(No spoilers for Season 2 in here.)
Even if this column appeared somewhere other than a website for tabletop roleplayers, it’d be impossible to write about Stranger Things without talking about gaming. Gaming is the metaphor the series uses to talk about monsters and dimensions, but it’s also how the kids see themselves, and how the show-runners and writers structure the plot – which makes it insanely ripe for conversion and dissection here. The show has three distinct tiers of ‘player character’ – the kids, the teens and parents, and the combat experts (Hoppers and Eleven). They’re clearly using the skill cap rules, but one character in each tier can be an exception and buy a few points in a combat ability normally reserved for the next tier. So, Dustin’s wrist rocket lets him Scuffle with an adult, and Nancy has that 4-point Shooting pool. (Presumably, the kids have all invested in Hiding and Fleeing, or just given a pile of build points each over to Eleven’s character so she can keep buying new Psychic Powers.)
In Fear Itself terms, the show nicely illustrates the concept of the Spiral of Misery setup. In the first season, you’ve got Will Byers at the centre of the spiral; he’s connected to the other kids, to his mother Joyce, and to his brother Jonathan; Joyce connects to Sheriff Hopper, Jonathan and Mike connect to Nancy, and the whole cast gets pulled in through those connections.
The show’s monsters are also perfectly set up for gaming. The Demogorgon pops in and out of our dimension, showing up to threaten the player characters before vanishing, leaving behind only clues that will get ignored by the authorities and picked up by the player character using their Investigative Abilities. It can move quickly enough to threaten the player characters wherever they are, but it’s also got plenty of tells (the flickering lights, the ‘scar tissue’ in the dimensional breaches) to give the players a chance to detect and prepare for its emergence.
Abilities: Aberrance 9, Athletics 10, Health 12, Scuffling 16
Hit Threshold: 4
Armour: None, but firearms attacks only deal one point of damage.
Awareness Modifier: +1
Stealth Modifier: +1
Damage Modifier: +1 (claw), or +3 (‘bite’). It can only bite downed or stunned foes.
Dimensional Tear: By spending 3 Aberrance, the Demogorgon can open a portal connecting the parallel reality of the Upside Down with our reality. These portals appear like wounds or breaches on a surface like a wall, floor or the bole of a tree. Once created, a breach remains active for some time (usually a few minutes, but it’s proportional to the size of the breach). The Demogorgon can pass through an active breach for free; other creatures can also wriggle through breaches, but it requires an Athletics test (Difficulty 4). Even after a breach reseals itself, reality is still wounded in that spot; the Demogorgon can reopen an old breach with a 1-point Aberrance spend.
Feed: The Demogorgon regains Aberrance when it eats.
Its hunger means the creature’s drawn to the smell of blood or the presence of meat.
Regeneration: When in the Upside Down, the Demogorgon may heal using Aberrance. 1 Aberrance point restores 2 Health.
Telekinesis: The Demogorgon may spend Aberrance as Telekinesis.
Unnatural Speed: For 2 Aberrance, the Demogorgon may:
- Make another claw attack
- Cover a short distance instantly
- Automatically dodge a Shooting attack.
All That Remains
- Investigative Procedure: The victim was mauled and partially eaten – but the bite marks look more like the mess that would be left by a shark.
- Mechanics: Hey, those electric lights are flickering. Someone should check the circuit.
- Notice: Hey, what’s this weird slime on the tree. It’s like a scab on reality. What happens when I pick at it?
- Outdoor Survival: It’s hunting us by scent. It can smell our blood.
- Science: But what if this gate already existed? Well, if it did, I I think we’d know. It would disrupt gravity, the magnetic field, our environment. It would deflect compass needles, cause electrical surges…
- Trivia: It’s in the Monster Manual!