Geek Culture

Geek Review: Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

In the lead up to the upcoming third season of Stranger Things, a lot of love for all things related to the glorious, glorious ‘80s have resurfaced in recent years, such as the iconic movies, music and art style. 

Maybe except the mullet, that’s for sure. 

But we digress, as this time we’re taking a look at the recently-released Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, by Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro.

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Dungeons & Dragons has long been a part of pop culture since its inception in 1974, and it also serves as one of the main inspirations behind Stranger Things. This D&D Starter Set, themed around the show, is actually a long time coming for many fans, as it pays homage to the actual game the main cast of characters plays in the series.

The box itself is gorgeous, made to replicate the original “Red Box” Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set that came out in 1983. Instead of the iconic art by Larry Elmore, with a warrior squaring off against a red dragon, the box art here depicts Mike Wheeler facing the Demogorgon.

Out of the box, you’ll find the 32-page rulebook, complete with a list of spells and monster stat blocks at the back. There’s also a 28-page short adventure module, Hunt for the Thessalhydra, the very same adventure we saw Mike Wheeler run for his group of friends in Season 1, printed to resemble an old-school notebook, for immersion’s sake. The five character sheets are also based off of the same D&D characters Mike and company played in the show.

There is also a set of seven polyhedral dice for all the different rolls you’ll make. While you could certainly share just this one set of dice among you and your group, it will expedite things a lot more if everyone gets their own set of dice, the onus which is on you and your group.

There is also the addition of two Demogorgon miniatures, one painted and the other unpainted. It’s interesting that, while the Demogorgon is no doubt an iconic monster in the Stranger Things franchise, they aren’t the only big bad in the adventure and it would’ve been nice to have a miniature of another monster instead of having two of the same. Also, while it’s nice that the miniatures are relatively durable due to the strong plastic, their detail leaves much to be desired, especially with the painted version. Thankfully, we’re always free to repaint them to our heart’s content.

The rulebook provides a great insight for new players getting into the game. It acknowledges that some of you coming into the RPG have watched the show, which is a nice way to segway a newcoming fan into the game proper. The book also reminds you that the rules, in typical 5th Edition D&D fashion, serve as mere guidelines and aren’t meant to be followed word-for-word, making it accessible for anyone to pick up and play. 

The adventure itself, Hunt for the Thessalhydra, is a very simple adventure that is designed for an hour or two of gameplay. Without giving too much away, the story itself is rather open-ended, which is nice for groups who are into improvisation. However, for those who prefer a more structured approach, not to worry, as the module constantly gives you tips on how to roleplay specific NPCs.

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That said, it wouldn’t have hurt to have included some boxed text like in traditional D&D adventure modules, to help ease Dungeon Masters who are less roleplay-savvy into the roleplaying rhythm. Also, boxed text would’ve definitely helped in describing certain locations in the adventure, instead of just giving simple descriptors such as “scary” or “dangerous”. 

While the artistic choice to make the adventure module look as if Will the Wise himself scribbled it all down on a notepad is really cool, there’s an obvious lack of artwork that a 12-year-old kid should be using. This not only would’ve made the pages look more than mere blocks of text, but they would’ve also helped paint a picture for newer DMs. 

Despite this, the Hunt for the Thessalhydra adventure plays rather well, giving players a good enough objective to follow, with a really simple but effective dungeon/adventure location to plunder and lots of monsters to fight. Whether you’re fumbling through the adventure as a new player or running this as an experienced DM, this adventure shouldn’t take you more than two to three hours to play. The lack of replayability significantly reduces the value of this boxed set, however. 

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Of course, this is still an introduction for fans of the show to get into Dungeons & Dragons, which the boxed set ultimately does well. The price point of US$24.99 is a tad steeper than the standard D&D Starter Set that came out five years ago (US$19.99 for that one), and we understand it’s mainly for the branding with the Netflix series. 

If you’re looking for a more substantial and comprehensive first D&D experience, go for the regular Starter Set, which offers a much more complete mini-adventure with tons more replay value that will last you several sessions. But if you’re really into all things Stranger Things and absolutely must have a maiden D&D experience based on what the four boys played in the story, then this is the box set for you.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

The Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set is a solid way to bring fans of the show into the hobby, despite being ultimately a mere taste of the definitive D&D experience.

Overall
7.9/10
7.9/10
  • Design - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Gameplay - 8/10
    8/10
  • Story - 7/10
    7/10
  • Value - 7/10
    7/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 9/10
    9/10
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