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Sunday 6 September 2020

[Free RPG Day 2020] Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition

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.

Amongst some gaming groups, there is much anguish and wailing that there is no roleplaying dedicated to the Harry Potter franchise. This is not to say that there have been no pretenders to the throne, no attempts to something in a Harry Potter-style setting, but with the serial numbers well and truly filed off. For example, the Redhurst Academy of Magic Student Handbook was a d20 System supplement published by Humanhead Studios in 2003. In 2020, Renegade Game Studios supported Free RPG Day with an ‘ashcan’ version of Kids on Brooms. This is a collaborative role-playing game—using the Kids on Bikes model and mechanics—about life at a magical school, where as a teenage witch or wizard you will study various types of magic, cast spells using your wands, and participate in sports astride brooms you ride through the air! You will have adventures, face dangers and mysteries, and uncover the fantastic secrets of the school and magic!

The Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition presents a cut down version of the full Kids on Brooms rules. 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. The Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition omits though, both rules for setting creation and character creation. In the full rules for Kids on Brooms the players and Game Master gets to create their school of magic and the players roleplay pupils from all years. In the Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition, the setting is the Rainheart Academy of Magic just outside of Tacoma, Washington, an old Victorian manor house perpetually hidden from the normal world by fog, its surrounding trees and buildings covered with a fungus whose study is one of the more dangerous classes on the curriculum, and its primary sport being Branderball, a combination of rugby and bowling, only played, of course, on brooms. Also, the only characters available to roleplay are Underclass Students—essentially, First Years.

Instead of character generation, Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition includes six Tropes—or basic character types—and the means to modify them with the scope if their all being Underclass Students. These Tropes are Teacher’s Pet, Bullheaded Muscle, Firstborn Caster, Haughty Descendant, Offbeat Eccentric, and Reliable Bestie. As per Kids on Bikes, each student is 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. So, a Bullhead has a Brawn d20, Fight d12, Grit d10, Flight d8, Brains d6, and Charm d4, whereas an Offbeat Eccentric has Flight d20, Grit d12, Brains d10, Charm d8, Brawn d6, and Fight d4.

Each Trope also has its own Strengths—or advantages, for example Loyal & Prepared for the Teacher’s Pet and Spell Slinger & Wealthy for the Haughty Descendant, each of which grants an advantage during play. So Loyal for the Reliable Bestie grants each Adversity Token spent to help a friend a +2 bonus rather than +1 and the Intuitive of the Firstborn Caster enables his player to spend Adversity Tokens to ask questions of the Game Master, who must answer truthfully. A Trop also has a Wand, which consists of the Wood and the Core, both of which grant bonuses to casting particular types of magic. So Cherry Wood grants a bonus for Charm magic and Pine Wood a bonus for Brawn magic, whereas dragon’s heartstring, wolf’s tooth, and elk antler grant a bonus to Fight magic and parchment, phoenix’s feather, and owl’s feather to Brains magic. Every student also has his own broom, such as The Blocker’s Broom which grants the rider the Guardian Strength, a familiar such as an owl or a frog, and an expansive schoolbag (of holding).

Having selected a Trope and made all of these choices, each player answers a random question about the relationship between his Trope and the Trope of the player to his left. Then each player notes down his Trope’s motivation, fear, and what might be found in his schoolbag. Given that this only the Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition and the Trope or character options are fairly limited, there is a fair amount of advice given on the process.

Mechanically, Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition uses the same mechanics as Kids on Bikes and Teens in Space, with each of a Trope’s stats being represented by a single die type. For a Trope to do something, 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. When a die is rolled and its maximum number is rolled, the die explodes, the Trope gets a Lucky Break, and a player gets to re-roll and add to the total. A player only has to keep rolling exploding results until his Trope 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 Trope’s stat and so forego the need to roll, whereas with a Snap Decision, this is not possible.

In addition, Adversity Tokens can be spent to modify a roll on a one-for-one basis. If a Trope succeeds at a stat check, his player gets to narrate the result, whereas, if he fails, then the Game Master narrates the outcome. Failures tend to be worse for Planned Actions rather than Snap Decisions, but whatever the failure, the Trope earns an Adversity Token.

So far, so like Kids on Bikes, but Kids on Brooms, magic complicates things—or at least adds aspect to the game. In fact, magic and the casting of spells is surprisingly simple, yet flexible. Each Stat is associated with a particular type of magic—Brains for astral projection, finding hidden things, and so on; Brains for levitation, magically locking doors, and binding opponents; Fight for attacking, disarming, and exploding magic; Flight for deflecting magic, moving magically, and blending into the surrounds; Charm for disguising yourself, magically persuading others, and projecting illusions; and Grit for keeping yourself and others safe, dispelling magic, and healing. Of all these spells, there are ethical limitations on the use of Charm and Fight spells—especially against others.

Mechanically, spellcasting in Kids on Brooms uses the same dice rolls as stat checks, with the Game Master setting the difficulty of the task based on what the player wants his Trope to do with the spell. This is modified by the magnitude, area, and duration of the effect, as well as the caster’s experience with the spell, so the more unnatural the effect, the greater area it affects, the longer it lasts, and the less experience his Trope has with the spell, the greater target difficulty the player has to beat. In addition to the stat die, a player also has a Magic Die or a four-sided die, which he rolls and adds to the total. The Magic Die is not rolled if the target of the magic is a living being, but it does explode, and since it is a smaller die type, there is a greater chance of it exploding and so of a Trope successfully casting the spell. As with standard stat checks, there is a table for interpreting the results for the Game Master to use.

And… this is where Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition effectively ends. There are no NPCs given and there is no scenario. So in effect, Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition gives a group everything it needs to play, but nothing roleplay or act against, and worse, nothing to do. In effect, it handicaps any group wanting to find out what Kids on Brooms is like to play. What is worse is the fact that almost two thirds of a page is left empty, which could have used for  scenario seed or three and perhaps the stats of monster or two—just something to make the Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition more immediately playable.

Physically, the Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition is where well presented. The artwork is reasonable and the booklet is decently written. 

The Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition is a good introduction to Kids on Brooms. It is easy to pick up and understand, the setting is instantly accessible, and the rules are light, providing for a good narrative-based storytelling game. However, as a full introduction to Kids on Brooms, the Kids on Brooms Free RPG Day Edition is frustratingly, unnecessarily incomplete.

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