Over the Edge
When the first edition of Over the Edge (OTE) was published, the conspiracy genre was under-utilised in roleplaying. Since then it has bloomed. It would be nice to suggest that OTE was responsible, but I suspect THE X FILES of having a stronger influence.
OTE was still a revolutionary game, and a cult classic. Tweet designed a clever, fast and loose system, and the setting drawn from William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson, which was both original and innovative. And it didn't write down to anyone.
The story goes that Tweet, then known as co-designer of ARS MAGICA (ArM) and co-creator of Lion Rampant, read an article published in ALARUMS & EXCURSIONS written by Laws. The article suggested using Burroughs' NAKED LUNCH as inspiration for a game, and Tweet, sick of teaching people the complicated ArM, started his own campaign. The rest is history.
Artwork: Varies, as usual. Each artist has a very different view of the setting; two even draw the same GMC differently. This will knock you about if you're one of those people who use the pictures as inspiration, but if you just use them as cues to remember where the important bits are they serve their purpose.
Proofreading: Good, no "See page xx" crap like certain other publishers fill their books with. On page 86 a paragraph appears to be missing, but that's about all I can find. In a novel that would be a hanging offence, but in a game I guess I'll let it fly. Just watch it next time, okay?
Every game should have an index like this one. It even has a few jokes and bits of weirdness for losers like me who like that kind of thing. What's with "child, small but vicious, 54" - a page with a picture of punks? Maybe I'll never know.
Normally I don't fawn over a game for its rules, but with OTE I'll make an exception. Characters are defined by three traits and a flaw. They can be anything the player wants, with the GM's permission. Examples and guidelines are given. If you have a strong concept for a character it will be a cinch, but if you were hoping to say "I'll play a goon," you'll be in trouble. The upside is that the setting is so varied that literally any character concept can be worked in.
Each trait is shown by a sign, frex the trait "Violin Player" might have the sign "hums classical music." The trait "Charismatic," the sign "twinkling eyes." This makes it easy for players to describe characters without recourse to stats. Game designers take note.
Then it goes on to ask for things like Motivation, Important Person, etc. Several lists of "Twenty Questions to Define Your Character" exist, but this is the first time I've seen them worked into the rules. It forces players to think about their characters as real people.
The mechanic is simple, roll a few d6, aim for a difficulty level. Bonus and penalty dice complicate things, but it all becomes intuitive quickly (can I say "becomes intuitive?"). Combat is narrative, hit points aren't allowed to be called hit points (you have to make up a name like "Guts" or "Toughness") and moves like parrying and disarming are handled abstractly (roll attack and defense as normal, halve your damage and decide what happens to your opponent). This is good because I normally hate combat systems with the fury of a thousand suns.
All in all, relatively minimalist, easy to learn and a joy to play. It's also easy to convert too, there's a Discworld version called OVER THE ELEPHANTS in Pyramid magazine and others would be easy to imagine. OVER THE ELDRITCH for CoC. OVER THE EMPIRE for WFRP. OVER THE ENEMA for HOL.
Al Amarja (pronounced a-MAR-ha but don't quote me) is an island in the Mediterranean with very lax laws about copyright, trade, scientific research and drugs. It's a haven for rich decadents and weirdos from all over the world. The official language is English and the currency is the American dollar. This creates a slight problem for those of us unfamiliar with The US$, as prices are listed for weapons and hotels but not much else. A brief price guide would have been nice, I'm already busy finding out whose head's on what and the difference between a nickel and a dime.
I'm being picky, but it does represent something larger about the setting - it's Americocentric. Sometimes Al Amarja (and it's principal city; the Edge) are described in very foreign terms, with exotic markets and strange customs, then at other times (especially in descriptions of the 'Burbs, frat groups and Otto's Men) it sounds like a slice of America. The two extremes are never really reconciled, and the individual GM is left to decide to what degree Al Amarja is really a foreign country or just a surreal 53rd state.
