The countdown to Christmas begins, at Handiwork Games!
We have a whole dragon’s hoard of gaming goodies and gifts – ideal for you, for your family, for your friends, and for your fellow adventurers. From dice to dungeon tiles, from maps, both physical and digital, to merchandise, and all of it offering top-notch art… there’s treasure to suit every party member. Including the dragon.
And – as we’ve been promising – some shots of our new den. Jon and the team have been working very had to get everything shifted in time for those lovely Christmas orders, and – we’re done! Our hardworking elves (cough) have finally explored their new home!
For all you a|state players, don’t forget – this Sunday, at 7pm EST (midnight GMT) you can escape to The City. Join the live, single mission play-though of our Primer, as our intrepid team of adventurers uncover what’s really been ‘Nicely, Done’.
(Don’t worry if it’s a bit late – we’ll let you know where to tune in!)
We’ve also got some news. Big news. Big, big news. It’s under wraps at the moment (sorry), but Something Is Coming and it’s something we’re VERY excited about. If you’re not yet following us on our Socials, now might be really good time to join the conversation…
In more of this week’s news, Jon was a guest over at The Smart Party’s RPG Podcast, talking about The One Ring, BEOWULF, The Forest Dragon, a|state and much more. Thanks to Gaz and the team for a great interview!
Back at Handiwork, we had a chat of our own – with top game designer Jacob Rodgers. Co-creator of our BEOWULF intro-adventure The Hermit’s Sanctuary, Jacob told us how he made the adventure work for one player and one GM, how to GM a really good campaign, and he answered that ever-pertient question: how do you make your players follow the adventure, and not go off on a tangent?
Don’t forget: our BEOWULF Late Pledges are ending very soon. Please get those pledges in, anywhere from a single shiny pound, and help us bring the legend to life.
And remember, this Christmas, support your local and indie businesses! Game designers, crafters, bookstores – we can’t give you shiny ads full of tinsel and snowfall, but we can offer you the best in tabletop role-playing goodies, in supplements and adventures and glimpses into other worlds, and in every kind of pretty gaming merch.
Jacob Rodgers is a writer and designer of role-playing games and more. His credits include material for The One Ring, Adventures in Middle-Earth, WarHammer: Age of Sigmar: Soulbound, The Ruins of Symbaroum and other systems, not to mention BEOWULF: Age of Heroes and The Hermit’s Sanctuary. He lives in Georgia (the US state, not the independent country).
Here, he talks to us about role-playing, about BEOWULF and about how to GM a really good game…
What are the core components of a really good RPG?
Any role-playing game has to serve multiple functions over its ‘lifetime’ in the hands of a player. When you first pick it up or download the .pdf, it must impress and inspire you — with its themes, its language, its art, its design (both graphically and system-wise).
Next, as you begin to read it for that crucial first pass, it must serve as an excellent teacher, providing clear instructions and sufficient examples so that folks can grok the game. Note that this is not just the writing choices, but graphic design can have a huge impact as well. Folks need to be able to visually identify topical breaks, optional rules, worked examples, etc. The recent Cortex Prime, written by friend-of-the-studio Cam Banks, has some fantastic work in this area.
The final function that a rulebook must serve is as a reference for game prep and in-game questions. The first function can be served again by having lots of good examples, random tables, and inspiring artwork. It’s absolutely fantastic to have an illustration provide the seed of an adventure and then to provide the tools to flesh out that seed and turn it into something ready to run. Fortunately for us, BEOWULF has a fairly strong structure and one of the chapters steps you through that structure piece by piece, so a GM can take their idea and write an adventure that they know will work in the game. And we will have lots of direct reference material in a separate easy-to-find section in order to make running the game super easy.
For BEOWULF, how closely does the game-path follow the original legends?
Fairly early on we discovered that there’s a repeating pattern to Beowulf, and that pattern shows up in surprising places — for example, the original Scooby-Doo cartoon. And, of course, we shouldn’t be too surprised — after all, Beowulf is one of the oldest bits of English literature we have and established a lot of tropes.
The actual path for both book and RPG is that the hero learns of a place plagued by a Monster, goes there and does some investigation, learns how to deal with the Monster (some secret weakness usually) and then does so. Most of the time they are rewarded for their service, but (and this part didn’t make it to Scooby-Doo) sometimes the Monster is too much for the Hero and they suffer a fatal wound. It’s the very stuff of adventure storytelling, whether literary or gameplay.
When designing the BEOWULF manual, what did you have to consider?
