My roleplaying group is talking about taking a break from our 4e D&D campaign for a bit, and doing some one-offs. We are planning on doing a few sessions with a GURPS game of some sort, and the prospect of playing a session or three of Paranoia came up. I love the setting of Paranoia, and am planning on running something with it.

I have attempted to run it in the past, and it failed miserably. Some of that was my fault, I am certain, for not explaining enough of what was going on to the players. Some of that was that the players were taking it too seriously, and trying to work together too much. Some of it was ... who knows?

Anyway, I would like this to be as good an experience as possible for this group. None of them, except my wife, have played Paranoia before, and she played with me the previous time I tried to run it. How do I get people into the mood/spirit of the game? I am planning on giving them pre-genned character sheets, and probably doing some of the initial "surveys" and what-not that are recommended at the back of the book. (I ran the introductory "Scrubbing Bubbles" scenario in the back of the book that previous game with my wife, so that scenario is out.)

I am using Paranoia XP in case it matters, and I was planning on running it in a Classic style with some Straight elements, though if there are good suggestions as to why I should move it in a different direction I am really interested to hear them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Consider playing it less Straight or not at all. It's much easier for players to get their hands dirty and take risks with a new system when they're not worried about "doing it wrong." \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 2 '11 at 16:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I guess I hadn't thought about that - so you are saying that, for a first time group, move towards classic/zap so they can relish the freedom of the system and environment? \$\endgroup\$ – aperkins May 3 '11 at 1:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that's the idea. It's easier to go out on a limb and try something new when it's not entirely serious. You can always bend it more or less serious as the session goes on according to your judgement of the table's mood—they might get more serious after they get the initial sillies out, or they might get sillier. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 3 '11 at 2:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ My GM found a website which used text-to-speech to generate MP3 files, and prepared clips of The Computer talking to us. Was a lot of fun. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian S Jan 7 '15 at 15:21

10 Answers 10


Random advice from a Paranoia GM

  • Plan one to three sessions. Too much longer is not easily sustainable, at least not without toning the violence and craziness down and getting buy-in from the whole group.

  • Make sure that each PC has good reasons to kill at least two other PCs. Ok, maybe not good reasons, but reasons.

  • PCs' agendas will be defined by their mission, their secret society, and their service group/firm. Have these conflict for just about every PC, so that they're torn about what they should be doing. Swap them up during play via direct questioning by The Computer, NPCs during play (like their Briefing Officer), their secret societies (make their priorities known and have them change for ineffable reasons), etc.

  • Give each player at least one treasonous item. Maybe even something useful.

  • Explain note passing. They should be sending you notes all the time.

  • Pass out Perversity Points like candy. (I use poker chips.) Any time a player does something hilarious, in the spirit of the game, forwards the basic plot (if any), takes the players out of a boring situation, blames something on another PC, sends an awesome note, or realizes just now screwed they are and rolls with it anyway, give them a chip or two. Reward firsts early to get the ball rolling. First note from a player? Here's a chip. First attempt to harm another PC? Chip. First attempt to use a mutant power? Contact The Computer? Use equipment they don't understand? Willingly talk to a citizen of higher clearance? Use their hidden, treasonous equipment? You get the idea.

  • Even if using pregens (highly recommended), make them roll for their mutant power. If it comes up something boring (Uncanny Luck), offer to let them reroll. This makes it random and interesting for you, and might even give them a tiny amount of buy-in.

  • Ask them if anyone wants to register their mutation. If you're feeling nice, warn them of the consequences.

  • Use Mandatory Bonus Duties. I like to have them get assigned during their Briefing. Consider giving the Team Leader duty to the quietest player. Suddenly, they'll have a lot of talking they'll need to do. Have the Team Leader assign the other duties, or have you via the Briefing Officer do it. Give them their MBD equipment immediately.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea of passing out perversity often - something I failed at last time I tried this. I was thinking about using the MBD "test" at the back of the book, or making my own that was slightly modified. \$\endgroup\$ – aperkins May 3 '11 at 1:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I delay the MBD because there's so much going on up front, that they might otherwise forget or ignore it. This way, maybe half an hour to an hour in play, suddenly they have a new role to play and new equipment they don't understand! \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe May 3 '11 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ooh - I see what you mean there. Get them comfortable, and then throw something else at them. Maybe make them take the test while they are "moving" between places or something similar. Hmmm.... evil look :D \$\endgroup\$ – aperkins May 3 '11 at 1:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Concur. The MBD test should either be filled in way before the game in advance creation, or in play after the start. In a bumpy autocar while cornering randomly is good. (If your players have already managed some backstabbing/competition/secret society goals, play the MBD relatively straight. Otherwise, hand out one fewer pencil than the number of players. Be sure to reprimand whoever hasn't got the form filled in. Then make them Happiness Officer.) \$\endgroup\$ – Tynam Jul 10 '11 at 11:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ oh no, uncanny luck is a great mutation - the 'Teela Brown' gene, where the character is so lucky that all the bad things that could possibly happen do... to whoever is standing nearby. You can have a great amount of sadistic fun with that one, especially when the other players realise and try to get rid of the lucky character. \$\endgroup\$ – gbjbaanb Jul 15 '11 at 12:55

You have to keep the players on their toes. Tell them in advance how wild and insane everything is. Use every word the players say against them. Be merciless. I aim for one clone per player killed per evening, or more.

