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Acquiring a sense of style as a Paranoia Gamemaster

By John Saunders
(Taken from June 87 White Dwarf, published by Games Workshop. Typed and illegally distributed by Richard Roberts)

Hello, Friend Citizen. If your security is VIOLET or below, please report for termination now. Special dispensation has been granted by the Computer, and no Termination Voucher is required. Have a nice day.

 There you sit, about to gently assist your players in the appreciation of that subtlest of role-playing games, Paranoia. This is going to be so much fun you’ll probably need special underwear to get through it. But there can be so much more to a good session of Paranoia – the little extras that make it all so evocative…

A Little Interrogation Technique Goes a Long Way

Play around a table and monopolise all the available space. Use  lots of GM’s screens (from any game system) Have lots of papers and files (see below).

 Use a low ambient lighting level, and illuminate your face with a soft, white light from below (e.g. using  a small torch clamped to the edge of the table). In other circumstances this might be reassuring.  However, for the players use 200 watt spot lamps focussed at face level (or directly over their pointy little heads).

Never, never sit on the same sort of chair as the players. Always sit on a higher chair than the players. The ideal combination, after carefully removing all cushions and similar potential sources of comfort for players, is a comfy swivel chair for you and very small wooden stools for them. Try to get ones so small that sitting on them gives leg cramps and the likes after an hour or so. Alternatively, cinema seats work just as well.

 Have a tape of Ravel’s Bolero to grate on their nerves, and a tape of Russian military music for later. If you have the skill, splice in fragments of Radio Moscow programmes into the music, but keep these short to maximise uncertainty and anxiety. The best programmes to record are Russian by Radio, Focus on Asia and the remarkable concerts from the Orchestra of the Soviet Ministry of Defence. Excellent reception can be obtained on the 19, 31 and 41 meter bands shortwave, or 227m medium wave. Note that knowledge of these frequencies is a treasonous act and that if you read the previous sentence you should report for termination. Immediately. A high Security Clearance is no excuse, Friend Citizen.

 Wear black and nothing else. If any one queries why you are wearing an Infrared uniform, shoot them.

 Don’t allow the players any food, tea, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes or other substances during a game session. You might make an exception for glue sniffing since disorientated people are more are more easily driven into a frenzy of anxiety. Please not that The Computer does not approve of glue sniffing anyway. If you really want to put the little darlings under the hammer (and if you don’t, why are you reading this?), don’t let them got to the toilet either. Padlock the door and tell them they can’t leave until the mission is accomplished.

There’s More To Life Than A 10lb Lump Hammer

Have at least one microcomputer handy on a side table, with the screen facing away from the players. This should not be a weedy ZX machine or something similar, which will merely elicit expressions of derision from intelligent players, but a DEC or Data General machine is ideal. Failing that, something very hi-tech and stylish like a Dynamac, a snip at £6000+. Look at the screen and key in stuff at tense moments. Make sure the thing beeps frequently.

 Always have several timepieces available. Hold a stopwatch and look expectant at odd times. An electronic stopwatch or alarm clock programmed to beep at random times (and as loudly as possible) is an essential possession for the serious  Paranoia  GM. Alternatively, you can give the players a clock that doesn’t work, or stops if it isn’t continually shaken. Time is of the essence on this mission, Friend Troubleshooter.

 Own, train and have handy a large and savage- looking dog.

 Litter your home (or games room or wherever) with books on mental health – stuff like Bleuler’s The Schizophrenic Disorders (Yale, 1978; very big and impressive), Levine’s The History and Politics of Community Mental Health (Oxford, 1980) and the 1983  UK Mental Health Act (HMSO)… On a message pad by the phone write ‘Call hospital about Dad’, and leave a book on the genetics of psycopathy beside it to get the players really worried. If any of them happen to know anything about the UK mental health system change the reference to ‘the hospital’ to one about ‘the secure unit’. This will really do the trick. Lastly, pamphlets from self- help groups etc about looking after schizophrenia at home should be prominently displayed. Special kudos goes to the GM with a shaven forehead and the Freeman- Watts classic Prefrontal Lobotomy, but it goes without saying that this must be the 1942 first edition.

And… They’re Off…

OK, so the runners and riders are at the starting line and the Troubleshooters are in the briefing room. Already someone has pushed their luck and the nuerowhips have been  used in modest chastisement. Oh dear, time for clones.
 In Paranoia, above all other RPGs, roll lots of dice, especially when nothing is happening. You do that anyway with other games, don’t you. Shouldn’t be too difficult with this one then, eh?

Leave the room at one or two atmospheric moments to ‘check the expansion file’. Take all relevant material with you, but accidentally leave something behind in a non-obvious but discoverable location. Something harmless, that the players won't really want to read, stuff that will screw them up totally if they do read it.

 Mutter to yourself now and then. Try to effect strange body movements, especially a facial tic. One that gets worse when the players ask too many questions – Is one question too many? – used in conjunction with soft, reasoned and yet menacing tones will do the job nicely.

 And have fun. Fear and Ignorance. Ignorance and Fear.
Make them sweat!

John Saunders

Good, Isn't it!

Just a couple of points- forgive the author's knowledge of computers and the fact that the USSR no longer exists ('87 is a long time ago).
This has been extracted without the author's or publishers permission, and is meant for personal use only. If you wish to use it commercially, please see the GW website. If you use it on the web, please send me an e-mail. (it took me a good hour to type this!)
If you are from the GW website, please don't hurt me!
A little bit of personal info. Upon reading this in 1995, I decided to obtain a copy of Paranoia. 3 years later I got it! Hurrah!