4 out of 5 rating for Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set
Let's get one thing out of the way first. This set is not as good as the main starter set. Lost Mine of Phandelver is an excellent adventure that even seasoned players will enjoy. The Hunt for the Thessalhydra, the adventure included in this set, is not nearly as good.
Another thing to get out of the way: fans of the show Stranger Things will be disappointed if they are looking for a game that captures the show. This set is not meant to simulate the show. If that is what you are looking for, you'll be much better served by the excellent game Tales from the Loop (https://www.modiphius.net/products/tales-from-the-loop-rpg-rulebook).
The last thing to get out of the way is that the description is a bit misleading. The product description states: "[FONT=gilroy, sans-serif]It's a great way for new as well as seasoned Dungeon & Dragons players to experience the D&D adventure Stranger Things character Mike Wheeler has created for his friends." Some unluckly grognard may make an impulse purchase hoping that this set trys to capture D&D as it would have been played during the time the show [/FONT]Stranger Things[FONT=gilroy, sans-serif] take place. If you are looking for an OSR experience, you'll be disappointed. [/FONT]
[FONT=gilroy, sans-serif]So what [/FONT]is[FONT=gilroy, sans-serif] this set all about? [/FONT]
[FONT=gilroy, sans-serif]It contains two softcover, stapled booklets. The first is the Basic Rules, with some screen caps and images from the show [/FONT]Stranger Thing[FONT=gilroy, sans-serif]. The monster section also includes stats for the "demogorgon" monster that is the main monster in the first season of the show. Other than that, it is basically the same content in Basic Rules that you can get as a free PDF from the Wizards of the Coast Web site. [/FONT]
[FONT=gilroy, sans-serif]The adventure is basically a one shot that is designed to look like it was handwritten by Mike Wheeler (a character from the show who is the DM for the games the boys play). The adventure is a pretty basic railroad adventure that is only distinguished by some light treatment of the "Upside Down." It contains a bit of fluff description and some special mechanics for the upside down. Other than that, the rest of the adventure is your basic fantasy road trip and dungeon crawl.
Experienced players and DMs are only going to want this set if they are collectors. If you like the Netflix series and like D&D, it is a nice collectible to have. I could see having some fun running the adventure as a beer & pretzels one-shot using the included pre-generated characters sheets included in the box.
I also like the two demogorgon (the monstrosity from the show, not the Demon Prince) minis included in the box. They are both grayish, with one having the inside of is flower-like maw painted red. While not an amazing sculpt, it is more than good enough for use at the table and, as far as I know, is only available through this set.
A set of dice are included. They are dark blue with white numbering (at least in my set, not sure if they are the same in all sets). They are fine, but I don't consider them a "full" set because they only include a single 10-sided die. Percentile rolls do not seem to come up in the included adventure, but I still consider a full set of D&D dice to have two ten-sided dice, one for the "tens" and one for the "ones" for rolling percentiles.
But I'm still giving this set 4 stars. The reason for the high rating is that for YOUNGER PLAYERS, or even junior high and high school students who are new to the game and less "bookish", this adventure is far easier to prep for and run. In this regard, it is a superior introduction to D&D and TTRPGs to new players with little to no prior experience.
I am confident that I can give this to my 9 year old son and he could run it, with perhaps me helping with the some of the combat rules.
If you are a collector or know a young potential gamer who is new to the hobby, I think that this is an excellent introduction. [/FONT]
3 out of 5 rating for Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set
A DnDLoremaster.com review.
I picked this up at The Perky Nerd for $24.99.
We’ll tackle the props first, and then the books.
These are the exact same dice as the original Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. Those were perfect, therefore these are also perfect. #ObjectiveTruth
When you provide minis, it’s weird to me that you only provide two because D&D has a host of minis available. And before someone says, “that’d be too expensive,” my preemptive response is D&D also has the art files for about a billion die-cut cardboard tokens. These things saw a fair amount of use in the D&D 4th edition days. It comes off as a gimmick to sell this Starter Set to some audience that wants demogorgon minis (not a small audience!), but then fail to take into account for the folks using a battlemat and minis. Especially when you could do so very cheaply. Pathfinder Pawns and the freely available paper minis from folks like Trash Mob Minis show just how easy it would be to add a little more prestige without much additional cost.
I dinged it one star for that.
The five included pregenerated characters are level 3, with all of the information you need to level them up to level 5. Starting at level 3 isn’t much more complex than level 1, so that seems fine. As a result, the characters can take a bit more punishment, which is useful in the one-shot scenario included. These characters don’t have much individual background information (unlike the previous Starter Set), but they do have plenty of description of their class, race, and background, so you have a good deal of roleplay information.
The pregens are: Hill dwarf bard, Wood elf cleric, Human paladin, Half-orc ranger, Half-elf wizard.
