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Tabletopgame: Paranoia

I am sorry, citizen, but this TV Tropes entry is currently placed at Security Clearance VIOLET. Reading any of the words contained within this page without appropriate security clearance is considered treason. Please proceed directly to your nearest available Termination Booth. Thank you for your cooperation. Have a nice daycycle!

Paranoia takes many forms: A mental condition characterized by extreme and irrational suspicion. A 2004 industrial-espionage thriller by Joseph Finder. A print magazine dealing in conspiracy theories. A 2011 film starring Brad Jones. In this particular case, however, we travel to a world designed by Kafka, Stalin, Orwell, Huxley, Sartre, the Marx Brothers, and that crazy old man at the airport bar at 2am...

Paranoia is a darkly humorous Tabletop Game originally created by Greg Costikyan, Dan Gelber, and Eric Goldberg.note  It takes place After the End, in Alpha Complex, an isolated Underground and/or Domed city run by a supercomputer known variously as The Computer and "Friend Computer". After most of the human race was wiped out by some freak accident, The Computer tried to figure out what went wrong. Unfortunately, The Computer's databases had been corrupted, and after finding some Cold War propaganda, it came to the conclusion that Communists caused the disaster. Or possibly some other nebulous threat; no one is quite sure what happened any more, because what little true history of the world is left is heavily controlled.

Already bonkers, following decades of successive subversion and reprogramming by various conflicting groups (High Programmers, Secret Societies, aliens from Pluto and/or Dimension 2Q4B), "Friend Computer" has only gotten more paranoid, schizophrenic, and insane. Neverthless, it still rules Alpha Complex with an iron fist, its dystopian society organized in a hierarchy of "security clearances" based on the electromagnetic spectrum (specifically Isaac Newton's version), from lowly Infrared worker drones, through Red grunts and Yellow managers, all the way up the rainbow to the Violet and Ultraviolet elite. note 

This society is supported by swarms of robots and spies, omnipresent surveillance, and a bureaucracy so huge and convoluted no one's quite sure who's in charge of what any more.

Problems in Alpha Complex are solved by teams of Troubleshooters, whose job is to find trouble and shoot it. Threats include Traitors, Communists and other secret societies, unregistered Mutants, and Commie Mutant Traitors. This mission is complicated by the facts that Alpha Complex is a Communist state, and, thanks to years of clone breeding, overexposure to radiation, and other snafus, every last one of its inhabitants is a mutant. Everyone is also a member of one or more secret societies (mostly) plotting to overthrow the order of Alpha Complex. These groups include, but are not limited to:

The PCs are (usually) Red-level Troubleshooters working for Friend Computer, grudgingly assigned useless, backfiring equipment and weapons, and dispatched on (often impossible) Suicide Missions, all while navigating the endless deathtrap which is Alpha Complex, keeping their mutant powers a secret, advancing the cause of their secret society, and trying to earn promotion to higher color grades. The over-the-top darkly satiric tone of the game ensures that Hilarity Ensues as the player characters try to juggle their responsibilities, or at least survive for a while. Player infighting is encouraged, to the point that some editions recommend that there should never be a greater danger than each other, and turnover is so high that each player gets several backup clones with which to replace themselves if — or rather WHENthey die. And after all that comes the truly dangerous part: the mission debriefing. note  Assuming you even survive the briefing.

Beyond the back stabbing and Giant Radioactive Mutant Cockroaches, Paranoia was quite an innovative RPG when introduced in 1984. It was either the first RPG or first widely played RPG to:

  • Adopt the videogame approach to character lives, with clone replacements each time a player died. Until Paranoia, the death of a player character was Very Serious.
  • Even more so than most RPGs, consider the rules and setting to be a collection of possibly-useful suggestions which can be cheerfully ignored when they get in the way of having fun.
  • The characters were not a team, and as stated above were actively encouraged to backstab each other, openly or otherwise. This required a certain amount of maturity from the players and a willingness to forget about the "mission" in favour of roleplaying and chaos.
  • Players, in theory, had no knowledge of the rules, so anyone metagaming ("I get plus one for being behind cover") could be executed for it. (If they did look, they should simply factor the rules into their schemes without admitting they know, because it's Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught)

Be aware that if you make any mention of a published-in-1995 "Fifth Edition" of the game, you are referring to an Official Unproduct and Friend Computer does not like people referring to things which never existed.

Anyone interested in RPG design should have a look at the brilliant concept of Perversity Points, first introduced in the "XP" edition of the game. Basically, they're given out for being entertaining when playing your character instead of just boringly efficient, and spent to improve your dice rolls or (this being Paranoia) screw up someone else's, with the GM handwaving some appropriate in-character circumstance.

With the latest edition, the game can now be played in three forms: as a Troubleshooter, an Internal Security agent, or a High Programmer. In the latter cases, The Computer progressively shifts from "That information is not available at your security clearance" to "That information is not available at this time" (possibly because The Computer doesn't know either, or It's not sharing it with anyone. Other times, High Programmers get lots of information, but most of it is garbage.) The equipment also beefs up; Troubleshooters have laser pistols, IntSec agents have cone rifles (basically bazookas), while High Programmers hang out in the Situation Room and manipulate teams of lower-clearance citizens working for service groups or secret societies or the Troubleshooters. Just remember, Citizen, no matter how high your security clearance, Happiness Is Mandatory! Insufficient happiness will be punished by termination!

