"Service, Service !" is a GM supplement for Paranoia XP designed to provide background detail and expand upon the different service groups within Alpha Complex. As every troubleshooter and clone belongs to a service group you may be wondering why they have never done this kind of thing before in any earlier incarnation of Paranoia. The honest answer provided in the Introduction is that it just wasn't necessary, that most people never used to worry much about that level of detail. With the new range of products now available for Paranoia XP though, and the possibility of playing 'straight style' Paranoia the time had come to explain a little more about how each service group works. Think on it if you will as a 'clanbook' for Paranoia XP.
The cover of the book shows another Jim Holloway illustration of a typical queue at PLC ( at least I think its PLC, it could be my local bank ). Nice to see one of the Alpha Complex armed forces guys which used to appear more frequently in the earlier editions making an appearance here. Inside the artwork is of a similar high standard and along with Jim Holloway a couple of new artists show their talents at capturing Alpha Complex's own brand of madness. The one big let down, which is quite surprising in a published draft is that some of the illustrations seem to be missing ! On some pages a box with a text description of what illustration is needed has been left there instead of the actual art. At first I thought this was deliberate, but it seems more like a mistake by the editors. Hopefully this will be cleared up in later printings !
"Service, Service !" begins with a brief description of life in a service group. This expands upon the basic information given in the Paranoia XP rulebook and adds some new ideas as to why the Alpha Complex bureaucracy is quite so messed up. It may raise a few chuckles if it reminds you of your own job, as it did for me. This section includes a brief summary of what each service firm thinks about all the others. These could easily be provided to players as a handout if you wanted to, as it helps give some idea of where each troubleshooter has come from. This sort of information may be helpful or not depending on the sort of game you want to run. Although most useful in 'straight style' games I've found that even in a 'classic style' game of Paranoia this sort of background can be useful. Although in a 'zap style' game the players will probably not even notice what service group they are from in the first place.
Part 2 of "Service, Service !" involves an entirely new idea by providing service mandates. Essentially these are service group missions to be given to troubleshooters to help keep them occupied in a similar way to secret society missions. You may question whether players need yet one more thing to occupy their time as often they forget about this sort of personal task during the excitement of the mission. I'd agree to an extent, and yet it does add something new which experienced Paranoia players will not be expecting. Keeping missions fresh and original is important and if you only use these mandates when you feel they would add something, they can provide a new element to your game. In addition to this they come with badges ! My players seem to love gimmicks like wearing badges and these also serve a practical purpose of displaying their characters name, service group and mandate with all the cheesey style of an employee of PC World or B&Q. A number of different mandate missions are scattered throughout the rest of the book, and a blank one is provided so you can make up your own, such as "Review Paranoia "Service, Service !" supplement while learning nine oriental languages".
Following the mandate section the rest of the book divides rather neatly into eight chapters dedicated to each of the eight service groups in Alpha Complex. Rather than reviewing each one individually I'll just give a brief overview of what makes up these chapters. Each begins with some practical notes about where you might find members of the service group and some rumours connected with the group. Once again these are of limited use depending on the level of background detail in your game. I actually found more use flicking through them for adventure ideas than using them as intended. Some are quite funny though and they do provide some more background colour which I liked.
Each section also provides a list of service services which is one of the highlights of this book. Having been given some ideas in the basic rulebook you soon run out of new and original service service's for your troubleshooters to endure. Instead of sending the troubleshooters to R&D each time these provide a whole range of jobs they will be required to do before their main mission. I thought these were great as there is a page of ideas for each service group so they should last some time. This is one of the main reasons I think that people will buy this book.
Each service group also has its own badge which I think are even better than the mandate badges. My favourite is the armed forces logo - a sillouette of a large tank and the slogan "We kill commies dead. Period." These are so classy I'm thinking of getting them made up into real badges. Eventually all my players will look like Alpha Complex boy scouts with Paranoia badges all over their clothes !
The main text for each service group is a breakdown of new service firms. What you think of these depends on your view of the new capitalist Alpha Complex. Essentially they are similar to the ones in the rulebook and how much part they play in the game depends on your preference. Personally I do not think that the individual firms add much to the game, and I don't refer to them much in adventures. However, it does not take much to ignore or downplay the role of these firms, and the description of each is at least well written with some examples of how each firm operates. Its a matter of taste whether you like this part of the supplement but you have to expect it in a book about service groups.
Following the service firms are a couple of sample characters from each service group. Paranoia is a far cry from D&D and has never depended on providing statistics for every NPC your troubleshooters encounter. Most GM's are happy just to give an NPC "7 in all skills" for example and not worry about the details. It is nice though to see what sort of skills typical NPC's might have if you could be bothered to work them out. You will probably never actually need to know the full statistics of a Vulture Squadron trooper but it was nice to see them written out in full. With two NPC's provided for each service group you could probably use and resuse these to provide statistics for every NPC in Alpha Complex. So, although not strictly necessary these templates provide a nice bonus to the supplement.
At the end of each section is a short classic style mission relating to each service group. For me this was the big appeal to buying this supplement but in many ways these missions are a bit of a let down. In general I would say that they all require some more work before they are truely playable, which is annoying if you are looking for something you can run straight away. They are a little too short to be complete, lacking the standard briefing, outfitting and service, service you might expect. They also focus heavily on the service firms and in some cases seem a little out of style for Paranoia. For example the Internal Security mission tries to emulate a kind of film noir detective style which seems to detract from the usual atmosphere of a Paranoia game. I imagine that the idea behind these adventures was to provide a wide and diverse range of experiences showing different aspects of the service firms and how they work in Alpha Complex. They are certainly different but whether they suit your game will be up to the individual GM to decide. Personally I plan to use most of them, but only after some work to adapt them to my groups style of play.
Finally, after all the service group sections are a couple of appendices. One gives some revised service firm tables which include all the new ones from this supplement. The other details a new idea for something called AlphaNet. This apparently is going to be covered over a number of different supplements but on first reading I was not impressed. The idea behind AlphaNet lies in Mongoose trying to upgrade Alpha Complex in line with the real world. Just as PDC's emulate the real world use of mobile phones so AlphaNet will parody our use of the internet. I can see the idea behind this but I still don't see it working. Most Paranoia games are grounded firmly in the physical world of the characters with slapstick humour and grisly character deaths never far away. To remove this to a virtual reality world takes away some of the simple pleasure players get in commiting random acts of violence on each other. It seems more in keeping with a game of Cyberpunk than with Paranoia. Trying to come up with amusing ideas for results when a troubleshooter searches the net could lead to a real headache for most overworked GM's. I think I will be giving this a miss, at least until the PC's reach the unlikely heights of high programmer anyway.
In all then I have fairly mixed feelings about "Service, Service !". I bought it hoping for new adventures and found that they were actually the weakest part of this supplement. Instead I have been impressed by the high quality of the rest of the supplement which provides a wealth of background information without too much boring detail. There are definitely a number of things which I can use in my game and I'm sure I will refer to this book again and again when writing future adventures. It may not be what you expect, but its definitely worth a look.