One of the challenges in discussing Paranoia, the classic dark comedy RPG comes from the text itself. While most RPGs delineate between setting information, rules information, what the characters know and what the players know, Paranoia mashes it all together in a chaotic tumble. Eager players are often very quick to jump in with declarations of treason or classic Friend Computer catchphrases. I suspect the comments on this review will feature these comments that, while they can be a little disorientating discussing a game, are very flattering as well. This game makes an impression on anyone who plays it and that it’s probably the second most quoted thing at the game table besides Monty Python shows just how deep that influence run. I recently received my backer materials for the most recent edition of the game from Mongoose Publishing. Does the new version climb the ranks or die in the dirt like a filthy Commie mutant Traitor? Let’s play to find out.
Paranoia turns the conventions of role playing games on their ear. Rather than encourage teamwork by the players and fair rules judgments by the Game Master, it encourages shifty behavior from the former and arbitrary rulings from the latter. How does a game like this remain fun? Because the setting makes it clear what the stakes are from the jump. The game is set in a futuristic alleged utopia by a massive Computer. The old machine is paranoid that its sweet society will be destroyed by mutants and secret societies. Friend Computer charges bands of Troubleshooters to root out these threats, unaware that every person living in Alpha Complex is both a mutant and a member of a secret society. Everyone at the table knows this, but they’ve got to find evidence or manufacture cath-22s to turn in other players while protecting their own secrets.
In the latest edition, designers WJ MacGuffin and Keith Garrett head back to basics. Gone are the cards from Red Clearance Edition and the terrorists of Paranoia XP. They keep the simple dice pool system where fives and sixes are considered a success. They also keep the Computer die where a success on it means Friend Computer is watching whatever it is that your Troubleshooter is doing. The game system has often just been window dressing for the betrayal and comedy of the story but I like this simple system that keeps things moving. The sooner players grasp how the game part works, the sooner they can get to the fun part of blowing through clones.
As for new mechanics, I enjoyed a few. Treason Stars now act as a bit of social damage for players but they also have the wonderful effect of expanding the Computer Die’s activation range. Characters also have buttons, which are traits that offer the chance to gain moxie (which influences dice rolls and powers mutant abilities) by doing things that cause them to get violent or enact treason. The game also adds cover rolls to the mix which are apparently mundane rolls that are actually a player setting up the use of a mutant power. It streamlines the sometimes clumsy method of having a player signal how they want to use their cool but treasonous ability. One thing I would have liked is a bit more guidance on how moxie spends affect the results of a mutant power roll.
As an almost 40 year game, Paranoia has collected a lot of extra bits like more mutant powers, other Complexes and so on. Long time fans lamenting the loss of these elements will find many of them in The Accomplice Book. I don’t know that this book is necessary as the “mechanics don’t matter” element of previous editions make it very easy to run old material with new rules. But it’s nice to have a book full of optional rules to screw in to make the game feel right along. The book also includes more of everything else in the core; Alpha Complex personalities, equipment, mission hooks and even a riff on the mission generator from previous editions.
Paranoia was highly influential as a game master and a game designer. It showed me that following the rules didn’t matter as much as telling a satisfying story. Players will have a good time blowing each other away if that’s the premise from the get go rather than one player deciding to be a jerk and pick pocketing extra gold on their own. It remains an excellent one shot. I recommend it for groups looking to try something besides D&D. It can really change your perspective on gaming and open your eyes to things outside the fantasy realm. The new edition keeps things fresh and simple, letting the play become the thing sooner rather than later.