Exuviae: A Mother’s Interest 

There’s a secret scratching beneath the surface of this town.  A secret that Annie Bishop and “Big Al” Halifax are going to split open for the whole world to see.  A secret powered by my completed EXUVIAE rules, within two and a half hours and with no preparation whatsoever.

Annie Bishop works the taxidermy store at the top of town.  It’s a stuffy job, but she’s got the stomach for the work and the intermittent deliveries of Big Al.  So, Big Al pulls up outside her house one morning, having “hit something” on the freeway again, but there’s something up with this moose.  Intricate patterns have been carved into its skin — though clearly not by any knife or claw that Al’s familiar with.  He hauls the carcass into her house — the symbols are weirdly familiar both to south American ancient cultures, but also European and Asian paganism too — though what’s less than familiar is the fact the moose’s liver has calcified into a lump of granite.

The two are both hot up on their conspiracies — Annie reads a ton of occult books and their authors tend to take too much seriously, and Al is a regular listener of those radio stations where you’re allowed to speak out against the vampire lizards.  This stoneliver is clearly a sign: and probably tied to the fact that the florist opposite Annie’s taxidermy shop was broken into a few days back, but still no cops have turned up to turn the place over.

So the two hit up the florist: Al taking his usual subtlety with a heavy kick to the door.  Inside is dark, and the place stinks of rotting lilies and bloating flesh.  There’s a body on the floor and someone rooting through the pockets, but this guy stands up and holds his hands into the air.

But then, see, the body on the floor, it sits bolt upright.  Al spooks, throws his wrench at the guy with his hands up — guy whose head snaps back with a flailing proboscis.  Annie flees the scene, but is barged to the floor by some heavy who steps into the doorway.

The clearly-not-a-corpse has gotten to its feet by this point and grabbed Al, who stares transfixed at the empty eye sockets of the thing.  By the time he breaks free, a steady stream of mosquitoes pour from the sockets, and Annie’s looking through Al’s truck for something to lever open the nearby hydrant.

Except that she sees someone over the road and is promptly interrupted by her mother, who’s not only clearly friends with the brute who knocked Annie to the floor, but also friends with Al’s ex-wife who also crosses the road.  The brute grabs Annie, Big Al runs into the brute’s mate out the back of the shop, and the pair wake up tied to chairs in a dockside warehouse.

This first act of the game led to the players uncovering almost half as many truths as they needed to win: and after escaping the warehouse and resting up at Al’s contact, they researched an abandoned truck-stop at the edge of town.  Eventually leaving that in flames and with the corpse of a hybrid human insect in the back of a truck, the pair fled along the coast road to Annie’s father, where they eventually learned the truth of her mother’s involvement…

seanspade2

EXUVIAE is currently in the run-up to a Kickstarter later this year.  I’m organising artwork, layout, printing, &c.  However, if you want to get access to the beta reader rules then send me an email at SEANatBOOKSEANSMITHdotCOdotUK.

 

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Exuviae: A Mother’s Interest 

Molding a Monster: the Locksmith

The Locksmith is a corrupted humanoid, its pallid flesh splitting with myriad orifices – lipless mouths, nostrils, arseholes – that form and collapse within moments.

The Locksmith can only pass through sealed thresholds. An open door holds it back as much as a wall does.

Game Statistics : Abilities (Athletics 6, Health 5, Scuffling 8); Hit Threshold 4; Stealth Modifier +1, Stability Loss: +1.

Weapon : Skin-on-skin contact heals the target d6 Health points – if target Health is full, it seals their sensory (eyes, ears) or respiratory (nose mouth) orifices. Every strike incurs a five point stability test.

Armour : Wounds caused by piercing and cutting immediately heal over. Fire cleanses it of orifices for a moment but deals no lasting damage. Blunt force trauma will harm the locksmith.

What lies above is probably my favourite horrific creature I’ve ever brought about. It forms the killer in my scenario for the RPG Geek GUMSHOE one-sheet contest.

