Harold Pottish and the lightweight rpg
There must be an entire generation of us who grew up daydreaming the adventures we would have when our invitation to magic school inevitably turned up, and while it may not quite be a replacement for that enchanted bit of paper Kids on Brooms is a great little framework for helping us play out those half-remembered dreams at the tabletop.
If that first paragraph – or, indeed, the game’s name – didn’t make it quite clear enough, though the book takes great pains to avoid stepping on any copyright or trademark toes, Kids on Brooms is essentially the closest thing we’re going to get to a full Harry Potter RPG anytime soon. There are no Death Eaters, no Dumbledores and no Voldemorts, but the entire game is built around the idea of telling adventure stories set in and around a magical school.
This isn’t a simple case of taking some generic rules and folding them around the Potter-ish tropes, either. Though the core of the game is founded on the same mechanical foundations as Renegade Studios’ earlier releases, Kids on Bikes and Kids in Space, a huge chunk of Kids on Brooms is completely underpinned by a whole heap of ideas that rely on and feed into the premise.
As well as character sheets, for example, the players are issued with class timetables to sketch out. Rather than level up or buy new skills, the characters instead focus their attentions on their classes, slowly gaining bonuses as they study certain types of magic. These new systems do add a bit of extra bookkeeping onto the players’ workload, but the nature of the setting means that having to plan around classes and consider which ones best fit your characters’ strengths shouldn’t ever feel like a chore.
Of course, simply going to school has never been main appeal of the magical school cliché, and Kids on Brooms also manages to bodge together a magic system that allows you to indulge all the arcane shenanigans you can imagine. Mostly, anyway.
It does this by ditching the idea of long spell lists or carefully curated effects in favour of an incredibly open-ended system that allows players to create any kind of spell or magical effect they could possibly want. In theory the characters can use magic to do quite literally anything they want, but in practise this is kept in control by a series of tables that bump up the difficulty of casting a spell the more dramatic it gets.
Want to do something that affects something about the size of a person? Add a +3 to the difficulty of the spell. Want to have it impact an entire room or more? Stick a +7 on there.
There are four different tables that feed into determining a spell’s difficulty, and going through the process of estimating a score for each new spell your players dream up can be a rather laborious process. However, while it can be a bit of a pain to sit there and determine whether creating fire is merely ‘unnatural’ or if it crosses over into ‘reality-bending’, the mere fact that players can wander into a game of Kids on Brooms and start tossing weird magic around in minutes is hellishly impressive.
Indeed, as with the Kids games that came before it, the core rules are incredibly simple; the better you are at something the bigger die you roll, always try to roll high, that’s about it. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you can still get a handle on pretty much every aspect of the game within a five-minute rundown.
Somehow, though, despite the simplicity of the rules there are still just enough choices baked into character creation that you can still take joy in building mages that feel mechanically distinctive from one another. It certainly isn’t going to fulfil any desires you have for tactical combat or complex system mastery, but there’s just enough detail there to keep the more dice-happy players content.
The result is a game that feels like it did everything it set out to do, which is to create a streamlined little system for living out those magical school fantasies with your buddies. It might not quite have rights to all the names and it might use weird American term like “dorm” and “upperclassman” but it manages to do a wonderful job of giving you a magical new world to explore. And, if you roll badly enough, maybe blow up.
PLAY IT? YES
Lightweight, breezy and easy to pick up, Kids on Brooms is a great little game to indulge a bit of magical hijinks
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Monster of the Week...
Okay, so Kids on Brooms isn’t quite as fixated on TV horror, but both are slick ways to recreate genre stories at the tabletop
Designer: Jon Gilmour, Doug Levandowski, Spenser Starke
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
This article originally appeared in issue 47 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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