Review: Stranger Things 5th Ed. D&D Starter Set

Our regular GM was sick last week, so our gaming group had a chance to try out the Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons Stranger Things Starter Set. In short: it’s a great little adventure that’s just right for beginners or DM’s who need a starting point for a low-level campaign. And for more experienced gamers, I’ve written up some ways to modify it for more advanced play.



What You Get

For $24.99 you get a box containing the following:

  • “Hunt for the Thesselhydra” Adventure Book – written and styled as though 13-year-old Mike Wheeler from the show wrote it
  • Starter Set Rule Book – containing all the basics of how to play and run 5th Ed. D&D
  • 5 Pre-made Character Sheets – everything is filled in and explained except for your character’s name and the full description of their spells.
  • 6 Dice – in blue
  • 1 Painted Demogorgon Figure
  • 1 Unpainted Demogorgon Figure

As with all Wizards of the Coast products, the artwork and quality are exceptional. The books are slick and small enough to transport easily. The dice and miniatures are exemplary – hallmarks of the company, as it has been for over a decade.

Technically speaking, you don’t need anything else besides some pencils or a digital note-tracking app to play this adventure. But if you feel the need to gear-up beforehand, I would recommend a set of dice for all players, a grid-map and miniatures (if your group likes mini-combat), and maybe an 80’s horror movie soundtrack in the background for some ambience. And although the character sheets are superbly scribable, you might consider making a copy or jotting notes on a separate sheet of paper just to preserve them for future games with different groups.

Player Perspective

Fifth Edition D&D is very easy to learn and to play. It’s even easier when you have pre-made characters and pre-written adventures. This boxed set would make a very good starter game for inexperienced players or DM’s who want to get a taste of what a standard game night feels like that includes many of the tropes that we all expect to see – villagers asking strangers for help, some classic D&D monsters, and a simple plot without too many complications or twists.

The tropes are there because this game was written by a pre-teen from the Stranger Things show. In fact, the adventure book has some hilarious bits that everyone should take a look at after the game session. This leads to funny moments with NPC’s who push you relentlessly towards the sole quest and puzzles that have a child-like sense of purpose. You could easily continue writing from where Mike left off and create a full campaign in this same mindset.

Without spoiling too much, I will say that the adventure is set so that your group of 3 to 5 level one characters will do a bit of roleplaying with NPC’s, recieve a quest to hunt down a monster, venture into a dungeon, deal with traps, solve puzzles, fight creatures, and journey into the Upside Down – the shadowy mirror-dimension from the show. Along the way, you will likely gain some treasure, magic items, and just enough experience to level up once or twice. For experienced gamers, you could knock this out in around two hours. For complete beginners who need to look up rules, you’re looking at somewhere between four and six hours of gameplay, in my estimation.

Our gaming group consisted of three experienced players, one intermediate player who had knowledge of 5th Ed., and one novice player with limited d20 experience. Our DM was seasoned but had never run 5th Ed. before. We had no issues and finished in about two-and-a-half hours with a short break in the middle.

Modifications and Meta-Games

As-is, you can drop this adventure into any low-level fantasy campaign without issue, plug-and-play style. The details are vague enough that it would fit just about anywhere without too much tweaking. You could even just use the pre-made characters as backup PC’s or followers – they’re very standard-issue. It would be suitable for anywhere from about levels 1 to 4, although you’ll need to make the challenges a little more deadly if you go up beyond level 2.

The plotline could also work for a higher-level campaign, but will need some adjustment. Tracking down a Thesselhydra is the main mission and you may need to make that more of a mystery – perhaps stretch the tracking over a longer wilderness adventure. The danger-level will need to be cranked much higher and the monsters should be upgraded to suit the average level of the party. Getting into The Upside Down should also require more steps – maybe the group has to find several special ingredients or a lost book of rituals as a side-quest before they can take on the boss-monsters.

This game is written in such a way that you could very easily Kid-ify it – making it pleasantly perfect for the younger set (even those too young to watch Stranger Things). You could even make the heroes into kids, if you like. You can go for a bloodless game by providing food to use as bait so they can lure away beasts. One set of monsters is intelligent enough to negotiate with (smelly troglodytes – maybe you can offer them soap?) and The Upside Down could be presented as a silly place where everything is actually, literally, upside-down.

Alternately, you could add even more horror and expand on the dark corruption of an open portal into another dimension. Maybe the region is starting to see strange mutations as the universes merge. Or, for fans of the show, you could add lots more characters and symbolic elements from Mike Wheeler’s hometown and the events that happen there – perhaps the game is all just a way for him to work through his trauma.

You could also go completely meta-game and play as the kids from Stranger Things playing the D&D game, just like in the show. Award experience points for “out of character” comments that fit with what Dustin, Will, Lucas, and Eleven would say and do. Then, expand on the game by switching to another system like “Kids on Bikes” from Renegade Game Studios. Or, have the kids get sucked into the world of D&D and have to find a way back to Earth. You might even use the adventure book itself as a prop for another horror/investigation game where you’re searching for a lost Will Byers who vanished from a strange, Indiana town.

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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