An Old State Reforged, and States We Have Lost

A while back on here I did a quick review of the core book and major supplements for a/state. OK, apparently strictly speaking it’s a|state, but a/state fits the style of presentation on here better – it aesthetically bugs me that the horizontal line in a|state doesn’t slant when typed in italics, and I’m damned if I’m giving up my use-italics-for-game-titles convention this deep into this blog. Either way, the title translates to “we want to make it harder to Google about our product”.

Anyway, however you type it a/state was an example of the well-worn “nice setting, shame about the product line” phenomenon. You know the sort of thing – a game where the unusual setting is the main draw, but ends up being insufficiently niche in its appeal to support the sort of follow-up which its publishers were clearly envisaging. Empire of the Petal Throne pioneered this sort of thing in the 1970s, Skyrealms of Jorune did it in the 1980s, Tales of Gargentihr was an example from the 1990s, a/state did it in the 2000s; I am sure you can imagine other examples.

It’s often the case, with this sort of game, that the people behind it were clearly planning to put out way more material but the game’s success simply wasn’t of a level to make it viable. Empire of the Petal Throne and various subsequent Tekumel games had products coming out in fits and starts, but never a sustained period of consistent releases. (Thanks to M.A.R. Barker having been exposed as a closet fascist who wrote a neo-Nazi novel for National Vanguard under a pseudonym and was closely involved with a leading Holocaust denial journal, it is deeply unlikely it’ll ever revive.) Jorune got a trickle of supplements and the occasional new edition, and even managed to get a videogame adaptation (Alien Logic), but on a commercial level is now pretty dead – there’s an online fandom still, but it doesn’t seem to be a large or especially active one. Gargentihr managed to get its core book out, and apparently there was an adventure distributed in PDF format on floppy disk at some cons, but then vanished into the ether.

Continue reading “An Old State Reforged, and States We Have Lost”

A Refereeing Rorschach Test

What the higgedy-heck is it with Scottish RPG publishers and their quixotic attempts to make a splash in the industry by debuting with hyper-weird RPG settings explored through basically traditional RPG formats? There was Nightfall Games with SLA Industries, a game which never managed to get really hot but somehow never quite seems to die; then there was Sanctuary Games with Tales of Gargentihr, which seems to have slipped out with almost nobody noticing and disappearing without a trace.

Then, in the 2000s, there was Contested Ground Studios, which was mostly Malcolm Craig (now an academic who has left his RPG publishing career behind) and buddies. They’re the odd group out in this trio because they actually ended up producing other RPGs subsequent to their debut game – indeed, they are mostly known for the Cold City/Hot War duology of indie RPGs set in a weird occult take on the Cold War (or World War III). But their first RPG, a/state, absolutely and 100% fits the model of Scottish publishers going really high-concept with their settings (and making them somewhat grim and grimy whilst they’re at it). As far as the success of such settings goes, a/state sits somewhere between Gargentihr and SLA; like SLA Industries and unlike Tales, it had a few supplements produced for it, but like Gargentihr and unlike SLA it sank into obscurity, never got republished, and is basically no longer even a blip on the radar as far as general availability goes. (It’s up on DriveThruRPG, but so far as I can tell Malcolm Craig doesn’t intend to do anything in terms of active promotion or continued development of the line.)

I think I might be one of the few people who, once upon a time, ran a short a/state campaign, having been attracted to it because it’d also done a somewhat pretentiously weird-for-weird’s-sake RPG setting for Oxford University RPGSoc’s weekly freeform LARP and I’d picked up a/state out of curiosity concerning how they handled that sort of game. Whether I’d ever run a second game, now that the novelty of the setting has worn off somewhat… well, let’s think on that.

Continue reading “A Refereeing Rorschach Test”