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Saturday 30 July 2022

The Al Amarja Quartet

Welcome to the Island is an anthology of scenarios for Over the Edge Third Edition: The Role-playing Game of Surreal Danger published by Atlas Games. It presents four lengthy, often complex scenarios designed to do six things. First, to show what a scenario looks like in Over the Edge, Third Edition. Second, to act as a campaign starters or slot into an ongoing campaign. Third, it is designed to present multiple story hooks and thus means to get the Player Characters involved in each of its scenarios, whether as agents of one faction or another, newcomers to Al Amarja, members of one or more of the conspiracies on the island, as street level gangsters or criminals, or as paranormals or mystics. Fourth, it is designed to showcase the island of Al Amarja and its people in all of their conspiratorial, counterintuitive, and corresponding weirdness. Fifth, it is designed to shake everything up by throwing a grenade into the room and upsetting the status quo. In other words, once the Game Master has run and players roleplayed any one of the four scenarios in the anthology, the situation on Al Amarja will not be the same as before. For example, by the end of the second scenario, ‘A Conclave of Chikutorpls, or the Winds of Change Are Blowing (Up), or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Multidimensional Convergence.’ Frank Germaine, owner of Sad Mary’s, the hottest bar on Al Marja, may have lost control of it, whilst at the end of ‘Battle of the Bands’, the biggest band on the island may or not have been reformed and even one of the Player Characters might be a member of it! The result, whatever the outcome, is to enforce the sixth thing and that is, make Al Amarja and thus Over the Edge Third Edition: The Role-playing Game of Surreal Danger the Game Master’s own and thus different from that of any other Game Master with an Over the Edge campaign.

Right from the start though, Welcome to the Island is a challenging set of scenarios. There is always homework for the Game Master to do as part of her preparation. Thankfully, each scenario references the very sections of the core rulebook that she needs to read, though there are multiples of them. There are usually a lot of NPCs to handle as well, often quite detailed in terms of their background and motivations, if not their stats. The authors of the anthology do go out of their way though to give advice and further explanation, including tips and playtest notes, with much of this supplementary information organised into sidebars and sections of boxed text. These are categorised by colour, so for example, advice and Game Master tips are always in red sections, NPCs in black, suggestions as where one scenario intersects with another in violet, and so on. Thus, 
Welcome to the Island is laid out in great blocks of colour that are easy on the eye.

Welcome to the Edge begins in relatively gentle fashion with ‘Battle of the Bands’. The Glorious Lords of the Edge are hosting the biggest battle of the bands on Al Marja, an event which anyone can participate in, but one in which Oblivion Function, an electronica trio, is tipped to win and win big, and so get to perform a victory concert. However, this will be a big win too for the backers of the Oblivion Function, the Movers, and there are plenty of other factions on the island who do not want that to happen. So, another band needs to be found to defeat Oblivion Function and there is only one band capable of doing that, Betwixt, one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed groups on the island. Only Betwixt split up over a decade ago and nobody knows exactly why. If somebody—by which we mean the Player Characters—is to get Betwixt back together, they are going to have to track down the four members, find out why they split, and get them to make up and put aside their differences enough to perform together once again. Which means a road trip back and forth across the island as the Player Characters track down one band member after another.

The four members of Betwixt are nicely detailed, each with their own views and revelations as to why the band broke up and reasons for getting back together (or not). Part of the scenario involves getting the old band tour bus back on the road too (although alternatives are suggested) as well as finding out what has become of the band members. There are some fun encounters to had on the road too, such as a big burrito-eating competition and an attack by a hit squad consisting of a Capella band whose singing has dangerously telekinetic heft to it, and the scenario will climax with the actual battle of the bands.

‘Battle of the Bands’ is the least weird and the least complex of the four scenarios in the anthology, in some ways more of a multi-character piece than the weird conspiracy shenanigans that you would normally expect with a scenario for Over the Edge. This makes it both a good introduction and a poor introduction to Al Amarja. A good introduction because the level of weirdness is relatively low, plus because the road trip format provides a really good reason for touring the island, but a poor one because the weirdness is low and because the introduction, at least for ordinary visitors to the island, as members of the Betwixt fan club, is underwhelming. As a scenario, ‘Battle of the Bands’ has an enjoyably languid, summertime, dust and tarmac feel to it, and as an interlude from the weirdness of Al Amarja, it is just perfect.