The rulebook is about 10 pages bigger than the one included in the original D&D Starter Set, primarily because the Stranger Things one includes magic items and monster stat blocks referenced in the adventure book, The Hunt for the Thessalhydra. In the original set, those things showed up in the back of the Lost Mine of Phandelver. Additionally, the spells included in this set include a wider range of classes: bard, cleric, paladin, ranger, and wizard. The original set only had cleric and wizard spells.
Otherwise, this rulebook is simply a re-styled version of the previous one. That means you receive:
*Pretty much the entirety of the Combat and Equipment sections from the Player’s Handbook.
*Everything you need to understand ability scores, skills, the basics of adventuring, and spellcasting.
The Hunt for the Thessalhydra
The included adventure is 24 pages. It’s designed to look like a DM’s personal notebook adventure, specifically Mike Wheeler’s notebook from the show. There’s some great formatting to achieve this: minimal art done in a “simplistic” style, basic line-art maps, and a handwritten-style font.
The good news is plentiful. The Hunt for the Thessalhydra is a straightforward adventure overall, but includes a fairly large amount of roleplaying- and exploration-based encounters, as opposed to copious amounts of combat. There are several traps and hidden doors, too. Additionally, the monsters throughout the adventure have simple but effective ecology notes and goals all their own. This creates situations where morale and faction alliances will certainly turn potential combat encounters into roleplay encounters or chase sequences. There’s even opportunity for the adventurers to convince one of the largest factions of monsters to view them as heroes or even demigods. This of course can lead to all sorts of fun (and trouble). All of the situations presented feature multiple possible ways to advance through the adventure: failure is not an end-game in most circumstances. That’s nice to see.
There are some bad (or at least wonky) issues with the adventure. It’s a one-shot (at most an 8 hour game), and therefore replayability doesn’t even come close to comparing with Lost Mine of Phandelver. The players are provided with level 3 characters, so while they aren’t terribly complex, it does beg some questions about this being called a “starter” set, I suppose. The formatting is such that it leads to overall page bloat compared to…well, anything else that Wizards of the Coast’s team publishes, so that feels a little shaky given this is a higher price point. Arguably the minis offset that issue. Finally, there’s a moment late in the adventure that’s a nod to Eleven from the Stranger Things series, and in that light, it’s pretty cool. However, outside of that context, this character appears as a deus ex machina that simply feeds you information to get to the next scene, rather than being a more interesting ally for a final confrontation, or having a role that lasts beyond the one scene.
These issues are arguably minor, so I dinged it one star. I could see some folks looking at this adventure in comparison to Lost Mine and easily taking off two or even three stars for the fact that it’s shorter, gimmicky, and has storytelling weaknesses not apparent in Lost Mine. I caution folks who are “in this for the adventure” to really pay attention to that facet. But if the adventure is not your main focus, you’ll be fine.
What Could Have Been
Ultimately, I wish this release had been more experimental with its adventure. Maybe it could’ve been like a Stranger Things twist on the old D&D cartoon, wherein the players run themselves or “real-world” stand-ins that cross through the Upside Down and thus become the D&D characters. Maybe that’s a stupid idea, maybe not. But it seems like a lot of brilliant tie-ins given what Stranger Things is, what the Upside Down could be used for, and the fact that the D&D cartoon is an iconic thing from the 1980’s. More importantly, the obvious “this character is Eleven” moment basically steps on its own toes, being a set piece scene that serves as a simple information dump, rather than being a potential puzzle to solve, or carrying any potential consequence into the subsequent scenes.
But I’m not holding this against the release, since that’s complaining about what this product isn’t, rather than what it is.
Editing and rules language is great through and through, even regarding the change to an even more “natural language” style in The Hunt for Thessalhydra to reflect the conceit that it’s a DM’s personal notebook.
The conditions reference page is the final, inside page of the Starter Set Rulebook, unlike in the previous (2014) D&D Starter Set, where it was the back cover page. That seems like a minor miss, requiring you to have the book open and taking up more space to keep that reference handy. It also forces you to flip between that reference and any monster stats when running the adventure, which wasn’t a problem in the previous set because the monster stat blocks were in The Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure book, instead. But in that case, you might be flipping between location info in the adventure and monster stat blocks, so this is not something I’m going to ding a star for.
There are no page numbers in The Hunt for Thessalhydra, which in my opinion is a major miss, even despite the relatively small page count. Worth a one star ding.
The two demogorgon miniatures are both made of a different material than standard D&D minis, which feels flimsy, yet somehow doesn’t seem like it will deform permanently except under the most extreme circumstances. You know how some minis will have a sword or something that’s permanently bent out of shape because of how you threw it in a box to carry it to game night? These aren’t likely to have that issue…but they feel bendy and weird all the same. It’s not a problem, and thus I won’t ding a star, but it’s something to note. It’s just different.
Content 3/5, Form 4/5. This averages to 3.5, and as always with D&D, we round down for a final result of 3: I like it!