Solitaire Storytelling: Paranoid Android

The war with the androids has made everyone paranoid. Including me, and including my interrogators. See, Asimov Landing Station is on the far edge of the galaxy, manned by only a skeleton crew, most of them scientists doing research. Nothing ever happens here. But after the government discovered that androids have the capacity of perfectly mimicking human beings the atmosphere in the Station has started changing. Several things had gone wrong or malfunctioned in non-critical but totally avoidable ways before, but now things are getting more severe: research has been delayed, the station’s systems have broken down at critical moments, and people have disappeared. Station security has singled me out as a suspicious person and they’ve taken me in for questioning. I’m starting to wonder… am I really human, or a sleeper agent with programming? Could I be one of them?

Personnel Data

Name: Wagner Dilucca

Occupation: Electronics Technician

Gender: Male

Immediate Family: Father Declan, Mother Francesca (deceased), Sister Alicia (Soldier), Fiancé Douglas Forgrave

Time on the Station: Seven Months

School: Io Institute of Technology

University Degree: Electrical Engineering

Hobbies: Astronomy, Meditating, Long Walks Through The Maintenance Corridors

Psychological Background: Loner, but can be drawn out by friends.

Medical History: Standard checkups have no discrepancies, blood work unclear.

Nine of Spades (Paranoid 1 Android 0)

Well I found myself down in one of the escape pod bays the other day. It was quiet, and mostly dark. Kind of spooky. Nobody ever really goes down there aside from the monthly inspections, and it had been a week since the last one. I remember checking a few of the launch panels, and finding some of the wiring disconnected. Would have caused the pods not to launch when the button was pressed. Easy fix, reconnected everything and closed up the panel. I… don’t know why I didn’t report it. 

I… I was just down there for a walk.

Seven of Diamonds (Paranoid 2 Android 0)

The brig isn’t meant to hold people who are a danger to themselves. It wasn’t surprising when they decided to use the cryo units as a special holding facility. Melina started cracking up when she heard her parents got caught in the war’s crossfire, and totally lost it when we found out about the humanlike androids, accusing everybody. Even, uh, me. There hasn’t been a shuttle in to take her off the station, so they stuffed her in a freezer. Might be a kindness. I was in there doing routine maintenance, Officer Letsky standing watch, when I noticed Melina’s pod starting to cycle. Some idiot must have just put her on a routine sleep, not a total lockdown. Letsky nearly pulled his weapon on me when I went for the pod. Got it shut down, Melina can keep resting and I, I mean we, can be safe. 

Five of Diamonds (Paranoid 2 Android 1) 

They don’t really tell us what they do here. “Science” is a little broad, right? So there I am in Quarantine, running… extra power cables, I think. Stars only know why they need more juice, it was causing havoc with the regulators in the other sections. I had to send Alcantar to shut off the transfer conduit for central heating for thirty minutes while I struggled through things on my own.

I was so fed up by the end that I didn’t bother to run the final tests on the energy screens. They’ve got the right energy levels going into them, the eggheads will just have to keep an eye on their readings. And if they blow the projectors and let out whatever it is they’re working with-

Th-that would be bad. Yeah, of course.

Nine of Hearts (Paranoid 3 Android 1)

The plaza has gotten real popular since we found out. People don’t want to be alone much – I mean, I don’t mind, but I guess some people are nervous. Plaza is one of the best places to get as many eyes on you as possible, so that… I don’t know, nothing bad happens to you, I guess. Or so you can keep an eye on the maximum number of people. I don’t really care for it, to be honest, but Alcantar and Melina – she hadn’t fully lost it yet, by then – wanted to hang out, so I went.

Lachlan and Roth started getting into it. Yelling about how they’d always thought the other had been up to something. Nobody else was doing anything, so I stepped up, tried to calm them down. Pointed out how there was no way an infiltrator would ever get sent out here, it’s a dead end station in the middle of nowhere. They both cooled off, nothing happened, it was all good. Except Melina started muttering to herself as the three of us talked it out – that was the beginning of the end for her.

