It is odd that such a niche game could become so popular and well known. Comedy RPGs are very tough to do right. Most games have comedy in them but that is not the focus of the game like Paranoia. There was a time 15 years ago that most games I would run into would at least understand the phrase “The Computer is my friend” or “Happiness is Mandatory.” I’m not sure that is the case anymore. I see less and less Paranoia being run at conventions. The yearly Paranoia LARP at Origins it appears to me attendance goes down each year. To help the cause I ran two sessions of Paranoia at Origins and it was a great experience.
Paranoia for anyone that is not familiar with it is an RPG that first came out in 1984. In looking that up I wonder if they did that on purpose because the setting is inspired by Orwell’s classic novel 1984. The setting is a futuristic city called Alpha Complex. The city is immense and most of the times the characters never leave or even learn anything of what exists outside the city. Where the city is – be it underground, in a dome, a space station, or even on another planet rarely will matter. The city is run by the Computer, an immensely advanced Artificial Intelligence. Characters are all clones and part of a Troubleshooting team. Their job is to shoot trouble. Alpha Complex exists with the cold war mentality so communists are the enemies as are mutants and traitors. The player characters are all going to be commies, mutants, and or traitors though none of them will know if the others are or not. So, it is a game where you are trying to accomplish missions while trying to not let the other PCs learn your secrets. It can sound dark and serious and can be played that way. But most games go zany and silly with incompetence and bureaucratic complications.
It can be more complicated than that and is not an easy game to explain. But if you have ever seen it played it often looks like that table is having the most fun in a room of games. Paranoia is a great game because people don’t need to understand the rules or be that familiar with the setting. I would say that sometimes knowing less and being ignorant of the rules or setting makes for a better game. I like tables that are a good mix of experienced paranoia players and ones new to the game. I always give the new players the role of Team Leader and try to put them in the lime light a little more often as long as they feel comfortable with that. Paranoia is also a game I see lots of people wanting to generic into at conventions. I run a game for six players since that is the assumed Troubleshooting team number but do allow for two additional players to play an infrared or lower ranked character. The Team Leader can promote them if they do something to impress him and the Loyalty Officer can demote them.
I have a few standard items that I throw into almost every game like the trouble of getting from point A to point B. Alpha Complex is a labyrinth of rooms and hallways with no map that is accurate at least at the Character’s security clearance. I enjoy the chaos when they find a vehicle that does not have enough seats for everyone. In one game this past weekend at Origins when the Happiness Officer was unable to get a seat she cleverly lead the group in a game of musical chairs and was able to get a seat that way.
Paranoia is one of my favorite games and possible one of the few games that I don’t mind hearing about other people’s characters. Paranoia stories are usually pretty funny and there are ideas in them that can be borrowed and used. Inspiration can come from most places for this game. Origins theme this year was Superheroes so I based a Paranoia adventure off of the Avengers. I seemed to have been the only GM to attempt to fuse Paranoia with the theme and I think it may be fun to try that again next year once Origins announces there next theme.
Chris Gath. I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then. In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6. My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game. On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out. I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times. Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.