Day 2 of the 31 day challenge, Tales from the Loop

I’ve played this one a few times at conventions, and I backed the Kickstarter a year or so ago for Things from the Flood, and bought the book from them. My Wife is planning on running a game of it for her niece and sister at some point. She’s doing a bunch of pregens though, so I wanted to build a character to see how it goes.

So, like Burning Wheel, there’s a multi-step process to building TftL characters. 14 steps to be specific:

  1. Choose the Type: There’s a list of 8 types, generally pretty good. I’m going to go with the “Computer Geek”, just for versimilitude.

  2. Choose your Age: Hm, 13 feels right. 7th grade is when I really remember starting to feel independent and spending a lot of time with friends.

  3. Choose your Attributes: Body, Tech, Heart, Mind. I divide my age (13) into them, and none can be higher than 5. Let’s go with Body 2, Tech 5, Heart 2, Mind 4. I’m a real geek.

  4. Luck Points: 15 minus my age = 2

  5. 10 points into skills: Sneak 3, Tinker 3, Comprehend 2, Investigate 2

  6. My Iconic Item is a Pocket Calculator.

  7. My problem is she doesn’t even know I exist.

  8. My drive is that I love puzzles

  9. My pride is that I’m the smartest kid in school

  10. I need the other players to make connections to the other PCs, but my relationships to NPCs will be that my friend Elisabeth runs a local BBS, and she found a bunch of folks posting encrypted messages that she cracked: WalleyeGuy mention her mother as one of the “targets”.

  11. Select an Anchor: The science teacher at school is really cool. He’s into theater, old pulp horror stories, and he has the mad-scientist hair!

  12. Name your kid: Marcus Loefler

  13. Describe your character: a scrawny kid, kind of pale, blonde and quiet, it’s easy to overlook him.

  14. Favorite Song: Michael Jackson - Thriller

And.. that’s it. Wow, compared to Burning Wheel this was a cinch. There’s no cross referencing tables, no complex interplay of extensive lists and formulas, just a few picks from a list tree, and distribute some points among a short list of choices. It took probably 15 minutes, and most of that was thinking of how I wanted to present the character, and how I wanted to make him seem. These two systems clearly highlight the difference between a Narrative game, and a Simulationist game. Burning Wheel strives to be a formula that builds realistic-feeling characters for a middle-ages europe that never was. It puts a lot of framework around the characters to push and pull them into that mold, making them fit that world. On the other hand, Tales from the Loop gives you some evocative setting stories, and then relies on the cultural touchstones or personal lived experience of the players to guide you to a realistic preteen from the ’80s that never were.

One of the complaints that I’ve had of “f20” roleplaying games for a while is that they’ve ceased to be Fantasy European simulators, and have actually just become D&D Simulators. There’s no real name for the genre that Pathfinder emulates except for D&D, with prolific magic items, magic-based economies, and vaguely democratic monarchies with rulers that have unlimited coffers for paying adventurers to seek out and destroy monsters that threaten their jurisdiction. The rules inform a specific type of universe, which doesn’t line up with the majority of the Swords and Sorcery genre that it’s theoretically based on. Trying to run one of the Appendix N novesl in D&D 5e would be awful for the DM and Players both.

Burning Wheel seems to solve that problem by re-writing the assumptions of the game to inform a very different setting. I think there’s a lot more versimilitude to it, and it probably lines up a lot better with things like Three Hearts and Three Lions or even things like the Song of Ice and Fire Series. But it doesn’t fit the same fantasy worlds as D&D.

But to bring this back around to Tales from the Loop, it takes a very different tactic towards Versimilitude. It doesn’t prescribe an exact world, it just gives you a few cultural touchstones, some vague references, and tells you to work it out with the folks at your table. Instead of a highly detailed rule system that pushes the setting to center on some abstract that the game designer thinks is important, it encourages you to find what you want out of the game system, and adapt it to your setting. I know that’s what I prefer from a game system.