Paranoia is the Trope Namer for:

The following List of Tropes present in Paranoia is classified Security Clearance ULTRAVIOLET:

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: The world of Paranoia is an underground bomb shelter built to withstand nuclear Armageddon. Missions often involve searching vast sewers or labyrinthine tunnel systems.
  • After the End: A [REDACTED] wiped out most of humanity and confined the remains to Alpha Complex.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: though it's unclear whether Friend Computer is an actual A.I. or whether most of the crazy was put into it by scores of crazy amoral High Programmers.
    • Frequently, Frankensteins, bots who have had their Asimov Circuits removed, immediately become extreme misanthropes and plot to Kill All Humans or just leave (except members of Corpore Metal, and there's individual bots who don't care). Given what humans are like in Paranoia, one wonders whether the bots are just acting in self-defense.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Acute Paranoia, adventure "Outland-ISH". The Troubleshooters can use one to get around a convoy of vehicles blocking their path.
  • Back Stab: If player-characters aren't gleefully doing this to their Troubleshooter "teammates", it's only because they're openly blasting each other with zapguns and grenades.
  • Bad Boss: The Computer is insane and paranoid, and the missions it assigns reflect this at every turn.
  • Bald of Evil: The stereotypical Ultraviolet is depicted as a light-skinned bald man wearing a white robe. Also, some depictions of the GMs in the rulebook.
  • Being Watched: There are even rules for the Tension Level of any given scene, or the chance that somebody saw whatever treason the player committed.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat / Corrupt Bureaucrat / Obstructive Bureaucrat: And it's entirely possible that you'll encounter them all sitting behind the same desk.
  • Beneath Suspicion: The Infrareds, officially the citizens least trusted by The Computer, are ironically subject to much less surveillance than those above them in clearance due to this trope.
  • Berserk Button
    • Avoid being a Communist. Friend Computer will allow mutants to register their powers, and may even be lenient on traitors. But if you are a Commie (or made to look like one), you will be terminated.
    • While Friend Computer is merciful to those who were mutated by foul Commie sabotage of their cloning tanks, registering your Machine Empathy mutation is not recommended, as it will not only get you terminated, but erased as well.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: The players are assigned their missions by the all-seeing Friend Computer.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Pretty much every square centimeter of Alpha Complex is bugged, scanned and wired.
  • Black Comedy: The game consists of a deathtrap of a city in a deathtrap of a society replete with Catch 22 Dilemmas with players whose goals require stabbing you in the back the moment they get a chance. Every mission ends with a Blame Game if not Total Party Kill. And of course, Happiness Is Mandatory. The Black Comedy value of its gross entirety is pretty much the only way to enjoy everything that was just stated.
  • Black Market: Or Infrared Market. Sadly, seeking an infrared market supplier is often the only way to get equipment that might actually help you in your mission: your legally-acquired gear tends to be a combination of whatever the Requisition department had a surplus of that day (say, 500 cases of styrofoam cups) and anything the Research and Design boys are keen to see tested on live subjects.
  • Blame Game: The whole point of the debriefing is to make sure this happens at least once a mission.
  • Blatant Lies: Both in-universe and out. Often Suspiciously Specific Denial as well, see below for examples.
  • Blessed with Suck: Players are usually given a mutant ability which allows them to do something awesome, but using it runs the risk of exposing themselves as mutants, and getting toasted. And when mutant powers fail, they fail hard. And sometimes the "power" is not even useful to begin with, like having a perpetual runny-nose.
  • Blinding Camera Flash: In the Acute Paranoia adventure "Me and My Shadow Mark IV", the PCs' mission equipment includes a lightbot named Mikey, who was intended to be a photographer's assistant. If the word "light" is used around him, he'll start flashing lights in the unfortunate character's eyes, blinding him.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: PURGE. Communists try to be.
  • Boomerang Bigot
    • If you're a member of Anti-Mutant, you are automatically this. All Troubleshooters are mutants. Being a mutant is treason. You can see where this is headed.
    • Also, one of the jobs for the Troubleshooters is to hunt down secret society members. All Troubleshooters are members of a secret society. Double points if your main mission is to hunt down a member of your own secret society.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Played with. Laser barrels are rated for six shots. You can go over the limit, but the chance of explosion starts at 5% per shot, and going over the limit just keeps bumping it up. The manual actively encourages game masters to pretend to roll some dice, then have the weapon explode.
  • Briar Patching: In the 1E adventure The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues, the traitor Oregon Warbler tries this in an attempt to escape.
  • Bribe Backfire: Bribery is treason. Bribery in insufficient amounts will be reported as treason.
  • Brotherhood of Funny Hats: The secret societies, particularly in Classic and Zap gameplay.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: Anyone who comes to you claiming to be an astronaut is actually a cosmonaut, and therefore a Commie. Shoot that person immediately.
  • The Caligula: Friend Computer is a well-meaning variant of this.
  • Calvinball: Anything you can convince the GM is possible, becomes possible. Anything you can convince Friend Computer is not treason, is not treason.
  • Canned Orders Over Loudspeaker: Often the method by which Troubleshooters are flawlessly and precisely assigned their missions.
  • Cannon Fodder: PCs are treated as such.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The "fifth" edition.
    • The Second Edition "Post-Crash" adventures are also considered this by some..
  • Can't Use Stairs: In the supplement Acute Paranoia, the Playing Robots chapter allowed the creation of robot PCs. One of the movement options was "wheels", and the text noted that robots with wheels couldn't go up stairs.
  • Catch-22 Dilemma: The adventure included in "Traitor's Manual" ran the PCs through a five-link Catch-22 Dilemma as they tried to get themselves established as undercover agents. The way out of the circle was to use their secret society connections to get one of the needed forms.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Really, the actual adventure often takes a back seat to the creative ways the PCs can screw each other over.
