In this series I’ll give you an overview of our sessions, with tips at the end for running your own Stranger Things campaign. Because Stranger Things Season 3 is not 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.
I described a lot of the scenes to the players in terms of the camera, and talked about what the audience might see that the characters might not know, which is what I’ve done below.
Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 1: Tuning In
Player Characters: Mr. Clarke, and any of the kids (Dustin, Lucas, Max, Mike, or Will).
The camera tracks in from a high angle showing the Hawkins school. It’s a cold day and there are no kids outside.
The camera moves through the main doors and down the hall, passing hand-made posters of pumpkins and other Halloween decorations.
The text “November 1985” comes up at the bottom of the screen.
The camera pushes through a door into a class. Mr. Clarke is busy explaining scientific concepts on the board, his back to the class.
Cut to a medium close-up of El, who’s staring out the window.
Cut to what she’s seeing in her mind’s eye: scenes from the battle with the demogorgon in the school, ending with her fight with the monster in this same classroom.
Mr. Clarke turns around and notices El isn’t concentrating, again. He confronts her.
After that, the kids checked to see if she’s okay, but don’t learn anything.
GM’s Notes: El is struggling to come to terms with her new life, and doesn’t quite fit in yet. She’s also working through all the horrors she’s faced.
Player Characters: Joyce and Hopper
The two are sitting in the car, sharing a smoke. The radio is on. Hopper has just rescued Joyce after her car broke down, again. They talk about the anniversary of all the craziness.
At some point the radio starts crackling. Tuning it does nothing; the static is on every channel. Hopper realizes that this has been happening on and off all day.
GM’s Notes: It’s a good idea to hit your players with a bunch of questions, like:
“What’s on Hopper’s mind?”
“Does Joyce have a new love interest?”
The title for Stranger Things Season 3 plays. The episode is entitled Tuning In.
GM’s Notes: Linking things as much as possible really works for a Stranger Things game. If I do my job right, my players will start freaking out every time the radio goes on the fritz.
Player Characters: Nancy and Billy. Later Mike joins.
Nancy hears the doorbell and goes to open the door. Billy is standing there. She asks him what he wants, and he says he’s there to see her mom. When Nancy asks her mom, she’s told that Billy has been hired to do odd jobs, like cleaning the pool and washing the car, because “your dad works so hard, honey, he needs his rest”.
On the radio, in the background, Would I Lie To You, by Eurythmics, is playing.
Cut to a montage with Billy doing jobs in the yard, often with his shirt off. This hops back and forth to Nancy and Mike confronting their mom. The kids used their mom’s distraction to milk her for around $50.
GM’s Notes: I expected things to blow up, with Billy or Nancy storming off. Maybe that would have happened if Billy was an NPC, but, for now, he’s right where I want him.
Me thinks the Wheeler family is doomed.
Player Characters: Dustin, Lucas, Max, Mike, and Will. Mr. Clarke joins them later.
We cut to El sitting in the AV room, listening to the radio. Again she’s spaced out, and doesn’t notice when the rest of the gang walk in.
The rest of the group asks El what’s going on, and she flips a switch that allows everyone to hear the static on the radio. She turns to Mike and says “Bad Men.” She points to his forehead, then to hers, then to his again.
They notice that Will is spacing out too.
Lucas decides that, if weird things are happening again, it’s time to go to the cops. He bums money off Mike (who’s flush with cash right now) and uses a pay phone to call. Flo at the Sheriff’s Office answers, but suspects it’s a prank call. Lucas manages to convince her that it’s serious, and she writes a note, which she puts on Hopper’s desk, under his coffee stained mug.
The kids then figure out, with the help of Mr. Clarke and a radio manual, how to calculate the distance of the transmission. Using a map, they figure that the transmission is coming from the Hawkins National Laboratory.
Lucas is creeped out all over again, and calls Hopper for a second time. This time Flo contacts Hopper over the police 2-way.
Player Characters: Hopper, Jonathan, and Steve.
A great scene follows with Hopper — who was patrolling those fields from Season 2 — sending up a rain of gravel as he high-tails it to the school.
On the way, Hopper finds Steve kicking the tires of his car in frustration. He offers him a ride.
Along the way, Hopper asks what Steve is up to lately. Steve isn’t doing much, and Hopper later offers him a job at the police station.
Cut to the kids getting on their bikes and heading to Mike’s house, after Mr. Clarke tells them that it’s getting late and Joyce has already called the school three times.
