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Paranoia [game]

Entry updated 8 February 2013. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (1984). West End Games (WEG). Designed by Greg Costikyan, Daniel Gelber, Ken Rolston, Eric Goldberg.

Playing Paranoia is an exercise in perversity and frustration, where the watchwords are "fear, ignorance and suspicion". The setting is a Post-Holocaust Underground City ruled by a Computer suffering from Paranoia and multiple personality disorder; it is characteristic that the Computer is obsessed with rooting out "mutant commies", but has itself created the ultimate in totalitarian communist societies. The world of Paranoia is similar to the Dystopian futures of Logan's Run or 1984, but played for laughs. Arguably, the game itself functions as a brutal Satire of some earlier RPGs, in which players were supposed to cooperate in a moral crusade against the forces of evil, but all too often fell to back-stabbing each other for gold and glory.

Players begin the game as troubleshooters for the Computer, but are all automatically traitors owing to their possession of illicit Mutant powers and membership of banned secret societies. Since the players are not told the details of each other's characters, but know they are more likely to survive if they inform on a fellow team member, distrust and betrayal are constant companions. This, combined with the deceptive nature of most of the Computer's stated mission objectives and the general level of violence, leads to an extremely high mortality rate; even though they are generated in batches of six identical Clones, characters often fail to survive their first mission. Many classic themes of Paranoia games are visible in the award-winning early adventure The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues (1985 WEG) designed by John M Ford, in which every secret society in the city is in pursuit of a mysterious black box which the characters are continually stumbling across. Loaded down with incomprehensible experimental Weapons and hidden agendas, the players find themselves at the top of everyone's target list, including each other's. The consistent way in which irony and black humour are built into the game mechanics as well as the setting give Paranoia one of the strongest tones of any RPG, and make it one of the few potentially qualified to be called an "art game".

There have been four new editions of Paranoia since 1984, beginning with the second (1987 WEG) designed by Greg Costikyan, Ken Rolston, which refined the game's mechanics but arguably placed too much emphasis on Parody and slapstick, and continuing with the fifth (1995 WEG) designed by Ed Stark, Greg Farshtey, which received a generally poor reception. Subsequent iterations have been created by Mongoose Publishing (MP), of which the first to be released was the much improved Paranoia XP (2004 MP; 2005 rev vt Paranoia) designed by Allen Varney. The 2009 25th Anniversary Edition then split the game into three parts: Paranoia Troubleshooters (2009 MP vt Paranoia Troubleshooters: Black Missions) designed by Allen Varney, Gareth Hanrahan – a revised version of Paranoia XPParanoia: Internal Security (2009 MP vt Paranoia: Internal Security: Blue Line) designed by Gareth Hanrahan – which focuses on Internal Security Troopers rather than troubleshooters – and Paranoia: High Programmers (2010 MP vt Paranoia: High Programmers: White Washes) designed by Gareth Hanrahan, which positions the players as the Computer's most powerful human servants. Inevitably, there is no third or fourth edition.

Related works: The Paranoia Complex (1989 Magic Bytes, Amiga, Amstrad, C64, Spectrum; vt Cyber World) is a related Adventure game; reviews were mixed. Paranoia: The Mandatory Card Game (2005 MP) designed by Steve Gilbert is a Collectible Card Game.

Several works of spinoff fiction have been published, including Extreme Paranoia: Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Shot (1991) by Ken Rolston; the viciously amusing Title Deleted for Security Reasons (1993) by Edward Bolme, and Stormshooters and Troubleknights (anth 1993) edited by Paul Lidberg, a crossover with Torg. A six-issue Comics series, Paranoia (1992) was written by Paul O'Connor and published by Adventure Comics. A line of Ebooks has also been published in association with the 25th Anniversary Edition. To date this sequence comprises Reality Optional (2011 ebook) by Gareth Hanrahan, Stay Alert (2011 ebook) by Allen Varney, Traitor Hangout (2011 ebook) by W J MacGuffin, and The Computer Is Your Friend (anth 2012 ebook) edited by Allen Varney. [NT]

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