These tools are at your disposal:

  • Break their spirits.
  • Turn them onto each other.
  • Disallow "out of character".
  • Have them fear the environment more than each other.
  • Show that the value of a character is zero.

Break their spirits. They will try to be constructive during the first session. Make it totally clear this is fully inacceptable. Also give bragging rights to the one losing the first clone. Make clones cheap too, on the first evenings. Have their secret society hand out a "free clone voucher (guaranteed!)". Helping a fellow player means helping a traitor. If one clone gets executed as a traitor, have the one giving medicine for a gunshot executed too.

Turn them on each other. Give out manycolored Jellybeans as favour points for something. If they eat one of the wrong color, have the clone executed right away. If they only handle it, threaten them. They have to learn there is no "out of character" at a paranoia table. Make the players report this behavior by having a correctly-colored yummy treat that you hand out as favour points for calling on each other. As soon as one of them shouts "He ate a green one!", you have won.

Oh, and don't forget to check what color dice they are using. There has to be just one red die less than is needed. But plenty higher ones. Secretly subtract one per color shift over from the die roll. And warn them about the purple die, let alone the white one. Get an off-white one that is just so much besides white, but not quite grey. Besides, depending on what edition you are using, the black dice are inferior to the red ones. Not enough red D10? And the black ones are only D8? Do they dare using the orange D10?

Give them killing orders on each other. Blackmail them into pursuing that. Then make it an open secret.

Make them even more afraid of the surroundings by deus ex machina. They should say "I let you live, because I need you. For now". And they should know it.

If the group needs a different character, or the player wants one, it is just fine to summarily execute all the clones at once and get a new troubleshooter. Be brutal. Alpha complex is a brutal place.

Bell ring, dog drool.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. Great first answer. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle May 2 '11 at 19:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I love the dice trick. I wonder how many sessions it will take for players to realise that things work much better when they are rolling the red dice. *8') If someone realises and tells you as GM, without telling the other players, that sounds like the perfect excuse for a bump of several clearance levels. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Booth May 3 '11 at 0:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. All brilliant suggestions, especially the bragging rights. One word of caution: some timid players are badly turned off by "there is no such thing as out of character"; they need the option to ask the GM something, as a player, without fear. (I know one great roleplayer who won't touch Paranoia because of a bad first experience along those lines.) So adjust to your audience, and go easy on questions to the GM. (You don't have to give useful answers, of course.) \$\endgroup\$ – Tynam Jul 10 '11 at 11:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I suggest allowing out of character- if they prefix it with "DM, what about..." or if they put their hand on their head. Let them get used to it. Then when they forget, interpret it as though they were talking in character. Allow accusations of mutation to fly. \$\endgroup\$ – IgneusJotunn Oct 16 '12 at 21:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ only 1 clone kill per evening? wow you are so merciful :) I kill them all, plus additional clones due to computer error :) \$\endgroup\$ – BЈовић Apr 26 '13 at 20:05

Zero: Make sure everyone understands that Paranoia is a PvP game where characters are destined to die over and over. People who do not understand what's going on will be upset.

One: The mission doesn't matter—it's just an excuse to get people who hate each other and are highly armed together in a dark room. It will probably not be completed. Then they'll be punished for failing to complete it.

Two: Character setup is key; this is why pre-gens are often used. Each character should have a reason to want to kill at least two other characters. Use secret societies, service groups, and anything else you can to put them at each other's throats. (Hint: A registered mutant will always be a target for a member of anti-mutant.)

Three: Pass notes. Secret plans are par for the course. Feel free to pause the game to read notes. Even say out loud, "I'm ready to accept any notes." If players aren't note passing, pass a note yourself. (I love "Say 'Yes' when you read this to get a free perversity point." Guaranteed to get the other players going.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Very nice set of ideas there - unfortunately, my group kind of broke apart (one of our members moved out of state), and we are trying to figure out what to do. I have not been able to try this out yet - but I will keep these suggestions in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – aperkins Sep 2 '11 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "Say yes" note. That is clever and evil in a manner I approve of. \$\endgroup\$ – IgneusJotunn Oct 16 '12 at 21:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've seen Paranoia GMs even pass completely blank notes, or a note comprising entirely of "Don't tell anyone else what's on this note." \$\endgroup\$ – Brian S Nov 20 '13 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've also been sent notes which say things like "Nod at me, smile and don't say a word". \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Booth Jul 19 '18 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you elaborate on your answer and support your recommendations by explaining how they helped set the tone, in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 29 '19 at 4:19

There are several powerful techniques that can help make a good Paranoia game, but these are my favourites...

