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Petri Wessman's weblog

MInireview: The Thin Green Line (Paranoia)

While the base Troubleshooters book covers the happy and carefree life of an Alpha Complex Troubleshooter, Internal Security covers the sort-of police force, and High Programmers covers the life of the elite, to date there hasn’t been all that much coverage for the armed forces. Enter The Thin Green Line, a quick overview of the military side. Unfortunately it’s a bit lightweight, clocking in at 64 pages, but it does provide some help for GMs who want to help their PCs volunteer for a stint in the glorious infantry. Volunteering for the army is strictly voluntary, of course. Every citizen is quite free to say no (and so prove their traitorous tendencies, of course).

We get some bits and pieces about the Book Camp process, but unfortunately it’s quite high-level and most of the content is reduced to a table or two about the results of said Boot Camp. I would have liked to see an actual playable Boot Camp section, but no such luck (due to page count limits, probably). So, GMs who want to subject their victi… err, players to some good old fashioned drill sergeant abuse will just have to watch Full Metal Jacket a few extra times and improvise. After Boot Camp, recruits are sent to the various branches of the army, which could be anything from a low-level grunt to a glorious Vulture Warrior… and of course, the selection process is completely fair, scientific and methodical.

After that we’re given a list of various Big Guns and assorted mayhem. The PCs get to shoot Really Big Weapons here, at least in theory, and of course this translates to various versions of: “you blew up what?!? On whose orders!?!”. And of course, Alpha Complex shares that eternal military curse: the weapons are made by the lowest bidder.

The included adventure is quite hilarious. It sends the PCs off to the Outside to investigate a military outpost which reported a full-scale attack by the Enemy, and then went silent. Lots of possibilities for mayhem here, and ample room for the PCs to totally screw up. The only minus point is a missing map; the text refers to a map of said outpost on page so-and-so, but that page (or any other page, for that matter) is totally missing any sort of map. While quite illustrative of yet another military snafu, your average GM would actually like that map, thanyouverymuch. Anyway, the adventure is fun and it’s not that hard to improvise some sort of map on your own.

A decent supplement for anyone wanting to add some military “fun” to a Paranoia game. While I would have liked to see some more pages on the subject, especially on the Boot Camp side, I’ll take what I can get.

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Minireview: Stuff 2: The Gray Subnets (Paranoia)

When I wrote about the original “Stuff” book for Paranoia, I noted that it’s an excellent book with one major flaw: the GM notes for all the equiment entries are combined with the “for the players” descriptions, making it useless for direct in-play use without heavy cut+paste. Well, apparently I wasn’t the only one complaining, since the authors of Stuff 2: The Gray Subnets explicitly note that as a flaw in the original book (and one they don’t repeat here). Yay!

So, in a way this is more of the same: a big book of “stuff” (mostly equipment, but also some services etc) for a Paranoia game. Where the first book was a listing of items from the official Alpha Complex eBay clone (C-Bay), this one focuses on the black market (the “Gray Subnet”). All of the items and services listed here at at least slightly treasonous, with some meriting a direct trip to the execution booth if caught. Of course, since this is the black market we’re talking about here, it’s even more likely that you’ll get ripped off in some way – hey, who are you going to complain to? On the other hand, many of the items here are actually very useful and might save some random Troubleshooter’s day. If they don’t kill him first, and if Internal Security doesn’t catch him.

The first half of the book contains the actual item/service listing, divided by the dubious source they can usually be purhased from. The listings are formatted to look like web pages, some intentionally crappy and some intentionally mimicking the look&feel of certain real-life web stores. Oh, and the sidelines contain ads and other fun stuff. It’s a nice bit of flavor, and the listing can be directly shown to the players without fear of leaking what the things actually do.

…since that’s what the second half of the book contains. Some of the items actually are pretty much what they claim to be, but all have some sort of hidden “feature”. Many are quite amusing. Many are also potentially quite lethal to the PCs… but not all. It would be an useless book if everything was a deathtrap, so most things here aren’t. They just have hidden qualities or ramifications which may or may not become clear to the players.

