This week, I cracked open the second hand copy of the second edition of Paranoia that I picked up from Oxfam a few months back. What followed was an evening of slapstick comedy, general mistrust, outright betrayal and excessive bureaucracy.
Paranoia sees a group of player living in a dystopian future not unlike that envisaged by Orwell in 1984. In place of Big Brother is The Computer, a device which controls all aspects of society. Despite this dark premise, the whole concept is taken with a healthy dose of absurdity and dark humour.
Players take on the role of troubleshooters, carrying out tasks for Friend Computer. Along the way, they must root out commie mutant traitors and try not to die too often. If they do die, all is not lost as they will be reborn in an identical clone body. The world of Paranoia is a dangerous place, with many forces who would kill you as soon as look at you – most notably Friend Computer and your fellow troubleshooters!
For most players, this was their first experience of Parania, though a couple of them had played before. It was also my first time running the game, and I was keen to hit the right tone. I therefore did a wide trawl online for ideas and resources, taking lots of different ideas from different places. I took quite a few of my ideas from Geek and Sundry’s No Survivors show and their Paranoia game. The biggest thing I took from them was the idea of the main puzzle and the use of a snakes and ladders board as a map – though mine was fleshed out with many, many traps and was far more deadly.
Our game began with five troubleshooters (James, Connor, Andrew, Ray and Meg) waking up in their bunks and being ushered through to an early morning mission briefing. In this briefing, they are given their clearance levels (all seemingly red level in a chromatic scale) and a unique character quirk:
- James: You believe that the computer is a God. You are devout, but must keep your faith a secret. Also, you are hungry for any secret notes that are passed.
- Connor: You do not trust happy pills. Avoid taking them wherever possible.
- Andrew: You must persuade other players to roll you dice for you.
- Ray: You are a communist. This is a secret, comrade.
- Meg: You are Green clearance. You are also red/green colour blind. You are also red/green colour deaf.
The players also rolled up their character stats and chose their skills. Two players were then berated heavily for using green pen instead of red for their sheets. despite being only red clearance. Citizen Ray managed to talk his way out of a very early execution.
The team were given a briefing, outlining their mission to clear out an observation tower/R&D complex that had been overrun by commie mutant traitors. It was explained that Alpha Complex had considered investing in locks and security, but that it was deemed more cost-effective to just allow the occasional R&D officer to die and replace them with clones. Eventually, this policy resulted in the complex being overrun and claimed by the commies. And the Mutants. And, you know, traitors.
Before leaving the briefing room, each player was also given a mandatory voluntary duty assignment:
- James: Morale Officer, equipped with a stock of happy pills.
- Connor: Team Leader.
- Andrew: Equipment Officer, charged with recording and maintaining assigned equipment.
- Ray: Hygiene Officer, equipped with a mop and back-mounted mop holster.
- Meg: Loyalty Officer, equipped with three loyalty collars.
The team then moved on to the R&D department to collect their equipment. The team were given laser pistols. I would have allowed them better weapons, but nobody asked for them, so nobody got them. They were also given 5 assorted and unidentified grenade, including one that had “something to do with ropes” and one that “incapacitates commies with confetti-based celebrations”. They also got a tangler gun and a laser pen with a strange activation sequence – again, taken from Geek and Sundry’s game. They were warned to be extremely careful with the pen…
Having left R&D (and having washed their hands at the request of the hygiene officer), the group realised that they had no idea where to go – nobody had thought to ask for directions to Observation Tower 3. The team leader took responsibility for this and was summarily executed by Friend Computer. A new clone of the team leader was deposited into the corridor and directions were given to take the tram to Observation Tower 3.
The team of troubleshooters embarked confidently down the corridor in the indicated direction of the tram. That confidence was most definitely misplaced.
They arrived at four doors with four very similar symbols on them. All were boxy symbols with windows. Of the four doors, two players chose door 1, one chose door 3 and two chose door 4:
- Door 1 opened widely and players were invited to take agility checks as a large number of razor blades fell out of the room and onto the troubleshooters. Sadly, they passed their checks.
- Door 3 opened onto a room with buzzing machinery and a few sparks. A successful mechanical knowledge check ensured that the troubleshooter at this door knew enough not to go on. Again, death avoided.
- Door 4 was the tram, with a heavily accented driver beckoning the troubleshooters aboard.
The troubleshooters waited for Ray to pick up several razor blades and affix them to the strands of his mop to create a deadly mop flail before shuffling collectively onto the tram.
“Observation Tower 3,” barked the team leader.
“Da!” responded the driver.
The players eyed each other uneasily as the tram set off.
End of Part 1! Tune in next time for the rest of the adventure in Alpha Complex!