Kids on Bikes is an indie role playing game created by Jon Gilmore and Doug Levandowski. It gives game masters and players tools to generate a world and characters for pulpy teen adventure stories. From a role playing game enthusiast perspective, the most important thing to know about Kids on Bikes is that if you’ve ever wanted to role play in worlds or scenarios inspired by Stand By Me, It, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies, or Stranger Things, then you would probably find interest in this book. Moreover, game masters looking for tools to create a role play experience that puts more emphasis on player-controlled narrative will find a lot to work with here.
There’s actually a lot more to say about the goals and achievements of Kids on Bikes. I’ve read the core rules a few times, and I’ve at least glossed over all the adventure modules included in the deluxe edition. In short, it’s a very accessible book that gives a lot of consideration to sensitive topics. I aim to write a more detailed review in another post. But for the time being, here are some useful links to get more info on the game:
What brings me to write this post are the adventure modules that appear at the back of the deluxe edition of the book. Adventure modules in role playing games are basically ready-made outlines that describe the location(s), character(s), and basic plot of an adventure. The modules provided in Kids on Bikes are diverse in terms of setting, theme, mood, and many of them offer additional rules to layer on top of the existing set from the main book. They’re well-written as well, coming from the original authors (Doug Levandowski and Jon Gilmore) and other established fantasy and role playing authors like Amanda Hamon Kuns (Pathfinder, Starfinder), Matthew Colville (Critical Role: Origins, Evolve, Dune CCG), Epidiah Ravachol (Dread, Worlds Without Master) and Scott Woodard (Flash Gordon RPG, Cinema & Sorcery: The Comprehensive Guide to Fantasy Film) to name a few. Finally, I’ve found these modules to be truly excellent templates for open-ended adventure creation and world building for role playing games and for creative writing.
I was determined to run a Kids on Bikes session for my friends, and I knew I would like to run my own story which would be take place at a suburban California house party in the early 1990s. But I didn’t really know where to start beyond that. That’s where the modules (which will be featured in an upcoming expansion, Kids on Bikes: Strange Adventures Volume 1) became a invaluable tool for me. They provided me with a flexible story writing template where by plugging away at the different sections, I could take the the smallest kernels of my story ideas and develop them into a full-fledged outline. Here is the basic format:
Here you mention any sensitive themes or subjects that may come up in the forthcoming adventure (e.g. domestic violence, bullying, discrimination, whatever themes or situations which might take place in your game that could put some players at unease).
This is the basic pitch for the story or adventure. If the adventure were a paperback novel, you might read this on the back cover. Game masters would probably share this with their players to get them interested in the setting.
The author can mention other creative works or real-life events that have influenced the adventure.
Alternate Town Creation Questions:
The game master might pose these questions to their group during the town creation section of the game if they choose to have one. The questions aim to develop the world and the player character’s connection to it.
Possible Points of Interest:
Pretty self explanatory. The author will describe important locations where they think key events of the story should take place.
Any non-playable characters who are important to the story or who the author wants the players to interact with can be described here.
Possible Adventure Hooks:
The game master has limited control over the direction of the adventure. By describing three or four adventure hooks here, the author will have some freedom to work around what the players end up deciding to do.
What characters, events, or situations might threaten the players? The author might describe countdown events or encounters that put the players in danger.
Possible Powered Characters:
A mechanic of Kids on Bikes is to include a “powered character” that is controlled by all the players. This character is analogous to 11 from Stranger Things, E.T. from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, or Chunk from The Goonies.
If the game will contain some monsters or supernatural antagonists, they can be described here.
This is an optional section for creative game authors who want to adjust or add new rules to their module. Kudos to the module writers for some great creativity here.
I’ve come to really value the template used in these modules not just for writing the outline for a role playing game that I will run, but for general fiction writing as well. For me, filling each section became its own focused brainstorm session. Once you get a few items listed in one section, you have great material for adding to another. For example, maybe writing about that dark and lonely hiking trail setting leads to a description of a pair of mountain lions that threaten the protagonists which leads to a powered character who can communicate with animals which leads to town creation questions about animals or people’s pets behaving strangely around that character lately which leads an adventure hook to rescue captured or injured animals that are important to the players which leads to a wildfire or other event that threatens the animals at some point which leads to … I think you get the idea. There’s nothing that says that all the events you write down have to be connected or that they all have to manifest themselves in your game or whatever you are writing. Again, I see these templates as a tool for organized and productive brainstorming that feeds back into itself.
If you’re interested in a more narrative-driven role playing game, I encourage you to take a look Kids on Bikes. It is well-written, and it delivers a lot of great material. Furthermore, if you want to see a great template for creating role playing adventures or writing outlines for your own fiction, you might benefit from reading this book and the adventure modules that accompany it. It’s been a great tool for me, and I’m glad to pass on my experience with it.