Well, of course, we wanted to keep all of the above in mind, not only the considerations about how the book’s utility to players will change over time but also how to evoke the feeling of the poem and the Migration Era (the poem’s time setting) in the choices we make for art, language and examples.
We also had to make sure that we were fulfilling our promises to make something that worked for a single GM and a single player, so that the game is always challenging and fun and doesn’t get bogged down if the player is temporarily stumped by the story. That also meant that we had to make decisions about the 5e rules engine. We want the game to be familiar to players who know 5e but we also want to make sure that the rules are at the service of the story and the setting, not the other way around.
Do you have any advice for a GM running the BEOWULF game?
Always be a fan of your player. While the GM should administer the setting and the challenges in a fair and impartial way, it’s always a good idea to cheer on your player when they’re clever or lucky or both. After all, the game is a story in the very framework of the setup (we imagine that every BEOWULF adventure is a scop telling a story about a hero to an interested group of listeners) and most stories are about a Hero overcoming the Monster, not the other way around.
Also, we’ve found that the nature of the game can shift dramatically between players. You can run the same adventure for two different players and, because of both mechanical choices (for example, the Hero’s alignment between the Old Ways, the Church or staying Neutral) and roleplay choices, the adventure might go very differently each time.
Motivating players (making them take the right cues) can sometimes be a struggle. How can you make sure your PCs follow the right plot hooks?
This is something I try to always consider, especially in starter adventures. There are certain clues and tropes that veteran gamers tend to pick up on that newer folks might not identify. (Once while running a completely improv session, the players insisted that I intended them to follow a particular path in the forest. I did not, I was just trying to get across what I saw in my mind’s eye. But that extra bit of description implied to them ‘adventure this way’.) So it can be worth it to break character with newer players and discuss things, especially if they’re playing it too safe. Remind them that they’ve signed up to play a Hero in this game and Heroes take risks.
The other thing that I often do (and admittedly this is something that becomes easier with practice and experience) is to be willing to rearrange the adventure. I’ve relocated entire groups of enemies to put them in contact with the characters, had family members track down the PCs to insist that they take action against a threat, and wildly changed timeframes to make sure something happens where the players can see it. But the best solution? Make the player right. Connect the plot hook to whatever the players have clued in on and make it so that if they pull that string then they make progress in the adventure.
Do you prefer a ‘storyteller’-type GM, or one that lets the players lead the game?
For BEOWULF in particular, one of the excellent parts of it being a duet (1 GM, 1 Player) game is that you can adjust the scale very easily. With only a single player it is very easy for them to be in charge and they can go and do whatever they want. If the player is a bit less active or stumped for a way forward then the storyteller GM component can come forward and you can introduce more elements that drive the player to action.
For other games, I vary my approach. For example, with Ars Magica the characters (especially the wizards) tend to have very strong personal motivations and you can just provide a sandbox for them to experiment within. Other games, like Pendragon, it feels more right to set a quest in front of them and the game’s assumed structure (that the knights have a lord that they are sworn to) makes that easy.
How would you create – and play – a really convincing PC? What would you think about?
Here’s a deep dark secret — I’m a terrible player. I’ve just spent too much time on the other side of the table and I enjoy GMing so much I’m almost always a forever GM.
That said, when I do get a chance to play, I do try to think about a character’s relationships and context. After all, most everyone has the same basic wants and needs, it’s just a matter of who is around them and their way of social interactions. And that affects how they express those wants and needs.
Thank you for talking to us! You can find the LATE PLEDGES for BEOWULF: AGE OF HEROES still on Crowd Ox – but time is very short!
And just to reiterate, our BEOWULF late pledges are ending very soon! If you’d like to grab the game at Kickstarter prices now is the perfect time.
Now’s also the perfect time to have a look at our BEOWULF intro-adventure, The Hermit’s Sanctuary. Nominated for two ENnie Awards, this has been specially adapted for one player and one GM, meaning it’s the perfect place to get a game going.
Enjoy a new (old) adventure, based on one of the most timeless tales of all.
And – IT’S A SIGN!!!
Yes, we have moved office, meaning we have dedicated spaces for creative work, storing stock and processing your orders! Jon put up a magical sign this week, guaranteed* to keep dragons and bandits out, and our treasures safe from harm.
*We think. We haven’t seen a dragon yet. Or any bandits, come to that.
And a quick reminder that we’ve got some awesome settings for your next Zoom call. Journey to The City with our a|state backgrounds, two of them animated. Pay what you like, over at DriveThruRPG.
