This past summer, Netflix released a new series called Stranger Things, if you have not heard or watch Stranger Things I would suggest you stop now and watch it. It’ll be worth your time. Trust me.
Beyond this point, this will be a spoiler heavy zone. You have been warned.
Stranger Things opens with the main children characters playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons, this is set in 1984 and therefore reflects the early years of the game itself. But for the purposes of this article, we will resort to the 5th Edition ruleset for this particular idea of mine. The players finish a session for the night and leave to go to their homes for the night. The next morning, someone from the town goes missing and strange occurrences begin to take shape throughout the town. Everything continues to get stranger and the kids are in the thick of it.
Welcome to Stranger Dungeons – a D&D Stranger Things One-Shot
The setting is a small town called Piedmont, you can use any state. You should also the timeframe being anytime in the 80’s but the 90’s is also a good analogue if you were born later than the 80’s.
In Stranger Dungeons, the party (your players) will play an encounter (or two) of D&D prior to the start of their adventure. All players have full access to the classes available in the Player’s Handbook. The one-shot will be divided into three acts. The most important aspect to keep in mind for such a setting and “Stranger Things” experience is the mystery and keeping things hidden. You want to inspire dread and terror, but offer moments of relief to break the tension. In this iteration, the player’s character classes carry over to their real-world counterparts, where eventually some of them start developing abilities. The suggested starting level is 1st level.
Some Locales and NPCs to help the players and DM navigate through the town of Piedmont.
Piedmont Junior High: Piedmont Junior High is the only high school in the entire area, children start their time here at the age of 13 and traditionally graduate around 18 (for US standards, they enter the school at 7th grade and leave by 12th grade). Principal Jonathan Burns is only 2 more years short of retirement and wishes to have a smooth school year with the promise of Hawaiian beaches and luaus. Harrison Ford (no relation) is the Physics and Math teacher at Piedmont, the players have regular math and earth sciences with him.
Piedmont PD HQ: The local police department is really a Sheriff’s Office headed by Sheriff Lars O’Malley, the sheriff has a slight drinking problem but has a good cop for the people of Piedmont. There are six deputies that operate out of the office, with a single clerk by the name of Lorai Fitzgerald who has manned the desk for nearly 35 years.
Piedmont City Hall: Mayor Herbert Roads has served as town mayor for 10 years, well liked and respectable to the citizens. Mayor Roads has a tendency to brush off problems and re-direct them to their appropriate channels. The city hall is located near the Piedmont Public Library which is all within the city center off Main St. There are several general goods stores not far from city hall as well, along with a park across the street.
Crystal Waters Electrical: Crystal Waters Electrical manages the large Nelson Dam for the resident Lake Mystara reservoir. Once the dam was constructed, the town of Piedmont eventually was established from a majority of the construction workers and their families. Several decades later and the town has received various tenants and residents from different parts of the state. The electrical company has provided many jobs in the area, for the last five years the dam has been host to several engineers and scientists who use the electricity from the dam to power various scientific research experiments. Director Bruce Stein is a prompt business man with strong ties to the military industrial complex. A soft-spoken man who carries the weight of experience and intellect, the man seldom seen in town and lives within the private residences off-site from the dam.
Upside Down: A dimension that runs parallel to the real world, there is very little light in this realm and is typically monotone in appearance. The air in this space is stale along with no wind, there are no discernible vegetation that is considered alive or edible though there is water present. The denizens within this realm are primarily hunters that stalk their prey though their reproductive capabilities are unknown. Entry to this space is presently impossible without a breach, though the denizens seem to have a means to cross the dimensions without much difficulty.
There are several factions to keep in mind:
Local Police Department: The local police department for Piedmont consists of the Sheriff, about half a dozen deputies, and a clerk. Once the news breaks of the missing classmate, they will a prevalent presence throughout the one-shot.
Black Suits: Government agents, mostly FBI or members from the Department of Energy (or even Defense), are seen within a nearby Power Plant for the town. The power plant is attached to a large dam and reservoir, the area is typically off-limits and military police (MP) are seen guarding its entrance.
Denizens: In the realm of the Upside Down, there are a host of ghastly creatures called Denizens that occasionally cross through the dimensional barrier and prowls through the woodland areas surrounding Piedmont. Ferocious predators that are several times stronger and tougher than humans, largely faceless with no discernible eyes or nostrils but have very sharp teeth and claws.
The basement – One of the player’s house
- The players play as their D&D character classes in a creature combat encounter.
- Encounter: 4 Goblins and 1 Hobgoblin Captain. You may change the context of the encounter, but you want it to be a deadly rated encounter for the players.
- Resolve the encounter normally.
