An Endzeitgeist.com review
This version of the “Stranger Stuff“-theme clocks in at 124 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank inside of back cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 117 pages of content. The pages are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, which means you could theoretically fit 4 pages on a given sheet of paper.
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters.
Rules-wise, this game employs the rules you may know from e.g. Beach patrol, Tiny Dungeons 2E, etc., adapted for use with the Stranger Things-like set up that we could e.g. see in “Vs. Stranger Stuff” – in essence, this is the TinyD6-version of that game, substituting that engine for the VsM-engine. That being said, familiarity with said games is not required – this book explains all required to play.
There are plenty of differences, though – in the VsM version, the game champions three different playstyles, easy, normal and hard mode, and this iteration relegates easy and hard mode mostly to sidebars – these do tend to have serious implications when added to the game, as we immediately learn.
We dive into the rules – simple actions doe not require rolling the dice, but more complex or difficult tasks do – these require a so-called Test. These are the core mechanic of the game, and entail rolling 2d6 from the Dice Pool (more on that later). 5s and 6s are successes. Certain Traits selected at character creation can grant you advantage, letting you roll 3d6 instead; conversely, other tasks let you roll only 1d6 – these are known to be made at disadvantage. Important: If you’d have advantage on a Test, disadvantage OVERRIDES that – even if you’d usually roll 3d6, you only get one die! There are some few means to override this, but yeah – disadvantage is NASTY. Things you overcome with a Test (or roleplaying!) are called Obstacles. Then, there are Save Tests – these are required to stabilize, to prevent bad stuff from happening, and otherwise are used just as other Tests. The first page of the pdf btw. does suggest Save-or-Die Tests (self-explanatory) for hard mode games – which would have made more sense on the page that actually, you know, talked about Save Tests, but that is me nitpicking. Still, there is a big artwork here, big enough to fit that box…
When the action needs to be broken up in units of time (say, in combat), we enter Initiative Mode. Initiative is rolled by making a test, and adding the results of the 2d6 together. Initiative order follows from highest to lowest, with Kids (the name of PCs) going before enemies in case of a tie. Once all have acted, a new Turn begins – a turn is, per default, roughly equal to 6 seconds. Once per game session (dubbed Episode), each player gets one Cinematic Moment when about to roll a Test. The Player describes the action, and instead of rolling, we have an automatic success as though the check had been made at advantage and come up as three 6s. The GM may also declare Cinematic Moments – twice per session. The GM can make an NPC auto-succeed, or a Kid auto-fail. Okay. So what if a Kid auto-succeeds due to a Cinematic Moment, and the GM uses Cinematic Moment to make the Kid auto-fail? This very obvious interaction is not covered, at all – the absence of clear rules here is a pretty glaring hole.
Anyhow, during each Turn, you have two Actions – you can use an action to move, attack, use a Trait, pick something up, etc. Moving to some place may require a Test or multiple Actions, depending on what the GM decides. A rough rule of thumb baseline is provided – an Action used to move is approximately the equivalent of 25 feet. Riding e.g. a bike doubles your movement as a default, but can differ.
Attacks use a simplified rule-set: You have to be in range, and attacking is a simple standard test executed with 2d6, with the enemy being the obstacle. On a successful attack Test, you deal 1 point of damage, regardless of weapon, though good roleplaying, weapons, etc., could increase that. The degree etc. is wholly left up to the GM, though.
Beyond that, there are three special actions: If you Focus, your next attack will be successful on rolled 4s as well, but only for one attack. Focus actions don’t stack with themselves, and can’t be stored – they vanish if combat ends. Cover imposes disadvantage on attacks against you. Evade lets you test 1d6 until the start of your next turn if successfully attacked, damaged, or harmed. On a success, you evade and take no damage. Recapping this is interesting, as it emphasizes a pretty potent defense option array – hitting and defeating defensive targets will not be simple.
The game differentiates between three types of weapon – Melee, Light Ranged and Heavy Ranged. Weapon improvements are covered, and the game presents Easy Mode suggestions to handwave ammo consumption, if you want to de-emphasize the survival horror aspect of the game.
Toughness denotes how much damage something can take. On 0 Toughness, you’re knocked out. If an attack shows all 5s and 6s on the attack and might seem particularly potent, it can immediately knock out a target – this is known as Dramatic Knockout. Attacks made with Disadvantage can’t score such a knockout, but oddly, attacks with advantage have mathematically a lower chance to knock out a target. Weird decision.
Stress is basically the mental equivalent to Toughness – when reduced to 0, all actions suffer Disadvantage.
Toughness and Stress are both regained by resting/sleeping – 1 hour spent doing something relaxing replenishes 1 Stress; 1 hour of sleep replenishes one point of both Toughness and Stress. 6 hours of uninterrupted rest fully replenishes both pools.
If you are at 0 Toughness AND in combat, you reduce Stress by 1. As long as you have at least 1 Stress, you can make a Save Test to regain 1 Toughness and end your turn. If both your Toughness and Stress are at 0, you get one final Save Test at Disadvantage – if you fail this test, you die. The Healer trait or administered medicine might heal you as well.
