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Category Archives: Over the Edge

[Over the Edge] Al Amarja in the the 2010s

One of the points which don’t really gel with me is the way that Al Amarja, the setting for Over The Edge, does not really fit into the region as well as it should. Now, there are some nice points, some which I really like and would hate to miss. One of the propositions that were made for the setting was to just drop it somewhere else than the Med does not seem the right place for the setting. The problem is that this would get rid of some of the ideas in the setting that I really liked. Like the way the D’Aubainnes actually became rulers over the island. And all the ancient background that is not immediately obvious.

So, I decided to define the whole thing a bit more than it was defined by Mr. Tweet. He  was writing from an American point of view, and that was noticeable for Europeans. This is not necessarily bad, it just so happened that some of the things he was inventing for the game did not really fit in there. One of the most notable being the strange mention of the gun laws on the island. Strange in the sense that barely any European would doubt that better gun laws are actually something good to have and hardly would argue that law at all. But I have been following enough discussions on the matter on the internet to know that this is a topic where Americans and Europeans never really will see eye to eye.

So, lets define the island from a more European perspective.

Geography: Al Amarja is basically one of the few islands in the Med that is still named in Arabic. Different governments have tried to change this, as well as the other names on the island. But for some reason this name stuck. One of the reasons the island is so unknown outside of the region is that nearly no tourist agency has the same nomenclature for it than the others. There even has been a long editwar on Wikipedia about the fact if the island should be called Amarja, Al Amarja, Isla dell’Maria, Isla dell’Traboc, or half a dozen other ways. With some rather activist editors regularily moving or recreating the article in different namespaces all over the site, it is not really easy to find much even on the Encyclopedia. The government of the island is not really that helpful either. Various documents will have wildly different names for the current state on them.

Al Amarja, or rather Skylla, is a trade port of mediocre importance in the region, mostly famous for it’s liberal laws concerning drugs, and to a lesser extent prostitution. Other native industries on the island are small farming, fishing, and an extensive tourism.
The island is technically an independend state, albeit one that was never actually recognized by any other state besides some fringe nations (e.g. Transnistria has a small embassy here). While it technically should still be part of Italy, the state of Italy is and has been rather quite on the subject ever since the revolution. Neither have any of the other surrounding nations tried to claim the island as their own, despite it’s possible strategic importance.
While there have been careful approaches from the EU during the last 15 years,  the island’s well known role as a waypoint for illegal immigrants into Sicily and Southern Italy have lead to tensions with the EU, at least when the Eurocrats recognize the existence of Al Amarja at all.
The island was part of Italy between the two World Wars, and gained it’s independence when the current president Monique D’Aubainne lead a revolution against the fascist regime in Italy. Ms. Aubainne was elected president in every election since, but despite her clear intentions to create an American proxy in this region the USA has never formally acknowledged the existence of the Al Amarjan state. Nevertheless the penal code and the newly built capital “Freedom City” have been modelled as close as possible to American examples, and Italian/the Al Amarjan argot of Marjanese, have been supplanted by English as the official language. In similar ways places and offices over the island have been renamed into more or less correct English,  the most visible one being the renaming of the village of Bordo into the obviously americanized Edge City.

Technology: Al Amarja for some reason always is a bit better off regarding technology than the rest of the world, while still having areas which do not even have a single high speed internet connection. The internet of Al Amarja is famous for being a haven to the most spammers and scammers outside of mainlaind Africa. A lot of the better written English language scams come from this place. It has become a veritable business model to provide people from the lower end of the social scale with the means to cheat and rob people from the rest of the world, in some cases even intentionally snatching away victims from the Nigerians. The relative obscurity of the island provides the scammers with safety, the lack of international recognition allows them to operate with impunity, and the strange connections the island has regarding it’s internet makes tracking the scammers a nightmare for any law enforcement. And even if they were tracked they could not actually do much in the area as the island claims to be an independend state and will make good on this. It might be that they do not actually mind the additional money streaming into the local economy this way.
Currently some companies in the Barrios even are trying to make Al Amarja into a sort of anarchist data haven, but they regularly encounter the problems of the infrastructure here. There is only one high speed cable connection Al Amarja with the European mainland, and this one is going over Malta. On the other hand some satellite connections are available on the island, as well as one cable going to Tunesia.

