Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Paranoia

Appropriately enough, the final issue of the year 1984 (#92) saw the appearance of this ad:
Paranoia is a game about which I've written before. It's also a game for which I have many fond memories, despite some of my misgivings about what its appearance heralded for the hobby. On that point, I think it interesting that it appeared when it did. While I'm pretty sure that the 1984 release date was, in part, an attempt to play off its pop cultural associations to Orwell, I can't help but wonder if Paranoia is the kind of RPG that could only have been written a decade after the public dawn of the hobby. By that I mean that Paranoia is clearly the product of a mature/decadent and inward-focused hobby and would thus have been impossible to imagine much prior to this point in history.

That's why I can't shake the feeling that 1984 really does mark an important year for the hobby -- the high tide of its mass market faddishness, when designers and publishers alike began to realize that the future, such as it was, lay in selling more, different games to a shrinking market of hardcore devotees. Or maybe I'm just overthinking this, as I so often do ...


  1. +Reverance Pavane in your original post captures exactly what made _Paranoia_ so fun in 1986-88 (still on the shelves at the FLGS in Conyers, GA, USA).

    Several years ago I purchased _Pro Apache_ by Peter Wainwright (Apress), 2nd and 3rd editions)--Apache being the web server engine powering 2/3 of the web.

    All of Wainwright's examples are full on tributes to _Paranoia_, from domain examples using and, to references of troubleshooters, clearances and the Computer.

    I wrote Wainwright regarding this tribute to the game... and was summarily executed in his reply. A fitting end I think!

  2. Played it once. It was a fun and funny one shot. Never really had the desire to ever play it again.

  3. Love this game! Was, is and will always be one of my all time favorites.

    Funny this is, I have an easier time getting non-gamers to try this than D&D.

    After all, it's simple, it's humourous and it involves ideas the average person within a certain age range of me would be familiar with ('It's like 1984 meets Wood Allen's Sleeper' or 'It's like Brave New World starring the Marx Brothers'). At the same time, explaining it to younger people has been a sinch as well.

    The only people who seem to have difficulty with the game, at least in my personal experience, are those who take either themselves or gaming far too seriously.

    Relax. Lighten up. Blow up your friend. Laugh.

    Also, as a side note, it would seem to me an easy leap from D&D to Paranoia. Aren't most old school players trying to stab the other players' PCs in the back for gold and glory anyway? Might as well do it in a game that encourges that.

  4. I loved Paranoia during those Orwellian, Reagan-era years Paranoia and Illuminati were fun ways to blow off teen-age apocalyptic angst.

  5. I playetested for WEG once back when they were in NYC. Interesting stuff. When I ordered my boxed set, it was missing the dice. I wrote a letter to complain. Never got the dice, but I got an in character response from Ken Rolston... I need to scan that at some point.

  6. The only people who seem to have difficulty with the game, at least in my personal experience, are those who take either themselves or gaming far too seriously.

    For this reason, I think James has his 'decadent/inward-looking' characterization totally backwards: Paranoia, unlike the heavily wargame-derived and explicitly wargame-referencing OD&D, was meant to reach beyond the already-calcifying metaphors and playstyles of the then-decade-old RPG field. A successful RPG in the mid-80's could expect to make enough money to be more than self-supporting; it was a chance to experiment in front of a regularly-refreshed, relatively hardcore audience.

    That might've been Peak RPG in commercial terms, so what. It was only the beginning of the development of the RPG as its own form rather than a hybrid of existing games. That's hardly decadent, and the opposite of 'inward-looking'; but if we grant this then we'll have to talk about an early-80's game-design culture in which 'playtesting our new fantasy rules' evidently meant little more than 'houseruling D&D,' and let's just not...;v)

  7. It was this ad, in Dragon Magazine, that made me order my copy of 1ed Paranoia from a Texas mail order company, Games On Demand (I think that was the name).

    As for Paranoia, I totally enjoyed this game, for exactly what it was. I did at one point run a 6 month campaign, which was a wild experience.

  8. Bought this when my gaming group was mainly playing DC Heroes and sometimes Battletech. I tried to pitch a play session of the game but nobody thought the whole idea sounded appealing to them. I guess I just didn't explain it in the right manner.

    Flash forward a few years later when the group had morphed a bit as some people dropped out and other new people had joined in. Jim, the guy who hosted the group at his apartment, picked up a copy of the game and fell in love with the concepts of the setting. He ran several games and the way he explained it, we all new that it was best played as a one and done gaming session and that it was not to be taken seriously. We had craploads of fun with those games.

    The best thing about it was that we had all become gaming friends instead of just people who you game with. That is the key to games like Paranoia.

  9. Jokey games like this and Toon always sounded good to me, but when it came time to decide what new game to play, a certain amount of desire for at least some gravitas in it took me down other pathways.

  10. I have always wanted to play this game!

  11. If nothing else, I think the games tagline is one of the most famous phrases in the industry..."Stay Alert... Trust no one... Keep your laser handy!"

  12. Paranoia is a great game. Roleplaying is paramount, the pace is fast enough to keep everyone involved, the GM can be legitimately evil, and you can run it as a one-shot or an intricate campaign. Also, it's just funny.

  13. PARANOIA, along with Steve Jackson Games' TOON, which appeared the same year, marked an advance in the philosophy of RPG rulebooks as a tool for creating narrative and atmosphere -- the idea that rules can do more than just simulate the physical and magical effects of an environment. This concept started, as far as I know, with the Sanity rules in Call of Cthulhu, but PARANOIA strongly encouraged its particular atmosphere not only through rules and setting, but in the style and presentation of the material. This happened largely through the efforts of West End's brilliant PARANOIA line editor, the inimitable Ken Rolston.

  14. I've had fun with Paranoia. Yes, it is a game whose humor is based on spoofing and reacting to D&D tropes to a large degree.

    My major problem with the game is that it trains players to act in opposition to each other. I've seen advanced players take a very long time to un-learn those lessons. Probably even worse for newbies, where they will come to accept that as modus operandi for RPGs in general.

    Just to use Barking Alien as a great case study: "Aren't most old school players trying to stab the other players' PCs in the back for gold and glory anyway?" -- Well, no: "Co-operation amongst party members is a major key to success..." [AD&D PHB, p. 107, "Successful Adventures"]

  15. I first ran into Paranoia when I read a review of it in an old Asimov's magazine, back in middle school. It sounded like the most fun in the world. Still does.
    Never managed to play it, though.

  16. I was terribly overzealous the first time I ever ran a Paranoia game. 3 players, TPK in the first 40 minutes. My first (and only 3rd all time) TPK, and, by far, the fastest, and the only one that was (in retrospect) inevitable because of my overzealous adoption of the games ethic.

    If you know the rules, you understand that that is carnage on the order of one death about every two minutes. (3 players x 6 clones = 18 characters)

    They never let me run another Paranoia game again.

  17. I'm not sure I'd agree entirely - there are bits of "The City and the Stars" and Logan's Run in the setting, so I can imagine an alternate universe in which Paranoia got released in the '70s.

    I do think the setting has more to do with '80s vintage politics and attitudes than stuff among gamers specifically. My tiny collection of old White Dwarf magazines suggests Paranoia had this huge following among British gamers, and I don't think that would have happened without Thatcher.