Paranoia is a wonderful and amazing RPG. It’s also unlike any other RPG on the market. It actively encourages things that are terrible in any other game, and sows discord in groups. It’s a blast, and a well run introductory game is something a group will remember for a long time.
These are my notes from an adventure I’ve run a few times for new groups as their first Paranoia game. Sometimes I’ve run it for people as their first RPG, and I’d highly recommend it. The less serious nature makes it easy for shy or hesitant players to take risks. Anyone who knows Paranoia should know its a very abstract game, and I ramp it up into a very slapstick/beer and pretzels affair. You could probably run an entire game by Googling a character sheet and using this blog, but I strongly encourage a GM to get the Paranoia XP book for more info. There is a lot in there you can use to expand your improv, and a lot of little things you can add in to make it better.
Go ahead and make 9-10 random pre-made characters. For first time groups, leave everyone as red clearance, but otherwise leave their names blank. Don’t worry about balance or fairness when making the characters. I usually just roll a bunch of D6 and assign them to stats and skills in order. I also don’t assign items at this time. I do strongly recommend getting a stack of note cards so you can slip people secret notes. I also strongly recommending a good ringer, or player who has played before who will stir up trouble.
Once everyone is seated, it’s time for you to explain a brief history of Alpha Complex. Don’t stress the details at all, and I mix it up every now and again through improv. Here is my go to.
Back in ye olden times there were two royal families, the Capitalists and the Communists. They were in a great war, known as the cold shoulder. The Communists wanted to freeze the world, so that their stylish fur hats and coats could be worn year round, but the capitalists, being based out of their warm capital city, Miami-bienvenidos-a-miami, opposed this. They introduced a policy called global warming raising the temperature to counteract the communist cooling. After years of war, they resorted to bombs and irradiated the surface beyond repair. Luckily, the Capitalists were smart and built Alpha Complex. Alpha complex is governed perfectly by the Mighty Computer without error. Unluckily, some Commies managed to sneak in. These Commies and their descendants survive to this day causing problems, inspiring traitors to their cause, or creating mutants to sow chaos. You are troubleshooters. Recently promoted to Red clearance after discovering and turning in a fellow Infra-red for their traitorous actions. You were given a 6 pack of clones, and are now sent on missions to go fix things the Commies break. If you do a good job, you will get to be a Team Leader next time. If you do a great job, you get promoted to Orange clearance and get safer jobs.
- Rule 1 – The computer is infallible.
- Rule 2 – Being a Commie, Mutant, or Traitor is punishable by death. Secret Societies are treasonous.
- Rule 3 – You can only be tried for a crime once.
I then explain the spectrum rankings, quickly and broadly.
- IR – proles
- R – troubleshooters
- O – office admin
- Y – middle mgmt
- G – military captains in charge of stuff
- B – Directors
- I –
- V – Assistants to UV
- UV – High programmer
The system I use is roughly 1d20+mods vs a static DC. higher is better.
Hand out character sheets randomly.
Announce that “From this point forward, we are in character. I’ll let you know if/when we exit character.”
I hand out jobs next. This is done in character, and I’ll respond to questions as the computer. This sets the tone early. “Citizen, you’re the hygienic officer, you of all people know how important that is! I can’t believe I have to explain the importance of proper tooth maintenance. We all know that improperly maintained teeth can lead to tooth decay. And improper care of Alpha Complex equipment is a terminable offense. As hygienic officer, its your job to ensure everyone is clean at all times.” Or something like that. During this portion it’s important to make a point to stop the game to read a text or two on your phone, if you’ve got a ringer player answer a non-existent question from them with an out-loud “yeah sure ringer, no worries”. You are setting the seeds to the new folks that they can and should send you secret messages, via text or whatever method.
- Priority Jobs – Team Leader, Happiness Officer, Videographer, Equipment Manager, Hygienic Officer
- Filler Jobs – Loyalty Officer, Assistant Team Leader, Audiographer, Security Officer.
I hand out priority jobs until I run out, then give out the filler jobs. In my experience, the priority jobs are not priority because they are important. They are priority because they are the most fun.
- Team Leader – Stress to this player that they are ultimately in charge of everything. This is highly stressful, and should be given to someone unassuming or shy. Never anyone bossy.
- Happiness Officer – This officer hands out drugs. Encourage them to do so at the drop of a hat. As GM, you need to really play up how powerful these are.
- Videographer – They get a giant 80s shoulder mount camera and record the whole affair. Their job is to be standing around capturing treason on film. The other players should ditch them as often as possible.
- Equipment Manager – They are in charge of the equipment. Which always breaks. Very Stressful, but they also get to assign themselves the best gear.
- Hygienic Officer – Every adventure has one part where the party has to ford a river of human excrement, or half formed red-soy paste, or something that trashes their clothes. Perfect time for a Hygiene inspection.
- Loyalty Officer – Kind of a vague job, but basically team tattletale. In a game where everyone is a tattletale.
