MSG™ is a one-session tabletop RPG with an actual winner, and a truly evil background.
In MSG™, you a Rep, working for the Company. You have the corporate Brand tattooed on your forehead. This is life in the 22nd century.
The Company does not, of course, care about your personal life or passions; it cares about your resume. So the main task in character creation is to determine your corporate competencies: HR, IT, M&A, and the like. (MSG™ is less obnoxious than it could be here; though the writers seem concerned that you may be deterred by jargon, the jargon in the game, if any, is quite transparent. I mean, I could specialize in integrating competencies and empowering work flow experiences leveraged across multiple platforms and international contexts, to support sustainable growth in stakeholder value. And perhaps I will.)
Players can either be marketing-oriented Freelancers or IT-oriented Assets; Assets have more job security, but they are jacked into the Company, and their brains are owned.
Only then do we get to the personal bits: Every character starts with someone they love, two people they hate, and an old tragedy.
Then, the players define the Company, and its Brand. The Brand is (sort of) independent of the Company; the Company, as all such, exists for one purpose: maximizing profit. But the Brand is what it presents to consumers as its raison d'etre. Thus, for a current example, BP's business is sucking petroleum out of the ground and selling it to people so they can drive cars and help us all cook in our own emissions, but its brand is all about greenery and a sustainable future. Which seems to work; people hate ExxonMobil, but less so BP.
Once characters and brand are established, the players take turns being The Company; when it's your turn to be the Company, your character is off having a vacation or a pint at the local or something of the kind (MSG™ is a British game).
Every player has some number of action points; the Company has as many as all of them put together. At the end of the game, the player with the most action points remaining wins. Yes, very unusual for an RPG; there are winners and losers here. Thus, when it's your turn to be the Company, you want to fuck at least one other player, and preferably as many of them as possible.
During each "round," the Company player presents an issue the players must resolve, bringing in one NPC (possibly one of the players loves or hates) as company spokesperson. Here's an example from the rules book, although players are encouraged to wing it, too:
- Kill Fluffy
Rationale: The Company owns the rights to fifteen separate breeds of dogs. Recently a kid out in the suburbs registered a mongrel of at least two of these breeds. It’s brand dilution. Fluffy has to die.
More stuff: Little Jimmy loves his dog. And Fluffy loves him. The kid’s dad is an executive in one of the more belligerent of the Parallel Market contractors.
Supporting cast: Little Jimmy, Fluffy the dog, the kid’s mum, the kid’s manager to whom the Reps must report, copyright lawyer with a gun.
Extras: Animal rights protestors,
What the Company wants: Duh. Kill Fluffy. And maybe sue the kid.
In short, issues are designed to create moral dilemmas for the players -- and the Company player does his best, through the Company's instructions and by manipulating player loves and hates and other NPCs, to ensure that at least one player is stuck with a repulsive task, and will work to resist it.
In the course of exploring the issue, players may earn "Soap" -- additional action points usable only in these round. Soap can be earned by bringing hates and loves into the scene, by hinging outcomes on "brand values," by using your particular work competencies, and by (once per scene) inventing a new three-letter acronym for a particular bit of business-related jargon.
At some point, a player is required to take a Risk. The player assigns some number of action points (and Soap); the Company player counters with some number from the Company's pool; other players may intervene on either side. Allocations are revealed secretly, and the larger total wins; Soap is discarded, and the winner loses other points wagered while gaining the wager of the loser. (If you used Soap, you might actually wind up ahead on this deal.) The winner gets to narrate the outcome of the dilemma.
Additional rounds occur until each player has been the Company once, at which point victory is determined.
In a traditional RPG, players are expected to cooperate with each other with the GM as a neutral arbiter; Paranoia turns that on its head by encouraging players to betray and backstab each other. MSG does something similar, but subtly different; it pits the "gamemaster" at the players' throats, balancing things by having each of the players act as GM in turn. That's an interesting and novel approach, as are several other elements of the game -- the fact that it comes to a definitive ending in a single session, and that there are winners and losers. In short, it defies many of the characteristics we normally ascribe to a tabletop RPG -- in the context of a very cynical, and very cool, cyberpunky future where even the minimal constraints on corporate action that currently apply are removed, and any residual ethical norms for businessmen are considered the domain of chumps.
Excellent, in a word.
Via the Paranoia blog.
Also, the following may be helpful in translating from the Limey:
trainers = sneakers
CV = "curriculum vitae" = resume