We all know the series. The one with the boy who had a scar upon his forehead. The great tale of a chosen one and their band of friends going off to challenge the far too powerful evil and bring them to reckoning. It’s a story that spawned millions of fanfictions and fanart. Millions more in profits off spin-offs and merchandise. Oh! It’s also responsible for slingshotting a violent and disgusting transphobe to having her hateful opinions validated and listened to by wide audiences and those in power.
Yes, the Harry Potter series cannot be detached from the many actions of harm done by its creator. Death of the Author is an act of cowardice when used to simply continue liking something without ever fearing being criticized for it. There’s also the fact the books themselves are far from free of her problematic ideals. Be it the depictions of Goblins and the valid issues the Jewish community brought up in how they are portrayed in relation to harmful stereotypes of them. The oppression tourism and mishandling of the topic of slavery with relation to house elves. And many, MANY more that could fill up the brim of this article.
All in all, JK Rowling is not someone anyone should try to emulate. But that leaves the question of what should be done with the books that had such an impact on so many throughout the world. Harry Potter is something we can’t simply do away with. People will have the idea of it, of how it can be done better, on their mind quite often. So, what do we do?
Well, I don’t have the answer. I’m not a smart or genius woman. The fact I just used two words that mean the same thing separately should show that. But when it comes to RPGs, we may have the answer for how to quell that Harry Potter craving without having to whip up your own homebrew. And most importantly, how you can do it better than that shoddy TERF ever could.
Let’s step into the magical world, shall we?
Kids On Brooms from Hunter Entertainment and Renegade Game Studios is based on the very popular Kids On Bikes-system that powers Kids On Bikes and Teens In Space. Using a simple D6-dice pool system, the game gives a robust feel for a game that is still obviously on the light-side.
Opening up with a chapter entitled Setting Boundaries, the book does a good job of putting its foot forward with player safety as the first part you read. This continues with sections of the book being based around the subject of bigotry in your setting – even naming the concept of Oppression Tourism as it does so. From links to existing safety tools to repeatedly emphasizing the importance of player-GM communication, the system has in mind the safety of those at the table.
Its section on Neurodiversity and Disability, however, has given me pause as someone with Atypical Autism. While I was grateful to see them explicitly state that Neurodiversity/Disability is a spectrum and not a binary, the fact they state that it should be included for a character on the basis of “Developing the character and story” made me stop reading for a few moments.
I can’t tell you what makes me autistic. I’m aware I have traits that fall under the idea and recorded research of it. But if you asked me to play an autistic character, I would be at a loss. I simply am me. I’m proud to be autistic, but the idea that if I wanted to play a character like me in a game I’d need to “contribute to the story” is not something I’d look forward to.
That being said, I do feel their writing was well-intentioned and research was put into it, and it’s still leaps and bounds above the source material it’s based on.
Their section on diversity is shorter and feels more well-written. It emphasizes the idea that magic often has its roots and importance to specific cultures of people and shouldn’t be used by players/characters not belonging to those cultures. They also bring up that the importance of identity varies from person to person, which I can agree with. I enjoy messy trans narratives as a trans woman. I do not enjoy messy asexual narratives as an ace woman, however.
Character creation is based around selecting a “Trope” that is popular in this form of media, which is very similar to a PbtA playbook in nature. From there, you decide on strengths, flaws, weaknesses, and two questions to help flesh out the PC’s place in the world. As a BIG fan of playbooks, this got my seal of approval.
You have three age brackets for deciding on what trope you choose/mechanical differences:
- Staff Member
An additional part I liked of character creation is creating a fear for your character, which will have an in-game rule effect on your character when confronted with that fear.
When it pertains to the topic of magic and its use in the game, Kids On Brooms goes for a far more narrative, but still satisfyingly crunchy, direction. The book has six stats:
- Physical strength is Brawn.
- Typical intelligence is Brains.
- Skill at combat is Fight.
- Representing your raw determination is Grit.
- Power of personality and charisma is Charm.
- Both speed and getting out of hazardous situations can be found in Flight.
While these help create a well-fleshed out character, they also double for being the direction for what magic you utilize with regards to stats.
Want to lift something with a levitation spell? You would be hoisting it with your own arms otherwise, so that would be Brawn. Wish to launch a fireball at a hell-wolf? Fight of course!
I honestly really enjoy this rules-light direction for managing magic. As the book points out itself, the game is all about magic that surrounds everyone. It would nearly be impossible to create a book with a rule to encompass every little part of that.
Along with the magic system, the game offers the idea that brooms, familiars, and wands each give benefits to your character depending on the specific item and material used in the object. An additional facet I enjoy is that they offer the fact that, due to how light they are in rules, you could easily substitute either for a different item to fulfill the same purpose.
Improving at magic gets a bit more specific. You must choose a specific type of magic to specialize in, and by going to classes based around that magic (Divination, Potions, etc.) you may add a mark to that track. When it reaches a certain point, you get bonuses to that spell. You can then hope to progress to the next level of the track by doing the same until the point that you reach a mastery level. Once again, I appreciate the simple but robust system of it.
When it comes to the dice themselves, the game is based around rolling the amount of D6s equal to your stat number in use. If you beat the target number, you succeed, with a chart deciding by what magnitude. If you roll under, you fail, with a similar chart doing vice versa.
An interesting and rarely seen mechanic to the rolling is the difference between “Snap Decisions” and “Planned Actions”. As the names would imply, a Snap Decision is in the moment while a Planned Action is something you have time to prep for.
While it would seem a Planned Action is better than a Snap Decision due to its benefits, the fact that the book advises the GM to cause more consequences for a Planned Action gives the two a form of balance.
Now, onto something I loved about the game. It’s combat.
Rather than having an assortment of hit-points and conditions, the game instead goes for a near-entirely narrative style of fighting in attempts to harm one another. Both parties involved roll, with the difference in rolls defining whether you are unharmed, dazed, hurt, or on death’s door. While a cruel GM could potentially use it for one-hit kills often, the game advises to, y’know, NOT do that.
The GM section is fairly light. It mainly consists of advice on the different types of threats to create in facing the characters, tips on keeping a safe table, a quick runlist of preparing the school/world for the game and on homebrewing content for your game. I feel it could have been weightier in harder rules for the GM to utilize.
I do have, alongside this lighter criticism, a particular beef with one part of the GM section.
On the Encouraging Good Table Behaviour segment, it advises using in-game consequences, such as expulsion from the school in the game, to curtail bad player habits within the game. It’s most severe version revolves around turning a PC into an NPC if they continue to indulge in this behaviour. I have a large issue with how it involves settling something that should be done outside the game (the real-life player’s behaviour) with an in-game action.
For too long, we expect there to be a rule or mechanic to help solve table issues, when in fact the real tool is learning how to manage the people at the table in real life. Not in a fancy little game ruling.
Besides this beef, I find the GM section to do the job for the game it’s made for.
Kids On Brooms is a game where it’s easy to tell where the inspiration came from. You could likely still see the imprint of where the serial numbers were filed off.
But unlike Harry Potter and its many (MANY) problems, both within the book and within its author, Kids On Brooms gives you the magic you loved from your life of reading those books and puts it in your hands for you to reclaim. I will not say it’s perfect or should be free of criticism, because nothing is or should be. But I do eagerly look forward to my first time playing this game. And I hope you do too.
(BTW: Gonna make my game trans as hell.)