Friday, April 5, 2019

Review: Stranger Things D&D Roleplaying Game Starter Set

Image stolen shamelessly from because I didn't have time to take a decent picture.
As always, click the image to go to the original link.
I have actual posts in my Drafts, but they need polishing before publication.  In the meantime, I felt inspired to do a review, so that's what you're getting.  This will be comparatively quick.

Just yesterday, I unexpectedly received my copy of the Stranger Things D&D Roleplaying Game Starter Set.  While I'm not obsessed with Stranger Things, I've been keeping up with all the D&D 5e releases, and I certainly dig Stranger Things.

Like a lot of product tie-ins, the end result is... fine.

Most jarring: it's weird to see Netflix branding on an official D&D product.  That's vaguely surreal, but par for the course in our current cyberpunk dystopia.

So, what you get: a dice set, two demogorgon minis (that's "the demogorgon," not "Demogorgon, Prince of Demons"), a series of quickstart rules, five level-three character sheets based on the player party from season 1 of Stranger Things, and a starting adventure.

The dice are pretty standard, and the quickstart rules are what you would expect — a very serviceable set of basic rules that contains core functionality, but is ultimately crippleware designed to sell you a copy of the full game.  As it stands, this Starter Set is designed to support play from Level 3 to Level 4 (and allow the Dungeon Master to expand the provided materials from Level 4 to Level 5), and so the included spells, magic items, and monsters reflect that sensibility.

You do get stats for the Stranger Things demogorgon, as well as (so far as I can tell) the 5e debut of the thessalhydra, not seen since third edition according to my research.  If you're nostalgic for Monster Manual II, well, now thessalmonsters are back.

The demogorgon miniatures — one "painted" (meaning it has highlights, like a pinkish maw), one not — are odd by miniature standards.  They're made out of some flexible vinyl, like something you might get from a gumball machine.  (That might have been intentional.)  This is probably the single most exciting thing from the set.

Finally, there's the included adventure.  Purported to be Mike Wheeler's adventure he was running for his friends, it's a neat piece of Stranger Things lore, and might work as an introductory adventure, but is a bit flat as an actual D&D adventure.  It's pretty linear, features potent quest-giving NPCs, and is fairly dependent on the vagaries of the dice to complete.  (I daresay the adventure from the 5e Starter Set was better, and it was also a fairly linear slugfest.)

It's a neat concept — trying to make an adventure like the ones you wrote when you were ten — but is admittedly not the most inspiring starting adventure.  I would be unlikely to run it as-is unless I was trying to get non-D&D players into the hobby using Stranger Things as bait.

(An aside: despite my criticisms about it — which might just be a knee-jerk reaction to what I perceive as a corporate tie-in cashgrab — I truly love the idea of RPG pastiches.  I've seen a lot about genre emulation in RPGs, but not as much about authorial voice emulation.  Although that leads into the potential rabbit hole of RPGs-as-literature, a topic for another day.)

Credit where credit is due, though, the adventure has a couple of neat setpieces: they give rules and description for the Upside Down, as well as a magic sword specifically designed to combat entities from the Upside Down, and there's a neat segment with an infinite puzzle maze and a riddling knight that might be worth modifying and stealing.

Finally, regarding the art: the box art and the interior art in the quickstart is all official Stranger Things art in the same style as the promotional materials, so if you like that stuff, you'll dig this.  (If you're looking for fantasy art to fire your imagination, you won't find it here.)  The attached adventure is designed to look like a kid's drawings, which is endearing in its own way.

Overall, it's the standard starter set stuff: everything you need to play a quick game of D&D taking you from Level 3 to 4, and then all the necessary tools to give a starting Dungeon Master the ability to plan a game from Level 4 to 5.  Given that the Basic Rules are available for free online, along with infinite free content in the corners of the internet, it's up to you whether it's worth the $25 price tag.  If you're way into Stranger Things or think you could convince your Stranger Things-loving friends to play D&D with this, it might be worth your while.  Otherwise, you're paying for a couple of miniatures, a new monster, an old monster updated to the new edition, a new magic item, and one or two neat ideas to steal for your regular game.  Maybe that's worth it to you, maybe it's not.

Final thought: while this product fell flat for me, it's entirely worthwhile if it brings new people into the hobby.


  1. I thought this was a very fair review. I linked over here from my blog today so that others might read it. Enjoying your blog!

    1. Thanks! I was a little worried because a friend was operating under the impression that I hated both the game and Stranger Things, which was way more harsh than I was trying to convey.


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