Varney’s Curated Paranoia Classics

Part of the reason Paranoia XP remains the best version of Paranoia is the way core designer and line overseer Allen Varney built in support for various different styles of play. Denoted as “Classic”, “Straight” and “Zap”, these denoted respectively the delicious blend of satirical bite and egregious violence that characterised the best of the first two editions of the game, a more purely satirical take on the concept tonally reminiscent of Gilliam’s Brazil, and the sort of pun-heavy high-wackiness goofy slapstick nonsense that the game degenerated into in the late West End era, and which too many assumed was the default style of the line.

Varney makes little secret of the fact that there was a clear agenda here: namely, to cordon off the Zap stuff into a corner and emphasise the Classic style of play as the default, bringing Paranoia back to the roots which made it such a success in the 1980s and dialling back the excesses that had driven the West End line into the doldrums over the 1990s. Different people draw the line in different places when it comes to figuring out when West End Games’ management of Paranoia jumped the shark, but most fans (including me) tend to think things went seriously wrong after 1989’s The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Adventure – for one thing it’s after that point that West End stepped up the Secret Society Wars, an attempt to apply an ongoing metaplot to Paranoia that the game absolutely didn’t need.

Of course, if you want to help cultivate the best of West End-era Paranoia and consign the dross to unhistory, it’d be a good idea to have an updated showcase of the sort of mission you want to hold up as representing best practice. Thus, one of the first major accessories for Paranoia XP was Flashbacks, a lavish hardback compilation of the cream of West End’s Paranoia missions, followed a few years later by Flashbacks II. Between them, these two products more or less cover all the adventures released during West End Games’ management of the game line that fans care to revisit – whilst some stinkers preceded the cut-off point of People’s Glorious Revolutionary Adventure (I genuinely cannot recall Don’t Take Your Laser to Town as being anything other than a drably bland Westworld riff), the material that followed that certainly doesn’t measure up to the glory days of the game line.

Flashbacks

In his introduction to this volume Varney takes the time to outline differences in approach between the XP line and the 1st edition/2nd edition days, mostly so people would understand the context in which the adventures were written and be able to adapt accordingly. One thing which I note is that the bits which the previous editions don’t have tend to be the setting additions that most Paranoia players and referees seem to ignore in XP – the idea of service firms within the service groups, and of the game having an economic element, and of varying which service groups the Troubleshooters are doing a little extra side-favour for on their mission rather than just having them pick up new kit from R&D all the time, all seem to have fallen by the wayside. It’s interesting how Flashbacks, by being one of the first major supplements for XP, might have inadvertently helped prompt people to roll back those changes.

Another difference is that the adventures are revised to take out the puns, because Varney considered them a little too silly for Classic-style play (which the compilation assumes as a default); an appendix helpfully allows you to add them straight back in if you wish.

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A Quick Introduction to What We Already Know

Chaosium’s upcoming revision of RuneQuest will be the 4th edition of the game issued by its home company. Indeed, the copyright notice at the back of this set of quickstart rules (including an adventure) produced for Free RPG Day refers to this new version as the 4th Edition, though of course there they might simply want to avoid any implication of trying to claim copyright to text actually produced by Mongoose or Design Mechanism.

Still, some will no doubt see these quickstart rules as a decisive rejection of the direction that RuneQuest took for the two Mongoose editions and the version Design Mechanism produced. For my part, I tend to instead see it as a tacit acknowledgement that that particular fork of the system already has a very good expression in the form of Design Mechanism’s Mythras (which is what they relabelled their Runequest 6th Edition as). If there is going to be a point to Chaosium’s new RuneQuest, it needs to do something different from Mythras – and from all the other BRP-inspired fantasy systems out there.

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Kickstopper: Righteously Bland

This isn’t going to be a fully developed Kickstopper article because in all honesty I don’t have that much to say about the Kickstarter fulfillment process for the new 5E version of Aaron Loeb’s Book of the Righteous – Green Ronin were reasonably communicative, shipment of the physical books came about half a year after estimate but PDF delivery was substantially before then and that’s really not much as far as Kickstarter delays go, and crucially delays were clearly signposted and explained. I have no real complaints there and would generally trust Green Ronin to do right by their backers in future Kickstarters. Great job, ronins, hope you find a master who can make proper samurai of you again one day.

As far as the product itself goes, it’s clearly a well-realised product with decent art and production values, but I suspect how much you’d want to make use of it hinges on your personal philosophy of worldbuilding and the place of religion in it. For some, the book will be an absolutely amazing tool. For others, and I include myself in this category, I think it would be a bit of a woolen teapot – the craft and artistry involved in making it is impressive, but I’d never want to actually use it for its declared purpose.

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Black Crusade: A Retrospective

Ulisses Spiele have landed the licence to do Warhammer 40,000 RPGs and announced Wrath and Glory, a “one core book with supplements exploring many options”-type RPG with a D6 dice pool system which feels like a very different approach to doing a 40K roleplaying game from the design philosophy that Black Industries pioneered and Fantasy Flight Games followed. As such, it feels like a good time to start a run of retrospectives of the previous generation of 40K RPGs, and where better than the most nonstandard and obviously self-contained of them? Dan’s wrapped up his Black Crusade campaign recently, so I’ve had a chance to get quite familiar with the exciting roleplaying game of black metal mayhem in the service of the Chaos gods.

Black Crusade

One notable thing about Black Crusade is that it is absolutely and 100% Fantasy Flight’s baby. Black Industries had originally planned 3 Warhammer 40.000 RPGs – Dark HeresyRogue Trader, and Deathwatch, with the intention that each of them would be mutually compatible. Of course, in one of their regular stinging slaps to the faces of gamers everywhere Games Workshop decided to shut down Black Industries more or less immediately after the release of Dark Heresy and its GM screen and Inquisitor’s Handbook; according to the intro in Black Crusade, the materials Fantasy Flight received from Black Industries constituted of the completed Black Industries products plus the notes for Disciples of the Dark Gods. We may never know whether it was due to contractual commitments or simply an admirable willingness to see Black Industries’ original vision fulfilled, but Fantasy Flight didn’t really tamper with the core system all that much for producing Rogue Trader and Deathwatch, resulting in a more or less entirely mutually-compatible line that, if it wasn’t exactly what Black Industries had intended, was at least about as close as anyone could have reasonably expected Black Industries to get to it.

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I Ain’t Afraid Of No Ghosts (Five Out of Six Times)

The Ghostbusters RPG from 1986 was a major step forwards for West End Games – as well as being their second RPG after Paranoia, it was also their first major foray into producing RPGs based on a licensed franchise and the first game to use their D6 System, which would go on to power their Star Wars RPG and a whole host of other games besides. It also came out at a golden time for the Ghostbusters franchise – the original movie had been out for a couple of years, the Real Ghostbusters cartoon series was just kicking off, and Ghostbusters II hadn’t yet emerged to take the shine off of things. It was a magical time when it felt like everything Ghostbusters was gold, and fortunately the RPG was no exception.

Unusually for the RPG market it was produced as a collaboration between two different publishers, with Chaosium along for the ride. Based on the fact that Chaosium’s Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis and Greg Stafford are credited with design whilst various West End regulars of the era were credited with development, it feels like the basic principles of the game system were cooked up by Chaosium, whilst West End Games handled the presentation of those ideas, writing them up and offering a swathe of introductory adventures and adventure ideas and referee advice. In particular, the text of the game is written in that highly readable and very funny style that West End had perfected in its better Paranoia releases.

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