Deniable: The Review

Deniable is a new game surrounding the idea of British Spies.  Specifically unwitting spies that have been approached on the street by the Organisation.  On the cover it is espoused as:

A game of unwitting spies tempted by easy money.

The game is authored by Stuart McDermid and Joe Sweeney.  I have gamed with Stuart before on many occasions and he is a much different gamer to me.  We have had a lot of fun in games but it is safe to say that our ideal games are miles apart.  For example, he loves the World series (Dungeon, Apocalypse etc) and the notion of playing to find out where I like games like Earthdawn, Pathfinder and the like where I like to set up a premise that has been thoroughly planned and see how the players interact with it.

Deniable is based around Stuart’s ideals and leans heavily on games like Apocalypse World (which they tell you to buy many times through the rules), Fiasco and other story based games.  They also highlight a bunch of other influences in the form of movies and TV shows, half of which I recognise and half which I don’t.  The main shows they mention toward this are British TV shows of Spy and Spooks.  I have heard of Spooks, but not Spy so the style is not immediately apparent to me.

Cover of the Deniable role playing game
The new Deniable Game of black humoured spy affairs!

The premise of the game is you play standard people off the street that have become embroiled in a spy lifestyle via seeming happenstance.  The game is to be played very much in an episodical TV style with the idea that you run a campaign as a season of six episodes or as a three part mini-series.  The tone is to take one of two paths, a satirical dark humour or a serious tone.  The book itself is written in the satirical manner and promises, many times, that you will dissolve into piles of tears of laughter during play.

As a player you do not only play your character, but you will play the role of extras as well as many scenes may not even involve your character so the Director will give you bit parts to play and flesh out to further the story.  This is a great way to keep players engaged at the table.  Especially seeing the expected play time is likely around 2 hours as opposed to 3-4 of most role playing games.

The Director is in essence what the Game Master is to other games – except they promote the idea of play to find out.  What that means is that the Director is supposedly not meant to plan a plot for the game.  Instead the plot should develop out of the game interactions of the characters and the interactions with the extras and other player characters.  I do say that the Director is supposedly meant to not plan a thing yet the book in a couple of places tells the Director what scenes there should be and gives random “prompts” as to what each scene should contain.  Regardless of this, the game is exceptionally light on preparation and high on actual role playing.

The structure of a game includes an introduction scene, a drop scene, the mission, maybe a chase, a slice of life, a montage and then ending up with a group therapy session (debrief) for the agents.  These are all staples of the spy genre except for the slice of life scenes.  These scenes are meant to highlight the normal life of the protagonist and highlight what they deal with ordinarily.  This is in effect to provide a backdrop as to why the protagonist would want to escape his mundane life and take up spy work.  There is a lot of time outlining this style of scene.  More than any other scene is given focus for and I wonder if it is worth it.  Even if the game was played straight without any humour I find little value to this scene.

The rules are really quite simple and very much based on the Apocalypse World game.  Character sheets are smart and cover everything you need and the book is very well presented.  The photos in the book really transfer the feel of a black humour game.  Multiple quotes and examples also put this through every paragraph making it a very easy read.  Stuart once told me that I would give up on James Bond RPG (Victory Games from the 1980’s) as my favoured spy game if I played this.  After a read I know that would not happen because I do prefer a much more serious styled game and not one that is necessarily modeled on a TV show structure.

That said, this game has high production value.  It is going to bring laughs and it is going to be fast paced.  They give an excellent example of three games in the back so you can see how sessions may turn out that are really valuable.  They also provide different skins (don’t like British – go far future space) on their website for you to grab and that is great.  If you like your games fast, low preparation and want to learn the plot as you go, Deniable is for you.  Deniable is available from DriveThruRPG or their own site  You can get it ina small softcover booklet (which was how I had it sent to me) that is really handy and well bound or you can get it via watermarked PDF also.  If you love any of the World games or would just love to try something that enforces low preparation that is high humour, I suggest you check it out.  Keep rolling!

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