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Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 2

Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 2: Car Trouble was our second session playing vs. Stranger Stuff, a game published by our friends at Fat Goblin Games.

A big thanks to Margot for sharing her session notes with me.

Stranger Things Season 3 — Episode 2
Stranger Things Season 3 — Episode 2: Car Trouble

Disclaimer: Because Stranger Things Season 3 isn’t out at the time of writing, you don’t need to worry about spoilers, but I’m going to assume you’ve watched Season 1 and 2 already.

Our second session of Stranger Things — Season 3 was an even bigger success, as plots thickened, twists were turned, and an important character went missing. If you haven’t already, read the summary of episode 1 so that you’re up to speed.

Next up is a summary of episode 2, with tips for running your own Stranger Things campaign at the end of the post.

Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 2: Car Trouble

Scene 1

Player Characters: Dustin, Mike, and Will.

The boys are back from school, watching TV at Mike’s house while it’s pouring with rain outside.

ThunderCats is playing on TV. In this episode, Mumm-Ra is planning to infiltrate the ThunderCat’s lair by assuming the identity of a common housefly.

The players then recapped the previous session and made some plans. It was a Wednesday, with Halloween coming up. They talked about dressing up as the ThunderCats, and maybe going to see Back To The Future.

GM’s Notes: Yeah, you all know the fan theories about Stranger Things Season 3 and Back To The Future.

Scene 2

Player Characters: Lucas, Hopper, and Steve.

Lucas comes into the station just as Hopper and Steve are heading out to fetch Steve’s car. Because of the rain, Hopper offers Lucas a ride.

They talk about El and Mr. Clarke, who are both acting strange(er).

Steve’s car is still parked along the side of the road, but a Brains 7 check reveals that the car has been tampered with, and a Brains 5 check lets the PCs spot tracks under the car: something with four legs and two-toed feet has ripped out the car’s innards!

GM’s Notes: I’ll share stats once my players have encountered the critters, in a later post.

Scene 3

Player Characters: Hopper, Lucas, and Jonathan.

Hopper tows Steve home, then, with  Lucas, heads to the school. They bump into Jonathan there.

Looking for El, they find the AV room locked. Once inside, they find that the equipment has been shifted (Brains 7 to spot this). On investigating, they find that the radios have been hollowed out and all their components removed.

They find Mr. Clarke and question him, but he only says that El went home. Hopper later gives Lucas an important assignment: “Watch him.” They figure out a plan to keep in radio contact, even though the radios are still full of static, which comes and goes in waves.

Scene 4

Player Characters:  The Byers Family.

The family is making dinner and talking about recent events.

It turns out that Will is still seeing visions of the mind flayer. He gets the feeling that it’s frustrated about something, is watching something he can’t see, and waiting for something.

Joyce calls Hopper, so by now, all the playable characters are pretty much in the loop, except maybe for Max and her step-brother.

GM’s Notes: If you think you know what D&D monster is the big bad in our campaign, leave a reply in the comments. Hint: there are two monsters running amok in Hawkins, both of which feature in most versions of D&D (if not all).

Scene 5

Player Characters: Hopper, Jonathan, and Nancy.

Hopper heads home, but on the way gets a radio call from Flo. She doesn’t realize she’s passing on a coded message from Dr. Sam Owens, asking Hopper to meet him at a predetermined location — the bar.

Hopper calls El, who is uncharacteristically fine with Hopper being late.

Hopper meets Sam at the Gas Station Bar. Jonathan and Nancy are seated at the back (okay, they’re underage, oops). Hopper doesn’t see them, but they catch enough of his conversation with Dr. Owens.

Dr. Owens mentions that equipment — with big names Hopper doesn’t understand — has been going missing from Hawkin’s Laboratory. He also discovered a department that is using radio signals and running tests on subjects, similar to what was going on with Eleven.

Dr. Owens slips a key card to Hopper, then leaves. He’s obviously worried that talking to Hopper is going to get him into trouble.

GM’s Notes: Nancy should be 18 in 1985, according to strangerthings.wikia.com. Jonathan should also be 18. That’s the legal drinking age where I live,  which is probably why it didn’t even occur to me to check before. Good thing Hopper didn’t spot them.

Scene 6

Player Characters: Nancy, Jonathan, and Joyce.

At the store where Joyce works. Jonathan now works here part-time.

Nancy is picking up some things when two men walk in from the local Radio Shack. They’re complaining about thefts and that they just had to let one of their employees go. The also mention the radio interference. Joyce confronts them about it, but they don’t have any answers.

After the men left, Nancy thought she saw Barb walk past the isles. Nancy called out, following quickly after, as Barb left the store. Jonathan joined the chase, which ended in a fight in an alley with Mr. Clarke (see the previous episode) and “Barb” turning on Nancy and Jonathan. I drew the Ace of Hearts and Mr. Clarke and Barb escaped, carrying off Nancy!

