Over the Edge (game)
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Over the Edge is a surreal role-playing game of secrets and conspiracies, taking place on the mysterious Island of Al Amarja. It was created by Jonathan Tweet with Robin Laws, and published by Atlas Games. Over The Edge departed from the model of predefined character attributes and skills, in favour of player-chosen traits; and was among the first to be based on the dice pool, where the number of dice rolled, rather than how they are interpreted, is determined by the characters' abilities.
Over the Edge, first edition
|Designer(s)||Robin Laws, Jonathan Tweet|
|Publication date||1992 (1st edition)|
1997 (2nd edition)''
2019 (3rd edition)
|System(s)||Custom (dice pool-based)|
Both Over the Edge and Vampire: The Masquerade were based upon a project between Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein·Hagen which followed their development of Ars Magica for Lion Rampant. They share the concept of a dice pool, which they presumably inherit from that initial design. This game mechanic had previously been seen in West End Games' Ghostbusters and Star Wars, and FASA's Shadowrun roleplaying games.
Instead of representing characters using attributes and skills, characters are quantified with "traits" — freeform descriptors, like "Fireman", "Quick" or "Monster from another Dimension", which are created and defined by the player. Each character has one primary trait, two secondary traits, and one flaw. One of the three positive traits is chosen as superior. If a character attempts an action based on their primary or secondary traits, they get (usually) four (for the superior trait) or three six-sided dice to roll.
If a character has a particular advantage, they may add a bonus die — they roll one more die, and discard the lowest roll. If they have a particular disadvantage (such as their flaw), they must add a penalty die — they roll one more die, and discard the highest roll.
For most tasks where the traits don't apply, they get two dice. For a routine, very easy task, the difficulty is 4; for an easy task, 7; for a moderately difficult task, 11; for a difficult task, 14; for a very difficult task, 18; and for a nearly impossible task, 21. If an opponent is resisting the action, the difficulty is their roll.
Tweet has stated that he designed Over the Edge to be more improvisational and open-ended than other role-playing games. On his website, he writes:
I designed Over the Edge to be crazy and spontaneous, so that's how I ran it. I'd generally mix alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine to get my head right for OTE. I invented whatever came to mind as we played, and wound up generating dozens of weird clues to uninvented mysteries, many of which the players never followed up. The setting was a challenge enough, so I didn't feel I needed to present the players with hard-edged combat challenges. There were plenty of fights, but the challenge was to get into the right fights more than it was to win a particular fight.
Al Amarja is an independent island state in the southern Mediterranean. The western side of the island is covered by three interconnected cities (from north to south): the port town of Skylla, the slums of The Edge and the tract housing of suburban Traboc. Most of the population lives there.
Freedom City, the capital of Al Amarja, is on the eastern end of the island and was based on Washington D.C. It consists mainly of stately government buildings and the opulent homes of government officials, surrounded by the rickety slums that house the government employees. The only difference between Washington D.C. and Freedom City is here the drug dens and brothels are in the good part of town and are very exclusive.
The two ends of the island are linked by the "October 7th Memorial Highway" along the northern coast and "Freedom Road" along the southern coast. The rest of the island is undeveloped hilly forest, at the center of which lies an extinct volcano called Mount Ralsius.
The French version of the game (called Conspirations) shifted the position of Al Amarja to the Caribbean for the same reasons it was placed in the Mediterranean sea in the original: an exotic place in an area of numerous islands sufficiently unfamiliar to the target audience, next to big western nations where many cultures and societies mix.
During its history, Al Amarja has been colonized and conquered in succession by Greeks, Romans, North African Muslims, Catalans, Castilians, various Italian states and eventually the newly unified Italy.
The official history of the island states that on October 7, 1940, Her Exaltedness Monique D'Aubainne, the Current Shepherdess of Al Amarja and president-for-life, drove out the fascists with the aid of her bodyguards, the Loyal Defenders. In reality, she just bought the island from her lover, Benito Mussolini. She founded the new state and legislation after the war using the newly ascendant United States as a model.
Al Amarja is also a center of just about every kind of global conspiracy imaginable and all of them have their own operatives in the island.
Al Amarja's official language is American English adopted following Her Exaltedness' wholesale embracing of American culture and enforced by the shadowy Language Police. Fearful of being considered disloyal, many 'Marjians translated their names into English or randomly selected English words from the dictionary as first or last names.
Al Amarjan patois (called 'Marjan) has numerous loan words from just about any other language in the world. A particular word or phrase might use various languages' versions of it to imply subtext. An example would be the word "Yes" — the English "Yes" is used for simple confirmation, the French "Oui" is used to imply apathy or boredom, the Russian "Da" is used for dejected acceptance of the inevitable, and the Japanese "Hai" is selected for enthusiastic agreement.
Al Amarja uses the American Dollar as its standard currency. In fact the American government prints up batches of their currency explicitly for their internal use. However, the coins and bills have her face on all the denominations and use 'Marjian landmarks on the obverse side.
