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1999-2003. All rights reserved.
Paranoia GMing:
Prepare to Fail?

The 7 Ps
(Proper preparation and planning prevent piss poor performance?)

I once read an Internet forum post that suggested that when running a Paranoia game, it was best to do as much preparation as possible, making maps and notes for every eventuality. I was so gobsmacked that I felt compelled to write this. That approach might be suitable for some RPGs, but it made me wonder whether the author had ever read the Paranoia rule book, or even played a game. To me the advice is the absolute antithesis of everything that Paranoia is about.

It is not only possible to have a successful game without additional preparation, but without any kind of pre-prepared mission at all. If the GM and players are experienced then you can also do this without having the rules to hand, and the true experts may attempt this without even dice. The only important things are that the GM is in total control of the game, and that the players enter into the spirit of things. Everything else is just embellishment.

The Missions
That's not to say that the missions are unimportant. Motor racing wouldn't be so good if it happened on a straight track, and Paranoia wouldn't be so exciting if it entailed just putting all the players in a room to argue and blow each other away. Having said that, a classic Paranoia adventure from the First Edition rulebook entailed all the players being put in a room with a broken robot, which they had no parts or skills to fix, (until either they succeed or die) so the simple approach can work in moderation.

Rather than being a detailed plot or scenario that needs to be worked through, a mission is more of a series of dramatic hooks to hang the game on, so the details aren't desperately important. A certain amount of inconsistency goes with the territory, but none of the players should dare question this.

I once started a mission armed only with a Mission Alert (something about a Green clearance citizen disappearing, as far as I remember), and the game rolled on as normal. The bodies usually start stacking up during briefing and outfitting, so it can take a couple of sessions before the mission itself has started. That gives a bit of breathing space for the GM to work out what the hell is going to happen next.

What is the point?
Preparation doesn't work, because Paranoia is all about what happens between the players. In wargaming two sides battle it out, in quest-type role-playing games the players solve puzzles and tell a story. In Paranoia the players try to do it others before it's done unto them.

If the rules of Paranoia were really important then the game would dissolve into arguments of who got what modifier and whether Player A reached cover by the end of the phase before Player B took the shot. It would become a wargame, because people would be so absorbed in working the rules to the maximum that they wouldn't have time for roleplaying. Making maps suggests positioning is important, and it isn't. The way to make a kill in Paranoia is to blow them away when they least expect it, not outmanoeuvre them with your masterful tactics.

So how can you tear up the rulebook? Once the buzz is right, then the players compete to outwit each other with the GM umpiring and stirring it up. That's not a process that requires dice or tables, just judgement by the GM as to who deserves to win each round.

2004. All rights reserved.