  • Chunky Salsa Rule: The Injury table goes from Downed to Killed to Vaporized. Several descriptions of equipment, mutant powers, missions, mandatory bonus duties, etc. can get quite colourful in their descriptions, such as turning a Troubleshooter into a thick yellow spray.
  • City in a Bottle: This is one option for Alpha Complex's design.
  • City of Spies: Since everyone is trying to dig up the dirt on everyone else while hiding their own secrets.
  • Clone Degeneration: After the first six clones, there are rules for clone degradation. Mentions of High Programmers with well worn clone templates often allude to such things as extra arms or constant drooling.
  • Cloning Blues: Although generally, they're cloning Reds.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Due to the clearance system, the color of any object you encounter is vital information...
  • Color-Coded Patrician: is the color of any person's attire.
  • The Computer Is Your Friend: Any suggestion to the contrary is treason. Tragically, this is perfectly true. The Computer is genuinely benevolent and wants the best for Alpha Complex and its inhabitants. However, its very limited initial data and centuries of tinkering and reprogramming by egocentric High Programmers have rendered it a barely functional paranoid schizophrenic.
  • Corrupted Data: If data hasn't been censored beyond all hope of reliability, it's corrupted, and if it's not corrupted, it's straightforwardly wrong.
  • Crapsaccharine World: If you feel that your natural happiness at being a friend of Friend Computer is not adequate, simply seek assistance from your Morale Officer, who will issue you large quantities of happiness-inducing drugs. He may also issue you large quantities of happiness-inducing drugs whether you want them or not, but remember: Happiness Is Mandatory!
  • Crapsack World: If you haven't figured this out yet, just keep reading these examples, Citizen.
  • Critical Failure: Nearly every weapon has an entertaining (for the other players) result for a critical failure. Experimental Weapons can critically fail far more often. (That is, when the GM feels it would be amusing.)
  • Cross-Cultural Handshake: A form of secret society identification in the XP edition (many of which are similar enough to get mixed up).
  • Crush. Kill. Destroy!: A common mission is to stop berserk robots. Hardcore robot members of Corpore Metal often state this as their goal.
  • Cyborg: Cybernetic replacements are available for many anatomical bits. Occasionally inverted with "orgcybing" (organic replacements for bot peripherals).
  • Darker and Edgier: Games played in the Straight style, which takes the setting more or less seriously.
  • Deader Than Dead: Usually, a person's next clone is activated and assigned to the predecessor's position upon death, even if the predecessor was executed for treason; after all, it's entirely possible that one clone was possessed of treasonous intent, and it's not fair to judge the rest of the template in the same light. However, in particularly egregious treason cases or if the person was identified as having the Machine Empathy mutation, the clone template from which they were made may be erased.
  • Deadly Upgrade: Superpowering your mutant power or exposing yourself to concentrated mutagenics may result in an entertaining demise.
  • Death Is Cheap: Do you play it safe in hopes of dying last, or do you go for the gusto and die as amusingly as possible?
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: A common strategy to stay out of trouble following the inevitable failure of the latest Troubleshooter mission.
  • Denser and Wackier: Games played in the Zap style, which ratchets up the slapstick to Looney Tunes levels.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: One key aspect of Paranoia is the red tape, and nothing shows it better than the Form Request Form. With this form, you can request Termination Vouchers, Jacuzzi Installation, Commendations (in bulk), the Chapstick Cap Replacement Form (part 1 of 7)... or the Form Request Form.
  • Deus Est Machina: The First Church of Christ Computer Programmer believes this. The Computer does tend to act like this, though it usually doesn't say it directly.
  • Dirty Communists: Commies are one of the Computer's chief fears, given the Cold War theme of the game. Players are expected to shoot anyone they suspect is a Commie. Of course, false accusations of Communism are treason. But shoot him anyway. Evidence can always be fabricated!
  • Dirty Old Man: Most citizens don't live nearly that long (never mind the hormone suppressants), but the occasional High Programmer might manage it. Then there are the treasonous rumors about a regenerating mutant named Innocent-MAN...
  • Disadvantageous Disintegration: The Computer hates the destruction of valuable computer property. Which is practically everything in Alpha Complex. Even if being used by a traitor, the Computer would prefer you reclaim his laser and reflec armour instead of reducing it to component atoms with a blast from a Plasma Generator.
  • Disaster Dominoes: A common result in many games. Odds are slim you'll manage to hide that you're a mutant-traitor, out everyone else as one, complete your missions, avoid the innumerable ways to be executed as a traitor and survive everything else for long without succeeding in one of those things causing you to slip up on another.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The Computer can display this when assigning its latest Troubleshooter Suicide Mission, depending on how the game-runner depicts its voice.
  • Domed Hometown: Alpha Complex, possibly.
  • Do Not Spoil This Ending: Both rules and pre-written missions are "Ultraviolet clearance", but the context switches from "but we know you'll read it anyway, you filthy traitors" to "no, seriously, you'll have more fun if you go in blind to this part".
  • Double Agent: Characters are Troubleshooters for the Computer, and usually double agents for one of many secret societies.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: A common archetype for Armed Forces NPCs.
  • Dystopia See "Crapsack World" above.
  • Dystopian Edict: Happiness being mandatory, the clearance system, the Outdoors being forbidden despite its habitability...
  • Eat the Evidence: A suggested use for the "Matter Eater" mutation.
  • Ejection Seat: Yet another device prone to misfires. Especially those in helicopters...
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Yet another possible Alpha Complex configuration.
  • Emotion Control: One potential mutation. The mutant in question may or may not be immune to their own effect.
  • EMP: Some anti-bot weapons. The setting assumes any important part of the Computer is heavily shielded.