It’s a great companion to the original “Stuff” book, and the smarter formatting on this one makes this much easier to use in-game. Good job.

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Minireview: None of This is My Fault (Paranoia)

None of This is My Fault is, besides being a very fitting Paranoia book title, is also a collection of three scenarios for the High Programmers edition of Paranoia. Since High Programmers has the players playing lofty Ultraviolets and lording over hordes of lesser minions, the scenario design here is quite a bit different than for normal Paranoia.

The first outing is Joy in the Morningcycle, where the PCs compete to steal a master chef for themselves (and away from a certain other High Programmer, of course). Of course, said chef has an agenda of his own and gaining his services might get… problematic. A bit on the zany side and definitely a humor scenario, it also features food recipes that are plain impossible (and fatal). Amusing enough, but a bit on the lightweight side.

The main scenario here is The Iceman Returneth (Again), which is (as far as I know) a new edition of an older scenario which I haven’t read. This is pretty fun stuff, and features the revival of an ancient pre-Alpha Complex computer technician who suddenly becomes the de-facto New Boss. Naturally enough, this isn’t something that causes much joy in the aristocracy of Alpha Complex, so of course vicious office politics (with added gunfire) commences. I don’t want to spoil the scenario here so I won’t go into specifics, but this seems like a lot of fun.

Last off there is When Things Were Interesting, more a mini-game than an actual scenario; it has the PCs managing FunBall teams in their so-called spare time, with some lightweight mechanics for figuring out how the teams fare. Nice filler to insert in among the “actual” events.

As a whole, it’s a decent set of extra material for High Programmers, and right now also the only expansion material available for that game, which raises its value somewhat.

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Minireview: High Programmers (Paranoia)

The basic trope of Paranoia has always been playing a low-level hapless “goon”, at the mercy of your (generally clueless) superiors and the whole huge faceless bureaucratic machine. The hope of promotion is dangled in front of you like a carrot, but it rarely if ever materializes – and if it does, it proves to be more a curse than a blessing. The recent “Internal Security” book explored what like is like for some of the “upper middle class” citizens, those elevated to the lofty heights of Blue security clearance. No big surprise that it’s not all that different than life for Red Troubleshooters… sure, there is less direct shooting of your esteemed team-mates in the back and more of doing it via subtle sabotage and office politics, but the basic theme stays strong: you’re screwed.

High Programmers takes that to the ultimate: the PCs are now Ultraviolet-clearance “High Programmers”. They get to select entire Sectors as their private sanctums, they have hordes of obedient flunkies servicing their every need, their life is one of hedonistic luxury (should they wish). So it’s rest and relaxation while sipping Martinis, right? Well, no. It’s sleep-deprived sheer terror, crammed into a Situation Room for days on end trying to solve the latest series of Complex-threatening crisis situations (which may of may not actually exist), desperately hoping that your orders will be carried out in some fashion, and hoping that the Computer doesn’t notice your various treasonous activities on the side. So it’s pretty much like life in the Troubleshooter ranks. With Martinis. Or, as the blurb has it: “Yes Minister, with ray guns”.

The nice thing here is that this game is different from the base game, while driving home the point that the “life of luxury” in Alpha Complex may not be quite the paradise lower-clearance Citizens imagine. High Programmers don’t run down endless corridors trying to find that briefing room, they don’t engage in firefights (usually), they don’t do much themselves directly – and the game reflects that. In a way it’s played on two levels: the High Programmers are all seated together in a Situation Room, getting remote reports from various teams. A game statistic of Access is the currency here, players use Access to gain control of various teams (Troubleshooters, Troopers, Infrared work groups, whatever) in the hope that said teams will solve the crisis in a suitable fashion. Access can also be used for things like talking privately with the GM, accessing their Secret Society etc, since the PCs are all gathered together and doing things without the others noticing can be tricky. Hence, Access, representing the use of various bits of misdirection, fake “I have to take this” calls, etc. There is a fun bit at the beginning of the game, where the players can bid Access against each other in order to get control of various internal Alpha Complex groups. One player/PC might (temporarily) gain control of the local R&D department, for example.

