Tabletop Spotlight: Tales from the Loop

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Tales from the Loop is an award-winning RPG set in an 80s that never was. Join us for a look inside!

Okay, yeah, I know saying award-winning might sound a little haughty, or maybe a little marketing-y. But, Tales from the Loop is excellent. It deserves all the awards it won (including best rpg at Gen Con last year). It just wholeheartedly embraces its genre  (Kids on Bikes by way of ET, the Goonies, and Stranger Things) and finds unexpected treasures within it. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

In case you can’t tell, I love this game. It just so perfectly captures the spirit of a sci-fi 80s that never was. Set in rural Sweden (though there are options for playing in America), Tales from the Loop casts players as children and teens in the midst of a small town that just happens to be above the titular Loop, the nickname given to the massive supercollider that exists deep beneath the earth. From time to time, something emerges as a result of the Loop’s strange science. That’s where the adventure comes in.

Tales from the Loop has a lot to offer prospective players and gms. On the player side of things, the system is pretty streamlined. It’s easy to pick up, but still fun to play. A big part of that is the way it structures the challenges–Tales from the Loop is a narrative-focused game. It’s not as tactical as, say, D&D or Pathfinder, but then the scenes it’s encouraging don’t really fit that idiom.

You won’t be taking up arms against a giant robot mech and rolling to hit it’s armor or anything. Kids survive because of their wits and quickness. Or even better, because of their empathy. Whatever the method of interacting with the world, the way these scenes play out feels more satisfying with the system they have in place. Build a die pool from an attribute and skill, roll them and count successes. The rest is all modifiers and roleplay–which is where the system shines.

They really hit the nail on the head with their toolset for encouraging roleplay. And they make it matter–one of the ways the system deals with damage, both physical and emotional, is with scenes of real life. A kid might have a moment with a father who just doesn’t understand, but is trying. Or you might see a birthday party, where the shy kid opens up. It’s how the game makes you deal with consequences, and it’s so compelling. It feels like everything the genre does right and Tales gives you the tools to make that happen at your table.

There’s an expert blend of real life stuff and the strange machinations of the Loop that’s delicious enough to keep you coming back for more. And any game master wanting to get better at presenting/running mysteries will find the campaign section invaluable. It’s a masterclass in structuring that kind of story.

So head out to the old field, befriend a robot, and go through the bittersweet pangs of coming off age today.

Just trying to keep you all in the Loop…

  • Philippe Boucher

    Credit: Simon Stålenhag for the art.

    • erion

      The whole game / kickstarter was designed / based on his works.

      “Step into the alternate ’80s universe created by scifi artist Simon Stålenhag in this retro RPG, in the vein of ET and Stranger Things.”

  • Elijah Herstal

    Bit of a niche RPG, it seems. I can’t say this offers anything more than ‘fluff’, especially since the words ‘narrative RPG’ are thrown around.