Stranger Things makes D&D a familiar thing
We’re arguably in the golden age of D&D at the moment. 5th edition has majorly popularised the long-living role-playing game with over 50 million players as of 2020. It has broken into popular media as well with Critical Role doing a lot for the game as well as video games like Baldur’s Gate and books like Dragonlance and Drizzt. But perhaps the widest coverage the game has seen is in Stranger Things.
History of D&D in Stranger Things
Stranger Things first appeared on our screens back in 2016 with the story revolving around a small group of friends (Will, Mike, Lucas and Dustin) who mostly just enjoy playing D&D together. We’re introduced to them playing a game where the infamous Demogorgon appears. Of course, this wasn’t all that different to what really occurred in the remote town of Hawkins when the group came across Eleven, the escaped subject of psychic experiments. At the same time, a monster began appearing in Hawkins and killing its victims. The group dubbed the creature Demogorgon due to its physical similarities.
The group continue to make references to D&D throughout the season, including referring to Steve as their fighter and Eleven as their wizard. The upside down, where Demogorgon is originally from, is compared by the group to the Vale of Shadows, a dark shadowy dimension that’s a reflection of our own.
In season 3 of Stranger Things, we’re introduced to a new enemy, the Mind Flayer, a psychic beast able to control the minds of others as thralls. This is another analogy of a real D&D creature that has very similar abilities (though not nearly as gargantuan as the one the group eventually fight in Starcourt Mall).
Season 4 is perhaps the most heavily influenced season of Stranger Things by D&D. The group have split up to an extent and Mike and Dustin find themselves in a new D&D group called the Hellfire Club. At the time, D&D is becoming a larger phenomenon and s gained the attraction of the popular press which has dubbed it as a menace that encourages satanic worship and even murder. In the campaign we watch, Dungeon Master Eddie Munson has the group attack the Cult of Vecna, a cult that worships an evil and powerful Archlich called Vecna. Vecna himself makes an appearance nearly decimating the party until Erica manages to kill him with the last roll of the game.
The villain of season 4 is seen as an evil wizard by the group as he appears to have magical powers that can be used to cross the boundaries of the Upside Down and torment and kill people in the real world. He also seems to be taking the life force from these victims causing the group to dub the villain, Vecna.
Stranger Things really leans into the D&D references and manages to normalise a game that many have considered niche for quite sometime (despite the many players worldwide). There’s even a Stranger Things campaign where players can play the same campaign Mike was running in Season 1 of Stranger Things, including its very own Demogorgon model.