Welcome back, dice fondlers! Last time, we discussed tools for safety and consent in gaming, which ties in nicely to our game of choice this week. Which game are we talking about today? Kids on Bikes! No, I’m not talking about who’s bringing me the game. That really is the title: Kids on Bikes.
Kids on Bikes comes on the same 80s nostalgia wave that brought us Netflix’s Stranger Things and It: Part 1. It is the same nostalgia that influenced other relatively recent tabletop RPGs like Tales From The Loop (which we’ll get to one of these weeks).
First, Put Your Heads Together…
Kids on Bikes is a heavily collaborative RPG that, while it does have a GM, engages the players heavily through group world-building. The reason why I mentioned Kids on Bikes tying into our discussion of consent and safety is because the game’s writers aptly integrate suggestions for appropriate tools and methods. Before starting to create the world or the characters, writers Gilmour and Levandowski make a point of establishing how to set boundaries. Later advice includes methods we’ve already discussed, like Lines and Veils, as well as techniques for the GM to push the players/characters to their emotional limits without crossing anyone’s boundaries.
…then Create Your Own Small Town!
After defining boundaries, let’s get started on world-building. Players who aren’t comfortable yet building their own worlds are BY ALL MEANS welcome to use a world that the GM has preselected by answering the game’s primary questions.
However, the collaborative method can be an effective tool for early player buy-in. With this method, after the group discusses which era they want their adventure set in (ex. 60s, 80s, the 90s), players take turns going around the table answering a total of 8 questions. These questions range from the town’s name to its financial health to local organizations. Once the town itself is constructed, each player contributes a single rumor about strange goings-on. The GM is responsible for determining how many of these rumors are true, and to what degree.
Pick Your Trope
Once the world is created, players can move on to character creation. In Kids on Bikes, this starts with choosing a Trope for your character. These include flavorful options like Conspiracy Theorist, Laid-Back Slacker, and Brilliant Mathlete. Tropes detail what size die (d20, d12, d10, d8, d6, d4) is allocated to each of your six traits (Brains, Brawn, Fight, Flight, Charm, and Grit), with higher dice being better. These dice are what we’re going to be rolling for conflict resolution during the game, so it’s worth taking some time to consider what being absolutely terrible at something really means for your character, as well as how you use your greatest strength.
Character Age Groups
Next, we start to flesh out our characters. First, we set character’s age. In Kids on Bikes, we can play Kids, Teens, or Adults. While this may, at first, seem counterintuitive compared to the game’s name, understand that you’re getting the flexibility to play the worried adults and snarky teens as well. Think playing Sheriff Hopper or Joyce Byers from Stranger Things, or even the teenage Rudy from Monster Squad. The trope you chose may or may not decide this for you.
Character Strengths and Flaws
Once we’ve determined our ages, we start choosing Strengths and Flaws. Each age group gains a type of skill called a Strength automatically. Strengths are like skills that provide mechanical benefits to your character. Players will take one Strength based on their age, and then choose a second. These range from getting bonuses from being Rebellious, Loyal, or even Gross.
Flaws, bluntly, have no mechanical basis. They’re purely for helping you build a rounded roleplaying character.
Respectful Character Creation
The game also takes a couple of pages here to talk about the nuances of playing disabled or neuroatypical characters respectfully, as well as addressing why “It’d be historically accurate!” is a terrible excuse for making your character racist/sexist/bigoted. This point can be summed up as “If paranormal events can happen regularly in town, then a mining town of the 1950s should be accepting of all people.”
As our last part of this step, we create our character’s first name or nickname they prefer to go by. Why not the last name? Well, the writers have a trick up their up sleeve.
Character Introductions & Questions
Once we’ve established our Strengths and Flaws, it’s time for the real core of Kids on Bikes character building: Introductions and Questions. First, each player introduces their character and establishes how they know at least one other character in the group. Once introductions have been made, players have multiple options for answering questions about each others’ characters in order to color their relationships and flesh out the town they live in.
The most in-depth version of this has players establishing connections both positive and negative to every character they know, as well as establishing a single connection to those that they don’t. This is really one of the most awesome parts of Kids on Bikes. Many games encourage this sort of behavior, but Kids on Bikes has it codified for players to take advantage of.
Next, we decide on the Finishing Touches section:
- Character’s last name. You see why we didn’t give our characters last names in the Strengths/Flaws step. If we suddenly realized that another player’s character was our sibling, it’s easier to communal create our last name rather than make changes after the fact.
- Choose a Motivation, which can be as specific as “Find out what’s in that old bunker outside of town” or as general as “Save money.”
- Establish our character’s Fears. These will have mechanical effects when we talk about conflict resolution, but for now, think of these primarily in role-playing terms.
- What’s in our character’s “backpack”? These are the things your character is never without. For Kids and Teens, this is probably a literal backpack. For Adults, it may well be the trunk of their car. Regardless, this is a character-defining stash for what they consider invaluable to have always on them.
And that is where we stop this week, my fine friends. Next week, we’ll talk about resolving conflicts in Kids on Bikes and GM guides. Until then, of course, make sure to…