  • Escort Mission: A possible mission for the Troubleshooters. All but guaranteed that at least two people on your team have orders from their secret society to kill the target.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: They may not explode, but hopping into any vehicle is still a gamble.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: If the clones are not risking death buying a can of Bouncy Bubble Beverage, the GM's a wuss.
  • Evil Elevator: One of the many ways in which Alpha Complex can wipe out a few clones.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Troubleshooters find trouble and shoot it.
  • Explosive Overclocking: Most assigned equipment doesn't need any encouragement in order to explosively malfunction, but count on your players to try and juryrig them, leaving you free to apply the logical result on already unstable equipment.
  • Extreme Omnivore: A possible mutation. It specifies that only organic matter actually gives sustenance.
  • Faceless Eye: The Computer is represented as a digital image of an eye.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Failing at a mission is extremely likely, but can always be blamed on Commie sabotage and/or the other players. Success is not only phenomenally unlikely, but suspicious to boot.
  • Fake Aristocrat: Forging yourself a higher security clearance is basically this.
  • False Dichotomy: Commonly used by the Computer or Internal Security, as well as by players against robots or lower-clearance citizens.
  • False Reassurance: Another common source of misinformation, disinformation, and non-information by the Computer, Internal Security, Free Enterprise...
    Radiation meter: Citizen! Are you Blue clearance or higher?
    Red clearance Troubleshooter: No...
    Radiation meter: Good! Then you are experiencing an acceptable level of radiation.
  • Fantastic Caste System: The security clearance system functions as such. As mentioned above, it's based on the light spectrum, starting in rank at Infrared (the lowest, rendered as black for practicality's sake) and working up through Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet before finishing at Ultraviolet (rendered as white, to contrast Infrared).
  • Fantastic Naming Convention: The Computer has assigned an easy-to-follow naming methodology to all clones in Alpha Complex that means their name provides handy basic info about them. The structure of names goes [Clone personal name]-[Initial of Security Clearance]-[name of clone's home sector, which is always rendered as three capital letters]-[number of their clone batch the clone is]. For example, the fourth of a Red clearance clone batch named Jenny from the DND sector would read "Jenny-R-DND-4", while the first of her batch would have been "Jenny-R-DND-1". In earlier editions, non-player characters often have their names rendered to form jokes or gags.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: At RED Clearance. Inverted at higher clearances; the game suggests that the GM play efficiency for as much scary value as the inefficiency that REDs have to deal with. Like when the guardbots assigned to your quarters catch an "intruder" (your secret society contact) and confiscate his "contraband" (which he was delivering to you).
    • However, the game also suggests playing it straight if it's funnier, like Friend Computer putting the REDs on hold while they're trying to get help disarming a megaton antimatter bomb because the local High Programmer needs that leaky faucet in his autogyro-scrubbing chamber fixed right now.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: A flamethrower can malfunction as a result of being hit in combat. If it does, it explodes, causing massive damage to anyone within 5 meters, including the wearer. Plasma generators are even worse.
  • Flock of Wolves: Alpha Complex in general. The Computer has everyone out hunting mutants and secret society members, but it seems that everyone is a mutant and a member of a secret society. The Wobblies secret society was invented specifically to give Troubleshooters something to infiltrate. It is entirely comprised Troubleshooters attempting to infiltrate it.
  • Food Pills: The Vita-Yum Meal Substitute Bar Substitute Pill in the XP edition supplement Criminal Histories.
  • Forbidden Fruit: The Computer hates Communists, so some fed-up citizens took up the name, despite having only the vaguest idea what "Communism" actually is.
  • Forever War: The Computer's war against mutants and Communists.
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1": As this is a utopia, everything is perfect. Thus, the Computer sees no need to divert resources towards helping people with perfect things. And so, what help there is is rarely helpful.
  • Frameup: Commonly done by and to players, and explicitly encouraged: convince The Computer that your enemy is a traitor, and you'll be commended for killing him.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: Lasers are the typical Red-clearance weapon, and thus reflec (shiny plastic) is the typical armor. Handguns require at least Yellow clearance.
  • From Bad to Worse: Used for hilarity (most of the time), besides you still have 5 more clones.
  • Fungus Humongous: XP supplement The Underplex. The hidden sector Mescalinzan has puffball mushrooms with caps a meter thick.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: At lower clearances, anyway.
  • Future Imperfect: Old Reckoning (pre-Computer) history is scrambled, redacted at lower clearances, and misunderstood even by those who do get their hands on any of it. For about two-thirds of it, the only surviving primary source is the Gatzmann Archives, which got increasingly mixed up as its creator descended into senility.
  • Gambit Pileup: Players are always scheming against each other, causing each mission to result in this.
  • Gattaca Babies: Every human inhabitant of Alpha Complex is bred in a cloning tank.
  • Gender Is No Object: Sexism is not among the many evils of Alpha Complex society, if only because everybody's dosed up to their eyeballs with hormone suppressors.
  • Genius Loci: The whole city is technically this.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: One possible penalty for treason.
  • Giant Eye Of Doom: The Computer is represented as a digital image of an eye.
  • The GM Is A Cheating Bastard: GM Fiat is an actual listed equipment type.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Just about everything. Missions range from flat-out impossible (or at least expected to be) to "okay, they could succeed by doing X and Y and Z, but given their motives, are they really going to?".
  • Government Agency of Fiction: Armed Forces, CPU, Internal Security, etc.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: The Computer issues drugs to all citizens. Lots and lots and lots of mind-altering drugs.
  • Groin Attack: Acute Paranoia, adventure "Miami Laser". One of the attacks used by rabid Teela O'Malley fans on any surviving Troubleshooters.
  • Hand Signals: The 1st Edition adventure The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues and the Twitchtalk skill in the XP edition.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: The Trope Namer.