The audience sees Mr. Clarke (now an NPC) go into the AV room to clean up. He turns on the radio and listens to the static. A dark figure hits him, hard, from behind, and he slumps over.
At the school, Hopper and Steve meet Jonathan, who now works part-time with Joyce, and helps at the school’s photography club, which he is leaving from when they meet him. Jonathan takes them to the AV club.
The door is ajar, and Hopper pushes in to find Mr. Clarke standing in front of them. Mr. Clarke says that the gang have gone home. On questioning him, Jonathan figures out that there’s something weird about Mr. Clarke’s behavior, although there’s no sign that he’s been injured.
GM Notes: I had no idea what Jonathan, Steve, Nancy, and Billy would be up to in 1985, but I figure they are all out of school, but still in Hawkins, at least in November.
Mr. Clarke is no longer a playable character, and that pool of characters is likely to get a lot smaller before the end. Mwahaha!
Player Characters: Flips between Hopper, Steve, and Jonathan, and the kids. Later Dr. Sam Owens join in.
Hopper takes Steve to the Wheeler house, and Jonathan joins them there. They find that Mike already took El home, and has since returned. The remaining kids explain about the radio, and give Hopper the map showing the source of the radio disturbance.
Jonathan takes Will home (after Joyce phones the Wheeler’s).
Hopper drives home to find El asleep in front of the TV. She’s been watching “Growing Pains” and there are half-eaten Eggos on a plate in front of her.
Hopper puts her to bed before calling Dr. Sam Owens. The two have a code figured out and use it to arrange a meeting the next day.
In the morning Hopper finds out from El that the Upside Down is somehow involved, but it’s frustratingly difficult to get more information out of her.
After dropping El at school, Hopper picks Steve up and drops him off at the station. Callahan and Powell have a good go at him: “Didn’t we arrest you once?”
Hopper meets Dr. Owens, who tells him that the lab ran a mind reading program, using radio waves to boost the powers of test subject 009. It was an older project, and Owens is surprised that, if it’s the source, that it would even be running now.
GM’s Notes: If I did things differently, I’d give the teens and kids more conflict to react to during this scene. Maybe Max is having issues at home, and Lucas is taking some backlash from that. I’ll talk more about troupe style play later on, and why players might be disinclined to make things harder for themselves, which is exactly what you need in a Stranger Things game.
Player Characters: Kids, then Hopper and Steve.
We cut to the gang during recess. El is nowhere to be seen. We cut to El in the AV room again. She’s listening to the radio, hearing static. Mr. Clarke comes up behind her and places his hand on her shoulder.
Cut to black.
The credits play out with to the sound of the very really creepy Voice Carry song by ‘Til Tuesday.
After the credits we see Steve bringing Hopper his coffee. Steve asks “About my car…?”
GMing Stranger Things
Search “1985 TV Shows” on Google, look at movies that were released that year, and check out fan theories about the show. You’ll have plenty to work with.
Search “Top 100 1985” on Google for those special tracks that’ll help you tell your story. Play them at the right time and they’ll make a big impact.
Scary Synth Sound Tracks
YouTube has a ton of tracks you could play in the background. Just search “stranger synths” and find something you like.
Player Handouts — Making Them Stranger
If you’re super into it and want the font, you can buy it from myfonts.com. Way over my budget though.
If you just want a title screen, a cheaper solution is makeitstranger.com. The image at the top of this post was made there.
Troupe Style Play
For Stranger Things Season 3 I didn’t just want the players playing the kids. Imagine watching Stranger Things without seeing what the teens and adults are up to! Instead, I gave them access to the main characters, and let them pick who wanted to play who, when.
In many ways this worked, because the players had watched the show and knew the characters. Also, the vs. Stranger Stuff engine is super simple, so it was easy to glance at a character sheet and play.
What didn’t work was that the players were unlikely to throw challenges at each other. Nancy and Billy could have made for a tense scene, but who’s going to throw a spanner in the works in a cooperative game? Next time around I’ll give the players more incentive to be confrontational, or use some of the PCs as NPCs to stir things up.
Even More Inspiration
The following video is the whole reason for our Stranger Things Season 3 campaign. It’s a long one, but worth checking out if you’re still unsure about running a game using the vs. Stranger Stuff rules, or how it fits with Stranger Things.
Our next session is 2 weeks away, so see you back here next month for more from Stranger Things Season 3.
Rising Phoenix Games
Edit, 25 Jan 2018: Thanks to Ree for pointing out a few of the facts I got wrong. They’ve been corrected above.