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Paranoia XP introduced the "Straight" playstyle:

PARANOIA Straight is a darkly satiric style emphasizing tension, mutual suspicion, spying and subterfuge, and careful collection of evidence. Alpha Complex is an oppressive totalitatian bureaucracy that works scarily well, using its own insane but comprehensible logic. The all-powerful Computer, though willing to listen to reason, is always four steps ahead of the players...

I think this could work wonderfully as a kind of long-term campaign version of Paranoia - turn the Zany dial down to low-ish, the Dark and Tense dials up to maximum; start off with a few traditional-ish Troubleshooter missions, but provide plenty of opportunities for long-term, persistent elements of the game. Then let the players take the setting as a sandbox, getting deep into intrigues, schemes and conspiracies - and playing them off against equally scheming conspiracies from other elements in the Complex.

My worry is, in the Paranoia setting, how do I encourage my players towards survivable, long-term behavior, and particularly towards building up long-term plans? I'm concerned that the constant threat of death naturally makes players somewhat reckless (this is a lot of what makes Classic shine...). And, in-game incentives in Paranoia are extra-tough - the PC's lives and well-being are in constant peril anyway, while beneficent gifts are notoriously likely to be spiked...

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This isn't a full answer, but start by talking with your players in order to set up genre expectations. Note that if you have a history of suddenly breaking the expectations you have explicitly set up for a campaign, your players may have issues trusting you. Especially because this is Paranoia we're talking about. If that's the case? Erm... Find new players? – GMJoe May 30 '13 at 6:35
@gmjoe, its not an answer at all, its a comment. – Cow of Doom Aug 3 '13 at 8:00
@TobyAllen Indeed. – GMJoe Aug 5 '13 at 8:16
up vote 18 down vote accepted

In principle, the answer to this is the same as any other behaviour issue: reward the behaviour you want. There are two parts to this problem: setting up expectations in your players, and then fulfilling them.

Your biggest problem is with "setting expectations"; players used to Classic are not used to thinking of their character's lives as valuable, or of long-term planning as viable. (That's sort of the point, after all.) You need to change those expectations.

Establishing Expectations

  • First, have a brief out-of-game discussion - let them know that you're planning a longer campaign series, and that the threats will be longer-term. That lets them start planning for the long run.

  • Transition steadily. Run a straight-style adventure that has the plot structure and elements you'd expect in Classic, but lower lethality and more making excuses. (I strongly recommend "Stealth Train" from Crash Priority; it's got exactly the plot structure and mayhem of a classic doomed exercise like "Mark IV", but in fact has much more subtle stuff going on and far less physical risk. The last time I ran it, there was one casualty all game - and that was genuinely accidental.)

  • Consider setting up an IntSec / HIL Sector Blues style campaign, in which shooting each other directly is suicidally stupid - give the players armour good enough, and weapons weak enough, that it just won't work. Force subtle takedowns instead.

  • Consider limiting access to the clone banks. The clone system is the foundation of Classic style play - so don't build your game on it. Establish that the clone delivery tubes are having problems. Establish an R&D backlog. Have clones start arriving half an hour later, instead of immediately. That turns death from "momentary incovenience, compensated by hilarity" into "annoying thing to avoid".

Playing it Straight

Having started to set the expectation that the long-term matters, you now need to encourage and reward engagement with that idea.

  • Play up the bureaucracy. Let plans be stopped by red-clearance tape, not armed guards. Make manipulating forms, bureaucrats, and people a key skill.

  • For the same reason, play down the Computer. It's cheerfully homicidal approach is the key to classic Paranoia, but must be used very sparingly in straight. In a straight game, the Computer is the nuclear option of unpredictable red-tape-dissolving fire, and everyone should be afraid to push the button. Restrict access - don't put terminals everywhere, and make the players go through superiors to approach it. ("Do you think Our Friend has nothing better to do than oversee your every decision? You're supposed to be a trained professional; solve it yourself. And if you ask again, I'll fine you for insubordination.")

  • (For bonus points, let it be their enemy who's blocking access... make finding a way to contact a higher superior with their evidence the point of an adventure.)

  • Make sure the long term pays off. Start at session-long plans that can have payoffs in the same game session; this is frightfully long term by Classic standards, where you're lucky if a plan stays viable for ten minutes. Graduate onto to longer-term by building plot arcs steadily in the background, by referring to them in little bits over several sessions.

  • Use secret societies as the foundation of subtle planning - that's what they're for. Give them missions to spy on other players, not frame them. Get them to blackmail NPCs (or other players), not kill them. Don't make the players trust each other more (or it won't be Paranoia!), but make them hate each other less.

  • Establish (by example, when an NPC catches them doing something) that when you catch someone committing treason, it's not "a chance to have them shot", it's "a chance to blackmail them into doing whatever you want."

  • If NPCs do it successfully, PCs will copy. Have brash enemies charge in and die uselessly, while long-term planners thrive. I recommend a smart, subtle immediate superior - somewhere around Green - making their lives hell in deniable ways, for a while. Then escalate and use secret societies to tip them off that he's setting them up as sacrificial scapegoats. Make him too well-guarded to kill, but easy to frame... and give them plenty of time to do it.

  • Reduce punishments, so the players think of resources as something they'll get to keep for the medium-to-long term. Embarrass PCs instead of executing them. Give them painful fines when they're in trouble, but not backbreakingly-crippling ones. Reprimand, not demote, unless they're caught doing something really bad.

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Great suggestions, thanks! The limits you suggest sound really helpful, and firmly within the PARANOIA feel and flavor. – Standback May 30 '13 at 18:50

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