We’re gearing up to bring a|state Second Edition, built on the Forged in the Dark rules, to Kickstarter. There’s a wonderful free primer to the setting here in the form of Nicely, Done.
Today we thought we’d share the opening overview, since it clearly lays out what the new edition is all about. The following text is from the now-completed second edition, written by Morgan Davie, Malcolm Craig and Gregor Hutton. Art is by Paul Bourne, Jon Hodgson and Scott Purdy.
a|state is a game about a circle of troublemakers drawn together to bring hope to one small corner of The City, a dark and threatening place full of strugglers, gangs, chancers, and powerful warring factions. We play to find out if their alliance will bring a better future to the people on their corner.
Right now, all my attention is on shipping books, and if you’re following the world of international games shipping you’ll be aware that’s quite a challenge. But it’s important to look up from our daily trials and see the wider picture.
BEOWULF was one of our very first projects as a company. We assembled a small team, and pondered what we were best at, and what we wanted to make. We knew we all loved that mythic early medieval/migration era stuff. And we knew we loved 5e, and felt we could provide something that brought both together.
We’ve spent a lot of time trying to remember exactly how the idea of a single Hero in 5e came about – which is silly because we could just look back at the Discord logs. But let’s keep to the appropriately mythic story that its origin is a mysterious one, but absolutely a stroke of inspiration (weak pun intended).
Playing with one player and one GM, with a system lots of people already know, modified to shine for just two, makes gaming really easy to arrange. And we made a game that you can pick up and put down with minimal effort. You can run a campaign, one on one, for your whole gaming group and get huge value from the scenarios, and continue them with whoever is available when the squad can’t all meet up. It’s really smart.
It’s amazing to think back a year, and remember wondering how we would get on. Would anyone back us? Were we barking up the wrong tree entirely? I’m happy to say that with over a thousand backers/late pledgers and pre-orderers we were not. And hey, with their support we made miniatures, beautiful tokens and accessories, and now even a dice set from Q Workshop, no less. There’s a wealth of adventure material available now in PDF. I was just hoping that we could make a book with a bit more art than we could really afford.
At the risk of utter cliche, it’s been an amazing ride to this point, and while the story is far from over we’ve made so many friends along the way I consider it to be an unmitigated success so far. We have a lovely community of BEOWULF players, we have enjoyed working with so many new friends and partners, who have been staggeringly supportive and kind, and I really couldn’t have asked for more. And it’s incredible to think that it’s all down to the support of you – gamers.
It all turned out alright. I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING!
I saw a thing doing the rounds on the internet over the weekend and was moved to write something about what we get up to hereabouts at Handiwork.
It’s worth mentioning before getting into it that I’m a man-flavour human, with the combination of specific experiences and limitations of perspective that come with that.
So I’m a bit of a simpleton. If you ask me who our games are for I’ll gleefully tell you “Everyone!” And I mean it.
But, of course life isn’t quite that simple. We all carry various prejudices, (and here I’ve had to Google synonyms for “blind spots” in order not to use ablist language. Learning, trying etc) and areas that might help inclusion that we’re less aware of.
I’m am also aware that good intentions are not enough. It’s rare to find a person who does harm deliberately, and there are many reasons to remain ignorant of how your work comes across.
But I want Handiwork Games to try a bit harder than that.
So it was with interest that I saw the Aloy meme doing the rounds at exactly the same time as we coincidentally released a montage of art from Elaine Lithgow’s scenario for BEOWULF: Age of Heroes, ‘Seven Stones’. (It’s at the top of this post.)
The connection to a woman archer with red hair was enough to tweak my brain. It was good to see we’re among the kind of publisher the person in the tweet/meme dislikes (or perhaps… wait it’ll take too long to unpack it if the tweet is trolling for effect. Hopefully you know what I mean).
We don’t aim to make sexy characters. Sometimes, as part of a scenario, a character may of course be attractive, if that’s an appropriate part of the story. We’re not in any way morally against creating attractive characters. But we are aware that “attractiveness” is a very broad church. If we consider it as narrowly as the above tweet purports to do, then we’re sending a built-in message about who our games are for, and what they’re about.
Now, of course, it would be foolish to pretend that we don’t this inadvertently anyway. The title of the game “BEOWULF” sets out a certain stall. I hope we’ve succeeded in making a thoughtful and inclusive approach to that subject matter. But all artistic creation can come with with baggage, and we make the same amount of mistakes and missteps as anyone else. It’s why, as creators, we need constant discussion and to have our ears open.
The NPC in our artwork is Murrin, a character who challenges the Hero in something of a True Grit style. She’s not taken in by flashy heroics, and she’s travelled a long way to get help for her people. She doesn’t suffer fools, and she’s a great character to play at the table. She provides a critical voice that really adds something to a BEOWULF game. Murrin is certainly not there to be lusted after by a subset of the audience.
Because, as mentioned, I like characters like Murrin. Because she reflects something of the world I see around me. She’s real, and she broadens the scope and appeal of what we do.
