Service, Service! provides extra material for GMs who wish to use Service Groups more in their game. Admittedly, this is more useful in a “straight” style game, in the more classic game mode service groups will probably be left mostly as background sources of (mis)info and (dangerous) submissions (like secret societies).
The book is logically split into chapters per service group. Each one contains some general info (including stereotyped opinions of the other service groups), some NPCs, some service services and lastly a short mission related to the service group. The missions range from ok-ish to great – one involving lightbulbs is especially inspired, and has vast potential for mayhem and total confusion. Some of the missions are very specific and only useful in some circumstances, while some are quite general and can be plugged in most anywhere. Should be something for everyone in here.
The book introduces a minor new rule addition in the form of Mandates. A Mandate is a personal service service, and it doled out by a service group. Each mandate has a spiffy title and an extra mandatory duty… which, for once in Paranoia, can actually be useful to the PC. To balance this gasp-inducing fact, the GM has total freedom (of course) to revoke Mandates on whim. If a PC starts to get too much mileage out of a Mandate: whoops, it’s gone, replaced by a much nastier one. It’s a fun little rules tweak; not something absolutely necessary in any sense, but potentially very amusing.
As unfortunately is quite typical for a Mongoose book, the layout here is a bit spotty in places. The font scaling is a bit weird here and there, and some of the illustrations were actually left out of this one by accident (replaced by textual art notes!). This was an actual mishap, as confirmed by the Mongoose guys: the final layout (with pics) had been sent out to (some guy) for final approval, but somehow what got sent to the printers was the previous version (without pics). Oh well, it happens (though Mongoose tends to be more problematic than the norm), and the art design notes are actually quite interesting so it’s not a total loss.
In summary: a full pack of info and mini-missions for, most useful for “Straight” games where the bureaucracy of Alpha Complex gets more screen time. Well written, and some of the mini-adventures rock. In addition, the new Mandate concept can add extra flavor to some games. On the flipside, some layout issues detract from the whole.
Extreme Paranoia expands the new edition of Paranoia (“Paranoia XP”) to cover higher security clearances. While there is a new(er!) edition out just now which separates the game line into distinct sets (Troubleshooters, Internal Security, High Programmers), this book is for the previous edition and gives you a chapter on each higher security clearance. It’s almost certainly usable with the newest version, too, since (as far as I know) that’s only a slight revision, ruleswise.
Anyway, to this book. It’s good. It’s also a bit of a mishmash, since it contains a huge pile of… well, stuff to help you promote (and then destroy) your PCs. There’s some general discussion first, on how a higher security clearance is no highway to power and happiness (though the PCs may imagine it to be). Each clearance level is given guidelines on what new stuff is now available, what the PCs can (and cannot) now do, and other helpful stuff like that. I found the clarification on the living quarters at various levels especially helpful in giving me a picture of what changes at what level.
Among the bits and pieces given here are some small adventures (suitable for certain clearance levels) and plot seeds, and a few leftover pages and chapters from other books in the game line. There’s also a bit from an older Paranoia edition, adapted for this one: some chapters from the old HIL Sector Blues book. There is no strict structure here, each clearance level gets a different treatment. At one level, you’re finally given the rules for making the PCs… Assistant Retail Managers! And in another, the PCs become stars in a TV video show. Many of these portions feature mini-games, where the PC actions determine various things like show popularity rating, sales quota performance, or whatever.
With a lack of strict internal chapter structure, this book could be a mess… but it isn’t. It’s a huge pile of ideas, guidelines and plot hooks. Some are better than others, but even the not-that-hot ones are either somewhat amusing or at least a bit different.
If you want to push your Paranoia PCs a bit outside the normal Red-clearance Troubleshooter envelope, this is the book to get.
STUFF is (gasp) an equipment book for Paranoia . Of course, since this is Paranoia we’re talking about, it’s not quite the usual collection of weapons, armor and other useful gear you’d typically find in an rpg equipment catalog.
Since the new version Paranoia has a twisted version of internal economics and even an eBay clone (C-Bay!), this book is centered on those. All the items are portrayed as being C-Bay listings… which means that there is even more than the usual levels of Paranoia bullshit going on, since the PCs are getting item descriptions from other NPCs (all with agendas). No big surprise that most (all?) of the descriptions are missing lots of relevant details, and a large number are flat-out lies. There are various payment and delivery methods (again mimicking eBay), all with their own risks. Fun stuff.
