Things from the Flood: A Review

Sequels can be a tricky thing to handle, especially when they promise a darker, edgier tone. Despite its much gloomier tone, however, Things from the Flood manages to avoid difficult-second-album syndrome with a game that neatly blends weird sci-fi mysteries and teenage drama, though sometimes it’s hard to tell which aspect is the most dangerous and unsettling.


A follow-up to the wildly successful Tales from the Loop, the new game is a stand-alone system that falls somewhere between a new edition and an expansion. Where the original was a brightly-colored, optimistic adventure starring wide-eyed 80s kids, Things from the Flood moves the action on by a decade and ages the cast up by a few years. Now the party is made up of surly teens with complex personal lives, and the world itself has lost much of its optimistic spark.

Just like in real life, the difference just a few years can make is terrifying. The small-town settings – one in Sweden and one in the US – have been ravaged by the titular flood, burying the mysterious labs that sparked off so many adventures in brackish water. All the fancy tech that explained away Tales from the Loop’s space-age gizmos is falling prey to a hideously organic disease and a strange illness is rendering the local adults apathetic and dull.

Of course, when the grown-ups are idle and ignorant, it naturally falls to the teens to pick up the pieces and investigate all the weird goings-on about town. This is where most groups will spend the vast majority of their time, hunting for clues and exploring the story.
The rules around escaping monsters, lying to cops and other adventurous shenanigans are simple enough to flow with minimal fuss, with players assembling pools of d6 based on their skill and trying to hit sixes for a success. Extra successes allow you to buy bonus effects, while failures in particularly tricky spots can lead you with negative conditions.

So far this is all very Tales from the Loop, but there are also a handful of mechanical changes that reflect the new, darker tone. Perhaps the biggest of these is that if you build up enough conditions your character can be killed off for good – something carefully avoided in the original. The luck mechanic is gone entirely too, and where kids got bonus dice if they brought their Pride into a check the teens get theirs if they’re fighting back against their Shame.

This is completely reflected in the settings and adventures too, with sex, drugs and violence splashed throughout the book. Though it’s hard to tell if Things from the Flood captures the reality of being a teenager it certainly does a great job of evoking a 30-year-old’s memories of being awkward kid fumbling around in adult’s body.

It’s all well-written and evocative of both the age and the era, but at times the darker, grittier tone can come on a little strong, making sessions feel like a Very Special Episode of a 90s sitcom rather than a relaxing night of gaming. Hitting the right balance will come down to the group, and – ironically – it seems that playing a game about hormone-charged, emotionally floundering teens requires players and GMs alike to act with a solid serving of maturity.

Ultimately, Tales from the Loop was an incredibly solid mystery game and Things from the Flood is built on the same foundations. The original is probably slightly easier to handle, but the follow-up offers a little more edge and bite that can do wonderful things in a group willing to commit to the tone.

This article was contributed by Richard Jansen-Parkes (Winghorn) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
 
Richard Jansen-Parkes

Comments

lyle.spade

Explorer
I'm interested to know how many people are playing TFTL. I made a huge splash when it came out and seemed like it was everywhere at once...and now I see virtually nothing about it in my various online groups; and no one runs it at any of the stores here in town. Sure, that's anecdotal and totally unscientific, but I still wonder how much this was a flash in the pan or if it's got staying power. Books selling well is good for revenue...but is anyone playing this thing?

The nostalgia bug tried to bite me over this one, I'll admit, but while I come from the 80s, and look back on that decade fondly, does this angle on it really make for a good game? I'm curious.
 
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timbannock

Explorer
I'm interested to know how many people are playing TFTL. I made a huge splash when it came out and seemed like it was everywhere at once...and now I see virtually nothing about it in my various online groups; and no one runs it at any of the stores here in town. Sure, that's anecdotal and totally unscientific, but I still wonder how much this was a flash in the pan or if it's got staying power. Books selling well is good for revenue...but is anyone playing this thing?

