Over the Edge: Atlas’ Stay-Cation on the Island
What's next for Over the Edge? Today, we sit down with Justin Alexander, Atlas' RPG Developer, to find out. He tells us about Welcome to the Island (an upcoming Over the Edge adventure anthology) and how gamemastering at Origins Game Fair a few weeks ago informed its development trajectory. There's even tips for getting started with your own copy!
What’s next for Over the Edge?
I just got back from the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. We ran a lot of Over the Edge there, and I heard two things over and over again: First, everybody who is exposed to this game falls in love with this game. It’s like a memetic virus that overwrites the oxycontin-producing centers of your brain. Second, game masters find it difficult to convince people to give the game a try. Third, a lot of game masters are overwhelmed by the sheer torrent of surreal conspiracy which Jonathan Tweet pours forth and they aren’t sure what to do with the game.
So the game’s addictive… but it’s also giving a lot of people withdrawal symptoms.
What’s Over the Edge really about? What do you actually DO?
So, Over the Edge is the original game of counter-culture conspiracy, weird science, and urban danger, right? Let’s unpack that a little bit.
It takes places on the island of Al Amarja, where every weird and paranormal conspiracy in the world has come together to fight the secret proxy battles that determine the fate of reality as we know it.
The cool thing about this is that you can take any real world conspiracy, give it One Weird Twist™ and inject it into the island: The earth is flat? No. The earth is a four-dimensional hypercube and you can teleport anywhere you want by taking one step to the left (if you know how). Vaccines cause autism? No. Vaccines cure disease, but it is true that the adjuvants carry nanites that let the Illuminati track your location.
The whole game is designed around this One Weird Twist™. So you don’t just create a vampire; you create a vampire who drinks human tears. Or has come from a dystopic future to prevent the creation of the vampire virus. Or is addicted to sunlight.
And what kinds of adventures do these dystopic, sunlight-addicted vampires go on?
Over the Edge is really just a sandbox. So the simple answer is: You can do anything! But that’s also the tricky answer because “you can do anything” can be really confusing and intimidating.
In preparing Welcome to the Island – which is the anthology of Over the Edge adventures we have coming out this fall – I identified several broad types of Over the Edge groups, and then we made sure that each adventure had scenario hooks for each group.
So these groups are Agents (people who are hired by patrons to get business done), Cloaks (people who are involved in the various conspiracies on the Island), Gangs (street-level operatives), Mystics (people who get tangled up in mystic shit), and Burger (the poor saps who literally just got off the plane and caught a taxi from the Terminal).
What we found is that it’s really easy to take any given scenario and then figure out how each of these broad categories might be hooked in. This tends to make the scenario even better, and it’s a huge pay-off in terms of the utility of the anthology because with half a dozen hooks for every scenario it’s really easy
So the easy answer is: If you’re struggling to figure out what to do with Over the Edge, grab Welcome to the Island and by the time you play through all five of its awesome scenarios you’ll have figured it out and had a great time along the way.
But the other thing this work has revealed is that, in practice, it’s really easy to run an Over the Edge campaign. Character creation in the game will push the players into creating strongly motivated characters. At that point, you can just flip through the book, pick out one of the insanely awesome things Jonathan and Chris [Lites] have dropped into the setting, and figure out how you can hook the players into that.
What makes Welcome to the Island so unique?
Giving each scenario a flexible set of scenario hooks that’s plugged into the major “group concepts” for Over the Edge is something I think we’ll see everybody in the industry doing in a few years. The GMs who have been playtesting the material have been blown away by the fact that they can, quote, “use every scenario in the book!”
I think a lot of GMs have had the experience of picking up an adventure anthology like this and finding that only one or two of the scenarios are something that they can actually fit into their current campaign. But every scenario in Welcome to the Island can be used to either launch a campaign or be seamlessly slotted into any Over the Edge campaign. And they’re written by an all-star team featuring many award-winning authors.
The other unique thing in Welcome to the Island is reusability. The first scenario in the book – “At the Terminal” – is designed to be almost infinitely reusable: The basic concept is “your plane to Al Amarja has just landed… how do you get out of the Terminal?” And the scenario is designed as this really cool, modular sandbox. So you’ll be able to use it over and over and over again, and it will always be fresh and interesting.
Why not just stick with the core book? What makes this anthology a “must buy” for people counting their pennies?
The core book for Over the Edge is packed with so many amazing things… Look, there’s a whole section in there of just these incredibly large, cool ideas that Jonathan has. Each one is so big that it would completely transform your version of the Island. These aren’t a metaplot. They’re a toolbox. So you can pick up any one of these – the sentient hivemind of centipedes who tries to take over the Island’s government; the mysterious cab company run by a criminal conspiracy – and use it to either completely up-end the Island in your campaign or to remix the Island at the beginning of a new story arc, so that the Island is always fresh and new and mysterious and surprising.
So you don’t need Welcome to the Island. But Welcome to the Island embraces this idea that the Island is not a static place; that the Island – and the balance of powers on the Island – is constantly changing. So you’re going to find more of these big, Island-shaking ideas studded throughout the scenario.
Published adventures can be surprisingly contentious: Some think it’s heresy to use them or whatever. Others say they’re a necessary time-saving device.
I tend to take a third position: High quality scenario material isn’t just a time-saver or a compromise. It will actually improve your game and give you results that are better than could have been achieved without third-party material. Not because you couldn’t produce equally awesome stuff – you almost certainly can! Particularly since you know your players and what they want! But because the collaboration between you and the published scenario creates something greater than the sum of its parts.
I draw an analogy to theater: Yes, it is possible for a theater company to perform nothing but material developed by the people performing it. But the reason theater companies choose to mount productions of Hamlet or Death of a Salesman is because the creative input of the playwright spurs creativity from the other participants that wouldn’t exist without that input; because the act of creative interpretation is unique, rewarding, and distinct from blank slate creation; and because the specific interpretation of particular productions creates a communal dialogue and shared experience with other productions.
Same thing with RPG scenarios, right? And Welcome to the Island, which is focused on presenting sandbox situations instead of linear plots, is designed to really capitalize on this: I can’t wait to hear about what, exactly, happens with Chikutorpl in your game. I’m giddy at thinking about how cool your version of the band Betwixt will be.
All of this, of course, assumes that you ever manage to actually escape the Terminal.
And after people are Welcome to the Island, what else can we look forward to?
Right now I’m focused on getting Welcome to the Island and Have Fist, Will Travel (our anthology of Feng Shui 2 scenarios due out later this year) out the door. We’ve also got our Magical Kitties Save the Day Kickstarter launching on July 16th. But throughout this summer I’m also going to be working on nailing down what our production plan is for 2020. People should expect support for all of our recently relaunched RPGs – Feng Shui 2, Unknown Armies 3, and, of course, Over the Edge third edition.