For old Paranoia players, all this has the potential to work in a very amusing fashion. For one, the players finally get to boss Troubleshooter teams and other expendable flunkies around and give them impossible and/or overly vague and deniable orders. Revenge is sweet. On the flipside of that coin, the players should be quite aware of how “competent” Troubleshooters are at actually solving the given mission (as opposed to killing each other, causing immense collateral damage, and lying their asses off). So when that bright-eyed Troubleshooter team informs them that “everything is totally fixed now, sir!” and “there were absolutely no problems, sir!” while missing half their team members and with smoking ruins in the vidcam background… well, the players should get a suitable sinking feeling about the whole mess.

The game rules also contain some un-Paranoialike player empowerment tweaks, like scene framing (along with an optional indie-style scene budget mechanism). It’s all fine and good, still, since the players do deserve some illusion of being in control and having a say in things. It makes them easier to screw over later.

It’s an admirable effort to produce a game about the leaders of Alpha Complex, while keeping it a game (“you spend another day being massaged by athletic young clones, while eating caviar” is all fine and good, but isn’t much of a game). Extra points for keeping the good old “you’re mostly screwed” Paranoia feel, while giving the GM new tools for that and giving the players a lot of rope to hang themselves with. I have no idea of how well all this would work in practice, the idea of playing on two levels (one gives orders, the other is the “what actually happens” part) can be a bit challenging to actually implement. The book suggests the possibility of actually having multiple sets of characters: one set of High Programmers, and then “one-shots” given by the GM to represent one of the “on site” teams. A bit of work for the GM, but could be a lot of fun.

An interesting and somewhat experimental Paranoia book, with potential for a lot of fun. Probably only suited for people with some previous Paranoia background, a lot of the irony here would be lost on first-time players.

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Minireview: Alpha Complex Nights 2 (Paranoia)

Like the first “Alpha Complex Nights” book, Alpha Complex Nights 2 is a scenario collection. Well, “scenario duo”, to be more exact. The 64 page book consists of two scenarios which both share the theme of putting the PC in charge of something – with predictably bad results for everyone involved.

The first scenario is “The Communist Cafeteria Conspiracy”, where the brave (or not) Troubleshooters are put in charge of a huge and expensive cafeteria complex. What could possibly go wrong? The scenario features weird mind control devices, suspicious “French” food and chefs, invasion by the Armed Forces, Infrared revolts, and other normal everyday Alpha Complex events. It’s a fun romp, though it does go pretty far in the “zany” direction at times (the ingredient list needed for a certain recipe is… not “Straight” material). I liked the structure here; the PCs get quite a lot of freedom to choose their actions, but certain events happen at certain times and (naturally) most choices the PCs can make only make their predicament worse. Classic Paranoia, in other words.

The second half of the book consists of “Viva La Revolution!”, where the revolution actually happens. Well, kinda sort of (there is an amusing back story about the how and why of things). The PCs suddenly discover that they are in the middle of the People’s Glorious Revolution, and get the choice of heading the People’s Glorious Firing Squad or being put in the laser sights of said squad. Most PCs will probably choose the “avoid getting shot” option and start deciding the fates of various Enemies of the People. Naturally enough, all decisions made by the PCs will have repercussions later, and the Glorious Revolution doesn’t seem all that stable either. Another good scenario, with classic “screwed no matter what you do” choices to be made by the players… with the extra bonus that not quite all the choices result in doom. Smart or lucky Troubleshooters can navigate this one without running out of clones, even though they are yelling Communist slogans one minute and professing their love for Friend Computer the next.

