Official development blog for the PARANOIA roleplaying game. No description is available at your security clearance. The Computer is your friend.

Yo! The Blog has Moved!

Find it now at paranoia.costik.com Also, the URL for the RSS feed has changed, too: it's now paranoia.costik.com/blogger_rss.xml.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pepper spray ATMs 

Obviously nothing at all could go wrong by installing pepper spray anti-theft devices on South African cash machines.
The extreme measure is the latest in South Africa's escalating war against armed robbers who target banks and cash delivery vans. The number of cash machines blown up with explosives has risen from 54 in 2006 to 387 in 2007 and nearly 500 last year.

The technology uses cameras to detect people tampering with the card slots. Another machine then ejects pepper spray to stun the culprit while police response teams race to the scene.

But the mechanism backfired in one incident last week when pepper spray was inadvertently inhaled by three technicians who required treatment from paramedics.

Patrick Wadula, spokesman for the Absa bank, which is piloting the scheme, told the Mail & Guardian Online: "During a routine maintenance check at an Absa ATM in Fish Hoek, the pepper spray device was accidentally activated. At the time there were no customers using the ATM. However, the spray spread into the shopping centre where the ATMs are situated."
As the Credit Slips blog presciently comments, "If this idea comes to the United States, I can just see it now on my bank statement: '$20.00 -- Pepper Spray Fee.'"

Sniffer-dog clone family 

A family of six identical clones of a Labrador Retriever dog has taken up drug-sniffing duties at South Korean airports and border crossings, says the BBC:
Six puppies cloned from a Canadian-born sniffer dog in late 2007 have reported for duty after completing a 16-month training programme. The clones are all called Toppy, a combination of "tomorrow" and "puppy."

The customs agency says clones help to lower crime-fighting costs as it is difficult to find good sniffer dogs. Only about 30% of naturally-born sniffer dogs make the grade, but South Korean scientists say that could rise to 90% using the cloning method.

The new recruits are part of a litter of seven puppies who were cloned from a "superb" drug-sniffing Canadian Labrador retriever called Chase in 2007, officials said. One dropped out of the training due to an injury.
"Injury." Yeah, right, good luck with that story at debriefing, Toppy-2.

Your passport needs a tinfoil hat 

A July 12, 2009 Washington Post story by Todd Lewan, "Special alloy sleeves urged to block hackers?", discusses the dangers posed by US passports and driver's licenses tagged with radio frequency identification chips (RFIDs or "arphids"):
To protect against skimming and eavesdropping attacks, federal and state officials recommend that Americans keep their e-passports tightly shut and store their RFID-tagged passport cards and enhanced driver's licenses in "radio-opaque" sleeves. That's because experiments have shown that the e-passport begins transmitting some data when opened even a half inch, and chipped passport cards and EDLs can be read from varying distances depending on reader techonology. [...]

Another test on the enhanced driver's license demonstrated that even when the sleeve was in pristine condition, a clandestine reader could skim data from the license at a distance of a half yard. Will Americans consistently keep their enhanced driver's licenses in the protective sleeves and maintain those sleeves in perfect shape - even as driver's licenses are pulled out for countless tasks, from registering in hotels to buying alcohol? The report's answer: "It is uncertain ... "

And when the sleeves come off, "You're essentially saying to the world, 'Come and read what's in my wallet,'" says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. [...]

Some RFID critics wonder: Could government officials read the microchips in an enhanced driver's license or passport card by scanning people via satellite or through a cell phone tower network?

The short answer is no - because the chips in PASS cards and EDLs are "passive," or batteryless, meaning they rely on the energy of readers to power up. Passive tags are designed to beam information out 30 feet. [...]

[A] system called STAR, that adapts deep-space communications technologies to read passive tags from distances greater than 600 feet, was announced last year by a Los Angeles startup called Mojix, Inc. It uses "smart antennas" and "digital beam forming" to process signals in four dimensions - time, space, frequency and polarization. Mojix, founded by a former NASA scientist, promotes the technology for supply chain management and asset tracking.
Science fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling blogs about the WaPo story in his July 19, 2009 "Beyond the Beyond" entry "Arphid Watch: Passport Sleeves":
Here’s the Obama State Department shrugging about their RFID train wreck, and hoping nobody notices that the previous Administration installed zillions of terror-friendly radio beacons in the purses and pockets of the American civil population. [...]

Given their mournful fait accompli on the ground, they probably lack any rational alternative, except to INSIST that everybody go buy some tinfoil hat for their passport, in which case the Global War on Terror situation looks even more aggressively crazy than it was before. Not to mention the tremendous publicity boon for RFID hackers seeking employment with terrorist hotel-bomber types, who’d no doubt love to bug any doorway anywhere on Earth, and automatically count the vulnerable foreigners walking through it.

