is a role-playing game of a 'darkly humorous future'.
Imagine the bureaucratic, sadistic insanity of Dilbert, the oppressive society
of Orwell's Big Brother and the perverse logic of Catch 22 all set against a 70s
style futuristic underground complex where everybody wears jackboots, jumpsuits
and travels about on mono-rails. This world of Alpha Complex is overseen by The
Computer, who ensures the happiness of all the citizens in its care, and guards
against the ever-present threat of Communism.
Everyone in Alpha Complex has a colour coded security clearance from the Infra-Red
drones through to the semi-mythic Ultra-Violets. As Red or Orange clearance
'Troubleshooters', the players are near the bottom of the pile, on the front-line
between order and chaos, tasked with various missions to defend the Computer and its citizens.
So, bold defenders of society? Not quite, the players in this RPG are not noble
adventurers, but hapless pawns. Alpha Complex is riddled with corruption, treachery,
inefficiency, and real communists are virtually non-existent. The Computer is
obsessed with treason, but its citizens are looking after themselves. The missions
that players are sent on are frequently fronts which powerful citizens have set
up for racketeering, settling grudges or any number of other treasonous activities.
The players might be aware that the mission they are being briefed for is treasonous,
or nonsense, or treasonous nonsense, but there's nothing they can do about it.
Who would listen to a low clearance nobody like them?
Alpha Complex doesn't have many communists, but it does have countless secret
societies with strange and irrational motives. Not only are these treasonous,
but their existence is classified, so knowing about them is treason too. All the
players are Secret Society members, so they are traitors. They also have mutations,
which are minor psychic powers, these are also classified and treasonous. (See
where this is going?). The secret societies frequently have competing motives,
such as the Frankenstein Destroyers who believe robots to be an abomination and
Corpore Metal who aspire to be turned into cyborgs. So, the players' secret
society objectives may well conflict with each other and the official mission.
The quickest way to get promotion is not to loyally do what you're told, but to
turn in a traitor. Knowing that the other players are all traitors, they're
eyeing each other up for the chop. All the Gamesmaster has to do is nick a couple
of these circling sharks and the resulting frenzy will make the waters boil with blood.
Communism may not be what it was in the 80s when Paranoia was created,
but this doesn't really matter. Paranoia isn't about historical realism, or dice
and hit points. It's all about quick thinking, fast talking, spurious logic and
opportunism. The game creates an arena in which the players can lie, cheat,
betray and generally behave appallingly, but that's the whole point, so it's OK.
The only problem with Paranoia is that is spoils the players, who will
never be able to co-operate on a heroic quest again without being tempted to
deal out a few savage blows in the dark.