Originally, the thought came to mind when I spotted a bricked up window in a London side-street.  I remember learning about the window tax as a child, and suddenly was struck with the realisation that these are essentially permanently sealed thresholds.  This train of thought continued, largely from a perspective of justifying weirdnesses.  What if a creature could only pass through sealed thresholds?  What would its lair look like?

The building is labyrinthine and almost all of the doors and windows are sealed tight, be they through sturdy lock or wood and nail. Of course, the Locksmith can pass through these thresholds so long as they are sealed. So long as it is able, the Locksmith will attack and retreat guerilla-style.

From the decision of its movements, I began to think of the way it would harm people — and the very best way I manage that is to go heavily overboard on the same image. So, further sealed thresholds: though in this case, the orifices of the body…

How can I do this myself?

  1. Find something weird in the real world — an interesting staring point
  2. Extrapolate from this — how could something strange exploit this?
  3. Continue from there — if this, then what?

I’d love to hear where you start & what you end up with!  Share your favourite monsters in the comments below.

Molding a Monster: the Locksmith

Four reasons why Judge Death is the perfect OSR antagonist

Staring down a vicious stat-block just isn’t in keeping with the mindset that best suits OSR roleplaying.  A long list of pre-determined weaknesses and resistances lends itself to an archivist’s game. A player’s success at getting past prescriptivist obstacles becomes an admin task instead of an opportunity for creative problem solving.

Vicious stat-blocks are so much easier to design.  Want to make this more dangerous?  Just add two to all of the numbers.

But designing problems that enable problem-solving is much more enjoyable an experience.  The incomparable Arnold K. wrote an excellent piece that summarises what I most enjoy about designing these challenges:

Writing a good OSR-style problem is tougher than it sounds.  It needs to be something that. . .
  • has no easy solution.
  • has many difficult solutions.
  • requires no special tools (e.g. unique spells, plot devices).
  • can be solved with common sense (as opposed to system knowledge or setting lore).
  • isn’t solvable through some ability someone has on their character sheet.  Or at least, it isn’t preferentially solvable.  I’m okay with players attacking the sphinx (a risky undertaking) if they can’t figure out the riddle, because risky-but-obvious can be a solution, too.

Now, a lot of OSR play does’t require overt antagonists.  However, Arnold’s breakdown coupled with my well-documented love of villains and resulted in the realisation that Judge Death is perhaps the perfect OSR antagonist.

250px-judgedeathirving
Judge Death by Frazer Irving

1. He swiftly sets a tone

While there can be a lot said for subtlety, it becomes increasingly difficult to deal with a subtle challenge in a nuanced manner.  Einstein famously said, “If you cannot explain something simply, you do not know it well enough.”  Judge Death’s personality is crass (& arguably one-dimensional) but this quickly establishes a standard from which to interact with.  Through play, the shades of meaning can be found.

The global annihilation threat isn’t a new story and it isn’t a particularly subtle one.  It is retold so often because it retains a powerful emotional pull.

Likewise, Judge Death’s plan sets up an inevitability that demands interaction.

2. His motive is clear to grasp

All crimes are commited by the living, therefore all life is a crime.

While Judge Death is unlikely to calmly debate the innate issues of his logical fallacy here (Talking back to a judge? That’s ten years, perp.), his reasoning is easy to follow.  The key word here is grasp.  Not only can players simply understand it, they are able to use it as a tool.  It doesn’t require setting-specific information in order to interact with and its simplicity enables the players to make safe assumptions about Death’s likely behaviours. And from safe assumptions, risky plans can be built.

Furthermore, it is clear that his motive is evil, in case there was any misapprehension about his role in the story.

dark-judges-spread
Fire, Fear, Mortis & Death

3. He comes with interesting friends

A villain capable of proving a real threat to the world doesn’t work alone.  However, Judge Death doesn’t just come with a legion of faceless goons.

The success of the other Dark Judges come from their variety; while the simplicity of their goal might become monotonous over a large campaign, the difference in their behaviour and tools help provide freshness.  The variety and distinction is another thing that helps in play: each becomes an overt opportunity to solve problems the solutions for which will differ between encounters.  Consistently showing players that they must solve these kinds of problems will give them the skill to solve problems later on.