And, all respect to Elaine who created her – it’s a great adventure, please do check it out – it’s not really such a new or threatening idea to have a young woman NPC who isn’t there to appeal to the specific sexuality of the player. Or at least it shouldn’t be a novel idea in 2021. But the conversation caused by the Aloy meme means it still seems important to talk about this topic.
Like I’ve said, I’m a simpleton. I don’t have a big agenda beyond wanting the largest number of people to feel like they want to play our games. Because that just seems fair. So if you saw the Aloy meme and rolled your eyes, then we’re right there with you.
Seven Stones is out now for BEOWULF backers, and releases to the general public tomorrow. Learn more about BEOWULF Age of Heroes, 5e for one player and one GM here.
a|state 2e is shaping up really nicely. And we’re hoping to launch the Kickstarter for the Second Edition in June. For those in the know, the game is a well-loved indie classic from the British Invasion of the turn of the century, but for those who don’t, what is a|state?
A brief history
a|state began in the early 2000s in the notebooks of Malcolm Craig. Inspired by the layers of built history in cities like London and Edinburgh, and a sense of gloomy science-fictional possibility, he created memorable locations like Mire End and Folly Hills and a game system to explore them. The project gained enormous momentum when Paul Bourne joined. His vivid illustrations rapidly drew attention in the UK gaming community, and soon a|state games regularly featured at UK conventions.
Interest continued to grow, so Malcolm and Paul developed a|state into a beautiful hardback book.
This debuted at Edinburgh gaming con Conpulsion in 2004 and went on to find an enthusiastic audience around the world. The production values of first edition were way above what any indie publication of its size had any right to be.
Further books with more contributors followed over the next few years, and the audience for a|state was still hungry for more when Malcolm and Paul eventually moved on to other projects. Now a|state returns, with a retooled system and all the original creators on board.
You can find out more at a|state’s own page. And grab the free introduction to the setting and a complete scenario here.
We chatted to the lovely Jonathan Green about Beowulf games. Check it out:
Our own BEOWULF: Age of Heroes PDF is released on the 16th of February, accompanied by a pre-order for the print book and accessories. You’ll be able to get the PDF free with a pre-order of the rulebook.
What a year, eh? Jon here, with my look back at 2020 at Handiwork Games.
It is always useful to reflect on the year gone by, so here are my thoughts on what we’ve done in year two, 2020. (It’s sort of year two. More like 18 months but let’s call it year two for easy maths and a good story!)
The headline is (predictably) that while Covid has put plans on a slightly different footing than expected, we’re doing really well.
Year one accounts came in and I was flabbergasted by our turnover. With my head firmly in projects at the time, I genuinely had no idea we’d done as well as we did in 2019, and that shook me into taking the accounts a bit more seriously! The day-to-day can be a procession of fires to put out and rocks to roll uphill. It’s easy to lose sight of just how much we’ve achieved as a team.
Things we did in 2020:
Map tiles 2 Kickstarter. Map Tiles was an unexpected project we just tried out to see what would happen, thinking it might fund, and the two Kickstarters to date have raised about £40k, and Map Tiles have become “a thing”. They’re very popular on our web store: Dungeon tiles in particular have proved to be a really good seller. Shamefully they’re out of stock right now! We’ll need to fix that in January!
We faced some Map Tiles challenges early on in the pandemic with printers closing, and shipping becoming briefly impossible. However, I take heart that these were only physical delivery delays, rather than delays in making the things on our side. Shipping delays seem to increasingly be a fact of life, and we’ll need to account for that heading forward.
It was great to find a UK printer to complement our US side of things. I’ve been very happy with Drivethrucards, and they’re incredibly helpful to us. But the Atlantic is not kind when it comes to shipping, so being able to print on both sides of the ocean is a win. Thanks to working with a UK printer on Map Tiles 2, we also have a printer for our miniatures boxes (which turned out really well!) and future games. Nice!
Speaking of Map Tiles, one of the first things we did in lockdown was refocus on providing tools for online play. If we had to be stuck inside, then some useful virtual scenery seemed like a cool thing to provide.
We delivered the Creature Collection for Onyx Path. I’m really proud of that book. It’s a great collection of some high-quality content from a solid team. I’ll be forever grateful to Rich at Onyx Path for letting us loose on the book. It really allowed us to flex what we can do.
We did tons of other stuff as a studio in 2020, much of which has to remain unsung – some secret things forever!
The Hermit’s Sanctuary for BEOWULF came out as a free pdf and then by popular request a print book. It was nominated for two ENnies which was truly unexpected and really welcome. We didn’t win any, but for once I can genuinely say that didn’t really matter. Being “there” was amazing. And the timing for the BEOWULF Kickstarter was impeccable.
