There’s a new set of great offers up on the Bundle of Holding, featuring Tales from the Loop, Things from the Flood and Coriolis. Offer 1 and Offer 2. Having run and tinkered with all of these games, I thought I’d pull together a couple of posts which have some resources for online play, thoughts on running them, alternate mechanics, and even an adventure. Today I start with Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood.
TALES FROM THE LOOP
I wrote a post with a mini-review and some thoughts about running the game back in 2017. You can see that here.
Since then I've run Tales another dozen times and I think it holds true but a couple of other points have stuck with me.
- First, go simple with the mysteries. I know that seems obvious, but try to have a clear through-line for the plot. This might not be for the reason you think. You want to keep them simple because you want to give the players space to do those home, family, and school scenes. If everything revolves around the mystery and there’s tons of plot points to follow, then those entanglements draw away from the life of these characters.
- Second, your kids’ hideout is one of the most important factors in the story. Take time to describe it and get the players to contribute how their kid makes this place their own. Location’s important here as well—ideally the hideout’s not far away from everyone. It should be accessible.
- Third, make it clear early on that adults aren’t helpful. Yes, the characters may have connections to adults in their backstory, but even these NPCs are prone to misunderstanding, having other obligations, or foisting them off on someone else who they think might be better suited to helping them.
- Fourth, you really want to take the time to build your own setting, your own locale for the Loop. Find an area you know, trace & rework an existing map, decide for yourself how far out things range. Write down the names of local places you recall. Re-write the Relationships to NPCs sections of the character templates. This last one is important. Just creating those will build a universe of stories and ideas. You’ll have a stronger sense of your setting.
- Sidenote: it isn’t that the US or Norwegian settings are bad. They aren’t. But they’re very particular and I think hard to generalize. This is even more true in Things from the Flood, but it’s also in play here. Make your own 1980s. If that isn’t your era, then find a good film or series set in those days and use that.
- Fifth, one of the biggest issues kids will have in these stories—unless you a) have great public transport or b) the town’s really small—is getting from one place to another. It’s worth hitting that once or twice, but don’t keep leaning into that factor. It’s a challenge when it pops up once or twice, but an irritant when it keeps recurring.
- Sixth, have a list of media from the period—songs, movies, games, etc. Having each kid pick their favorite song is a really fun exercise—but some players won’t know the period and you don’t want to leave them out. Here’s a sample list
- Seventh, some players will go to violence as an option. It makes sense as you have a couple of the Iconic items which could feasibly be used as weapons. But the system doesn’t really support that. Any move to violence—especially against other people should be costly. Make a kid mark a condition if they want to lash out like that, and give them the option to reframe it in terms of intimidation or something else. This is especially true if kids want to use violence against older kids or teens.
- Eighth, it can be easy to forget that tales takes place in an alternate reality with some differences in tech. Remember to describe the airships, robots, and other weird devices which are completely mundane and ordinary. Especially in contrast to massive, bulky tech like VCRs and portable phones.
- Ninth, if you’re comfortable with improvisation and play, just start the characters in the middle of a hot summer day and something weird happens. In my session, they found a big, buzzing frog with cicada wings. That kicked everything off.
- Finally, here’s a link to a decent starter mystery I wrote for Tales from the Loop. I’ve run this online and at conventions.
THINGS FROM THE FLOOD
Things is a strange beast. Even more than Tales, is it baked into a really specific culture feeling and place. I talked a little bit about that on the Gauntlet Podcast here. The bottom line is that there is a huge difference between the early 1990s in Europe and the United States. Massive—and the Things from the Flood setting’s built on a certain cultural feeling of change, despair, and Economic anxiety, that just isn’t present in the US during those years. So you have to consider that if you set your Flood locale somewhere else.
- You can see my “Things to Know About Things from the Flood” document here. It’s a mix of the book’s advice for players and my own taken on the cultural situation which tries to split the difference.
- Here’s my maps for the Midwestern City I used before and after the Flood.
- Sample list of music from the period
- Adapted character archetypes for TftF
- A combined online character keeper for Tales and Things
Thoughts on Things from the Flood
- I cannot stress this enough. If you want a great Things from the Flood game, run a Tales game and then move the story forward. The book doesn’t offer much in the way of guidance for doing that—essentially it’s make a new character and give them the same name. But I will tell you having that experience together as younger kids and then figuring out what has happened in between the two campaigns just makes things rich and deeper. It’s really good.
- The conditions from Tales from the Loop don’t fit for the teens in Things from the Flood. Teens have more complicated reactions and emotions. Instead we created a short list which players could pick from when they marked a condition (Anxious, Bruised, Confused, Exhausted, Frustrated, Isolated, Saddened, Shaken).
- Things from the Flood focuses on teens—but what that means can vary wildly. Your safety definitions and tone discussions need to be robust.
- I haven’t really talked about it, but I generally take a “mystery landscape” approach when I run Tales and Things. Where I use the scenarios and materials from the books, I tend to scrape out the pieces I want to use. Often the scenarios presented either feel overly elaborate or off tone. I think that’s even more true with Things where your characters are about living day to day and trying to survive in strangeness. Find the bits you like and just use those.
- I mentioned above the question of violence. In Things from the Flood, there more room for those kinds of actions and stories. But I still think you need to be cautious. Teens are not adults—they may think they can do things like intimidate 20 somethings or build a bomb, but that has to be put into the context of the character. It’s a tone discussion and you need to be willing to stop to negotiate that in play if someone takes actions which feel wildly off from the reality you’ve established.
- Things from the Flood is about decay and the breakdown of the promise of technology. In some ways it’s about the betrayal of adults selling out the future of our teens. And wow that could be dark. But I don’t think it has to be. I think the stories are better when they’re about the teen’s growth and coming to terms with how they approach adulthood and responsibility.