Kids, Bikes and Mysteries, Oh My!

Kids on Bikes

Authors: Jonathan Gilmour & Doug Levandowski
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Page Count: Varies by version
Available Formats: PDF and print
PDF (DTRPG) – See Below
Print (other options available) – See Below


What is Kids on Bikes?

Kids on Bikes is a Collaborative Storytelling RPG set in small towns with big adventure!

The door to the old house creaks open, the rust on the hinges groaning as you see the dust floating like spores in the air inside. By the faint light of your cheap flashlights, you see the stairs to the upper floor, its railings gnarled and broken like crooked teeth. Their curve makes the stairs seem almost like a hungry grin, and you wonder if their age will support your weight. Still, you must go in.

The only question is who will go first?

In Kids on Bikes, you’ll take on the roles of everyday people grappling with strange, terrifying, and very, very powerful forces that they cannot defeat, control, or even fully understand. The only way to face them is to work together, use your strengths, and know when you just have to run as fast as you can. (Publisher blurb)

The game designers have gone out of their way to make this accessible and inclusive to everyone. The book starts out with setting boundaries as a group so as not to infringe on topics or themes that may be problematic or triggering to some players. Furthermore, they have taken great care in addressing the opportunity for a player character to have mental or physical challenges. And how those challenges should be respected and incorporated into the game so as to add value and worth to the character, the challenge, and the game as a whole.

The game uses its own game engine that is very easy to learn and internalize. I will lay out the major high points of the mechanical engine below, but I did want to comment on character and world building first. Both of these integral aspects of the game are meant to group exercises in story creation. The town building element is a group exercise that breaths life into your tiny town that the world passes by. Players are given agency to add people, places, and rumors by way of a drawn-out Q&A process. This exercise not only gives the GM fuel to work with when crafting stories, but introduces aspects that players can then weave into the collaborative narrative. The character building process is much the same, in that it allows players to create in-game connections with each other to further bolster the collaborative story experience. The authors recommend that the first session (session 0) be used to create the town and characters. Keeping it to a separate session allows the creativity to flow and will then allow the GM to create a story framework before the first official in-game session using information contributed during the session zero.

Character Tropes – During character creation, players will choose a trope for their specific (kid, teen, adult) character. The trope is a thematic skin that gives predetermined die values to each of the six stats. Provides possible strengths and weaknesses as well as providing two questions that players will answer that that will help to flesh out that character further. Tropes examples – Scout, Wannabe, Blue Collar Worker, Brilliant Mathlete, and Bully

Obstacle “Stat Check” Resolution – Each character, based on their trope, has a die (d4 through d20) assigned to each of their six stats (Brawn, Fight, Grit, Charm, Brains, Flight). The assigned die value represents their aptitude for that specific skill. When an obstacle needs to be overcome, the player will roll the required skill’s assigned die and will have to beat a target number that is set by the GM.  If the rolled die rolls its highest number (ie. 6 on d6) it will explode. If the die explodes, the player gets to continue to reroll the die until it no longer rolls its highest value. The value of each roll is then added together to get the final result. Players may also spend adversity tokens to increase the total of their roll.

Failing a Stat Check – If the character’s die roll does not meet or exceed the GM’s target number (difficulty rating), they will be given an adversity token and the GM narrates what the failure looks like. While there are no critical failures in this game, the further the result is below the target number, the worse the failure is.

Passing a Stat Check – If the die roll is greater than or equal to the difficulty number assigned by the GM, both the GM and the player will collaboratively narrate what happens. The further the result above the target number, the better the success.

Planned Actions & Snap Decisions – When making a Stat Check players may always spend their adversity tokens to give the final value a +1 for each token spent. Snap Decisions represent those actions and decisions that are made on the spot (ie. trying to hide) and as such only the rolling player may spend tokens. Planned Actions represent those actions that some time was spent in determining a plan of action (ie. a plan to sneak into a building). In Planned Actions, every player involved in the scene may contribute their adversity tokens to the player making the roll. Adversity tokens are spent after the die roll result is determined.

Character Strengths – Strengths are those things the character is good at. These aspects give in-game mechanical advantages. For example, Lucky allows the players to spend 2 adversity tokens to reroll a Stat Check. By the end of character creation, each character will have 2-4 specific strengths they may call upon during the game.

Character Weaknesses – While every character has weaknesses that were chosen and defined during character creation, these do not have a mechanical aspect in the game. Instead, they act as story elements to help shape the narrative. A Kid scared of the dark, should honestly represent that fear when those situations arise.

