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Paranoia is a role-playing game of a 'darkly humorous future'. Imagine the bureaucratic, sadistic insanity of Dilbert, the oppressive society of Orwell's Big Brother and the perverse logic of Catch 22 all set against a 70s style futuristic underground complex where everybody wears jackboots, jumpsuits and travels about on mono-rails. This world of Alpha Complex is overseen by The Computer, who ensures the happiness of all the citizens in its care, and guards against the ever-present threat of Communism.

Everyone in Alpha Complex has a colour coded security clearance from the Infra-Red drones through to the semi-mythic Ultra-Violets. As Red or Orange clearance 'Troubleshooters', the players are near the bottom of the pile, on the front-line between order and chaos, tasked with various missions to defend the Computer and its citizens.

So, bold defenders of society? Not quite, the players in this RPG are not noble adventurers, but hapless pawns. Alpha Complex is riddled with corruption, treachery, inefficiency, and real communists are virtually non-existent. The Computer is obsessed with treason, but its citizens are looking after themselves. The missions that players are sent on are frequently fronts which powerful citizens have set up for racketeering, settling grudges or any number of other treasonous activities. The players might be aware that the mission they are being briefed for is treasonous, or nonsense, or treasonous nonsense, but there's nothing they can do about it. Who would listen to a low clearance nobody like them?

Alpha Complex doesn't have many communists, but it does have countless secret societies with strange and irrational motives. Not only are these treasonous, but their existence is classified, so knowing about them is treason too. All the players are Secret Society members, so they are traitors. They also have mutations, which are minor psychic powers, these are also classified and treasonous. (See where this is going?). The secret societies frequently have competing motives, such as the Frankenstein Destroyers who believe robots to be an abomination and Corpore Metal who aspire to be turned into cyborgs. So, the players' secret society objectives may well conflict with each other and the official mission.

The quickest way to get promotion is not to loyally do what you're told, but to turn in a traitor. Knowing that the other players are all traitors, they're eyeing each other up for the chop. All the Gamesmaster has to do is nick a couple of these circling sharks and the resulting frenzy will make the waters boil with blood.

Communism may not be what it was in the 80s when Paranoia was created, but this doesn't really matter. Paranoia isn't about historical realism, or dice and hit points. It's all about quick thinking, fast talking, spurious logic and opportunism. The game creates an arena in which the players can lie, cheat, betray and generally behave appallingly, but that's the whole point, so it's OK. The only problem with Paranoia is that is spoils the players, who will never be able to co-operate on a heroic quest again without being tempted to deal out a few savage blows in the dark.

2003. All rights reserved.