Kids On Bikes: A SuperParent Tabletop Review
It's like Netflix's Stranger Things, but with paper, dice, and lots of imagination.
Playing tabletop roleplaying games with kids can be a daunting task. There aren't usually gamemats and little figures to telegraph the story, unless you're playing Dungeons & Dragons. (Don't get me started on how difficult D&D with kids is… speaking as one of those former D&D kids.) But it was through our friends at Renegade Games that we discovered a kid-friendly pen-and-paper RPG that's much more than dice and combat.
It's called Kids On Bikes.
What is Kids On Bikes?
Kids On Bikes is kind of like Netflix's Stranger Things: it takes place in Small Town, USA where technology isn't the heartbeat of the community. Kids run around after school, taking their bikes and the lesser-known dirt trails through the mucky forest behind Fergus Grove -- you know, where Stacey Mullins went missing last month.
Kids On Bikes isn't a traditional tabletop roleplaying game, in that it doesn't focus on stats and combat as the only way to shape the story. In traditional roleplaying games, you have a game master (GM) that shapes the story and the world to their liking, allowing the players to play in it. Sometimes, there are premade worlds, like with D&D (Greyhawk, Dragonlance, etc.), but more often the GM only has their own imagination to rely on. They are wholly responsible. The players just, well, play.
How do you play Kids On Bikes?
All tabletop roleplaying games use chance to determine whether an action has succeeded or failed. In D&D, it's usually a 20-sided die (d20) with damage rolled by a d4, d6, or d8. (Sometimes a d10, depending on the weapon or the spell.) In a game like Dread, which is a horror-themed tabletop RPG, players use a Jenga tower to determine whether or not their action has succeeded.
Kids On Bikes is no different. There are dice rolls for almost everything, including character creation. Kids On Bikes uses its own system that is reliant on character tropes, which help to flesh out a character's strengths, flaws, and stats. Instead of using numbers for stats, like in a traditional RPG, it uses types of dice. The better the character is at something, the more varied the dice roll can be. The stats are broken out into brains, brawn, fight, flight, grit, and charm. Depending on the character's trope, the stats fluctuate wildly.
The tropes are the kinds of tropes you'd expect to see in a Stranger Things episode: The Bully, The Brilliant Mathlete, The Laid-Back Slacker, The Plastic Beauty, The Scout, The Funny Sidekick, The Blue Collar Worker, and even The Eccentric Recluse. There are more, of course, and players are welcome to craft their characters from scratch, if they choose.
What makes Kids On Bikes special?
The players in Kids On Bikes are as much accountable for the shape of the story as the GM is. Part of what makes Kids On Bikes so compelling is that the players determine their roles in the game with one another, as well as help to build the world that they'll be playing in.
Each player determines how they know the other players, if they're related or they're friends or perhaps even enemies. If nothing else, perhaps they don't know each other at all and everything is fresh and new. But considering it's a small town, it's probably not going to work like that. In a three player game, someone will know someone. Once they determine how they know each other (or don't), they roll a d20 against one of three relationship tables: positive, negative, and unknown.
These tables have a list of questions to consider when determining the relationship, so that the player has full autonomy over their character, regardless of the roll.
Once the characters figure out if (and how) they know one another, you build the world together with the GM. Figure out what the town name is, which state you're in, what the town is famous for (and infamous for), etc. You can even determine the town's local sports team. Most importantly, you start to figure out the flavor of the town -- what the local organizations are, where and what the landmarks are, and what some of the choicest rumors happen to be.
All of these little setup details add up to a rich game that is made specifically for the players at the table.
Is it a good game for kids to play?
Absolutely. Kids On Bikes is a bit writing-intensive at the beginning, especially while you're figuring out the characters and their relationship to one another and the town you've crafted together, but once you're through those initial stages, it's all about rolling dice and telling stories.
I explained it to my youngest children like a collaborative bedtime story game that we play called And Then Story Starters, where they choose a card and we tell a whole story based on that card. In Kids On Bikes, we take a world that we're building and we tell a story about it. Our characters are the main characters in the story and we'll meet friends (and foes) along the way. But instead of pulling cards, you roll dice, and instead of making sure that we're always keeping the story going through "yes, and" (like in improvisation classes), you stay in character and do what you think your character would do.
Our youngest, V, is really into this. She's playing as the Funny Sidekick trope, opposite her big sister, G, who is her big sister in the game, too. (That was one of the only ways I knew I'd be able to wrangle our teen into playing: make it as close to real life as possible.) They collaborated on their backstories and determined that they were both friends with the Eccentric Recluse who lived next door, because he has children (and grandchildren) that he doesn't see anymore and misses dearly.
How knowledgeable do you need to be to play Kids On Bikes? Do I need to be an RPG expert? Or can I be a newbie?
You can absolutely be a newbie. In fact, it's even better if you are. If you don't have any other RPG experience, all you need to be confident in is helping to tell a great story with others. Collaborative storytelling is the backbone of Kids On Bikes and without everyone buying into it, it'll fall flat. But you, dear Super Parent, have the ability to tell fantastical stories with a simple system that rewards creativity.
It's always better to try out the waters with a short session, mind you. Dip your toe in with worldbuilding and character creation first. If that works for you and your kiddos, move onto a short session where you take one of the rumors that one of the players concocted and you begin to investigate as your characters. If you're loving the direction (and your kiddos are too), then continue with other sessions. If not, revamp, rework, and restart as many times as you'd like. It takes time to acclimate to tabletop RPGs, so don't get frustrated.
Get creative! Create house rules if things don't work for you and your kids. Make it easier or harder, depending on how you want to play. Kids On Bikes is fluid and gentle, meaning that it wants your life as the GM to be as creative and enjoyable as possible.
Bottom line: should I get it?
Yes! If you've never played a tabletop RPG before, start here.
I'll be documenting my Kids On Bikes campaign here on SuperParent, so if you want to get an even better feel for the game, make sure you follow us on Twitter!
Disclaimer: Kids On Bikes was provided for our review by Renegade Games. The company did not provide the children to test the game on, mind you.