A Prisoner's Dilemma, studied in Game Theory, is when two people are separated and each given a choice between options Y and Z. If both players choose option Y, they receive the best overall result (B). If both choose option Z, they receive the second-best overall result (C). If one chooses Y and the other chooses Z, then the player who chooses Z will get the best personal result (A) while the player who chooses Y gets the worst personal result.

A>B>C>D in order of how good they are for a player, and 2B>(A+C).

This tests the trust and co-operation two players have, so I think it'd fit in well in a game of Paranoia. How can I re-skin it to make it fit better into the setting?

I am hoping to embed it into the setting so it's a byproduct of the situation rather than shown as a Prisoner's Dilemma right at the outset. I'm not sure yet what stakes I'd want to put up, but I think I could go with anything that offers potentially serious consequences.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I mean, you could literally use it straight up for accusations and evidence of treason and whether to confess to The Computer, but I assume you want something more than that? \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe May 27 '13 at 20:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ The issue with Paranoia, in my opinion, is that players rarely know the payoffs for any action. Hence the paranoia. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe May 27 '13 at 20:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ If there is any trust and/or co-operation among players, you might want to check and adjust your Paranoia™ accordingly. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Eric May 28 '13 at 11:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, trust and co-operation was the death of my Paranoia campaign. It kinda blindsided me: By working together, my players managed to succeed at several missions, found their own secret society, and start building a private space station before I was able to prepare a decent response. By then, it was too late: Even repeated death couldn't break the bonds of friendship between them. It was like a Saturday morning cartoon show, but with more lasers. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe May 30 '13 at 7:39

The PCs do something treasonous, e.g. use items they are not cleared for, talk to someone who is a traitor etc.

  • If one PC snitches on another, he gets a reward (credits or a nifty gadget) and the other gets a penalty (heavy fine or is terminated).

  • If they snitch on each other, they both get the penalty and no reward.

  • If they both keep silent, they both escape the penalty.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like it! It's simple, clean and easy to implement. However, I think to make it perfect, the penalty for the players should be lower if they both betray each other. \$\endgroup\$ – Dakeyras May 28 '13 at 12:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Simple, clean, easy to implement, and, in my experience, the way that games of Paranoia naturally tend to turn out even without the GM's "help". \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman May 28 '13 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah I was kinda under the impression that this "snitch or not" interaction was fundamental to Paranoia - maybe your players don't realize that they'll be rewarded for pointing out traitors? \$\endgroup\$ – Tacroy May 28 '13 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess the optimal strategy here is to snitch, and then make it look like the snitching originated from someone else and that you where working very hard to prevent it :-) \$\endgroup\$ – thomax May 30 '13 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you can just add some mechanism to inject ambiguity into who snitched... like @thomax suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ – smci Feb 18 '14 at 7:44

Something that is perfect for Paranoia is the Iterative Prisioner's Dilemma. The strategy of how you handle a one-shot prisioner's dilemma (always betray) is different from an iterative dilemma.


Start with the typical "we'll reward you if you betray your fellow Troubleshooters" listed in thomax's answer, then kill off a few clones. Then, inform the clones that their predecessors had died because they were betrayed. Then, put them in the same situation and bring popcorn.

I'd suggest that you make the "both cooperate" option really high, because the natural Paranoia campaign leans towards betrayal. I'd also suggest that if the players are actually cooperating, then you alter one of their "cooperate" votes to "betray".

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 If I do the iterative Prisoner's Dilemma, I'll be using an undefined number of iterations, as otherwise the logical option is to betray in all cases. \$\endgroup\$ – Dakeyras May 28 '13 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dakeyras: Correct, but easy to achieve, since the players never know when they might have to keep cooperating. For a perfect Paranoia game, you're aiming at "betray in a pseudorandom but high percentage of cases", combined with almost no way to tell which cases require the rare outbreak of cooperation. \$\endgroup\$ – Tynam May 28 '13 at 17:28

I would make what looks like a Prisoner's Dilemma, but the troubleshooters get punished for every choice.

That's Paranoia.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course, you don't want it to be the same punishment, nor necessarily immediately obvious as a punishment, or else the player will simply get fed up with "every option is bad" and go play something else. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian S Nov 20 '13 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sure, misdirect. Paranoia only works (for me) in small bursts anyway, so it's only going to be a couple of sessions at most. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Nov 20 '13 at 19:33

Being Paranoia, you might consider making the outcome less than logical.

The troubleshooters are separated and each questioned. Offer a reward to whoever rats out the other as a traitor. Then... incinerate the pour soul that gets ratted out (whether rightly or not). But then also incinerate the talker for being a rat.

If no one talks, clearly they are part of a larger conspiracy, and must too be punished.

Basically, make them all turn on each other... and then make all that in-party fighting ultimately pointless because they all die anyways.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Surely there's a catch somewhere...? \$\endgroup\$ – smci Feb 18 '14 at 7:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why would there need to be a catch? \$\endgroup\$ – GrandmasterB Feb 18 '14 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @smci: There is no catch. Any suggestion of a "catch" is merely a delusion perpetrated by CMTs. Are you a CMT? \$\endgroup\$ – Codes with Hammer Feb 22 '16 at 20:25

[ NB, this is based on Paranoia 1st and 2nd ed, those being the ones I have ]

One possible route would be to dangle something from R&D as a reward for ratting out members of secret societies. If you do, you get a gizmo of unknown lethality as a reward. If you don't, everything progresses as normal.

If you are revealed as a member of a secret society, you end up dead.

It doesn't quite work, though, since the case of both AA-RAT-R-1 and BB-RAT-R-1 ratting out each other is a quick arrival of AA-RAT-R-2 and BB-RAT-R-2 on the scene, but I guess the existence of the bonus gizmo could be around for the next clone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Something from R&D" is a reward to be avoided at all costs. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe May 28 '13 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @okeefe Sometimes the Things From R&D are useful in ways that R&D had not intended (the nuclear hand grenades can be re-purposed as extremely lethal booby traps, for example). I wanted something that was worth slightly less than "status quo", but more than "dead". \$\endgroup\$ – Vatine May 29 '13 at 9:04

Two players enter an elevator. Tell them that if they shoot the floor grating of the elevator (aiming under the feet of their colleague), they will get a minor wound, but the other player will be seriously wounded as the fall partially through the floor and can be finished off the next round. But if both players shoot the floor then the floor is destroyed and they both fall to their death.

You can play with the penalties a bit to make the payoff matrix balance how you want.

You can also flip from a penalty to a reward: Have two players each be given an optical distorter that bends laser blasts from them. If only one distorter is turned on, it deflects attacks to hit the other player. If both are turned on, they raise the damage level by two and attacks apply to both players due to multiple internal reflections.


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