- The game is interrupted by parents telling them it was bedtime and to call it a night. Regardless of outcome they should be rewarded 150 XP.
- Players are told that one of their players was reportedly sick and had left the game early that evening. The DM promises the players will continue their next D&D session soon.
The next day – Piedmont Junior High
- Players attend class the next morning, their classmate is still absent, Mr. Ford informs the class that their friend has apparently been missing since the day before. The players are asked by Mr. Ford to stay after class, he asks the players if they had seen the missing classmate. Afterwards, Mr. Ford releases them once he hears their answers.
- Players will have a moment to reconvene during Lunch period to discuss amongst themselves.
- The DM should offer suggestions for places that are considerable hiding spots for their missing classmate, with one of them being close to the dam at the edge of town.
- The party has the opportunity to prepare equipment and gear to explore the wilderness but may be stopped by their parents due to the raised curfew while some of the townsfolk are out searching the missing classmate.
- While out in the wilderness, the party has the opportunity to explore and search but should avoid being spotted by the locals and the security forces near Nelson Dam.
Evening – Nelson Dam, Crystal Waters Electrical
- Once the players arrive to close one of their classmate’s hideouts, they will be alert to bright lights and sirens blaring into the night. Upon closer inspection they will notice the water gates are open, allowing for the lake to drain and draw more electrical power.
- They will spot several workers in hard-hat walking along the lower portions of the dam, from their shouts they may hear about how the generator has been on high output for too long and need to ease it down. Unfortunately, the lights will go black and suddenly a large electrical current ripples along the dam until it reaches the top and emits a powerful pulse on the players.
- From this point onwards, players with spellcasting classes will be allowed to cast spells. At this point, none of them have received a long rest and do not have their spell slots.
- The party will be discovered by 2 security guards (use bandit NPC stats) and 2 guard dogs, they will try to apprehend the party which initiates combat. The guards will try to subdue the players and grapple them, the dogs may bite and harm the players. The DM should make this distinction very clear.
- Once the party defeat the party have defeated the guards, the sound of more guards and dogs can be heard from a distance away. The party is encouraged to retreat.
- While escaping, the DM will roll a d20: [1-7] the party escapes without incident, [8-17] the party encounter one of the locals or Piedmont deputies searching for their missing classmates, [18-20] the party bump into a security and a guard dog.
- If the party are stopped by a local or a deputy, they will be turned over to the sheriff who will investigate why the players are out past curfew. Players will have the opportunity to contest with the sheriff to not inform their parents of their misbehavior. Should they succeed, the DM may award 50 XP for the social encounter.
- The players will return to their homes one way or another, by this point they should be level 2. The players will need to meet up again to discuss their adventure and discern the happenings behind the gates of the dam.
Lunch Period – Piedmont Junior High
- Players will have received a full rest by the time they return to school. Players who have spellcasting capabilities will experience a dream. The dream will involve them visiting the Upside Down in their astral form and possibly encounter one of the denizens.
- Players will have an opportunity to discuss and talk about their experiences. A bully interrupts the conversation and provokes one of the players for their lunch. If the players try to ignore the bully or leave, the bully will try to hit the player and start a combat encounter with the player. The bully will have some friends who may join into the fray if they it would beneficial to do so.
- Resolve the outcome appropriate if a fight ensues or not.
- Have the players hear of other classmates reporting their pets or animals missing. If the players choose to investigate, they will learn that their pets had run off last night and have not return. One of them will report that their pet was viciously killed by some larger animal.
Afternoon – Piedmont City Center
- There will be some locals gathering near city hall to start another round of searches for the missing classmate. The players will hear reports of wolves reportedly in the area, several of the deputies are now armed with shotguns and rifles as a precaution.
- If the players were returned to the parents by the deputies, they will most certainly have stricter curfews and restrictions and are required to return home before sunset. But either way, the players will be told by the authorities that they will need to return home in a short time.
Evening – Piedmont Woodlands
- If the players wish to continue to return back outside to search for their missing friend, they are welcome to do so but the parents will increase the difficulty for the players to sneak out of their house. A DC 15 Stealth check will be required, any attempts to coerce siblings or distracts will reduce the DC by 2.
- If the players seem apprehensive or do not have any desire to venture into the night, have the spellcaster characters be induced with a dream or waking-dream where they venture back into the Upside Down.
- The dream of the Upside Down portrays the voice of their missing classmate/friend and they try to find them and are lead across a forest full of shadows and thick mist. The classmate tells them they are not alone and that there is something out beyond the mist. The dream ends but leaves the impression on the players that their friend is alive and lost somewhere, the distinct image of the Crystal Waters Electrical sign suggests there may be more to the dam.