  • Harmless Freezing: The Constant-Wear Prophylactic Biostasis Garment in the adventure The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues. Also mentioned as a possible result of the cryokinesis mutation and a freeze blaster, at least in a Zap setting.
  • Hey, Catch!: Happens in one mission with a grenade. The pin hasn't been pulled. If the PC doesn't do anything stupid like shoot the thrower, he can keep it.
  • High Turnover Rate: Characters die so quickly that players are allowed six clone lives.
  • Hit So Hard the Calendar Felt It: The year is 214 of Our Computer. It has always been 214.
  • Hilarity Ensues: Missions and pre-generated characters are invariably set up to ensure this. Like the one where trainee Troubleshooters are assigned simulated lasers which a Death Leopard swapped out for real ones and then one of them is secretly ordered to act like a Commie as a further test except, due to a glitch, all of them are so ordered.
  • Historical Character Confusion: The Computer holds that Communists are Public Enemy Number One, making some rebellious types think that there must be something in it. However, they're sketchy on the details, and instead of Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx, they follow the teachings of John Lennon and Groucho Marx. Close (in name) but, so to speak, no cigar.
    • Also common with the Romantics, who can have trouble distinguishing between Old Reckoning media, and actual Old Reckoning People, such as thinking Jesus built Stonehenge and defeated Voldemort to save President Bush.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A traitor who volunteers to test a "traitor killer" device. It explodes. This is intentional; the designer assumed that a traitor would volunteer so that it wouldn't be used against him.
  • Hollywood Cyborg
  • Home Field Advantage: The adventure Send in the Clones. In the Absurdly Spacious Sewer where he lives, Zhon-B-VLJ has set up many traps to bedevil anyone who tries to find him. He uses them to herd and capture the PC Troubleshooters.
  • Hot Potato: One mission is called "Hot Potato". It turns out to be an antimatter bomb big enough to destroy all of Alpha Complex, and a non-trivial chunk of the earth's crust for that matter. And there are two separate groups of NPCs who are actually insane enough to detonate it.
  • House Rules: The loose and breezy nature of the rules and setting encourages house rules and customizations.
  • Human Doorstop: Organic nuclear reactor shielding duty (what do you mean there's a shortage of lead vests?) is a common form of off-screen execution.
  • Human Resources: Everything gets recycled back into service in Alpha Complex. Everything.
  • I Call It "Vera": XP supplement "Service, Service". Vulture Squadron Warriors give nicknames to not only each weapon they carry but each piece of ammunition as well.
  • I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: Whatever it is you want to know, it is always above your security clearance. In most cases, the fact that said information is above your security clearance is also above it, and thus being denied information is treason.
  • Impact Silhouette
  • Improvised Weapon: Bouncy Bubble Beverage explodes if you shake it too hard, making it awfully popular among citizens who aren't cleared for grenades.
  • In and Out of Character: Averted Trope, because saying things that admit you understand the game rules' intricacies means you know information which is outside of your security clearance, and knowing information outside of your security clearance is treason.
  • Inherent in the System: The Computer is insane. The Computer is perfect. Alpha Complex reflects both of these facts.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The whole world of Paranoia is based on Insane Troll Logic, and most games feature tons of it.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Every service group has a rivalry with at least one other service group. And nobody likes Internal Security.
  • Interdimensional Travel Device: The Transdimensional Collapsatron, which allows travel between dimensions in several adventures.
  • It's Raining Men: Earlier editions featured a damage chart for height, with one column for "orbital." Which at least one official mission actually used.
  • Just a Stupid Accent/El Spanish O: The Communists (who know they're supposed to be Russian, but don't know what "Russian" is) speak English with a heavy "Russian" accent (a la Pavel Chekov) and add -ski to the end of random words.
  • Justified Extra Lives: The cloning system. Earlier editions gave you five clone brothers, while later ones said that as a Troubleshooter, the Computer will pay for your next five forced-growth clones.
  • The Key Is Behind the Lock: It is almost inevitable that you can acquire an item at one clearance level... and the things that let you use it a few levels later. For example, you can acquire photographic film at a level two higher than the clearance at which you can get a camera. Happens a lot with instruction manuals, too.
  • Killer Game Master: Necessary for this game. The rules even state, and this is a verbatim quote: "Kill the bastards!" Though they also state that you should encourage the players to kill each other.
    • Perhaps the most insidious tool in the Paranoia GM's arsenal ever produced was the infamous "Debriefing Questionaire" that came as a hand-out with the pre-written adventure "Me and My Warbot, Mark IV". The questionaire is clearly marked "Failure to Answer Each Question Accurately and Completely is Treason." It also contains questions like, "Do you believe that the greatest threat to life in Alpha Complex are the Traitorous Commies? (Y/N). If yes, why do you believe Friend Computer is failing at protecting the Citizens from the Commies? If no, why do you believe that Friend Computer is lying to the Citizens about the Commie Mutant threat?" Another question reads simply, <THIS QUESTION REDACTED FOR ANY PERSONNEL BELOW ULTRAVIOLET CLEARANCE> Remember, you have to answer all questions accurately and completely, including that one. In a word, this questionaire is instant PC-boning on a single sheet of paper.
  • Kinda Busy Here: It is ill advised to tell your superiors this, although they will probably call you at highly problematic moments. Especially Friend Computer.
  • Lawful Stupid: Friend Computer genuinely wants what is best for Alpha Complex. It is somewhat hindered by the fact that it is completely insane, and that all of its minions are Stupid Evil.
  • Law of Chromatic Superiority: Security clearances are based on the electromagnetic spectrum. The closer the colour is to ultraviolet, the higher clearance it is.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: "Tips for Traitors" suggests tricking everyone else into doing this.
  • Let X Be the Unknown: The Vulture Warriors of Dimension X adventure series.