The second scenario, ‘A Conclave of Chikutorpls, or the Winds of Change Are Blowing (Up), or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Multidimensional Convergence.’ both turns up the weirdness and has an easier means of introduction. It opens with the car they are in—either they are driving or being driven—knocking someone down in the street and a woman known as Chikutorpl appearing almost immediately out of nowhere. Then they begin finding flyers announcing the reappearance of the Winds of Change, the high-stakes pop-up casino owned by Chikutorpl where it is possible to bet your youth, your beauty, your talent, a memory, even your life… When they attend, Winds of Change lives up to its reputation as a raucous, racy event filled with strange games like hyperbolic billiards and immortal combat. Throughout the host is in a highly mercurial mood and seems to change almost every time the Player Characters see her. Whatever the outcome of their attendance, the Player Characters receive invitations to the next opening and that is when it gets even weirder. It turns out that the host both sent and did not send the invitations, because there are multiple Chikutorpls, each pursuing agendas of their own and seeming to threaten reality in the process. Successive events get more chaotic, and this begins to ripple out as multiple Chikutorpls’ plans have a greater effect upon attendee after attendee. Ultimately, it comes down to a showdown when all of the Chikutorpls on the island host their events to outdoor each other. Throughout the Player Characters can pursue their own agendas or get caught up with those of every other attendee, but the end result is likely to change them in ways they did not anticipate at the start of the scenario.

ParaCon is the most important cutting edge scientific and technological event on Al Amarja, if not in the world, and it is hosted by the leading paranormal figure on the island, Doctor Chris Seversen. In ‘Seversen’s Mysterious Estate’ the Player Characters get to attend the most exclusive high-tech event of the year, whether as bodyguards, as inventors, or simply at random! The scenario is one big party with a lot of guests and a lot going on, including the event being gatecrashed by an astral vampire (note this is not a spoiler, the author advises to tell the players at the start of the scenario about it attending the party in order to ramp up the tension) and a Presidentials wet works strike team. This is not so much a big sandbox as a highly populated sandbox with twenty-three NPCs to weave in and out of the event and several sequences of events for the Game Master to handle and run. It comes with good advice to that end, and it also provides a great set of NPCs which can be used beyond the party (that is, if they survive).

The last scenario in 
Welcome to the Island is ‘Sympathy for the D’Aubainnnes’, which brings the Player Characters into contact with members of Al Amarja’s ruling family in a completely bonkers fashion. Everyone on the island receives a parcel containing a lifelike rubber mask of one of the D’Aubainnes, including the Player Characters. However, when anyone puts the mask on, they cannot take it off. Slowly the mask wearers begin to act like the D’Aubainnne family member they wear the mask off, so Jean-Christophe mask wearers starting teleporting short distances at random, Sir Constance mask wearers accrue wealth, and Sister Cheryl mask wearers become naturally disposed each other and feel stronger and better. The mask wearers also begin to hate the wearers of the other masks to the point that they will kill each other. As a rash of murders ripple back and forth across the island, it also becomes clear that someone is keeping a tally… ‘Sympathy for the D’Aubainnnes’ best works if one of the Player Characters dons one of the masks and the scenario includes multiple suggestions as to why one or more of them would do so. Once they do, then the scenario becomes one of survival and investigation, closer to a more traditional type of scenario found in other role-playing games. The result is a disturbingly surreal end to the quartet.

Welcome to the Island is a bright, colourful book with excellent artwork. It is also well written, and the cartography is decent.

Welcome to the Island provides four good scenarios that are all different and all easy to slot into an ongoing campaign. In fact, they work better as part of an ongoing campaign because all four will have long term effects upon a campaign, as the various factions and conspiracies work out their agendas. The is exactly what the Over the Edge Third Edition: The Role-playing Game of Surreal Danger needs, a showcase of just what the island of Al Amarja can deliver—stupendously surrealistic situations and wonderful weirdness backed up with good advice for the Game Master on how to handle all of that and run the scenarios too.

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