|Over The Edge, 2nd Edition|
The Role Playing Game of Surreal Danger
Atlas Games , 1992, 1997
Supporting items in the collection
House Call: An Adventure Resource for Over the Edge. Dustin Browder. Atlas Games, 1993.
Like some others in our collection, Over the Edge isn't a dead game. It's still available from the original publisher, Atlas Games. But Over the Edge is an older, little-known product that deserves wider exposure for its fascinating rules and setting. Observers may note that museum staff use the rules as a generic system for other games (our Jorune conversion is in our gift shop, and we've used it for Bureau 13 and Tekumel as well). We find the rules are easy to learn, elegant in play, and make it easy to create unique and memorable characters quickly. But let's look at the game itself.
Over the Edge is set on the island of Al AmarjaTM. (We assume that Atlas games wishes to protect the Al Amarja trademark, but it would be fitting for the setting if the name of the island included the trademark.) Al AmarjaTM is a small island in the Mediterranean ocean, ruled by the autocratic president, Monique d'Aubainne. Ostensibly part of our modern, normal world, Al AmarjaTM is a surreal place where psychics, mutants, aliens, and extradimensional beings abound. The island is home to scores of bizarre conspiracies, most of them involving global conquest. Virtually everybody congregates in the nation's main city, The Edge.
Drugs and violence are an everyday activity. The former are illegal; the latter is not, and in some places, is actively encouraged. We note that while narcotic substances are officially illegal on Al AmarjaTM, the police (known as the "Peace force," and notoriously corrupt and brutal) selectively enforce the drug laws, finding them a handy tool for arbitrary arrest and blackmail. Laws against firearms are more consistently enforced, so people arm themselves with a wide variety of hand to hand devices. Just about everybody carries a big knife.
So, what does a "burger" (tourist; easy to eat, like a cheeseburger) do on Al AmarjaTM? Whatever they like. But they will soon encounter weirdness, surrealism, and conspiracies, and thus does the game begin.
Over the Edge is a rules-light die pool game. Players usually have a pool of three or four d6s which they roll, and try to beat their opponent's total. The rules take up a total of only 34 pages of the book, with a one-page handy rules summary.
Start with a concept: "I'm a mutant, despised by humanity, trying to find a place in the world." "I'm a sadistic geriatric game show host, seeking eternal youth." "I'm a world-renowned martial artist, seeking a real challenge." Players then define their character by creating traits. Traits are created by the players (there is no trait list), and can encompass skills ("World-class skate board artist"), personality ("Psychotic weirdo"), appearance ("Drop-dead gorgeous"), or just bizarre ("Intelligent plant masquerading as a cat"). One of these traits is the character's central trait: this is the most important descriptive aspect of the character. The other two traits are peripheral, usually indicating narrower attributes. A fourth trait is created as the character's flaw. All four traits are now marked by a sign. The sign is a visible feature that shows the world that you have this trait. A world-class skateboard artist might always have her board with her, or have skid marks on her forearms. A psychotic weirdo might mutter under his breath constantly and flick his eyes back and forth. The player then chooses one to be superior, leaving the other two as good. Superior traits get a pool of four dice, while good traits get three. Anything not defined is considered average, which gets two dice. The player must then select which trait would be the character's combat trait. The number of dice assigned to that trait determine the character's hit points, at seven points per die. The hit points are also given a descriptor, like a sign. The descriptor indicates why the character has those hit points: bundle of jelly; too stupid to fall down; built like a cinderblock. The character starts the game with one experience die.
Once these mechanical areas are finished, characters are fleshed out a bit. They need a motivation (Why are they on Al AmarjaTM?); a deep, dark secret they desperately want to keep hidden; the person that was most important to them in their life; and finally (author Jonathan Tweet says this is a critical step), the player must draw a sketch of their character, no matter how badly they draw it.
The main mechanic is simplicity itself. The referee establishes the difficulty of the task as a number of dice (average means two dice, hard means three, really hard means four, virtually impossible means six), and the player selects their character's most appropriate trait for the challenge. If they don't have a trait for it, they roll two dice. The referee and player roll, and if the player equals or exceeds the referee's roll, it's a success. The more they beat the target by, the better the result.
Over the Edge has a few simple die quirks. Where a task should be somewhat easier (jumping over a fence with a good running start), the player might get a bonus die, where the player rolls an extra die and removes the lowest scoring die from the set. Where a task might be somewhat harder (jumping over a fence with an injured ankle), the player might get a penalty die, where the player rolls an extra die and the highest scoring die is removed from the set. There are also three optional rules: the Botch (rolling all ones is a critical failure), Blowing the Top Off (every six is added to the total and re-rolled), and the Unstoppable Six, where sixes indicate some success, even if you fail to beat the target number.
Players might also want to push in some extra effort. They may use an experience die to help them beat a challenge. To do so, the player must explain why this particular effort is so important, and how they're pushing that extra bit. ("I used to throw manhole covers around in Brooklyn like frisbees! I'm going to impress this jerk by picking up the rear end of his car and dropping it if it's the last thing I do!") Experience dice may only be used once per session; the die is removed and will return in the next game.
Melee combat uses the basic game mechanic, although the difficulty number you're trying to beat is the defender's combat value. Note the margin of success by which you beat the defender; the result is multiplied by the weapon's damage factor (a sword is x3, while bare hands is x1), and this is how much damage you did.
If the character has a dedicated combat trait, he can use it for both attack and defense in the same round. If the trait is not specifically for combat (such as a body-building trait), it can be used for either attack or defense in that round, but not both. A character may use different traits for attack and defense.
