Something strange is happening in your neighbourhood but you can’t call Ghostbusters, I’m sure kids can handle it. Today I’m reviewing Kids on Bikes RPG by Jonathan Gilmour & Doug Levandowski. Kids on Bikes is a tabletop RPG game about small towns with big adventures.

I had previously reviewed Kids on Brooms but before this, we tried out Kids on Bikes for a 2-part Halloween special which you can find on our Youtube Channel. That is where we fell in love with this system. I ran this for 3 players and wondered if that would be enough characters but we quickly found out just how much story the Kids on Bikes character creation and world-building section generates.

In addition, one big advantage that Kids on Bikes has when it comes to running a game for a small group is the concept of a powered character but we will get into that in the review below!

Stranger Things Vibes

I never pegged myself as someone who enjoys roleplaying games that have a focus on suspenseful or dark elements but I’ve been proven wrong by this system and systems like Call of Cthulhu, apparently I live for that. I was surprised to enjoy Stranger Things as much as I did and it wasn’t long before I decided I wanted to tell a story like that. Now, I’m not the Duffer Brothers with a Netflix budget so I figured playing this story out with my friends would be the next best thing. There were several options I could have gone with but Kids on Bikes fit the most.

While you can run many different styles of game with this from a Goonies situation to something like Buffy, I did specifically zone in on this with a Stranger Things mentality, which you will see in just the opening credits to our live-play stream.

Worldbuilding Statements

You can do your group session prep all in a session zero in one go. However, we were working with different timezones and it was already difficult to even plan a session, so we decided to make a group chat and work through the character creation and world-building questions that way. We worked on them over the span of several weeks and this was a great experience for us.

The system gives a list of World-building statements to finish, statements like ‘Our adventure takes place in…’ or ‘Our school’s sports team is called…’ and it suggests that the players work together to craft the town or for the Game Master to do so on their own, we went with a hybrid. I took certain portions of the list of statements that I wanted to have set in stone for the and ended up handing them a fictional town in a real state with some notable locations and an idea of how it was doing economically. The players filled in the rest of the blanks, at which point, the story developed because it highlighted what things they were interested in. The system then asks that each player shares one rumour about the town and boy did we love working those into the narrative.

Strong Bonds in Session Zero

From there, Kids on Bikes shifts into Character Creation where the players select a trope from the premade list, there are tropes like ‘Popular Kid’ and ‘Loner Weirdo’ that determine which die you use for which stat. It then gives you prompts to further develop your character. Once you get the basics for your character down, then the really fun part happens, you introduce your character to the group and each player answers positive and negative relationship questions about each other. There are questions such as ‘What could make you betray this character?’ and ‘What do you admire about this character — but would never tell them?’, all of which made for some drama and tugged on our heartstrings before we sat down to play.

I’m sure that this system isn’t the only one to have character creation like this but it is the first one that I’ve played that does and I feel like this is one of the biggest strengths of the game.

Powered Characters

In Kids on Bikes, there is a special non-player character that the game master and the players share the narrative of by using something called aspects. Aspects are traits that the Powered Character possesses and can use to help the party, the game master hands out aspects for each player to be in narrative control over, however any player at the table can activate a trait.

Traits come in three different groups which are Personality Traits, Relationship to Group and Psychic Power. Some examples of these are ‘Able to Change Their Body’s Density’ or ‘Scared of Middle-Aged Men, Especially in Suits‘. Most of the traits I used were directly from the pre-generated traits from the book but I did come up with one of my own.

I was sceptical at first about handing out these traits to my players for them to control but the method we went with felt very natural. There are a few ways that you can do this outlined in the book and what I went with was a narrative approach, handing them out when it felt natural to the story.

Handing out Aspects

There was a moment when one of the players, who was obsessed with the movie Judo Boy (our in-game knock-off of Karate Kid) was teaching our powered character some self-defence when she was feeling scared, that was the moment I decided to hand out the aspect ‘Strong (d20 Brawn)’.

Another instance was when the Conspiracy Theorist in the group was triggering her trait of being scared of middle-aged men in suits and as such, she phased through the floor in fear. That moment allowed me to hand out two aspects to that player.

