Thursday, September 9, 2021

Hacking Friend Computer: Making a Custom Game of PARANOIA pt. 2

: This file is coded  ULTRAVIOLET  clearance. Any citizens of clearance  VIOLET  or lower may not read further Knowledge of the existence of this document is coded  GREEN if you are clearance  YELLOW  or lower, please report for neural pruning.

My Objective 

I am trying to brew up a custom hack of PARANOIA RPG based on its different editions that has some of the modern nuances, but is easier to play online. I am doing this for a couple of reasons:

First: The 2017 PARANOIA Red Clearance Edition is a great game, but with multiple decks of cards, custom dice, and a bluffing game to determine initiative, it is simply not a great fit for playing online.

The first time I ran PARANOIA Red Clearance Ed. online it took me 5-6/hours to cooy/paste upload, label and script all of the various cards used in the game's custom decks in Roll20. And they cannot be exported to another campaign. It is a pain. Writing this article will probably take the same amount of time, and let me have a lot more to show for it. 

At the same time, some of the mechanics of Red Clearance Edition are beautiful and clean, and I want to use them. 

Second: I want my humor to be as black and dry as a politician's heart. 2017 has a very wacky, slapstick comedy built right into the cards that isn't quite what I am looking for. I want Classic play, but I want a PARANOIA fist edition feel to the campaign

So, my best bet is to beg, borrow, and steal from various editions and cobble together something that gives me most of what I want. Then maybe overlay some of my own ideas over top.

I will call my imaginary edition of PARANOIA by the theoretical working title of PARANOIA ONLINE, which seems the obvious next computer culture joke to make for a number of reasons.


PARANOIA RPG is the intellectual property of Mongoose Games. I make no claims on ownership. This document is a discussion of substitute rules. I do not intend to make a complete game here. Instead, I will make copious references to existing PARANOIA rules as I propose my own modifications and original rules. The idea is to create a composite system.  You should not be able to fully use any of these rules without reference to PARANOIA Red Clearance Edition. 

Computer Quotes, ©1984 West End Games

The Wishlist

So, now I know the end goal. What do I want specifically as features? What would make this a great game of PARANOIA for me? Here is my wish list:

  • No cards or custom dice. They are hard to use online. This needs to be handled solely with dice or VTT dice rollers.
  • Player-Facing. Just like PARANOIA Red Clearance Ed, I want a player-facing game where I, as the GM, almost never roll the dice.
  • Bounded Player Agency. No Action Cards and no perversity points. I will keep Moxie as it is used in Red Clearance (an act of will) and create an economy similar to Perversity Points for regaining them.
  • Red-Clearance Stat Structure. Four stats and 16 skills is a big reduction from the original 8 and 50+ skills. You lose granularity, but gain sanity.
  • Ditch adversarial character generation. It's funny, but it takes too long. Quick, dirty, and random is better.
  • Backwards Compatible. Stats running from 1-20 will make it much easier to use the old modules. Using the Specialty system from PARANOIA XP will work just fine.
  • XP Points and Treason Stars are just too good not to use.
  • Service Sectors exist. But they are less important than they were in early editions. The existence of the Armed Forces was always odd. They will exist, but they will be more like the National Guard... Beer swilling and Cow Tipping.
  • A Different Mechanic for Computer Intrusion. The Computer Die is a hassle, esp. on a VTT. But if we tie the Computer showing up on 1, 20, and the exact stat rolled will be close in odds to Red Clearance Edition.
  • Cone Rifles must be in the game again. And overloading laser pistols.
  • Losing it needs more mechanical advice.
  • Mutant Powers need tweaking. Maybe something like a D&D3.5 power recharge, a secret Power Stat known by the GM with a Great Success, Terrible Failure effect like in Lowlife 2090?

Hacking Out Loud

Task Resolution

Characters have a stat valued between 5 and 14. They roll a d20 and try to get under it. If they roll less than half they get a great success. More than ×1.5 of the stat they have a terrible failure. A roll can have Advantage (roll 2d20 take the lower) or Disdvantage (roll 2d20, take the highest). The GM can apply Disadvantage at their discretion. Advantage comes from player ingenuity. They cancel each other out. 

