When I think of the Paranoia roleplaying game, I think of character death. Lots of character death. I also remember colors…
“The Computer is Your Friend”
In Paranoia, the player characters are Troubleshooters for the Computer in Alpha Complex, an underground warren that has survived the apocalypse. Troubleshooters are the guardians of Alpha Complex, assigned to search out Mutants and Secret Societies. Problem is, the Computer is crazy and everybody has mutant powers and is a member of a secret society. If you are not a Registered Mutant or a member of a secret society that is treason, and treason is punishable by death.
A major element of the setting in Paranoia is security. Everybody has a clearance level, and your character only has the “need to know” of what is allowed at their clearance level. If you have knowledge at a higher level that is treason, and treason is punishable by death.
[Incidentally, for all the years of art and science class in school, it was not until Paranoia that I really payed attention to the mnemonic for the color spectrum, ROY G BIV, and then only to learn the Paranoia range of clearances (noting that to the left of the spectrum is INFRARED and above is ULTRAVIOLET). Who says RPG’s ain’t good for you?]
In a game of Paranoia, death comes very easy. So easy in fact when you create a character you actually are creating a clone family of six.
If When one dies, the next will step in, albeit with a little less ability.
CharGen Clearance – ULTRAVIOLET
As I stepped through the character generation for Paranoia for the first time in many years, a few things stood out to me:
- This was the first RPG I owned that graphically depicted skill trees
- The secrecy of the setting demands character generation be a cooperative effort between Gamemaster (assumed to hold ULTRAVIOLET clearance) and player (starting with a RED clearance character); this is difficult in a solo mode.
Character generation in Paranoia is fast. One first rolls out Primary Attributes, looks up Secondary Attributes, and then rolls on a few more tables for Service Group, Mutant Powers, and Secret Society. The Service Group will direct where Skill Points are invested first. Characters start with a small Credit allowance and can buy a very limited selection of extra equipment.
With that said, let’s see how my first character in many years for Paranoia came out.
(Character Identifier is Name – Clearance – Residential Block – Clone Family Sequence)
- Primary Attributes: Strength 18 / Endurance 14 / Agility 19 / Manual Dexterity 8 / Moxie 14 / Chutzpah 13 / Mechanical Aptitude 5 / Power Index 8 (INFRARED Comment – Primary attributes are either 1d10+8 or 2d10 rolls)
- Secondary Attributes: Carrying Capacity 30 / Damage Bonus 0 / Macho Bonus 0 / Melee Bonus +20% / Aimed Weapon Bonus -3% / Comprehension Bonus +5% / Believability Bonus +5% / Repair Bonus -15%
- Security Clearance: RED
- Service Group: Internal Security
- Secret Society: Pro-Tech (UV Comment – Really? Look at that Mechanical Aptitude and Repair Bonus…)
- Secret Society Rank: 1
- Mutant Power: Mental Block (UV Comment – Players know their characters have a mutant power but only the GM knows what the power is and can share some, all, or none of that knowledge with the player…hmmm)
- BASIC (1)
- Aimed Weapon (2)
- Melee (2)
- Knife (3)
- PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT (1)
- TECH SERVICES (1)
- (UV Comment – Basic-Aimed Weapon and Personal Development are common to all player characters. Customization in my case was adding Melee-Knife. “Knowing” my secret society is Pro-Tech I added Tech Services as my extra…but looking at my Mechanical Aptitude and Repair Bonus I can already see great adventure seeds being planted…)
- BASIC (1)
Troubleshooters – The Keystone Cops of Alpha Complex
In Paranoia, the life of a Troubleshooter is dangerous. A Troubleshooter is also “highly trained” to deal with problems. The core task resolution mechanism uses percentile dice. The chance of success is 15% + (5x Highest Skill Level ) +/- Bonuses. For Ima-R-TRD-1, a basic Melee Attack using a knife is 15%+15%(5×3)+20%(Melee Bonus)=50%. To shoot a Laser Pistol it’s 15%+10%(5×2)-3%(Aimed Weapon Bonus)=22%. To repair a piece of equipment it’s going to be 15%+5%(5×1)-15%(Repair Bonus)=5%. It’s easy to see that beginning Troubleshooters are, obviously, “Top…men”
First edition Paranoia came out in my later high school years. As I went through my box, I found some old character sheets and adventure comments. They are much more detailed and “setting appropriate” than I remember. My memories of Paranoia sessions seem fixated on character death, and how even six clones seemed to never be enough. Interestingly, I also see dark humor elements in the adventure notes that I totally forgot about. Sure, I always “knew” Paranoia was darkly humorous, but I don’t remember us “understanding” the dark humor as well as our notes indicate.
It would be very interesting to run a Paranoia adventure these days—especially in light of the world COVID response. Mutant powers and secret societies don’t seem so extreme, eh? My experience with the military and security clearances also gives me a different perspective on how to handle “secrets.” This could be lots, and I mean lots, of fun.