4. His statistics aren’t the most important thing

While it would be possible to write a stat-block for Death, he becomes a much more interesting villain if a number of truths are established about his character than a number of Hit Points given.

  • Judge Death doesn’t regenerate xHP each turn; instead, he suffers no personal harm on being damaged.
  • If his (current) body is completely destroyed, he moves on as an insubstantial spirit-form.  This form can possess bodies.
  • He doesn’t deal traditional damage; instead he reaches into your body and can stop your brain or heart.

Thus, fighting him doesn’t descend into a war of attrition.  The combat becomes less a mastery of the system, more a mastery of the narrative.

* * *

I can’t recommend you drop Death directly into your game.  Intellectual property protection would deem that a crime (for which the sssentence iss death).  But you can use the facets of his success to create successful antagonists in your OSR games.  Consider how you can use a character’s tone, her motive, her companions and the innate truths of her existence to provide elements for your players to interact with.  Your villains should be much more than just a bundle of numbers.

Let us know how you apply these lessons to your villains in the comments below.

Four reasons why Judge Death is the perfect OSR antagonist

Differently Valuable Loot

Were you to break into my house*, this shelf probably has the most valuable loot.

image
Notice especially the playtest version of ZIGGURAT & a purloined craps point.

It took me (& my parents) a long time to finally complete the collection of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks—clearly the series that got me into tabletop gaming. Half of the reason is the relative rarity of some of the books: the final of the original series—Curse of the Mummy—was only printed 5000 times, and even one of the newer texts goes for fifty quid online. I’ve seen auctions go to several hundred pounds for some of these books.

Sure, the TV beside might look more appealing, but these would probably fetch a higher price total.

///

So I’ve been recently building dungeons for a secret project** and much of that has involved deciding upon various things for players to locate and sell for cold, hard cash. Worryingly, this process has gotten me thinking.

The treasure you give your players doesn’t just have to be worth more money.

While the most obvious (& easily altered) value of an object is its innate or accepted cost, it shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when setting out treasure.

  • If you have a buyer, it’s more valuable. At the baseline, this is the core of a fetch-quest. Here adventurer, go get me this thing. I’ll give you gold.

That said, it’s also possible to realise partway through possession of something that its value can go up.

  • Information (& context) affects value. If you suddenly learn that someone is a keen buyer of something you already have, suddenly its relative value to your players increases.
  • Value moves both ways. Blood diamonds are much cheaper. Epiphanies can shift value. Epiphanies are of value.

Luckily, I’ve never had a book stolen. I have had a bike stolen. (It was a really lovely bike too—sorry Mum.) You can’t ride a book away.

  • The ease of transport is something that cannot be ignored in its value. I recently placed a massive ten-foot square triptych in my SECRET DUNGEON**. Its monetary value is fantastic; its relative value is quite low because it is so difficult to get out of the dungeon.

Clearly this list is missing a lot of nuance. I don’t really care to hone that out, but I do want to hear what you’ve done about valuable loot.

///

* Don’t.

** SECRETS. Okay, honestly though – if you’re interested in OSR RPGs and playing cards, do get in touch.

Differently Valuable Loot

Three Weeks gives THE KING IN YELLOW two iä!s – a module for Trail of Cthulhu

Designers notes: This is unashamedly self-plagiarised from my own creatures within my EXUVIAE setting and a bait & switch I used in a playtest of one of the GOBLIN QUEST ruleshacks, peppered about a distorted Five Room Dungeon. Who said creativity needed novelty?

This is a one-shot module for a fairly pulpy investigative horror game. It’s designed for TRAIL OF CTHULHU, though wouldn’t take much to reskin to another system. There’s not a lot of balance as it is.

^ { ; , ; } ^

The Hook
An old school friend of one of the players is directing a play at the local fringe theatre. She reaches out and offers the players some comp tickets if they’ll come to the show.

Encourage the players to build up more details about what they remember of this contact. They were never great friends, but they were once pretty close. Why haven’t you heard from her in such a while?

