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Take An Adventure In Dystopia With West End Game's Original Paranoia

Today we're going to get a little paranoid with the West End Games original edition of Paranoia.

I've always been a Dungeons & Dragons player, and because of that I did not grow up playing Paranoia. In fact, I have only recently played it with a group of relatively newer RPG players. This review is from the perspective of a new player, with no experience playing Paranoia.

Paranoia was designed and written by Eric Goldberg (the mind behind DragonQuest and Commando), Dan Gelber and Greg Costikyan (a prolific game designer, who did The Price of Freedom among many others). The game enjoyed a steady run with plenty of supplements. Not to mention, it's a joy to play—especially for the first time.

The first thing that caught my attention was the classic feel of the artwork. It's not overly cartoony and provides context for the story. I like the simplicity of the illustrations and the how most of them depict one character aiming a weapon at another. It fits the context of the story well.

I got hold of a copy of the 1984 Player Handbook. Upon opening the book, I was greeted with the warning: "Security Clearance RED: Knowledge or possession of the contents by any citizen of Security Clearance INFRARED constitutes treason, and is punishable by summary execution."

Well, that's not terrifying at all. The next few pages are a welcome from an entity known as The Computer. The Computer loves and trusts me. I am devoted in service to The Computer. The Computer is generous. The Computer is assigning missions to my brothers in service and me, within The Complex.

This game is going to be fun. The cyberpunk flavor of the text really draws the player into the story, which is quite simple. The world—destroyed by some sort of cataclysm—is now protected/run by a network of deranged, insane computers. The players are troubleshooters working for the computers, who are assigned various missions with the overall goal of protecting the last refuge of humanity—the Alpha Complex.

The book lays out the basic elements of the game within the first few pages. Security clearances are based on the ROY G. BIV colors of the rainbow model and control transport and movement in the Alpha Complex. Service groups cover various responsibilities to the complex. There are guidelines for secret societies, traitors, living in the complex and—my personal favorite—mutant powers.

The gameplay instructions are straightforward, including examples and rules for more advanced players. I like this, as it makes the game a bit more accessible to newer players and drastically lowers the bar for entry into the series. There's the obligatory dice info and a glossary—not much in this section, but incredibly straightforward.

Character creation is fun. The player determines their mutant abilities, secret societies, equipment and skills—the usual RPG stuff. While this is all straightforward, there's a surprise at the end of the chapter: every player character has six lives. That's right; each PC in Paranoia is a member of a clone family. If something horrible should happen to Clone Number One (your current PC), then Number Two is activated and so on, until all six clones are horribly dead. The Computer takes care of its people.

The bookkeeping section is interesting and covers the five types of points PCs earn in the game. These are, once again, straightforward. Secret Society Points help determine a player's status within a secret society. Skill points help PCs learn new skills, Credits are in-game money, Commendation points are XP, treason points are like counter-XP. If the treason points become higher than the commendation points, then The Computer will try to eliminate your character.

Ultimately, Paranoia doesn't take itself too seriously and is a blast to play. I especially like how much the game emphasizes keeping the players in the dark about everything. I only got the chance to play a short game, but it has piqued my interest in playing another session and eventually checking out some of the later editions and supplements for the game.

Contributed by David J. Buck

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David J. Buck

David J. Buck


The second edition is much improved over the first edition. And reading all the modules (especially the ones by John M. Ford) are a joy by themselves.

Players really need to keep meta game knowledge separate from game knowledge as everyone knows they other players are mutant secret society traitors. The trick is to prove it Or at leas to get other people to volunteer to test the R&D equipment. You'll just get stuck holding the bill that way.


[MENTION=6804807]Pete Apple[/MENTION]
I have the authorization I need. Just stare into this porthole from my Mark IV bot. I'm sending the authorization now.


First Post
It's a hoot. One of my favorite role-play experiences was playing paranoia with 5 friends who'd never played it before. After we did the basic introduction and character creation, I slipped the GM a blank note while glancing around the table. The craziness was on for the rest of the evening.


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Played D&D and Paranoia back in the late 80s.

The new version by Mongoose Publishing is also a lot of fun and I like to run one-off paranoia sessions between my D&D campaign sessions.

M.T. Black

I loved the first edition of Paranoia and spent many, many hours playing it. The rules were clunky, but the dark, dystopian vibe was fantastic.

The second edition was much cleaner in terms of rules, but it played up the slapstick at the expense of the dystopia, which was a direction I did not like.


From personal experience both playing and running Paranoia, it's actually a game where the mechanical rules are fairly inconsequential and indeed irrelevant to the gameplay.


I played years ago with Tim Brown (who later went on to work on Darksun) GMing. He is a musician and at random times would tell us what muzak was playing in the complex. I don't recall most of the songs, but all of them were hilariously titled. The most memorable being "Send in the Clones", rather than "Send in the Clowns". We also died a lot!


If you don't die a *LOT* in Paranoia, you are either doing it wrong or you have very boring friends. Friends who might actually be better utilized as reactor shielding panels.

I’ve fond memories of playing Paranoia back in the day. Indeed, we probably were a greater threat to ourselves than anything else in the game. I played the new edition more recently, and it was a hoot.

Between Gamma World, Paranoia, Aftermath, After the Bomb, Twilight 2000, and The Price of Freedom, the RPG industry’s view of the future back then was pretty bleak.

The Big BZ

I've played it a few times and some of my mates love it but I'm not mad on the backstabby, competitive vibe really, I can get that from boardgames, war games and in fact the real world so I prefer RPGs to have nice co-operative feel.

Xavian Starsider

First Post
I've played it a few times and some of my mates love it but I'm not mad on the backstabby, competitive vibe really, I can get that from boardgames, war games and in fact the real world so I prefer RPGs to have nice co-operative feel.

The beauty of Paranoia is that it pits you against the most dangerous foe present in any RPG: the players seated at the table with you. The toughest dragons, evil liches and crazed demigods in other RPGs are all designed with the intention that the players should prove victorious, and they abide by rules of behavior. While wily players will come up with terrifying methods and strategies no module could ever account for. Players are terrifying.

Paranoia also forces cooperation and teamwork. You have to operate within expected parameters while figuring out HOW to stab people in the back

It's just good fun and you don't have to worry about dying. You WILL die. Probably a few times. If not, your GM is running it wrong. Just enjoy the ride, have a laugh, and get them before they get you.

It is one of my greatest regrets that I never played Paranoia back in the day. Hilarious game! Great for one-off's if you're regular game is missing a player that night!


The first non D&D game I played. We were pre-teens. A friend's babysitter ran the game for his birthday. To this day I can distinctly remember my first attempt to use a cone rifle. It did not go well :) Good times... even with crazy kids.


The only time I ever got to play was with ENWorld’s [MENTION=2]Piratecat[/MENTION] GMing. The truly “necessary” rules knowledge needed is very scant and may be picked up in less than 5 minutes. Though my play experience is pretty limited, at least I had the best around running it. :)

Into the outdoors with Gun and Camera... the adventure that caused a new group of players to run out of clones before the meat of the adventure.

Yeah, Paranoia is good. And Mongoose didn't totally hash it up, unlike Judge Dredd and RuneQuest.