The book contains a grand total of 225 items, separated into categories by vague item type. You get stuff like Gravitic Gauntlet (one size fits all), Threat Evaluation Eyewear, Treason-Free Speech Limiters and LubriSkates. Oh, and let’s not forget the inspiring 101 Fun Songs to Sing in Line songbook.
It’s a great resource for a Paranoia game, no question. The only complaint I have is that the GM descriptions of the items (what the things actually do) are next to the “listings” themselves, so if you want to let your players browse this like an in-game C-Bay listing you’ll need to do a lot of creative printing/cut-pasting or some such. I’d much have preferred to have the GM descriptions in a totally separate section.
War On [Insert Noun Here] is a short campaign for Paranoia, parodying the U.S. “War On Terror/Drugs/Whatever”. In fact, the book is dedicated to George W. Bush, for “advancing the cause of paranoia worldwide”.
The basic plot goes like this: there is a glitch, and the Computer decides that it’s under attack. Since it’s not quite sure who or what is actually attacking, it quickly forms a brand-new entity (Department of Complex Operational Defense) to combat this brand-new deadly threat. Guess who gets to head this department? That’s right, the PCs! Unlike most Paranoia adventures, this one sees the PCs actually get promoted… way above their abilities or means. No, this is not a good thing for the PCs, but this is Paranoia. “Good things for the PCs” is not on the menu.
It’s a pretty amusing scenario, and firmly in the “Classic Paranoia” playstyle. There are lots of bad puns, parodies of real-life events, and unlikely events & antagonists (giant mutant flesh-eating slugs, anyone?). I liked the fact that it does something a bit nonstandard (promoting the PCs) and turns that event into a nightmare, in true Paranoia fashion.There are also some fun jabs made at corporate life and marketing, in general.
On the minus side, as (unfortunately) so usual for a Mongoose book, the proofreading is a bit lacking. Typos here and there, and more seriously there is at least one pre-gen PC writeup completely missing. The Paranoia forums have a fix, however, so don’t let that put you off buying the book – it is pretty good, despite minor faults.
The somewhat misleadingly named Mandatory Mission Pack is actually a collection of various NPCs, places and events to use in generating encounters etc on the fly in a Paranoia game. There’s a list of various briefing rooms, briefing officers, hallways, secret society orders, etc. Some of them are so-so, but most are wonderfully bizarre and fun. In any case, it’s a fairly thin book but also a cheap one, so pretty good bang for the buck here.
Together with this and some of the other “random mission blender” stuff in earlier supplements, you could probably run a Paranoia mission with minimal prep time. Of course, the main use for this is as an “emergency idea resource” for those times when the players do something unexpected and you’re having problems with coming up with something suitably cool on the fly. Just say “wait a sec”, run to the bookshelf, pick a random item from the relevant section, and you’re good to go. Well, in theory at least.
Despite the title, the Big Book of Bots isn’t all that big. But it is about bots (i.e. robots) in the Paranoia game world. Up to now, these helpful machines have been mostly tools for the GM to cause (helpful and friendly) diversions for the PCs. In this case, “helpful” usually means “stupid and/or obstructionist” and “friendly” means “lethal and/or homicidal”. What this book provides is both an expanded listing of new and old bots (with skill listings), and a system for creating bot PCs. The Computer knows that you’ve always (secretly!) wanted to roleplay a scrubbot. Well, now you can! As an added bonus, bots can’t be traitors (according to the Computer), since they don’t have free will (according to the Computer) and are programmed to always look after the good of Alpha Complex (according to the Computer). Your reality may vary.
On the downside, it’s a fairly thin book and the editing & layout are slightly shoddy in places. On the plus side, it does have some fun extra crunch on bots and even includes a bot-centric adventure. An “ok” minor expansion book; not a must-buy by any means but contains some fun and/or useful stuff for the game. The system by which bots gain skills (via memcards) does lend itself to some evil ideas, if you happen to be an evil-minded GM. Not that any Paranoia GM would be that.
The Underplex is a compact Paranoia supplement which details the “spaces in between” – the abandoned corridors and levels that lie between, under and over all the inhabited areas of Alpha Complex. As such it’s a fun and natural idea, and quite useful as a place where secret society meetings could sometimes take place… and also as a shortcut between point A and B, where nasty and lethal thing C is blocking the usual route. Naturally enough, it also serves as an excuse to throw new hazards in the PCs’ direction. Where do all the hungry & dangerous mutants live? Why, in the Underplex of course!
