I am 38 years old. I was born in 1981. That puts my graduating year as 1999.
Have you started caring yet? Don’t worry, I plan on giving you many more dates and numbers inconsequential to your own life.
The reason I mention this is that my prime teenage years were during the sunset of grunge. The economic growth of the late 80s crashed into the recession of 1990. There was a sense of fatalism and that the cultural excesses of earlier times had robbed us of some important authenticity. It’s not a new story, as “The Catcher in the Rye” had been telling it since 1951, but it’s a good one. Nineties culture just made the story that much dirtier.
Now let’s jump ahead to March of 2017. Free League Publishing teamed up with Modiphius to release the “Tales from the Loop” rpg. It was an alternate earth in the 80s. Kids in Sweden and the US rode their bikes, watched VHS tapes, and played video games. The world was safe and parents just didn’t understand. The veneer of material success laid thinly upon the problems at home.
You played a kid in the 80s, riding your bike and solving mysteries that you couldn’t trust to the parents. It rode the coat tails of Stranger Things, which really catapulted the genre in terms of popularity. The game itself won a few Ennies and was really the break out success story of the year. It was a good game, full of innocence and nostalgia. For those that grew up in the 80s, it held a certain truth to it, even if that truth never happened.
Fast forward to now, June of 2019. I just got my copy of “Things from the Flood“, the follow up RPG to “Tales from the Loop.” It advances the game world ten years to the 1990s. The kids are teenagers now. The world is bleaker and the promises of the 80s have crashed into the sludgy surf. The decade got a lot more radical and subversive media seemed to be everywhere. It culminated with the WTO protests in Chicago in ’99, the year I graduated. People were revolting, social institutions stagnated at best, and music seemed ready to watch it all burn.
It was a good time.
“Things from the Flood” does a great take in putting its own spin on the ’90s, just as it did with the 80s. Despite the fantastical additions to the world of robots and magnetic floating trains, both games really captured the feel of the decades. TftF is full of dirty wonder, angst, and teenage hormones. For anyone who was the right age in the 90s, this game really hits all the buttons.
The mechanics don’t get in the way of the game world. TftF is meant to tell stories of emotions and strange happenings. Your character is not going to have a dozen combat specializations or anything. Its much lighter than that. In any situation, you roll a poll of d6s derived from your stats. If you roll a 6 (which is somehow a lot harder than it sounds) it counts as a success. You can push the roll, meaning you get to reroll it, but you might come to some sort of harm because of it. Enough harm and your teen is gone. Unlike Tales from the Loop, your characters can die in this one.
There is a dichotomy here. The game focuses on both a mystery, and the life of the teen. The locations in the game are built atop of a giant haldron collidor. As such, strange things happen. Teens disappear, weird helicopters are overhead, and robots sometimes run amok and it’s up to the teens to solve it.
At the same time, they have messy relationships, drunk parents, trouble at school, and a whole-fucking-lot of awkward teenageness. Running the game consisted of watching my players indulge in awkward crushes and falling into increasingly hard and real scenes. It was surprising how dark it got, mostly because it felt so real. This is a good one to use safety rules for.
In the end, the other teens were all the PCs really had. No one else could possibly hope to understand. This hardly meant the relations between themselves were harmonious; far from it. They were all making sense of a hostile and strange world together, however. It helped that they were able to sing along with Morrisey as they did it.
This was legit one of the more meaningful RPG experiences I’ve had in a bit. For me, it surpassed Tales from the Loop, though they are both great in their own way. We’ll likely be streaming more of it on Twitch at some point, so follow us on social media if you haven’t yet. Links are at the top left of the page. If you’re interested, check it out at Drivethru RPG for a pdf or Powell’s for a hardcover. Blast some Nirvana and get to rolling those dice.