- If the children explore the wilderness in search of their friend again, they will continue to run the risk of being spotted. While in this area roll a d20 to determine the results: [1-6]Nothing, [7-12]group of locals & deputies, [13-18]MPs or Black Suits, [19-20]1 Denizen.
- An encounter with a denizen should be rated as a deadly encounter, the party is given the impression that it’s stronger than anything they have faced and would be a difficult battle.
Evening – Crystal Waters Electrical/Nelson Dam
- The players will arrive outside the barbed wire gates where the road leads from the security post to the facilities deep within. Players with a DC 15 Perception check will notice that the guards are carrying firearms and seem to be on high alert.
- If the players are indecisive on how to enter the power plant, a denizen will disrupt the electricity nearby and the lights will go dark to assault the guards. Giving the players an opportunity to break in and past security. There is a nearby sewerage drain not far from the security gate that may be used to enter the facilities but is marred with swarms of rats.
- No matter how the players enter the facility, once inside they will notice that an alert has been activated and that all personnel are requested to evacuate. Spellcasting characters will have visions of a padded room and an elevator at the end of a darken hallway.
- The main lobby of the power plant is empty, they hear and see no one, the lights are off and the few computer monitors are blank or project distorted images. Further down they will find several office rooms that are equally empty, a successful DC 18 Investigation check will yield a revolver that is loaded with 6 bullets inside one of the desks along with an access card for the service elevator. One of the abandoned hallways will have blood smeared across a portion of the wall and a dead body nearby. Once past the entry hall, there will be a set of double doors that lead to an elevator but it requires either a passcode or an access card. If the party found the access card they can use it, otherwise they will need to return and search the offices. With each failed Investigation check, roll a d20, on a 20 there will be a pair of small denizen that will assault the group.
- Once the party manage to get pass the security doors, the elevators that the spellcasters saw in their vision is not far and they will reach it. With the access card they will be allowed to go to the lower levels of the facility. The evacuation alerts are still active.
Evening – Lower Levels of the Crystal Waters Electrical Facility
- Once the elevator door opens, the party is met with the marred and tattered ruins of the facility’s hallways. Broken lights, glass shards on the floor, smeared bits of blood, loose electrical wires but no bodies that be seen. There is a low mist that covers the tiled floor, siren lights in wide intervals loosely illuminates the hallway and produces the equivalent of low-light.
- The players must make a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw each round while in the lower levels to withstand a pulsating wave that racked their brains, on a failure the players take 1d6 psychic damage.
- A DC 12 Intelligence check would suggest that the players should find a power switch or a console to discern the source of these headaches and waves. A DC 15 Investigation check would allow the players to find the breaker room with a large power switch. The players will feel the intensity of the waves increase as they approach closer to the room. The main breaker can only turned off with a physical key and an access card.
- The lower levels has 3 large rooms, one of them is a medical bay, the other is a storage room with lockers, and the last one is locked with by Access Card & a Fingerprint scanner. There is the corpse of a researcher in the medical bay that may be used for the fingerprint scanner, the corpse also has an access card. When the players approach the locked room, all of them hear the distorted voice of their friend begging for help. The friend voices that something is there with them and need to be alert.
- An alpha denizen will emerge from the main breaker room and go on the hunt for the players. The players may confront the creature or turn off the main breaker. If they turn off the main breaker, the alpha denizen loses its magic resistance and damage resistance from nonmagical weapons. Once the creature is slain, the disembodied voice of their classmate tells them that he sees an opening and notes that it led to an empty room.
- The previously closed room is now open and the players find their friend in tattered clothes, dirt on their face, and bags under their eyes. Their friend is also considered malnourished and has one level of exhaustion. But if the players decided to help move their friend along, they will escape the relative ease.
- The next morning the town rejoices and celebrates finding the players’ friend. Things seem to resume normalcy, but things are not what they seem as a black unmarked van arrives at the Crystal Waters Electrical facility and men in black suits and sunglasses emerge out to greet the director. Players at the end of this adventure should be well on their way to 3rd level but most certainly have entered 2nd.
Just some final tuning, the denizens that are mentioned in this game can use statistics for a mastiff and wolf, but for the alpha denizen should use the game statistics of a displacer beast. All denizens have the following additional traits: Physical Resistance – they have resistance to damage from non-magical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing sources. Odd Anatomy – they cannot be blinded. The game statistics can be found in the Monster Manual and some in the Player’s Handbook.
Well I hope this at least gives you an idea on what you can do for your Stranger Things D&D one-shot idea. This one-shot is designed as a jumping off point for the players to explore of the town of Piedmont and perhaps even discover what other secrets lie underneath the Nelson Dam.
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