Back in the eighties I used to write a lot of White Dwarf under various pen-names. Scenarios, articles, reviews, columns, you name it. Occasionally there'd be pieces about a role-playing game of the time called Paranoia - "the role-playing game of a darkly humorous future". I didn’t see anything that made me want to play it, but after all if you only glance at the ads you’re going to end up with a vague and probably unreliable sense of what a game is about. (That won’t stop me talking about it, of course.)
I am interested in both dystopian and paranoiac literature. I’m having a stab in the dark there, assuming that Paranoia is set in a future totalitarian state, but it seems a fair bet. On surer ground: I know the tone of the game is meant to be humorous because all the ads for it in White Dwarf were written with a big rhetorical wink, like an invitation to a frat party. It says it's humourous in the logline too - always a giveaway, that.
I suspect that Paranoia has less to do with the likes of Stalin, Big Brother and Pol Pot and more of the flavour of an author like Kafka or Gogol. The bureaucratic rat-maze depicted there can be just as crushing to the individual, but it’s madness without personal malice. The mere idiocy of the system. That can be funny, too, though probably to do it justice you need a Sam Beckett rather than an Adam Herz.
You know what they say about Marmite and oysters. I’m never likely to play Paranoia myself, but if you’re a fan then it’s probably the main thing in your gaming life. So why am I holding forth about it from this position of wilful ignorance? Because there is a Kickstarter campaign to bring Paranoia back in an all-new version written by James Wallis.
Full disclosure: James is a very old and dear friend of mine. But that’s not why I would recommend one of his projects. I don’t plug every project that a close friend works on, do I? What’s germane here is that James is an immensely talented writer and game designer. More than talented, in fact: a genius. (A genius and I don’t hate him? That shows you what a nice guy he is.)
Once Upon A Time. He wrote The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which is both a completely original mash-up of role-playing and parlour games and a very funny read. He masterminded publication of the one-of-a-kind game setting Nobilis and a beautiful new edition of Dragon Warriors. He created Alas Vegas, a reinvention of the RPG within the sort of tight story arc structure we’re now familiar with from cable TV drama. He’s an entrepreneur with more ideas than he has time to develop. He’s a teacher and mentor. He’s at the forefront of creative talent working in that interesting space where narrative meets games. Oh, and he has a killer time-travel love story that, when he can clear the time to turn it into a novel or a script, will be the thing everyone you know is talking about. Yeah, remember that tip.
How I'd like Kickstarter to work is that you'd back the creator, not the concept. As long as it's the latter, there'll be a preponderance of mix-n-match X-meets-Y pitches involving any combination of: Sherlock Holmes, steampunk, zombies, Cthulhu, Dracula. Ho hum. There's only so long that can go on before the greatest hits of the past are completely shagged out. But if the funding went to James Wallis himself to create whatever he was most inspired to work on, we'd get something much more interesting than a rebooted '80s RPG. We might even get that time-travel love story. For that, I'd pledge.
Still, the world is as it is. So if you like the sound of Paranoia rebooted by James Wallis, which is the only sort of Paranoia I'd be likely to play, skip over to Kickstarter and get on board. The campaign is 400% funded already and it’s still got several weeks to run. And thinking about it for this post has got me preparing a scenario for my own players involving Benito Mussolini – there'll be paranoia for sure, but that's the least of their worries. Maybe I'll muse more on that tomorrow.