Starting with the Player's Handbook we're confronted with the friendly invitation "Start with this book to become a proud throubleshooter of Alpha Complex". There's the air of one of those faintly embarrasing and over-eager corporate employee handbooks. The information is aimed at novice role-players and begins with an example of play... which ends up with everyone in soup. Why is anybody's guess. Perhaps we'll find out later. Next, the character sheet is explained, along with everything that goes on it. Each character's stats are Violence, Brains, Mechanics and Chuzpah; and these are used in combination with their Skills - they're listed with the appropriate Stat - when you try to do anything.
That explained, we get down to the character creation process itself, with a neat system of group creation that pre-loads the party with tensions and links between individual characters. Everyone gets to choose their own name, appearance and gender (with a note that gender is basically immaterial, the Computer doesn't care... but heterosexual relationships are treasonous as they mock the Computer's genius at cloning, but the Computer has no programming to understand homosexual relationships so they are neither banned nor condoned!). Then you start picking skills, in a manner such that when you choose a positive rating in one, another player gets a negative rating in the same skill. It sounds weird, and probably is to anyone new to Paranoia, but has a strange logic that fits this addmittedly unusual game well. Stats are generated by adding up the skill points under each one - but then your neighbour at the table gets to allocate the numbers generated across the Stats. It makes more sense (and more party conflict!) when you do it than it does to write about it! There are various other bits - treason points, XP points, Moxie and so on - then we look at Secret Societies and Mutant Powers, both of which are treasonous before we even start! The GM allocates these, no options here.
The core game mechanic used whenever you want to accomplish something involves rolling a number of dice equivalent to the appropriate Stat and Skill - this is your NODE (Number Of DicE). And a Computer Dice (no, this isn't a grammatical mistake, that's what it is called), which is always rolled even if the Stat and Skill combined is not a positive number. A 5 or 6 rolled is a success and the number of successes are added to give your result (with any appropriate modifiers added in). Like all game mechanics, once you've tried it a few times it becomes far less cumbersome than it sounds when written out. Puschasers of the hard-copy version of this set get a special Computer Dice, the rest of us have to improvise - perhaps a different-coloured D6 from the others you are rolling with one number designated as the 'Computer'. When you roll that, interesting things happen. The Computer is your friend, after all.
Next is a description of Moxie, which you want to hang on to because when you run out of Moxie points you freak out. This takes the entire gameplay to new levels of silliness, with some of the suggestions here being quite amusing. Then we get on to combat. This is moderated by Action Cards, which are doled out by the GM in a manner not explained here (but which may be expained in the Gamesmaster's Handbook when I get to that in a bit). You get one action per turn, and may play one Action Card during your action, then follow the directions on the card. Preprinted cards are provided (PDF users have to print them out, of course). Being Paranoia there is also a zany way to determine combat order, called the Dynamic Yet Narrative Action Melee Order system or DYNAMO. Just to add to the fun, combat is played real-time. It all sounds horrendously complex - and it is! - but it transforms combat into something quite unique... pretty much like the rest of this game, actually. It then calms down a bit to tell you how to actually resolve combat.
While the various new game mechanics - from character creation to combat stuff - all add to the flavour that is Paranoia at its best, we then hear about a new concept: the Cerebral Coretech. This is a kind of direct link from the Computer into your character's brain. To model communications with the Computer at the game table, it's suggested you text on your phone... passing notes is so old school. And then we get onto XP Points or Better Living Through Gamification (which is, I believe, the first use of gamification in a role-playing game, she says putting her academic head on for a moment!). These are not what you normally think of as XPs, rather than being used to rise in level or develop your character as in most games, they can be spent to get goodies - equipment or other advantages - to give your character a boost. Or you can increase skills or even security clearance... there's a whole catalogue of stuff to choose from. This book ends with equipment information (fairly general, most is on Equipment Cards) and decidedly treasonous information on Secret Societies.
On to the Gamesmaster's Handbook. Slightly saner in tone, this provides what you need to know to run Paranoia games, starting with an explanation of what Alpha Complex actually is like. Then there's advice on GMing Paranoia, including basic advice for those new to GMing at all. There are some revolutionary ideas here, like the GM doesn't roll dice, leave that to the players. It's fine to make things up and decide what happens rather than leave it to chance. It's not abitrary, it is appropriate and in the spirit of Paranoia. But you can roll dice if you really want to. There are notes on setting difficulty levels for players to roll against, and a discussion of what the Computer really is. Explanations of security clearances, mutant powers and secret societies follow... oh, and there are even non-treasonous societies clones can join too. There are cards for Secret Societies which you issue to players, with strict instructions to keep them, well, secret. Even from the other players, but there is considerable more information here. And there's more... computer viruses (which may or may not exist), much more about equipment and how it fails, issuing XP points, the use of the Number 1 Troubleshooter Card, and the all-important Running Combat section. The book rounds up with a bucket-load of good advice about running Paranoia, notes on creating adventures, and some comments about humour in RPGs. And random tables for the Computer Dice and for Losing It (just in case you need some ideas...).
The final book is the Missions Book. This provides three linked adventures all ready to go. There's some basic advice for someone who's never even role-played before and has still been asked to GM, then on to the adventures themselves, each ought to be capable of being run in a single session each. If run in order, they provide a good introduction to the game, and to Alpha Complex. Pre-generated characters are supplied for those who want to dive straight into the action, there's also a bare-bones summary of the rules. Everything is presented very clearly and simply: you could literally pick this up not knowing anything about Paranoia or even role-playing and make a credible stab at running the first adventure provided you follow the instructions. In the first adventure, the characters are Infrared clearance, the lowest of the low, but they ought to graduate to Red clearance, and Troubleshooter status, by the end. The next two build on that, giving more insights and more grief to the party.
Paranoia is back, and with a vengeance! The true spirit, the flavour of the original game, is well-reflected in its new incarnation, with some innovative quirks and new game mechanics that serve only to inhance it. Paranoia's not for everyone, but it makes an excellent antidote to more serious games, and this new edition will not disappoint newcomers or those who have played every previous edition alike. The Computer is your friend...
Return to Paranoia Red Clearance Edition Starter Set page.
Reviewed: 29 May 2017