Things from the Flood RPG is billed as the sequel to Tales from the Loop RPG. Both are based on the world created by Simon Stalenhag. I’ve not yet read Tales from the Loop in the game or conceptual art book, and it turns out that it doesn’t matter. Things from the Flood stands by itself. If you don’t quite want anything from the Kids on Bikes genre and want something more dangerous, edgier, then you can skip straight Things from the Flood without bother.
In The Loop Universe of the 90s life is far bleaker than it was in the 80s. The innocence and wonder of being a kid are gone, and it has been replaced by the angst and drama of being a teen.
There’s been a Pole shift. In the mythology of the game, scientists discovered a way to harness the Earth’s magnetic fields so that huge magnetrine ships could float over land and this enabled cheap and efficient transportation of cargo. Now, in Things from the Flood, the Earth’s magnetic poles flipped, and the magnetrine ships are now useless, most of them rusting hulks left to dot the landscape. That pole shift feels like the change from the carefree wonders of the 80s to the conflicts of the 90s.
You don’t have to read between the lines, though, to work out the tone for Things from the Flood. You’re told up front. The game is run under six principles, they speak for themselves and are;
- Everything changes, everything falls apart
- Everyday life is full of demands, boredom, and conflict
- The mysteries are exciting but dangerous, and only you can stop them
- You are neither kids nor adults
- The game is played scene by scene
- The world is described collaboratively
Things from the Flood is an Earth setting (ish) with mixed technology, and I think this mix of everything changing and the old world, the old wonders, falling apart is a dominant aspect of the game.
The Loop is a massive particle accelerator in Sweden (the default setting) or in America (the alternative setting). In this RPG, The Loop has been closed by the government, bought and asset stripped by a private corporation, flooded and finally mothballed. This one-time source of amazement now feels like a lurking danger. It feels like a potential mistake and a problem that the next generation will inherit and have to face.
After the flood at The Loop, the machine cancer came. This is a weird condition that effects electronics and machines that causes them to sprout strange brown growths and fall into disrepair. It’s spreading.
It’s not just the machine cancer that is speeding the old technology, once so promising, into the shadows of the past but actions of mankind as well. In the 90s of Things from the Flood, we have just invented the internet, and our PC teens might have access to dial-up modems but, at the same time, we’re through with robot-based AIs. The artificially intelligent robots of the 80s are now hunted, seen as a threat rather than a hope. Humanity’s direct action, its violence, against the robots was brutally effective. They’re gone.
The illustrative opening scene in Things from the Flood deals with a band of friends trying to investigate a murder, sneaking to a field to try and re-active an old machine that was left to rot there in the off-chance that its systems recorded any information about the crime.
In the world of Things from the Flood, it seems the adults aren’t much better than the machines. The economy is in tatters, many adults are depressed, or willfully ignorant or solely dedicated to being able to feed their family for one more day. It’s an implicitly dark setting and one that explains why the teens of the world are the only ones able to see when something’s not right and the only ones who might do something about it.
If you’ve lived through the 90s, like this reviewer, then it might feel a little weird reading an RPG that takes the time to tell people what music, movies and games were popular back when. If you’re used to RPGs describing alien and exotic worlds, then it’s quite a twist to have one describe something far more familiar.
Things from the Flood characters
In Things from the Flood, characters are known as teens, and they’re easy to generate. Teens have four attributes; body, tech, heart and mind. Those four attributes each have three skills. That’s not quite it. Fleshing the teen PCs out are drives, shames, relationships, hooks and anchors. These are all story hooks, plot twists in waiting and reasons why the Teens are hanging around together to investigate mysteries in the first place.
The system adds d6s together (skills + attributes in most cases) and only 6s count as a success. When dice are rolled, as a rule, players just need one 6 to succeed.
There are some exceptions to this. The GM can run an extended scene or might have introduced a big monster or enemy which requires more than one success.
One of the many things I like about Things from the Flood is its native and elegant system to let GMs toggle up the threat and danger levels. When the core mechanic is merely a bunch of d6s with a single 6 being needed then it straightforward to layer over complexities.
Things from the Flood is often a thoughtful RPG. I mean by this that game designer Nils Hintze has thought of questions GMs and players might have and answered them. An example of this is the table that converts the tumbles of d6s into the percentage probability of success.
I like how Teens die.
