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Minireview: Big Book of Bots (Paranoia)

Despite the title, the Big Book of Bots isn’t all that big. But it is about bots (i.e. robots) in the Paranoia game world. Up to now, these helpful machines have been mostly tools for the GM to cause (helpful and friendly) diversions for the PCs. In this case, “helpful” usually means “stupid and/or obstructionist” and “friendly” means “lethal and/or homicidal”. What this book provides is both an expanded listing of new and old bots (with skill listings), and a system for creating bot PCs. The Computer knows that you’ve always (secretly!) wanted to roleplay a scrubbot. Well, now you can! As an added bonus, bots can’t be traitors (according to the Computer), since they don’t have free will (according to the Computer) and are programmed to always look after the good of Alpha Complex (according to the Computer). Your reality may vary.

On the downside, it’s a fairly thin book and the editing & layout are slightly shoddy in places. On the plus side, it does have some fun extra crunch on bots and even includes a bot-centric adventure. An “ok” minor expansion book; not a must-buy by any means but contains some fun and/or useful stuff for the game. The system by which bots gain skills (via memcards) does lend itself to some evil ideas, if you happen to be an evil-minded GM. Not that any Paranoia GM would be that.

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Minireview: The Underplex

The Underplex is a compact Paranoia supplement which details the “spaces in between” – the abandoned corridors and levels that lie between, under and over all the inhabited areas of Alpha Complex. As such it’s a fun and natural idea, and quite useful as a place where secret society meetings could sometimes take place… and also as a shortcut between point A and B, where nasty and lethal thing C is blocking the usual route. Naturally enough, it also serves as an excuse to throw new hazards in the PCs’ direction. Where do all the hungry & dangerous mutants live? Why, in the Underplex of course!

The book contains ideas on how to populate these “uninhabited” areas and also presents an “adventure seed” on the same subject. This is by no means a “must have” book for Paranoia, but neither is it bad. Sure, you can and should just invent most of this stuff yourself… but getting extra ideas is rarely a bad thing.

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Minireview: WMD

One of the best things about the new edition of Paranoia, in my opinion, is the addition of the “Straight” gameplay style. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s simply a tweak of the Paranoia world and rulset in which you can (gasp!) actually survive some missions. Instead of instant execution you get faced with bureaucratic penalties and other (mostly) nonlethal stuff if you screw things up – and because there often is no way to survive a Paranoia mission other than by screwing up… well, it helps that your players don’t go through five clones per game session. The “straight” mode encourages gameplay more like Brazil and 1984, instead of the more slapstick “Classic” style in which you shoot first and ask questions only if forced to.

WMD is a collection of four “Straight” missions, and it’s fantastic – one of the best supplements so far for the new Paranoia line. While all four missions are very good, the first one is perhaps the best simply because it’s actually quite disturbing and horrifying, all the while giving rewards to the PCs. The mission is named “Hunger”, I won’t spoil anything else about it here. Except that it ties in with a certain historical “Great Leader” – who may have been more of a monster in actual reality. This is easily the grimmest and least funny Paranoia mission ever published… and I say that as praise, it shows how far the “Straight” style manages to push the Paranoia envelope. Oh, there is humor here, but it’s pitch black.

I gather the original intent of this collection was to have all four missions be titled “WMD”, since they all feature something with those initials. In one of them, it actually is a Weapon of Mass Destruction, of the good ol’ “leave a huge smoking crater” variety. In the others, it’s stuff like a Wireless Memory Downgrade, or Lobot WMD-1, or something else. In all cases, the “WMD” spells serious trouble for the PCs. Hey, it’s Paranoia!

The other missions are also very cool and varied. One of them is extremely clever, and all are quite complicated… as always, read them through a few times before trying to run them. I’m hesitant to mention any details of the missions here, since it’s very hard to do so without spoilers. There are dangerous (or not) robots, dangerous VIP visits, confused personalities, suspicious High Programmers… and yes, that one big WMD that may go boom.

I’d happily run any of the missions here, there is no filler in this bunch. If you’re looking for a high-quality set of adventures for Paranoia in the “Straight” style, this book has what you need. Highly recommended.

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Minireview: Alpha Complex Nights

Alpha Complex Nights is a fairly new book for Paranoia XP. It’s a collection of three new adventures, all written by Gareth Hanrahan. I’d say it’s a very good – with some minor disclaimers.

All three adventures share two elements: they all contain a non-standard twist, and they are all quite complicated. Complicated in that they all actually have a back story, and there’s a lot to keep in mind when running them. That complexity also makes them quite interesting, so it’s a some-good-some-bad feature. The twists add to the interest factor.

The first of the bunch is Spin Control, which features the need for the Troubleshooters to control the “truth”. While always being an important survival skill in good ol’ Alpha Complex, here it becomes a mandate. There are also zombies. Yes, zombies. Lots of them. Of the brain-eating kind. Yes, that’s the twist. Sporks also feature heavily. The whole thing is insanely complex, quite funny, and very good.

Second up is My First Treason, where the Troubleshooters… aren’t. Aren’t Troubleshooters, that is. Instead, players play “junior citizens”, fresh from the creche and straight into school (or what passes for it in Alpha Complex). There’s a lot of Harry Potter spoofing going on and lots of opportunities to stab people in the back, blame others, and try to survive. Situation normal, in other words. While good fun and a nice twist, this is possibly the weakest of the three – though that is mostly due to the high quality of the other two.