The credits rolled, and everyone was left eager to play episode 3.

GM’s Notes: If you’ve been keeping score, Mr. Clarke, El, and now Nancy have all fallen into the clutches of evil! Mwahaha!

 

GMing Stranger Things

Session Planning

My planning fills three-fourths of an A4 sheet, in two columns, 12 point font. I’ll only plot out four or so scenes, with a sentence or three about which characters are involved, what’s going on, and some stats and tests. Other scenes happen organically, based off what the players want to do. I usually plan a cliffhanger ending.

It’s a lot less prep than I do for a D&D game, which usually involves a few pages of notes, hand-drawn battle maps, miniature selection, and maybe even a spreadsheet to speed up combat.

The key to prepping a Stranger Things game is to define the major characters, their relationships, and the plots they’re involved in. Then you can set your players free to discover the story for themselves.

To keep track of everything, I use Twine.

Twine

Twine is usually used for building “Choose Your Own Adventure” style games, like our own line of solo role-playing adventures (now offered through our Patreon). It’s very easy to build a simple wiki with it too.

I’m assuming you know the basics of Twine.

My first node is a menu page, with an alphabetical list of PCs and NPCs, locations, and other subjects. Every other page looks something like this:

** Subject 011 / El / Jane**

1. Notes about Jane...

Back to [[Main Menu]]

Breaking that down, it’s a heading, a numbered list of facts about the character, and then a button back to the main menu.

It doesn’t take much to expand the wiki, which I do as part of my session planning. It gives me a good idea of what’s going on so that I can roll with whatever my players want to do.

Playing and Spoilers

It happens that some of your players might not have finished watching previous seasons of the show. Life happens — I’ve been trying to get through Ant-Man since Christmas* — I know how it is. If that’s the case in your group, you have two unappealing options: spoil those episodes or play around them.

We’ve tried our best to avoid mentioning special moments near the end of Season 2, and a player asked to cut a conversation between two characters that would have revolved around the final episode. We still had fun, and our game makes perfect sense. So, personally, I don’t think it hampers the game too much to tread carefully around some of the plot endings.

Till Next Time

Our next session is a week away, so check back next month for more from Stranger Things Season 3.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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* Finished watching Ant-Man last night, almost 2 months after I got it. Loved it.

The Goblin of Adachigahara

Four contestants. Four adventure proposals. Only four winners…

RPG Superstar 2015

As RPG Superstar enters its final round, it may be easy to dismiss the prize of the contest, since all four contestants are essentially winning it. The prize—a chance to write an adventure proposal for Paizo—is kind of like the round 5 submission. But there’s so much more at stake here—the contest isn’t called RPG Superstar for nothing—with each contestant having grown a fan base since the beginning of round 1. And that counts for a lot. Who will be the next Gygax?

So, who’s your favourite?

Avernos Unearthed
It is said that there exists a place on the very edge of vision, hidden in the shadow of shadows, where man is not welcome and where weird, twisted things live. None venture there by design, and those who enter unwittingly struggle in vain to escape. This is Feoni, land of the fey.

Avernos Wiki

Campaign Journal
Game mastering takes effort, practice and dedication. Recently I’ve been reading the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide and thinking a lot about how I GM. Part of GMing is prep, but a whole other part is what you do at the table, which encompasses so many things: rules knowledge, social skills, time management, voice acting—the list goes on. Of all these variables, rules knowledge is probably the easiest to tackle during prep time and between sessions.

Last week I took a practice exam for DCI Rules Advisor, which might not have anything to do with roleplaying, but did get me thinking even more about rules. Things can get confusing, but usually it all comes down to common sense and an understanding of how the rules are written. What keywords are important for the game and how do they work? In Pathfinder we have checks and actions, with so much coming from the interactions of those two. Can you make an attack roll (it’s a kind of check) during a move action? No. Why? Well that all comes down to understanding those keywords and what they mean and how they work.

So if in doubt, go back to the basics, especially those keywords.

Rising Phoenix News

We’ve slashed our tile prices for this week only. Save big on Print-on-Demand and PDF titles until March 27th. Get em now!

Inspired in Japan
Last week we battled an oni in Kyoto. This week we come face to face with The Goblin of Adachigahara.

In the story, a lost monk comes to the home of an old lady, who is actually a human-eating goblin*. She doesn’t invite him in at first, but finally lets him sit by her fire and feeds him. When her fire dies down she tells him not to look into the back room of the house, then goes out to gather firewood. When the priest gives in to his curiosity, he finds the grizzly remains of all her past victims. Making a run for it, he is chased through the night by a very angry—and probably hungry—geriatric goblin.

