I used to play tabletop role-playing games like crazy. I was often playing two or three times a week and at one point in my 20’s, I was literally playing seven days a week. I cut my teeth on dungeons and Dragons, Marvel Superheroes, James Bond, Star Frontiers and the much maligned but fun to me, Indiana Jones game from TSR. In my 20’s it was all Champions, Call of Cthulhu, Rifts and still more Dungeons and Dragons. I picked the Amber role-playing game and that became the game system that I run for nearly a decade.
But it was one little known game that changed me the most and it was Over the Edge by Johnathon Tweet in 1992. The game deliberately dropped all of the number crunching and rules that dominated role-playing games and instead focused on something that was mind-blowing to me: telling a good story. Players played anything they could imagined and were encouraged to keep being creative as play progressed. The Amber role-playing game with its diceless mechanics had come close to this kind of play but the structure was closely tied to the source material of Roger Zelazny’s Amber series. Over the Edge dared you as a player and a gamemaster to just make up your own shit. It was a pretty radical idea for the time.
And what a setting Over the Edge had. Everything takes place on the fictional island of Al Amarja. The island is ruled by a President-for-Life, Her Exaltedness Monique D’Aubainne. For reasons undefined, the island is a weirdness magnet attracting all the strangeness of the world. If you are a pyrotechnic on the run from a government agency, you probably come to Al Amarja. If you are an alien rock star stranded on Earth, you end up in Al Amarja. Robot from the future? Last living Minotaur? Porn writer with weird fetishes? They all live here.
The setting is one of my favorite fictional places ever created. It is set in the Mediterranean which means it is awash with nationalities and races that you never saw in role-playing games of the late 80’s. The government is both corrupt and very liberal. Firearms are highly illegal but hey, the Ethiopian cyborg doesn’t need a gun to suck your brain out of your skull. All religions are tolerated but the fast growing one is centered around a pop star who may or may not be divine. I am eager to tell you more but I want to hold back so you can discover it for yourself. The game is crammed with so much wonderful weirdness that reading a gamebook is akin to taking acid.
When I discovered the game, I became an instant convert and tried to get my player group to come along with me. Quite frankly, they were a bit overwhelmed by it all. We played one or two scenarios and they tapped out. It was too much work for them. They wanted to roll dice and consult charts and spend building points. They didn’t want to deal with psychic creations that mirrored their desires in between paying protection money to a lady and her baboon gang. Amber was the edge of their limits but that was at least based on a series of books they could emulate. Over the Edge was way outside their comfort zones.
This put me in a strange position. I realized my friends enjoyed beating monsters and gaining rewards like treasure or experience. I on the other hand, was playing games for the story or the opportunity to be creative. Over the Edge was pure creative with minimum mechanics. Once I had a taste of that, I wanted more. It became painful for me to spend my free time not being creative. I was very unhappy going back to our old games.
A year later, I started writing stories. I spent less time role-playing and more time doing with that I really wanted to do: create.The wild, anything-goes attitude of Over the Edge is a big part of my writing. I see it in my Vaquel stories, my stories about magic and even my straight forward stories like the librarians. I can safely say that Al Amarja is my adopted home.
What is really weird for me is to see so many indie games adopt a lot of what Over the Edge was trying to do. I am excited to see gaming mature and encourage more creativity but I sometimes wonder that if I had these games when I was younger, and a group to play them with, would I have ever switched to writing? I like to think so. Either way, tabletop role-playing is a much better place now for creative people and I credit Tweet and Over the Edge for it.
And now 26 years later, Johnathan Tweet is remaking Over the Edge for modern audiences through Kickstarter. It is already funded but I wanted you to get a chance to be a part of it. One of the rewards is pdf copies of every book in the previous editions which is fucking treasure as far as I am concerned. The amount of creative fuel on offer here can not be beaten.
So please consider supporting the Over the Edge Kickstarter. It might not change your life as much as it did mine, but then again, it might change it more.