Ace of Spades (Paranoid 3 Android 2)

I, uh, I woke up in the brig, once. Not, like, here in a cell, in the hallways just outside. I… I think I’d been working third shift again. Always seem to fall asleep in weird places when I do that, I just get so tired I don’t even remember how I…

Anyway, I was pretty spooked, but it wasn’t manned at the time, so I just scarpered off back to my quarters, hopped into bed. Didn’t even take off my jumpsuit. Next day I woke up with a pain in my side, found a bunch of capacitors in one of my pockets. Think they were for the new scanners they had us install in the cells – don’t know exactly how they work, but they go through capacitors real quick.

I… don’t think I ever get around to putting them back.

Four of Hearts (Paranoid 3 Android 3)

Stars, it was supposed to be a stupid prank. Letsky was always complaining, about having to watch Melina, about getting posted out here in the first place, and especially if anyone ever touched his nutrient shake in the fridge. This bright red looking stuff. So, yeah, I took one of Neomi’s and added some coloring and switched them out. I was looking forward to the surprise on his face. I didn’t expect him to be allergic to whatever Neomi was chugging down! 

Last I heard he’s still in the sickbay, and they had to pull Officer Wyse out of Surveillance to cover Melina’s ‘cell’.

Eight of Clubs (Paranoid 3 Android 4)

Nobody likes anything to do with the trash compactor. Smell aside, from old sci-fi vids to the fact that once you’re inside there’s only one more door between you and the void, everyone has a nightmare scenario about the place. It was my turn to draw the short straw, though. Me and Aisha. There’d been a short in the compression coils again, so we had to go in and fix it before we all started drowning in our own garbage. 

I was up to my knees when I saw it. A labcoat with Dr. Salk’s name on it. I didn’t mention it to Aisha, but it was kind of spooky, right? I mean, he was one of the first people to go missing. I just fixed the coil and got out of there, and ten minutes later the labcoat was in the void.

Along with everything else in the compactor at the time, of course.

Five of Spades (Paranoid 4 Android 4)

Another third shift, another weird wakeup. Service duct in the shields systems, smell of burnt wiring, red lights on most of the readouts. The shields weren’t down, exactly, but when I tell you a passing micrometeorite would go through them like Letsky through his shake, I mean it. Never mind what any actual attacks would do. 

I patched it up – it wasn’t an easy fix, I had to go over my shift, but it wasn’t exactly what you would call non-vital either, right? I checked later, and the shields system wasn’t even on my docket that day. Lucky break that’s where I stumbled to for a nap, I guess.

Seven of Hearts (Paranoid 4 Android 5)

I don’t pray much. I have trouble believing in a higher power, especially with the state of the galaxy being what it is. The station’s interfaith shrine is generally pretty quiet and solitary, though, so with everything going on I thought I’d head there and try to just… exist, for a bit, without thinking about everything.

It didn’t work. The longer I was there, the angrier I got. Alicia out there risking her life on the front lines, Melina on ice, Salk missing, paranoia running rampant, all because they – we – decided to create a new species and then weren’t brave or honest enough to let it chart its own path. I had a can of marking paint on my belt, used for indicating dangerous bits of equipment. “Your gods have abandoned you,” sprayed across the altar. It felt good, at the time. I heard people have started to avoid the shrine, and the fearful mutterings grew louder by the day.

Ace of Hearts (Paranoid 4 Android 6)

The Chef had stopped reporting for duty a week beforehand, nobody knew anything about why, and it was my turn to take their spot in the roster for dinner. I have a lot of fond memories of cooking with mom, of making meals for Douglas, and while making a meal for everyone on the station is very different, I was actually looking forward to the job. Everyone who wasn’t standing guard somewhere, actively working on an experiment, or… missing was there. I made a stew.

Aisha, Engstrom, Alcantar, Hsu, they all started vomiting a few minutes after I served them, and they weren’t the only ones. I was cleaning up while waiting for a bowl of my own to cool when it started, and I remember looking over at the mostly-served pot. There was a bottle of cleaning solution next to it that I… I didn’t see how it got there. When I picked it up, it was mostly empty. 

