A few months ago I asked my group if they wanted to do a Halloween one-shot session and they enthusiastically agreed. I threw out some ideas to the wall to see what would stick. I knew from the start I wanted to do something inspired by Castlevania and Ravenloft and eventually I settled on "Stranger Things but replace the Down Under with Castlevania/Ravenloft and the Demogorgon with Strahd/Dracula". The setup that I put together consisted of the following:
- all the PCs are kids/tweens/early teens, 10+d6 years old, residents of 80s small-town america
- during an evening bike-ride through the forest shortcut on all hallows' eve, the kids get sucked into a gothic horror world they all recognize from an arcade game (think The Last Starfighter or Flight of the Navigator but the game is a Golden Axe/Shadows over Mystara/Symphony of blood thing instead of the space shooter)
- I lifted the basic premise of Castle Ravenloft almost wholesale (big castle, three items, scheming vampire, dinner invitation, etc.) but adjusted it for characters being kids
- for the system I chose Cthulhu Dark, but I hacked it a bit to inject it with 80s flavour and I replaced the Insanity meter with a videogame heart harm mechanic
And then I crammed it all into a fast-forward mode 2.5 hour game session. Tropes about 80s kids are extremely easy to riff off because there is such a trove of material to use (Breakfast Club, Freaks & Geeks, Goonies, Neverending Story, Return to Oz, Karate Kid, the aforementioned Starfighter and Navigator, etc.) and the mix of humour and horror that emerged was really effortless and fun. Here's some shit the characters got up to:
- they "rescued" a goose from the tavern they visited before ascending to the castle, named it Maverick, gave it a silk bow and lace hat and carried it around all the way to the final confrontation with Strahd
- got into some awkward light romance stuff (I made a random PC relationship table and "secret crush" got rolled three times)
- drank a witches brew that made them vomit cheese for the rest of the adventure
- praised Rambo for fighting with the mujaheddin
- Keith the survivalist redneck kid, discussing a course of action: "I'm not sure Jesus would be ok with that.", Ken, the goth kid: "Keith, it's time I came clean...I'm a Satanist."
- got into some confusion about the ethnic background of black metal ("I though your dad was in the black panthers.")
- trashtalked Strahd's mum
- found the sunsword and holy symbol of ravenloft and managed to wound Strahd before getting whisked back to reality
There were some other cool moments and dumb jokes I'm forgetting now but all in all a success. Perhaps it will become a new tradition.