Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Five or So Questions on Kids on Bikes

Hi all,

I did an interview with Doug Levandowski on the RPG Kids on Bikes, which is currently on Kickstarter. Doug's using Script Change in the text and while we chatted, shared his Kickstarter link so he could tell me more about this rules-light kiddo-adventure!

Tell me a little about Kids on Bikes. What excites you about it?
Doug: Kids on Bikes is a narrative-driven story telling game set in your favorite 80's movie or TV show. We like to say that it takes place in a town small enough that everyone knows each other (for better and for worse) and in a time before cell phones could take videos of monster. The GM acts more like a facilitator, and the players are really the ones telling the story.

One of the things that excites me about Kids on Bikes is the way that the game starts! The town and character creation, especially the rumors and the questions about the relationships between the characters, helps to start the game even as you're creating the world you'll be playing in. Stories often start to emerge and tensions start to become clear there in pretty cool, open-ended ways!

What was the motivation for putting together Kids on Bikes? What about the concept put your hearts into it?

D: Stranger Things! Two summers ago, like most of America, I'd just binge-watched the first season, and I posted on Facebook, "Okay - who wants to make this a game?" Jon responded, and we got rolling on it. But even more than that, I grew up as an AD&D player. I had a paladin, a wild mage, and a few classes I created myself, and seeing D&D played on the show really made me want to replicate that in some streamlined way - but also to pay homage to the wonderful 80s tropes that I grew up on.

How do you approach violence and violent content in Kids on Bikes?

D: Personally, I play games for escapism, so violence for me in games has to be one of two things: either absurd, cartoonish, and completely divorced from reality like it is in D&D - or nonexistent. Kids on Bikes is super close to reality, which is something that I love about it, but that also means that the violence in it is supposed to be terrifying. In the rulebook, when we talk about combat, one of our statements is that there's no such thing as "safe" violence in Kids on Bikes. And our first step in creating the world of the game is having all of the players establish what they want to see and what they don't want to see. Ultimately, Kids on Bikes is a framework for players to create what they want within it, but it's definitely a framework that discourages casual violence.

Tell me about the design process. How did you start mechanically? What has changed since the game's inception?

D: We started with thinking about making a game that felt like AD&D but streamlined. I had a bunch of ideas that complicated things, and Jon was really great at saying things like, "Yeah, THAC0 was a thing...but maybe that's not in anything anymore for a good reason." As we went, we kept streamlining and streamlining to keep the focus on the story. That's something that Jon is really, really good at...and that I'm learning from him!

Another thing that was probably the main aspect of the design at the start was the notion of duality. We love the idea of inversions and balancing acts that happens in so many of these things from the 80s, the way that the villain is some corrupted version of the good guy or the way that every negative is a positive and, usually, vice versa. In our initial creation, we kept asking ourselves, "Great... What balances that? What's its counterpoint?"

What is your focus audience for Kids on Bikes, and why? Is it a nostalgia product, considering the timeline restriction, or something different?

D: Our audience is new and experienced RPG players. It's an easy enough to pick up game that even folks who've never rolled a d12 before can jump in and get rolling, but we think the opportunity for narrative is rich enough that it can appeal to people who love narrative games and have played a bunch of them. I don't think of it as, first and foremost, a nostalgia product; I think of the time restriction as a way to complicate what, in the modern day, would be easy solutions and drive the narrative. Like, if a current high school stumbles upon a cult, they shoot some quick cell phone video, they post it to Snapchat, and it's a scandal. 30 years ago, though, they have to convince people that it's really a thing. That's the kind of space I'd want to tell stories in right now, so that's the kind of engine we made. That said, there's for sure a nostalgia element to pretty much everything I design, so I think that influences the kinds of stories I want to tell.


Thanks so much to Doug for the interview. I hope you all enjoyed reading it and that you'll pedal your way over to Kickstarter with a few friends to catch the last few days of Kids on Bikes!

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