One chapter describes the island for players and another for the GM, a nice touch. Far too many games assume the players will read some of the book, then spread info the GM might want to be kept secret all over the place. Here the distinction is clear.
The next chapter describes the various businesses of the Edge, the one after that describes power groups. This says a lot about the game, so far we've had one chapter of rules and four of background, which I applaud. But I can't help feeling that there are too many power groups (conspiracies, semi-legit organisations, GMCs) in chapter six, many of them feel rushed and too many contain notes like:
See "The Bliss of Death" (in The Myth of Self), pp. 12-13.
I'm glad that the second edition hasn't invalidated the old sourcebooks, but I don't want to be referred to them here. It makes me feel like I've only bought half of a game, a feeling I'm sick of getting from White Wolf products, and a disturbing trend in the industry. Aside from which, my mail-order retailer doesn't carry any of them, so I'll have to order overseas for my copy of WEATHER THE CUCKOO LIKES..
Bitch, bitch, bitch. You're forgiven for thinking I don't like this game. The description of the airport alone makes me want to run a scenario right now, and the quality of Tweet and Laws' writing is far better than most games. I find it hard to talk about the stuff I like without giving too much away, but if high weirdness, conspiracies, espionage and mad science are your cup of fish, you'll like it. Unless you suffer from pomophobia, that is.
There's also a funky table of interactions between groups which tells you at a glance what everybody thinks of each other, or if they even know of their existence. Which is nice.
In the back we have additional rules for GM eyes only. As with the background it's a good idea for GMs who like to keep their players in the dark, but there's a counterpoint section by Laws suggesting you let your players know everything and roleplay their lack of knowledge. It's always good to get a second opinion, and I wish I had Laws' players, but realistically I can't trust mine.
Everything in the GM rules is written informally, like advice from a trusted friend. And it's good advice, the kind of stuff you wish you knew when you first started out. Sadly, OTE isn't a beginner's game, there's no real "A roleplaying game is" section for newbies. Well there is, but I get the feeling it will go over most new players' heads, and it's not at the start of the book anyway. Maybe I'm not giving new players enough credit, but then I started out with WARHAMMER, not EVERWAY.
And the spells, sorry, Fringe Powers are perfect - uncomplicated and easy to work into stories. With this and ArM under his belt Tweet has designed the two best (though completely different) magic systems I've seen.
Three fleshed-out adventures, plus campaign outlines, miscellaneous story ideas and player handouts. I should be in GM heaven.
This is the bit where I have to talk about stuff players really shouldn't know, so if there's a chance you'll ever play OTE stop reading now. Go read one of Jeff Freeman's columns.
First adventure: Contact on Al Amarja. A group of bodyguards head to the Edge to get some information for their Boss.
The first scenario needs to be set in the airport. Al Amarja's airport can't be glossed over, it deserves a chapter of its own. The first adventure ought to deal with normal people (or people as normal as your players) and their first impressions of the island, and that means the airport. No skipping over it. No fast-forwarding.
There's a tradition, or an ancient charter or something, which states that all intro scenarios must have an early, unrelated-to-the-plot fight scene. It teaches the players the combat rules, I guess. Contact has two, and neither one inspires me half as much as the examples in the combat section.
It also suffers from too many leads. An intro should stick to bare bones, not give links into two of the major ongoing plots and one major conspiracy. Keep it simple, don't scare them too much.
I'm not this opinionated in real life, I swear.
Scenario two: basically an episode of the X Files. Nice characters, leaves a lot up to the GM. More evidence this game isn't for beginners.
Scenario three: Party on Al Amarja. A very loose framework for a session that sounds like a lot of fun, but daunts the hell out of me.
Major plots: here's the gold. Three campaign (that's series in OTE-speak) outlines, well written, inspirational. One of the scenarios should have been ditched for more of these. OTE is the only game I know that tells you what a complete series should be like, which every game should.
I'm going to be as honest as I can here, so you might find out more about my dysfunctional roleplaying than OTE, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.
