Paranoia - The Role-Playing Game
Created | Updated Dec 12, 2007
Citizen! Welcome to Alpha Complex
The Computer has selected you to participate in a secret mission in HHG sector. You will be working with a team of very capable Troubleshooters, all of whom have received the very latest in experimental weaponry.
Your mission is to participate in discussions by clicking on the links below. You are cautioned against using any words that may reveal your traitorous intentions. The list of words you should not use is [DELETED FOR SECURITY REASONS].
PARANOIA1, a role-playing game originally published by West End Games and currently published under the auspice of Mongoose Publishing, breaks several of the established traditions of role playing games.
Traditions of Role Playing
Role playing games are played with paper, writing implements, dice, and a modicum of imagination. Many people associate the word role playing with Dungeons & Dragons - largely because of the significant media coverage, both good and bad, enjoyed by the game over the years. At the most basic level role playing involves one or more players experiencing fictional settings described by a single individual, sometimes called a Gamemaster (GM), in which various actions in a string of events and encounters leads, hopefully, to the successful completion of a task or quest. Successfully completing a quest demands skill, luck and co-operation amongst the group of players.
PARANOIA is set in a futuristic, post apocalyptic world, where players run characters who work as part of a team of Troubleshooters. Characters co-operate only so far as is necessary to achieve their objectives, which might well run contrary to the objectives of other Troubleshooters or the team as a whole. The Gamemaster, in the meantime, presents the sort of obstacles and confusing bureaucratic agendas that wouldn't look out of place in George Orwell's 1984, Stanislaw Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub or Terry Gilliam's Brazil. PARANOIA is fun because everyone gets the chance to do the right thing for themselves while back-stabbing everyone else in the least obvious way possible, and yet still, ideally, completing the mission at the same time.
Originally, PARANOIA had a single style of play that walked a fine line between slapstick and 1984. Missions generally involved a lot of random gunfire and a high level of Troubleshooter mortality, leading to a tendency to play the game purely as a one-off between lengthier periods playing Other Unfun Games.
The newest edition of PARANOIA offers three styles of play - Classic, Zap and Straight. Classic mirrors the way PARANOIA used to be. Zap espouses a greater leaning towards a madcap, Three Stooges-style of play where the entire team fail to make it out of the first ten minutes without losing a six-pack of clones. Straight goes in completely the other direction and maintains an atmosphere of Orwellian fear and paranoia, a grim world where the oppression of The Computer weighs heavy on the shoulders of every citizen. Sometimes Straight-style all too uncomfortably resembles our own world and the most depressing news stories about dictatorships and extreme regimes.
The World of PARANOIA
Human society has taken refuge in a huge sheltered environment. Its actual size is classified information. There is nothing outside Alpha Complex, and no citizen in his or her right mind would want to leave Alpha Complex. At least, that is what the common citizen of Alpha Complex is told - and no one would lie to them. Right?2
Citizens of Alpha Complex have everything laid on to make their lives as comfortable and fulfilling as possible. Work, sleep and three moderately edible meals a day make up the better part of the average citizen's existence. The Computer designates sectors of Alpha Complex with a three digit, alphabetical code (like VSD Sector or HHG Sector) - and most ordinary citizens will spend their entire useful lives in the same sector, doing the same job, week in, week out.
The Computer runs Alpha Complex. The Computer is your friend. The Computer is also crazy.
It has calculated that Communists (or Commies) are the most likely cause of Alpha Complex's many problems and woes. This assumption is based on a corrupted datadump from Alpha Prime3 completed before the world was laid waste by a nuclear exchange. The Computer has evolved many complicated security mechanisms to prevent the Commies from taking control of Alpha Complex. Ultimately, however, no one can prove with absolutely certainty that the Commies even exist. This lack of evidence can make some missions very complicated indeed.
Security and You
The Computer controls access to information and resources through a system of colour-coded security clearance levels - matching the colours of the rainbow. INFRARED, the lowest security clearance, represents the great unwashed, ordinary citizens who do not need to know anything about anything. The Infrared are responsible for all the drudge work of manufacturing, stirring the food vats, cleaning places you wouldn't risk even sending a robot - and all with an expected level of enthusiasm not generally considered likely without chemical assistance in normal circumstances.
