Paranoia (role-playing game)

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Paranoia is a humorous role playing game set in a dystopian future similar to 1984, Brazil, Brave New World and especially Logan's Run; however, the tone of the game is rife with black humor, frequently tongue-in-cheek rather than dark and heavy. The game is set in Alpha Complex, an immense and futuristic domed city controlled by The Computer, a schizophrenic civil service AI. The Computer has made happiness mandatory. Failure to be happy is punishable by summary execution.

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2nd Edition rulebook cover

The Computer fears a number of threats to its 'perfect' society, such as The Outdoors, mutants, secret societies and of course communists. To deal with these threats, The Computer employs Troubleshooters, whose job is to find trouble and then shoot it. These are usually the player characters (although later game supplements offered other roles for player characters, such as robots), and they are invariably traitors of the very sort feared by the computer. The PCs are given incomprehensible or self-contradicting mission goals, faulty or experimental futuristic gizmos as equipment, and sent off to their (usually humorous) deaths.

The Troubleshooter's credo is, "Stay Alert! Trust No One! Keep Your Laser Handy!" The Computer's credo is, "Trust The Computer. The Computer is Your Friend."


The Basics

In most scenarios, each player character is in fact a mutant, commie and/or secret society member, and is given a hidden agenda separate from the group's goals, often involving swindling or killing teammates. Hence the name, Paranoia. Therefore, Troubleshooter missions invariably turn into a constant comedy of errors as everyone on the team seeks to double-cross the others while keeping their own secrets. The game encourages an air of suspicion between the players, offering several tips on how to make Paranoia as paranoid an experience as possible. If the lasers come out before the players are out of the briefing room, the game is on the right track.

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Cover of XP edition

Since every character comes in a six-pack of clones, death is less of an issue than in most RPGs, allowing Troubleshooters to be routinely killed (either deliberately or accidentally); instead of leaving the game, the player simply portrays the next member of the clone family, who is assigned to continue the mission. This easy spending of lives tends to frequent firefights, gruesome slapstick, and frequent horrible and humorous demise. The term 'six-pack' is intentional, and is allegedly part of game design, where each player is given a six-pack of beer to represent his remaining clones.

Intended as a spoof on other RPGs, the Paranoia rulebook is unique in a number of ways. For example, in earlier versions of Paranoia, the entire chapter on rules is labeled 'optional', and player knowledge of the rules is treasonous (treason, of course, being punishable by summary execution). Most of the rulebook is written in an easy, conversational tone that scoffs at how screwed the players are and frequently takes potshots at other notable RPGs. It also had outrageous mechanics--such as the 'Falling From Great Heights' table, which would start with a five-foot fall and end in a category labeled 'Orbital' (which has actually been used in official supplements).

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The Mutant Experience

Equipment includes futuristic weapons such as tangler guns and plasma rifles, but also Heisenberg uncertainty projectors, personal force shields working on a fusion reactor kept stable by a hand crank, robots with obnoxious personalities, and small boxes with a load of different buttons, dials and LEDs (the manual for which is not available at your security clearance).

Mutations include abilities such as invisibility or pyrokinesis, ranging to more exotic ones such as a constantly runny nose or machine empathy (the latter being the only mutation which, upon discovery, will always result in termination). It is rumored that mutations are the result of cloning humans into six-packs. Rumors are treason.

Secret Societies

Secret societies tend to be based on sketchy and spurious knowledge of pre-apocalyptic matters. In previous editions they included socities such as the Seal Club (that worships animals but is unsure what an animal actually looks like), the Knights of the Circular Object, the Trekkies and the First Church of Christ Computer Programmer. And, of course, Communists, who tend to speak in Slavic accents, wear furred hats, and eat borscht. This being Paranoia, a lot of secret societs have spies or double agents in each other's organization.

Of special notice is the secret society known as the Wobblies. The Computer was worried about this society, and sent a pack of troubleshooters to investigate. Since the society didn't actually exist, the troubleshooters found nothing to report, and were terminated for laziness and insubordination. After a couple of troubleshooter groups were thus disposed of, a newly sent group got smart and founded the society themselves in order to have something to report on. Since then, a number of other secret societies have sent spies to join the Wobblies, and the end result is a group that consists entirely of spies for other groups.

Paranoia XP (and The Traitors Manual) book included the following socities:

  • Anti-Mutants
    Missing image
    The Traitor's Manual
  • Communists
  • Computer Phreaks
  • Corpore Metal
  • Death Leopard
  • First Church of Christ Computer Programmer (FCCC-P)
  • Frankenstein Destroyers
  • Free Enterprise
  • Humanists
  • Illuminati
  • Mystics
  • Pro-Tech
  • Psion
  • Romantics
  • Sierra Club

Paranoia was also made into a video game called The Paranoia Complex released in 1989 by Magic Bytes. It was available for Amiga, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64.


Four editions of Paranoia exist:

Related publications:


Originally being a "pen-and-paper" game, Paranoia has since evolved into a game played over the internet. A program specifically created for playing Paranoia in such a way, "JParanoia", has been released and can be downloaded from Paranoia Live (

External links

de:Paranoia (Rollenspiel) fr:Paranoa (jeu de rle) it:Paranoia (gioco di ruolo) ja:パラノイア (TRPG)


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