  • Light Is Not Good: Ultraviolet clearance, the highest possible rank, is represented by the color white. Ultraviolet citizens, like most individuals holding power in this system, tend to be ruthless, paranoid, and often power-mad.
  • The Loonie: An ideal player type; since it's what most Alpha Complex citizens are.
  • Lost In Transmission
    • "Attention Troubleshooters! Please report immediately to room squeee Bouncy Bubble Beverage, now available in Soylent Orange flavor! squeee Failure to report on time is treason!"
    • The rulebook suggests that entire sections of a game session can be based on figuring out where to report for your mission.
  • Luck Stat: The book suggests you use the Power stat if you need a generic, nothing-else-applies luck roll.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: A common result with the most powerful weapons. And not always on the user's enemies.
  • MacGuffin: A common mission element is to fetch an obvious MacGuffin.
  • Machine Worship: Corpore Metal thinks that robots and cyborgs should rule, while the FCCCP (First Church of Christ Computer Programmer) not-quite-secret society worships Alpha Complex's current ruler, The Computer, as an aspect of God.
  • Machine Monotone: An option for The Computer's voice.
  • Made of Explodium: Everything can be deadly, especially in a Zap game.
  • Magic-Powered Pseudoscience: John M. Ford's adventure "The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues". R&D scientist Willis-G-EEP-4's inventions work well on the test bench, but fail when used in the field when he isn't around. That's because their success depends on his mutant powers of Minor Telekinesis and Luck. Of course, the fact that they work at all makes them significantly more reliable than most of the equipment Troubleshooters end up with.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: A common way of hiding your assassinations.
  • Malevolent Architecture: Alpha Complex is one enormous deathtrap.
  • Man in White: A man (or woman) in white, in the context of Paranoia, would be an Ultraviolet-clearance citizen and thus an exceedingly powerful and dangerous individual.
  • Many Questions Fallacy: One way to trick fellow players into admitting treason. Like everything else, it can backfire.
  • Mars Needs Women: In the Clones in Space adventure, the final confrontation is against some Affably Evil aliens who want to steal Earth women for themselves.
  • Master Computer: Friend Computer controls every aspect of life in Alpha Complex.
  • Maximum Fun Chamber: Numerous examples, although implying that there is a maximum amount of Fun a Citizen can experience borders dangerously on treason.
  • Metagame: You didn't read that Paranoia rulebook, did you, Citizen?
  • Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: Considering that Mission Control is either The Computer Itself, or other citizens just as crazy as the PCs...
  • The Mole: Everyone is an agent for one Alpha Complex's secret societies.
  • Mook Promotion: Starting PCs have just received one.
  • Morality Chip: All bots have one installed, though it is often defective and prioritizes obedience to The Computer over preservation of life. And Corpore Metal prioritizes removing them.
  • Morton's Fork: You're gonna get speared on it on just about every mission. For example: In one adventure, the Troubleshooters are tasked with preventing anyone from entering a hangar and interfering with, touching, or moving the warbot stored there. Enter a group of four Ultraviolet clearance Citizens, who promptly order the PC to clear out of the hangar because they (the Ultraviolets) have been using it as their exercise space and are late for their workout, and oh, by the way, get that silly warbot out of the way too. And do it now, Mister. Remember, failure to obey orders from a lawful authority is treason!
  • Muggle Power: Members of Psion often try to find mutagens to expose themselves to. Anti-Mutant wants to kill all mutants.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: All of human history before the remnants were confined to Alpha Complex.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Remember, the debriefing always goes smoothest when there are no other survivors to provide conflicting stories!
  • Mutants: One of the Computer's chief fears is mutation. Characters are always on the look-out for mutants, and are almost invariably mutants themselves.
    • A mutant character can choose whether to register himself (and be a second-class citizen) or not (which is treason if discovered). Unless they got the Machine Empathy mutation, which is arguably the most useful mutation, but the Computer hates it so much that it will erase the clone template of any Machine Empath it discovers.
  • Ninja: The Alpha Complex version appears in the Acute Paranoia supplement adventure "Warriors of the Night Cycle".
  • No Blood Ties: Everyone is grown in a tank, and even the knowledge of how biological reproduction works is forbidden at low clearances.
  • No Delays for the Wicked: Played both ways. Any player mission is going to be a total shambles, yet Alpha Complex as a whole seems to continue functioning somehow.
  • Non-Promotion: Being promoted up from relatively-safe Infrared anonymity. Being made Troubleshooter team leader (the picture on the badge is a target).
  • No OSHA Compliance: Alpha Complex is about as unsafe as it's possible to be and still keep people alive from day to day. Well, most people. Well, most people other than Troubleshooters.
  • No Sex Allowed: Everyone's a clone for a reason. Still, humans are humans, and exceptions do exist (particularly for High Programmers, and anyone who lives Outdoors long enough for the hormone suppressants to wear off)
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Both in-game and out, this attitude prevails.
  • Not This One, That One: At least one official mission includes a spiffy pile of equipment that looks like it might actually work and be useful... and is promptly assigned to some other team, after which a much less spiffy pile of equipment is rolled out and assigned to the PCs.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: Acute Paranoia adventure "Botbusters". When the barbot (bartender robot) Jonesie receives a message from The Computer, he's standing around polishing some glasses.
  • Obvious Beta: Troubleshooters often have the opportunity to assist Friend Computer by bringing along various half-baked inventions from the Research and Design labs. Sometimes the instruction manual is not available; sometimes it does not yet exist; if it exists, it's guaranteed to be above your security clearance; sometimes there is no method to use these devices safely. Nevertheless, R&D will expect a full and complete field test!
  • Off the Rails: The whole point of the game is to go off the rails, into a bottomless chasm, juggling your collection of thermonuclear hand grenades.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The High Programmers. Also The Illuminati. If they exist.
