a|state RPG second edition: An Interview With Jon Hodgson (Handiwork Games)

On Kickstarter, Handiwork Games is bringing back a|state for a new edition with a new engine. Jon Hodgson was kind enough to answer my questions about the game including what the new system will be, who is working on this sci-fi RPG, and how Handiwork is addressing some of the industry-wide challenges that are impacting so many RPG publishers right now.

a state RPG second edition 03.jpg

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thanks for talking with me. I’m excited to discuss the return of this cult RPG. What are you producing with this Kickstarter?
: Hi Egg! So, at the heart of the campaign there’s the a|state Second Edition rulebook. It’s aiming to be a glorious full colour hardback, chock full of art, beautifully laid out, with really tight fit of system to setting. The setting of a|state is The City – an endless sprawling dystopian future city built around a series of concentric canals. It’s full of Dickensian slums, but there’s also really high levels of technology for those that can afford it.

EGG: What kind of adventures will players engage in during an a|state campaign?
: Players take the role of “troublemakers” who have decided to try to improve things in their corner of The City. Through a collaborative, structured process of character and setting creation, players work together to define their bit of The City, their attachments to it and each other and the threats facing the local area. They then set about trying to make things better. It’s really good fun to play. Within The City there are gangs, organized crime, and the Trusts – huge, corrupt mercantile organizations that divide up control of resources and territory within The City. The interests of the Trusts will usually be directly at odds with the common folk of the player-character’s corner. Players have a lot of control over exactly what sort of game they’re setting up.

EGG: For those not familiar with the original a|state, what separates this dystopian sci-fi from other settings within that subgenre?
: It’s got a strong and unique voice – it can’t be neatly slotted into a pigeonhole like steampunk or cyberpunk. It’s got all kinds of influences, like JG Ballard and Mervyn Peake, cinema like Dark City and Delicatessen, as well as the real world post-industrial landscapes of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

EGG: That’s a nice selection of influences. This is an evolution of a|state with a new engine for this edition. What makes Forged in the Dark a better system for this product than the original engine?
: It’s no secret to fans of the first edition that it was the designer’s first game system, with all the hurdles that entails, and really the setting was where the gold lay. The system just wasn’t as polished as the setting stuff. Forged in the Dark was suggested by Gregor Hutton (of 3:16 fame) who worked on the original game. It has just so much that slots together with the themes of the setting, and Morgan Davie who’s done the conversion work and tailored Forged in the Dark has really made it sing. It gives play with the setting a real direction and focus. I’m biased, but I think it’s brilliant work. Morgan has added the Care action to Forged in the Dark, which really moves the game on from being about killers and badasses to people trying to improve their community.

a state RPG second edition 04.jpg

EGG: Who is working on this project?
: So we have Malcolm Craig, the original writer. Paul Bourne was the original a|state artist, and he works for us at Handiwork Games so of course he’s onboard. Scott Purdy and myself are making additional character art, Morgan Davie and Gregor Hutton are doing system work, Danie Ware does our social media and marketing work.

EGG: If this project does well, are you planning additional a|state support?
: We’re set to unlock a bunch of adventures in the campaign, which will really show off what the system and setting can do. Beyond this campaign, we have some plans. It will certainly be a supported line.

EGG: Originally, this game was from Contested Ground Studios. Has all of CGS’ content been absorbed by Handiwork Games? If so, what else can we expect?
: At this point we’ve licensed a|state. But we’re really enjoying working together, so who knows. It’d be amazing to see Malcolm and Paul’s other games like Hot War and Cold City get a new lease of life. That’s for the future. We’ll see how a|state gets on.