I might consider these plus good and plus ungood rolls for a dose of bleak literary humor. Maybe allow things to stack just to use the term double-plus good

Each stat has four subcategories which we will call skills. We will use the same ones that are listed on the Red Clearance character sheet. If the test has specialized in one of these skills, they roll up plus four. For every specialty they take, they must also take a weakness. The weakness is rated at half the base stat. So under Chutzpah we have both management and intimidation. If you have a Chutzpah score of 11, and you are specialized in Charm , you roll tests covered by Charm as if you had a 15 Chutzpah. If you have a weakness in intimidation, you would roll as if you had a 5 Chutzpah to intimidate.

If you roll is a natural one, twenty, and or exactly their target number, they also draw the attention of The Computer who tries to assist in some way, causing a loss of one Moxie.

Moxie starts as a pool of eight. It is depleted but the character is exposed to something alien or terrifying, or if the computer scrutinizes the character too much it depletes. Players may spend Moxie to activate Mutant Powers or give themselves Advantage on a roll.

Why? This gives us a mechanism that will let the numbers on old PARANOIA and PARANOIA 2e modules make sense. At the same time, it keeps the beautifully sparse number of skills in Red Clearance Edition. Reducing Margin of Success to a four-degree scale requires much less math. 

Character Generation

Character Sheet for
PARANOIA Red Clearance Ed.
©2017 Mongoose Games
The character's stats are generated by rolling 1d20/2 +4. Characters then choose up to five Skills to have a specialization in, but for each one they take, they must take a Weakness as well.  

Why? This is essentially using something akin to the dice and skills from PARANOIA XP and the simplification of Red Clearance in terms of sheer amounts of data to track.

One of the clever design innovations in Red Clearance Edition is that the character generation system requires player characters to diversified abilities. There is relatively little overlap. Personally, I think skill gaps are a great way of adding additional challenge to the mission.

I might include additional treasonous skills based on secret societies that can be gained starting as a weakness, but that characters cannot use if they have no training in the skill. The treasonous skill list from PARANOIA XP would work perfectly for this purpose with only minor tweaks.


Moxie can be rationed in the same way perversity points would be, with small amount rationed to PCs at the beginning of scenes. Players that play their three character traits well may earn more, and the GM can award them as "Bennie" for excellent play. 

This makes them mildly more mentally stable than characters in Red Clearance Edition in theory. In practice, the GM will be able to encourage them to spend their moxie more readily, pushing the characters down to low moxie repeatedly throughout various missions.

If I were writing a manual on this version of PARANOIA, I would definitely go into discussions on how to encourage players to use expendable resources. I suspect in play test I may encounter players who are hesitant to use them because their stats are relatively high. I may ultimately remove the plus four on stat rolls in character generation.

It's also makes the drugs distributed by the happiness officer more or less valuable depending on how players use moxie.

Why? "Perversity Points" came in big numbers to buy smsll, incremental bonuses. By simplifying the tracking using Advantage & Disadvantage, you are buying a more substantial chance of success. You will want a limited pool that caps out at a number like eight. Putting the risk of" Losing It" if the pool bottoms out creates tension in resource management. 

I might consider a rule where, if a PC has all 8 Movie, any additional Moxie earned goes to the last player to murder them. 

Losing It

Stealing Low Fantasy Gaming's Madness table concept seems like a start. We come up with. List of 20 delusions, and if the Character hits 0 Moxie, they treat those delusions as absolute truth until medicated by the Happiness Officer or slapped to their senses. Players that play their delusion well regain full Moxie when their characters is snapped out of it. Players that half-assed it get back 2 Moxie. 

Why? Losing it in PARANOIA Red Clearance is fun, but some players I played with wanted a guide. They felt put on the spot. Others underplay edit. This adjustment offers both a guideline and incentive. 

XP Point Economy 

In order to make it possible for player characters to buy upgrades to skills, we will have to create a table that establishes brackets of cost. A player character can buy upgrades that add +2 increments beyond the initial +4 for specializing for XP Points for the cost listed next to their bracket. Raising a base set and raising the specialized skill will have a slightly different cost, but as this system is not using a skill plus stat dice pool like PARANOIA Red Clearance edition, the cost for raising a stat should be no more than ×5 the price of raising a skill in the same bracket. 

On the topic of Bennies, I would still strongly consider having a "#1 Troubleshooter" token, because that was jusy plain funny.

