So, why in the craptastic heck hasn’t someone done a Stranger Things build yet? Maybe they have, and I am just exceedingly late to the party (a common thread, mea culpa). But anyway here is how I would do it [ed.including fragmentary design notes, sorry].

Core

What are the core elements?

friendship, geekery, horror, investigation

This is the stuff I think of when I think of ST. Like with short stories, I’m trying to reduce and  boil down all the fluff to get at that central motif, theme, image or feeling. What is this experience all about? What do I want the readers/players to get out of it?

  • Having emotions and friendship at the heart of the game lends itself particularly well to any freeform/indy/storygame system, rather than say, the crunchier games like GURPS or D100 and D20 engines.
  • Having investigation as a central tenet immediately places the emphasis on abilities over attributes – although not exclusively so.

 

Abilities vs. Attributes

Gah… It’s a long-running debate in the indygame world – there’s some great analysis in the more theoretical corners of the ‘Story community forums.

Anyway, abilities vs. attributes cuts to the heart of what you want an rpg to be. Is it about your character having innate attributes like STR, DEX, STAMINA, etc… Or is an rpg about what your character does; left-handed sword-fighting, quantum dimensional mechanics, detective work etc. Abilities = skills, in most cases. In attribute-centred games, there develops more of an individualist play: How can I make MY character tougher, stronger, cleverer etc. In ability-centric games however, there tends to be more of a focus on collaboration. I dont know why – there’s probably space for a psychological paper in there somewhere. Really, most rpg games attempt to do a mixture of both styles, and there’s always people tinkering and blurring the boundaries between the two approaches.

If we take a look at ST then – what are the most essential things about the characters? That they are big and strong and can lift anything – or charming, or quick? Not really. ST is mostly about being geeky high school kids anyway, right? It’s more important what unique skills they are good at, rather than how much damage they can soak up. Added to that is the collaborative ‘Party of Adventurers’ vibe that runs through the protagonists.

  • Will Byers is really good at Hiding (ability)

  • Dustin Henderson has an Encyclopaedic Knowledge of DnD (ability)

  • And even though Chief Jim Hopper is probably the character most about being tough and kickin-ass, it’s his abilities that make him such a great character: Withering Dead-Eye Until They Stop Bothering You perhaps, or Pistol-Whip Bad Guys.

Putting that together then, and we’re now talking about a story-centred game with ability-based characters.

 

Next Up: Stranger Things v1.01: Mechanics

Thinking About Games
Build Table: Stranger Things Pt.2