Behind the curtains:
Al Amarja is not a very well known place even in Europe. Most people hearing about the place only connect it with cheap holidays in the South. Many people are aware of it, but not as many people as one might think actually go there for their vacation: despite it’s closeness to the EU the place is outside the customs union and therefore still demands additional documentation for visits. Even when these are present most tourists do not see much more than the sleepy town of Traboc in the south of Edge, or one of the resorts along the coast.
Some tourists come for other reasons though: what Amsterdam is for most of the world as a safe haven for drug use, Edge City is for those knowledgable in the true industries that keep the island’s industry afloat: drugs are a large part of the national income. Drug cartels give large amounts of money to the local authorities to mcapitalake sure their shipments are safe. While drugs are technically illegal they slowly have become one of the main reasons why people come to this place. And the government of Al Amarja dictates the price. Science is another local speciality, the local laws lacking most of the ethical borders that hinder research in other places, industry loves the lack of environmental legislation, trade the lack of enforcable copyright laws. The only boundaries a lot of them are subject to are those at home, meaning the knockoffs might be produced with dangerous high-tech and awful work conditions, as long as nobody can prove that, or find any harmful substances when the products are sold.

Half-assing the dungeon (Under the City State Part II)

Yesterday was the first time in months that we got together to play. It turned out to be less successful than I thought, although we had some fun.

We started with Dungeons and Dragons, as a continuation of the previous adventure which my players had mastered without any killed enemies at all. I foolishly had expected that we’d be in the dungeon a bit longer. Unfortunately they managed to find a viable way to find a way to the plot MacGuffin (an altar that raises the dead without the interference of all those pesky priests). They killed a few troglodytes (the neanderthal kind) and then managed to get themselves close to the altar without killing more than a few revenants on the way. Technically they were supposed to find the altar after dealing with the tribe of troglodytes. Instead they killed two of the trogs outright, then blamed their deaths on the undead when they met the next group of the tribe, got rough directions to where the undead were coming from, and the used then goblin cleric’s turn undead power to determine where exactly that particular wave of undead was coming from, herding the undead the right direction. Then they found the place and decided to get the hell out of there. Did I mention that these are the most careful adventurers I have ever played with?
I thought I had a few more hours of play in that dungeon, so I didn’t have anything prepared for the rest of the night. We played a bit more with them trying to get out of the city quick before the questgiver noticed that the altar he had them find was mostly resurrecting undead, and then they went on their way as caravan guards towards Thunderholt.

Well, yeah. It was nice as long as it lasted, but I should have thought a bit more what to do if they managed to solve the adventure too fast. I had thought about using another adventure I wanted to play for a long time, but I didn’t get to lay the quest hooks because they decided to leave town too quick. I have to make this work a bit better next time.
The rest of the night we tried out Over The Edge, which my players got rather enthusiastic about once I had explained the free-form character generation to them. After a short while they had three nice characters that I thought had some promise for an OtE game: a mage from a vanilla (anime) fantasy setting with the tendency to get transported to places he did not really want to be, a post-adolescent middle-eastern commando turtle (like a teenage mutant ninja turtle, only older and geographically confused), and a reporter with an identity problem and coffee addiction.

It went over surprisingly well, or maybe less surprisingly so, considering that my players are rather fond of roleplaying anyway. So far they tried to get the mage back to his dimension, but did not really get so far in that endeavour.

Over the Edge going OGL

And there I was, carefully studying the Over the Edge rulebook, thinking about how to actually use this game somehow. I don’t think I would have problems playing it with my group, the  problem is just that we switched systems so often lately, I don’t want to do another switch. We didn’t get the chance to play for two months anyway.

But yes, Over the Edge seems to be going OGL under the name Warp (Wanton Roleplaying System).

It’s not like I am really so excited about it, OtE is a system that is so freeform it might be hard to properly play it (still have to try it though), but the freedom of the character generation system allows some really interesting characters at least. So let’s see what the future will bring.

