The Underplex is a GM supplement for Paranoia XP designed to provide background and ideas for Paranoia adventures. Its basic concept of using the abandoned and forgotten parts of Alpha Complex is a great way to provide new and original adventures for Paranoia. However,the supplement itself has several flaws and ommissions which prevent it from being quite as good as it could have been.
Firstly, its worth noting that the presentation of The Underplex is excellent, no complaints there. More original artwork from Jim Holloway on both the cover and interior really helps to set the mood for what Mongoose are trying to achieve. There is a tendancy in some parts of this supplement to be a little too serious about the subject matter. If you are not careful players could start acting like marines, all gung ho and professional as they explore. The artwork though helps stem that sort of attitude with pictures of troubleshooters in the Underplex freaking out, acting like idiots and generally messing up the mission like they always do.
The book begins with an Introduction, as you might expect, which provides an overview of what is inside. This is one of the more organised parts of the supplement as later there are several parts which don't seem quite so well structured. Its almost as if the entire book is a brainstorm of ideas with one idea leading onto the next, interspersed with even more ideas presented in boxed text. While describing something there are new rules, mission seeds, descriptions of areas, NPC statistics and tables thrown in around it which make it a little awkward to read and take in.
The first chapter is a good example of this as it aims to describe the different levels of the underplex. Rather than a clear description of each there are lots of ideas, rules and background information for each one so that there is a lot to take in on first reading. Essentially though there are three levels described - The Tranz which is a transition area of disused corridors, transtubes and the like, the Underplex proper which are the abandoned and derelict parts of Alpha Complex and the Deeps which are natural caverns under Alpha Complex. An amusing caption on the back cover reads "This is not a 'dungeon'. Stop calling it that" and this is a theme which resides throughout the book. Players may assume they are facing a traditional dungeon but the style is more one of urban exploration than exploring a labyrinthe D&D style. In keeping with the basic rules the Underplex keeps the troubleshooters in a very claustophobic, controlled environment rather than letting them venture into outdoors sector for some cheap thrills. At the same time though these rules give lots of ideas for adventuring in an environment very different to what they are used to.
Chapter two details the general population of the Underplex and is a little predictable. It explains the sort of commie traitors you are likely to meet already living there and goes on to describe how each service group and secret society deals with the Underplex. There are no real suprises in explaining how Armed Forces deal with it by force, and that Free Enterprise think they can use it to make more credits and so this chapter provides more information than is entirely necessary. I think most of us could have worked all this out without too much trouble.
Chapter three contains a few new rules for exploring the Underplex which once again seem fairly redundant. Descriptions of new skills such as Hunting, Mapping and Mining might come in handy one day but I think this chapter would have been more useful describing the sort of terrain and other obstacles the troubleshooters might encounter. More practical tips on staging the Underplex would have been better than more rules.
Chapter four is an equipment chapter which includes some basic troubleshooter equipment and some old reckoning artifacts you can use in Underplex games. The old reckoning items are fairly bizarre, including a DVD boxed set of Logan's Run and a table of random toys, but they might help spark other ideas. Assigned equipment includes tents and ropes and things for the Troubleshooters to use and abuse. There's nothing too original here but its always nice to have new 'treasures' for the players to squabble over.
Near the end of the book are the beginings of an adventure entitled 'The One' which is supposed to be an introductory adventure for the troubleshooters. After all the good ideas in the previous chapters this is a bit of a let down as having read that far you have probably already thought of much better ways to introduce the Underplex to your players. Its also not complete as the World Famous Game Designers have left it to the GM to finish off. This adventure section could have been a lot better, perhaps with a couple of smaller complete adventures introducing different parts of the Underplex.
Following the adventure is an Appendix with some useful tables for creating parts of the Underplex in a similar way to those found with the GM screen. Using them however you like they are a great resource when writing adventures or when adding some colour to Alpha Complex. A second Appendix involves a few final thoughts about the Underplex in boxed text which the designers include at the end due to lack of space.
In all there is a lot of good stuff in The Underplex which can be used by a GM to expand a Paranoia campaign. It is a short softback book but it is crammed full of ideas. My main criticism is how this information is presented, making it hard to find easily and hard to take in on first reading. There also seems to be a lot of unnecessary information such as blocks of statistics for NPC's which could have been better used providing hints and staging tips. Despite this I would reccomend The Underplex to Paranoia GM's as it does provide a fresh and new environment in which to kill off any intrepid team of troubleshooters.