Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: PARANOIA

Prior to this post, I have only mentioned Paranoia, the 1984, darkly humorous role-playing game of life in a dystopian 'utopia', created and written by Greg Costikyan, Dan Gelber, and Eric Goldberg, in a single blog entry before this one.

That's just wrong.





GREETINGS HAPPY CITIZEN.

Um...Greetings. Can I help you?

AFFIRMATIVE. THIS IS THE COMPUTER, AND THE COMPUTER IS YOUR FRIEND.

Well, that's good to know.

PLEASE STATE THE PURPOSE OF YOUR CURRENT ENDEAVOR.

Oh, sure. I'm going to tell my readers about one of my all time RPGs, West End Games' Paranoia.

THIS IS WONDERFUL! PLEASE CONTINUE! BE SURE TO AVOID ANY TREASONOUS THOUGHTS OR ACTIVITIES OR YOU WILL BE DIRECTED TO THE NEAREST DISINTERGRATION CHAMBER.

Er...OK. Thanks?

THANK YOU HAPPY CITIZEN. REMEMBER, HAPPINESS IS MANDATORY!


***
 
Stay Alert.
Trust No One.
Keep Your Laser Handy.
 

I forget how I discovered Paranoia, but I know that it wasn't long after it first hit the shelves. After playing it just once, I went to my FLGS straight away, and purchased it.

Ah, those were the days. Games came out that I wanted to buy, and I had the money to buy them. Such fond memories. Now where was I?

Oh right, Paranoia.

Everything about Paranoia spoke to me in 1984 the way few other games had, even FASA's Star Trek. Don't misunderstand, it's not that I thought it better than all of my favorite games of the time, but that it connected with me in a way the others hadn't. It made sense to me.

Paranoia was surely one of the games that contributed to the development of my personal Gamemastering outlook and style. Techniques developed reading, and running, Paranoia, factor into the way I run games today. Or rather they would, if I felt I had all of my old mojo back.

So what made the First, and Second Editions of Paranoia (my preferred editions) so special?

To begin with, the rules were simple. They weren't especially crunchy, or realistic, or complete for that matter, but they did what they needed to do, and let the PCs do the same. The rules were very much secondary to the ideas of the setting, although the weapon damage rules were nifty, and very much in line with the theme of Paranoia. They were quick, deadly, and resulted in things like Stun, Wound, Incapacitate, and Vaporize. No hits points. Saw that, loved it.

Picture if you will, that this was 1984. I started gaming in '77.

That means 7 years in, and I had already been exposed to a combat system very different from the those in the early round of games, and one that made a hell of a lot more sense to me than its predecessors. And from a humorous game no less! Big eye opener there.

Another thing that grabbed me was that it was indeed a comedy game. One of my first, along with Toon, and a welcome change from the more serious fare that permeated most of my gaming up to that point.

The comedy wasn't just from the circumstances, and characters built into the game. It also came through in the way the book was written. Contrary to the serious, and often dry manner in which most RPGs were written at the time, Paranoia was written with the author's tongue firmer in his cheek, using normal, everyday speech.

As a related aside, I often come across blogs holding high on a pedestal the writing of Gygax, Moldvay, and others of the Golden Age of Gaming. Personally, I don't think those men, creative, and skilled as they were, wrote half as entertainingly as those who worked for West End Games in the mid-to-late eighties. The WEG guys were funny, personable, and as I noted above, they spoke plain English.

YOUR ASSESSMENT OF LIFE IN ALPHA COMPLEX IS EXCELLENT SO FAR CITIZEN.

Why thanks. Um...what is that sound?

NO ONE IS SCREAMING, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION.

Oh...kay...moving on!

I have been wanting to run this game again for some time, but I have some concerns over how it would go over with my current group. Instinctively, it would seem the perfect game for a group of individualistic, espionage-loving types whose PCs often display trust issues. Thing is, it might end up as nothing but repeated TPKs. Not normally a problem in Paranoia, but definitely not conducive to a long term campaign (which is what I am hoping to build).

Alternatively, given the opportunities for back-stabbing, boot-licking, and deception intrinsic to Paranoia, I can just see my guys teaming up for once, and focusing all their efforts together, as a cohesive unit, sharing the patriotic goal of routing out actual traitors, and enemies of the Computer.

*Facepalm*

Nevertheless, I guess you don't know until you try.

Perhaps it's time.

IT IS TIME - TIME TO STAND TRIAL FOR TREASON! TRIAL COMPLETE. GUILTY!

Treason?! I just got done saying how awesome Paranoia is!

YES, BUT YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF ITS VIRTUES IS VERY HIGH. SUCH KNOWLEDGE IS WELL ABOVE YOUR SECURITY CLEARANCE. THANK FOR YOUR COOPERATION CITIZEN!

-ZAP!-






THE COMPUTER IS YOUR FRIEND.


AD
Barking Alien






3 comments:

  1. "Thing is, it might end up as nothing but repeated TPKs."

    Which would be the result of pretty much every Paranoia campaign ever.

    This is one of those rare moments where I'm not with you on an RPG topic. I thought Paranoia was funny, but it seemed to be a one-note gag, and you played it during the blog post. The game always seemed to be one where it was rare to actually have a story, since the players would just spend most of the time frying each other in the first scene. And the likelihood of wanting to play it more than once seemed low.

    That having been said, I'm with you on the WEG lovin' though. There has always been a place for humor in RPG's, and early "OSR" stuff would make jokes, but it tended to be a lot of "inside baseball" humor that you would only get if you knew the genre. WEG didn't take itself so seriously, even in its "serious" games.

    ReplyDelete
  2. While it may seem a one-note gag, it's a note with deeper tones if one looks for them.

    This is social commentary in the form of parody, just as much as it is special effects, and slapstick. Remember that its supporting premise is akin to stories from great literature, such as George Orwell's 1984, and Huxley's Brave New World.

    The secret to all of my best comedic campaigns has been in how serious they are.

    This is something I plan on addressing in detail before month's end, but in many cases the humor of a comedy narrative, be it a game, TV show, film, or what-have-you, is juxtaposed with a rather serious situation.

    In Galaxy Quest, the alien general, Sarris, was responsible for the destruction of the Thermian home planet, and killing billions of Thermians.

    In Ghostbusters, the arrival of Gozer the Gozerian, was a very serious matter. It was an ancient Sumerian God unleashed on modern time, and hell bent on destroying everything.

    It became humorous when this destructive entity proclaimed that it could take on any form, and it would search the minds of its victims to choose the shape of their doom. The naïve, and pure of heart Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) couldn't help but think of what he imagined to be the kindest, sweetest thing there was. He pictured something that could never, would never, harm anyone. The Stay Puft Marshmellow Man.

    Played purely for laughs, with nothing else going for it, yeah, you're not going to get a lot of mileage out of Paranoia. Played as a darkly comedic parody of the Cold War era, or even as a Logan's Run send up, it definitely has the legs to stand on for at least one unforgettable campaign.

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  3. If there's nothing in a campaign to take seriously, you're going to have a hard time getting players to invest in it.

    I'd say that if you want players to take a Paranoia campaign seriously, run it as a campaign. In a one-shot, those 6 clones are a safety net for the slapstick deaths that are possible in Alpha Complex. In a longer term game, those 6 clones become a resource to manage very carefully.

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