Higher security levels are RED, which is the level that player characters normally start at (see 'Troubleshooters' below) and progress through ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE, INDIGO, and VIOLET, to the highest security clearance, that of the great High Programmers, ULTRAVIOLET.
A typical conversation between The Computer and Troubleshooter goes something like this:
Troubleshooter: How do I work this equipment?
The Computer: What is your security clearance?
Troubleshooter: Red, friend Computer.
The Computer: That information is not available at your security clearance.
Troubleshooter: Is this experimental equipment I have dangerous?
The Computer: What is your security clearance?
Troubleshooter: Red, friend Computer.
The Computer: That information is not available at your security clearance.
The Computer has classified the various zones and sectors of Alpha Complex by security clearance. If someone finds you in an area not appropriate to your security clearance, it could be fair grounds for serious reprimand, punishment or even summary execution. This can sometimes be awkward, as to travel a short distance a team of Troubleshooters might have to take a ten-mile round trip just to avoid using a ten-foot length of BLUE Clearance corridor.
Troubleshooters might question the sanity of classification, but all decisions are based on sound concepts of maximum security and the convenience of all citizens4. The Computer says so.
It All Makes Perfect Sense
PARANOIA benefits from the sort of DoubleSpeak that made 1984 seem like such an exciting place to live (spot the sarcasm there?). For example, it's been Year 214 in Alpha Complex for a lot longer than most people care to admit (largely because questioning the fact would invariably leading to a course of invigorating brain-scrubbing at the nearest re-educational facility) and most citizens could count the number of actual Communists they've seen without the assistance of any fingers or toes.
The jobsworth bureaucracy behind Alpha Complex services constantly changes processes, protocols, forms and corridor clearances. You could wake one morning to find the route to work blocked by a VIOLET Clearance corridor one day and not the next, or suddenly discovered a new twelve-form acquisition process to get a bowl of ColdFun in the evening that never needed any special administration before. A cocktail of medication included in almost everything a citizen eats or drinks is the only thing preventing wholesale riots and anarchy against the injustice and insanity of the system.
Traitors: Commies, Mutants and Secret Societies
The Computer considers Commies, mutants, and members of secret societies to be traitors. Traitors must be rooted out and executed. The Computer rewards those loyal citizens who identify traitors and facilitate their capture. Due to the eagerness with which loyal citizens try to root out traitors, it is hard to say which is more dangerous: the traitors or the loyal citizens.
While citizens of Alpha Complex are not necessarily Commies, most (if not all) are mutants and hold membership in one of many secret societies. It is rumoured that The Computer itself might have started some of the secret societies to occupy the over-active minds of citizens during the rare periods of downtime. Even more treasonous is the rumour that intentional modification of citizen DNA by The Computer may be causing all the mutations evident in Alpha Complex. Loyal citizens should give no credence whatsoever to such patently ridiculous Commie propaganda.
The job of the Troubleshooter is, quite literally, to find trouble and shoot it. Troubleshooters, being of RED or higher security clearance, are authorised to carry weapons, and to use them to root out trouble in all its myriad, manifest forms.
While characters may be ignorant of the treasonous imperfections of their companions, players certainly are aware. Players will constantly be on the lookout for the slightest indiscretion or slip, ready to execute them, and claim the credit for rooting out and destroying a traitor.
The life of a Troubleshooter is full of surprises. Troubleshooters can expect to be shot, stabbed, incinerated, stapled, mangled, blown to bits and occasionally even accidentally executed in the course of completing a mission. This is so much fun that many Troubleshooters go crazy.
Mutations are traitorous. Most citizens - and Troubleshooters - have mutant powers. The majority of mutant powers manifest in subtle ways - so knowing who has mutant powers and what they might do to your fragile mind and body can be a tough call. No one knows (or at least no one admits to know) why so many people have mutations. It might be a simple matter of radiation or genetic drift. On the other hand, someone may have introduced the mutations into the genetic make-up of Alpha Complex citizens on purpose. Any suggestions that The Computer might be the one responsible are treasonous.
