t? Demon had the God-Machine, all the way from the original 2004 corebook, as an antagonist. Beast flipped our usual crossover assumption from supported in a supplement, maybe, to talked about throughout the core. Mummy brought back player-Storyteller knowledge separation and inverted our usual character progression.
When we pitched the game to White Wolf, we included the following key points, our design goals that would make Deviant stand out.
Simplification and Clarity
Chronicles of Darkness games have become increasingly complicated over the last decade (and as Awakening Developer, I know of what I speak,) with lots of moving parts and descriptive traits (things like Virtues, Aspirations, and Conditions) for players to keep track of above and beyond the visually-easy dot ratings on the character sheet.
Deviant is designed to be easier on a troupe than our other games. The Remade Template condenses several things; no Virtue or Vice and only one Aspiration, as their mechanical functions (willpower renewal and beat generation) are supplied by other traits. Deviant’s powers are dot-rated, bought individually, and mechanics like Supernatural Tolerance (which for everyone but Demons is supplied by a 1-10 trait like Blood Potency or Gnosis) derived from those powers rather than being bought and recorded separately. Our goal here is to have a clean character sheet that’s easy to read and understand.
And I don’t mean settings as in “LA” or “Moscow”. I mean as in dials and switches.
We’ve spoken here and there about how Deviant will, for the most part, be the lowest-powered game bar Hunter, as the Remade’s opponents are mostly ordinary, if organized, human beings. Well, a troupe can change that. A troupe can change a lot about the game.
Deviant characters buy their powers with Experiences, same as everyone, but how strong those powers are – their dot-rating, if you will – is entirely up to the troupe. The total badassery of a character then feeds into other mechanics, informing how bad her Scars are, how potent her opposing conspiracy is, and other things. While isolation and instability brings further Scars and, as the character rebalances, more powers, that initial setting is entirely up to the troupe. A bare-minimum Deviant character is slightly more potent than someone with a Supernatural Merit, an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Deviant is a walking timebomb. Where you sit on that curve at chronicle’s start is up to you, divorced from Experiences and beats.
It’s not the only thing.
The Remade template itself is somewhat more variable than our other games. The splats alter how many powers, Scars, and Conviction and Loyalty dots a character receives at creation, but that’s a game design element dating back to Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Where Deviant stands out is the support in the game for what we call Forms, modifications to the Remade template as it applies to a particular character. Imagine if Kiths were much more involved, but not every Changeling character had one, or if Vampire presented things like postmortem embraces, clanless vampires, and hollow Mekhet as the game’s customisation option rather than bloodlines. Forms allow us to handle things that require extra rules but don’t fit our splats, like Symbiotes.
Build Your Own Powers
In keeping with the last point, one of the big draws of Deviant is how open-ended the powers list is going to be. All Variations have one of a set list of activation mechanics (I’ll explain this in a later blog) and then the player picks a Variation and “skins” it according to his character’s aesthetics. Creating a Deviant character feels like assembling a custom monster from building blocks, which when combined with the fact that how potent Variations are is divorced from Experiences, gives the game a unique niche among the Chronicles of Darkness, akin to Exigents in Exalted. Mage has the free improvisation of effects within guidelines in play, but Deviant has a power workshop. Our intention is for it to be the go-to game for building playable one-off monsters.
Chronicle Planning / Antagonist Systems
Deviant isn’t just about body-horror; it’s about a struggle with your enemy. A Remade’s Progenitor is not necessarily a member of the Conspiracy hunting them. Many Deviants are self-made, but their antagonists are looking to acquire them just the same. As you’ll see when we get around to blogging about Instability, without some external force to rail against a Deviant’s broken soul metastasizes and inflicts more debilitating aftereffects of their change.
Here’s something I don’t think we’ve spoken about anywhere – at some point between now and Deviant being released, dedicated Chronicles readers will see a ruleset we’ve been working on across several gamelines over the last few years for organization-level play. In the book they’re coming in first, they’re used for player-controlled groups, treating them almost as characters. Deviant will use them, but for the antagonists.
What this means is that the conspiracy hunting Deviant characters will have a character sheet of its own, filled out by the Storyteller from facts established by player choices in character creation and collaborative questions. The more Variations a Remade character has (and how powerful they are) is a key factor in how many points the Storyteller has to spend on their Conspiracy, and multiple players can pool their Conspiracy creation together.
In Deviant‘s Storytelling chapter we’ll have an optional system (in so much as the ST can override it at any time) for determining the Conspiracy’s “actions” in response to what the player characters do in a Story, how active the Conspiracy is in hunting them, and other factors determined by the Conspiracy’s “stats”. This isn’t new ground for rpgs in general, but for a Chronicles of Darkness game we haven’t tried it before.
Tap into Unused Source Material
After two worlds of darkness and 25+ years, there can’t be any monsters we haven’t done a game for before, right?
While inspirational media for some of our games is thin on the ground or requires a sideways view, Deviant taps into horror stories we’ve all seen and read but haven’t had a place in White Wolf games yet. From the last remaining famous gothic horrors – Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Moreau’s creations, and the Invisible Man are all comfortably within the game’s remit – to 1970s and 1980s stories of isolation being linked to mutation and metamorphosis like the works of Cronenburg (especially the Fly), Japanese horror featuring monstrously transformed protagonists like Guyver, Akira, and Tetsuo, to the 1990s and early millennial trend for “minor supernatural beings versus the conspiracy” like Dark Angel, Gargoyles, Beauty and the Beast, and Roswell, to modern classics that draw from all of the above like Orphan Black and Fringe. You’ve all seen a Deviant story, you just didn’t know it.
To summarize, Deviant is going all-in on the tendency for Chronicles of Darkness games to be “toolkits”. Some of the CofD games have a firmer idea of “canon” than others – compare, for example, the just-as-setting-heavy-as-a-WoD-game Mage and Changeling to the every-Chronicle-is-different Hunter and Beast, but in Deviant no two Chronicles will use exactly the same rules. Within that wide-open customisation, it’s still a Chronicles game, laser-focused on the inner journey of the players’ characters and the story of isolation, revenge, and mutation they tell.
And that story – Deviant‘s themes and mood – will be the subject of our next blog.