Frequent guest poster Keith Garrett has been getting into Tales From The Loop recently, and he’s been writing about it on his blog. He decided to doff a red hat and swing over with some of his articles about this awesome looking game. Check out the first one below. – Nostalgic John
I’m hooked on a new roleplaying game called Tales from the Loop. It came out just a few months ago, and puts players in the roles of kids dealing with strange things in an “80s that never was.” And I like it so much that I’ve been writing blog posts about it every day this month.
A Little Background
The game is inspired by the paintings of Simon Stålenhag, who depicted realistic scenes of an alternate Swedish suburbia in the 1980s. Stålenhag’s art featured robots, dinosaurs, giant floating vehicles, and other weirdness alongside Swedish scenery and curious kids. In 2014, Stålenhag’s art saw print in the Tales From the Loop art book (2015 for the English version). A second art book, Things from the Flood, followed in 2016.
In November 2016, the art books’ Swedish publisher, Fria Ligan (Free League), launched their Kickstarter project for the roleplaying game set in the world Stålenhag created. This is when I first found out about all this coolness, and jumped on board immediately. At the time, I thought it was inspired by Stranger Things, not realizing Tales From the Loop predated that show! But it IS certainly inspired by E.T., and Goonies, and similar 80s-era movies and shows featuring plucky kids.
The game started shipping in April 2017. My copy arrived on April 24th. I was only a few pages in when I fell in love with the book, and realized I needed to tell the world about it, whether they wanted to hear it or not!
What’s the Game Like?
Remember all that cool stuff I said is in the art books? Robots, technology, dinosaurs, weirdness? The RPG features all that cool stuff too!
In Tales from the Loop, players take the roles of Kids aged 10-15, living in a town that contains a giant underground particle accelerator. The default setting of the game is the Swedish Mälaren Islands, but the book also details an alternate American setting, Boulder City, Nevada.
The game’s rule system is a simple one, based on another Free League game called Mutant: Year Zero. Players roll a number of 6-sided dice equal to the value of an attribute plus a skill that is appropriate to what they’re attempting, and any 6 rolled counts as a success. (Usually only one success is needed.) The game also includes ways to re-roll failures in interesting ways.
When creating your Kid, you’ll start with an archetype (such as Bookworm or Weirdo) and customize it. Some of the ways you’ll make your Kid unique are your Iconic Item (such as a boom box), your Problem (e.g. unrequited love), your Drive (e.g. motivated by thrills), your Pride (e.g. I’m the smartest kid in school), your relationships to other Kids and NPCs, and your Anchor (such as your parents or science teacher).
In addition to the rules and setting info, the book has tips on creating Mysteries (the game’s name for adventures), four complete Mystery Stories, and a Mystery Landscape—a mini-setting useful for sandbox play without a predefined plot. Also, on page 185, you’ll find my name as a backer. (If you meet me at a con or something I’ll autograph that page for you.)
When I first started showing this game to my friends (and extended friends on social media), I was surprised at how quickly it inspired rabid interest. In addition to interest among other gamers, I also saw enthusiasm from people who said that although they weren’t roleplayers, this would be their first roleplaying game. The first time I ran the game, one player (of six) had never played an RPG and another had only played once. I was also happy that 4 out of 6 of the players were women.
The game even has one of my die-hard players saying she prefers Tales from the Loop over my favorite game, Ghostbusters. (Heresy, I know.)
Since I’m certain part of the appeal of this game is the similarity to Stranger Things (and 80s nostalgia in general), I decided to capitalize on this and decorate the play area for our Tales from the Loop game. It went so well, and was so much fun, that I wanted to share our ideas with you. Use them for the premiere of your own Tales from the Loop game, or (with minor modifications) for any game set in the 80s.
The first thing I knew we needed to evoke Stranger Things was a set of Christmas lights draped across the alphabet. My decorating genius (and former Ghostbusters loyalist, may her fandom rest in peace) Jenny achieved this by writing the letters on the window using a washable window marker and then stringing lights back and forth across the window. (The result is in the image at the top of this article.)
Another way you can evoke Stranger Things at your gaming table is to print signage using a Stranger Things type generator, such as the one at MakeItStranger.com. Use this to print out signs, character tents, or other handouts.
One last Strange Thing you might do is show your connection with the character Eleven by serving frozen waffles before or during the game. I think they make great finger food snacks when paired with fruit, peanut butter, jelly, chocolate, whipped cream, or hazelnut spread.
Since Tales from the Loop’s primary setting (and its publisher) are in Sweden, I also wanted to represent the country in some way. Since I live near an IKEA store (and I’m too cheap to fly to Sweden for a blog post), I raided it for Swedish decorating inspiration.
Mostly in the form of edibles.
Our Swedish food centerpiece was a large bag of mixed candies (or Lördagsgodis). In addition to this I can recommend Swedish chips, cookies, crackers, and jelly. (The latter went well with the waffles.) If the event hadn’t been at a vegetarian’s house, I’d have brought Swedish meatballs.
Hey, Remember the 80s?
Now let’s talk about the real star of the show: the 80s. Even non-gamers have 80s-themed parties, so finding decorations—or even costumes—to represent the decade shouldn’t be difficult.
My prize item of 80s nostalgia was a genuine Trapper Keeper that survived its journey through time in excellent condition. Since I didn’t have the official GM’s screen for the game, I improvised! The Trapper Keeper did a great job of keeping those meddling kids’ eyes off my notes.
I also recommend turning your game room into a museum of 80s culture for the game, using whatever items you can find. Display old electronics, such as the Commodore 64, Atari console, or Walkman in your attic. Set out other artifacts from the period like a Rubik’s Cube or Magic 8-Ball. Serve retro snacks like candy cigarettes, Big League Chew, and Pop Rocks. You might even leave a trail of Reese’s Pieces to help lure in any visiting extraterrestrials.
For background entertainment as the players arrive, you might play music videos from YouTube. If you don’t have an actual running computer or console from the period, you could run emulator software on a computer and have a game of Pac-Man or Frogger on display.
Make a Bitchin’ Mix Tape
Once the game begins, you’ll probably want to switch from music videos and electronic games to a playlist that will serve to complement tabletop play. In my game, I did this in three different ways.
For general background music, I created an instrumental playlist consisting of thematically appropriate 80s movie soundtracks. I like these instrumentals as my default because sometimes songs with lyrics can be distracting during play.
Then I made a playlist containing popular songs from the 80s. (This was pretty easy for me, because that’s pretty much how I describe my music library anyway.) I like having these songs on hand to remind the players of the game’s setting in a non-visual way. It’s a handy playlist for when the PCs are at a dance, or playing out a montage scene, or one of them feels the sudden impulse to breakdance.
One last thing I did was to create a playlist for each player character. One of the entries on the Tales from the Loop character sheet is “Favorite Song.” After everyone at the table finished telling the group about their main character details, I quickly downloaded all the songs they mentioned—the few I didn’t have, anyway—and used them to start a playlist for each Kid. I plan to add to each of these over time and use these playlists when we switch to the occasional solo scenes the game suggests. This will serve as an extra cue to the players as to which Kid is in the spotlight, and perhaps give these scenes a different feel.
That’s it for my ideas. If you enjoy decorating your gaming area to match the theme of your game, I’d love to hear about how you do it in the comments!