Missile combat, including guns, is slightly different. Here the defender doesn't normally use a trait to defend. Defensive dice are determined by the range to the target and what sort of cover is available. (If the defender chooses to dodge as their action this round, they add their dodging dice.)
Armor absorbs hits after the damage is calculated. Very light armor, such as leather, stops one point. Armor such as chainmail might stop 1 - 2 dice of damage, rolled after the damage is calculated. Bullets ignore armor unless it's specifically bullet-proof.
Tweet doesn't want players to simply announce "I attack!" Players are expected to be cinematic in their descriptions. Boring and repetitive attacks take a penalty die for being predictable.
When characters are down to zero hit points, they're out of the fight, however the referee wishes to define that. Damage is considered "cinematic," so players recover half of their lost hitpoints when the scene is over (unless they're dead, of course.)
What about those trait descriptors? Referees and players use them to help define their traits and describe a combat. A wound of 1 - 3 points to somebody who's built like a Mack Truck means they got a scratch, while the same injury to somebody who is too mean to be hurt wouldn't show at all (even if the character took the damage), while somebody who just sucks it up would be visibly injured, but not impaired.
You can even use those trait descriptors for an advantage in combat: in a fight between a martial artist (sign: moves like a cobra) fighting a street tough (sign: heavy brow-ridge and low forehead), the referee might allow the martial artist a bonus die for intimidating the street tough, while later in the battle, the same street tough might get a bonus die against the martial artist because he seems impervious to pain.
OTE has both magic and psychic powers. A psychic power is a trait, and players with powers get three "shots" at character generation. Each time a psychic power is used, it costs a shot. The player explains what they want to do with their power, the referee sets the difficulty, both sides roll, and the player expends a shot. Shots recover over a twenty-four hour period. A referee may rule they recover at a steady hourly rate, or they might suddenly come back after sleep. There is a list of psychic powers to choose from.
Magic works much the same way, although it can be formula or free-form. Free-form magic is treated just like psychic powers: you explain what you want, roll your magic trait dice, spend a shot. Formulaic magic means specific spells with given effects. If you pay the shot, the spell goes off as described. Tweet recommends keeping magic scarce and difficult because formulaic magic is more of a sure thing than other player effects are.
We've already seen that experience is measured in dice. The referee typically awards one die per game. Dice may be used to enhance skill rolls (one die per task, maximum, and these dice may only be used once per session), or they may be spent to increase traits or to buy new ones. It costs five dice to create a new trait, and ten dice and a lot of time and training to increase a three-die trait up to four dice. To raise a four-die trait to five takes even more time and training and fifteen dice. It's not recommended that characters be allowed to go above that without a lot of effort in play.
The Rest of the Book
Most of the book is used to describe the neighborhoods of The Edge and the various GMCs and conspiracies to be found there. What makes the material really shine is Tweet's joy at using this game for free-wheeling, loosely plotted, run with it to the max type gaming. He spends some time explaining OTE's philosophy of "give 'em enough rope." Players who want to use the system's flexibility to create superpowered characters should be allowed to do so. But people who display incredible power on Al AmarjaTM will draw all sorts of unwelcome attention with more power than any one person can fight, no matter how strong they are: interdimensional aliens, time-travellers, secret masters of the universe will all want a piece of this power. Munchkins are more than power-hungry gamers: they're also mini-donuts that are easy to snack on.
We'll mention just a few bits of setting information to give a taste of life in The Edge. There's the D'Aubainne Hospital and Trauma Center, where the operating theater has a viewing gallery so the audience can place bets on the survival of the patients. Dr. Nusbaum also provides low cost health insurance in exchange for the right to perform secret medical experiments on subscribers. There's Sad Mary's Bar and Girl (that's not a misprint) with an "anything goes" entertainment area where sponsored fights are shown most nights. The Temple of the Divine Experience is a truly ecumenical place of worship, where different faiths hold services on different nights, and their sages can often be found having metaphysical discussions on the front steps. Need a cab that is willing to race you through a likely ambush, and provide you with a small, but tasteful selection of weapons? Total Taxi has whatever you need, but it's pricey. Watch out for the Dog Faces, a gang that provides security to some neighborhoods with the help of vicious baboons. And the aging sybarite Sir Arthur Compton might show up anywhere, seeking some new entertainment for his decadent and jaded parties. We don't want to describe too much lest we spoil the pleasure of the players' discovering The Edge on their own.
The game comes with three introductory adventures, seven pages of player handouts, some advertisements for Over the Edge supplements and the On the Edge collectable card game.
OTE has a nice, tight system, highly suitable for generic use if you don't need detailed results. The character creation rules are the best we've seen for quickly creating truly memorable characters. The setting is bizarre and fascinating. While clearly not for everybody, if your players want a fast-paced game that should unlock creative juices and create some paranoia, this one is a beaut.
Over the Edge bears a family resemblence to Nexus: The Infinite City in its "throw everything into the blender" urban setting, but with a much simpler game system. If you like one, you'll probably like the other.
A personal note from the curator
Over the Edge was highly recommended by some members of Alarums & Excursions, an amateur press association devoted to role playing, and they sparked my curiosity about the system. I found the game system to be everything it was claimed to be: fast, simple, and adapatable to many settings. It's my default generic game system. I haven't played in the setting as it requires the right group, and I'm not at all sure my friends would enjoy it. That being said, I really like OTE and I've gotten good use out of it. Over the Edge sparked my interest in all sorts of RPGs outside of the traditional genres. If you have a taste for the offbeat, take a look!