Sunday, May 1, 2011

Prodigal Son: Tipping Over the Edge

Part Ten:

    I said weeks ago that I would talk about Over the Edge, and finally, I’m ready to do that.  In way of a brief introduction, it was originally published by Atlas Games in 1992.  The setting is the semi-surreal Mediterranean island Al Amarja, which has something of the flavor of William S. Burroughs’ Interzone and the classic British series The Prisoner.  Filled with political intrigue, red tape, exotic pleasures and dangers, Al Amarja is like some sexually deviant variation of Mos Eisley.  Fugitive Nazis, rogue physicists, failed seekers and mystics, and anyone else you might imagine have washed up upon its shores.  What are you looking for?  A Greek edition of the Necronomicon?  A puzzle box to call a Cenobite?  Or maybe a vial containing the soul of a saint?  You never know what you might find, if only you’re willing to pay the price.

    It’s a fascinating and amazingly wide open setting, with a great deal of potential.  However, the setting is not what made me love the game.  It’s actually the game mechanic that impressed me the most.  As I’ve said in previous weeks, I don’t care much for complicated systems, charts, graphs, and a lot of number crunching.  I also don’t normally enjoy reading the parts of game books that relate to mechanics.  I love reading backgrounds and story ideas, but once it starts in on “multiply strength by 10 and divide by 2 to find the blah, blah, blah” I drift off.  But Over the Edge doesn’t spend too much time, because it doesn’t need to.  The system is simple, elegant, and amazingly versatile.

Did you calculate wind speed?

    I’m not going to go into it in too much depth, but the basic idea is this: You have four traits, one central, two tertiary, and a flaw.  Your central trait defines your character.  For example, in the Lord of the Rings, Legolas’ central trait would be “Elven Archer.”  In Star Wars, Han Solo would be a “Rogue Smuggler.”  On Star Trek, Spock would be a “Vulcan Science Officer.”  In the film Crank, Chev might be a “Badass.”  You might make a character with the central trait “Professor of Archeology,” or “Pugilist,” or even “Housewife.”  Whatever dice you use for that trait can be used for anything covered by it.  So, Han Solo’s career as a Rogue Smuggler would no doubt encompass the use of personal firearms, slight of hand, disguise, ship operations, fast talking, galactic customs, and many other things.  In addition to the central traits are the two tertiary.  These are much more like traditional skills.  Perhaps something like singing or computer operations.   And then the fourth and final trait is a flaw.  This is something important that effects you in a negative way.  Are you monstrously overweight?  Missing an arm?  Or do you have a dangerous enemy?  Again, using Han Solo as an example, he would certainly have Jabba as an enemy, which proved to be a great difficulty as the films unfolded.

I'm more than just a Science Officer.

    There are some other specifics, but that’s really about it.  About thirty pages, including some illustrations, copious examples, and a couple quick reference pages, and you’ve got the rules.  You could probably boil it all down to about three or four pages to cover everything you really need.  Nice.  So, with that simple, elegant system, I found something I’d been long in search of, a game mechanic that I could use for nearly anything I wanted to run, that didn’t require hours of explanation, tons of math, or continual consultation of charts.

    Now, Over the Edge is my go-to game system.  Unless a game’s mechanic is integral to playing it, like Ars Magica or Earthdawn, it’s the rule set I’d prefer to use.  Star Wars, Star Trek, Middle Earth, Space 1889, Super Heroes, Doctor Who,  Fading Suns, and so many more.

    I used it once before for a Star Trek game I ran a little over five years ago, and it worked quite well.  So, it was what I’d planned to use on the failed attempt at doing Star Trek a couple years ago, too.  And I’m thinking that if I run something else coming up, it’ll probably be what I use.  I doubt I can put together enough people with the interest to do an Ars Magica game, and Earthdawn just doesn’t tickle my fancy right now.

It'll be OK.

    If you’re looking for a simple, easy to learn and master game system, that can be used for nearly any kind of gaming, from fantasy to science fiction to supers and beyond, Over the Edge is a fine choice.  It’s also not really expensive, and though the Player’s Survival Guide is nice, it’s not necessary.


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