The other day, someone asked me in the office: how do I get into Dungeons & Dragons? They had a group of friends, but nobody had any experience, and they all wanted to give it a go. It's a trickier question to answer than it seems, because it's always best when you have at least one person to guide you.
But if you don't, the Stranger Things D&D starter set is one option.
The one-shot adventured is themed around the Thessalhydra, the protagonist responsible for all the misery in the D&D campaign in the first season of Stranger Things. Like the original group, you'll play as one of five characters — a ranger, wizard, bard, cleric or paladin — as you wander through forests before eventually reaching the Upside Down as you chase the Thessalhydra.
Inside the box you'll find two Demogorgon figurines, a set of six standard D&D dice, and the basic starter set rulebook customised with Stranger Things art. The miniatures themselves are fairly standard fare — bendable plastic, nothing especially rigid — and, save for a bit of red colouring on the inside of the mouth of one, both unpainted.
What the Stranger Things starter set is best for is people who have never played D&D before. If you're looking for a campaign that runs over a few weeks or months — an easy first introduction, but not something too long that's going to take years — the Stranger Things set doesn't provide that. It's best treated like a one-shot campaign, with enough material to last a single night.
Each of the pre-made characters starts out at third level, which is a great boost for newer players. It means there's more abilities and interactions to initially understand, but it also offers just enough power to help first-timers feel like they're doing something.
Without too many spoilers, the campaign will take players through the Upside Down. There's a very neat little section before the transition that requires some creative thinking, although in our session — which contained Gizmodo alumni editor Rae Johnston, myself and the Dragon Friends comedy D&D podcast group — nobody was especially stumped.
On the DM's side, the included adventure is designed to look more like a series of notes rather than a full adventure book. It echoes the Stranger Things spirit well, but if you're looking for a starter adventure with the length and exhaustive detail of an official 5th Edition campaign, you're out of luck.
A saving grace of this is that the Starter Set isn't too expensive for people who have never played D&D before. It'll cost you $39 for the Starter Set — a standard adventure would cost anywhere between $30 and $60 depending on store and the adventure, although that doesn't include the player's handbook and any other bits and pieces you might be missing (like dice).
So from that perspective, it's not a bad way for a group to get involved. The campaign itself is built around exploration and clue hunting, so it's good for players that are finding their feet, and if you have an entire group that is learning D&D from scratch, having the pre-made sheets and a one-shot campaign built on the 5th Edition fundamentals is a easy way to start.
The problem is that you won't get much replay value. Once you've chopped the demogorgon into tiny pieces — or skinned it, as our party insisted despite the horrified reaction from the DM — there's not much of a reason to return. Having a more fleshed out campaign, or an option between a one-shot and something that runs over multiple sessions, would have been nice.
Still, the Starter Set does a good job of translating the D&D flavour across. Existing D&D fans would probably get more fun out of making their own campaign and encounters — particularly with the encounter creator that's just been patched into D&D Beyond. But for your friends or the group that is starting literally from scratch, with no dice or background in pen and paper RPGs of their own, $39 isn't a bad way to get off the ground.