The Horrible Truth
The play is the accursed KING IN YELLOW. The players’ contact is under the thrall of the lead actress & the performance itself ritualistically aligns part of our world with the plane of Carcosa. If the players survive, they will realise this at the climax of the adventure.

^ { ; , ; } ^

Beginning Anew
The theatre is above a pub in the borough of Camden. The pub itself – The Old Deer, has for its sign an enormous hart standing before a blazing full moon. Inside, there is a great pair of antlers above the bar, which has fewer patrons than the antlers have prongs. Soon after the second player has entered the bar, there’s a great smashing sound as a pint glass is smashed behind the bar.

The box office is not yet open. However, because of the imminent play, time is behaving irrationally within the venue. Throughout this scene, time will reset to the smashed glass – each time it does calls for a 2-point Stability test. Characters refresh Health and Athletics / Fleeing each time that time slips: their other pools do not refresh.

Each time that time slips, the antlers take on a slightly different shape. Art or Outdoorsman will notice this.

Whilst biding their time, players might succeed at a Sense Trouble (difficulty: 3) test to spot one pane of the window to the street instead shows a different city – Carcosa (spotting this calls for a 2-point Stability test). If they notice this, an Irish gentleman sat in front of the window – Colm Willem – will misinterpret their funny looks. Colm is a fighty man.

Box Office Frustrations
The box office is manned by Susan Firm, who is typically unenthused by most things. Despite the players’ contact’s assertions (& even name-dropping), Susan knows nothing about comp(limentary) tickets for them. She will make a fuss and delay the players, particularly annoyed that they’d waste her time in this manner. During their discussions, Susan will happily wave through other punters, not even checking their tickets.

She is particularly susceptible to Flattery, or a convenient spend.

Surviving the Play
The production values of the play aren’t enormous, but the costume and makeup is good. The lead actress, Ellen Cowan, is recognised by some of the players – she’s probably once been at the same party as the character with the highest Oral History or Credit Rating. She is playing the twins, Cassilda and Camilla, using a vertically-split costume and a handheld mirror.

Watching the entirety of the play counts the same as having read it, for the purposes of the rules (see Page XX).

During the play, each player rolls the dice once to determine something that happens in the audience. Each event can only occur once – if you would roll the same, instead take the next lowest number available.

  1. Hastur appears in the King in Yellow form & watches from the back of the theatre. This calls for a 5-point Stability test – with the automatic loss of 2 points of Stability and 2 of Sanity.
  2. One of the members of the audience walks towards the cyclorama at the back of the stage, idly tearing her clothes off as they go; once her clothes are torn off, she starts tearing at her forearms, before walking straight into the cyc as if it were an inky well. Observing this calls for a 4-point Stability test.
  3. One of the audience members starts fighting those nearby. She will not stop until she is restrained.
  4. One of the audience members suffers a cardiac arrest. First Aid can prevent her dying.
  5. One of the audience members begins to sway and whimper. Psychoanalysis or Reassurance can steady her.
  6. One of the audience members seemingly falls asleep and begins mouthing along to the play. Observing this calls for a 2-point Stability test, though this is subtle – only players who succeeded at the Sense Trouble test will notice it.

The play is excessively compelling. It would take a Stability test (difficulty: 7) to leave at any point. If players do this, take them straight to Leaving the Venue below.

Meet the Cast and Crew
If the players survive the play – all the world’s a stage – they can meet their contact and Cowan after the show. Up close, Cowan looks strange and bloated: the kind of puffiness seen in a waterlogged sponge. Her eyes are lively and unfocused.

It soon becomes apparent that their contact is greatly under the thrall of Cowan. If the players don’t show suitable supplication, she will attack them.

Cowan’s apparent human form is actually a waxen husk, filled with a smack of jellyfish. As her body is damaged, these jellyfish swarm into the air. At its core is a sentient faceless beetle, the size of a large cat.

Ellen Cowan – flesh husk; Athletics 7, Scuffling 13, Health 2; slam attack (-1 damage). When damaged, the husk releases a cloud of jellyfish. Avoiding them requires an Athletics test (difficulty: twice the number of strikes she’s suffered); failure means being stung (-2 damage).

