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Friday, 12 July 2019

[Free RPG Day 2019] Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court

Now in its twelfth year, Saturday, June 15th is Free RPG Day and with it comes 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. Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court is a bit of both. For starters, it is a scenario for use with theKids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns roleplaying game published by Renegade Game Studios, but it also feeds into the publisher’s forthcoming roleplaying game, Teens in Space.

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!

Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court provides a town, a set of five pre-generated investigators, and a mystery to explore. The town is Hebron, Indiana, a quiet place with a combined school for all of the town’s children, a grocer’s, a gas station, and a bowling alley for socialising and entertainment. There is not a great for Kids to do in the town, though the school organises numerous after-school activities and clubs. One of the after-school clubs is the Investigation Club, set up by several of the students, but not really endorsed by the school, to investigate mysteries in the town as well as research monsters and how to deal with them. The Investigation Club definitely does not have the support of School Principal Davis, but there are other members of the faculty who can be persuaded by the club’s members to look the other way when access to the right research material or resources is needed. The other issue, of course, for the members of the Investigation Club is Zane Madison, the school bully, and his cohorts. 

Five pre-generated Kids (or investigators) are given. They include an eager Boy Scout, a Popular Kid and athlete, an insightful Conspiracy Theorist, an ambitious, but Stoic Professional, and a wealthy, but Reclusive Eccentric who likes to invent things. All five come with a short background and a couple advantages and disadvantages, so are easy to read and use.

The mystery in Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court takes place during the summer vacation of 1985. There have been rumours of monsters in the nearby woods and things been moving outside windows, but this weekend the head of the Investigation Club has decided that the club’s members are going to investigate a strange, abandoned house at the end of Poplar Court on the edge of the town. The adventure plays out in three acts, the first act being essentially a haunted house mystery which sets up the second act—a monster hunt! Under the direction of an NPC, the Kids are encouraged to hunt down a quartet of monsters which have got loose in the town. The creatures are not evil per se, but all are designed around the Universal Classic Monsters though the Kids will not necessarily know this (the players on the other hand…). As part of the Monster Hunt, the Kids will need to research each of the monsters, track them down, and then capture them before returning them to the house. Tracking down each one is an adventure in itself, played out across the sandbox that is the town of Hebron. The third act is a whole other matter…

The sandbox structure of the second act enables the Game Master to bring in the various NPCs and places into play, depending upon what the players decide their Kids to do. To that end, both NPCs and locations are neatly summarised and each of the monster quarries is given a list of clues for the Kids to discover as well stats and some staging notes for the Game Master.

Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court is neatly, tidily presented. Although both the front and back cover are nice colour pieces, the inside is simple black and white with not a single illustration in sight.

As an adventure, Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court offers a bit more play than just the single session that a quick-start typically provides. If there is an issue with ‘The House on Poplar Court’ scenario it is perhaps the ending, which goes off in an unexpected direction. It is designed as a lead in to Teens in Space, but it would have been nice if an alternate ending had been provided for the Game Master who does not want her campaign to go in that direction. That it can work with the Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition is a nice bonus, but Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court is a decent little adventure, one which provides some fun with some classic monsters for Kids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns.

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