*In Japanese folklore, oni and goblin can be used interchangably, so the term goblin is used lightly here.

This tale could easily be turned into a thrilling, roleplay heavy, horror encounter.

Scene 1, the PCs are travelling at night. Perhaps they failed a navigation check or were given a missleading map. Force them to roll against the cold and fatigue, then offer them a shining light in the distance. On closer investigation they find the run-down home of an old woman who isn’t overly eager to let them in.

Scene 2, the delapidated hut. The old woman eventually lets the party in, offering them some rice and stoking up the fire. She’s friendly enough, but mostly she’s polite, and that offers interesting leverage—sure, you can go and collect the wood, but you’ll offend your host. For this scene a good knowledge of Japanese ettiquete makes all the difference between a good session and a great session, and you’ll want to give your players some prep too, so they can play along. The scene ends when the old lady tells the party not to go into the back room, then goes out to collect firewood. This the time to start building the suspense, which means it’s a perfect time for those Knowledge(local) rolls and the howling wind to pick up.

A lot will depend on how the players feel about their situation starting out. They might expect that the old woman will have a mission for them, that the cottage is really a safe place to be and that, after all, she’s just a little old lady. You want to lull them into a sense of peace. One option for this is the cold, but the party could also be hiding from monsters or just need a place to get those eight hours of rest.

Scene 3. The PCs will either stay around the fire, leave, or explore the house. All three options will probably lead to a confrontation with the goblin. So what kind of stats are we looking at here? I’d probably make her human and stat her as an NPC with ranks in commoner. With a reputation as a “goblin”, this little old lady cannibal is so much scarier than a real goblin. But really, she could be anything, whatever fits best with your campaign.

Once you’ve figured out who or what she is, the rest is fairly simple—the party needs to deal with her and get out of there. The cottage gives you a lot to play with; you could have traps, haunts, undead servants, prisoners that need freeing, rats, whatever fits with your idea of her hut.

For more inspiration, read up on Adachigahara, a sci-fi version of the story, and about the grusome Onibaba.

That’s all from me until next week.
Tell Thrilling Tales

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The Hero’s Journey

Last week I promised to tell you about a great structure for your stories and games. Well, let me introduce Joseph Campbell, and his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Mr Campbell says that all myths, no matter where and when they were created, share a common series of events. This structure is common to all heroes, from Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter, from Wolverine to Superman.

Here are some of the steps on the heroes journey:

A Call To Adventure
The hero or heroin lives in the normal world until receiving a call to enter a new, fantastical world. This is Gandalf inviting Bilbo to leave the Shire.

A Road of Trials
Having taken the first step, the hero now faces difficult challenges. This is the Fellowship of the Ring and their perilous flight through Moria.

The Hero's Story. © Danielle Storey
The Hero’s Journey. © Danielle Storey

The Goal or Boon
Having overcome great challenges, the hero now receives some boon that will aid him in his quest. This is Wolverine getting his adamantium skeleton, after being defeated by Sabertooth (in X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”– Joseph Campbell

 

Return to the Ordinary World
The hero then returns to the world with the boon, facing troubles on the way. Luke Skywalker heading into Vader’s trap after training with Yoda, anyone?

Application of the Boon 
The triumphant hero returns and uses the boon to improve the world he left. This is Harry Potter returning to his foster parents with his magical abilities.

Here’s another great explanation of the Hero’s Journey by Matthew Winkler...

Consider the Hero’s Journey when you create your next campaign or story, and how you might use it to challenge the heroes and make their impact more meaningful.

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NPC Strategy Sheets

By far one of our most popular free downloads, NPC Strategy Cards are a useful tool for any GM. They are especially tailored to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 and 4th Ed.

NPC Strategy Cards Book Cover
NPC Strategy Cards Book Cover

Using Strategy Cards

Before a session, look at your monsters and NPCs. Fill out a card for each. If you have 6 orcs with the same tactics, you don’t need 6 cards for them, just one for the group.
Use this writing time to plan how each monster will react to different actions from the players. Do they flee when they’re badly wounded, or stay and fight to the death? Do they rush into the melee, or take up bows and attack from a distance? Make your choices and write them down.

These cards are a handy reference during play, just look at the card to see how the NPC reacts. They’re also useful after play as a handy record for recapping the last session.

Grab your free cards here and go crush those heroes!

A Game of Thrones – Book Review

A Game of Thrones is probably not new to most people, what with the HBO series out and all. I just finished reading the book and so I thought a review was in order. For Game Masters I think the book highlights a couple of questions that are worth considering.

I’m a big Tolkien fan, and it’s not often that I find a book I’d even consider comparing with his works. A Game of Thrones, however, is a book to reckon with.

Continue reading A Game of Thrones – Book Review