It’s just three days until Halloween (sorry for the late post, by the way) and if you’re looking for a fun and otherworldly game for the holiday then my recommendation this year is Kids on Brooms. The latest version of Kids on Bikes has all the same worldbuilding strengths and fun mechanics but instead of being the story of schoolkids in the 80s it’s the story of magical students doing their best.
There’s an obvious reason why you might wax nostalgic about kids at a magical school (though you can set your Kids on Brooms game anywhere) and the continued emotional violence perpetrated by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling might turn some people off of the genre. On the other hand, some folks might want to play in a Potter-esque world but make it the kind of setting that they wish Rowling was capable off. Kids on Brooms is just one of your options, of course, and you can also try out the PbtA games Pigsmoke and Arcana Academy as well as the 5e game Arcane Invitation.
If you like what you see here but want a different genre entirely there’s also Teens in Space which is a cosmic version of Kids on Bikes in the style of television classic Space Cases. Further afield you can get youths in more surreal spookiness in Tales From the Loop or Things From the Flood and you can get even spookier with Geist: The Sin-Eaters or Beast: The Primordial. You can even dive into the origins of Halloween with Scion 2e and the Tuatha Dé Danann.
But enough of alternatives, let’s find out what’s new in Kids on Brooms!
Setting and Stories
Much of what you might remember from Kids on Bikes is here from the collaborative worldbuilding to the basic mechanics. The questions are different, of course, and you establish what magic is taught at your school and what the weird magic pastimes are instead of the town’s notable industry and whatnot. This is a completely separate book, though, and you don’t need Kids on Bikes to use this one. Aside from the magical stuff, there are also thoughtful prompts about what bigotry, struggles, and politics are present or absent from your world.
The character stats are all the same and they also describe the different sorts of magic in the world. You have Fight, Flight, Brains, Brawn, Charm, and Grit and they correspond to combat magic, defensive magic, divination, telekinetic magic, illusion and transfiguration magic, and protective magic respectively. They also handle mundane tasks like in Kids on Bikes, of course, but that’s not what we’re here for. The wood and core of your wand give you bonuses to types of magic (i.e. magic with certain stats) but you can also eschew wands in your game.
Brooms, as the title suggests, are also an awesome character choice and they give you benefits when used from spell-like abilities to bonuses with some kinds of checks. You also get familiars but they’re just around to look cute.
We’ve gone through a lot of what characters have access to but it’s worth talking about the process. You shape your character with questions just like in Kids on Bikes, though these are unsurprisingly more magical in nature. You choose a trope and an age (from under grade to upper grade and even faculty) with strengths and flaws and with nineteen of these you’re unlikely to feel stuck. More intrinsic to the type of stories handled in Kids on Brooms, though, are the classes and their benefits.
Your character will have a class schedule filled up with different courses (there is an impressive list but you and the GM can make up new ones in seconds). From the classes you’re taking, you can end a session by suggesting what class knowledge you used. Say you summoned a magic cloak during the adventure and also solved a magical puzzle; you might have just covered those things in your Summoning and Numerology classes, a fun added bit of color. Put a mark next to each of those classes on your schedule and when you have two marks in that class you gain a +1 to a type of magic covered by the course. At six marks you bump that to +3 and at ten marks you’ve mastered the course and have +5. You can pursue these in any way you want but there’s no overlapping (you can’t get a +3 to Brawn magic from Charms and another +1 to Brawn magic from Brooms, for example).
Checks are handled narratively and there are modifiers for different ages, like in Kids on Bikes. Spells are handled ad hoc when you want to make a Spell Check. You can describe different spells if you like (“I cast mentatum perfectum to see the pattern in the runes!”) or just describe it (“I use Brains to try and see a pattern”) and different people can do different things at the table. I think this makes the games accessible and adaptable in a powerful way so that people don’t feel pressured, constrained, or casting around for options (if you’ll pardon the pun).
Combat, like in the original game, isn’t for everyone and there are definite consequences to starting a fight. Players (and characters) shouldn’t flippantly start blasting people with their wands and if they do then something really bad should be the result. That’s what the bad guys do, not heroes and certainly not kids.
I love this game and I think it both preserves what is so great about Kids on Bikes and adds additional tools and elements that make it better. Even without magic, the protrayal of young people here and the clear care in putting together a safe and inclusive game is awesome. With the added ability to hop on a flying broom and summon a fiery eagle, this an easy recommendation for this spooky weekend.