Infrared Markets

The Free Enterprise Secret Society runs its massive Infrared Markets using their own currency valued against certain stable trading commodities, like cleaning fluid, socks, and RAM. The only nod of the head to the old "credits" currency is the idea that Free Enterprise tried and failed to get credit software to work. In PARANOIA's first edition, however, credits were not "credit", but cash; ornate printed polymer bills. I think mentioning these again and having them as tender in the INFRARED markets has potential. It would turn sewers, abandoned trash disposal sites, and derelict sectors into Frontier gold-rush towns, as NPCs look for old corpses, hidden stashes, unshredded bills, or the mother lode: an antique credit press.

You could do a pretty solid set of adventures using this premise:

  • No Rest for the Red: The Troubleshooters are sent to infiltrate an INFRARED Market and reactivate its wifi so The Computer can catch Traitors in the act. PCs see the bills floating around. Now Free Enterprise will do just about anything to make sure only people they trust live to make the debriefing.
  • A Fistful of Credits: BLUE  CLEARANCE manager is trying to buy dirt on a rival, but needs cash. He has dredged up data on a failed Troubleshooter mission in the Sewers that involved a suitcase full of Credits. Unfortunately for our heroes, his office was bugged, and now three secret societies and IntSec are racing for the cash.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Treasonous: A group of would-be prospectors have set up a secret mining camp in a decommissioned recycling centre, digging up Credits, and information they should not have. Now, an IntSec spy has told the Computer too much. It wants the prospectors dead. However, they have bigger problems, something terrible awoke on the compost heaps..
  • For a Few Credits More: A boomtown has formed in a sector that has been abandoned since 192. No wifi, no clone delivery tubes, no microbots... It is Computer free. And full of Credits-miners and INFRARED Marketeers. It is currently run by two warring factions willing to kill to win control of the Credit flow and old tech.
  • Two Bots for Sis-R-SAR-4: The FCCCP can no longer bear the sinful trade in Credits in mockery of the Computer's revelation of XP Points. The path of The Computer must ever go forward! Using a well-paced  GREEN  Clearance agent, they have contrived a Mission that will put the characters in a position where they can blow up a train car full of Credits, while ostensibly to be hunting a Mutant cell hiding in the monorail tunnels, and made sure R&D would load the PCs down with experimental incendiary devices.


Combat in PARANOIA Red Clearance Edition is fun and furious... But it doesn't work well online. Bluffing is hard to spot when you are on voice-only or Webcam, and virtual card decks are fussy things on VTTs. If ever there was a place to hack in chunks of PARANOIA XP, this is the spot. 

PARANOIA XP's Dramatic Tactical Action System basically works in 5 steps. 

  1. Decide what the NPCs do
  2. Ask the players what their characters do.
  3. Make the rolls
  4. Apply the results
  5. Everybody moves

Here is how I would revise it for use with a more Red Clearance based game. 

  1. Give out a Moxie ration of 0-2 points
  2. Decide what the NPCs do
  3. Get the players to declare their actions... in a random order. Give them only 1 minute to decide. Players can't tell you what they will do immediately when asked will dodge. Notes are acceptable. 
  4. Let players bid Moxie on initiative in a blind bid of 0-4. (poker chips in closed hands at the table, direct message on a VTT.) 
  5. Make rolls (let them sweat a bit.) 
  6. Resolve the actions of anyone who bid 4 moxie and The Computer. 
  7. Resolve the actions of anyone bidding 3 moxie... Assuming that someone at Moxie 4 didn't ruin their action, or kill them. Resolve actions for bots. 
  8. Resolve the actions of anyone bidding 2 moxie... Assuming that someone at Moxie 3 or 4 didn't ruin their action, or kill them. Resolve actions for powerful Mutants and especially competent NPCs. 
  9. Resolve the actions of anyone bidding 1 moxie... Assuming that someone at Moxie 2, 3 or 4 didn't ruin their action, or kill them. Resolve actions for average NPCs.
  10. Resolve the actions of anyone bidding 0 moxie... Assuming that someone else didn't ruin their action already, or kill them. Resolve actions for particularly pathetic NPCs. 
  11. Everybody moves

Why? As in PARANOIA Red Clearance Edition, a character who goes first generally gets to live. Making a blind bid encourages players to doubt, second-guess, spend Moxie, and deplete their stores. This removes the cards, but encourages a light metagame fear of what your "allies" are doing. 

All weapons have a Threat rating, which is the number of steps that an attack will move a target along the condition track. 