- Assistant Team Leader – Can either be the dumping ground for all blame, or can just make team leaders job Hell, depending on the players with the two jobs.
- Audiographer – Great addition to the videographer. If included, I make sure to remind the videographer they don’t record audio on their camcorder. (if no audiographer present, it does). But even still, they can record all sorts of illicit stuff and splice it around.
- Security Officer – Gets cool guns, but needs to ensure the rest of the team doesn’t die. Very hard.
Once everyone has their job, I give their gear. I do this on an index card, and read aloud their non-secret gear. Doing so in a real official voice and taking it super serious makes for good effect.
- Job Gear: Everyone gets a phaser, with no barrels.
- Team Leader: 1X Whistle, 1X Lanyard, 1X retracting whistle clip attached to lanyard (10ft)
- Happiness Officer: 1 Bottle 40 – Perk-U-Up Pills (Safe dose 1/24 hours), 3 syringes of Epinephrine. (Secret – 1 Bag of Pick-U-up Powder 6 doses).
- Videographer: Shoulder mount camera, audio recording pods X3, Standing Lightbar, 10X spare video cassettes.
- Equipment Manager: Large Backpack, Red Pen, Clip board
- Hygienic Officer: Squeegee. spray bottle (Empty)
- Loyalty Officer: 10X apples and a “Loyalty Whip”
- Assistant Team Leader: 1X red phaser barrel. 1X lanyard.
- Audiographer: (Secret – Discrete personal recording device) 3X Audio recording pods, 10X spare audio cassetts, Audio playback pod.
- Security Officer: Security Baton. Red Reflec Armor.
Then tell the group “Everyone take a minute and pick names. Usually [Name]-R-[3 letters]. Then put a 1 for first clone. EX: Doct-R-Who5. While you work on that, I’ll buzz around and answer some questions from your sheet, or things we have discussed so far.” As you do so, pull people aside and give them an index card with their secret cards. Let them know that everyone is getting a card, some; are blank, some have a mutation, and some have a secret society, or both. All at random, but be aware some of the players may be traitors.
I built this list for the adventure. The DC is a flat d20 roll over. I let each player know privately that we can out of game discuss what their society or power is. If they mention they got both, I say something like “oh no! you got that one… good luck”. They all get both. I’ll riff a bit about what their society is about, and explain that if they complete the secret mission, they get a 6 pack of clones at the end.
- 1 – Secret Society: Free Tech: want you to steal the broken ELU for study. Mutant Power: Liquefy you can turn into a puddle and flow around the floor. It’s gross, and your stuff doesn’t come. DC 12
- 2 – Secret Society: Capital Pigs: Recruit a new member. Mutant Power: Obvious Laser Eyes (Red). DC 10
- 3 – Secret Society: Free Tech: want you to steal the broken ELU for study. Mutant Power: Invisibility DC 11.
- 4 – Secret Society: Illuminati: join another secret society. Undercover Mutant Power: Extendo arms – 10ft. DC 15.
- 5 – Secret Society: Anti-Mutants: bring the intact head of a mutant back for study. Mutant Power: Human Torch, can catch flame, and is immune to fire while doing so. DC 5.
- 6 – Secret Society: Communists: give out as many promotions as you can. Note Reds cannot legally promote people. Mutant Power: Glows in the dark. Activates automatically. DC 4 to prevent.
- 7 – Secret Society: Computer Phreaks: reprogram a confession booth to allow phellow phreaks to get away with anything if they say the codewor: “Phlowers.” Mutant Power: Levitation DC 8
- 8 – Secret Society: Operation Blackout: make sure the ELU is not replaced. Mutant Power: X-Ray Vision within 10ft. DC 5.
- 9 – Secret Society: Quad H, Let the beast out.?? Mutant Power: Can turn things Green with a touch. DC 5
- 10 – Secret Society: Gear Headz: Bring us any R&D tech you get. Mutant Power: You can heal wounds by touching electricity DC 13
After the last person, mill about a bit and let people make notes on sheets/talk. Without warning trigger a klaxon on your phone and let them know they have been awoken.
Go to meeting room X80ey-r98ref. Team lead knows the way. You can do some panic if you want, and make TL get them there by guessing as you improv some stuff, or you can handwave it.
**Note: Many Paranoia GMs like to make the players fill out tedious forms, and memorize the long strings of bullshit numbers. I find that’s generally un-fun and don’t.
Meeting is with XXXX-Y-XXX# who is surprised there are this many PCs present. Not sure who the extra one is, and not happy with TL for bringing another along. Mission “Need you to replace the ELU (electric lighting unit) in sub-basement 3495asbdjfb4. He slides the equipment guy a map. You can pick up your equipment, including the ELU from Asset Mgmt (as GM tell them the equipment guy knows the way and handwave this part). The map is in black and white, but only mention that if asked. Looks clear-cut and easy. Walk down the hall, take elevator to floor indicated, get out and go right for a few doors. GM Note the elevator is Blue only and has a Y guard stationed at all times. Before he leaves, he says “Well I’ve got reflec barrels for your pistols for X-1 of you, so I’ll just give them to you and let equip guy divide as required. Sets in middle of table, and walks out of the room, turns off lights as he leaves. Like a dick.
