I got two copies of a book that I’d wanted, for Christmas, so I returned one copy and used the credit to pick up something else I’d wanted, Paranoia: WMD. It’s a four-pack of missions (adventures) for the Paranoia RPG. I’ve liked Paranoia for a long time – back since the glorious second edition. I’ve written more entries in Alphapedia Complexia than I have in any other public wiki (I think), and I’ve been happy to see the new edition of the game do fairly well. The new edition was, at first, called “Paranoia XP,” but apparently Microsoft got grumpy, and now it’s just “PARANOIA.”
The PARANOIA rulebook introduced – or at least made explicit – the idea of three style of play: Zap, Classic, and Straight. Zap games are very cartoonish, where anything can happen, if it will be funny. Classic games are the traditional funny but semi-realistic Paranoia games: there are laws of physics, but the game is clearly a joke. The idea behind Straight is that the game is dark and grim, and the jokes are gallows humor.
The missions in WMD are all Straight missions, which excited me: I’ve often thought that Paranoia could be run as a serious game, with real intrigue, real characters, and real, frightening paranoia. I’d read an excerpt from one mission, Hunger. It was a Great Leap Forward-inspired story, in which the Complex’s collective fear of admitting failure led to mass starvation and potentially worse consequences. In the end, I felt like it didn’t pay off.
The other three missions were equally disappointing. It’s not that I didn’t like them – I thought they were pretty good – it’s that I felt like they were what I would call Classic. That’s when I realized that my categorization of play didn’t match up with what they book is talking about. When they say Classic, they really mean like the adventures from the early editions of Paranoia, and that makes sense. Unfortunately, these missions too often involved completely ridiculous conceits, Communists who emulate silly Russian accents, and other things too silly for me to think about.
I should have read things more closely; the PARANOIA rulebook lists these as inspirations for Classic play: HHGG, The Onion, Dilbert, Futurama, the Marx brothers, and the Running Man (the movie). I felt a little let down, though, by the followthrough on Straight, which listed Kafka, Brave New World, Catch-22, Dr. Strangelove, Brazil, and others. Maybe I should have taken the hint that something was wrong when they listed Kafka and Huxley with Dr. Strangelove. I was really thinking more paranoia, and fewer pie-fights.
WMD avoids the pie-fights entirely, but its satire is too heavy handed. Some of the jokes that were, probably, meant to be subtle or dark, come off as incongruously light-hearted, to me. I think the book would be worth the ten bucks for many gamemasters, but I didn’t really get much out of it.