Last up, there’s Sweep Of Unhistory, where (due to a fairly unlikely plot gimmick) the Troubleshooters get re-cloned time and time again… each time further in the future. While staying quite “normal” in the beginning, the whole thing degenerates into an insane version of The Time Machine, with lots of jokes and references thrown about in all appropriate directions. Alpha Complex where the Commies won (sorta)? Flying Alpha Complex sky fortress? No computer, just lots of slaves and coconuts? Giant mutant cockroaches? All here. It’s a lovely time travel spoof and great Paranoia adventure, rolled into one. Keeping up player interest through the zillion possible futures may be a challenge, of course.

All that is based on how the things read, of course – they sound like lots of fun, but the proof is in the play, as always.

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Minireview: Criminal Histories

Criminal Histories is a small pure-crunch supplement for Paranoia XP – in a way it’s a rules plug-in module, replacing the stock character background stuff in the core book with a ton of table-driven goodness. In a classic Paranoia game character backgrounds didn’t really matter since clones died so fast, but with the new “Straight” gameplay mode characters might even (gasp) survive a game or two and get an opportunity to utilize background resources. Even when playing in more classic mode, the expanded backgrounds give the GM lots of new ways to get the characters in trouble, and for them to stab each other in the back.

In essence, this is 60+ pages of tables which help you quickly generate the “past life” of a Paranoia character. What did they do before they were promoted (or demoted, as may be) to Troubleshooter status? What enemies did they make along the way? Did they actually learn some useful extra skills along the way? This book will tell you, without needing any of that nasty “GM improvisation” stuff (that sounds like “work”, and “work” is something Paranoia GMs should avoid).

I’d use this if I were to run a game of Paranoia, no question. It provides lots of extra detail for little extra effort, and can give you (as the GM) evil extra ideas.

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Minireview: Flashbacks II

With Flashbacks II, it’s time for another batch of classic Paranoia modules converted to Paranoia XP. These are a bit more of the slapstick/pun variety than the batch in the first Flashbacks volume, but they are lots of fun to read – and to play, I suspect. The worst of the pun names have been changed in keeping with Paranoia XP’s slightly more serious tone and some references to new Paranoia XP stuff has been added, but generally the storylines (what little I remember of them) are unchanged.

First off, there’s Orcbusters, which is one long D&D spoof. An interdimensional rift transports three wizards and their henchman into Alpha Complex, with predictable results. Naturally, the action takes place mostly in DND and TSR sectors, but there’s a nice opportunity for the Troubleshooters to go on a genuine dungeon crawl. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the opportunity. Oh, and there’s a Wandering Monster Table.

Second, there’s Clones In Space, in which the Troubleshooters get send to orbit, thanks to a new “experimental high-speed elevator”. Naturally, space contains mad robots, aliens (who want our women), and all the other cliches direct from TV and movies. Probability of successful return to Alpha Complex? Low. Really low. Probability of explosive decompression? 99.999%.

Lastly, there’s the classic The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Adventure. Here the players get to play loyal servants of the Communist Controlled Complex Population (CCCP), under the benevolent eye of Tovarich Computer, the Big Red One. They get the glorious opportunity to be the people’s vanguard in the attack against the imperialist oppressor pig-dog lackeys of Alpha Complex. They also get to wield heavy weaponry, and do lots of stuff players in Paranoia games usually don’t get to do. They also get to do a lot of things that are quite traditional, like get screwed by Catch-22 bureaucracy, get shot at, get incomplete instructions and gear, etc. There’s also a lot of borch to slurp through.

While the adventures in Flashbacks contained most of my personal favorites from among the classics, these three are also great. I’m not sure if I’ve ever played them (maybe Clones in Space, long long time ago), but as usual for good Paranoia modules they are a hell of a lot of fun to read. Good stuff.

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Minireview: Sector Zero

Sector Zero is supplement for Paranoia XP, the new version of the Paranoia game. It’s a set of three “missions” (pre-gen adventures) which can all be classified as “punishment duty” (Sector Zero being Alpha Complex slang for such). Now, experienced Paranoia players may wonder about that – isn’t life in Alpha Complex already punishment duty in itself? Well, not necessarily; there are always various shades of “bad”, and the new version of Paranoia encourages games that actually may see clones surviving for a game or two. Or not.

So, let’s see. We’re given “Bubblegum Run”, in which the Troubleshooters are sent to watch over some kids, and to investigate a certain bubblegum shipment. Sounds harmles, right? Well, obviously, wrong. Most Alpha Complex citizens have zero experience with “kids”, and here we learn why.

Next up is “The Dinner Party”, in which the team is tasked with setting up a formal dinner for a bunch of Indigo citizens. Considering their normal culinary sophistication is limited to choosing between Red or Stripy Tast-EE-Gruel, this may (=will) present a few tiny little challenges.

Last but not least we have “Lightning Rod”, where the team is sent to the upper reaches of Alpha Complex, to guard the top of the dome against Communist infiltators. Since this happens a mile or so above ground and is already quite dangerous, it would be cruel and unusual to throw subverted robots, insane military personnel, mad scientists and dangerous experiments into the mix. Maybe that’s why all that and more is included.

All in all, a worthy set of Paranoia missions, well suited as continuations to an earlier failed mission. And let’s face it, pretty much all missions fail, so these can be used almost anywhere.

Paranoia XP continues to be a brilliant reinvention of a classic game. If you haven’t already checked it out, you are ordered to do so at once, Citizen. It’s Mandatory Fun Duty.

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