** This is a prime time for players to steal from one another, or generally pull shenanigans.
Assets give equipment guy (1d6 grenades, 1d6 sets of red reflec, 1d6 foam grenades, laser cutter, and experimental grappling cannon) and the ELU (bring one in a small box if you can. It’s a lightbulb). If they ask about what all the combat gear is for, have the guy say “they didn’t tell you? This is waaay more complicated than… wait, if they didn’t tell you it’s probably above your clearance. Nice try commies”.
After this, the players need to get to the sub-basement. I generally try to improvise this, after first letting them discover the blue elevator w/ yellow guard. They could fight him and deal with it, but more often than not, we improve a session around finding a different elevator. I throw in food court encounters, angry G ranks, IR shift changes, and malfunctioning robots to mix it up. Sometimes a metro is needed.
Regardless, they should eventually make it to the sub-basement, which is apparently an abandoned basketball arena. Looking around it has hundreds of lights, all lit up. One in the top center appears to be out. No scaffolding or anything to go change it out. Figure that out. I occasionally throw a room stacked high with folding chairs, and let them make a stack just short of the scaffolding. But generally improve some set piece or two that inventive players can use. Once they do, the new light doesn’t come on either. Looking around they notice a switch that has been taped in up position right next to the bulb. Also has a sticky note in Yellow “Do not flip switch”. If they flip switch the light turns on, but a big metal wall folds down, and a giant tentacle monster is let loose. Apparently that single light, and the big metal door are on same circuit. Half Mantis Shrimp Half Gorilla with the legs of an octopus. 30ft tall. Deal with that. Also of note, the original bulb was not burned out, just switched off. Mission Over?
I always include a debriefing, and mission report with the Yellow who sent them out. Players are encouraged to rat one another out for promotions. I generally give an additional clone for each person ratted out, and if you hit 10 clones, you get color promoted. If you are ratted out they dock you a clone, and if you have none, execution.
Broadly How I Run Combat
To hit is roll of 1d20+mods vs 1d20+mods opposed check. (Hand Weapons v Agility or something). One hit is lethal, unless it feels like it shouldn’t for the story. Reflec Armor of a rating over the phaser is immunity. Rating below is worthless. Rating at equal level is 50/50. The octobeast takes 10 hits, and ignores armor.
Assorted other Mutant Powers.
I like to give each new clone a new mutant power, and let the players all know the computer has corrected the mutation gene detected in that player (if they found out about it).
Mutant Powers – if a clone dies, grab a new one from this list and toss the old mutant power.
- extendo-arms – DC 13
- Phase through objects – DC 6
- You can make a dupe of yourself (1 only) and you share a consciousness. You can reabsorb it if you touch it. – DC 8
- Matter-Eater – safely eat Anything. – DC 5
- Acid Blood – your blood is acidic. no DC
- Manifest a Fire Sword – DC 13
- Webbed Feet and gills. You do spawn with an unfashionable scarf. Womp womp. no DC
- You can make it rain. People do not know what rain is, even you are confused. It comes from a little storm cloud. no DC
- Kangaroo Pouch. – DC 7
- Shrinking – grow to half size. DC 11
- Teleportation to somewhere you’ve been. DC 7
- Turn into a living metal man. – DC 8
- Ventriloquism (not a mutation, but people don’t believe you) – DC 11
4 thoughts on “Paranoia. An Introduction”
Heyo, captivating intro, picked up a pdf of Paranoia EX. One question though: I don’t seem to understand what it means to be a ringer, is this a home rule of the table, a reference to another blog post, or just something I’ve missed in the book?
Heyo, engaging post, picked up a pdf of Paranoia XP a couple days ago because of this. I do have one question I can’t seem to find the answer for: What is a ringer? I’ve seen it mentioned in the post but I don’t understand if it’s some kind of home rule or something else.
Thanks Ben, a Ringer (definition 2 https://www.thefreedictionary.com/ringer) is slang for someone who enters a contest without disclosing the whole of their abilities or skills. Imagine if you joined a duo bowling league with some friends, and asked if your brother could be your partner, without disclosing that your brother is a professional bowler. You’d have an unfair, undisclosed advantage. If folks were gambling, they might be upset with you over this. In the context of this post, a ringer is a player who has played Paranoia before and knows what’s going on. While everyone else is new and might be hesitant to stir the pot (paranoia social etiquette is almost the inverse of traditional “good rpg etiquette”, but all in good fun). The ringer is someone who knows the game, and the social norms and can get things going. Your ringer can text you questions, and you can answer them out loud, showing the other players that its expected to have secret conversations with the DM. Even if you respond to the rest of the text questions via text messages, to allow for secrecy. Your ringer can also do things like break the ice and be the first to backstab the group, something others might not think is OK.
Let me know how your first game goes!