Mutant powers vary from the relatively benign - like mind reading or levitation - to the utterly malign - like corrosive touch, mental control and machine empathy. Upstanding citizens of Alpha Complex may choose to register their mutation. Registered Mutants can live ordinary lives putting their abilities to good use in service to The Computer - and hardly getting spat on at all.
Secret Society membership is treasonous. All Troubleshooters belong to a Secret Society. Isn't life good!
Each Secret Society has its own rules and goals. Some seek to venerate The Computer - like the First Church of Christ Computer-Programmer - while others seek to undermine or destroy it - like the terrorist PURGE, anarchist Death Leopard and the communist... well, Commies. Other Secret Societies have aims that vary from the accepted norm or defy the protocols of Alpha Complex in treasonous ways - like Psion who support the development of mutations, Corpore Metal who believe machines should take control, and the Humanists who believe The Computer should answer to humanity and not control it. One or two Societies defy all description, engaged in obscure and nefarious schemes of their own, like the Illuminati.
As members of a Secret Society, a Troubleshooter can expect support in the form of extra information and equipment, in return for loyalty and doing a couple of favours every now and again. When assigned a new mission by The Computer, a Troubleshooter can expect their Secret Society to have their own angle on the proceedings and, perhaps, expect completion of a side mission - that may be at odds with the primary goal of the team.
Service Groups and Firms
Bureaucracy and Delegation
If you thought it was difficult requisitioning a new biro from the keeper of the office stationery, you haven't lived with Alpha Complex bureaucracy.
In Alpha Complex, the departments of Production Logistics and Commissary (PLC) and Housing Preservation and Development & Mind Control (HPD & MC) exist to help Troubleshooters with their daily needs. Of course, a large organisation like Alpha Complex needs to keep track of its precious resources. Therefore, all requests must be in writing and, where necessary, completed in triplicate. Carbon paper is available if you fill out a carbon paper requisition form, and have it authorised by a higher-security-clearance citizen (after completing the request for authorisation form).
Obviously, this crazy, overly complicated, form-mad world gets to people (mostly to the people who have to fill in and check the forms). This lessens the chances that the Troubleshooters have of getting their request approved, or if approved, getting it in one piece.
Research and Development
Research and Development (R&D) is an institution within Alpha Complex that attempts to generate gadgets and gizmos to make it a better place to live in. Their devices have a wholly deserved reputation for being unreliable, and are usually extremely dangerous.
Most Troubleshooters would rather work as reactor shielding than test experimental equipment, however all Troubleshooter teams are routinely assigned experimental equipment to test during the missions. The equipment is usually completely inappropriate for the mission and Troubleshooters can rely on it to fail in a most amusing, and sometimes terminal, fashion.
Technical Services and Cloning Enhancements
In Unfun Games you spend ages creating and developing a character, then in your finest hour get it ripped to shreds by an irate blue dragon or slowly dissolved by a gelatinous cube. It is a little surprising such games still have players and a prime explanation for their Unfun status. In PARANOIA, you need not fear launching yourself into the thick of combat with the enemy, as modern science means another chance will come along at any minute... in the form of a fully-functional, amply-equipped and entirely mature clone.
In the past, a Troubleshooter could expect a limited number of extra chances to get the job done right, with a six-pack of pre-prepared clones to call upon in the hour of need. However, in Year 214, Technical Services have fine-tuned the cloning system to mean an infinite number of clones await their time to service the needs of Alpha Complex and The Computer. Admittedly, the system is not perfect. After half-a-dozen clones, a little genetic drift might appear in the template. Beyond that, successful cloning requires a little pro-active maintenance, but citizens need have nothing to fear. Yes, the occasional third arm or rogue mutation might appear, but nothing a spot of corrective surgery and medication can't handle.