Powered Character – The powered character is a very unique mechanical element of the game. This character is not played by any one player, but rather it is collectively played by all the players. The powered character is an NPC introduced by the GM and as it’s specific powers are witnessed or ascertained, the player who helped to uncover that power has ownership of just that power. As others are learned, another player is given control of that specific power. The Powered Character is narratively controlled by the players with the GM acting as the “voice” of the Powered Character. Powered aspects can be activated by any player, but the player who “owns” that aspect gets narrative control of the outcome.

Activating a power always has consequences. The Powered Character typically has 7 Physic Energy (PE) tokens which are used to power its abilities. When an ability is activated, the GM sets a difficulty number, a PE token is removed and the player rolls 2d4. The player then subtracts the die roll from the target number and if the result is zero or a negative number, the Powered Character successfully powers that ability and only suffers a very minor physical result (ie. nosebleed). If the result is greater than zero, the rolling player has two options – the action fails or the player can elect to spend additional PE tokens from the pool for each +1 to the roll to get the final result to zero. The outcome is then a success, but the more tokens spent, the worse the effects manifest. The player with ownership of that specific power then gets to narrate the outcome. If completing an action reduces the PE tokens to zero or below, very bad things happen to the powered character. They could pass out, have seizures, or some other very physical manifestation of their power; death could result!

The powered character can have their PE tokens replenished by resting, eating, or taking other appropriate actions. A full night’s rest usually does the trick. There are ways for the powered character to more quickly regain lost PE tokens, but the players need to figure out what restores the tokens. Think back to Stranger Things, Eleven loves her waffles. It could be something like that or maybe a candy bar. Characters will have to figure it out.

 Innovative and sound game mechanics
 Easy to learn rules
 Theme, theme, theme
 Collaborative town building & storytelling
 Powered Characters add lots of dimension to the stories
 Versatile – can be played as a one-shot or as a multi-session story
 The inclusive nature of the game

 No hyperlinked ToC in the PDFs (minor quibble)

The game book is available in several version, all of which give readers a playable set of rules.

  • Ashcan Edition – This 28-page version is a PDF only version and it was released to the public for free during the Kickstarter campaign.
  • Free RPG Day Edition – This 32-page version of the game was included in the 2018 Free RPG Day (FRD) vendor boxes and was meant to be given away at game stores that participated in the event. This version has an FRD logo on the front cover. A free PDF of this edition was later made available at DriveThruRPG.
  • Standard Edition – This 82-page softcover edition is in general retail distribution with an MSRP of $25.00. This is the version you’re most likely to see at your local game store. A PDF of this edition is also available for at DriveThruRPG for $9.99
  • Deluxe Edition – The 156-page hardcover edition was originally available to Kickstarter backers and has since been made available for purchase directly from Renegade Games. I’m not aware of Deluxe copies being made available through normal distribution channels. Aside from it being a hardcover, what really sets this book apart from the standard edition is the inclusion of 20 adventure modules. No other edition includes these modules. This edition is available for $35.00

Both the standard and deluxe version can be purchased from Renegade Game Studios.

I own the deluxe hardcover version and PDFs of the FRD and the standard editions of the game. Aside from the physical qualities of the book itself, they are all identical. Let me start by saying that from cover to cover, the book is very well laid out. The color art pieces used throughout embody the spirit and the theme the game was design to portray.

The deluxe version is a beautiful book! This 6″x9″ digest-sized book is well constructed and should be able to take the abuse we gamers can sometimes give our books. The deluxe version differs from the standard version with not only the inclusion of the 20 modules, but it also includes a short black and white comic at the front of the book.

My only complaint with regards to quality is with the PFDs, I would have been nice to include a Table of Contents (ToC) in the FRD version. I would also have liked to have seen a hyperlinked ToC in the standard edition PDF.

I fell in love with Kids on Bikes from the moment I found out about the game. I quickly snatched up a PDF and read it all in one sitting. Shortly thereafter I had the chance to play it at a recent regional convention and enjoyed the one-shot experience so much, I proceeded to buy the deluxe version and the powered character card deck before leaving the convention floor for the day. This is truly a game that is going to see regular table time within my gaming circles. In fact, this coming weekend I have a one-shot scheduled with some local gamers and if they like the game, the plan is to launch a multi-session campaign shortly thereafter.

I have spoken to several people who have differently abled children about the inclusion of playing characters with challenges and I have gotten mixed responses. One individual was adamant that there was no way for it to not turn into a joke; while most others felt that if that character was played by the right person who would give it the respect it was due, it would be fine with them. One commented that it would be cool to play a character modeled after his own son who is on the autism spectrum. As you can see, there are varied opinions on this topic. I for one am glad that they thought to include and address this possibility.

I highly recommend this game!

~ Modoc

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