In earlier reviews I went over the setting and character generation of Tales From the Loop and now it’s time to look at this game from the GM’s perspective. What sort of dangers and obstacles can kids expect to run into in the area around the Loop? Read on and find out.
It Starts with T
First of all, the dangerous elements in this setting are called “trouble” and the more I think about that the more I like it. First and most obvious, this is really thematic. Adventurers get into battles, kids get into trouble. Secondly, this is a nice and broad term that can cover a lot of different areas that are part of this genre.
When you run into a Trouble, there can be a few different consequences. Much of the time you might suffer a condition if you fail; these were mentioned last time but essentially they are dice pool penalties with a descriptive name: upset, scared, exhausted, or injured. If you run all the way home from school, for instance, and you fail your move check you will become exhausted. This means when you get home you take a die out of your sneak check to get in through the window without your parents realizing you’re out late. If you fail that check you get grounded and tick the upset condition. Now you have two fewer dice from each pool until you lose one of your conditions.
Like with other Fria Ligan games you roll a pool of d6s and count up the number of sixes you roll. Usually you just need one success but additional successes let you “buy” Effects (listed for each skill). You can also use your Iconic Item (mentioned last time) or your Pride (that one’s once per story) to give you extra dice. Conditions reduce your pool (as mentioned above) and spending a Luck point lets you reroll all your failed dice, though you can’t do any manipulating after that reroll.
The other thing you can do to help with overcoming Trouble is to push the roll. You dig down deep and find determination beyond your few years, then reroll any dice that don’t show sixes. This costs you a condition (“I remember Mike taunting me and I just effing lose it because I’m upset.”) which means if you push and fail then you might end up with two conditions.
One condition we haven’t mentioned yet is Broken. This is the end of the line, you automatically fail every check you make with this condition. If you want to be a tool as a GM then you can make this the consequence of a roll but I think it’s probably the result of failing too many times. When you are supposed to tick a condition that’s already applied then you pick another one (“Now you’re extra exhausted and you’re upset too.”) so if your character is upset, scared, exhausted, and injured already and they have to get another condition then they’re broken and out of commission… Not necessarily dead but having a real bad day. Also bear in mind that if you have all of those conditions on you then your dice pools are already at -4. Yikes.
Finally, if you are all busted up you can spend a scene with your Anchor (the person you count on to cheer you up) and get rid of all your conditions. This means that conditions probably stack up through action scenes and then there’s a break where the kids recover and take stock of what they’ve figured out. This is both a way to avoid having this game about kids get too grimdark and a reason to keep piling on the action like you see in 80s movies.
There are two chapters in here that I’m skipping over because I really can’t do them justice with a brief summary. There’s a chapter on “The Mystery,” that core question that the kids are trying to figure out, and another on “The Mystery Landscape,” creating a sandbox environment to mess around in. They are really great but probably aren’t going to help someone decide if they’re getting this game.
What I do want to talk about are the pre-written mysteries. There are four (!) in the book and they each look at something pretty different in this setting. Since there are likely players reading this as well as GMs I’m going to talk in only general terms. Still, even a cursory overview of these stories should have your mouth watering.
The mysteries are all gathered together into a series called The Four Seasons of Mad Science deals with a scientist experimenting with dangerous technologies. As the name suggests, each of these stories takes place in a different season so you’d be able to take your kids through a year of their lives and possibly launch the next one.
The first is called Summer Break and Killer Birds which starts things off in that staple of a story about kids: summer vacation. While they’re out exploring the Mälaren Islands or Boulder City (depending on where you’re setting your story) the kids find pigeons that are acting strangely and have stitches in their heads. Finding the answer involves going to find a reclusive ornithologist who might have answers or might even be responsible.
The second story is Grown-Up Attraction, which is not as sultry as you probably thought (if you think like me) but does involve some less-than-childish themes. While Killer Birds focuses on how weird it is to live next to the Loop, Grown-Up Attraction seems focused on how weird it is to be a kid trying to figure stuff out. All the adults are behaving strangely and when an adult in the children’s life disappears and seems to have abandoned everything else. This is a great “kids have to save the day” scenario and is extra creepy taking place in the fall.
In the winter time there’s Creatures From the Cretaceous, which is more of a combative storyline than others in this series. While the children are enjoying winter break, they decide to make some quick cash finding a lost dog but quickly discover that the dog may not be “lost” so much as “a snack.” Something (I don’t think it’s giving too much away that it rhymes with “rhinosaur”) seems to be roaming the land and the kids will likely get in over their head really quickly. Unlike the earlier mysteries, this one ends up with a dangerous showdown that could be pretty serious for the children.
Last in the series, I, Wagner, brings in something that the mysteries haven’t touched on yet but which countless 80s movies have: robots. Like the last one, the title (a reference to Isaac Asimov not Will Smith) probably gives it away but the events will be something interesting as a dangerous robot comes into town during the balmy days of spring to wreak havoc. What won’t be obvious to the players, though, is that this mystery brings together the events of all the other ones in interesting ways so they will be rewarded for their in-game year of work. I seriously can’t say more without blowing things wide open so check it out for yourself.
If you buy one Fria Ligan product, make it this one. That’s not hyperbole, this game has an awesome setting thanks to Simon Stålenhag’s evocative artwork and the amazing talents of the team at Fria Ligan. This is also really accessible and does something that you can’t easily find other places. There are more games about playing little kids but this game hits so many of the right notes that if you are at all interested in this genre you can consider this a must-buy.
When flipping through a well-written RPG book I often think “man, I can’t wait to play this at the table” but this is one of those amazing books that I read and think “I need to cancel some plans and play this now.” Anyone up for it?