Some spooooooky deals at Hauntiwork Games… click the image for Hallowe’en bargains!
£2 OFF Spooky Map Tiles – Evil Forest Tiles, Backstreets Tiles, Dystopian SF Tiles and Moorland Ruin Tiles.
£5 OFF Autumn Battle Mats – Autumn Battle Mat 36″ Gridded, and Autumn Battle Mat 36″ Ungridded
£2 OFF Spooky Dice Trays – Horse Devil Square Dice Tray, and Barrow King Compact Dice Tray
Sunday’s also the last day for our battle-mat-and-dice-tray bundle. You can grab one of our three-foot-square tabletop mats, either with or without grid, alongside a matching dice tray, at a bargain price. We know your mates possibly won’t be round for a while, but where there’s dice, there’s hope, as the saying goes.
And, with that in mind, please don’t forget that our Map Tiles come in digital, as well as physical form. We supply them in .jpg format, for use on Virtual Table Tops, so you can head out on adventure. And you don’t have to either a) leave the house, or b) share your snacks.
We’re delighted to say that our a|state primer, ‘Nicely, Done’, originally released for AlbaCon, has done so well that we’ve released it as a print book. Written by game creators Morgan Davie and Malcolm Craig, with artwork by Jon Hodgson, Paul Bourne, Gregor Hutton and Scotty Purdy, it’s truly a thing of gaming beauty.
And in BEOWULF news, Jon was asked to give a school talk, this week – about the legend, about how it was changed into a game, and about how the game works for one player and one GM. This too, is on YouTube, and well worth the watch!
Morgan Davie is one of the writers of a|state, and has popped in to tell us little about the new edition, and about the brand new primer, ‘Nicely, Done’, now available from DriveThruRPG.
Hi Morgue, and we’re very pleased to talk you, here at Handiwork Games!
Can you tell us a little about the cult RPG hit a|state? Is it fantasy or SF, utopia or dystopia?
I recently described a|state to a friend as “electro-punk anti-Thatcher dirty humanist SF” which demonstrates the futility of assigning it a simple label! It presents a dystopian science fiction vision, but more grimy than grim, sad and angry and loaded with black humour.
What is The City, and why is it a good place to start?
The City isn’t just a good place to start, it’s the only place you can possibly be, for it is cut off from the rest of the world. Residents can see the stars when the fog clears at night, and they can send out machines to collect raw materials from the world around them, but none of them can leave. Everyone is trapped in The City, desperately trying to find enough security to sleep easy. That’s where the characters come in: their corner of The City is under threat, and it’s up to them to stand up and fight back!
Who are some of your favourite characters/NPCs?
A|state doesn’t strongly emphasise pre-established characters. Each group will populate their own corner of The City with unique characters and there’s nothing more important than that! However, if I had to pick a favourite it would be Janus Kripitsch, the Lostfinder of Mire End, a generous soul determined to help those in need in return for a hot meal or two. (Janus is also a pre-generated character in Nicely, Done, the a|state Primer adventure!)
What kind of PCs would suit the environment? Are there character classes, as such, or can a player build something of their own?
Characters in a|state are built around seven archetypes called “playbooks”, but it’s easy to tilt any of them into whatever form you like. The archetypes are useful starting points, not straitjackets! The seven playbook options are: a community stalwart (e.g. an activist), a technical expert (e.g. a creator of clockwork computers), a warrior (e.g. a deadly ghostfighter), a wayfarer and explorer (e.g. a lostfinder), a smooth operator (e.g. a fixer), a wastrel (e.g. a thief), or a master persuaded (e.g. a journalist).
There are many different types and styles of RPG. Would you describe this one as adventure-based, story-based, or something else?
This game is all about a situation. The characters are known troublemakers, working together to keep the local community safe from outside forces. There are plenty of adventurous missions, where the characters take incredible risks as they take the fight directly to the dangerous powers arrayed against them. These are interspersed with periods of downtime where the characters pursue their personal goals, mix with local NPCs, and try to burn off the great stress of their shared purpose.
Would you need previous RPG experience to be able to play the game/primer?
a|state is a Forged in the Dark game, complete in the book. Anyone can pick it up and work out how to play, no prior RPG experience needed.
The primer, however, is just a taster and assumes the person running the game knows how Forged in the Dark games work.
And finally, tell us what your very favourite thing is about a|state! What are you proudest of?