Session One: Two players, eager but not brilliant actors. I teach them the basics, then run through two action sequences so I don't have to throw a token fight into the start of a real scenario. First up, a shoot-out from the examples. It goes like textbook, some obscure bits of rules now make sense and the adrenalin is flowing. Next, a robbery in a Kwik-E-Mart. One plays a janitor and the other plays the clerk. I let them make up character details on the fly ("I keep a shottie under the counter." "I know Mop Fu!") and they have a ball. John Woo would be proud of the stunts.
They want more, so I cannibalise a plot from a comic book. They give bare bones to a couple of espionage agent PCs (more develop-in-play character creation), break into the Generic Evil Cult's base and stop them summoning the Big Nasty. Goes like a charm.
Session Two: Both original players plus two more. I decide to run a modified version of the first adventure in the book. Character creation doesn't go well. The players find it hard to think of concepts, they've been weaned on stats and skills and random generation. They want to pick from a list, not think for themselves, so every suggestion I make is taken as holy writ.
One of the major GMCs is a youngish woman. I'm terrible at roleplaying women unless they're old hags (I can cackle, which is a nice talent to possess) or Monty Python pepperpot ladies. Fortunately none of my (all-male) players tries to flirt with her, because that just freaks me out.
I skip the second combat.
Once the roleplaying starts the players get noticeably bored and start arguing amongst themselves, so I start a riot around them. Just a small one. The quiet guy comes to the fore and saves the day, roleplaying to the hilt and saving the cahoonies of two of the others. I rush an ending on a high note.
Player opinions: The hacker player says he was having a rough night and wasn't really in the mood so he couldn't give it a fair go. The player who normally plays goons hated it, because he hates anything that isn't fantasy. I wish I'd known that before. The quiet one enjoyed it but doesn't know if he can commit to a regular game because he's got other stuff going on. Turns out he has a more active sex life than me, though that isn't hard. Did I just say that out loud? The fourth player says it's a fun game and I shouldn't give up.
I give up.
Look, OTE is a great game. You should have it on your shelf because a) it's probably dirt cheap, and b) it has kick-arse rules. If you're in one of those groups who can play EVERWAY and AMBER and have catharsis on--cue you should play it, but if you're dysfunctional like me, consider converting the rules to a simpler setting and giving the players a list of sample concepts.
Oh, and it transmits a secret message. How many games can say that?
 A goon is the token tough guy, in fantasy games the archetype fighter, probably a dwarf or barbarian. They even exist in more cerebral games like MAGE in the form of the Akashic Brotherhood. Easy to identify with, uncomplicated, violent, like Combat Wombats.
 Totally unrelated note - OTE, that article (www.sjgames.com/pyramid/sample.cgi?721), the Discworld Companion, and a couple of the maps might make for a better game than GURPS DISCWORLD if you're not a fan of the GURPS rules.
 Maybe I just made that word up.
 Yeah right, but the stuff I don't like I can go on about ad nauseam.
 Pomophobia: The irrational fear of postmodernism.
 AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 350 if you must know. A reprise of the first Spidey story's right wing law and order and responsibility nonsense. "If you don't stop every crime you see your Uncle Ben will die and no more milk and cookies for you." Thank you Stan Lee.
 One player wants to be the computer hacker of the group. "Good," I say, explaining how his trait will work and how many dice he'll roll. "Now you need to think up a sign." He can't. "What if he occasionally talks in hacker jargon," I suggest. Down on paper it goes. Halfway through the scenario he complains, "What am I supposed to do, talk in megabytes and RAM?" Was I crazy to assume that a computer technician with a free unlimited internet account had heard of the Jargon File?
 They were shaped like pepperpots not made of pepperpots. They said, "I told my Norman" and "Oooh would you look at that," a lot.
 There's almost always a quiet one. Normally male, they studiy their character sheet and don't say much. You should always be nice to them because when they do start talking they often pull the party's collective tail out of the fire, as in this instance.
 Full disclosure: I used to be the quiet one.Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)