Last time I reviewed the setting of Tales From the Loop but a setting is nothing without characters. The PCs in this game follow the same general format as other Fria Ligan games but with a distinct twist because we’re talking about kids and 1980s archetypes.
To make a character you follow these steps.
- Choose your Type.
- Decide your age, from 10 to 15 years.
- Distribute a number of points equal to your age in the four attributes, 1 to 5 points in each.
- Determine your number of Luck Points, equal to 15 minus your age.
- Distribute 10 points in skills. You may take up to level 3 in the three key skills of your Type. For other skills, a starting skill level of 1 is maximum.
- Pick an Iconic Item.
- Pick a Problem.
- Pick a Drive.
- Pick a Pride.
- Define your Relationships to the other Kids and to the NPCs.
- Select an Anchor.
- Name your Kid.
- Write a short description.
- Chose your favorite song.
There are eight different Types of Kids in Tales From the Loop and they should be familiar to anyone who has watched any ’80s movies. Each of them come with suggestions for the later matters including Problem, Drive, and Iconic Item. They also list some ideas for relationships and typical names. Not for nothing, the girls names are listed first which is subtle but appreciated.
First up is the Bookworm, the classic know-it-all who’s got key skills that make them good at solving problems and figuring out riddles. In a setting like this one, those are extremely useful skills. Similarly, the Computer Geek is the tinkerer and hacker of the group with only a slight overlap in skills with the Bookworm. They are more focused but there are tons of computer applications in Tales From the Loop waiting for a chance to steal a robot or hack a lock. In fact, the main characters in Simon Stålenhag’s original books fall into this category.
The Hick is an interesting type since it’s a physical character archetype but also a mechanically-minded one. These farm kids know how to lift and move but also to how to get machines up and running. It’s important to remember that robots and electronic locks have physical portions as well as computer portions so a Computer Geek isn’t the only type you need.
Some other physical type is the Jock, who is purely muscle and movement. Following that are three social types. The Popular Kid is a leader and charmer while the Rocker is a quiet watcher who can read others. The Troublemaker is a mix of physical and social, able to lead but also good at sneaking and fighting.
Lastly, the Weirdo (basically, any character in a Wes Anderson film) has a strange mix of abilities and can probably fill whatever holes your group has in terms of equipment, connections, or interests. With the key skills of Sneak, Investigate, and Empathize there aren’t too many situations where they don’t have something they’re good at.
Unlike with other Fria Ligan games, the character type handles pretty much all of their mechanical details. After that’s chosen, the player is mostly filling out the rest of the sheet according to their type. The character’s Attributes are not specifically determined by the type but it certainly helps characters choose. Attributes range form 1 to 5 and you distribute a number of points in these equal to your Age, so older kids can do more.
So why not always play an older kid? Well, the older you are the fewer Luck points you have and these are pretty useful. You can spend Luck points to re-roll dice and you start each session with a number of Luck points equal to 15 minus your age. This puts a cap on the max age of kids (15) but also means that as soon as you turn another year older your Luck score permanently goes down by one.
After Luck, the player spends points on Skills. You get 10 points to spend on these and the maximum rating for each skill is 1 except for your three key skills where its 3. Obviously, this is a lot lower than other Fria Ligan games which makes sense since these are just little kids. They’re going to be quickly outclassed by anything else in the setting which prevents the awkward situation where you have ten-year-olds making a stand against charging dinosaurs or security robots.
You can pick out your Items freely, though the GM should disallow anything unreasonable. Items provide 1-3 extra dice on a roll but some items could just be props (like your favorite doll or a pack of gum) that don’t have any mechanical bonuses. Characters also have Iconic Items which are special to them (again, suggestions are in the character types) and grant two bonus dice and are never lost during the campaign unless the player wants it. So your Rocker will never lose her prized boombox unless you think it would be cool for her to give it to a friend or you like the drama of her leaving it as a distraction in a Loop facility. There’s also a section for Favorite Song which is a great way to get people thinking about their character while tying them to the 1980s setting.
Rounding off the character you have a Problem (the character’s weak spot or hidden secret), Drive (the thing that makes them want to figure out the mysteries of the Loop), Pride (the thing they hold most dear), and Relationships (their connections to the other PCs). There are also Anchors, the people that are most important in your character’s life, which can help you recover from debilitating conditions.
When I say “conditions,” by the way, I mean mechanical tags that get placed on your character during the campaign: Upset, Scared, Exhausted, Injured, and Broken. Each of these lowers your dice rolls by -1 (except “Broken” which is just an auto-fail) but you can suffer from multiple ones at the same time so you can really get screwed. You recover from conditions by spending a scene with an Anchor, something which reminds me of the Red Markets game by Roleplaying Public Radio’s Caleb Stokes. You know you’re doing alright when a “kid’s game” reminds you of a zombie survival game.
After the players make their characters, there are some matters for the GM to pull the party together (another common Fria Ligan tactic). A group of kids in the ’80s absolutely have to have a Hideout so the party should take time to work out the where, how, and what of that. This is what cemented the setting for me as a bunch of kids trying to figure stuff out, and it reminded me of the Film Reroll’s version of Stand By Me (Part 1 and Part 2) so… shout-out given, I guess.
After the hideout, the GM is prompted with a list of Questions to help the party gel together. There are some questions for players (“What do your parents do for work?” or “How are you affected by your Pride?”) and some questions for the group as a whole (“What makes you laugh?” or “What are you not talking about?”). This is my favorite part of the whole process and I think it’s a great way to get into the mindset of kids as well as help the story feel deeper. There are so many things you forget since being a kid, plus the hallmark of these sorts of stories is the pre-existing group that you happen into. There should be inside jokes, childish grudges, pecking orders, and a wonder of the world around you.
Next time, we’ll finish up this review with a look at the challenges you can expect in a campaign of Tales From the Loop, including a discussion of the two scenarios that come with the main book and some insight into the game’s mechanics.