roleplaying games

After-action report: Paranoia and Cyberpunk 2020, July 8th-9th

Paranoia has been the closest thing to a consistent tradition within the larger tradition of Beach Weekend itself, save for maybe going to the Dogfish Head brewpub and drinking beer. It is an institution as far as one-shot games go in our group…and after this year the tradition may be close to winding down.

Despite any of my half-hearted attempts to the contrary, we’ve always played Paranoia in the Zap style. This year was really no different. I had a basic mission involving checking all of the computing equipment in a neglected sector of Alpha Complex…then the weapons smuggling started. And then there was a tacnuke. And then the mutant powers started flying.

It’s all in good fun, but there really is only so much you can do with that format. After running Paranoia six times (I ran once when we were in college), I’m really not sure what I have left unless I retool the format. On the plus side, there is a new edition of Paranoia which I kickstarted, and which should be arriving to backers soon. I think the new version will be a shot in the arm to our Zap one-shot shenanigans for at least another year, and may even convince me it’s possible/desirable to run something longer or more serious with the system.

The Cyberpunk 2020 one-shot I had run the night before Paranoia was, in all actuality, similar. I have been running a line-roll game of Cyberpunk, that is to say you roll 1d10 for all stats, in a line, and have to play with what you have. It is incredibly silly, but this year I made it even sillier by a) taking away all skill restrictions I would have used in a more serious game, b) setting the game in a small venue with only 3 or 4 distinct zones and c) secretly splitting the group into two teams when we started.

Needless to say, the bullets and squirrels started flying, a large number of characters died, and a great time was had by all. I got a nice reminder about where the 2020 system falls flat when not houseruled, and strong discouragement from considering 2020 as a system for my next serious game, which I was doing as recently as a few weeks ago. And just like Paranoia, it felt like the gimmick was kind of wearing thin.

My exhaustion with the balls-to-the-wall, silly scenarios did not entirely stem from repetitiveness. I had more people at the table for these games, and a table of 8 or 9 is incredibly hard to control. In addition to that, I had more new people, which broke down the already shaky decorum yet further. But more than all that, I as a GM was having difficulty keeping myself focused on just refereeing these free-for-alls, as opposed to running a game with momentum. I’m not sure how I did it in the past, either, to be honest.

So with our group still going strong and us likely to have this gathering again last year, it’s time to figure out what my slate of one-shots should look like. Paranoia is likely to return if the new version is out by then, even in current Zap form. And even if I retire the line-roll format, I’m going to want to do something with Cyberpunk. I have been toying with the idea of a more serious, day-long one-shot, though I don’t know what the reception to that would be. I’ve also toyed with going back to the serious version of our “Setting in a Hat” one-shot. Lots of possibilities, plenty of time to think about them.

In short, these games went well but may be close to overstaying their welcome. I don’t plan on slowing down when it comes to GMing at our gatherings, but I’m probably going to pivot to something more serious that holds everyone’s attention a little better.

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