Welcome back, dice fondlers! Against all odds, instead of voting for current and relevant games, you’ve decided to delve into the murky depths of Paranoia. Well, fine, let’s talk Paranoia then. I’ll set some ground rules, though.
Red Clearance Edition (We’ll be using this one)
The first edition was originally printed back in 1984, and if you don’t realize that this was intentional, the dark satire of Paranoia is definitely not for you. There have been several further editions of and additions to Paranoia. Some didn’t fare so well. After an ill-fated run of game books by West End Games, Mongoose took the reins back over for Paranoia XP (which soon become just Paranoia again after a nasty little legal skirmish with Microsoft). Most recently, however, there was a Kickstarter to bring to life a fully rebooted Paranoia, updating its game systems to reflect modern gaming innovations. That’s the edition we’ll be talking about for the next few articles. If you’re looking for this edition, ask for the Red Clearance Edition of Paranoia at your preferred game store.
As you’ve probably noticed from both the name of the RPG and from my oh-so-subtle hints in the previous articles, Paranoia is a (or at least can be) a very dark game. Before I delve too deep into the current backstory of Paranoia, let’s talk about the more common playstyles for Paranoia first. Traditionally, there were three primary game styles, although the rebooted edition has expanded upon those and refined them even further. Citing Paranoia XP, the three most common playstyles were “Zap,” “Classic,” and “Straight.”
Zap is an over-the-top black comedy of homicidal accidents to see who burns out their supply of clones first and is best for one-shot games. Classic allows for either one-shots or for longer campaigns, as it turns down the level of player backstabbing and turns up the satire (in place of some of the slapstick murder). Classic pushes for more player cooperation, dialing back on the violent slapstick. Finally, you have the Straight version. The slapstick is gone, replaced with almost exclusively black satire. Straight requires multiple game sessions to really get the full mileage out of the format.
Paranoia’s Alpha Complex as the Setting
And what subject-matter could possibly be so rich that you can run either slapstick murderfests or the dark satire of a movie like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil? In this case, it’s the cherished dystopian future. Where games like Fallout have players exploring the outside world after being trapped in a Vault for some duration of their life, Paranoia’s Alpha Complex is all-encompassing. To the main characters, who are usually Red Clearance (the second lowest strata of society), there are only vague rumors of outside, if any word at all. No, they only know the absolute structure of Alpha Complex as centuries have before them. What none of them know (or really, anybody else for that matter) is that the Alpha Complex is failing and that “The Computer” is struggling to keep rogue subroutines from rebelling, even as the incredibly vast mines underneath have finally been stripped bare. The recycling facilities are able to calculate how much time is left before they’ll be able to stop reprocessing waste into something usable. The Computer may have the capacity to correct all of this and come up with a solution, but, unfortunately for everyone involved, The Computer has no intention of creating solutions that long-term.
The GM & Player Roles— The Computer and the Reds
The Computer is hunting saboteurs. In the Paranoia, enemies of The Computer have been “Commies” and “terrorists” (depending on the edition). Furthermore, mutants, traitors, and mutant traitors are ever present as well. The Paranoia in the game’s namesake starts with The Computer and it always infects the players. See, all levels of society in this game feel the bite of Paranoia, but in different ways. The levels of security clearance are as follows: Infrared, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, Ultraviolet. Our characters, the Reds, however, are just smart and valuable enough to not live in vast sleeping auditoriums and or to be kept on drugs to make them compliant. They live in dorms of six at a time, and while many have truly banal jobs, the players are Troubleshooters who are called upon to deal with messy situations.
That’s right, my friend. You’re the equivalent of a Star Trek redshirt, on an away team composed entirely of redshirts, living in a closed facility, at the beck and call of, at best, an officious middle manager of Yellow Clearance, or far more frequently, under the direct orders of a monstrously paranoid AI that has a bad habit of talking people into circular confessions. And if your GM is playing The Computer correctly, it will happen. You see, The Computer WANTS to have faith in people, but it’s been betrayed before, so it tends to lead people down long, no-win conversations and either marks down treason stars to remember for later or simply kills a character on the spot.
Thankfully, death isn’t the immediate end. Your troubleshooters do start with a backlog of six clones should they find themselves in a fatal situation (they will). But the constant threat of death might make one a little paranoid, right? Well, paranoia leads to desperation, desperation leads to treason. One form of treason is throwing a teammate under the bus as a traitor or mutant when you feel that The Computer is paying a little more personal attention to you than you feel comfortable with. Another form of treason comes in the form of secret societies and their goals… which every player is a part of at least one, all different.
Don’t worry. The Secret Societies know what’s outside and exactly what must be done about it. They are, without exception, 100% wrong in every possible way. They have plans in mind in how to deal with current situations… and how YOU TOO can help in advancing their plans, because, after all, that’s an ideal thing for a Troubleshooter to do during their daily duties, right? They certainly wouldn’t lead you down the wrong path, right?
Right. Again, there’s a reason the game is called Paranoia. You can already see how this begins to take shape. One-shot slapstick games are ideal for a comedy of errors between a team of monstrously selfish individuals trying vainly to help their secret society while avoiding certain death; last clone standing wins. Campaigns, both with doses of humor or not, can be much deeper investigations into the futility of trying to repair a broken system or explorations of how the other tiers of society live. Perhaps they even encounter one of the Ultraviolets, The High Programmers, who are the only class who can permanently alter how The Computer functions.
And with that, I shall leave you. The Computer has instructed me to head to the nearest Termination Center for my treasonous explanations. Next time, we’ll talk about Character Creation and clones. Until then, remember to…