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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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Minireview: Service, Service! (Paranoia)

Service, Service! provides extra material for GMs who wish to use Service Groups more in their game. Admittedly, this is more useful in a “straight” style game, in the more classic game mode service groups will probably be left mostly as background sources of (mis)info and (dangerous) submissions (like secret societies).

The book is logically split into chapters per service group. Each one contains some general info (including stereotyped opinions of the other service groups), some NPCs, some service services and lastly a short mission related to the service group. The missions range from ok-ish to great – one involving lightbulbs is especially inspired, and has vast potential for mayhem and total confusion. Some of the missions are very specific and only useful in some circumstances, while some are quite general and can be plugged in most anywhere. Should be something for everyone in here.

The book introduces a minor new rule addition in the form of Mandates. A Mandate is a personal service service, and it doled out by a service group. Each mandate has a spiffy title and an extra mandatory duty… which, for once in Paranoia, can actually be useful to the PC. To balance this gasp-inducing fact, the GM has total freedom (of course) to revoke Mandates on whim. If a PC starts to get too much mileage out of a Mandate: whoops, it’s gone, replaced by a much nastier one. It’s a fun little rules tweak; not something absolutely necessary in any sense, but potentially very amusing.

As unfortunately is quite typical for a Mongoose book, the layout here is a bit spotty in places. The font scaling is a bit weird here and there, and some of the illustrations were actually left out of this one by accident (replaced by textual art notes!). This was an actual mishap, as confirmed by the Mongoose guys: the final layout (with pics) had been sent out to (some guy) for final approval, but somehow what got sent to the printers was the previous version (without pics). Oh well, it happens (though Mongoose tends to be more problematic than the norm), and the art design notes are actually quite interesting so it’s not a total loss.

In summary: a full pack of info and mini-missions for, most useful for “Straight” games where the bureaucracy of Alpha Complex gets more screen time. Well written, and some of the mini-adventures rock. In addition, the new Mandate concept can add extra flavor to some games. On the flipside, some layout issues detract from the whole.

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Minireview: Extreme Paranoia (Paranoia)

Extreme Paranoia expands the new edition of Paranoia (“Paranoia XP”) to cover higher security clearances. While there is a new(er!) edition out just now which separates the game line into distinct sets (Troubleshooters, Internal Security, High Programmers), this book is for the previous edition and gives you a chapter on each higher security clearance. It’s almost certainly usable with the newest version, too, since (as far as I know) that’s only a slight revision, ruleswise.

Anyway, to this book. It’s good. It’s also a bit of a mishmash, since it contains a huge pile of… well, stuff to help you promote (and then destroy) your PCs. There’s some general discussion first, on how a higher security clearance is no highway to power and happiness (though the PCs may imagine it to be). Each clearance level is given guidelines on what new stuff is now available, what the PCs can (and cannot) now do, and other helpful stuff like that. I found the clarification on the living quarters at various levels especially helpful in giving me a picture of what changes at what level.

Among the bits and pieces given here are some small adventures (suitable for certain clearance levels) and plot seeds, and a few leftover pages and chapters from other books in the game line. There’s also a bit from an older Paranoia edition, adapted for this one: some chapters from the old HIL Sector Blues book. There is no strict structure here, each clearance level gets a different treatment. At one level, you’re finally given the rules for making the PCs… Assistant Retail Managers! And in another, the PCs become stars in a TV video show. Many of these portions feature mini-games, where the PC actions determine various things like show popularity rating, sales quota performance, or whatever.

With a lack of strict internal chapter structure, this book could be a mess… but it isn’t. It’s a huge pile of ideas, guidelines and plot hooks. Some are better than others, but even the not-that-hot ones are either somewhat amusing or at least a bit different.

If you want to push your Paranoia PCs a bit outside the normal Red-clearance Troubleshooter envelope, this is the book to get.

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Minireview: STUFF (Paranoia)

STUFF is (gasp) an equipment book for Paranoia . Of course, since this is Paranoia we’re talking about, it’s not quite the usual collection of weapons, armor and other useful gear you’d typically find in an rpg equipment catalog.

Since the new version Paranoia has a twisted version of internal economics and even an eBay clone (C-Bay!), this book is centered on those. All the items are portrayed as being C-Bay listings… which means that there is even more than the usual levels of Paranoia bullshit going on, since the PCs are getting item descriptions from other NPCs (all with agendas). No big surprise that most (all?) of the descriptions are missing lots of relevant details, and a large number are flat-out lies. There are various payment and delivery methods (again mimicking eBay), all with their own risks. Fun stuff.

The book contains a grand total of 225 items, separated into categories by vague item type. You get stuff like Gravitic Gauntlet (one size fits all), Threat Evaluation Eyewear, Treason-Free Speech Limiters and LubriSkates. Oh, and let’s not forget the inspiring 101 Fun Songs to Sing in Line songbook.

It’s a great resource for a Paranoia game, no question. The only complaint I have is that the GM descriptions of the items (what the things actually do) are next to the “listings” themselves, so if you want to let your players browse this like an in-game C-Bay listing you’ll need to do a lot of creative printing/cut-pasting or some such. I’d much have preferred to have the GM descriptions in a totally separate section.

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Minireview: War On [Insert Noun Here] (Paranoia)

War On [Insert Noun Here] is a short campaign for Paranoia, parodying the U.S. “War On Terror/Drugs/Whatever”. In fact, the book is dedicated to George W. Bush, for “advancing the cause of paranoia worldwide”.

The basic plot goes like this: there is a glitch, and the Computer decides that it’s under attack. Since it’s not quite sure who or what is actually attacking, it quickly forms a brand-new entity (Department of Complex Operational Defense) to combat this brand-new deadly threat. Guess who gets to head this department? That’s right, the PCs! Unlike most Paranoia adventures, this one sees the PCs actually get promoted… way above their abilities or means. No, this is not a good thing for the PCs, but this is Paranoia. “Good things for the PCs” is not on the menu.

It’s a pretty amusing scenario, and firmly in the “Classic Paranoia” playstyle. There are lots of bad puns, parodies of real-life events, and unlikely events & antagonists (giant mutant flesh-eating slugs, anyone?). I liked the fact that it does something a bit nonstandard (promoting the PCs) and turns that event into a nightmare, in true Paranoia fashion.There are also some fun jabs made at corporate life and marketing, in general.

On the minus side, as (unfortunately) so usual for a Mongoose book, the proofreading is a bit lacking. Typos here and there, and more seriously there is at least one pre-gen PC writeup completely missing. The Paranoia forums have a fix, however, so don’t let that put you off buying the book – it is pretty good, despite minor faults.

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Minireview: Mandatory Mission Pack (Paranoia)

The somewhat misleadingly named Mandatory Mission Pack is actually a collection of various NPCs, places and events to use in generating encounters etc on the fly in a Paranoia game. There’s a list of various briefing rooms, briefing officers, hallways, secret society orders, etc. Some of them are so-so, but most are wonderfully bizarre and fun. In any case, it’s a fairly thin book but also a cheap one, so pretty good bang for the buck here.

Together with this and some of the other “random mission blender” stuff in earlier supplements, you could probably run a Paranoia mission with minimal prep time. Of course, the main use for this is as an “emergency idea resource” for those times when the players do something unexpected and you’re having problems with coming up with something suitably cool on the fly. Just say “wait a sec”, run to the bookshelf, pick a random item from the relevant section, and you’re good to go. Well, in theory at least.

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