It’s not a huge book, but both the scenarios presented here are quality ones (assuming you want the “Classic” style of play) and the price is right. Recommended.

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Minireview: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Termination Booth (Paranoia)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Termination Booth is, besides a hefty title, a new(ish) scenario book for Paranoia. According to the cover color coding and the back cover it’s for Internal Security, but it’s actually for the base Troubleshooters game. Ooops. Unfortunately, Mongoose’s sadly traditional lack of proofreading strikes again.

Other than being mislabeled as being for the wrong game line, it’s a… decent scenario, but a bit rough in places. It has the PCs (as Troubleshooters) get volunteered to escort the known traitor Herman-G to the execution booth, as part of a direct-to-TV execution special. Of course, things do not go according to plan; or at least not according to any plan the PCs recognize. A few events later the PCs find themselves stationed on a remote missile base as punishment duty, accompanied by several more-or-less insane nuclear missiles. What could possibly go wrong? In the end, the module goes into Fantastic Voyage territory, as the PCs get miniaturized and ordered to set off a nuke in… well, someplace weird.

It’s very zany, in fact a bit more so than I’d like. Also, the shoddy proofreading curse strikes again, there are some (probable) mistakes here and there. It’s nothing you can’t figure out easily enough, but it is slightly annoying. On the other hand, parts of the scenario are quite amusing and inventive, so… in the end, it’s a decent scenario which could have used a bit more polish on the final run.

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Minireview: Termination Quota Exceeded (Paranoia)

I’ve generally liked the new Paranoia books a lot, but I have to say this one is one of the best (or at least funniest) collections of scenarios I’ve read in a good long while.

Termination Quota Exceeded is a slim collection of three scenarios for Paranoia “Internal Security”, where the PCs play members of the Alpha Complex police force. While the action at times resembles the mayhem lowly Troubleshooters get up to, Troopers are trusted by the Computer to be professional and do their jobs efficiently (hence the Blue security rating). Of course, the Computer is also batshit insane and has little idea of what really goes on behind the scenes.

The first romp is titled “Where’s the Beef?”, and it has the PCs chasing after… something which has escaped from a (probable) biological testing facility. The fact that the “something” very possibly has rows and rows of sharp teeth, excretes acid, and otherwise in no way resembles a well-known horror movie critter is totally irrelevant (and above their security rating, anyway). It has escaped, and the PCs have to recover it. Fast. Before it causes serious damage to Alpha Complex, no to mention their prospects for advancement (and avoiding termination). To make things more “interesting”, they have various totally contradictory orders on what to do about the situation. It’s hilarious, and definitely not too serious… included are jokes about Warhammer games, including people with Spiky Chaos Bits. As the scenario states, “in Alpha Complex nobody cares if you scream”.

Next up is “The Survivor”, which is heavily influenced by The Prisoner (as noted in the scenario), even though it’s not a 1:1 Prisoner spoof. The PCs chase a suspect down twisty transtubes, all alike, until they crash in a weird subterranean village, occupied by very strange people. Perhaps mutants, perhaps commies, but decidedly lacking the protection of Friend Computer. The PCs get to decide what to do: accept fate and begin a new life harvesting mushrooms and avoiding Grues (which lurk in the darkness), try to escape (avoiding said Grues), take over the village (and do what, exactly?), or something completely different. To make things interesting, the scenario has a bunch of different explanations for “what’s really going on” for the GM to choose from, or just roll a die if undecided. All explanations get separate writeups as regards to how certain NPCs behave and what happens if the PCs do different things. It’s almost multiple scenarios in one, and pretty impressive as such. Reads like it should be a lot of fun, and it’s also a nice curve ball to throw at players who may be a bit jaded with “standard missions”. This is anything but.