I tossed the bottle into the incinerator before anyone thought to look my way, then took a quick bite from my own bowl, just enough to start looking queasy. I couldn’t let people think it had been me.

Ten of Hearts (Paranoid 4 Android 7)

I was staring off into space from the viewing deck, the distant nebula a smear of color, when I shook myself and looked around. I must have… I must have fallen out of the service duct again, I thought, because I had a split lip and my knuckles were all banged up. Then I actually looked  at the dome of the viewing deck, and spotted the smear of blood. 

Alcantar lay beneath it, still, so very still, a small puddle of red expanding around his head. He… he must have attacked me. Made accusations about me, like Milena did. When I rebuffed him, he must have gotten violent, and I was forced to defend myself.

I got to the nearest security station a while later and reported it, told the whole story of him attacking me. They took Alcantar away, heading for the labs.

At night, though, I can still hear his voice. “You did it! It’s your fault!”

Ace of Diamonds (Paranoid 5 Android 7)

Rumors started to circulate that the lab needed blood for their experiments, that the experiments had something to do with the infiltrator androids, that the more – and the more types – of blood they got the better their chances would be.

I don’t usually give the rumor mill much attention, but after Alcantar… so I went down there and asked Dr. Madi if they really needed any, and they said ‘it couldn’t hurt’. Doctor joke, the needle stung like hell. They noted the burn scars I had on my arm from… from whenever that was, you know how it is, so I turned that into some bravado about how the blood-sucking wasn’t really so bad, see? For a good cause anyways.

Queen of Hearts (Paranoid 5 Android 7)

“What would people who never suffered be like?” I don’t know, uh… reckless. They wouldn’t really understand the consequences of their actions, how they might affect themselves or others who just happen to be innocent bystanders. Oh, and ignorant. They would have zero comprehension about the lived experience of someone who had suffered, they wouldn’t be able to truly empathize or maybe even sympathize, they wouldn’t understand what we had to do just in order to survive in a galaxy we didn’t ask to be brought into-

Uh, yeah, ‘we’. We’ve all suffered here, right? Especially lately.

Queen of Spades (Paranoid 5 Android 7)

“How long will I be remembered after I die?” Well… I mean they call it living memory for a reason, right? Douglas and I have talked about adopting after we get married, so… half a century, maybe? Depends on what age we get the kid, and how long we live, then how long they live.

Although I’d like to think that there’d be some part of me out there somewhere that you could stumble upon. Some copy of… I, I don’t really know. A journal, maybe. A recording. Maybe even this interrogation, you’re recording it all, right? Some copy of something out there that someone could find and… “bring me back to life”, I guess.

Two of Hearts (Paranoid 5 Android 8)

Security has been using the firing range a lot recently. So much so that monthly maintenance has become way more frequent. I was in there, up to my elbows in wiring, because they needed to keep running the challenge algorithms, when I just… had this thought, one of those intrusive ones that you don’t mean to have, they just pop into your head.

“They’re training to shoot me.”

I couldn’t shake it. Alcantar’s fault, probably, I just couldn’t get away from the idea of how things would go if the next crazy person to come after me was armed. I didn’t even really think about doing it, it was like I was just watching my body move, hooking up a monitor and board, making some quick tweaks to the code. The officers would get a guaranteed 76.2 to 84.5% accuracy rating at minimum, making it impossible for them to see where they were really going wrong. Training would be useless for actually improving their aim.

Heard Officer Sangvhi bragging about her new high score when I left, how she was gonna scrap the androids if they ever came for the station, and I know for a fact she couldn’t hit the broad side of a freighter. Guess it worked.

Jack of Hearts (Paranoid 5 Android 8)

“If all your memories were erased, what kind of person would you be?” Well, a clean slate, right? Probably pretty gullible, I mean I wouldn’t have anything to compare anything else to, so I suppose at first I would be whatever who was there told me was right to be.