When the PCs attack, they do half the Threat worth of damage levels. If they get a great success, they inflict the full threat minus armor. For example, a laser has a Threat of 4. If a PC  hits, the target takes 2 levels of damage, minus armor (taking them to injured) . If the PC rolls under half their Guns skill, they deal 4 damage (Death for an unarmored clonre.) 

When a PC is attacked, they face a number of damage levels equal to the Threat Rating. They may roll an appropriate skill based on how they described that they were evading (if they did). On a success, reduce the damage by two levels. On a great success, reduce it by three, then apply armor.

The GM probably should let the PC automatically avoid harm if they take particularly smart measures to get out of harm's way. And Advantage should be given to rolls if anything is interfering with the attacker's ability to get a clear shot. 

Cover adds 1 armor for every quarter of the body obscured. 

Why? In the absence of a NODE (dice pool) we don't have a lot of granularity. You won't get to count up to X number of successes. This will give a character a chance to survive a laser shot unscathed if they are wearing Reflec armor and rolling well. Which seems ike a good rough standard. 

I can get Threat levels very easily by looking at the minimum damage rating that weapons were given in PARANOIA XP. 

Snafued (S) = 2, Wounded (W) = 4, Maimed (M) = 6,
Down (D) =8, Killed (K) =10, Vaporized (V) = 12

Why? This is about setting equivalencies to what the weapons will do to a PC in theory. A troubleshooter who rolls an average defense and wears Reflec can come out of an a laser attack wounded, a blaster maimed, and a tac nuke dead twice over. Even the best roll possible, full cover and 4 points of armor can't save a PC from a micro-nuke. 


The wound level system in Red Clearance is nice and simple. With no NODE go penalize, the wound levels will cumulatively affect PC rolling like this: 

  • Hurt: You get - 1 to Moxie Rations
  • Injured: All rolls are at Disadvantage. 
  • Maimed: Missing a body part, may not spend Moxie..
  • Dead: Send in the next clone! 

Mutant Powers

Mutant powers are activated with Moxie and require a roll. Mutant powers were grotesquely underdeveloped in PARANOIA Red Clearance Edition, and perhaps too complex in PARANOIA XP. My inclination is to blend the two. I would set an invisible Power attribute of 1d20/4 + 6. The GM judges how much Moxie should be spent to achieve a task. (If I were writing a manual, I would give some very rough guidance about what a power can do at different moxie levels.) here is an example:

"Cryokinesis" Mutant Power Card
from PARANOIA Red Clearance Ed. 
©2017, Mongoose Games


You have the ability to cause the temperature to drop rapidly in an area, causing patches of ice, freezing small volumes of water, or bursting pipes. With focus you can cause more intense effects. 

For 2 Moxie you can flash freeze a water tank, freeze a door shut, turn a room's floor into an icy slick, cause painful frostbite or put out a kitchen fire, or similar effects. 

For 3 Moxie you can cover a room in ice, partially encase a person in ice, or create a large chunk of shaped ice, of give frostbite to a group of hostile. 

For 4 Moxie: you can freeze a whole troubleshooter squad or freeze a cistern solid. 

It might be fun to have a vague description like the cards in Red Clearance available to the players, and a more detailed section like above reserved for the Game Master.

Ultimately, descriptions should be artfully vague providing only enough to get the GM started. 

The player rolls a die: if they fail, nothing happens. On a terrible failure, the power backfires in a dramatic way. On a success they get the result they were looking for. On a great success the power works exceptionally well. A power has a Threat Level equal to 1/3 the Character's power level. If they overpay moxie above what they beeded, give them advantage. If they underpay, apply disadvantage. 

Why? The Mutant Powers have always been a proud nail in PARANOIA. It is fair to say that Red Clearance did a better job than most at integrating Mutant Powers into the main play by making them a card usable in combat. However, they add cognitive load when they lack at least some guidelines.

Optionally, the GM should reroll the PCs power attribute in secret on occasion. Members of Psion might be able to. Learn a Treasonous Brains skill "control your mutant power" that starts as a Weakness. 

Selecting which powers to include in the game is another matter I would want to consider carefully. PARANOIA Red Clearance Edition includes 16 powers and feels like it is missing too much, while PARANOIA XP has a whopping 35, many of which seem utterly useless. There is a balancing act to be made. Deep Thought and Anomaly deserve to be in the same edition. 

Adding A Little Extra

So this is my addition: consider it the home-brew campaign portion of our program. 

