With a few players down for our usual Hollow Earth Expedition group, we decided to kick the tires on Tales From the Loop. This is a game that’s been getting a bunch of good press — it’s an ” ’80s that never was” game where you play middle school/early high school kids investigating a weird techno-world in Goonies-style adventures.

We used the canned Boulder City, NV setting — it’s a real town, so I hit the interwebz and pulled down as much info on the 1988 BC as I could. We did character creation for three players in the space of a half an hour, using the checklist they had to let the players define the kids’ trouble, pride, and other elements of their personality and family life. We had the trailer park troublemaker who was the leader/defender of the group, his best friend and wannabe musician, their photography geek buddy. They would later be joined by the latchkey kid with a nurse for a mom (“punk rock!”), and the ham radio/phone phreak.

I ran the Our Friends the Machines adventure, more because one of my players is a mover and shaker in the Transformers fandom and I thought he’d appreciate the “Go-Bots of Go-Bots” quality of the adventure. They tracked down the toys that were a distributed intelligence and used the ham radio to good effect to jam their signals and dumb them down. It ran so well, we opted for another adventure.

The system is dead simple: it’s a dice pool of one of your four attributes and the associate skill (if you have it), and maybe a die or two for an iconic item. Get at least one 6 for most things, maybe 2 or more if it’s a really tough task. We’ve been surprised by the number of times we get no successes. Fortunately, there’s a luck and a pride mechanic to let you roll failed dice. You can also “push” the test by taking a condition. The GM doesn’t have to roll, so it’s pretty easy to run the game. The kids can get tired or scared, or injured, but death is off the table, and you get healed up by hanging with your anchor (a person you trust and confide in) or hit the hangout/hideout together. The characters’ is in a bomb shelter in the backyard of the photo geek’s house, complete with bunk beds, a storage room, dumbwaiter to get things into the hideout, and a bar and TV.

Free League is making some great stuff and it is being distributed by the behemoth Modiphius. It’s running $50ish buck for the main book and it’s definitely worth it. Buy the GM screen for the full ’80s gaming experience. I’ve backed the Kickstarter for Things from the Flood the ’90s follow-up/sequel game and should be getting it in a few months. I’ve also picked up Forbidden Lands, their strangely old school-feeling fantasy game using a more complex set of these rules.

So, as you can guess by that last paragraph, I’d say it’s worth the price.

I’ve been browsing through the Tales From the  Loop book, and been doing observations and student teaching…there was a definite ’80s (and current) kid stereotype missing:


There’s just so much to do, and you’re really excited to do it all! Sometimes, tht means you enthusiasm gets ahead of your brain, or your body. Sometimes you don’t pick up on the social queues you should, but what’s next?

Key Skills: Move, Lead, Investigate

Iconic Item: Choose one or make up your own — Old bicycle, distinctive hat, toy robot (It’s more than means the eye!)

Problem: Choose one or make up your own — I have a habit of engaging my mouth before my brain. I have trouble concentrating for long. I tend to run into or hit people by accident.

Drive: Choose one or make up your own — I get excited about things really easily! I just want people to like me.

Pride: Choose one or make up your own — I climb like a monkey! Everybody likes me!

Relationship to other kids: Choose one for each kid or make one of your own — I’m in love with him/her. I think they are my best friend, even though they treat me badly. She/he takes pity on me. We are best friends.

Relationship to NPCs: choose two or make up your own — My best friend is keeping these little machines in his garage and won’t tell anybody…not even me! I heard the school bullies talking about who they wanted to beat up. My favorite teacher is suddenly in the hospital and no one knows what’s wrong with him/her.

Anchors: Choose one or make up your own — Mother/father, School nurse, the toy store owner.

Names: Come on…just pick one.

Update: Interestingly, this post seems to be causing some consternation over the word usage. (It’s big taboo in the UK.) However, it’s period appropriate for the ’80s. Moreover, it points out that all of the archetypes in the game as boxes into which a character has been dumped by their peers/society/whatever. Watch The Goonies or The Breakfast Club and even though the characters show they are more than their labels…they also occasionally embrace them as a badge of honor.