The nostalgia bug tried to bite me over this one, I'll admit, but while I come from the 80s, and look back on that decade fondly, does this angle on it really make for a good game? I'm curious.
To add to the anecdotes, I've had the same perception. I backed the first kickstarter, got my books and gear, read most of it, and was like, "this is really cool! I have no idea how I'd run this with my group." So it took a back seat. Then it got filed well away.

And then once I noticed a layer of dust on the book, I sold it off. I've still got the digital stuff, but there's little chance of me running it. I'd play it in a heartbeat though...but I've yet to see anyone running a game of it since around the time of the hardcover's first arrival. Granted, I'm not looking terribly hard, but I am fairly active in a lot of communities, so it *seems* telling.
 

lyle.spade

Explorer
To add to the anecdotes, I've had the same perception. I backed the first kickstarter, got my books and gear, read most of it, and was like, "this is really cool! I have no idea how I'd run this with my group." So it took a back seat. Then it got filed well away.

And then once I noticed a layer of dust on the book, I sold it off. I've still got the digital stuff, but there's little chance of me running it. I'd play it in a heartbeat though...but I've yet to see anyone running a game of it since around the time of the hardcover's first arrival. Granted, I'm not looking terribly hard, but I am fairly active in a lot of communities, so it *seems* telling.
On the nose! I have seen the digital version, and a buddy picked it up at GenCon in 2017, but we've not played it in our group and I know no one who has.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
I'm interested to know how many people are playing TFTL. I made a huge splash when it came out and seemed like it was everywhere at once...and now I see virtually nothing about it in my various online groups; and no one runs it at any of the stores here in town. Sure, that's anecdotal and totally unscientific, but I still wonder how much this was a flash in the pan or if it's got staying power. Books selling well is good for revenue...but is anyone playing this thing?
We play it on occasion.

My gaming group has played together since the mid-90s, and over that time some people have moved away or otherwise become too busy with life to play regularly, and other players have joined in. But every now and then, we get some of the Old Guard together and when we do, we've figured that Tales from the Loop makes for a good game for a series of one-shots. It's not very complex, so we can usually play a full mystery in a single long session. And it so scratches that nostalgia itch.

But I don't think it's a game I'd like to play on a weekly basis. It is very much a sometimes food.
 

schneeland

Explorer
To add to the anecdotes, I've had the same perception. I backed the first kickstarter, got my books and gear, read most of it, and was like, "this is really cool! I have no idea how I'd run this with my group." So it took a back seat. Then it got filed well away.

And then once I noticed a layer of dust on the book, I sold it off. I've still got the digital stuff, but there's little chance of me running it. I'd play it in a heartbeat though...but I've yet to see anyone running a game of it since around the time of the hardcover's first arrival. Granted, I'm not looking terribly hard, but I am fairly active in a lot of communities, so it *seems* telling.
I have seen two games of TftL announced for the semi-annual meeting of a popular German RPG community, but that's basically it. I'm still not willing to sell of my copies and have vague plans to run a game or two for my friends next year, but I would agree that for most people this is just (very good-looking) shelfware.
 

Skywalker

Explorer
I have just finished running the scenarios in the book and the Mystery Compendium. Its been an absolutely blast to run and super easy with the resources provided.
 

ishmadrad

Villager
Is there more "crunch" in this game? Particularly for the PCs. If memory serves me well, the other one had PCs very similar to each other. They had no "feats", nor advanced "Moves" a-la PbtA style.
 

Skywalker

Explorer
They are similar in crunch. The main mechanical distinction between the archetypes is the favoured skills as you can only have 1 in a skill to start unless favoured. Other than that, it’s more a points buy system for PCs than a class based one. Prides do provide a lot of mechanical distinction too but they are bound to archetype.
 

Scott2167

Villager
So far this is all very Tales from the Loop, but there are also a handful of mechanical changes that reflect the new, darker tone. Perhaps the biggest of these is that if you build up enough conditions your character can be killed off for good – something carefully avoided in the original. The luck mechanic is gone entirely too, and where kids got bonus dice if they brought their Pride into a check the teens get theirs if they’re fighting back against their Shame krogerfeedback survey
 

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