A unique take on roleplaying games, with a focus on discovery and wonder. And giant robots.
Once upon a time a wonderful Swedish artist created a range of artworks based upon a simple premise - recollections of his teenage youth, but with giant robots. The art that Simon Stålenhag created was wonderful; whimsical, nostalgic, and with just a hint of menace. It was so good that Swedish RPG writers Free League wrote a game about it, called Tales From the Loop, going first to a highly successful Kickstarter game, before getting published in English by Modiphius - the same guys who are releasing the latest Star Trek RPG.
I first saw the VERY beautiful hardcover book when my colleague Daniel Wilks' copy arrived earlier in the year, but I only just got one myself.
And it really is amazing.
The game's elevator pitch is pretty much just like the art it's based on - young kids with robots in the eighties. Or with dinosaurs, or airships, or... The more detailed premise is that the soviets invented some kind of super-tech in the 50s, and then two massive particle accelerators (the eponymous loop) were built in the late sixties. Now, in the 80s, it's very much our world, complete with things like Take On Me climbing through the charts, ET making audiences cry, and Miami Vice on television... but it's also one with anti-grav cargo ships, robots on the main street, and mysterious men in black running strange scientific projects just around the corner.
What makes Tales unique is that the game's many mysteries aren't to be solved by lantern-jawed heroes with a gun-fetish, but rather... Kids. The PCs are all aimed between ten and fifteen years of age, and their adventures are modelled more on The Goonies and Stand By Me than The Terminator. This is a game of whimsy and nostalgia, of discovery and invention, all balanced by the players' own memories of the troubles they went through in their own early teen years.
Sure, you might be programming that secret, runaway robot in your spare time, or investigating Old Man Timms' mysterious basement on the weekends, but you're also struggling with school, bullies, parents, and growing up.
Mechanically, the game is pretty simple - the basic rules only take up a few pages, and die-rolls are based around rolling as many D6 as you have points in a skill or stat, with sixes meaning a success. There are some neat tricks for automatically gaining that all important success, and some other nuances, but ultimately that's it. One very unique mechanic is that Kids never die - much like the material that the game is based on, they can get hurt or upset, or even break a limb, but death is off the table from the get-go. And even if you do have to deal with being hurt or upset, you can simply spend some time letting your Anchor - a trusted parent, older sibling, or well-liked teacher - look after you.
But you need to seek that out. It's a really elegant system that promotes vulnerability and trust.
The rest of the book is rich in setting notes - there are two default settings, one in Sweden, one in the US - and includes an impressive four starting scenarios. And, of course, a lot of that really, really gorgeous art.
I will be running my first session in a little while, and I have to admit... Tales makes me a little nervous. Gentle whimsy and games that don't involve either violence or serious conflict are not my strong point, so it'll be an interesting stretch. And I have to admit a certain trepidation to the inevitable necessity of playing an NPC bully picking on a nerdy kid - that's... rather too real for me.
But I also think that this game, and the right players, can help create some really beautiful stories about youth and innocence and growing up.