Dungeons & Dragons is, in theory, about teamwork. When players work together narratively or tactically, the game has an energy unmatched by a few group activities. This is true for almost all role-playing games.
One of the big exceptions is a game called Paranoia. It encourages players to stab each other, game masters to arbitrarily rule against players, and features scenarios that often end in a no-win situation. So why is the Kickstarter for Paranoia: Perfect Edition rack up six figures?
What is Paranoia RPG?
Paranoia was first released in 1984 by West End Games. It’s a dystopian setting full of sudden violence and dark satirical humor. The game is famous for each character having six clones available for their adventure and often burning them in a single session.
The game takes place in Alpha Complex, a futuristic utopia run by an AI known as the Friend Computer. Players are interpreted as troubleshooters who protect the peaceful world Friend Computer has created in Alpha Complex from several different threats. These forces include mutants, commies, members of secret societies, and other traitors.
The twist is that each player is a mutant and a member of a secret society. They are sent on impossible missions by their superiors with secret objectives given to them by their secret masters. Add to that unreliable mutant powers, experimental technology, and corruption throughout the Alpha Complex and sessions can often barely make it out of the breifing room.
Why Do People Play Paranoia RPGs?
This game upsets the convention of role-playing. RPGs are often a power fantasy full of cool powers and good triumphing over evil. It all goes out the window in a game of Paranoia.
It works because the game sets clear stakes. While other RPGs encourage fairness and storytelling, Paranoia focuses on dark comedy and memorable death. When all the players realize how cruel they can be, they do it while everyone is laughing.
The GM can also indulge their darker side. Friend Computer’s presence is everywhere, giving the GM a chance to interrupt players as they go about their shenanigans. When running Paranoia, I often use a text-to-speech program to give Friend Computer a distinct voice and watch players sweat as I type.
The game also has a clear eye on satire. The original parodied other games in the genre, while later editions experimented with other styles of satire. Everyone has been in a no-win situation in their life and solving one in-game with a Plasma Grenade or an impassioned call to Friend Computer can be very therapeutic.
What’s new in Paranoia: Perfect Edition?
Paranoia: Perfect Edition comes on the heels of Red Clearance Edition released March 2017. The key mechanic rolls a d6 pool seeking success plus a computer dice. If the Computer die arrives with the Computer Friend’s ever-watchful eye, it notices everything the character does for good or evil.
The new edition includes more direct mechanical support for the computer die, such as expanding its range based on a character’s betrayal star count. It also simplifies character traits into a violence button and a betrayal button to show what might cause characters to fire their lasers or do something they know the friendly computer won’t like. An expanded character creation book offers players a chance to play a mini-game with character creation as overworked supervisors of the clone chambers.
Paranoia: Perfect Edition is on Kickstarter until Sunday, November 27. The digital edition is expected in March next year and the physical edition is expected to ship in June. Preview PDFs are expected for backers within weeks of Kickstarter closing.