The book contains ideas on how to populate these “uninhabited” areas and also presents an “adventure seed” on the same subject. This is by no means a “must have” book for Paranoia, but neither is it bad. Sure, you can and should just invent most of this stuff yourself… but getting extra ideas is rarely a bad thing.
One of the best things about the new edition of Paranoia, in my opinion, is the addition of the “Straight” gameplay style. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s simply a tweak of the Paranoia world and rulset in which you can (gasp!) actually survive some missions. Instead of instant execution you get faced with bureaucratic penalties and other (mostly) nonlethal stuff if you screw things up – and because there often is no way to survive a Paranoia mission other than by screwing up… well, it helps that your players don’t go through five clones per game session. The “straight” mode encourages gameplay more like Brazil and 1984, instead of the more slapstick “Classic” style in which you shoot first and ask questions only if forced to.
WMD is a collection of four “Straight” missions, and it’s fantastic – one of the best supplements so far for the new Paranoia line. While all four missions are very good, the first one is perhaps the best simply because it’s actually quite disturbing and horrifying, all the while giving rewards to the PCs. The mission is named “Hunger”, I won’t spoil anything else about it here. Except that it ties in with a certain historical “Great Leader” – who may have been more of a monster in actual reality. This is easily the grimmest and least funny Paranoia mission ever published… and I say that as praise, it shows how far the “Straight” style manages to push the Paranoia envelope. Oh, there is humor here, but it’s pitch black.
I gather the original intent of this collection was to have all four missions be titled “WMD”, since they all feature something with those initials. In one of them, it actually is a Weapon of Mass Destruction, of the good ol’ “leave a huge smoking crater” variety. In the others, it’s stuff like a Wireless Memory Downgrade, or Lobot WMD-1, or something else. In all cases, the “WMD” spells serious trouble for the PCs. Hey, it’s Paranoia!
The other missions are also very cool and varied. One of them is extremely clever, and all are quite complicated… as always, read them through a few times before trying to run them. I’m hesitant to mention any details of the missions here, since it’s very hard to do so without spoilers. There are dangerous (or not) robots, dangerous VIP visits, confused personalities, suspicious High Programmers… and yes, that one big WMD that may go boom.
I’d happily run any of the missions here, there is no filler in this bunch. If you’re looking for a high-quality set of adventures for Paranoia in the “Straight” style, this book has what you need. Highly recommended.
Alpha Complex Nights is a fairly new book for Paranoia XP. It’s a collection of three new adventures, all written by Gareth Hanrahan. I’d say it’s a very good – with some minor disclaimers.
All three adventures share two elements: they all contain a non-standard twist, and they are all quite complicated. Complicated in that they all actually have a back story, and there’s a lot to keep in mind when running them. That complexity also makes them quite interesting, so it’s a some-good-some-bad feature. The twists add to the interest factor.
The first of the bunch is Spin Control, which features the need for the Troubleshooters to control the “truth”. While always being an important survival skill in good ol’ Alpha Complex, here it becomes a mandate. There are also zombies. Yes, zombies. Lots of them. Of the brain-eating kind. Yes, that’s the twist. Sporks also feature heavily. The whole thing is insanely complex, quite funny, and very good.
Second up is My First Treason, where the Troubleshooters… aren’t. Aren’t Troubleshooters, that is. Instead, players play “junior citizens”, fresh from the creche and straight into school (or what passes for it in Alpha Complex). There’s a lot of Harry Potter spoofing going on and lots of opportunities to stab people in the back, blame others, and try to survive. Situation normal, in other words. While good fun and a nice twist, this is possibly the weakest of the three – though that is mostly due to the high quality of the other two.
Last up, there’s Sweep Of Unhistory, where (due to a fairly unlikely plot gimmick) the Troubleshooters get re-cloned time and time again… each time further in the future. While staying quite “normal” in the beginning, the whole thing degenerates into an insane version of The Time Machine, with lots of jokes and references thrown about in all appropriate directions. Alpha Complex where the Commies won (sorta)? Flying Alpha Complex sky fortress? No computer, just lots of slaves and coconuts? Giant mutant cockroaches? All here. It’s a lovely time travel spoof and great Paranoia adventure, rolled into one. Keeping up player interest through the zillion possible futures may be a challenge, of course.
All that is based on how the things read, of course – they sound like lots of fun, but the proof is in the play, as always.