Once the husk is destroyed, Cowan’s core attacks.

Cowan – faceless beetle core; Athletics 10, Scuffling 8, Health 8; razorlimbs (+0 damage); armour: -1 (chitinous hide).

If the player’s survive, their contact is desolate at the loss of Cowan. There is a very real chance that the jellyfish will settle on her weeping form.

Leaving the Venue
The pub beneath the theatre is empty. None of the patrons or staff are present, and the antlers above the bar are drooping like a parched flower. Allow players a Sense Trouble test (difficulty: 4) to notice the strangeness beyond the pub’s windows before they leave…

Outside the pub is no longer the teeming streets of London, but rather the desolate conurbation of Carcosa – a revelation that shears 3 Stability points & 1 Sanity point from all who survive.

– FIN –

Three Weeks gives THE KING IN YELLOW two iä!s – a module for Trail of Cthulhu

Plundering the Memory Palace

I’ve been playing a fair number of rules- & preparation-light games recently — as much as I adore their flexibility and resilience, I do miss the exploration element that a lot of dungeon-delving can provide. As such, I’ve been keen to find a good middle-ground that allows for minimal preparation (efficient over lacking) and thorough exploration.

I think I’ve finally found it: The term “memory palace” flits about from time to time – most recently spread by BBC’s “Sherlock”. The general concept of a large house that you know well enough to fill with mental images dates back to ancient Greek times and is often known as the “loci” mnemonic system. At the basic level, there will be a number of places in your life (or from your past) that you have memorised perfectly.

These may be your places of work, locations you’ve lived, even a favourite pub or bar.

This is your dungeon.

The Basilisk in the Bathroom: Converting the Memory Palace

Initially, you’ll want to work out if you’re using a partial section of the location or it in its entirety.

Likewise, you’ll want to decide what the orientation and layout it — in the past I’ve essentially inverted a pub I know well so instead of going upstairs, the levels descent; otherwise the floorplan remains the same.

At this stage, you’ll want to work out some other key locations – target treasures, monster lairs, &c. You can populate the dungeon in the same way — and by clearly focusing on the desired creature in the real-life location, you’ll have a pretty sturdy memory of it. Alternatively, you can create a fairly simple random-encounter table and just run that for the rooms you come across.

As you play through the dungeon, you’ll be able to clearly imagine — and describe — the layouts of the rooms. It’s perfect in that makes your skull into the optimal GM’s screen.

Quick to establish, simple to run & immensely customisable.

Try it in your next session.

Plundering the Memory Palace

Six questions for the three redesigners of PARANOIA RPG

This all takes place in an unspace over a week; the time and distance coalescing into what seems like a straightforward interview. I’ve met James & Grant before* but I haven’t met Paul, so he remains a 2D sprite for the duration of this.

These three men are rebooting PARANOIA, the RPG. It’s a game I’ve never played, but have heard a lot about. And with three men whose brains I admire guiding its future, I’m excited. Indeed, if you want a vision of the future, imagine a reboot stamping on a human face – forever.

We meet in the stark light of a Google Docs. I’m curt enough with introduction, but mostly it’s logistical.

My first question is the bog-standard of interview openers – “What is this game (and why is it out to get me)?”

James is first to answer. “Paranoia is a humour RPG from 1984, in both senses of ‘1984’. It’s a dystopian SF game set in the post-disaster bunker-cities where the human race now lives and clones, under the ever-watchful eye of your friend the Computer, which keeps everyone safe against commies, mutants and traitors.”

His voice is compelling: it’s measured and unobtrusive. You get the impression he would read a brilliant bedtime story, albeit one stuffed with corruption and death.

“You are a Troubleshooter, meaning that you find trouble and shoot it on behalf of the Computer. Mostly that means hunting out mutants, traitors and members of secret societies. Unfortunately you are at least one of the above, and that means there’s a price on your head.

“The upside: if you get shot by one of your comrades, which you will, you have five more clones of yourself ready to roll out. So you can get shot lots more times by your comrades.

“The downside: the Computer is completely insane.”