Also, according to the original genius plan, you were supposed to be using these safe-and-secure arphid beacons to merrily zip through airports, en-masse, subway-style, like with [London Underground] Oyster cards. Seen any of that jolly high-tech activity anywhere lately? Me neither. Instead we’ve created a huge, botched superpower effort that is paranoid, semi-secret, global in scale, leaky in security and at best semi-functional. “Gothic High-Tech.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

INTSEC Community Mission: Miranda Warning 

As I come to the end of development on INTSEC, I realise that the book really needs something that Troopers can shout at suspects.

There's the US version: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights?"

Or the Canadian: "You are under arrest for _________ (charge), do you understand? You have the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay. We will provide you with a toll-free telephone lawyer referral service, if you do not have your own lawyer. Anything you say can be used in court as evidence. Do you understand? Would you like to speak to a lawyer?"

Or in the UK: "You do not have to say anything unless you wish to do so, but I must warn you that if you fail to mention any fact which you rely on in your defence in court, your failure to take this opportunity to mention it may be treated in court as supporting any relevant evidence against you. If you do wish to say anything, what you say may be given in evidence."

What should they say in Alpha Complex?

Fire alarm security device (1938) 

Via loyal citizen George Watson on Twitter, who remarks, "I espy the hand of R&D in this," a Failblog judgment of this helpful fire alarm security device featured in Modern Mechanix magazine, February 1938:
The sending of false fire alarms by mischievous persons may be eliminated through use of a newly developed call box. To use the device, the sender of an alarm must pass a hand through a special compartment to reach the signal dial. Once the dial has been turned, the sender's hand is locked in the compartment until released by a fireman or policeman with a key.
The joke is somewhat quenched when we learn the makers wussed out: The compartment detaches from the alarm box, so the user can escape, albeit with a bulky handcuff.

For a more effective Alpha Complexian implementation that keeps you right where the authorities can conveniently locate you (or your burned corpse), check the Experimental Security Terminal in Episode 1 of John M. Ford's classic 1985 PARANOIA mission The YELLOW Clearance Black Box Blues, reprinted in the Flashbacks hardcover mission collection.

PARANOIA in the Real World: Scientist Calculates Value Of Memories To Sell Blu-Ray 

The story's here. There's also a link to a spreadsheet so you can calculate the cash value of your most cherished memories.

ObAC: Citizens! The Computer has generously allocated a memory budget to all citizens. Memories not covered by your budget will be chemically or mechanically erased from your brains. Please submit a full memory budget by 2400 or face summary full erasure.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Word From The Computer 

Friend Computer!
At your service, citizen. How may I help you?

I feel uneasy about the rumoured new editions of PARANOIA.
Fear and apprehension are not permitted. Joy is mandatory. If you not experiencing mandatory joy, report for chemical joy enhancement therapy.

Would you mind answering a few questions about the new edition?
Not at all.

I've heard there are going to be three books.
There will now be three core rulebooks in the PARANOIA line. These are the TROUBLESHOOTERS book, the INTSEC book, and the HIGH PROGRAMMER's book. Each of these books is self-contained and focusses on a different way to play PARANOIA.

The 2004 PARANOIA XP rulebo-
ATTENTION! ALL REFERENCES TO A PARANOIA EDITION DENOTED BY A TWO-LETTER CODE ALSO USED BY A CERTAIN WINDOWS-BASED OPERATING SYSTEM ARE TREASON. OR LEGALLY ACTIONABLE, ANYWAY.

Oops, sorry.
A note has been made on your permanent record. Continue with your question.

The, er, 2004 PARANOIA book was all about Troubleshooters. Isn't that the same thing as the new TROUBLESHOOTER book?
The upcoming TROUBLESHOOTER rulebook is indeed a new edition of the basic PARANOIA rules, and so is largely the same as the 2004 rulebook.

What's changed?
The new rulebook is organised to facilitate the core PARANOIA experience of running a mission. Extra support is included for the Gamesmaster. The Treason rules have reverted to the simpler, more direct system used in 2nd edition.

What about the variant playstyles?
The STRAIGHT and ZAP playstyles appear as an appendix in the TROUBLESHOOTER book. HORROR, OVERKILL and HEIST appear in the INTSEC appendix. The contents of the HIGH PROGRAMMER appendix have yet to be determined.

What if I already have the 2004 rulebook. Do I need to purchase the new edition?
No. However, as a long-term PARANOIA fan, you may be interested in the BLACK MISSIONS collector's edition, which includes a CD-ROM of bonus material including interviews with the original designers.

