Paranoid Thoughts About the New Paranoia

So my gaming buddy Fred recently bought the newest edition of the darkly humorous RPG, Paranoia. The Red Clearance Edition. He lent it me to review, and we sort of have this half-formed plan to run a number of games, confounding players (if we can find them - I find the sweet spot is 5 + GameMaster) by taking turns and completely changing the rule set with every game (I'd use 2nd ed., my favorite, though I do have at least three other editions in my collection and could take the joke further).

Regardless, how does "Red Clearance" compare? Well, it's definitely more "new school" than any previous edition, with such innovations as the GameMaster never needing to roll dice (though the core book makes it a running gag that you should still roll dice if you REALLY feel like you need to). In a game like Paranoia, where 90% of the fun is being treated unfairly (I swear, it's fun in this context), that's not entirely wrong-headed. Older editions allowed the GM to cheat anyway; it's just been formalized.

Where all versions before either led to 2nd edition or were derived from 2nd ed., this one incorporates what I can only call "board game elements". For example, players are distributed a hand of cards with effects on actions or scenes. Savage Worlds has an optional Story Deck, but this is a much more integrated element. Cards are also handed out with secret mutant powers (treasonous), secret societies (treasonous), and jobs within the party (characters used to belong to a service, now it's more random, I don't dislike that). The dice, rolled in pools to get a number of successes (which is more board game than RPG), also includes a Computer die which can cause a crazy critical fail. All these elements makes the RPG feel more like a contemporary board game and perhaps an attempt to get some tabletop gamers to cross the bridge to pen and paper worlds. Truth be told, though somewhat gimmicky, I prefer this approach to the previous decade's push for RPGs to feel like World of Warcraft, with its push-button power activation.

The game pays homage to its past by at least using the language of older editions for its newfangled concepts. The word "Node", for example, was an assembly of connected Skills in 1st ed., now it's a target number. Moxie used to be an Attribute, now it's a bank for Story Points, that also controls your mutant power (instead of the Power attribute). And I'm not sure if it's a joke or not, but the game spends too much time on how to accumulate XP, which in my games is irrelevant, because no one is expected to survive to play in a second scenario. I haven't looked at the "Mission Book" (in fairness to Fred), so maybe Red Clearance is actually designed for longer campaigns, I don't know.
As for the setting, there are some updates as well. After all, the original game was born of the end of the Cold War, and the Communist threat that led humanity to run for the safety of Alpha Complex made sense. Commies are still a threat, but the game is a little more glib when it comes to explaining its origins. The big change is in how we now perceive computers (and thus THE Computer). Characters can now upload skills, have access to a HUD (essentially their character sheet), and of course all of it can malfunction. Connections between specific High Programmers and Secret Societies also feel new, but I might be forgetting something from an earlier edition. Otherwise, give or take the exact mutations and societies available in the game, it's very much what you remember (at least, pre-Crash and Reboot). I still think 2nd ed. has the best look and humor, but Red Clearance has the sharpest book design since 2nd, and includes some fun extras like equipment request forms and dry-erase character sheets.

Some ideas I would poach from it (the HUD stuff is interesting, the way clones work is better explained, etc.), but for the most part, I'm in no hurry to part with 2nd edition, to which I can more easily convert the best adventure scenarios from other editions anyway. But I'm game if Fred and some four other people are. These days, I don't even need to hand out little notebooks and secret slips of paper; it can all be done on one's phone. The question is: Will they resent it when I pull out my more old-fashioned rules?


Jerry Harris said...

I would say Paranoia is one RPG that would make better sense as a board game.

I had the first edition, but I only got to play it once. All the players shot each other at the first encounter. If you can believe it, I took the RPG rules for Paranoia, but not the setting, and made my own Robotech RPG (before Palladium's came out) and had lots of fun with it.

Siskoid said...

Well yes, but then you send in the clones and move on :D

Anonymous said...

I had a friend who ran a convention game a while back, who was convinced that after the 1st edition, it lost something of its satirical edge commenting upon bureaucracies and the cold war, and rather more towards stupid deaths. So, the end product was rather more 1984/Catch 22 than say an Arnold Schwarzenegger action/comedy. I sat in mild amusement in a game session knowing my previously clean skin friend had just spent 18 months in *those* kind of bureaucratic jobs, busily working out some life issues in running it, whilst a regular attendee known for being ruthlessly rigorous and logical in her approach to solving mysteries tried valiantly to uncover the mystery and get the computer to see good sense. It was priceless if unintentional entertainment. :D


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