Stranger Things D&D Starter Set Interview: It’s geek squared
It's a magic missile cast against your wallet.
Every once in a while we here at GameFinder cut out the "video" element of video gaming in favour of RPG-ing on a tabletop. Preferably our Dungeons & Dragons campaigns are attended by a whole bunch of equally nerdy imagineers who have the Constitution stat needed to roll dice and eat pizza for 10 hours straight.
We're obsessed. And you can therefore only imagine our excitement when we heard the Stranger Things licence was being married to D&D in a physical starter pack. In order to get a better handle on this dream merging of franchises, we sat down for a chat with Jeremy Crawford from Dungeons & Dragons.
"So this starter set is perfect for a person who maybe has experienced D&D only through video games or through a show like Stranger Things," Jeremy told us when we asked who this product was aimed at. "The set assumes that you don't know anything about D&D. The adventure inside is written as if the kid in the show is the DM who wrote the adventure himself. So in a way that adventure serves as a bridge for a newcomer to D&D because it's written by somebody in our world. When you play, you're diving right into the worlds of D&D like you have this imaginary character holding your hand introducing you."
It's great that this Stranger Things Starter Set is a good jumping off point for newbies. But is there also enough here to sate veterans who have been at it since the 80s?
It seems to us that D&D and Stranger Things is such a great and natural pairing of products. But what are some of the cool ways that they've been merged together?
"So the biggest way is in the adventure itself where we've also provided game statistics for a couple of the monsters that you see in the Stranger Things TV show," Jeremy explained. "Now it's like you get to fight those critters in D&D itself which is a kind of full circle. D&D inspired Stranger Things and now Stranger Things has provide some inspiration for this D&D adventure.
Also in the rulebook of this starter set, we've changed the mix of character classes that are available in the regular D&D starter set. You get the wizard, the rogue, the cleric and the fighter; whereas in this starter set, you get ranger and a paladin. We wanted to make sure we were providing the character classes that the kids play in the show. Even there in the class mix, the show is having an influence.
You'll be starting off already capable, too. In 5th edition D&D we've made first level characters so that they are true newbies that are just starting out on their adventuring careers, but here you're third level. You have some experience under your belt, you're going to be more powerful and you're also going to have more of a chance of surviving the quests that you go on. I think it's nice that you're getting to start with a little bit of a boost and we generally feel like third level is the best place to start no matter what D&D world you're playing in. If instead you want that experience of a character who's finding their way, who might be a little fragile to start, then you should start with first level."
What makes a great Stranger Things themed DM in your experience? Are DMs encouraged to improvise and explain an open-world, or is this adventure designed to be narrower?
"It's designed to encourage improvisation," said Jeremy. "and I think that's really appropriate given how the kids play D&D in the Stranger Things show. You know they're very fast and loose, kind of making things up which is exactly how I played D&D as a kid. When me and my friends first started playing D&D, we didn't even realise the game had rules. We were just sort of making things up, and then it was this revelation later on when I discovered that the game actually had rules that you could play by.
We had this older kid who [had] one of the early adventures that were published by TSR, and he'd describe to us what we would see and what was going on and then just ask us what did our characters want to do. Later on we discovered there were rules that that help determine what your character is capable of. The Stranger Things starter set definitely has rules for your character and what they can do but the adventure booklet is pretty open-ended. I mean there definitely is a story there. Definitely a sequence of events. But there's a lot of room for the dungeon master to make things up. I think improv is the best thing [for a DM]. Having a very lively imagination and a good sense of humour."
Whichever way you look at it, Stranger Things inspiring D&D (and vice versa) is a match made in heaven. We can only hope that it inspires a new generation of tabletop adventurers. You'd be well advised to smash out a few campaigns of this as you desperately wait for Stranger Things 3 to drop onto Netflix on 4 July 2019. Godspeed in your quest, and may you always get the 13 needed to fireball the demogorgon!