Flexible Paranoia

Over the years, Paranoia has done a lot of weird things: Introduced capitalism, blown up the Computer, parodied Mad Max and Westworld, unironically used the phrase “it’s 2016” to try and shame GMs into pro-social behavior. Some of these things worked better than others. I’ve been tinkering with my own very different take on Paranoia lately (I’ve talked about it before), and one thing I’ve been thinking about is what elements of Paranoia are necessary to make it Paranoia and what you can shuffle around. The “Post-MegaWhoops” Paranoia of late 2e is generally agreed to be very bad, but nobody minded the introduction of the very overt and pervasive consumer capitalist dystopia of Paranoia XP (in fact, the prevailing opinion seems to be that Paranoia XP’s version of Alpha Complex is the best, and while that’s more to do with how thoroughly detailed it was than with its consumer capitalist dystopian elements, the latter clearly did not turn people off at all, despite being a major change to Paranoia). So what do you need to retain to make something feel like Paranoia, and what you can change?

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Assorted Thoughts On She-Ra

I caught episodes of the new She-Ra here and there, but recently I’ve sat down to watch the whole thing. One thing I didn’t realize until I started from the beginning is that Adora’s standard outfit is at least 80% Horde-issue. She has, at most, thrown a personalized red jacket (something which raises no eyebrows in the Fright Zone, so while it might not be standard issue, it’s not some act of defiance, either) on top of what is otherwise a Horde cadet uniform, and that this uniform makes her easily mistaken for an enemy is a plot point in the two-parter opening. And then she never changes outfits, even after seemingly weeks of working with the Rebellion! Fair enough if you want to keep the same white-top-grey-bottom-red-jacket look, but it would’ve been nice if the new white top were noticeably different somehow (we do eventually get a jacketless shot from behind that confirms she no longer has the Horde symbol stamped on the back, at least). Like, here’s a picture of Adora without the jacket:

This is actually a shot from the two-parter opening episode when she still has the Horde symbol, but from the front the shirt is the same. And here’s Adora with her jacket:

You can see that the only important part to retain between the pre- and post-Horde designs is that it’s white on the sleeves and the parts of the chest that are visible under the jacket. Those little red blobs on the sleeves are very Horde – every Horde cadet’s shirt is a white base with some kind of red accent. So the obvious thing to do when switching away from the Horde would be to replace the little red bits with a different color. Purple is pretty princess-y and also shows up in Brightmoon colors a lot (Brightmoon being the specific princess kingdom that Adora uses as home base), and the cool thing about white is that it goes with basically any other color. You could also change the shape, maybe to triangles or some kind of Princess Alliance symbol, and as long as it doesn’t go down far enough to be visible through the cuts on her jacket it’d be fine, and would immediately communicate from episode 3 onwards that Adora has kept her general style but is no longer wearing a Horde uniform.

Also, I realize that a show aimed at kids can’t depict enemy soldiers being dismembered and that the sword as a symbol of heroism is pretty baked into the She-Ra lore and you can’t just ditch it, which backs the creators into a bit of a corner with regards to She-Ra actually using her signature weapon, but the Horde soldiers almost all wear armor. She-Ra can hit them with a sword and just smack them around without cutting through, and then when you need her to cut through a tank or war drone, give the sword a little glowy fire effect to indicate that She-Ra has activated the armor-piercing power. She-Ra’s sword has glowy magic effects all the time, so this won’t be out of place.

Also, also, the heroes are sovereign nations resisting invasion, but they call themselves “the Rebellion.” This even though they have another perfectly good term that they use all the time: The “Princess Alliance.” I think the idea is that the Rebellion refers to all anti-Horde forces and the Princess Alliance is a specific coalition coordinating resources, but “Rebellion” sounds like it’s a specific organization anyway. Plus, they refer to princesses outside the Alliance as not being part of the Rebellion anyway, when the Horde is attempting to conquer all princess realms without exception, so presumably all princess realms are anti-Horde by default, even if they’re not cooperating with other anti-Horde forces.