EGG: I’m glad the door’s open. You have a free preview of the game, a|state Nicely,Done. What is in the preview? How has it been received?
: It’s gone down really well. It’s a pretty ambitious chunk of setting and adventure – we had great success with The Hermit’s Sanctuary for BEOWULF Age of Heroes, and we like showing what we can do before anyone puts their money down. You’ll get a full introduction to The City, with a ton of inspiring art. And the adventure, Nicely,Done, is a full length slice of Forged in the Dark play. It’s really useful if you are familiar with Forged in the Dark games – as an adventure it doesn’t contain the core rules. But a|state 2e will be complete and standalone thanks to the generosity of the Forged in the Dark license.

a state RPG second edition 05.jpg

EGG: Beyond a|state what else are you working on?
: We’re working with our friends at Nightfall Games on a new 5e setting Harrowvale that’s a very British take on The World’s Favourite Roleplaying Game. Rather than leveling up to become rich and powerful you’re trying to scrape together enough coin to escape the setting. It’s being described as “5e on hard mode”, and that includes a lot of moral decisions and tough choices in order to survive and escape. We also have three books in the pipeline for BEOWULF Age of Heroes – primarily collecting our library of PDF adventures into print format. I’d love to see those in print. And beyond that we’ve been muttering about something called KING BEOWULF. Which sounds awesome, right?

EGG: It does! Not to take too sharp a turn from this discussion but we recently talked about some of the new challenges facing TTRPG publishers in 2021. Can you share some of the unexpected Handiwork Games has faced in this new normal?
: Yes, it’s been quite a tough time. A couple of things have really hurt us, as they have all other publishers – a lack of face to face events has seen us drop a ton of income. I’d got us really organized for the 2020 show season, with deep stocks of all our cool stuff. Happily a lot of our accessories like dice trays and map tiles are relatively evergreen. But it’s been a challenge to replace that planned income. There’s also the global shipping crisis, which is the gift that just keeps on giving. We have our BEOWULF books for the US on a ship right now, but it’s been delayed multiple times. It’s very frustrating for everyone, but happily our Handiwork customers have been very kind and patient. We’ve been relatively lucky in that we don’t produce our books in China, preferring to stick to the EU and UK for most of our print needs. And of course the really serious one is when team members get ill. We’ve had some scary moments with that in the last 18 months.

EGG: I’m sorry to hear that, but glad that you’re carrying on. Do you foresee any of those issues impacting this project?
: I’m ever-optimistic. Hopefully we’re seeing shipping issues begin to reach “peak disruption”. I hope so anyway. For a|state, we’ve allowed a very long time line for shipping to take it all into account.

EGG: Thanks for talking with me about this project. Where can fans learn more about it?
: No, thank you, Egg! Head to [the Kickstarter page] or our website.

a|state RPG second edition from Handiwork Games
  • End Date: Thu, August 19 2021 12:00 PM EDT.
  • “A new edition of the dystopian scifi RPG a|state powered by Forged in the Dark rules.
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Egg Embry

Egg Embry


I can understand the pain of the shipping issues and stuff: I ordered that lovely Inspiration Coin Chest/Compass Rose set and its been a killer waiting for it.

This game looks fantastic. So refreshing to have a setting this dark but with such a clear directive for players to try to protect and defend their community (without pretending that would be easy or pretty). If there's one thing that keeps me from playing a lot of cyberpunk and similar games it's the way they often relish in the idea of playing amoral scumbags just earning a buck. That's fine for a movie, but what a drag to play an entire campaign where the PCs are just learning the worst lessons from their surroundings.
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Tabletop Scotland & Polyhedral Press Overlord
I'm so pleased to see Malcolm is still involved in the project. I had the chance to interview him while at GenCon when the initial version was released. He's a great guy with a solid book (set of books in 1st Ed).
I interviewed Malcolm last year along with Morgue and Gregor about the book in the run up to AlbaCon.
You can watch it here -


That someone better
As a owner of the first edition, and a fan of BiTD - this was pretty much an instant backing.

The A-State setting is a great fit for the style of game BiTD does.

I'm not too sure about the whole intrusion phrase and care mechanics added. A straight forward conversion would fit the bill perfectly.

But I'll give it a try before I pass final judgement.


That someone better
I thought that would come as part of my pledge level - but I'll check it out now certainly.

IMHO - it is the change in the default mode of play from standard BiTD crews.

I will try the game RAW first - because I want to see how it plays out.

But looking over the rules pdf I got it seems that it ought not be too much of a chore to switch back to the BiTD crew sheets if I want to run A-State that way as well.

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