All citizens of Alpha Complex have a line of clones to fall back on when exposed to sudden death situations. Prime clones - the first of the line - may go through something akin to a childhood, but generally, later clones arrive in a state of full maturity. Childbirth is a process beyond your security clearance to know about - except to make it quite clear that its treason. No one has sex anymore, because the cocktail of medication given to all citizens includes hormone suppressants that prevent such base instincts as sexual attraction. Rumours of high clearance citizens having children in secret are just that... rumours.
Safety and Security
The perfect life led by citizens of Alpha Complex can cause jealously and rage in certain treacherous elements, leading to random acts of sabotage and violence. Traitors and Commies stop at nothing to undermine and damage The Computer, which necessitates different security measures to ensure safety for everyone.
The Armed Forces manage the grunt work of facing the enemy on the ground. Where traitors threaten the peace, the soldiers of the Armed Forces step in with arms ready to subdue the threat with minimal collateral damage. Certain treacherous critics might question why the Armed Forces maintain such a large force of soldiers with few apparent antagonists to suppress. The same individuals might also correlate the lack of opposition with the rise in random collateral damage caused by so-called 'Armed Forces Simulated Engagement Exercises'. Such comments are, of course, nothing more than Bolschy propaganda.
Internal Security (IntSec) handle the more subtle management of Alpha Complex security, dealing less with physical adversaries and more with creeping threats of disinformation and treason. Agents of IntSec disperse themselves amongst the population and infiltrate the bases and networks of the enemy, working from within and gathering evidence to level ironclad accusations of treachery. IntSec agents hardly ever go double agent and undermine operations against the Secret Societies. Hardly ever at all.
A Typical Mission
To be clear, Troubleshooters should never expect anything resembling a typical mission. Part of the challenge in PARANOIA comes from the complete lack of mission uniformity. However, Troubleshooters may expect certain aspects of commonality along the way, though not necessarily always in the same order.
A typical missions likely starts with a Mission Alert. How individuals clones receive that alert varies wildly, from sealed orders delivered by courier, to a card strapped to a new, experimental homing missile, or a subliminal signal embedded in a Bouncy Bubble Beverage advert broadcast over the Alpha Complex entertainment network. In the end, everyone will generally get the message, even if completely by accident.
A mission alert will direct each Troubleshooter to attend a briefing room at a specified time and location - which, once again, may provide difficult to decipher from the available information. Once there, the team can expect to receive a modicum of information, defined by their security clearances, regarding the task at hand, delivered by The Computer or, more likely, channelled through a medium clearance Briefing Officer with little time or patience for stupid questions.
Once briefed, the Troubleshooters can expect an immediate visit to PLC and R&D for assignment of basic and experimental equipment, likely taking the opportunity to split up and make contact with Secret Societies for secondary orders. Calls for comfort breaks, urgent calls to management back at the food vats or quick visits to the nearest confession booth all too commonly follow briefing sessions - without a great deal of suspicion.
Visits for equipment can sometimes leave the Troubleshooter team with gear of questionable function or use. Assigned equipment might include a five-thousand ton battle boat, a million pieces of paper with 'Warning' written on them, and one hundred four-inch lengths of rope, all for a mission to recon a possible Commie incursion in the depths of DRY Sector.
Finally, the team goes on the mission itself. Most missions involve doing something difficult, dangerous or nonsensical while attempting to stay alive - and completing your Secret Society submission at the same time. Missions offer a fine opportunity to gather evidence against your team mates to ensure their termination for treason at the debriefing while you get all the glory. Rarely, missions may take the Troubleshooters beyond the comfortable confines of Alpha Complex - into the Outdoors or down into the lost and forgotten corridors and chambers of the Underplex. Fear and ignorance is your enemy! Stay alert! Trust no one! Keep your laser handy!
Should the team actually succeed in their mission, or even just get back in one piece, the mission debrief - equally as nasty as the mission briefing - assigns commendations, punishments, and executions based on the Troubleshooters' achievements. Performance reviews with bite!
Thank You for Reading, Friend Citizen
By the way, this page is classified security clearance BLUE. If you have insufficient clearance to access this information, you should report for summary termination at the nearest automated booth immediately.