It’s just exciting to be working on a|state! The original vision of The City presented by its creators Malcolm Craig and Paul Bourne took my breath away back in 2004. It feels great that we can return to it now, and make it come alive more vividly than ever!
Thank you very much for stopping to talk to us!
You can find out all about our a|state primer – here!
In this week’s news: Scarred Lands goes out to backers!
Backers of our Scarred Lands campaign, your Creature Collections are now winging their way! In true Monster Manual/Fiend Folio tradition, this book of beasties contains the 5e stats for such wonders as the Berserker Wasp, The Bitter Tree, the Dream Shadow and the Marrow Knight. And our favourite quest dispenser, the Sage Camel.
All coming soon, to a postbox near you.
Last night, we were delighted to see our own Jon Hodgson taking part in Steam’s DIGITAL TABLETOP FEST. Jon was chatting to top game designer Anthony Giovannetti, as Anthony played through the smash hit Slay The Spire. If you missed it don’t worry, we’ll have the link very soon!
If you love a bit of DriveThruRPG, our a|state primer, Nicely, Done is their top choice of FREE .pdf download this week. The setting is incredible, the artwork amazing, and the adventure complete. You’ll need the basic rules for Forged in the Dark, but otherwise, THE CITY is ready and waiting – you only have to lose yourself.
And let us take you back… back… back… back to the world of The Forest Dragon. Designed by nine-year-old Rory, and winner of two Awards upon its release, The Forest Dragon is a creative and fun, family card game that takes you to a world of adventure. Find Swords, Coins and other treasures, find Sticks and Acorns and helpful characters to set you on your way. But beware The Forest Dragon!
And, while we know that we’re not supposed to mention Christmas ’til Hallowe’en is over… if you <are> thinking about gifts, we’ve got a whole merchant-load of gaming-related goodies, great for keeping you and yours entertained. And not only for the festive season!
Originally launched on Kickstarter, this classic-style Creature Collection was made by Handiwork for Onyx Path Publishing.
It’s a manual of monsters, a folio of fiends, and it outlines all the trouble that toothsome terrors can bring to you and your party. It’s perfect if you’re running a game, if you just want to flick through it for ideas.
Here’s a sneaky peak at some of its best beasties…
Those of you who originally backed our Kickstarter, these beautiful books should be reaching you, and your adventurers, any minute.
First up, BIG NEWS: we will be taking part in Steam’s DIGITAL TABLETOP FEST! Join Jon, chatting to top game designer Anthony Giovannetti, as Anthony plays through the smash hit Slay The Spire. Our event takes place at 11pm UK time, on October 22nd, but the Fest will be going on all week.
In BEOWULF news, our Award-nominated intro-adventure, released last week as a print book, is coming soon with an original sketch from Jon Hodgson. We know that quite a few of you had been asking about this, so we’ll fed Jon all the tea and make him start drawing.
The results, as you can see, should be pretty spectacular!
We’ve also had our first look at out gorgeous, real oak display boxes for the BEOWULF tokens and compass coin. These will go on our site very soon, and we should be offering them both with and without the shinies. And big thank you to D Taylor Woodworking for a beautiful job!
In MORE news, our a|state primer, originally released to attendees at AlbaCon, is now available to download from DriveThruRPG. The .pdf is free, the artwork beautiful, the setting rich with nuance and character. Let us take you to The City, and to the introductory mission ‘Nicely, Done’. You’ll need the Forged in the Dark system to play the scenario – but all other info is included. And hey, it could just be time to take that urban vacation…
While you’re packing – so to speak – do come find us on REDBUBBLE. We have lots of tees, homewares, merch and other treasures, from Beowulf to The Forest Dragon, all just waiting to be liberated. They make perfect and original gifts, for others and for yourself. (Go on, you deserve it, you know you do).
And DON’T miss it – the battle-mat and dice-tray bundle is not going to be available for much longer! Our battle mats are three feet square (seriously, they’re huge), and in a variety of atmospheric shades. They come with or without grids, and every one comes with a matching dice tray, so you can control your manoeuvres, and your maths rocks, all at the same time.
Or, if you don’t fancy the mat, try the map. Our second batch of map tiles feature floor plans for both utopian and dystopian SF scenarios, plus all sorts of features from hillforts to moors to evil forests (hey, who doesn’t love an evil forest?). They come in packs of thirty, double-sided, and can take you and your party on any adventure you can dream up.
Handiwork Games – helping you get out the house, without, y’know, actually leaving the house…