Over The Edge

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This hack was created by Leo Stableford and has been ported across from the old No Dice forum:

So in a couple of weeks I'm looking to roll over our campaign from Marauders season one to Over The Edge season two. I'm going to run that for a few sessions and then, probably, back to Marauders.

Over The Edge is, in some ways, one of the greatest influences on No Dice. For a start it is certainly *low* dice, until you get good at something then you start to require a bucket for rolling.

Having said that the rules harness is both light enough and non-specific enough that it fits just about anything so it's often pressed in to service to mediate in improvised Dr Who and Neverwhere sessions run by some of the friends I have in London.

So to No Dice Over The Edge's system is a thirty second job. I don't really even need to write much down. (I will for the record but that's not really the point.)

Reading through the sourcebook again in preparation for this Season Two reboot of my original Over The Edge campaign I came to realise that the one area Over The Edge could do with a significant hack in is the construction of adventures or sessions.

Over The Edge is billed as a game of "surreal danger". But often in the book this is translated to "fights with weirdoes". It's supposed to be influenced by all the strangest paranoia fiction of the twentieth century but the only real suggestions it gives for plots are pretty high adventure. Admittedly the back stories of the high adventure are often bizarre but the actual play experience would likely veer towards representing yet another slugfest.

I know that Over The Edge was a cult setting that relied heavily on the GMs ingenuity but I think the author had difficulty systematising the experience for the sourcebook.

Well, here at No Dice we're all about systematising the experience. So the notes in this thread will lean towards achieving that. I hope something useful comes out of it.

Know your characters

The first thing I've worked out is really important, and also quite good fun, in Over The Edge is that all your players have to start the game knowing their character perhaps a little more deeply than they would have had they been playing a more action adventure based RPG. As Host you will also have to pin the Player character down on certain matters.

Here's how you have to think about this as Host. All of the things that happen in your OTE campaign are going to grow from the individual facets of the Player's character. Actually this is pretty much true to a certain extent whenever the campaign you are running has some tendency to examine the individual, superhero fiction and a lot of speculative science fiction has this angle.

It may be that you're a bit lost as to what kinds of things should reassure you that you're on the track to making a great egocentric campaign for your players. I've always found that the answers lie in a light breeze through Jungian psychology. In case that sent a cold shiver down your spine I should play up the use of the word "light". By no means do you actually need to know much about Jungian psychology to use this. As creators of interactive stories we don't even care about the relative "truthiness" of Jungian theory or any of that jazz. It's a tool to help us build an entertainment, no more.

So on with this.

According to Jung a person's personality is all about an ego with various facets constructing itself in a landscape of major personalities and events which Jung describes as "archetypal".

The cool thing about archetypes is that in Role Playing we mess around with them all the time. We're continually being asked to define characters in terms of their chosen life role and their "alignment". The roles like Soldier, Scientist, Innocent, Fool etc. they're archetypes.

Before we go off into some chicken and egg scenario it's a matter of great debate which came first the archetype or its analysis, let's leave that for wiser heads. Right now the only question is "Is it useful?" I happen to think the answer is yes.

Let's start simple.

Whatever your player thinks of as their character concept that character will have certain archetypal features which are built in. For example is the character an only child or do they have siblings? Are they young or old? Are they a parent themselves? All of these things place the character in a particular archetypal space.

Every character will also have a dark side, what Jung called a Shadow. Whatever the character is the Shadow is just the opposite.

For every desire and goal the character has they will also have some kind of fear.

As Host, whilst you are encouraging the player to round out their character with various facets that make the archetype clearer so you should be working on that shadow and those fears. The process of the campaign story should pit your player against veritable personfications of their fears and shadows. With three or four players you should have enough material for twelve to twenty episodes of your campaign.

If you actually are running OTE then you can probably find some ways to meld what's in the campaign setting with the ideas you've gleaned from the players.

Use of Symbols

One of the things that OTE really requires to work and is so rarely achieved in RP at all is effective deliberate use of motifs and themes. Obviously if you look back over a campaign, or campaign diary you may find that there were motifs and themes to a past campaign that emerged organically. What is required to invoke surrealism and the air of mystery required by OTE is coherent symbol manipulation.

Encoding and decoding symbolic languages is a much abused craft. The thing is that encrypting plaintext in symbols is easy. What is less easy is encrypting them in such a way that decrypting them will only lead back to the original plaintext. Writers of fiction have the luxury that if the symbolic language flies over someone's head a well-crafted story benefits from an air of mystery without the reader knowing about any underlying cause for it. Not only that but the cheeky writer can explain how clever they are at a later date and crowbar the hidden layer of meaning into the discussion for latecomers.

RP is a dynamic and evolving pastime. If as a Host you just litter the game with undisciplined symbolic language and assume that a player used to stabbing mutant rats in an Inn's sewer is going to pick up on them until 80% of them have sailed by unnoticed you are fooling yourself. So how to introduce the player to the concept of a symbolic layer in your games?

Well, as people tend to forget their roots as soon as the roots are no longer of useful purpose to them, so most cineastes forget that the reason they spotted immediately how every character with a hidden agenda carried an item of raingear in Mssr LeClerc's French masterpiece "Le Vache Vert" was because they had been told to look for subtexts in what they were watching. This is not a sin of the film buff alone, literary commentators also fall prey to this. They make out like they naturally knew to look for the clues in the work of art they were consuming whereas actually that is a learned skill.

The joy of RP is that you can teach people to read a symbolic language in the game like this:

Before you begin you tell the players "There's a symbolic subtext to this game, you might want to take notes."

And that's your lot.

When it comes to actually following through on your symbolic subtext you might want to lay it on quite thick. If you are using stringed instruments to represent the presence of a hive mind then players will need to triangulate that information by noting the symbol, writing down what they think the context of the symbol is and then trying to derive your meaning from their notes.

Triangulate implies that three instances of the symbol would be enough for them to crack it. If they have taken note of the right things in the context surrounding the symbol then it might be. But they probably won't. In fact it could take anywhere from seven to nine repetitions of the motif for them to finally crack it.

So what's the point of that? Why wouldn't you just give them the information and let them play through the story?

Well, if we take a fairly obvious type of puzzle story, the Detective whodunnit the piecing togther of meaning from a trail of clues allows the user to find the culprit in some kind of criminal activity.

If we are talking about a game with a more esoteric agenda then the revelation of a symbolic connection may, itself, hint at a deeper mystery or a statement that is supposed to comment upon the nature of the soul or similar.

It's very difficult to get philosophical without sounding a bit pompous. Symbolic puzzles are an excellent way to ensure that people are in that weird vaguely delirious state of cogitation that allows it to sound important instead, see the success of Dan Brown for details.

So to summarise:

-If you are going to make a symbolic language for your game make it clear and lay it on thick
-Make sure players know this is the environment they are entering

Finally:

-As Host you have to *sell* this structure for all it's worth. This is partly achieved by laying it on thick, but is also achieved by taking it seriously and working hard to keep an instance of a symbol as free from distraction as possible whenever it occurs.

You'll know you didn't get it quite right when, after explaining it to the players, they instantly shoot back:

"How the hell were we supposed to know that?"

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