Get Some Cards for Your Spokes: A Kids on Bikes Review

On first instinct I was going to make a Stranger Things reference and link game and show in a rather obvious way. Then I got to reading in depth Kids On Bikes from Renegade Game Studios and I knew that would be too simplistic. So grab your BMX and let’s take a little ride down to the spooky side of town.

The terms collaborative storytelling and narrative are used quite a bit these days in role playing discussions. Many games are designed with both of these in mind while others suggest their use even when the mechanics don’t support them. KoB absolutely falls into the category of getting how to create a collaborative storytelling role playing game. From character creation to conflict resolution, the players and the game master are encouraged to work things out together, to narrate outcomes, and to fail forward when it comes to tests. Players receive Adversity Tokens that they can use for tests later in games and the KoB suggests some early failures in a session may be of some benefit. I also think this fits well into the narrative approach to the game, where drama is derived from the growing tension. So failure is an option.

One process I enjoyed was how in character creation, the players built actual relationships with one another. Questions are asked of one another and having a negative view of another character is not discouraged. Again we see a subtle nod to tension as a tool. Of course your players need to buy into it, but the process seems to favor an easy buy in. No one should have any issue figuring out character creation since it is done together as a group. Each player has a stake in some aspect of their characters of their fellow players. There is even an option for creating a powered character controlled by all the players. Regular characters are just that: normal everyday people taking on the weirdness.

A sizable portion of the book is dedicated to creating what can only be called a safe place for the players. It offers brief discussions of race and gender and devotes time to setting boundaries in the game. This is good advice at any time but seeing these integrated into the game’s canon and mechanics reinforces the idea. Although one can play adults in Kids on Bikes, clearly you are encouraged not to. Options exist for young kids and teens, so a frank discussion on boundaries would have been mandatory in any event. So important are boundaries that they are the first “section” of the book on page 3.

Aesthetically the book is a pleasure to hold and look at. Letters are easy to read and page numbers are gloriously obvious. The art evokes thoughts of Eerie, Indiana and American Gothic. KoB fits nicely into one hand for holding and referencing when needed. It also easily fits in a backpack; whether this was intentional or just a coincidence, it is still a nice tie into the game where backpacks are important to the characters. A comic at the beginning gives an example of what an adventure might look like. Chapter headers and the table of contents are informal, but stand out and leave no room for ambiguity. I never needed more than a few page flips to find what I was looking for. There are also a ton of examples. This is the deluxe edition so there are adventure modules in the back. This is a nice touch and each one is short and succinct.

My only gripe with the game is that some of the sections might have been organized differently. For instance, the Tropes appendix could have been near character creation. All in all, I would recommend picking up Kids on Bikes, written by Jonathan Gilmour & Doug Levandowksi. Let’s Ride!

This article was contributed by Sean Hillman (SMHWorlds) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
 
Sean Hillman

Comments

Bagpuss

Adventurer
I think the book really needed to include a couple of powered characters as examples. It had loads to support building players and the world but very little GM support, by comparison. There is actually more support in the Free RPG Day PDF, they put out, why these four pages (covering sample locations, NPCs, adventure hooks, threats and powered characters) weren't included in the actual book is a mystery (worthy of some kids investigating?).

Other sections are also light on guidance for the GM.

Combat Encounters section for example, kids often get into scraps but according the book -

"Remember, there are no safe fights in this game. Any time physical conflict occurs, a character might die. Once players decide to attack each other, amisplaced blow could hit a temple or a throat. There are no “pulled punches” or “called shots.” Every fight could be fatal."

Then the very next sentence says -

"That said, of course the GM should allow a playful (or even somewhat aggressive) shove or a nuggie — or even somewhat hostile wrestling — without risk of anything serious."

Well which is it? Because if you roll 10 more than the opponent, then they are dead according to the rules, the Brutish Jock (d20 in Brawn) stands a good chance of killing someone every time they throw their weight around.

Although not that the Jock is ever likely to be able to do that with another player's character because

"For combat between two player characters, the GM must confirm that both players are comfortable with their characters combating each other. Because of the possible consequences of in-game physical violence, if both players do not agree to it, the story will need to take a different direction."

who's likely to agree if they stand a high chance of just being shoved could mean they stumble and crack their head open on the sidewalk?

I think considering how much disputes within the group that often lead to kids fighting is part of the genre, and how the relationship questions set up some conflicts, this is a weak part of the system, and could have done with more guidance.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Von Ether

Explorer
Combat Encounters section for example, kids often get into scraps but according the book -

"Remember, there are no safe fights in this game. Any time physical conflict occurs, a character might die. Once players decide to attack each other, amisplaced blow could hit a temple or a throat. There are no “pulled punches” or “called shots.” Every fight could be fatal."

Then the very next sentence says -

"That said, of course the GM should allow a playful (or even somewhat aggressive) shove or a nuggie — or even somewhat hostile wrestling — without risk of anything serious."

Well which is it?
I took it to mean that the playful shoving or a nuggie was narrated in play, not a combat situation. i.e., a player saying, "I playfully punch him in the arm," doesn't mean you roll for initiative.

I guess the phrase "somewhat hostile wrestling" is an awkward way to say horseplay.

I guess it could have been stated as, " ... if players wish their characters to engage in horseplay with no malice, there's no need to roll dice, just let the players role play." I'd even settle with just saying "horseplay."
 

Eponymous

Villager
I think the book really needed to include a couple of powered characters as examples. It had loads to support building players and the world but very little GM support, by comparison. There is actually more support in the Free RPG Day PDF, they put out, why these four pages (covering sample locations, NPCs, adventure hooks, threats and powered characters) weren't included in the actual book is a mystery (worthy of some kids investigating?).

Other sections are also light on guidance for the GM.

Combat Encounters section for example, kids often get into scraps but according the book -

"Remember, there are no safe fights in this game. Any time physical conflict occurs, a character might die. Once players decide to attack each other, amisplaced blow could hit a temple or a throat. There are no “pulled punches” or “called shots.” Every fight could be fatal."

Then the very next sentence says -

"That said, of course the GM should allow a playful (or even somewhat aggressive) shove or a nuggie — or even somewhat hostile wrestling — without risk of anything serious."

Well which is it? Because if you roll 10 more than the opponent, then they are dead according to the rules, the Brutish Jock (d20 in Brawn) stands a good chance of killing someone every time they throw their weight around.

Although not that the Jock is ever likely to be able to do that with another player's character because

"For combat between two player characters, the GM must confirm that both players are comfortable with their characters combating each other. Because of the possible consequences of in-game physical violence, if both players do not agree to it, the story will need to take a different direction."

who's likely to agree if they stand a high chance of just being shoved could mean they stumble and crack their head open on the sidewalk?

I think considering how much disputes within the group that often lead to kids fighting is part of the genre, and how the relationship questions set up some conflicts, this is a weak part of the system and could have done with more guidance.
Really you touch on the one part of the game I really dislike. We table ruled that "kid-on-kid" or 'kid-on-"grown-up's"' is caped at 1-3. Guns and Beasties et al are "uncaped" and it works a treat.

Mac.
 

Bagpuss

Adventurer
Really you touch on the one part of the game I really dislike. We table ruled that "kid-on-kid" or 'kid-on-"grown-up's"' is caped at 1-3. Guns and Beasties et al are "uncaped" and it works a treat.

Mac.
I assume that is unless they are using a weapon of some sort. Nice house rule.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Advertisement

Advertisement

Top