Also, also, also, I really would’ve appreciated a map early on showing all the princesses and the territory they hold, preferably as part of the opening titles the way Avatar did it. I realize “try to be like AtLA” is advice that animated shows these days generally follow too much, but if your primary conflict is going to be about territory control, I would appreciate being able to see the territory being fought over. AtLA didn’t keep track of exact frontlines for the current state of the war, but it did show that the Air Nomads were totally eliminated, the Southern Water Tribe was under siege, the Earth Kingdom was contested, and the Northern Water Tribe was untouched for now. It gave us a scoreboard for the course of the war, so when the Earth Kingdom fell at the end of season 2, we got that this was a major blow to the good guys. It was only a matter of time before the Fire Nation consolidated their victory over the rest of the Earth Kingdom, the Northern Water Tribe was the only safe place left, and it was only a matter of time before the Fire Nation turned the full might of their forces against them. The finite number of countries on the map meant that I could keep track of the stakes of the overarching conflict.

She-Ra has a similar conflict with similar stakes, but very stubbornly refuses to let them be kept track of. In the princess prom episode, we get that the Kingdom of Snows has a buffer between them and the Horde which makes Princess Frosta reluctant to join the Princess Alliance, but not who that buffer is and at what point of the Kingdom of Snows would be in danger. In the episode where we meet Princess Mermista, we get that the fall of her realm of Salineas (or even just the loss of the magic gate holding some kind of strait, although it’s not clear how much of Salineas lies beyond that strait) would allow the Horde unfettered access to the sea, but we have no idea which new fronts that would open up, what additional kingdoms would be in immediate danger were the Horde to succeed. Even stories that focus on a direct attack against a specific kingdom, like when Plumeria is attacked and Princess Perfuma has to learn the virtue of violent resistance, would at least benefit from knowing how many princess realms are left and thus how much of a blow against anti-Horde forces it would be if this battle were lost. Is Princess Entrapta’s realm basically just that one castle, or is that just the capital of a larger realm?

When Brightmoon is considering surrender to the Horde to protect the captured Princess Glimmer, that’s definitely a severe political defeat since Brightmoon is the leader of the Princess Alliance, and we know from the previous episode that Brightmoon is the single largest and most powerful princess realm, but it’s not really clear what other dominoes might fall as a more-or-less inevitable consequence of that defeat, the way the loss of the Earth Kingdom plainly spells doom for the entire world of Avatar. If Brightmoon surrenders, is Plumeria’s or Salineas’ position untenable?

I’ve had a bunch of nitpicky complaints in this post, so I’m gonna try and level things out with some things I loved about the first season of She-Ra:

-Swiftwind is amazing every time he shows up, even when he’s just a regular horse.

-I love the magical girl transformation sequence they have for She-Ra. They’re good about not using it so often that it loses its impact, too.

-Entrapta’s “hack the planet” line made me laugh. It took me offguard while making perfect sense with her personality and the conversation up to that point, it was great.

-The characters in general are all so much fun to watch. Princess Mermista’s too-cool-for-school routine is fun, particularly from a side character who doesn’t show up often enough for it to become grating, and the same with Princess Entrapta’s geeking out about First Ones tech and robots and stuff. Bow and Glimmer’s more excitable and fun personalities make a great contrast to Adora’s focused determination.

-The princess prom was fun. It was cute how Adora was preparing for it like some combination of a school test and a war, and I really liked the prom outfits for all the characters.

-In general, all the times Adora’s past with the Horde affects her present behavior and makes her a little dysfunctional are fun. It’s nice to see that being raised by a totalitarian military dictatorship doesn’t just inform her relationship with Catra and other dramatic moments, it also bleeds into things like how she only knows how to relax by hitting things. Her occasional moments of childlike wonder at princess-y things is so delightful.

-Catra and Adora’s episode in the Fortress of Solitude was fantastic.

-The reversals in the final battle where the heroes are fending off one attack after another and slowly getting worn down until all hope seems lost, only for one final reversal to save the day with the power of friendship is a paint-by-numbers way to run a final battle and I do not care, I am here for it and I loved She-Ra’s first season finale.