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.

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