Be gratuitously adversarial

If possible have a big blackboard (or whiteboard) behind the GM's chair. Mark off one small A4 (letter) sheet sized area in the top left and label it "NPC deaths", then label the rest of the area "PC deaths" and keep the death toll accordingly (cheat on your die rolls behind your GM screen if necessary).

Remember that when a PC kills another PC, that's a win for the GM, not the players!

The idea of this is that the moment players walk into the room, expectations are set. They look at the board and can see instantly what kind of game this is. No-one is going to be precious about an individual clone surviving when their prospects of survival are so low.

Plus, if a clone is killed, the player has to take a little time out to update the board before their new clone can be dumped unceremoniously out of their vat.

Be unfair. Be completely unfair.

Give some characters snacky items, give others enhanced security clearance on the slimmest of pre-texts, let others get support from their secret societies, who encourage them to backstab their comrades for the most insignificant advantage.

Every wedge you can drive between PCs and cause them to pit themselves against each other reinforces the spirit of the game. If they are cooperating to complete the mission, it means that you haven't given them enough reason to fight amongst themselves.

Remember, divide and conquer.

Keep up the pace.

In combat situations, people should have one chance to say what they're doing otherwise you move on and they lose their turn. For those used to carefully and tactically analysing every combat situation it sounds harsh, but it really helps to promote the chaos and make the game live up to its name.

What we found was it was important for people to have to chose between acting instinctively and impulsively, or not acting at all. Getting away from thinking through their actions and considering the consequences means that they are more likely to make hilarious and disastrous mistakes, ratcheting up the tension, causing recriminations and accusations, all good fodder for feeding that paranoia.

Finally, Paranoia is not like most RPGs, and can't be run like them. It is an interesting game precisely because it turns on its head many of our expectations, so revel in those differences, exploit them.

Remember, what is a utopia to one is dystopia to another, and the computer is your friend.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for keeping up the pace - something I will have to work at :P \$\endgroup\$ – aperkins May 3 '11 at 1:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you elaborate on your answer and support your recommendations by explaining how they helped set the tone, in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 29 '19 at 4:19

Have you heard the voice of GLaDOS in Portal or Portal 2? This is the Computer in Paranoia! To prepare for a game session, I would maybe pull up a few clips from YouTube of this game where you and your players can hear GLaDOS speaking.

Another idea to try for getting into a Paranoia frame of mind would be to play a couple of those word games where all the nouns and adjectives are removed and each person writes out random ones to replace them with before you read the story.

Keep in mind that the game is all about the ridiculous and the sublime. There is no real singular reason behind anything. I never explained anything with any sort of detail to the characters in any of my games; after all, they are troubleshooters for the Computer and that information is not available at their clearance level. Simply asking for it is an act of treason and they should report to a termination booth for asking.

Do not over prepare. This is likely to give the game a serious, focused undertone which alters the ridiculousness of its premise. Maybe don't even prepare at all, other than writing out or thoroughly reading the module. Remember you're not in control: the Computer is.

I found that instead of writing out any great level of details or plot, what worked best for me was to have 2 or 3 lists of unrelated nouns, verbs, and adjectives. I kept these theme based, quasi-futuristic and, when it seemed like a good point to have a random event response happen, I would roll on each table and use the result no matter what. Have the Computer blurt out these as a response to something or an event happen that fits them. This causes widespread chaos and great laughs.

Example list of 10 nouns: clone, door, hall, laser, Blue sector, traitor, tri-vid display, scrub-bot, tree.

I would have a much bigger list than this, maybe 100 nouns all revolving around the game, and then assign a number to each that would correspond to a die roll. You can have a lot less verbs and adjectives, maybe ten of each that are related to Paranoia activities. Things like blast, jump, or report to.

Sometimes we would end up laughing so hard we had to take a break just to breathe.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, the GLaDOS voice always sounded like The Computer to me too (at least in Portal - haven't played Portal 2 yet). I am confused about your last paragraph - can you give a small example of what you mean by "list of nouns"? I am having problems visualizing how that would work. \$\endgroup\$ – aperkins May 2 '11 at 15:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are several Text-To-Speech web applications out there, where you can type a message and download a WAV file of a computerized voice speaking it. Great for briefing sessions! \$\endgroup\$ – Brian S Nov 20 '13 at 19:28

I've found that Paranoia works better if you have 3-6 players. The players need to be aware of roughly what is in store for them. Having your clone killed in the first five minutes, before leaving the briefing room, is a disaster in most games. In Paranoia, it's relatively late in the game.