Now, there’s a sentence that needs some explaining!
There’s no health count or hit points in the Things from the Flood RPG. Instead, Teens have a minimal set of ‘scars’ they keep track of. It runs in this order; Upset, Scared, Exhausted, Injured and Broken. You can’t succeed on any dice roll at Broken. Whenever your Teen gets a scar after their first one, you roll a dice, and if that number is lower than the number of scars you have then your character is retired. This is the death mechanic in the RPG.
You get to decide how your character leaves the game. So let’s just say its a fight that leads the Teen into getting one scar too many then you have some options on how to roleplay the aftermath. You have the option of having the PC found dead by their friends, or a sort-of rescued and taken to hospital with time enough to say goodbye but not pull through, or perhaps even a softer scenario where they survive but are so severely spooked that they and their family move out of the country.
Another example of how Things from the Flood favours collaborative storytelling is in the game’s lack of initiative or melee turns. Fights progress as makes the most exciting and enjoyable scene for the players. I consider this a plus but concede it might be a little hard for groups wedded to more traditional models.
Things from the Flood mysteries
Trouble and mysteries are what keeps the Teens of Things from the Flood busy. Trouble are monster, enemies and encounters. Mysteries are scenarios.
The core rules actually set out a way to structure Mysteries and then later use this structure to describe a host of them. Checking back at the six principles of how the game is run we can see that the right thing to do is to move from scene to scene sensibly rather than tell the story like a road movie (or Lord of the Rings). We also see that we do have to deal with the Teens everyday life too.
Nils Hintze’s structure for composing and then running Mysteries works well to ensure these principles are followed. That’s important. Things from the Flood wouldn’t feel like the same RPG if it was all weird science and dangerous situations. It needs the contrast of the fantastic with the chores of the mundane.
If the idea of moving scene by scene makes Things from the Flood feel as if it has a TV series vibe to it, then it might be interesting to know that it has a ‘GM mode’ that might make it feel a bit like a computer game. You can run Things from the Flood with episodic Mysteries. This is the style that most D&D groups would use; effectively chaining scenarios together under the wider auspices of a campaign. In Things from the Flood, you can use the ‘Mystery Landscape’ approach instead.
The Mystery Landscape suggested by Things from the Flood is effectively a sandbox model. The GM starts with a map, decorates it with it with exciting locations and inserts a reason for the game’s Teens to be interested in each.
At first, I worried that the Mystery Landscape would create a situation where PCs could explore areas that were too dangerous for them early on or too easy for them later on. After testing the system, though, I can see why that won’t be the case. It’s up to the GM to toggle the difficulty level and decide whether to request dice rolls. Given how Things from the Flood’s mechanics work it ensure that no Trouble is easier or harder than the GM wants it to be.
Things from the Flood art
This RPG is gorgeous. It’s clean and comfortable to read thanks to a thoughtful layout. Okay, one exception which will only apply to the PDF pages 18 and 19 split horizontally, and so you have to read the top half over two pages, scroll back and then read the bottom half. Except, page 20 picks up from the top half.
As you might hope, what brings this RPG to life in a visual way is the fantastic art from Simon Stalenhag (and Reine Rosenberg). Usually, I would credit the artists for successfully bringing the game creator’s world to life. It is the other way around for Things from the Flood, the exciting world created by Stalenhag and which we can see in the game’s illustrations, is done justice by the RPG design and considerations.
In art, we get some reoccuring elements. The Krafta logo often pops up. Krafta is the company which bought The Loop and tried to run it before the flood. There’s a robot out in the wilds dressed in the tatty remains of a rainbow coat. We see a lot of this fellow later on in the book. It’s the machine cancer that is the most striking element for me and which hints at quite a severe corruption. I’m reminded of the Wyrm from the original Werewolf: the Apocalypse setting.
I thoroughly enjoyed first flicking through Things from the Flood and then reading it correctly. I enjoyed playtesting the mechanics and creating some Teens.
Of the top of my head, I can think of a dozen gamer friends who’d love this RPG. I can think of one or two who’ll not take to it, though, and this latter group tends to get more enjoyment from the science of designing characters to score maximum mechanical game bonuses.
I suspect if your reaction to looking at Things from the Flood is to think; “that looks good” then it will be. It won’t disappoint.
Review based on the first release of the Kickstarter version of Things from the Flood.