How can I help you, citizen?
How can I help you, citizen?

There’s a slight shift in tone. I imagine a readjusting of posture.

“At least, that was the classic version. We’re rebooting it (“You traitors! Rebooting anything is punishable by execution!”), bringing it up to speed with a post-9/11, post-Snowden, post-Google Glass world. Paranoia has always had a reputation as a game that’s more fun to read than to play, and so we’re completely overhauling the mechanics to emphasise the chaos and inter-party tension that make the game’s core narrative so unique and enjoyable.”

Grant chimes in. He’s peppier – has a real enthusiasm for almost everything he talks about which surges in his voice.

“‘More fun to read than play’ is an interesting one,” he says. “In all my work on it so far I’ve tried to make it fun to read, but with an eye to get players thinking ‘oh man, that sounds GREAT, I can’t wait to try that.'”

Paul’s sprite nods along.

“The best games of Paranoia that I ever played were always ones that ended up light on the rules and heavy on the inter-party antagonism, on the one-upmanship and on the roleplaying of a group of barely loyal characters who are, probably, quite aware that their world doesn’t work the way that it should but who can’t really do anything about it. Living in Alpha Complex, the self-contained underground bunker city that James described, is a little bit like living in a psychotic Butlin’s, somewhere where participation and enjoyment is demanded to such a degree that neither is ever going to be possible.”

This is why I’ve been wanting to play this for some time. The conversation draws to a close, so it’s on with the next question.

Are you enjoying these questions? You might enjoy this.

“I love Dick** – ‘The Second Variety’ is a masterpiece in paranoia. How heavily is this edition influenced by literature of his kind?

“Honestly, if I had to pick a sci-fi inspiration,” says Grant, “it’d be the Red Dwarf books (and the show), because they’re about a group of useless, selfish bastards who all hate each other and are hanging out because there’s no viable alternative. Also because comedy.”

James is next.

“I wrote a paragraph of a bit this afternoon and realised I’d reinvented Fahrenheit 451. It’s probably sacrilege to say I’ve never worshipped Mr Dick; my reference points for the game are more Kafka, Joseph Heller, Hunter S Thompson and THX-1138–the original, before they messed it up with CGI effects.”

“James has described Paranoia as THX-1138 meets the Marx Brothers, a description which I will never ever be able to escape, so perfect it is,” says Paul. “It’s as slapstick as it is sci-fi. I guess Dark Star is in there somewhere, as well as maybe a touch of Brazil.”

“Gilliam! A perfect segue into my next question – I am holding out hope for a secret services Ms Jackson somewhere in the game. Who is your favourite Python persona?

James shakes his head.

“That joke about Monty Python jokes was a joke.”

Grant looks quizzical.

“Do you mean that woman from the Outcast song?”

“No, from this sketch – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytJCuLh82cU ,” I say, somehow parsing hyperlinks into my speech. Okay, so the metaphor breaks down a little here.

“Oh, right,” Grant says.

Paul manages to turn this back into a useful train of enquiry.

“Well, I rather liked the argument sketch. I imagine a few things in Alpha Complex function this way.”

I’m keen to pick up the pace again, or at least the relevance – “So what’s the best thing about a game where you play multiple folks?”

James is careful to clarify.

“You only play your clones one at a time. Although that does give me an idea for an adventure…”

I know this is an area of interest for Grant. “I guess, as ever,” he says, “it gives you a freedom to explore things with your character like exciting plots, or secret society intrigue, or unshielded reactor bays, without worrying about what’s going to become of them next game.”

James elaborates, “Really it’s like a video game. You value each life, but losing one doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game and lets you carry on. Also there is no greater pleasure than getting someone back for killing you earlier.”

“It allows you a free reset when things go disastrously against you,” adds Paul. “And it allows for things to go disastrously against you in a way that most tabletop RPGs don’t permit. Frequently. Constantly.”

I get the impression that this is something Paul is very pleased of.

I realise that this is a cracking opportunity for some rather selfish questioning.

“On a scale from emotional tone to mechanical crunch, what generally drives your games design? How did these combine between the three of you?”