Lastly there is the titular “Termination Quota Exceeded”, where a bureaucratic snafu causes the PCs to get tasked with terminating a lot of known traitors. A lot. And fast, they only have a few hours before they get in trouble for disobeying the Computer. Trouble is, they only have their standard termination quotas for the job (since said snafu is totally separate from those). So they need to terminate a vast horde of traitors without using up their termination quota, and do it on a timetable. Impossible? Bah, I’m sure the players will think of something creative. How hard can it be to “accidentally” kill someone in Alpha Complex, anyway?

Especially the first two scenarios are very strong, and the last one isn’t bad either. The first two could be converted to “standard” Troubleshooter missions without too much work, while the last one really depends on the quota mechanics in “Internal Security” and doesn’t really work outside that.

(Very) good stuff, recommended. Also funny as hell to read.

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Minireview: Treason in Word and Deed (Paranoia)

The new format for Paranoia seems to be three core books (Troubleshooters, Internal Security and High Programmers), and then small supplement books (like this one) for each “level” of play. Seems good to me – especially since most of the older sourcebooks are still totally usable with this edition.

Treason in Word and Deed is a collection of three scenarios for the base-level “Troubleshooters” game (classic Paranoia, that is). From the intro I got the impression that the original idea was to do a single large scenario centered around the idea that the PCs are shut in a single room – but they decided that 32 pages is a bit too much for that. Or that intro may be a joke. In any case, the first scenario is the titular “Treason In Word And Deed” where yes indeed, the Troubleshooters are detained in a room and ordered to confess. Trouble is, none of them are quite sure of what they should be confessing to… not that finding something is all that difficult, or finding someone else to blame (for whatever it was). While 32 pages devoted to just this may have been slight overkill, I feel that this version could have been expanded a bit (more events, etc). It’s a fun little “in between” scenario, in any case, and somewhat different from the normal Troubleshooter mission.

Secondly we get “Heroes of our Complex”, where the PCs get the singular honor of joining an “as seen on TV!” real “Hero of the Complex” on missions. Said hero is dashing, capable, strong and brave… everything the PCs probably are not. Of course, not everything here is quite what it seems, and for some reason these missions seem to have a decidedly deadly bent. It’s good that the PCs have a real Hero at their side. Right? Right?

Lastly there’s “Little Lost Scoutbot”, where out heroes venture into the great Outdoors. With a crawler and a real map, no less (well, maybe). The goal is to retrieve a top-secret and important scoutbot, lost in the wilderness. Equipped with high-tech equipment and fully briefed on all they need to know, how could the Troubleshooters possibly fail? And what are these “tree” things our briefing mentioned?

A fun little collection, and cheap to boot. None of the adventures are quite in the “awesome” category, but all are amusing and read like they would be fun in play. “Heroes of our Complex” gets points for a nicely devious back plot, though the last one also has some nice surprises in store.

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Minireview: Internal Security (Paranoia)

“To Serve, To Protect, To Vaporize”

The main idea behind the latest edition of Paranoia is to divide the game into three “levels” of play. First off, there’s the classic Troubleshooter-oriented game, now aptly titled “Paranoia Troubleshooters”. Next up there’s this book, Paranoia Internal Security (IntSec), detailing life among the Blue cadres of the Alpha Complex police force, Internal Security. Lastly there’s High Programmers, where you get to play an Ultraviolet, lording over the cattle…. err, the citizens, that is.

While Troubleshooters is “just” a slight revision of the older “Paranoia XP” edition, this book goes into somewhat different territory – while the base mechanics and some of the groups are the same, the focus is slightly different. Having made it to the hallowed ranks of Blue security clearance (or even higher), the PCs have had to also (gasp!) get along with each other (in addition to the normal backstabbing/bootlicking, of course). The ones that automatically shoot everything that moves and frame each other as traitors at the tiniest provocation rarely make it this far.

