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Sunday, 13 September 2020

[Free RPG Day 2020] Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start

Now in its thirteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2020, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 25th July. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been 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. Again, global events meant that Gen Con itself was not only delayed, but run as a virtual event, and likewise, global events meant that Reviews from R’lyeh could not gain access to the titles released on the day as no friendly local gaming shop was participating nearby. Fortunately, Reviews from R’lyeh has been able to gain copies of many of the titles released on the day, and so can review them as is the usual practice. To that end, Reviews from R’lyeh wants to thank both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles.

The Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is the second title for Free RPG Day 2020 to be ‘Powered by Kids on Bikes’, the other being Kids on Brooms. Published by Renegade Games Studios and based on the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse graphic novel series, the players take on the roles of Junior Braves, essentially the equivalent of young scouts who are have gone away on camp for week to learn outdoor skills, good citizenship, and teamwork. Unfortunately, since they went away, something has happened, something which has caused apocalypse and brought society to its knees. Of course, being away from their family, friends, and society at large, the Junior Braves have no idea exactly what happened, so part of playing through the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is about establishing what happened as much as it is establishing contact with their friends and families.

The 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start comes nicely complete. It includes a good explanation of the rules, six pregenerated Player Characters, and a sandbox ready for a group to play. In this way, it is complete and presents a ready-to-play package in a way which Kids on Brooms failed to be.

Instead of character generation, the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start includes six Tropes—or basic character types. These are Honcho, Rustic, Ruffian, Tinkerer, Dreamer, and Tribe Master—the latter the leader of the troupe whom the Game Master roleplays as well as the NPCs. Each of these has its own special ability. For example, when the Dreamer earns a Brave Token—the equivalent of luck points or tokens—his player must give one to another Junior Brave, and the Ruffian gains a +3 bonus to solve problems involving force or chutzpah when his player spends a Brave Token. As per Kids on Bikes, each Junior Brave is defined by six stats—Brains, Brawn, Charm, Fight, Flight, and Grit—to 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. So, a Honcho has a Charm d20, Fight d12, Grit d10, Brawn d8, Brains d6, and Flight d4, and a Rustic has Brawn d20, Charm d12, Flight d10, Brains d8, Fight d6, and Grit d4.

Tropes in the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse and thus the quick-start do not have skills, but in keeping with the theme of the game, they have Skill Patches, each sewn onto their Skill Sashes. Example Skill Patches include Orienteering, Woodworking, Knots & Ropes, Radios & Codes, and Sign Language. Each of these grants a +3 bonus to skill rolls—or possibly +1 bonus if only tangentially relevant. A Junior Brave will also have a Flaw, which can complicate his actions and increase the Target his player needs beat on a die roll. If a Junior Brave fails a roll due to his Flaw, he earns two Brave Tokens rather than the one usually awarded for failure. Lastly, a Junior Brave has some equipment and gear, stored in his ‘Pack and Pockets’. These consist of a pocketknife, sleeping bag, and a canteen, plus three items he would have had with him on the camp. Some of these are limited use items and will likely run out during the adventure included in 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start.

Mechanically, the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start uses the same mechanics as Kids on Bikes, Teens in Space, and Kids on Brooms, with each of a Junior Brave’s stats being represented by a single die type. For a Junior Brave to do something, his player rolls the appropriate die for his Trope’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. A player can add a +3 bonus if his Junior Scout has an appropriate Skill Patch and a +1 bonus for any Brave Tokens he wants to spend—or his fellow players want to spend if their Junior Braves are collaborating. However, complications increase the difficulty of the target number by three for each one. If the die roll beats the difficulty number, the Junior Scout succeeds, but if the roll is equal to the difficulty number, then he succeeds at cost, as in ‘Yes, but…’. It should be noted that the mechanics in Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start that player-facing in that only the player roll dice—the Game Master never does.

A potential cost of failure is Stress and Trauma. Stress typically consists of bruises, cuts, scrapes, panic attacks, depression, and other forms of distress. Stress can add a complication to an action, but overnight rest or reassurance can get rid of Stress. However, should a Junior Brave suffer more than four Stress, he suffers from a Trauma. This represents serious injury or distress and until the Junior Brave recovers—which takes either medical treatment or weeks of rest—he cannot use one of his Stats.

Just as the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse categorises damage into Stress and Trauma, it divides its adversaries and dangers into Troubles and Threats. Troubles are the overall danger, the ultimate cause of the danger that the Junior Braves must face and , such as a zombie uprising, alien invasion, and the like, whilst Threats are individual parts of the Troubles the Junior Braves will encounter upon returning from camp. Notably, Threats are scaled down in Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse, so if a town is taken over by a biker gang, Junior Braves will deal with a few of the Bikers rather than whole gang. The point is that as much as Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse is a post-apocalypse roleplaying game, it is lighter in tone and scaled to the capabilities of the Junior Braves, who are , after all, still children.

Rounding out 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is a complete set of starting characters, as well as ‘Perils at the Pit-Stop’, a complete campaign starter. The Junior Braves return home from camp and taking a break from the journey in the town of Penelope, discover the clerk at the gas station was dead and zombie-like. What has happened and is it like the zombie television show the Junior Braves are definitely not allowed to watch? ‘Perils at the Pit-Stop’ includes a full description of the town, its current factions, and hints at some of the mysteries going in within its boundaries. It is essentially a mini-sandbox, a place for the Junior Braves to explore and make discoveries, and so there is no single defined plot or outcome, though there are several Troubles which they will encounter.

Physically, the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is a simple black and white booklet. It is well written, the artwork is good, and the map nicely done.

Like other ‘Powered by Kids on Bikes’ roleplaying games, the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is easy to pick and up and play, the rules are simple—made all the easier by being player-facing, and the set-up easy to grasp. Unlike Kids on Brooms, the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start comes with everything necessary to play. So with just the five characters and the given scenario, ‘Perils at the Pit-Stop’, the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start should provide both a couple of sessions’ worth of play and a good introduction to the full roleplaying game and the setting.

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