Now that you’ve binged the entire third season of Stranger Things, what are you going to do when those pangs of nostalgia make you want to return to the 1980s for some good and creepy fun?
Well, there’s always roleplaying games.
Sure, you could play Dungeons & Dragons. It’s the game I run and play the most right now even though I love a ton of other games too. Hasbro even has a Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set that features an adventure called Hunt for the Thessalhydra “written by” Mike Wheeler, the character from the show. Luring people in with the siren song of Stranger Things can be a good way to get people into D&D. However, what if you don’t want to play in the typical fantasy setting?
What if you want to portray your own group of kids in the 1980s that are uncovering dark secrets, enjoying the freedom of childhood, and fighting and fleeing from terrible monsters? Well, you are in luck because there are plenty of roleplaying games that do specifically that.
Let’s take a look at a short list of options that you might want to check out further.
Tales from the Loop
Tales from the Loop, from Free League and Modiphius, is a fantastic game based on the world created by artist Simon Stålenhag. It takes place in a very different, yet familiar, version of the 1980s. The setting is full of advanced technology along with Research in High Energy Physics facilities, also called Loops.
Two locations (one in the U.S. and one in Sweden) with Loops are detailed in the book., along with advice on creating a town of your own with a Loop facility. A range of secret experiments occurs in these particle accelerators, as well as accidents including rips in the space-time continuum, illnesses, strange machinery, cyborgs, robots, strange beasts and much more.
Really, you can tailor the setting to how you what and the types of creatures and obstacles you want to face.
It is a simple d6 system. Ratings determine the number of dice you roll, and you will need to get a 6 on at least one of the dice for success. Most of the time, you will only be required to get one success.
More to Love
There is also a new Loop game called Things from the Flood, which is something of a sequel. You can play older kids, it takes place in the 90s, and this game can be lethal, whereas the kids in Tales from the Loop don’t die.
Guess what? Tales from the Loop is also being turned into a TV series by Amazon. Let’s hope they took a cue from the artwork because I really want to see Stålenhag’s work come to visual life.
Kids on Bikes
I recently talked about Kids on Bikes in a recent post you can find here, so I won’t bore you with all of that same information again. The thing that really helps to make this feel like Stranger Things is the fact that there can be a powered character in the game, like Eleven. Instead of having one player as the powered characters, they are controlled by the entire group of PCs. It is another very simple rules system, too, so it shouldn’t take long to get a game going.
If you are interested, there is a cool live play that’s on YouTube called Kollok 1991 that uses this system.
Dark Places & Demogorgons
Dark Places & Demogorgons from Bloat Games is an Old School Revival (OSR) game that uses a somewhat modified version of the classic rules from Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s. The rules are simple, and there is a target number guideline table for difficulty checks and relatively simple combat.
Keep in mind that like the other games on this list, it tends to be less about combat than it is about investigation and finding ways to take care of the problems without fighting. After all, a group of kids might be able to stand up to bullies but confronting a raging werewolf head on and without anything to aid them is likely to lead to characters getting ripped apart.
That’s not to say that you can’t have combat. The kids should be smart about how they take down the monsters, and they should be rewarded for it. The GM should also try to come up with multiple methods of dealing with a problem and reward the players for thinking outside of the box.
With this system, there are some optional rules for character classes. In addition to the “typical” types of kid and teen classes, you could play as someone with psionics, an experiment, a Firestarter, or a telekinetic. Unlike Kids on Bikes, players can create powered characters, as long as the GM allows it in their game.
If you are familiar with D&D and like how the system works, it shouldn’t take long for you to understand how to play and run the game. In addition to the Dark Places & Demogorgons core book, there are quite a few supplements available for it already. These include a werewolf sourcebook, a vampire sourcebook, a UFO investigator’s handbook, a ghost hunter’s handbook, and a cryptic manual.
I’ve run a couple of sessions of this game, and it’s a lot of fun. It was easy to get people already accustomed to D&D on board.
With this option from Fat Goblin Games, the similarity is right in the title. At the time of this writing, there is only a PDF available, but it’s likely that there will be a print on demand option coming from DriveThruRPG.com before too long. It is based on a game called vs. Stranger Stuff – Season 2, also from Fat Goblin Games, but has been adapted to use with the TinyD6 system.
When the player attempts something that could fail, they will roll 2d6. If they roll a 5 of 6, it is a success. In some circumstances, the player might get advantage, which allows them to roll 3d6. Disadvantage would allow the players to roll only 1d6. Combat is slightly more complicated, but it is still easy to learn.
I really like the style, layout, and the art of Stranger Stuff. It’s another rules-lite system, and it is easy to pick up and get a game going without too much work on the part of the GM.
These are some of the games that I know about and own that work well for emulating stories like those you might find in Stranger Things. I’m sure there are plenty of other games out there that can do the same. Feel free to talk about them in the comments.