Virtual Reality

In PARANOIA Red Clearance Edition, Alpha Complex was portrayed as being in a state of extreme decay. Shortages were becoming a problem, whole sectors were left derelict, infrastructure was breaking down. The Computer is unwilling to expand and find new resources, or to set humanity free, because it needs to keep them safe in Alpha Complex. By keeping humanity safe from the world outside, The Computer was dooming them to possible starvation and deprivation within Alpha Complex. The Computer is partially unable to understand the problem with - and likely outcome of - staying in Alpha Complex. And in other ways it is aware of its limitations and in deep denial of its own inadequacy. It blames the shortages, unrest, and decay on traitors and terrorists, doubling down on oppressive measures to keep people in line.

Its an uphill battle for The Computer to keep people happy. There is only so far saying "Happiness is mandatory" and pointing a gun at anyone who isn't smiling will get you. The Computer seems aware of this and makes misguided attempts to actually give everyone a reason to be happy. Such as Funbot, the petbots, entertainment television, etc. The Computer understands the value of Bread and Circuses.

So why not go to the next level in Bread and Circuses as The Computer uses the Core-Tech to create highly addictive media entertainment in the form of MMOs? And why not hide all the decay and danger behind illusions created with Augmented Reality? 

Adventures built around digital vandalism, AR gone wrong, and VR adventuring would be a great way to expand on PARANOIA's myriad threats. Here's another set of ideas that I will expand upon as I work on the campaign:

  • The Hole Truth INFRARED  laborers have been disappearing in Sector LND, and a couple of those that have are wanted for High Treason. The Computer suspects a growing insurgency. In reality, they have been falling down a hole The Computer hid using AR technology. They just fall through what they believe is solid floor. Some of the lost Infrareds have discovered a lost grotto teaming with plant life, and have set up a new society there.
  • For Cyber-eyes Only: Sector SNE has been the site of a grotesque experiment gone wrong, and now has several deranged Mutants trying to take control of a horrid growth of genetically engineered fungus. They must be stopped... Only the computer insists that the whole environment is too graphic to be seen, and is covering the whole thing with AR Overlays. They need to figure out how to be able to see the environment before they can possibly hunt Mutants.
  • Zap! Online A VR game online let's citizens of all clearances enjoy the Heroic life of a troubleshooter fighting mutant commie horrors, causing the virtual Alpha Complex inside to become better and brighter with each mission. It is a Delve into The Computer's psyche. Members of The Phreaks, Frankenstein Destroyers, and the FCCCP all believe that it might be a route directly into The Computer's core programming, and are fighting a war to take control of a glitchy level in which to perform their Exploits... Complete with lethal attack software! 
  • Better than Service: High programmer Ander-U-MAC has gained considerable power since The Computer started using mass AR censorship and launched "Zap! Online!". His dream of a hive-mind utopia may be at hand. His new project, "Synergy", brings his test subjects into a blissful virtual dream. While they are plugged into Synergy he can control their zombie-like clone bodies. They are happy, obedient, and mostly-not-treasonous. And it is addictive! The other high programmers want it destroyed before The Computer learns of it. But can the PCs infiltrate Ander-U-MAC's lavish private sector, avoid his army of grinning test subjects, and erase his mainframe? Especially when they think they are just escorting an accident - prone umber to a jacuzzi repair?
  • All Smiles, All the Time: while "Synergy" has been wiped, Free Enterprise and the Phreaks have become well aware of the potential to create addictive mood-boosting software, and are selling tailored "happy chips" in the INFRARED Markets. These chips are creating the ideal happy, doped-up citizens... But it is also leading to a lot of industrial accidents. Efficiency is way down. The Computer needs to find the reason for this treasonous inefficiency. And almost every secret society is terrified of what might happen if it does... 

1 comment:

  1. Happy Fun snack chips are made of clones! (Soylent Green)

    A group of ultraviolets have achieved immortality and eternal youth through clone manipulation. They are so very, very bored and tired of life, but the computer won't let them die. (Zardoz)

    Mad scientist creates killer robot. Hijinks ensue. (Saturn 5)

    Efficiency and productivity are up thanks to a new food additive, but lethal "accidents" stress the abilities of the clone delivery service. (Outland)

    An expedition to the Outside to find out what happened to a previous expedition finds an adorable creature. (Alien/The Holy Grail)

    To solve the dwindling resources problem, the computer orders all clones over 30 years of age report to the arena for a Carrousel ride. (Logan's Run)