Al Amarja gets its income from various sources — decadent tourists, private donations and investments, legal and illicit business, smuggled ivory and other forbidden animal products, lecherous sailors, expense accounts of various operatives and pirated products. Businesses like the lack of any copyright and trademark laws, absence of safety regulations, and easily bribed law enforcement.
Guns, explosives and bulletproof vests are illegal. Only the Peace Force, the island's heavily armed law enforcement agency, can carry guns and they enforce this law very vigorously. Drug laws are similar to those in Europe and United States but enforced only sporadically. Otherwise the police and government lets everybody do whatever they want unless it threatens the state or they have something to gain in stopping it.
Mixed history of the island means that locals look like a mix of various racial characteristics. Current population of Al Amarja has also been increased by a mix of Mediterranean, European, North American and some Asian and Sub-Saharan African immigrants. They also include mutants, maniacs, outlawed psychics, magicians, intelligence and conspiracy operatives, fringe scientists, unscrupulous businessmen, rich patrons and anything else. There are no accurate census numbers.
Al Amarjans – also known as 'Martians – are rough people. Self-expression is common to the point of self-indulgence. Instead of neckties, they wear a noose around their neck; nooses previously used to hang criminals are very prized. Knives and steel-reinforced boots are universal accessories. Street and bar brawls are common entertainment. Because of the common mutual hostility and suspicion, it is a custom to serve beverages and snacks in their original containers.
Al Amarjans practice just about any religion from Christian Science to human sacrifice. They include Satanists and "Sommerites", religiously oriented fans of rock star Karla Sommers. The Temple of the Divine Experience, a multi-religious worship center and dance club, is the only official place of worship in Al Amarja.
- AG2000 Over the Edge, 1992, ISBN 1-887801-01-4
- AG2002 Over the Edge Second Edition, 1997, ISBN 1-887801-52-9
- AG2012 Over the Edge 20th Anniversary Edition, 2012, limited edition of 400 copies, ISBN 1-58978-127-9 & ISBN 978-1-58978-127-6
- AG2300 Wildest Dreams, 1993, ISBN 1-887801-11-1
- AG2301 Weather The Cuckoo Likes, 1994 ISBN 1-887801-12-X
- AG2302 Friend Or Foe?, 1994, ISBN 1-887801-13-8
- AG2303 Cloaks, 1998, ISBN 1-887801-61-8
- AG2304 At Your Service, 2001, ISBN 1-887801-64-2
- AG2100 New Faces, 1992, ISBN 1-887801-03-0
- AG2101 Airwaves, 1993, ISBN 1-887801-04-9
- AG2102 House Call, 1993, ISBN 1-887801-05-7
- AG2103 Unauthorized Broadcast, 1993, ISBN 1-887801-06-5
- AG2104 It Waits..., 1993, ISBN 1-887801-07-3
- AG2150 The Myth Of Self, 1995, ISBN 1-887801-08-1
- AG2151 Forgotten Lives, 1997, ISBN 1-887801-51-0
- AG2200 Welcome to Sylvan Pines, 1993, ISBN 1-887801-09-X
- AG2201 With A Long Spoon, 1994, ISBN 1-887801-10-3
- Pierced Heart by Robin D. Laws
In the October 1994 issue of Dragon (Issue 210), Rick Swan commented on the originality of the game, saying, "To call the Over the Edge game one-of-a-kind is like calling King Kong a one-of-a-kind monkey." Swan liked the game, but admitted that he "had trouble getting a game off the ground," saying, "I couldn't make sense of the characters (understandable since PCs can be anything from Green Berets to talking cats.)" However, Swan concluded that "With its engaging setting and tidal wave of ideas, I’m surprised that the OTE game hasn’t gotten more attention. Though not for beginners — the freeform style requires both the referee and the players to fine-tune the rules as they go along — veterans should go for this in a big way, particularly those with a penchant for the bizarre." Swan thought the supplementary Players' Survival Guide was indispensable for playing Over the Edge, saying, "Maybe you can navigate the OTE rule book without the Players' Survival Guide, but I couldn't. Get 'em both."
In a 1996 readers' poll undertaken by Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time, Over the Edge was ranked 28th. Editor Paul Pettengale commented: "A fine, twisted game, with enough happening to keep players confused for years. And the rules system is a beauty. PCs are defined by a handful of abilities which you invent to suit yourself, plus some personal history to give the ref some hooks; virtually everything is resolved by rolling a small number of six-sided dice. Fast, easy to play and hard to fathom."
- Appelcline, Shannon (2007). "A Brief History of Game #13: Atlas Games: 1990-Present". RPGnet. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
- Tweet, Jonathan. "Gamemastering Styles". Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- Swan, Rick (October 1994). "Roleplaying Reviews". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (210): 93.
- Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. Future Publishing (14): 25–35.