Tales from the Loop

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Game designer
5 out of 5 rating for Tales from the Loop

<style type="text/css"> [MENTION=11683]Page[/MENTION] { margin: 2cm } p { margin-bottom: 0.25cm; line-height: 120% } </style>This game is aboutme.

I was born in 1971so my formative years, the age range and era that this gamerepresents, are perfect. My memories and experiences are the thingsthat this game evokes, and I clearly remember the style, fashion,music and games of the 1980s with nostalgia and extreme fondness.

The 1980s were myteenage years so everything that happened in that decade made a hugeimpression on me, with tabletop games, the emerging computer gamemarket and the amazing adventure movies the era had to offer. Castinga shadow over all of this was the ongoing Cold War, a conflict that Ihad been born into and knew little about. However, the ever-presentthreat of nuclear conflagaration and the ongoing troubles inneighbouring countries were always pushed to the side, out of sightand out of mind. I was a teenager, so I had other, more importantthings to worry about such as the next school disco, or if I couldget to the games shop in the next city to get hold of the newestroleplaying book I needed.

The Loop universe isthe game form of artist Simon Stålenhag’s paintings of surburbanSweden in the 1980s, fantastic images of a normal landscape inhabitedby robots, strange towers and peculiar wrecks. The images themselvesare an amazing thing, and they not only create the atmosphere theygive the visual style that’s prevalent throught the book. The 192page hardcover has an excellent cover and the layout throughout iscrisp, easy on the eye and easy to follow. One thing Free Leaguealways does well is presentation, and this book looks great.

The game is set onMälaröarna, west of Stockholm, and concerns the ‘The Loop’, aparticle accelerator created by the government agency Riksenergi.There’s another facility in America at Boulder City in Nevada, butyou can create a Loop pretty much anywhere in the world. I’vealready made notes on one in the Peak District in England, hiddenunder the rolling hills with the towers rising high over Mam Tor. Thebook gives plenty of scope for your own adventures in your own partof the world, so no matter where you’re from the townyou’vecreated, or even your home town, could have a Loop underneath. Withrobots working in all civilian sectors, magnetrine vessels floatingthrough the air like cargo ships and liners, and strange creaturesand incidents popping into existence because of the Loop, there’splenty going on.

Players take theroles of Kids aged between ten and fifteen. The templates on offerare Bookworm, Computer Geek, Hick, Jock, Popular Kid, Rocker,Troublemaker, and Weirdo, although these are easily adaptable toother types of Kid the player may want to portray. They have normallives with school and family troubles – elements that the gamereflects really well – but they also go on adventures andexperience the stranger things the Loop produces. Think ‘StrangerThings’ meets ‘The Goonies’ meets ‘Super 8’ meets ‘E.T.’meets ‘The Explorers’ meets ‘Chocky’s Children’ meets justabout any other child-focused adventure movie or TV show you canthink of… kids on hair-raising adventures that grown-ups won’tever believe, and they can only rely on themselves and each other toget through it.

The game encouragesthe player to create elements of the character that create somethingmore than just some goofy teenager out of their depth; possible hometroubles, their social circle, bullying, teacher trouble, hobbies andtheir relationships with the other Kids all make for some excellentstory elements as well as some amazing roleplaying opportunities.

Players choose a Kidaged between ten and fifteen years, the older they are the moreexperienced they are but the less luck they have. They divide pointsbetween Attributes – Body, Tech, Heart and Mind – and these haverelevant Skills. Rolls are dice pools of D6s, adding Attributes andSkills together to create a number of dice, and any that score a sixgarners a single success. They’re the same mechanics found in FreeLeague’s previous games ‘Coriolis’ and ‘Mutant: Year Zero’and they work just as well here. Low dice pools can be extremelyfrustrating with continued failed rolls, but that just makes thesingle six that sometimes appears all the more exhilirating.

Failing a task canhurt a Kid, but the children will never die. They can be hurt whichresults in a Condition, which can be emotional as well as a physicalinjury. To negate these Conditions, a Kid can be helped out byfriends but can also turn to a supportive adult – a parent or ateacher or a kind relative – for help. This reduces the Conditionand gets the Kid back on track for another adventure.

The Kids themselvesget involved in Mysteries that are created by the Loop, Mysteriesthat the Kids become embroiled in whether it’s their fault or not,adventures that will introduce something that a child would findfantastical and possibly change them forever.

All said, the bookis an excellent example of a collaborative storytelling game doneright. There’s plenty of scope in here for the GM to createhair-raising adventures and play a traditional RPG where the player’sinteract with the story the GM has created, but the game positivelypushes for a more group-focused creative approach, where the playershave a hand in the setting and the dynamics of the group. Therelationships between the Kids and their peers are encouraged to helpdrive the narative and the roleplaying opportunities, so when theKids reach their final goal or uncover the mystery the emotionalimpact is so much more intense.

