Over the Edge Interview with Game Designer Jonathan Tweet

Published by: Atlas Staff
Over the Edge released June 1st. Today, we interview Jonathan Tweet, the game's creator, about creating a new edition. Find out about hit points, abandoning a system that works, and player improvisation below!

How did you know it was time for a reboot of Over the Edge?
Jonathan: Several years ago, game designer Chris Lites contacted me about the possibility of a reboot because he thought it was a great idea and he wanted to work on it. I told him that I had I had no intention of doing a reboot. The original Over the Edge developed organically out of my personal need for a fast, simple, wild game like none other. I didn’t see any way to take such an original game and derive a new version from it.

After a couple years, however, I saw that I could approach the project again provided that I was not tied to the continuity laid down in the first edition. Once I saw the revision as an opportunity to do something new with the game, I was excited to do it. This approach allowed to do a new edition with the originality and creative freedom of the original. And Chris Lites’s persistence paid off. He did indeed work with me, creating content for the new Over the Edge. 

What's something specific that you loved from a previous edition and brought forward?
Jonathan: The city of the Edge has nine districts, each with its own distinctive style and its own central plaza. Players know where their characters can go to find entertainment, business opportunities, educated experts, wealthy elites, and possibly a “safe” place to hang out. The contrast from one district to another helps the players get a sense of each one. Each district is exaggerated so that it really stands out, with trippy art, twisted science, grinding poverty, over-the-top wealth, manic commerce, enforced conformity, or marauding baboons. These districts define life in the Edge more than anything else.

What's something from a previous edition you left behind?
Jonathan: Hit points. In the home-brew game I created for my friends, no one had hit points, and all damage was determined subjectively, as with all other rolls. But for the published, 1992 version, I didn’t think I could explain to people how to improvise battles without clear rules. I also didn’t know how to communicate stats to the gamemaster, such as how powerful an opponent is, without combat statistics in game terms. In my home campaign where I felt in control, I could improvise battles and weird weapons, but I had no way to communicate my way of doing that to anyone else. So I created a simple system for hit points and damage. Today, I know how to frame the game system so that the gamemaster doesn’t need initiative checks, attack rolls, or hit points. The Over the Edge setting finally has the game system it has always deserved.  

Can you share a game development challenge? How did you overcome it?
Jonathan: It surprised me that my first, new dice-rolling system, which made sense on paper, fell flat when we used it n play. In the first new system we tried, most rolls got you an average or predictable result. That structure makes sense in an engineering sense if you’re simulating a bell curve of outcomes, but it doesn’t make much game sense if you’re trying to make each dice throw interesting. In the final system, rolls are dichotomous, with no “average” outcome even really possible. Even the successes and failures can have surprises, with good twists and bad twists. 

My problem was being too sure of my system, and I overcame that problem by listening to painful feedback from my friends who playtested it with me. That oriented me away from the idea that a player usually gets a “usual” result and toward the idea that the player always faces a dichotomy of gain and loss, with little ability to predict the outcome.

Did you have a key learning, eureka moment, or takeaway you'll use on other projects?
Jonathan: Last year at Gen Con, one of my favorite fans told me how excited she was that I had created a generic rules system for any setting. Until then, I really hadn’t thought of it that way. Almost thirty years ago, the original Over the Edge game system developed from universal dice-pool systems that Mark Rein-Hagen and I had been experimenting with. Now I feel like I could take this new Over the Edge system and use it as a universal system in just about any setting. 

What's one thing someone who's never played Over the Edge should know?
Jonathan: That our modern civilization’s unsustainable industrial system needs to be reformed to address the global climate crisis. Also, that the rules in Over the Edge are so light and so story-oriented that the rulebook is worth a read even if you never play the game. 

What are you working on next?
Jonathan: My next big roleplaying game project is nearly finished. It’s a weird-history version of Al Amarja, sort of like Over the Edge meets Call of Cthulhu in the 17th century. That’s still a long way off, though, so pretend I never said anything about it. 

For the last five years, I’ve put a lot of work into promoting evolution science to children, especially with my children’s book Grandmother Fish. My artist and I have another children’s book in the works. This one is about evolutionary groups of mammals, such as primates or canines. Given the demented content that’s in Over the Edge, I sometimes wonder what my children’s book fans would make of it if they found out it was by the same author.

Thanks, Jonathan! To learn more about Jonathan's upcoming projects, visit him at GrandmotherFish.com. On Twitter, he's @JonathanMTweet. If you're interested in the game, Over the Edge 3rd edition is available in friendly local game stores now.