Grant opens: “I design rules-lite games – kind of one-night stand games, even, more than one-shots, as in they’re the sort of thing you tend to play drunk – and that’s where Paranoia’s been since its inception, I think, it’s designed to be fast and hilarious and punchy but not the sort of thing you end up playing a long-term campaign of. I’ve tried to make rules with that idea at the forefront.

“I think, as well, that I’ve tried to give more power to the players. (TRAITOR! Zap zap zap, etc) Don’t worry: the GM is still king, this is still Paranoia, but I love having a bit of narrative control in games… so I’ve tried to parcel that out in the cards. I can’t do into too much detail right away, but Critical Failures – the absolute worst, god-awful, blow-up-a-street ones – are probably going to be inflicted on you by other players, rather than the GM, more often than not. So play nice!”

“I am absolutely a rules-light guy,” says James, “but that doesn’t mean I’m against a game being structured or tactical. The thing is, you don’t need pages and pages of rules to do it. It’s easier and better to describe a character better in a few deft strokes than in a hundred different stats and percentages. Clarity and elegance are really important in good game design.

“One of the most important rules I was taught by one of my many mentors is that you should be clear what you’re modelling with your mechanics. So we dissected the key parts of Paranoia’s narrative: the sense at the start of the mission that wow, that sounds not ridiculously dangerous, maybe we can succeed this time; the mounting tension, the cascading chaos, and the final descent into all-out mayhem as everyone snaps and just starts shooting. And we’ve built mechanics to do all of that.”

Paul starts nodding at the mention of mechanics.

“I think there’s very much both a playful and an antagonistic tone to these mechanics,” he says. “We’ve been trying out systems that allow players to both compliment and contradict each other, as well as pushing to keep things simple. Paranoia should be an organic game, a game of conflicts that naturally develop, of personalities and motivations and objectives. There’s no need to make and enforce a lot of rules for things like these, just give the players enough of a system to dance around in.”

Now of course, we’re each at different computers, in different parts of the world. The glare of the Doc dips slightly as it autosaves. This doesn’t feel like the most comfortable place in the world, but it serves a purpose. The men seem more comfortable across this e-space and James is happy to clarify.

“For working together, we’ve been using Slack, another of those online project-management tools with an emphasis on team-communication – useful when the design team is spread across the UK, Australia and Western Canada. We like Slack.”

I’m conscious of the time – though coalesced in this way I also feel weirdly powerful. This feels like a collection of moments rather than a solid progression through the clock. It’s both timeless and imminent.

One last question.

“In terms of running games, what do you feel is the most important aspect?”

“I like people to understand the system and the setting, and for these things to not get in the way of the story; I work continually to lower barriers to entry, because there’s a stigma around games that they involve lots of homework and maths, and that puts some people off… so I make games that anyone can play with very little preparation.”

“What Grant said,” James nods. “Traditionally tabletop RPGs have been massively front-loaded: there’s been a huge amount of setting and rules to digest before you can start playing. Paranoia has always been guilty of that, and so we’re working hard to create a first-timer experience that make the game and the world easy to get a grip on.”

Paul’s sprite readjusts to what amounts to a summative posture. “I think tone is always the biggest deal, because that also defines expectation. A game that tells a group of players it’s going to make them powerful dragonslayers and learned wizards tends to presuppose you toward certain systems and behaviours, as does a game that tells you you’ll be a team of flapper detectives investigating a paranormal mystery. If we say ‘The future is broken, Everything is a mess, you’re going to die and the best way to get ahead is treading on someone else’s foot,’ everyone can tell our tongues are in our cheeks.”

And with that, we each log-out. Our avatars no longer in the Doc, we’re safe from being traced there. Though it does leave behind a full transcript of our conversation. And a changelog. These are worrying facts.

PARANOIA has kickstarted. Get in early, it’s set to go big.

If you enjoyed these questions, you might want me to ask similar questions about your game. Doing that will make it better.

Or I can take you back.

* In fact, read each of their minds as part of my Wax Mystical audio series.

** Philip K

Six questions for the three redesigners of PARANOIA RPG