Roleplaying Games have come a long way since Gygax first penned Dungeons & Dragons. While the epic, sword and sorcery adventure game retains its throne as king of the genre, recent years have seen innovative exploration in the medium.
Games like Vampire shifted the focus from combat to narrative, and then Fiasco took that a step further by making the entire game a collaborative storytelling experience, devoid of character sheets or dice rolling.
Renegade Game Studios has nestled into a happy middle ground with their latest title, Kids On Bikes. In this game, players take the role of the eponymous kids, based in the small town of Anywhere, USA, in the 1980's where strange things are happening.
It's up to the players to investigate, explore and expose the strange happenings all by themselves. Maybe the adults of the town aren't aware of it, maybe they don't believe you- or just maybe they are in on it.
Aside from it's setting, Kids On Bikes brings a streamlined and accessible rules set, again, with a focus on character building and storytelling. Players only require a single set of polyhedral dice to play, and the character sheet fits nicely on an A5 sheet of paper.
Similar to Eleven from Netflix's Stranger Things, Kids On Bikes presents rules for creating an additional member of the group who has special powers. While the game still has a Game Master, who arbitrates and presents the story, the players actually work as a group to both create and roleplay their new super-powered friend.
While Kids On Bikes is a Roleplaying Game like any other, it's narrative structure can easily favour one-off game sessions where an entire plot is explored. Coming of age stories from Stephen King like Stand By Me, and It, as well as the John Hughes films of the 80's come to mind when thinking of the possibilities a group have when sitting down to play Kids On Bikes.
Writers Jon Gilmour (Dead of Winter) and Doug Levandowski (Seven Minutes In Hell), have done an excellent job of not only creating a streamlined rules set, but have crafted a game system that keeps Kids On Bikes and its potential themes safe and accessible to all kinds of people.
Given the nature of the player characters, Kids On Bikes could allow for exploration of personal and potentially upsetting themes. Gilmour and Levandowski have not only acknowledge this, but made it a primary focus.
The book opens with a section entitled 'Setting Boundaries', which outlines how the group should work together to make sure the themes being explored are within the comfort levels of everyone at the table. It encourages the Games Master to work with the players to make sure that everyone is excited and happy with the direction the story will take.
This kind of attention to content is important in a number of RPG's, particularly ones with horror themes, but more so for games where players are taking on the roles of literal children. Not only does Kids On Bikes present clear Content Warnings at the beginning of all their adventure modules, it also offers information on how to clearly and respectfully play characters on the autism spectrum, or characters with disabilities.
It is these aspects that take Kids On Bikes from being a great game, to something truly excellent. In keeping the mechanics, setting, and accessibility open and streamlined, Renegade Game Studios have produced a game that will see adults reliving their youth, and kids taking their first steps into the hobby.
Kids On Bikes is available to preorder right now from your local Good Games store.