And if I don't have the 2004 edition...
Then the new TROUBLESHOOTERS book is an ideal entry point to PARANOIA!

Let's talk about INTSEC.
Certainly, citizen. In the INTSEC game, you play members of an elite Sector Security Team. Investigate crimes! Interrogate Commie Mutant Traitors! Keep that Happiness Index up! Meet your Termination Quota. INTSEC is designed for longer-term games with more plot development and intrigue.

That sounds suspiciously like the old HIL Sector BLUES supplement.
HIL Sector BLUES was indeed a significant influence on the INTSEC rules, and parts of the text have been repurposed and included in the new book, but there's lots more than just a rehash of Hil Sector+the basic rules. New secret societies! Surveillance rules! New ways to doom other characters!

How about HIGH PROGRAMMER?
In HIGH PROGRAMMER, you play an ULTRAVIOLET High Programmer. You control different factions and power bases in Alpha Complex. The other High Programmers may attempt to subvert your control - you must prevent this and crush their schemes. You crave the awe and fear of your peers, and must impress them with your culture, wit and social graces while plotting their humiliating downfall.

But what could possibly threaten a High Programmer? Surely there won't be any terminations or treasons in this game!
Ah, but you also have a retinue of servants, bodyguards and hangers-on. These characters are played by the other players when the action focusses on your High Programmer. Elements of your retinue may be terminated.

How does HIGH PROGRAMMER play?
The elevator pitch is Yes Minister with ray guns, but you could also say 'Wodehouse meets Illuminati'.

I have further questions about the new edition.
Please post them in the comments.

PARANOIA in the real world: The Wanted 

On the No Fear of the Future blog, writer Chris Nakashima-Brown discusses the new NBC reality-news-adventure-manhunt TV show "The Wanted":
The show teams a 60 Minutes producer (who also worked as a lawyer for the CIA), a former Navy SEAL, a former Green Beret, a reporter and a war crimes prosecutor to hunt terrorists alive and well and living among us.

Like a cross between "To Catch a Predator," the NBC Dateline series that confronted accused sex offenders on live TV, and Jack Bauer's 24, [The Wanted brings] the mainstream media's commercial exploitation of geopolitical fear and internecine xenophobia to entirely new, PKDickian levels. ... Simultaneously so hilarious and so horrifying that I fear my Zeitgeist irony governor may now be permanently damaged. ...

I anxiously await the series finale, in which our heroes travel to Argentina and abduct Dick Cheney while he is off fly-fishing, protected by his coterie of secret service agents chosen for their resemblance to famous action heroes of the 70s and 80s.
"It's not a show. It's a mission."

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Form That Lets You Request Other Forms 

This NY Times article is a CPU Form Management & Processing clerk's dream.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Aaron Allston benefit auction July 19 

You may recall that novelist and game designer Aaron Allston, who contributed to the 2004 PARANOIA rulebook and Gamemaster screen and wrote many classic supplements for Champions, Car Wars, and other games, suffered a serious heart attack in late March 2009 and quadruple-bypass surgery April 2. Now back in his longtime home in Round Rock, Texas, Aaron is recovering reasonably well, as he recounts in his July 11 Livejournal entry:

I've completed about fifteen sessions of cardiac rehabilitation [...] I've had mixed luck. My wind has gotten better and I've experienced general improvement. But my blood pressure is flaky. It's lower in standing position than sitting or lying, and becomes lower still when I exercise, which is not normal. I've come close to graying out on the treadmill. So I get to go through a new series of tests starting Monday — echocardiogram, thyroid, and blood count — as my puzzled cardiologist tries to sort it all out.
Like many freelance writers, Aaron has no health insurance. He faces huge medical bills. The local science fiction fan group, FACT (Fandom Association of Central Texas), is holding an Aaron Allston benefit auction Sunday, July 19, 2009 in Georgetown, Texas, northwest of Austin. Please consider donating an item for the auction or, if you prefer, making a contribution directly to the Aaron Allston Donation Fund via Paypal: gifts (at) aaronallston (dot) info.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Recent PARANOIA RPG links of interest 

I don't usually post linkfests here (though my Twitter feed is almost all links), but many minor developments warrant interest in aggregate:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

INTSEC Community Mission - Collateral Damage 

Troopers get much, much bigger guns than Troubleshooters, so we need a much, much bigger Collateral Damage table for those unfortunate occasions when a player rolls really badly with a tacnuke shell. Think of it as a Rolemaster fumble table for cone rifles. Suggestions for horrible collateral damage in the comments, please.
Posted by: Gareth Hanrahan / 4:51 PM (3) comments