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Thursday, 12 July 2018

Free RPG Day 2018: Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition

Now in its eleventh year, Saturday, June 16th was Free RPG Day and with it came an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. The contribution from Renegade Game Studios is Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition, a version of the collaborative storytelling roleplaying game just for Free RPG Day 2018. Funded via Kickstarter, Kids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns is a roleplaying game of small town life before there were smartphones in everyone’s pocket—so no access to cameras, the internet, and GPS which would make investigations into the mysterious and the unknown all the easier. Although the mysterious and the unknown may found around any corner and behind any door, it is the kids who are ready to believe and ready to investigate. The only way for them to investigate and confront such mysteries and unknowns is to work together, know their strengths, and be prepared to ride like hell when the mysteries and unknowns turn on them and their meddling!

The Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition presents a cut down version of the full game. It starts by discussing the setting of boundaries, the Game Master and her players being expected to agree on what they want and do not want in their game—what they want to see, what they are okay with, what they want to gloss over, and what they want to avoid. The point is all about be being respectful to each other, especially in light of the fact the players are going to be roleplaying children. Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition omits though, both rules for setting creation and character creation. In the full version of Kids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns, everyone collaborates on creating the small town where their kid characters will have their adventures. Here it presents a town called Undecided—sic!—so named because nobody could agree on an actual name and then on what to change it to. Undecided stands amidst miles of forest whose only other feature is a lake. On the edge of the town stands a mine entrance with a cemetery and pet cemetery on either side, whilst teenage life in town seems to revolve around the Space Lanes Bowling Alley and Flying Robot Arcade. Then with spring coming, so will the fair and its Fabulous Freak Show. That said, every player gets to add a single rumour to Undecided, the veracity of which may—or may not—be proved in game.

In place of character creation rules, Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition includes four pre-generated Kids, four pre-generated Teens, and four pre-generated Adults. Each has six stats—Brains, Brawn, Charm, Fight, light, and Grit—which are attached to a die type, from a twenty-sided die for the character’s best stat down to a four-sided die for his worst stat. The ten-sided die represents an above average stat, whereas an eight-sided die represents a below average stat. A character also has a pair of Strengths, such as Lucky, which allows a player to spend two Adversity Tokens to reroll a stat check, or Treasure Hunter, which allows a player to spend one Adversity Token for his character to find a useful item. Each of the twelve characters also has two questions, such as “What do you remember most about your father?” or “What are two of your go-to jokes?”.  

In this quick-start, each player chooses a character and answering a question about the relationship his character with the character of the player to his left—good or bad (a list of twenty questions for each is included at the back). Then each player notes down his character’s motivation, fear, and what might be found in his backpack. Given that this is a quick-start, there is a surprising amount of advice for all four of these final steps, reflecting the complexity of the characters, whether Kids, Teens, or Adults.

Mechanically, Kids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns uses the full polyhedron panoply, with of a character’s stats being represented by a single die type. For a character to do something, player rolls the appropriate die for his character’s stat and attempts to roll over a difficulty number set by the Game Master, for example, between ten and twelve for an impressive task that a skilled person should be able to do. When a die is rolled and its maximum number is rolled, the die explodes and a player gets to re-roll and add to the total. A player only has to keep rolling exploding results until his character succeeds. The Game Master also decides whether an action is a Planned Action or a Snap Decision, although a player can attempt to persuade her either way. Primarily, a Planned Action allows a player to take the average of a character’s stat and so forego the need to roll, whereas with a Snap Decision, this is not possible. 

It is possible to roll critical successes and failures as well as easy successes and failures. The former have long term consequences, whereas the latter have short term consequences. In general though, successes enable the player to collaborate with the Game Master to narrate the outcome, whereas the Game Master mostly gets to narrate the outcome if the roll is a failure. One other consequence of failure is that a player earns Adversity Tokens for his character. These can be spent to provide bonuses in stat checks, other players being able to spend theirs on another player’s stat check if it is a Planned action, as well as to trigger particular strengths. Combat employs these same mechanics, but for the most involves Snap Decisions and characters rolling against each other or NPCs to gain narrative control.

So far so good. If Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition—and thus Kids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns—had been released prior to 2016, then its inspiration would not have been so obvious, but that is not the case and so the inspiration is obvious. That inspiration all but announces itself with the rules for ‘Powered Characters’. The Powered Character is not a player character though, but then nor is she or he an NPC solely roleplayed by the Game Master. Instead, the Game Master creates the Powered Character, deciding their reactions, powers, personality, and so on, but apportions each of these aspects out to the players so that they collectively control the Powered Character together with the Game Master. This further emphasises the degree to which the players have narrative control over the flow of events in a game of Kids on Bikes, but the Game Master can use the Powered Character to nudge events here and there. A few sample Powered Characters are provided for the Game Master to use—they include others besides the young subject of government experimental program, as well as places of interest in the town of Undecided, some NPCs, and plot hooks.

Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition is plainly and simply presented, with just the single internal illustration. The writing in general is pretty good and it is all very readable. Overall, a good showcase what for what the Kids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns can do, there being plenty of gaming potential to be had in the pages of Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition.