Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Kids on Bikes and Narrative RPGs

Image result for kids on bikes
Kids on Bikes from Renegade Games 
Recently I had a chance to play Kids on Bikes a role playing game by Jonathan Gilmour and Doug Levandowski and put out by Renegade games.  The game is created to mimic the “Kids on Bikes” genre of movies and TV such as the Goonies, The Sandlot, Eerie Indiana and more recently Stranger Things.  It is rules light and focuses on collaborative narrative play where the rolls you make determine more about the level you get to effect the story than if you succeed or fail a role.

Of course, this kind of narrative story game is different than a lot of other RPGs, specifically the games I have the most experience with.  Games like D&D, or Star Wars historically work in a very different space. You roll the dice you succeed or you don’t and that success or failure drives the narrative.  That is a far cry from a lot of the games coming out of the Indie game scene, more recently were there is a lot more emphasis put on drama and decisions than simple success.  

It is a different way to play, and narrative games do well to equip you with what to expect within the rules. But there is only so much they can provide you when the idea is to see how a story develops at the table.  “Kids on Bikes” specifically falls into this as the game prides itself on the collaborative town building. The game truly begins as a blank slate and the players around the table create a town by answering a set of simple questions and having a conversation about the town.  The same is done with character creation. It is truly a collaborative process that requires everyone to get involved.

Its not like the old days where you grabbed your rules and grabbed your module or your notes you as the GM had worked tirelessly on.  You are at the mercy of the group imagination and your quick wits. It can be scary!

That said there are some thing I have noticed that may be able to help you as you jump into a game of Kids on Bikes or any narrative games for that matter.  I want to share those thoughts with you and hopefully if you are going to try your hand at this you might be able to learn from these.


Finding the inspiration for these games is a big part or prepping them.  Kids on Bikes is a all about playing in an era before smartphones in every pocket. Sometimes it is hard to remember what that is like. Take some time to gather your inspiration as you get closer to running the game.

Kids on Bikes is as much about the mood of the time as it is the game itself.  I found that creating a playlist from the period was helpful to help prep as you begin to create a mood for the game - remember sound is one of the senses and it your job to help evoke  a sense of place and time. There are few things that do that as easily as music.

The game offers several inspirations and each of the settings will offer their own as well, but I am creating a list here of a lot of inspirations from different media that could be inspirational to getting your creative energies flowing.   

Eerie Indiana
Stand By Me
The Goonies
Stranger Things
Paper Girls
Paper Towns
Looking for Alaska
Gravity Falls
The Regular Show


As mentioned above there are few ways you can truly prepare for a game if you are playing the whole collaborative process, but there are some things you can to to assist the process in some cases.  

The most obvious way to do this is to use a premade town, either one of your own or one of the towns that was included in the deluxe edition of the book.  Even if you use this there are opportunities for you to have a collaborative process of setting up events and parts of the town, but it will help the process become more structured, and give you some interactions and hooks that will help you get things started.

Another thing you can do is plan out some possible scenarios.  There is a good chance (a really good chance) that you will not be able to use any of these, as your players will very likely take you for a loop in the town creation process - but it will at least get you thinking about where it could go.  You may even be able to slide in some of your ideas as things get going.

A broader way of doing this is to create a GM playbook that you can pull from and can be plugged in for generic concepts like organisations.  This could include plug and play places, ideas, hooks, maps - go to powered characters, organisations. Think of this as your own personal mythology within your games.  If you need a secret government organisation have one worked up complete with symbols. If a local snack shack exists have a map that can quickly be pulled out. Have some characters ready for the game you are playing that will fit multiple roles.  And as always, have a close at hand list of names that can quickly be dropped onto NPCs that might pop up. All of these things will make your job easier and will actually make for a more immersive play experience.

During the game

Your GM playbook, mentioned above, will go along way to help you during the game.  But there are some things you may need that it and the game may not provide, remember players are interesting beasts and you have no idea where they are going to go so, know your surroundings within the game. . . as best you can.    

The most important thing for game play of any RPG is to keep it going - once the game starts try your best to not reference the rules.  This is accurate for any game but it is especially helpful with this game. Fake it to get through the game if there is something you can’t find in say 30 seconds.  “Kids on Bikes” is extremely rules light, so it’s really easy to get the rules down quickly and navigate through the 60 or so pages of rules that are provided - but don’t sweat it if you forget or overlook something - the game will go on. As long as the game doesn't break - keep going.

That said it is also important to familiarize yourself with the book as a reference document. set the book up to where you can reference the parts you need quickly - specifically if there is any advice on monsters etc. . .  Kids on Bikes does not provide a list of monsters, nor does it provide any kind of sample stats in the main book, (it’s not really that kind of game), but there are some included in the settings section of the deluxe version of the book.  I found this super helpful to be able to turn to one of the settings and quickly be able to skin a Were Rabbit from one setting into a menacing Chicken Man in the setting that my players had created. This was super handy.

The same thing could be done quickly with the Tropes that are the base that all of the created  characters. Take advantage of this as you need NPCs in your games and quick stats. Having a few extra character sheets from the playbook could be helpful as well.   

Ultimately don't be afraid to reskin and allow things to be fluid so that it can fit into the direction the players take you into.

Keep the story moving. even if the story is focusing on the players - there should be movement in the town - be that other towns people - or a shadowy government organisation as they put their plans in motion. remember the plans and schemes of the villains don't stop while the players are in motion.

After the game

Every time we do anything as humans we want to improve. playing games should be no different. spend some time at the end of the game to wrap up. If the game was a one shot - allow the players to narrate how it ends. let them close it out. If it is a part of a longer game let them close out the scene and set up for the next game - perhaps a cliffhanger.

Once the game ends spend some time asking the payers how it went. What did they enjoy - but also what they didn't enjoy. This is important - I would venture to say perhaps the most important part of the game. This is the step that allows all of the other steps work. it lets you figure out what you need to improve the next game (or keep it how it is if you are running an awesome game).

Ultimately these things we play are games - so we should be having fun. We should be telling stories, and enjoy being with like minded people. Don't get too caught up in the ins and outs of the game and just enjoy. Once you get to the table you are there - and you are in as much control as you should be. If you are playing a narrative collaborative game for the first time - enjoy its gonna be a fun ride. If Kids on Bikes is just another narrative game in your repertoire - you are going to come at this from a very different place - but I still think this game will bring you a very different experience.

Enjoy and tell some great stories!!

Check our Kids on Bikes at Renegade Games at
Pre-orders are being taken now!