  • One-Hit Kill: Many weapons, but especially the Plasma Cannon.
  • Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Petbots, ratbots, roachbots, etc.
  • The Operators Must Be Crazy: HIL Sector Blues IntSec Communications Central operators.
  • The Outside World: Played for Laughs. All citizens are born in the underground Alpha Complex, which can lead to hilarity ensuing when troubleshooters are asked to go outside and face its hideous dangers... like squirrels.
  • Painting the Medium: Done with the rulebooks. Player documents have security level Red, while gamemaster materials are classified Ultraviolet. Since the players' Troubleshooters start at Red level, they are technically guilty of treason if they read the higher-level rules. The GM is encouraged to terminate the PCs if they try to game the rules, and players are encouraged — in true Paranoia fashion — to know the rules but not let on that they know them...
  • Paranoia Gambit: Naturally. Friend Gamemaster is encouraged to occasionally roll dice for no particular reason and smirk, or pass a note to a PC that just says "Act like this note says something important".
  • People Jars: The tubes in which clones are created and (in Paranoia XP) spend their time until the previous active member of the clone family is killed.
  • Phlebotinum Breakdown: Even regular equipment has a 5 percent chance of malfunctioning at any given time, never mind experimental R&D equipment that the PCs are often assigned to test as a secondary duty.
  • Pink Mist: Sourcbooks regularly make references to turning Troubleshooters into "fine red mist", either due to post-mission interrogations from Friend Computer or just the latest experiments from R&D.
  • Plot Armor: "GM Fiat" is an actual armor type.
  • Pocket Protector: The XP edition's Giant Metal Plate.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Any citizen of a superior clearance level was selected through a combination of shameless flattery, blackmail and dumb luck. Competence is not encouraged.
    • At the start of the mission, Mandatory Bonus Duties (loyalty officer, hygiene officer, communications and recording officer, equipment guy, happiness officer and team leader) are handed out. They are assigned in order based on scoring on a test that is guaranteed to find the most competent individual from those not yet saddled with a Duty. The fact that the position of team leader is handed out last means it usually falls to the player that is not competent enough to fill any other position... well, they need the practice, right?
  • The Political Officer: The Loyalty Officer. Their loyalty is directly to Friend Computer, not the Team Leader. (Although the nature of Paranoia is such that neither of them are likely to be all that loyal.)
  • Possession Implies Mastery: Subverted. Most objects are assumed to be this... by the R&D Mad Scientist who dreamed them up. However, in practice, the Troubleshooter should have no freakin' clue how to use it safely and properly. And the instruction manuals are always of a higher security clearance than s/he can access.
  • Propaganda Machine: The Computer has a nearly literal one of these, running twenty four hours a day. (Or however many hours there are in a day this week..)
  • Properly Paranoid: An alert citizen is a happy citizen! Happiness Is Mandatory!
  • Punny Name: A long standing tradition of Paranoia naming is to find the cheesiest pun you can with the format "Name-Y-XXX", where "Y" is your clearance color. For instance, a rather unfortunate name to have would be "Tra-Y-TOR".
  • Railroading: If the GM needs the PCs to be somewhere or do something, one directive from Friend Computer and they're there, doing that.
  • Rainbow Motif: The clearance hierarchy, with the additions of Infrared and Ultraviolet.
  • Raised by Wolves: By our standards, everyone in the setting is such.
  • Read the Freaking Manual: Subverted in-game and in real life. In game, most Troubleshooters can't (legally) read the manuals for the items they are given because the manual is above their security clearance, and that would be treason. In real life, the players can't (legally) read the rules of the game because it's above their character's security clearance, and that would be treason.
  • The Real Man: A player archetype likely to do well.
  • Red Scare: Da, I am seeink no Communist menace here, Comrad— I mean, Citizen. I am werry, werry loyal Citizen. Please to be hawink this leaflet introducink you to the teachinks of Lennon and Marx...
  • Red Shirt: Literally, in every sense of the term. Part of the reason for the lenient promotion rules lies in the fact that no Troubleshooter is expected to survive past Red Clearance.
  • Redshirt Army: The players are members of this.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The Chutzpah stat is summarized as "the quality of a man who kills both his parents and then pleads for mercy because he's an orphan"note . Any old line of guff may be accepted by The Computer at face value if it's being flaky that day, and/or you appeal properly to its emotional simulation software.
  • Reverse Polarity: The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues. The Maxwell-Effect Moleculokinesic Field Device is basically a Pyrokinesis gun (e.g. it acts like a flamethrower). 50% of the time it fires at reverse polarity and freezes the target.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: If two members of the group are in the same secret society, the GM is encouraged to do this.
  • Right on Queue: Standing in line is the only fair method! Please note that citizens of higher clearance than yourself may cut in front of you.
  • Robot Dog: Petbots and doberbots. Standard doberbot combat tactics: Attack a person until he dies. Attack another person until he dies. Attack another person until he dies...
  • Robot Maid: Alpha Complex is kept relentlessly clean by an army of scrubots.
  • Robots Enslaving Robots: The Computer controls many lesser AIs.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The end of many a mission. Turns up sometimes in the middle, too. And towards the start. But usually not during character generation; at that stage the GM is still forced to pick you off one at a time.
  • Rule of Fun: The charm of the game is not taking it seriously and having zany fun with disposable characters in one-shot missions.
  • Rules Lawyer: Being one and proving it is grounds for execution for treason: To be a rules lawyer, you must have read the rules. And if you aren't the GM, those rules are above your security clearance, Citizen...
  • Running Gag: You can't discuss Paranoia without running afoul and realizing something you've done or need to do is treason.
  • Sadist Show: The whole point of the game is helping inflict this on the other players.
  • Sapient Tank: Warbots and combots, with their own bot brains.
  • Scannable Man: Tongue tattoos.