From hiding and sneaking to other things that would require being pitted against someone else, there is no contested Test or the like – instead, one side checks with advantage or disadvantage, depending on the circumstances. Whether you like that or not depends on your tastes.
Okay, so how does character creation work? There are two main archetypes: Middle Schoolers get 4 Toughness, 6 Stress, and when an ally takes an action to help a middle schooler, they get Advantage. The Kid also gains advantage to avoid being seen or to sneaking, Disadvantage on checks that involve raw force. When hit, they can test 1d6 sans taking Evade. On a success, the middle schooler evades the attack. When they use Evade, they have Advantage on the Evade Test.
High Schoolers have 6 Toughness and 4 Stress. They have advantage on checks made to subvert authority and they can make Tests on stuff they shouldn’t be able to; if they actually have experience with what they attempt, they have Advantage.
The book also provides (optional) rules for adults – 8 Toughness, 5 Stress, and they have one Trait more.
Then, you choose 3 Traits and 1 Drawback – these are a bit like the Good/Bad Stuff from Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2. Traits include gaining an additional Cinematic Moment per session, having Advantage on all acrobatic checks. There is a trait that makes your Stress act as Toughness as a damage soak, letting you contribute longer to the action before dropping unconscious, etc. We also have one that lets you Focus better, extending the success range to 3s as well. Drawbacks include Disadvantage on all Tests related to social interaction, having an impaired arm…or what about having a lack of self-confidence mean that the GM may, thrice per day (NOT per session!) take Advantage away? Sickly is also brutal – it reduces your Toughness maximum by 2, and makes you start the day at 2 Toughness less – as a middle schooler, this would render you comatose/dying without the aid of medication and treatment. Every Kid also starts play with an important piece of equipment, which might include age-restricted stuff. Write a description + tagline, and bam, done.
So yeah, all in all, an easy to grasp, rules lite system. The book then proceeds to the GM-section, which is particularly helpful for newer GMs, presenting maxims such as “keep is simple, make it fun”, advice on preparing/over-preparing, a suggestion of a 4-act structure for modules. We also get advice on the types of story to tell, some suggested adventure hooks, ideas for sidequests, etc. – and then we proceed to world-building advice – the game presents a pretty nifty series of rules here: Locations have costs to hang out, and associated rules components – they may have Good Features and Bad Features – which are akin to Traits and Drawbacks, save for locations, obviously. A location’s Cool is a bit like Toughness – the higher the value, the less likely weird stuff will go down there. Bad stuff happening can damage a location’s Cool, making it more susceptible to weird happenstances – you get the idea. All these location traits are tracked on a scale that ranges from No/none, Low, medium to High. The game also mentions an interesting means of using index cards as representations of locales and provides an array of different archetypical locations. A minor complaint – the locations don’t have the respective attributes spelled out in an overview, requiring that you parse the text – having a “mini-statblock” of sorts would have made that aspect quicker to use. Again, nitpicking here.
The pdf provides stats for 4 sample generic NPCs to use with non-named targets, and then proceeds to present a total of 3 fully realized antagonist NPCs. This section also presents a couple of (magical) items, rules for paranormal abilities, psionic powers, etc. – and, of course, we do get monsters, which come in 4 broad categories – Alien, Cryptid, Human and Supernatural. Really cool: The book presents a concise and quick to use engine to DIY build your own critters, with abilities, general types, suggested stats etc. – super helpful and quick. Speaking of which – there is a random adventure (outline) generator included in the book as well!
After these, we get some 1984s trivia (highest grossing films, billboards, etc.) and then an introductory adventure penned by Kiel Howell – “The Mask behind the Makeup.” It’s…and adventure about creepy clowns. Yep, another one. Yep, there already are quite a lot of those, and if you own Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2, you’ll be familiar with this one – it’s a good adventure, and one I liked. We close the pdf with a b/w map of a sample town (that can be colored), and a sheet for locations and characters.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules language level – I noticed a couple of minor hiccups, but no undue accumulation of issues. Layout adheres to a one-column standard that resembles a notepad, with the artworks akin to pencil-drawings and modified sepia/b/w-photography – the unified aesthetics are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Lucus Palosaari and Rick Hershey (with the module penned by Kiel Howell) deliver a solid alternative take on Stranger Stuff. The TinyD6-engine is employed in a robust manner. That being said, the system could use advancement rules, and has an issue – it has to compete with Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2. And while it does have a different feel than that system, courtesy of the higher impact drawbacks etc., I couldn’t help but feel that the VsM-engine version is simply better. It has the Crestview Hills sample location information, and while it has less to offer than the TinyD6-iteration regarding powers, its rules are presented in a slightly cleaner fashion. I like this iteration of Stranger Stuff, and it shows a lot of promise, but I don’t love it as much as the VsM-engine version. My final verdict will be 4 stars.
[4 of 5 Stars!]