Grokking the Difference: Greg Stolze on Unknown Armies vs Over the Edge

Published by: Atlas Staff
Grokking the Difference: Greg Stolze on Unknown Armies vs Over the Edge
In our effort to untangle the differences and similarities of our classic roleplaying games Unknown Armies and Over the Edge, we asked each game's designer to weigh in with their perspective. Unknown Armies author Greg Stolze has looked at the question with new eyes, coming off the successful third edition of his game. Even now, we're rolling out the UA3 Campaign Starter Kits at your favorite digital marketplaces. Here are his thoughts on the two games:

It's not hard to see similarities between the two games. Over the Edge came out first and was a strong inspiration for Unknown Armies, particularly in the area of 'Players get to define what their characters can do instead of picking off a limited list of skills.' They're both deliberately weird, subverting expectations of what reality is, built around the sometimes-unspoken idea that the game's primary duty is to be compelling, 'fair.'

But the differences are crucial.

A haggard white man with a cigarette and a bloody nose stands in front of a wall showing arcane symbols
     1) Unknown Armies is about people. Over the Edge is about setting.
In UA, every character has a set of gauges that register the traumas they've experienced. Those meters, in turn, show how they relate to others, how they interact with the world around them, and how they respond to further challenges. The spotlight of the story is on the characters, and the mechanics orbit their personalities. OTE, on the other hand, is about the mysterious, baffling, frustrating island of Al Amarja and its myriad bizarre inhabitants. The characters inevitably bring their own agendas, secrets, and mysteries, but those are at best co-equal ingredients in a thick, crowded, and flavorful stew.

     2) In Over the Edge, you explore. In Unknown Armies, you pursue.
A room in a trailer home with a ratty orange couch and papers strewn everywhere.
If you're a GM who likes getting a giant pile of sinister agendas and then assembling them into a maze for the characters to scurry through, ratlike, in pursuit of the cheese of a little power or just an explanation and also, the maze is on fire, then OTE is the game for you. The city of The Edge, the typical setting for an OTE game, gives you all the pieces you could ever need to provide mysteries for players to gnaw and worry at. UA, on the other hand, puts the players in the position of driving the game forward, off on a tangent, or right off a cliff. UA characters are driven and obsessed to accomplish some particular goal, decided on by the players, in a setting collaboratively developed. OTE characters are curious and canny, usually explorers instead of revolutionaries.

     3) The rules are very different.
UA has rules that help generate story. OTE has rules that get out of the way. UA is an intricate percentile-based system with a lot of interconnectedness, by design. It's meant to make every experience or decision weighty and lasting, whether the blowback from bad choices is physical or psychological. OTE runs off a short d6 pool with a few intuitive tweaks to influence outcomes. It's designed for transparency and simplicity, so you can learn the rules in ten minutes and make a character in five.

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