It is the future, and you are a proud citizen of Alpha Complex, a domed utopian society run by a benevolent Computer.
All is foreseen. All is right and just. All is good and pure. All because of The Computer.
The Computer is Your Friend!
You are a Troubleshooter in service to The Computer. The Computer rewarded you for turning in a friend who was guilty of treason. He was executed for this treason, and you were promoted from the anonymous ranks of the Infrared to Red security clearance and made The Computer’s trusted agent.
See what love and trust The Computer has for you! The Computer is Your Friend!
As a Troubleshooter, you and a team of fellow Troubleshooters scour the Complex, searching out treason in all its many forms, seeking out those who would destroy Alpha Complex and all that it stands for. The Computer and higher ranking citizens will all do their best to assist you in this, the most important of all goals.
Foremost among these traitors are the members of an ancient society, a gathering of unspeakable evil and incredible malice whose sole driving purpose is the destruction of all that is decent.
They are known only by the accursed name "Commies..."
Paranoia is a roleplaying game, formerly produced by West End Games, Inc., and now out of print. It is one of the great roleplaying games, and to this day there is really nothing else like it. Players assume the role of Troubleshooters, agents of The Computer devoted to the eradication of all traitorous activity. However, despite the official line, The Computer is actually a few transistors short of an integrated circuit, and sees traitors everywhere. Ancient archives dating back to the Civil Defense days tell of the horrible Communist threat, and when the end of civilization did happen to come about through unrelated means, The Computer, in the absence of real information, assumed the Red Menace was at the gates and sealed off the doors. That was hundreds of years ago.
Now, Troubleshooter PCs are sent off on hideously lethal missions searching for traitors. Means of treason are many, but the two primary causes are being a member of a secret society (groups which are not sponsored by The Computer and may be plotting against it) and possessing a mutant power (and thus being genetically imperfect, without place in utopia, and additionally dangerous to the safety of citizens and The Computer). The catch is that, in actuality, all the PCs are members of secret societies, and all the PCs have mutant powers. So right off the bat, everyone is a traitor. However, while the players themselves may know of the treason of their friends, their characters do not, but will probably be ever alert for any signs. And when they become known... Zap!
Missions are usually deathtraps, sometimes unsolvable, but The Computer is supposedly infallible. To suggest that it would assign a mission which is not completely safe and even fun would mean questioning The Computer, which is itself treasonous. In fact, failure to be happy is treasonous, the penalty for which often requiring the dispensation and forced ingestion of quite wonderful little pills. Because all missions are supposedly safe and easy, any failure must mean treason. Revealing the possession of knowledge outside your security clearance is treason. Possessing the skill "Communist Propaganda" is treason, even though you don’t always have a choice in acquiring it. Sometimes even breathing is treason. And the only sure-fire way of proving oneself not a traitor is finding other traitors and executing them. This is what the other players are for. And if no proof can be found, well, then maybe some can be forged.
Does this sound like an experience completely unlike almost any other roleplaying game you’ve ever seen? Most games are cooperative affairs, but Paranoia is a competition. Players get six lives, or "clones," so death does not mean you’re out of the game. Because the missions are sometimes impossible, and at the very least very, very difficult, it helps to have scapegoats on hand when it fails, and scapegoats who happen to be dead cannot defend themselves. But if a bystander happens to see you just blast the head off your comrade (oops, poor choice of words) then they may assume you are a traitor yourself. So, it is best to kill obvious traitors, and do away with the other team members by more devious means. Of course, I would be remiss if I neglected to remind you that the other players are doing the same thing.
If this sounds like the most wonderful game, well, it is. The writing is incredible and hilarious for both players and GM. The atmosphere in a well-run game should be that of cheerful doom, as no character lasts forever, and many fail to survive a single adventure (or the mission briefing!), even with six lives, but characters are easy to roll up and, besides motivations supplied by service group, secret society, and of course the Big ‘C’, tend to be merely shells for the player’s own personality. Not the game to play when you’re looking for a long-term campaign, but great for an occasional evenings’ worth of fun. And if you do decide to look for this game, keep on the lookout for "The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues," written by John M. Ford, possibly the best-written RPG adventure of all time, and certainly the deadliest.
Final note: The first edition of Paranoia was great, and lists five or six people are creators, including the creator of Toon, personal hero and Nethack booster Greg Costikyan. It had a lot of extra information on Alpha Complex that is included in no other books. Its supplement, Acute Paranoia, wasn’t as great, but still great, and had several nifty adventures. The second edition of Paranoia was almost as great as the first, because, despite the absence of some important background information, it featured a greatly simplified and streamlined game system, and a really boffo starter adventure, "Into The Outdoors With Gun And Camera." Most of the early Paranoia stuff is just pure gold, and some pieces are even collectors’ items. However, somewhere along the line the game lost its focus (I believe because the creators left or were forced out of the project for various reasons). As it stands, the later second edition stuff (many, but not all, of the things that mention anything about "The Secret Society Wars" on the cover) isn’t as good. Under no circumstances purchase anything from the discount box at your local gaming store marked "Post Mega-Whoops" or "Reboot Alpha." These are travesties of the original design. And the so-calledParanoia Fifth Edition (there is no third or fourth) is horrid. That bears repeating: horrid. It appears to be the work of only one man, a Mr. Ed Stark, who oddly enough went on to hold a prominent position in the credits to D&D 3rd Edition (which I actually like). If you buy anything marked "Paranoia 'Fifth' Edition" and then /msg me saying "This ain’t so great" I will have choice other than to laugh in your face and pelt you with Jell-O desserts. So there.