By the end of our first session, we had 6 aspects handed out, 2 to each player in a way that made sense and the whole experience of including a powered character left me feeling like I was also a player in this game. This is something I’ve had previous experience with, having run games for smaller groups where I had a playable character of my own to round out the party. This aspect of the game is also what made it feel most like Stranger Things to me in that I felt as though I was playing Eleven and the rest of the players were the other members of the cast.

Failing With Style in Kids on Bikes

Another thing I enjoy about Kids on Bikes is that failing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there is always something that happens whether you succeed or fail that drives the story forward.

Kids on Bikes uses Adversity Tokens, which you get one of each time you fail a check. The Adversity Tokens can be stock-piled and used to add a +1 to future checks you make, to add to future checks other characters make or to be used in a way that is outlined in a feature that characters have called ‘Strengths‘. An example of how the Adversity tokens are used when it comes to strengths is something like the ‘Loyal‘ strength where each Adversity Token you spend to help your friends gives them a +2 instead of a +1.

This aspect of the game can make for a rewarding experience whether you pull off what you’re trying to do or not and lends well to leaving space for players whose characters would like to try something they’re not necessarily good at, this tends to be something that would be true to a kid’s decision in most of these situations.

Easy to Run for Game Masters

The biggest thing I noticed with the way the Kids on Bikes system runs is that as a game master, the burden of story-telling and preparation felt minimal. The emphasis on collaboration and the flexibility in the rules with a ‘yes and’ sort of approach meant that at the end of our sessions, I felt as though I was just another player at the table rather than the game master. This is one of those systems you could pick up and play with your friends if you all know the rules and are already familiar with each other’s boundaries.

Types of Dice and General Ruleset

In Kids on Bikes each stat has a specific die associated with it, these dice are the d20, d12, d10, d8, d6 and d4 with the 20 being really good and the 4 being really bad at something. The stats used in the game are Brains, Grit, Charm, Brawn, Flight and Fight and though they give you a general outline of what each stat can be used for, you’ll likely need to come up with your own interpretation at some point if (or when) your players do something outside of the examples.

Kids on Bikes uses the exploding dice rule which means if you roll the highest number on your die then you get to roll that again, and you can keep going like that if you keep rolling the highest on your die until you meet the difficulty class of the task. In systems like Dungeons & Dragons you end up with situations where the DC is too high for your character and there’s no real point in even rolling but with Kids on Bikes even if you have d4, there is a chance you could get stupid lucky and should roll anyway, and again with the Adversity Tokens, there really is always a reason to at least try.

Handy Charts Included

The appendix of the book has charts that outline coming up with difficult classes, the consequences of failing or succeeding and who has narrative control in these cases that make it easy to figure out a situation on the fly. We ended up doing whatever felt right at any given moment because we were on a time crunch to wrap up our story in a specific time frame but they’re a great frame of reference to have.

Recommended for Roleplay Focused Groups

Despite all the charts and lists, this system is rules-light in many ways. You likely won’t find a hard ruling on your game-specific details like you could with Dungeons & Dragons. Nor will you find that you have a need for maps unless your players have a difficult time story-telling with no visual cues. I’d recommend Kids on Bikes to roleplay-oriented groups that have a good level of trust with the other players in the group or who are willing to give up some control of their character. There are pieces of character creation that allow for other players to create things about your character such as a brave thing they did, their first memory of them or how your character betrayed theirs.

Another thing to highlight about this is that the things you put on your sheet really matter, your age has an impact on your stats, your fears come into play to make rolls more difficult, and your motivation can help the game master and the other players get your character involved in a matter in the story.

With all that said, I personally think everyone should at least try Kids on Bikes or one of its variations like Kids on Brooms or Teens in Space because you might be pleasantly surprised by the gameplay, even if it doesn’t seem like your thing.

See Kids on Bikes in Action

If you’d like to see our experience with the system, we do have two parts of our gameplay of Kids on Bikes on our Youtube Channel. I’ve embedded the first part below.

If you’d like to try Kids on Bikes, you can find out where to buy it on the Hunters Entertainment website. And as always, remember to Play with the Top Down!

Written By: VixxDraws

VixxDraws is one of the co-founders of Top Down Tabletop, in charge of creative direction and one of the main channel artists.