Of course, this is still Paranoia, so a certain amount of party-internal conflict is still on the menu. This time round, the driving mechanic is “sector indexes”… arbitrary numbers that the team has to keep within Computer-defined limits. Naturally enough, each team member is responsible for a different index, and also naturally enough many of the indexes are mutually contradictory. To raise the Security index, you often need to beat up and imprison citizens… which lowers the Happiness index, and perhaps also the Loyalty index. Of course, the PC in charge of Security doesn’t need to care about all that, after all he has his mandate from the Computer. He only needs to care about possible sabotage from his team members… but would any loyal citizen really sabotage one of the Computer’s valued Internal Security squads? You bet your ass they would.

Oh, and let’s not forget the (possible) cortex bombs installed in team members’ heads (remotely activated by the Security Officer), or the “activate or shut down all guns” main switch controlled by the Team Leader. Isn’t it fun being a Team Leader or Security Officer?

The book consists mostly of rules expansion and extra stuff to cover life in the “police force”, with emphasis on how this game differs from the base-level Troubleshooters play. A fun twist here is the option of bossing Troubleshooter teams around or ordering them on suicide missions. That’s what they’re for, after all. As noted, the emphasis here is more on covert sabotage (of the team goals, to enhance your own goals) than on direct “he’s a Commie traitor, shoot him!” action – though that’s always an option. The main hose job here are, as mention, the sector indexes, which are totally arbitrary and often contradictory. Good luck with trying to fulfill them all… so might as well concentrate on the one you need to keep on solid ground.

It’s a fun expansion of the “base” Paranoia game, and also works are an option in a campaign where the PCs actually get promoted to Blue or higher. That would probably require playing with “Straight” rules, of course. Recommended to anyone who likes the new version of Paranoia; unlike the “Paranoia Troubleshooters” book, this one is much more than a slight revision, it contains tons of new stuff (some influenced by the old “HIL Sector Blues” book, of course).

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Minireview: Paranoia Black Missions (Paranoia)

Black Missions is a limited-run special edition of the newest base Paranoia game core rules (the “Paranoia Troubleshooters” edition). It’s extremely close to the previous “Paranoia XP” ruleset – the rules have been polished a bit, and the “classic” play style is now the only one covered by the main rules – the “Zap” and “Straight” styles have been moved to appendix options in the back of the book. While I don’t miss Zap, I really liked Straight so I think this is a bit of a pity… but on the other hand, the rules tweaks still exist (in the appendix) and the Classic mode is, of course, the most popular one. In any case, this is just a small revision of the rules; if you already own the previous version, you don’t really need this “Paranoia Troubleshooters” version.

…except that this edition contains an very cool extra, a CD-ROM containing a ton of stuff:

  • Paranoia sound effects (laser zaps, warning sirens, etc)
  • Various sound clips from the Computer, in both male and female voices.
  • A Paranoia screen saver. Very amusing, I have it running on my netbook.
  • Short video clip interviews with some of the designers.
  • Almost the entire 2004- 2008 Paranoia XP support line, as PDFs. Missing are the reprint mission collections “Flashbacks” & “Flashbacks 2”, the equipment books “STUFF” and “STUFF 2”, and “The Little RED Book”, but otherwise you get pretty much the entire game line in PDF form. This is an awesome value, we’re talking well over 10 books here (don’t remember the exact count). Buying them separately would cost a lot.

So… should you get this? If you already have the previous version and don’t feel like the CD has stuff that interests you too much, there’s little reason to. However, if you don’t have the new Paranoia edition and are interested in it, this book gives you the latest core ruleset plus almost the whole earlier game line in PDF form; this is probably the best Paranoia core rules edition to pick up in that case.

Also, if you’re like me and have most of the earlier game line already, but still want the extra CD-ROM goodies: off to the game store you go. It’s Mandatory Bonus Fun Duty. This limited edition may be a bit tricky to get hold off nowadays, but some quality game stores (Fantasiapelit Helsinki, for example) still have copies available.

I personally think the CD-ROM is almost worth the price by itself. Having (almost) all the books in PDF form is fantastic, makes it easy to print out player handouts etc if needed.

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