Tales from the Loop is a new roleplaying game from the Swedish publisher Fria Ligan. It’s a game where players take on the roles of kids in an alternative 80’s, based on the artist’s Simon Stålenhag visionary artwork. If you liked Stranger Things, E.T. and Goonies, you should take a look at Tales from the Loop.
Lately I’ve been quite interested in why Sweden is emerging as a super-power in the roleplaying games industry. There seems to be an endless supply of great and original games from Sweden, e.g. Trudvang Chronicles and Coriolis, and it seems to me that there must be something special happening in Sweden that can explain this rise of many great and interesting games.
Fria Ligan (or The Free League) was founded in 2011 after the publisher Jarnringen Forlag closed down. Jarnringen had published roleplaying games, amongst them the sci-fi rpg Coriolis. Fria Ligan took over the rights to publish material for that game and later they got the license to publish material for the post-apocalyptic roleplaying game Mutant. Fria Ligan updated the system for Mutant and the renewed edition was called Mutant: Year Zero (for those of you who are active on the rpg part of Reddit, Mutant: Year Zero is the game of the month at the moment). The English edition of that game was published in 2014 in collaboration with the English publisher Modiphius Entertainment.
Tales from the Loop was published this year following a successful Kickstarter Campaign in 2016. Using Kickstarter to fund publishing of roleplaying games seems to be something that Swedes are good at, for there are quite many good, even established Swedish games that have been translated and published this way. Perhaps this is something that other countries could learn from Sweden, I know that there are some great Norwegian, Finnish, Danish and even Icelandic games, that could be of interest to the international roleplaying community.
Tales from the Loop won five Gold Ennies (Best of Best Best, Best Writing, Best Interior Art, Best Setting) at the GenCon World RPG Award in August 2017. So, it’s with high hopes that I bought the game and started reading through the main rulebook.
The 80’s that never was…
In Tales from the Loop players take on the roles of 10-15 year old kids growing up in the 80’s, but these are not the 80’s that we old dogs remember. There are many similarities, but the technological level is different. There were some great discoveries after World War II, and seeing Russian Magnetrine transporters, called Gauss ships, which is a sort of anti-gravity ship, is not that uncommon.
The game takes place in small communities that are close to huge particle accelerators, called the Loops. These Loops were built in the 60’s and though the populace do not know much about what scientific experiments go on there, but stories circulate, since there are wardens patrolling the area around the Loops, to take care of “wild animals”, and the people working around the Loops get ill. Those who get this so-called “Loop Sickness” often suffer from depression, nightmares, rage, alcoholism and drug use, and some of the worst cases end in suicide. Mysterious, right?
The grown-ups are not bothered about this, all wrapped up in their own problems and therefore it falls on the kids to investigate the mysteries. There are many strange rumours about the Loops and the neighbouring areas, so that the PCs have ample opportunities to explore and investigate.
Tales from the Loop is a great setting for anyone who loved E.T., Goonies and all those great movies with a group of kids in leading roles from the 80’s. The setting, the 80’s that never was, offers everything you remember from that time; VHS, mix tapes, 1st edition D&D, the Bomb and the Cold War; but it also has robots, strange technology and flying anti-gravity tanks. Still, Tales from the Loop isn’t about the technology and you couldn’t say that it is a sci-fi game in that sense. It has more in common with Stranger Things than a science-fiction roleplaying game.
Speaking of Stranger Things, Tales from the Loop offers a great way for you to play a game that is in a way based on the popular TV-show. It’s easy to see that the strange experiments done in the Loops could open some alien and weird connection to some dark dimension, who knows, perhaps Riksenergi or ARPA have discovered something which has enabled some people to harness the power of their minds, like Eleven.
Still, even aside from the Stranger Things likeness, the setting is interesting and well thought out. There are many adventure hooks and the designers have left more than enough room for the Storyteller and the players to make their mark.
Principles of the Loop
There are a few principles to playing Tales from the Loop, stated out in the rulebook. This is something that I haven’t seen in many roleplaying rulebooks, since most designers simply assume that players suspend their disbelief and happily allow themselves to be submerged in the settings and fantastical worlds of many different roleplaying games.
The principles are six and lay the groundwork for the setting and how games in Tales from the Loop are played. There are two things that I find especially interesting, the first one is that the Kids, i.e. the PCs, do not die. The world around them is dangerous and the Kids can get seriously hurt, both physically and mentally, but death is not a part of the game. It’s therefore the role of the Game Master to ensure that the excitement and tension that often is in roleplaying games is conveyed to the Players via other channels. The fear of a character death can be a great motivator for many players and has often more impact on the their decisions than many of them would probably admit.
But this is not a bad thing, since it offers a whole new approach to roleplaying and I don’t mean that players will act recklessly. The Kids probably won’t see much combat, though they might get into a lot of trouble. So the players will need to resolve their problems using more brains than brawn, just as the kids in Goonies, E.T. and Stranger Things did. This is something that might not interest all roleplayers, especially those who are more combat minded, and perhaps they should look elsewhere for new roleplaying games to play.
The second thing I’d like to mention is the co-operative nature of the game. As a part of the principles, players of Tales from the Loop are not only encouraged but empowered to take part in the narrative and describe the world with the Game Master. I really like games with this co-narrative element and I think that not only empowers it the players, but it also makes them more invested and engaged in the storytelling.
It’s the Final Countdown!
It’s no wonder that this game got so many Ennie awards. It looks great, it feels great and the book is stunningly beautiful, even on par with Degenesis: The Rebirth. I like the fact that it’s semi-sci-fi and has enough room for me to add whatever flavor I like, be it aliens, strange technology or even Lovecraftian horror.
I showed the book to my two teenage kids, and they can’t wait to try the game out with their friends. Tales from the Loop might also be a great game to introduce roleplaying to new, younger players, for the book is visually stunning and the setting accessible yet fantastical.