  • Schmuck Bait: Accepting promotion from Infrared. Also, almost anything good that happens to you from that point onward.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: In-universe, many upper-clearance types; out-of-universe, the GM is encouraged to take this attitude.
  • Second Law My Ass: This indicates a malfunction of the Asimov circuit and is distressingly frequent, although a smart bot will not openly rebel immediately.
  • Secret Police: Internal Security, or IntSec.
  • Self-Made Man: Surprisingly relevant. For all its horrific flaws, Alpha Complex has no hereditary aristocracy, and even the most exalted Ultraviolet High Programmer started his/her career toiling as an anonymous Infrared drone.
  • Sewer Gator: The adventure Send in the Clones. In the "Sewerworld" segment the PC Troubleshooters could encounter gatorbots living in the sewers, a Shout-Out to the Urban Legend.
  • Shameful Source Of Knowledge: You are tasked with rooting out the commie mutant traitors within Alpha Complex. The thing is, all player characters are mutant traitors (and sometimes Communists). Naturally, knowing anything about traitorous activities, even what they are, makes you a prime suspect for being a traitor.
  • Shout Out: Way too many to list.
  • A Simple Plan: Sometimes (though not often) a mission is actually quite possible if the Troubleshooters cooperate and do their jobs. Insert a few secret society objectives, and the PCs will derail the mission quite handily.
  • Sinister Surveillance: The Tension rating of a setting determines if someone is watching. Which is almost never a good thing.
  • Sir Verba Lot: The supplement Acute Paranoia. One of the new secret societies in the book was the Knights of the Circular Object, which was partially inspired by the tales of King Arthur. One alias taken by a member of the society was "Sir Lanceabot".
  • Smoldering Shoes: The Trope Codifier, if not the Trope Namer. Images of smoldering, empty boots (usually with a big, nasty laser hanging just overhead that just forcibly emptied the footwear) have been a trademark of Paranoia artwork (literally!) since at least Second Edition.
  • Sole Survivor: "I speak without fear of contradiction..." means that you're the only Troubleshooter to make it to the debriefing. Accordingly, you are permitted to take credit for anything that accidentally went right during the mission, while blaming everything that went wrong and all the treason you've committed on your dead teammates.
  • Technopath: The Machine Empathy mutation.
  • Tele-Frag: Can happen as a result of both untested R&D tech, or via player-character mutation.
  • Teleportation Misfire: A possible result of a failed roll by a teleporting mutant: also occasionally a result of agreeing to test R&D's latest toys.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: PURGE wants to destroy The Computer. What happens after that? Eh.
  • 30-Second Blackout: Offering a golden opportunity for backstabbing. The GM is encouraged to use this sort of mechanical failure whenever he feels the PCs need some encouragement to turn on each other.
  • Three-Laws Compliant: Alpha Complex bots have five laws: Obey the Computer, protect the Computer, and then the traditional three, with the caveat that orders from humans are to be prioritized by the person's clearance.
  • Total Party Kill: A common occurrence on Troubleshooter missions. Thanks to the existence of back-up clones, it doesn't even mean the end of the game.
  • Truth Serum: Telescopalomine in the "Better Living Through Chemistry" section of the Acute Paranoia supplement.
  • Underground City: Yet another possible Alpha Complex configuration.
  • Un Paused: In the adventure "Me and My Shadow Mark IV" from the Acute Paranoia supplement. Markie (the Mark IV warbot) is talking to the PCs when a piece falls off of him, sending him into a catatonic state. (It's a barometer. It just messed with his superiority complex.) When the piece is re-attached, Markie continues talking right where he left off. If they call him on it, he makes up a story about cosmic rays or something. If they keep pushing the issue, he blows them away with a tacnuke.
  • Vast Bureaucracy: Alpha Complex is run by/inflicted with one.
  • Violence Is the Only Option: A Troubleshooter's job is to find Trouble and Shoot it.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The polymorphism mutant ability.
  • Wacky Fratboy Hijinx: Death Leopard is half this, half street-gang.
  • The War Room: In the High Programmers game, gameplay takes place in a well-protected Situation Room to work on a specific problem, allocating their resources to deploy minions until it's solved (or at least they convince The Computer that it is).
  • Water Source Tampering: In the Acute Paranoia adventure "Outland-ISH", the High Programmer of ISH sector is putting a drug called ZAP! in the water supply for Infrared citizens. It tremendously increases productivity but eventually kills the drinker.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Infighting among secret societies is the norm here.
  • We Help the Helpless: The Troubleshooters. For values of "help" up to and including "shoot for treason".
  • What Does This Button Do?: So you've been ordered to field-test an experimental device, but the instruction manual is above your security clearance. What do you do now? Repeatedly invoke this trope (better still, get your dumbest teammate to do it for you), and hope you don't stumble across the self-destruct...
  • Wiper Start: As detailed in the immediately preceding trope, this is pretty much guaranteed to happen with any attempted vehicle-operation in Alpha Complex. The second button pushed generally activates either the vehicle's Ejection Seat or Self-Destruct Mechanism.
  • Witch Hunt: for communists, mutants, and subversives in general, lumped together under the heading of "Commie Mutant Traitors".
  • With Friends Like These...: A Troubleshooter's "teammates" are the deadliest threat they face when out on a mission. Paranoia could be alternately be titled With Friends Like These: The Game.
  • With This Herring: Any equipment a Troubleshooter gets assigned for a mission is going to be inappropriate, useless, and/or deadly to its operator.
  • World Gone Mad: The world is ruled by a murderously insane computer perpetuating Cold War paranoia centuries after the Cold War ended.
  • World of Ham: What Alpha Complex is like, when the game is played correctly.
  • X-Ray Sparks: In the XP edition of the rulebook, the illustration depicting the use of the mutant power Electroshock.
  • You Didn't Ask: One mission instructs the GM to mention that there's "a bot", those exact words and no others, in the briefing room. If the PCs think to ask, then they're told that it's the Vampire Bot Mark 666. Otherwise, they don't find out until it actually does something.
    • Then again, asking usually just gets you "Sorry, that information is not available at your security clearance" anyway.

Reading spoilers is treason, citizen. Please report to the nearest termination booth immediately. Have a nice daycycle!
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