Keep tabs on what the players let each other get away with. Then have them pulled up for suspicion of treason for letting it through. Ratting each other out is the Done Thing.

If you're OK with out-of-character remarks, have something physical to represent 'I am OCC'. Ideally something bulky and heavy, that there is only one of. If you can make it breakable, even better...

Know the system fairly well. Don't be afraid to wing it. It gets hilariouser that way.

(True story: First game of Paranoia I GMed for one group had a player who frequently addressed people as 'Comrade'; this caused hilariousness when he unconsciously did so while playing; the rest of the party had him summarily executed as a Communist three minutes (play-time) after they entered the briefing room.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Your story is exactly how Paranoia should be played. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Codes with Hammer Feb 22 '16 at 20:34

Be sure to explain the concept and theme material of the game. Make sure they understand it's totally over-the-top; explain the naming convention, for example, and the fact that they have nine lives (it's nine, right?). Read them the descriptions of the individual roles (the team leader's insignia, for example, is the bullseye). Make sure they understand that they are all friends... except when they aren't... they know how their secrets apply to the game, and the role of mutants... and that Friend Computer may terminate them at any time.

It may also be a good idea to talk with your players about their expectations for the game. See what they want to get out of it, and make sure you're running something that caters (at least more or less) to their interests. If your group isn't tickled by the idea of playing a cadre of commie mutant traitors in a perfect world where the machines run everything, maybe Paranoia isn't the right game for them. I believe there are parameters within the game to adjust the style to suit different tastes.

I can't give you much advice as to the setup of the game, because I've only ever jumped in a few times as a player, and I don't know the rules too well.

Hope this helps. =)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Very helpful - thank you. I think they are all interested in the idea - moreso than the last group was, certainly. And I think talking with them about expectations is a really good idea, to make sure that the expectations are in line with whatever I plan to do. Also, it is six lives - clones come in "6-packs" :D \$\endgroup\$ – aperkins May 2 '11 at 14:41

Have your players watch episode 7 of the Knights of the Dinner Table on You Tube. It should get them in the right frame of mind for Paranoia.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I was totally thinking of doing that. And maybe using the entry video that the same people made! \$\endgroup\$ – aperkins May 2 '11 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you elaborate on your answer and support your recommendation by explaining how it helped you or your players get in the right frame of mind? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 29 '19 at 4:18

I've run one highly successful paranoia campaign and running another one at the moment. Don't get bogged down on rules. I use the Paranoia ruleset more as a guideline. Don't spend a bunch of time figuring out numbers and the such that the players don't even know about. I like to give my players a custom traitor objective and traitor gear that I come up with. IE Heartpopping candy, a grinder which turns victims into robots ect.

I also like to point out who is discussing their action whenever things are beginning to look... important so it doesn't get out of hand and there is more controlled flow between their actions.

Very, very, very important last note: LET YOUR PLAYERS DO ANYTHING! If they want to jab someone with knockout toxins and drag them away secretly, let them and the victim make opposed checks. Just alert the victim they are being targeted. When it get's to their next turn or someone notices something wrong... Then point out the absence.

Paranoia in my eyes, is a very rules loose game. The only rule set in concrete is to have fun.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Please take a look at the tour and the help center; they're a useful introduction to the site. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jan 7 '15 at 4:41

I had the privilege of playing Paranoia with an excellent GM. He was an actor and was capable of so much improv that every NPC was totally different and memorable. Here are a few things he did to help a group of people with a wide variety of role playing backgrounds get into the wild world of Paranoia.

  1. He eased us into the world of Paranoia.

Each player met one-on-one with the GM, then he would use a tool to generate a character. We talked about the mutant power, the secret society, and every other facet of the character sheet. Everyone knew what they were getting into when the first session started. By the time we started, no one was phased when a player died in the first five minutes.

  1. He did not introduce Mandatory Bonus Duties (MBD) for about two months.

Our first 2-3 missions we had an NPC leading us...then he disappeared when we blew up an entire sector of Alpha Complex. Then we were a team of trouble shooters without a leader for another few sessions. Suddenly, boom, people have to run around doing extra things that made everyone distrust each other even more, and resent characters who get the MBD they wanted.

  1. Once we wrapped our mind around the general feel for the game he turned up the heat.

Suddenly, unless we were very careful to say "Out of Game", EVERYTHING was punishable. One session I came in an orange jacket, a few minutes into the game I was nearly killed for it before I threw the jacket off and out of sight, another time my #2 pencil was confiscated. Snacks at the table? Better hope you are at least orange clearance, or you'll get shot for eating the Cheetos!

To summarize, if you are dealing with a group who are new to Paranoia, ease them into it. Maybe you won't be quite as nice about it as my GM, but your players will be much more likely to get into the spirit of the game if they do it in steps.


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