Introduction to Paranoia
First, a word of warning
about GM'ing Paranoia. Expect it to be hard work. Running
RPG sessions can get a bit hectic at times. When you run a Paranoia
session it is hectic a lot of the time. There is a lot to keep track
of, and you also have to try to keep the game going at a good pace. Paranoia
GM'ing is not for the faint-hearted.
When I ran my first
mission, things didn't exactly go according to plan. In fact, it's fair
to say that it was a bit of a disaster. Fortunately the band of players
were an understanding lot and didn't complain too much when we changed
the format of the game halfway through the mission. This is probably because
they were complaining a bit before that.
One essential item
for playing Paranoia in CRD sector is a large pad of writing
paper notes. I managed to acquire some pads of 4 inch square paper - probably
around 4-500 sheets per pad. These are very useful during play, not only
for players to pass notes to each other, but for players and GM to exchange
Note passing is very
important in Paranoia. We get through an awful lot of paper during
a session. If players want to work together secretly, they'll use notes
to plan it. If they want to do something without openly declaring it, they
pass a note to the GM when it's their turn. If a player uses a mutant power,
both the request to use the power and the result are normally passed as
notes. If a character discovers something that none of the other characters
see, their findings are often passed as a note. As much as possible, we
keep the players as ignorant of important facts as the characters are.
Notes should be kept
as short as possible. This is partly because you want to be playing the
game, not writing War and Peace, and partly because you don't want
to spend all your time reading. You don't want to interrupt the flow of
the game too much.
about people not having all the facts. If a character finds something of
use, he won't normally share it with his fellow Troubleshooters. He'll
keep it to himself because it might save his skin later. Or maybe it will
help him to eliminate a traitorous colleague.
The problem we had
with note passing was one of timing. During our first mission a stack of
notes gradually built up beside me because I was dealing with what players
were declaring aloud rather than what they were putting in writing. This
was a bad idea. Players were declaring in notes that they wanted
to shoot another clone when they did a particular thing, but the note wasn't
being read until it was too late. It clearly wasn't working.
So we switched to
a turn-based system. We found this system to be a lot better, and have
stuck to it ever since.
The GM chooses what
order players will declare their actions. I like to change the order regularly
to keep the players on their toes. Sometimes it's based on where the players
are sitting, sometimes it's based on what the characters are doing at the
The players can either
declare their move openly, or can pass the GM a note saying what they want
to do. Players can even pass a note and declare an action, but they
only get one action per turn. This sort of thing is normally reserved for
putting their fellow players on edge. The note will either state that it
overrides what the player has said, or will just be a dummy note.
Players can also set
things up in advance. This will normally involve telling the GM something
like "when I say I'm going to adjust the tuning on my comm set, I really
mean I'm going to shoot Citizen Suck-R". This sort of thing keeps the GM
on his toes too.
Another effect of
note passing is that occasionally players will manage to read a note which
a player passed another player earlier. This is basically the equivalent
of overhearing things. If it's done well, the other player won't even be
aware that somebody else knows what they're planning.
As GM, make sure that
players pass notes properly. For example, if two players are planning to
do something secretly, they should both pass you notes about it.
Don't accept a note from Gull-R-BUL stating that he and Loit-R-ING are
going to do something together if Loit-R-ING hasn't passed you a similar
note. Let Gull-R-BUL do his part if you feel like it, especially if Loit-R-ING
has said that he's going to shoot at Gull-R-BUL when he does it. Make sure
your players are aware of this ruling too.
Be willing to bend
the rules and improvise. Be willing to make up your own rules if you want.
For instance, if a clone shoots another clone at point-blank range, they
are unlikely to miss. Yet the rules still say that you should make a skill
roll. If he's got the target by the collar, with a laser pistol jabbed
against his skull, he won't miss. You should still make the roll to check
for weapon malfunction though.
Use figures and mark
out room sizes. I normally use coloured card of different sizes to depict
rooms and corridors. The players I GM for enjoy exploring and mapping (not
just in Paranoia), so I give them areas to map out. By using card
templates they can see how big rooms are without being told how to map
If players are Red
Clearance, only let them use red or black paper and pencils. If a player
loses all his belongings, take them away from him. If he's the team cartographer,
tough - the team shouldn't have pushed him down the incinerator chute in
the first place. (Yes, I have seen this done!)
The world of Paranoia
is a very unfair place. However, as GM you should be very fair.
Plan your missions so that unfair things happen to the troubleshooters,
but GM the events fairly. The players should feel that the world
is against them, not the GM. (Which is odd because normally it's
the GM who devised the mission in the first place).
a normal roleplaying game. It's a silly roleplaying game. If
a player suggests doing something funny, reward them. You don't have
to fix dice rolls, but there's nothing wrong with modifying dice rolls.
So if a particular action would normally be a normal difficulty,
but the player suggested something you think would be funny, modify it
into an easy difficulty instead. That way there's still a
certain amount of randomness involved. It adds a certain amount of
unpredictability to a mission. (After all, GM's should have fun during
If a player suggests
something which you hadn't thought of, but it would produce a nice bit
of ad-libbed fun, follow it up. No matter how well you plan your
missions, players will always manage to come up with things you'd never
even considered. Rather than stopping them from doing it, play along
until you feel the idea has run its course. This will make missions
fun for you (and you don't have to plan as much), and the players may even
think they were really clever for solving a problem which wasn't really
there at all.
When players use their
skills, it's a good idea to make a note of what skills they tried to use
(irrespective of whether they succeed or fail). At the end of the
session, allocate skill points which the players can "spend" to increase
their character's skills. Use your notes to show which skills they
are allowed to spend their points on. The reasoning here is that
if a character didn't use a specific skill during a session, they won't
have got any better at that skill. It's also a good idea to say that
they aren't allowed to spend more than 3 points on any one skill.
This will force them to become better at several things slowly, rather
than being very good at only one specific thing quickly.
You don't need to
worry too much about characters becoming too good at things. They
tend not to last very long anyway.
and The Computer logo are registered trademarks of West
Authors of submitted items are indicated where
All other text and graphics by Steve