We spent a great deal of time designing, writing and making art for BEOWULF. And when we took to Kickstarter, it hit my “happy” number (insider info: £30k was the minimum for acceptable funds, £40k was “happy”, £50k was “awesome”). We got well into awesome with late pledges, and we’re a whisker off 1000 backers. That’ll do!
We made miniatures! How cool is that? I’m still somewhat amazed we achieved this, but it all came together so nicely. It is great to be working with old friends on this. I’m really happy we made everything in the UK too.
Of course we still enjoy working with colleagues further afield. We had a really great time working with our friends at Campaign Coins in 2020. Mark and Andre are so madly supportive, and I love working with them. We’ve made some truly gorgeous things and I can’t wait to ship them in this coming new year. The BEOWULF tokens and compass are really gorgeous, and represent exactly what I want us to be producing.
We also helped out some friends behind the scenes, and that felt good. There’s a loose little grouping of companies in the UK who just help each other out when they can and all ships are definitely rising as a result. And I really like the people involved. A special shout out to Fil, Paul and David of All Rolled Up/Just Crunch Games. We’ve done loads of projects with these folks and it’s always a pleasure, whichever direction the help is flowing.
We did the Slay the Spire livestream on Steam, and it was amazing seeing our company name on the front page of Steam! Thanks so much to Tomas for inviting me, and Anthony for being so cool.
That opportunity came about because of the BEOWULF Kickstarter, and it’s very reassuring to see some other people working in related fields recognise what we’re doing. I also did a bunch of podcasts, and I must make time to do more. I love it, actually. It’s a nice way to break out of working invisibly on stuff, and I sometimes forget there’s a lot to talk about.
We started work on a 5e setting we haven’t announced yet, with a partner company. We’ll get to work on that in earnest in the new year but it’s already looking pretty cool!
We’re also helping long time friend and colleague Ralph Horsley with his art book. More on that in 2021!
We’ve been working on the new edition of a|state. There’s a really great team on that one and it’s really coming together. We released “Nicely, Done” as a free PDF and lovely print book that includes a gorgeous primer to the setting. A new round of a|state playtest will happen in the new year, with the new edition itself is almost entirely complete. There’s still a bit of artwork needed. Bit of extra setting stuff. But it’s “there” at the core as a playable new edition. It’s been a very smooth process, and I’ve been delighted to be in a solely admiring, occasionally overseeing role.
We worked with two projects that use games to involve the community in history and environmental issues. Covid scuppered the first, with no chance of doing workshops in the community, but the second has advanced to the next stage of funding.
Similarly, we attended no events this year. That was a challenge, given how much we’d invested in stock and equipment for shows for 2020. We were fighting fit and ready to go for a super convention season. Which never happened. Ah well.
On a vastly more positive note, we brought Danie on board to help with marketing and social media. That’s worked out really well, and if you’re reading the his you’ll have seen lots of Danie’s work online. It’s been incredibly helpful to have another brain able to focus on social media and marketing. And one with so much experience!
We also moved from my now-way-too-small home office to a much larger garden office, which includes dedicated areas for stock storage and mail order processing, as well as a photography booth, reference library and creative work areas.
Moving everything was hard work, and getting it built in the first place was a trial for us and the builders during a global pandemic. But it’s done, we’re in and I love it. It’s brilliant.
In December we launched Handimonsters. This is a subscription service that offers new monsters every week, along with something free each month. Based on prior experience, that won’t hit its stride as a patreon for a couple of months – the back catalogue patrons gain access to is currently building to a nice collection of stuff. From a process perspective that’s been great. Absolutely zero drama in that project.
Right at the end of the year we sent out the first chunk of BEOWULF to backers. It’s been very well received, which is lovely. You just never know how things will fare once they head out into the wide world, but BEOWULF has been an absolute labour of love, and that seems to be communicating.
We managed, through some amazing timing and me managing to be extra brave, to secure a foreword from Maria Dahvana Headley, who’s so hot right now in the world of Beowulf translation. I’m still a bit boggled by that too. What an honour.
As ever, pulling this ad hoc list together I’m reminded why I was pretty tired at the end of the working year. But looking back for the first time in a little while, it’s heartening to see how much we’ve done! There are some notable absences from this review – Hellenistika is something we get asked about a lot. It’s going to be one of those projects that happens when it happens because you just can’t rush magic.
We have two new Forest Dragon games ready to print. We just need some time to tell people about them, and maybe do a cheeky Kickstarter to gather the faithful once again. Both Hellenistika and FD games are still very close to our hearts, even if they don’t have news headlines to share from 2020.
Overall, we have faced the same challenges as any company in startup in 2020, and it certainly hasn’t all been a bed of roses. There’s been plenty of sleepless nights along the way, and we’ve made our fair share of missteps. Such is life! Looking back on what could so easily have been a disastrous year, I think our whole team can be very proud of what we’ve achieved, and we’re coming into 2021 with a lot of… “2020 experience” under our belt.
And so, from everyone at Handiwork Games, I’d like to wish you a very happy new year, and hope that 2021 brings good things for all of us.