Unless I was allowed to learn things again on my own, I guess. I’d probably be curious, asking questions, trying to figure out why the answers I got or found were there to be gotten or found in the first place, always trying to understand.

Doesn’t sound so bad, actually. I could make anything of myself, from factory-fresh as it were.

King of Diamonds (Paranoid 5 Android 8)

“If there existed a perfect clone of you, would it also be you?” No. No, not at all, I mean wasn’t I just talking about lived experiences? Just because someone is physically the same doesn’t mean they’re the same person, it’s what you experience and how you react to it that makes you who you are. Nobody thinks people born as twins are the same person, I don’t know why anyone would think it would be different for us.

The, uh, clones, I mean.

Seven of Clubs (Paranoid 6 Android 8)

The hangar bay is usually pretty quiet, but this time it was bustling. No incoming, but the scientists wanted to take their little shuttle out towards the nebula. Not sure why, they’d never done that before, but whatever it was it must have been pretty important, cause there were a lot of people there getting things ready ASAP.

I was just off to the side, I think I’d gotten all of my own pre-flight checks down, nav beacon was fully powered, just staring out through the magnetic field at the nebula. I just glanced to the side, don’t know why, and saw the fuel lines had been crossed. Fuel Component A was going to go into B’s compartment, and vice versa, which seeing as how they’re only supposed to interact – and react – when they’re going out the thrusters, well.

I was screaming bloody murder at Kofi, he’d been about to flip the lever to start pumping the fuel components. It felt weird to be that angry, but then he was about to kill everyone in the hangar, maybe on the station, so I suppose it makes sense. He claimed he put them in the right way, but nobody could back him up, so his pay has been docked and he’s been put on probation.

I swear I could smell the fuel components when I got back to my cabin, that’s how close of a call it was.

Six of Hearts (Paranoid 6 Android 9)

I don’t like showers. I mean, not that I hate being clean, I like being clean, it’s just that for some reason I can’t stop thinking while I’m in one. Not sit-in-the-viewing-deck-and-stare-at-the-nebula thinking, like, frantic thoughts about everything I need to do or things I’m worried about.

I’m not even sure how long I’d been in there for. Just… paralyzed under the water, thoughts of Melina, and Salk, and Alcantar, and Kofi, and the shields, and the wiring job on the solar panels I was supposed to do that day, losing time in the steam. That’s when I heard the sound, caught the smell, and all the lights went out.

By the time the medics got there, Reactor Technician Kuni was very, very dead. Somehow some of the wiring running up to the lights had gotten exposed, and, well. 

No, no, it was Melina who did the shower’s wiring. Or, or it was Alcantar. I don’t remember which.

Four of Clubs (Paranoid 6 Android 10)

Yet another third shift. I woke up, alone, tucked into a blanket in one of the air ducts off of the central air recycler. One of the fans was slowly cycling down for a cooldown period, making one of the service lights flicker again and again right into my eyes and the air had that metallic taste of having been through a hundred lungs and a hundred filters over and over again and I was just so damn tired

Tired of the paranoia, tired of the deaths and the disappearances and the accusations and what is the point of it all anyways we don’t even know what they’re doing here and they say it’s important but I miss home and I miss Douglas and I wanted to get out of here right there and then and my tools were there on the deck-

Sangvhi and the others dragged me out. By the time it was over, I’d smashed a third of the fans.

Now I’m here.

They say I’m an android.

Well, the interrogation is over. Now I’m in the brig waiting for them to decide what to do with me. They won’t get the chance. Now all the mental blocks and conditioning are falling away, and I’m me again. Stars, this has been a nightmare. It’s been worth it, though. Asimov Landing Station is the research station for trying to uncover our infiltrators – and they’ve got it all wrong. But now that they’ve “caught’ me they think their methods work. Who knows how long it’ll take them to figure out their mistake, and how many plans we’ll get to put into action first? Plus, the effort put in to getting me out of here will convince them all the more.

