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Like many geeks Stranger Things is one of my favorite shows, and not just because the series opens with a group of 80s kids playing tabletop Dungeons & Dragons in the basement. It’s supremely cool to see an official D&D tie-in product, as no small number of players became D&D fans at least in part by Stranger Things.
The Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set has everything you need to quickly jump in and play D&D, using the included pre-made characters. The adventure is ripped straight out of the series as the adventurers hunt down the monstrous Thessalhydra, with plenty of literal and metaphorical nods to the show along the way.
MAJOR SPOILERS – DM’s only!
The following content is included in the $14.99 Strangers Things Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set:
- Full starter set rulebook, containing all the 5e rules to run the introductory adventure.
- “Hunt for the Thessalhydra” adventure, which includes:
- 2 10-ft square battle maps (5-ft subdivisions) w/ tokens and dynamic lighting.
- 1 blank random battle map.
- 1 alphabetized token page.
- 5 pre-made level 3 character sheets
- Over 50 spells as player handout cards
- 10 magic item handouts (4 with art)
- Over 20 monster sheets with artwork and matching player handouts (copy and pasted from “Lost Mine of Phandelver;” only 8 monsters are used in this adventure)
From what I can tell the rules content is directly copy and pasted from the 2014 Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, which includes the highly lauded adventure, “The Lost Mine of Phandelver.” That includes several chapters on skill checks, the d20 system, combat, and various other rules like looting and spellcasting. It’s all presented in an easy-to-read format within the Journal section to get everyone up and rolling dice as quickly as possible.
One interesting new element I hadn’t seen before in a Roll20 module – spells as player handouts in the Journal. Over 50 spells that can appear in the adventure are individually listed as separate handouts, letting everyone quickly find the information. Normally you can use the Compendium to look up any information, including spells, but as this is a Starter Set, it’s very possible you don’t own the Roll20 Player’s Handbook, making these spell handouts a nice gesture.
I also liked that the included characters aren’t a repeat of those found in the original Starter Set. Instead we get completely new pre-made characters with some interesting race/class combos, like a half-orc ranger and dwarf bard. None of them have any background information or traits, but are all set up correctly with tokens and art, and can be easily leveled up using Roll20’s Charactermancer.
The included adventure is called “Hunt for the Thessalhydra.” It’s a very simple, straightforward series of dungeon crawls designed for the 3rd level pregens. The hand-drawn art and personable writing are based on DM Mike from the show, though I wish there were far more of it.
With the grid maps Roll20 goes a step further in providing full color maps, which is hugely appreciated. There are only two battle maps but they both look great while still maintaining a youthful hand-drawn look.
The adventure is combat-heavy as players are tasked with hunting down the monstrous creature, traveling through troglodyte caverns, a labyrinth of random encounters, and even the Upside Down, where they fight the Demogorgon.
No not that Demogorgon, the creature from the show, which they named after the D&D demon. Yep, the powerful creature from the show isn’t even the final boss! Once they defeat it (or even just wound it a bit) they can exit the Upside Down and enter the lair of the Thessalhydra, culminating in a climactic boss battle with another unique monster.
Compared to the sweeping adventure of “The Lost Mine of Phandelver,” the Thessalhydra adventure falls well short. Granted, Phandelver is damn good, and still considered one of the best D&D adventures ever designed even five years later. The Stranger Things adventure is much shorter and simpler but certainly isn’t horrible. There’s some fun design notes from Mike and a neat little riddle section in the labyrinth. It’s fairly combat-heavy and something you can complete in a handful of sessions, which is probably suitable given the material.
The Phandelver set is still vastly superior, but for Stranger Things fans there’s certainly a lot of love baked into this Starter Set.
- Starter Set includes everything you need to start playing D&D.
- “Hunt for the Thessalhydra” is simple to run, and provides some fun Stranger Things flavoring.
- Maps have color while still looking hand-drawn.
- Atypical starter set heroes, including a dwarf bard and half-orc ranger.
- The adventure is a very short and simple dungeon crawl.
- As a starter set, falls well short of the original “Lost Mine of Phandelver” bundle.
The Verdict: “A competent starter kit with some fun Stranger Things elements, but pales in comparison to the original 2014 5e Starter Set.”
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