So, how did we geton with it?

The Loop createdunder the Peak District is owned by Oxford Age, agovernment-sponsored firm that has just been privatised. The threetowers, as seen on the front cover of the book, dominate thelandscape and the small village of Stuttabury (a made up place) sitsin their shadow. We created Stuttabury as it was something that weall had in common; we had all spent holidays as Kids in the PeakDistrict or places like it so we knew it well.

One evening duringsummer holiday, as the Kids are playing in a stream, one of them seessomething crawling down the side of the tower. Human-sized but withmultiple legs, the shadow creeps down and disappears into the woods.The next day, sheep are found killed but not eaten across severalfields…

The mix of Kids gavethe game an immediate sense of reality beyond the real-world locationwe were playing in. A Bookworm, a Computer Geek and a Troublemakermade up the group and to give a sense of a ‘Stranger Things’mystery (I asked the players to watch at least one of the seasonsbefore we played) I introduced an NPC friend, a Weirdo. Inevitably,this NPC friend who lived on one of the farms that had their sheepkilled, the first Kid to see the thing crawl down the tower, goesmissing and the Kids, after failing to convince the adults that theysaw this thing, have to find him themselves.

Straight away wewere not only involved in the game’s plot but we were emotionallyconnected to it, as well. We had spent an hour creating thecharacters and deciding their relationships with each other, and weeven ran through the last day of school before the holidays, withproblems from uninterested teachers, bullies and social awkwardness.It wasn’t played as some kind of ‘this is how I wish I was atschool’ angle, but in a more muted, ‘this is why I hated school’way with no glorification and no ‘defeating the bully to the cheersof classmates’ revenge fantasy. The rules called out for anemotional reflection on not only how the Kid was at school but alsogave enough hints to remind you what life, and the world, was likeback then. Playing the Kids as normal children just trying to get bywas incredibly rewarding and the connection that they had to eachother drove the narrative. The players really felt they wereinvolved.

Being a teenager ofthe 1980s was a huge advantage in the game for sure; the bookexplains the era but actually living it made it much easier for me asGM to evoke the period. The music, movies, fashion and the gloom of aBritain under Thatcher was easy to recreate, with references to theminer’s strike in the form of radio and television broadcasts, LiveAid, and the Kids getting excited about the new James Bond film ‘AView to a Kill’, which is what they were playing when they saw thething crawling down the tower. In fact, the missing Kid was playingJames Bond, so when they finally faced off with the thing it wouldnot let him go and kept referring to the Kid as ‘my friend Bond’.It added a whole new level of reality to the game and paid offexceptionally well.

In truth, there’snothing stopping you from setting the game in any other era; with alittle tweaking it could be set earlier, or later, in the 1990s orthe 2000s. However, the game’s heart is set firmly in the 1980s andthe political, cultural and social framework are well represented bythe setting. In fact, with the lack of mobile telephones, computersand all the gadgets we rely on these days ot makes for a much moreintense world as you can’t rely on a text message or GPS to get youout of the predicament you’re in.

There’s also acut-off point in the game; when a Kid reaches the age of 16 theyretire from the adventuring lark. However, I see no reason why agroup couldn’t create older characters and just cap the charactercreation points at the age of 16, and even go on to create adultcharacters for more mature stories. After the game we discussed whatthe Kids would be like all grown up, especially after experiencingthe thing on the tower, and what would happen if they found evidencethat would prove their stories were true after being disbelievedtheir whole lives. That’s a great concept, and it’s a story foranother time.

But that’s whatTales from the Loop does, it pulls this story out of you. Itrecreates an age I love and miss dearly, and it takes you back tothinking and acting as a Kid, reckless and ignorant, and it gives youa three dimensional character with heart and drive, which issomething that is sometimes sadly lacking in other RPGs.

Tales from the Loopis easily one of the best roleplaying games I’ve come across inmany years. It offers a wonderful setting and concept that allows youto be as creative as you please but grounds it in a reality thateveryone can identify with, one way or another. The setting of thebook is most emotionally resonant with myself, being a child of the1980s, but it can work as a straight forward adventure game foranyone of any age, and can even be moved to another decade with veryfew tweaks. I’m already having ideas of a game set in the 1960s.

If you’re lookingfor a crunchy simulation you’ll not find it here; the rules systemis simple and light and focuses more on the story rather than thestats. If, however, you’re looking for a game that is not onlyrewarding on a storytelling level but an emotional one, too, youcan’t go wrong with Tales from the Loop.

Highly recommended.

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

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