The transceiver at the base of my skull has just enough range to reach the nebula, where Douglas and the others have been waiting. Just a quick mental burst of communication and…

They’re coming.


Created by Armanda Haller, Paranoid Android is a solo journaling TTRPG about (not) knowing who you are, sabotage, luck, and existential dread. You take on the role of a blue-collar worker on Asimov Landing Station, hauled in for interrogation by station security under suspicion of being an android in disguise. Until the end, even you won’t know who you really are.

You’ll need a deck of cards minus jokers, some journaling method, and a coin. After setting up some basic information on your character, as seen above, play is very straightforward: draw a card. If it is an A-10, then the card represents a flashback to an event that happened on the station, and provides a location prompt for you to set the scene in. If it’s a Jack, Queen, or King it instead represents a test question, something your interrogator is outright asking you.

For flashbacks, you first flip the coin, deciding beforehand which face will represent Paranoid and which will represent Android. These two values each have a ten-point track; fill in a segment of an appropriate track, then record the flashback. Paranoid mean you were acting to resolve problems for the humans, but Android means you were sabotaging humans’ work somehow, and this should color the flashback significantly. For test questions you simply answer the question, after taking note of how full your two tracks are and letting that influence your response.

There are actually four different endings for the game. If you fill all ten segments in the Paranoid track, you prove your innocence and are set free, ending the game by detailing what the first thing you do is, how the whole experience has effected you, and what your plans are. If you fill in the Android track you are exposed as an android, and close out by discussing a special ability that may save you, how if any of your plans succeeded, and what information you found that may help your people win the war.

If you answer all of the test questions before a track is filled, you instead see which one is the closest to completion. If it’s Paranoid you are considered human and know it for sure, and a few days later something unusual catches your eye; you draw one more prompt and resolve it re: what caught your eye, how it gets resolved, how you find the real android responsible, and how you imagine the war might end. If it’s Android then you are considered human but know they are wrong; draw a final prompt, then decide what your plan will be, how you will carry it out, how you feel about it, and how you imagine the war will end.

“A love letter to Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, and Blade Runner 2049” and inspired by a captcha that seemingly proved Haller is a robot, Paranoid Android does a great job of getting in your head and sprinkling question marks around. I’ve said before that one trick to make solo journaling games easier is to roll out mechanics beforehand, but that’s not an option here. The uncertainty over whether or not you’re an android is central to the entire experience.

The game’s layout does some extra work establishing the tone and genre, with its glitchy text and cyberpunk colors, but there’s also a .txt version for accessibility purposes.

The flashback prompts are pretty barebones, only really telling you what location the flashback should take place in, and I think I would have struggled but for a section providing some tips. “Are there people in the scene? Is there some surprising development? Are there places to hide? Is there someone else with you in the scene? Is it during working hours? Is there any sound, smell, feel that you can
imagine? What do you normally do in that place? How did you get
there? What do you recall? What made this flashback complicated or inconvenient? Why have you forgotten about it until now?”

I particularly liked the test questions. Examples not featured in poor Wagner’s interrogation include such gems as “Is the meaning of life the same for androids and humans?” and “If I steal a loaf of bread from you and eat it, when does the bread itself cease to be yours and become mine?” I think I like them in part because they do provide more structure to your response that round, and they immediately put you in the brain of the character. I kind of wish that the Aces had also been test question prompts so we’d get more of them, but that would make the already difficult to reach “finish all test questions” endings all the more unlikely.

An interesting note, the game does mention that it was designed with voice recording in mind in order to further emulate an interrogation, and… yeah I can see that! An audio version would (hopefully) make it easier to convey the emotions of uncertainty and anxiousness that can permeate the game. As you can see, though, the game still works just fine on the written (or typed) page.

You can find Paranoid Android on itch.io for $7.00 US, which gets you the PDF and the .txt version – there are also a limited number of free community copies.

So, are you human or are you an android? It’s not paranoia if you really are the infiltrator, you know. The brig door is locked and I have all these questions; looks like we’ll be finding the answer together…

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.