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I want to preface this question with the fact that I am a relatively novice GM in general and I am looking for ways to improve my naive skillset.

I am preparing to run a couple missions with a group of friends that are interested in Paranoia setting and have role-played before. Paranoia gives a very different vibe from most of the settings we have played before and I want to make sure that I convey the game elements appropriately, which has me concerned with the Mutant Powers.

Since the powers are meant to be kept secret, I understand that note-passing to the GM is the main form of activating a power. For powers that are mental, the result can be passed back, but for describing physical powers and their eventual side effects (glowing eyes and the such), how do I keep it from being too obvious to the other players that a power has been activated? Since Troubleshooters are supposed to believe that mutants are rare, I feel like describing to the group what has happened is almost too obvious. Is there a way to keep powers from being too easy to spot or is that exactly how it is supposed to be?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Which edition of Paranoia are you playing with? Are you playing with the recent 2015 edition or another? There may be specific advice we can additonally reference to assist you. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 8 '16 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener We are going with Paranoia Troubleshooters from the 25th Anniversary Edition. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 9 '16 at 2:16
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Troubleshooters should understand that Friend Computer would never make a clone a mutant

I'm putting this concern first because if you don't have it, I think that mutants in Paranoia don't really work.

Troubleshooters are supposed to believe that mutants are rare, I feel like describing to the group what has happened is almost too obvious.

It may indeed be obvious. The mutant suddenly turns into the Human Torch. The troubleshooters shoot it and then pop open a Bouncy Bubble Beverage to celebrate. The clone replacement comes in and happily greets his team, and the team knows that the last clone was a Commie who infiltrated the ranks. This clone is surely not a mutant.

I think that this attitude also should lead to some initial skepticism to some of the less dramatic mutant powers, rather than an immediate execution. Which leads to…

Encourage players to come up with spurious logic to explain their mutant powers

For powers that are mental, the result can be passed back, but for describing physical powers and their eventual side effects (glowing eyes and the such), how do I keep it from being too obvious to the other players that a power has been activated?

A clever Troubleshooter will explain that he has experimental R&D contact lenses or he just has a glimmer in his eye from shooting a Commie.

Mac-R-Thur-2: Say fellow troubleshooter, I do believe that your eyes just glowed. Is there something you wish to tell us?

List-R-Ine-6: That's my experimental anti-hypnosis contact lenses that I received from R&D. It most certainly is not a mutant power.

Mac-R-Thur-2: Well it does my heart good to hear that you are not a mutant. But wait! I didn't see you get contact lenses during our trip to R&D. Are you authorized for it?

List-R-Ine-6: Of course, it was under Subsection 94b, paragraph 2 of our mission orders. You did memorize it, right? And I installed them while your back was turned at R&D so as not to distract you from inspecting your new weapon.

Mac-R-Thur-2: Flawless logic. Carry on!

I usually make it so that how much they can get away with corresponds to how many clones they've gone through and the time left in your session. If you have three hours to go and they're on clone 4, let them get away with more. If you have half an hour left and they're on clone 2, raise your standards of spurious logic.

Let them shoot the mutants when it's obvious

This is Paranoia after all. If the players don't feel like they're allowed to shoot mutants, it won't be as fun.

Mac-R-Thur-2: Citizen Syn-R-Gy-1, why is your hand on fire?!

Syn-R-Gy-1: …Uh, I'm just testing the new R&D hand warmers! [Lights fully on fire] And body warmers!

Mac-R-Thur-2: Citizen List-R-Ine, was this in the orders you memorized?

List-R-Ine-6: Nope.

Syn-R-Gy-1: Open fire on the commie mutant traitor!

But of course, Syn-R-Gy-2 will not be a clone because Friend Computer would never make a mistake like that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. However I am concerned that you have this level of understanding of mutant powers and how mutants may attempt to conceal them. Also that you are accessing a computer terminal with access to this site. And worst of all that you are sharing knowledge this subversive. Are you authorised at this security clearance level Thun-D-forge-1 or is it YOU who are the commie mutant traitor? \$\endgroup\$
    – Protonflux
    Dec 9 '16 at 12:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for this answer, it really clears up well. While I may have to give the specifics of an event, the players have to help spin things as well. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 9 '16 at 19:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Protonflux Well as you can see from the D in my name, I have color [redacted] security clearance. As you well know, citizens with this level of clearance can do [redacted], [redacted], and even [redacted]. So I'm certainly not a commie mutant traitor and am in fact a more loyal citizen than you are! \$\endgroup\$ Dec 9 '16 at 19:29
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The Troubleshooters can try to control their powers. As soon as they blow the roll, make it glorious.

The more clever players might try to get themselves or their victim alone before breaking out the mutant powers, but it all comes down to the dice roll. If they're really clever, they'll blame the traitor they just killed. Maybe their teammates will turn on them immediately. Maybe they'll wait for the debriefing, or when they have a chat with The Computer.

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I have found that, when GM'ing Paranoia, I have to take the players' declaration of their actions at face value. Add nothing to help or hurt, give descriptions just as they declare the action to be. In this way you can remove yourself as an obstacle or an opponent. As a Paranoia GM, you are mainly a facilitator of the player on player treachery and the voice of the Computer. If it appears you are taking sides via how you narrate their declarations then it will be less fun. You need to really embrace the idea of being like Switzerland, neutral. Let the player's make mistakes and let them be devious and describe it all with equal zeal and flare!

Note passing is great, but don't limit yourself to that. Use the sidebar, but keep it short, very short. Having the GM and player step away for 30 seconds or so can do wonders to the level of paranoia in your Paranoia game.

Before you start, layout some ground rules on note passing and sidebars. Sidebars should be quick and not called too often. Each player may find it useful to have a few prewritten notes so as to speed things up. If you need a moment to scrawl a note there should be a signal for that, again any pause should be very short so as not to disrupt the flow of play. I have passed out "sidebar" buttons to be used in session. Often large and red. The player holds it up and if I have no reason to deny it, we both walk off for 30 seconds and talk.

Having some ground rules for notes and sidebars will help keep the chaos at bay in RL yet leave it in the play.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ And of course red is not a color they're authorized to touch, is it? ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Dec 9 '16 at 11:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the advice, I was wondering how well all the note passing would work, I appreciate the tip about using sidebars. I'll definitely give it a shot. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 9 '16 at 19:17
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The key is "doublethink." Wikipedia has the description of where the term came from, but it's the ability to accept two or more contradictory facts at the same time.

Troubleshooters have to do this a lot. Each Troubleshooter knows that he/she is a mutant, belongs to a secret society, and has additional mission objectives that he has to keep secret. But they have to behave as if these things are not true, and while they probably suspect - or in some cases know - that their fellow Troubleshooters have all the same treasonous qualities, they must not give any hint of this unless they have solid evidence that won't incriminate them.

That's the thing that makes Paranoia an interesting game: the multiple levels of pretense, where most RPGs only have a single one, of playing the character. This is why death is cheap, because keeping up the pretense is hard.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that is exactly what I was confused with. I'm used to being in RPs where everything is more straightforward, and I don't think my brain was ready to accept that kind of tone. The player may know something, but they need to play the character as if they didn't, until they do. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 9 '16 at 19:18

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