[Obscure Games] Over the Edge

Over the Edge (game)

Over the Edge (game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Christmas my girlfriend gave me an Amazon giftcard. She only figured that out the day before Christmas, which makes this the first time in four years when I had her present earlier than she had mine. Now such a giftcard is a nice idea, normally, it just met two roadbumps: it was a giftcard for the American Amazon (which meant that the postage would cost A LOT of the amount from the card), and of course the fact that many things I wanted would not be delivered to me.

I live in Poland, and even if Amazon shops claim they deliver to Poland (which they do, because I checked it multiple times) I always got the message that one or another item could not be delivered to me because of my location. As my current wants were mostly concerned with roleplaying games, and there mostly with the OSR, this was a bit annoying. (Specifically I wanted to have a copy of the Fiend Folio, but it just did not seem possible to get it from any shop that delivered here).
In the end I went with some classics: Call of Cthulhu and Over the Edge.
Now, I have the rulebook for the first one in Germany. The only problem with it being: it’s in German. And while most of my players at least know some German we still are playing in English.
The second one is another interesting case. I once had a copy of that game. I know the game. I have been looking for that game for years, and then I finally got it after years, looked a bit into it and proposed it to some people. But all the players I had back then said: thanks, but no thanks.
So it went back on the shelf. And then disappeared.

No, I don’t know how. The same thing happened to a few other RPG books in my collection that I distinctively remember having, the other one of note being a book with CoC one-shots I was desperately looking for at one point. They just remain gone.
Hmm… an Over the Edge rulebook that just disappears? How fitting…
Over the Edge is a game with an interesting history. It came out of a project between game designers Mark Rein*Hagen and Jonathan Tweet. Both had worked on Ars Magica before, now they were working on another project. Mark’s variation of the project was what later became Vampire: The Masquerade, while Tweet’s became Over the Edge.

While not really that similar both use a dice pool mechanic, and both deal a lot with conspiracies and dark secrets.
Now I guess it won’t be necessary to write about Vampire: The Masquerade, anyone involved in roleplying has heard about that game before (my opinion of it just for completeness sake: neat mechanics and nice background, smothered to death by metaplot). Not so about Over the Edge. While it had some modicum of success, with an host of scenarios and supplements, and even a second edition, it never really went mainstream. Nowadays it’s mostly known as a good example/inspiration for indie rpgs.

So, what was so special about it?

2 things: the rules and the setting. Both made the game a bit of an acquired taste.

1. The Rules

The Over the Edge rules are so lightweight it is hard to go more light without playing freeform rpgs. Nevertheless they are functional and easy to grasp. Characters are defined by a variety of traits and flaws which one is encouraged to chose specifically for the character. And in game one can role on these attributes.  It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s a nightmare for every simulationist.

2. The setting

Al Amarja, the island that is the setting of the game, is heavily inspired by the Interzone in Burroughs novels. Actually Burroughs always comes up as an inspiration. As do David Lynch, Franz Kafka, a lot of other literature and movies in the same vein: Al Amarja is a hotbed of spionage, mystical activities, mad science, and political activism. And did I mention conspiracies? There are conspiracies. Lots and lots of conspiracies. Even the existance of the island has largely been hidden by that, the island being just south of Sicily (and with that rather close to the real life Interzone…).

Frankly it was the setting which attracted me to the system. It sounded like so much fun. Of course there is a problem with that on might find out when trying to run a game there: do you know how much stuff changed the last twenty years? One has to think very deeply about how these changes affected the setting before being able to run proper adventures there. Oh, I could tell the players: you cannot investigate on the internet, but how much sense would that make? Especially to people who use Wikipedia as a second brain.

There is another problem in that vein as well: the game was written from an American perspective, and it shows. So we have the assumption that everybody wants to have guns. Or that the university has greek fraternities. And a lot of other small but significant things. This of course is designed that way for a reason: Tweet was writing the game for Americans. It jst makes it rather grating for Europeans. Still, not too bad. Most of the stuff can be justified somehow.

Of course I read someone’s comment on a forum once who said he had made up Wikipedia pages for the island and the most important features there that were so good his players started to assume it actually was a real place they were going to. That actually sounds like awesome props for such a game. I think I will plan a one-shot in the game and not tell my players what sort of game it will be.