Western Paranoia (part 1), Run Club Experiment
Over-preparation (“one continent down, three to go, then I'll get started on that dungeon”) and trying to impress the players with your cleverness (“your characters have to all be some kind of furniture… no, I didn't say animated furniture, just furniture”) are the enemies of GM'ing, but like most GMs I am sometimes guilty of both.
To nip that in the bud, I decided to try something different for my Run Club slot: we would set a date to play, and then a week or two before hand the players would vote on a game system and a genre. I would then make a game and run whatever they chose. I reserved the right to veto game systems I didn't know or that would be too hard to crunch in time, but other than that, I was at their mercy.
The vote: a Western using the classic Paranoia game (West End Games, 1984). The Paranoia rules looked a little cumbersome to pick back up quickly, so we compromised and agreed to use the Star Frontiers rules instead. The joy of Paranoia is really more of a genre or style anyway, so it was agreed: a Western in the Paranoia style using the Star Frontiers rules.
This was Tuesday night. The game was set for Sunday afternoon. I had less than 5 days to prepare a game and adapt the Star Frontiers skills to cover riding, roping and rustling. Crap.
As one of my players put it, Paranoia is about “secrets, finger pointing, fast talking and easy death, hence the 'paranoia' of someone finding out what you're really up to.” So how was I going to keep the classic Paranoia feel with cowboys and indians?
I decided right off the bat that I wanted a classic Western, nothing whacky. It would have been easy to introduce strange conspiracies, cults, etc. to match the strange conspiracies, cults, etc. of Paranoia, but that seemed like the easy way out. The alternative was to let the players have secret allegiances (“I work for the railroad!”) like the Paranoia secret societies, but without solid examples to choose from I would be forcing each player to come up with unusual ideas in a vacuum, which usually leads back to whacky.
To keep everyone on the same page and make it easy for them to leap in and make characters, I needed finite choices that were still open-ended enough to permit interesting concepts without polluting the Western genre with weirdness.