If you’ve ever gotten really high at Disneyland after watching Stranger Things and thought about how great a Dungeons & Dragons–style role-playing game featuring Wet Hot American Summer characters and themes would be, then, strangely enough, you have something in common with Lee Keeler. But unlike Keeler, you probably didn’t team up with role-playing game author Geoffrey Golden to make Wet Hot American Summer: Fantasy Camp a reality.
“It gives you the camp experience without all of the bee stings, sunburns and broken hearts at the end of a long summer,” Golden says. “There are different activities like dance auditions, arts and crafts, and even jet skiing. Imagine a game of Dungeons & Dragons that’s broken up by a bit of jet skiing.”
“I like to imagine it’s like if the B-52's made their own version of Dungeons & Dragons; like ‘Rock Lobster’ would be one of the playable characters,” Keeler says. “We wanted to do something that was true to ’80s gaming, but still our own thing and really an adventure game.” They even got director David Wain's blessing.
But people who've never played D&D or any other tabletop RPG shouldn’t be trepidatious to try Fantasy Camp. Sure, it’s still a storytelling game with a handy manual and some rules, but there's no teaming up like the Stranger Things kids to take down the Demogorgon. Each individual player — either using the existing Wet Hot characters or making their own — will have their own important camp goal (perhaps losing their virginity or impressing everyone by doing a big trick), so it’ll be more like an extension of the movie and Netflix series than a super serious group adventure.
“This thing has been kept as a very beloved cult sensation for decades now,” Keeler says of Wet Hot American Summer. “Even preceding the Netflix thing, I feel like we would’ve done this just because we’re such freakish fans of it. That group is who we were trying to speak to with this project, because we belong in that group. At different stages we were approached with different options that wouldn’t have stayed as true to that cult, but we just really stuck to our guns with creating it for Wet Hot geeks by Wet Hot geeks.”
“I also think the game serves as a bridge between role-playing gamers and comedy nerds,” Golden says. “There’s definitely overlap between the two, but we’re hoping this will be a solid bridge that allows one group to go to the other more easily.”
Given that there aren’t many comedy tabletop role-playing games, Keeler and Golden knew they needed to make some changes to the D&D formula if they wanted to bridge the gap between comedy and RPGs. For that reason, Fantasy Camp games can be as short as two hours or go on almost indefinitely, and players won’t spend half their time checking the manual for rules and guidance. Much like the on-screen hilarity, the Wet Hot game is more about riffing off of each other for laughs and entertainment.
“The reason I only played like the Star Wars and Marvel role-playing games when I was young is because I was scared away by the math of some of the other ones, so we tried to reduce that math as much as possible,” Golden says. “It puts an emphasis on storytelling rather than checking the math and the manual or your laptop. In this game, if it’s funny and doesn’t break the game, it works.”
“We took a lot of mechanics that in D&D would require a lot of arithmetic and got rid of them,” confirms Amanda Meadows, co-founder of the game’s publisher, the Devastator. “We want people to rely more on their improv skills.”
With the game now having reached its initial goal on Kickstarter, the next step for Keeler, Golden and Meadows is to see how much they’ll be able to add (15 additional characters come in at the next tier, and you know you want to play as the famous Can of Mixed Vegetables). But regardless of how much or little extra the creators get, they’re already primed to bring Fantasy Camp to your stoner friends’ next get-together and keep you entertained for hours (or years).
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“This isn’t your typical game night,” Golden says. “We wanted to make it a memorable experience, and with these characters and these scenarios, you’ll be remembering your games of Fantasy Camp for a long time.”
“Literally all you need is a 20-sided die and some kind of plan to order a pizza at some point in the night,” Meadows adds.
“Pizza is a crucial part of the game,” Golden confirms. “Or grilling … Or s’mores …”
"Or edibles!" Keeler adds.