Next week, Stranger Things returns to Netflix for Season 4! In the six years since the show premiered, Dungeons & Dragons has exploded in popularity, and this show is one of the three reasons why (also Critical Role/streaming, and popularity of Marvel/Star Wars makes “nerdy” popular). The show’s four main characters are all friends who often sit in the basement and play the game, and use tropes from the game to understand the scary supernatural story they are going through.
So I thought I’d go through everything we’ve seen in Stranger Things that is either named after something in D&D, or can be translated into D&D.
By the way, if you want to play a game like Stranger Things, don’t play D&D, play Kids on Bikes, which is a Tabletop Roleplaying Game (which D&D is) that focuses on the idea of a bunch of kids in the ’80s getting into trouble, with supernatural tropes. It fits in with E.T., The Goonies, Scooby-Doo, Encyclopedia Brown, etc.
The biggest reference is, of course, the Demogorgon. In Stranger Things, it’s a blind, carnivorous, probably plant based creature, as it reminds me of a Venus flytrap. In D&D, the Demogorgon is a demon lord, 18 feet tall, able to cast spells and create monsters, and lives in hell.
In Stranger Things, the Demogorgon comes from the alternate world, a dark reflection of our own, that they go to is called the “Upside Down.” All of the same buildings exist, but they seem to be covered in slimy vines, and the air is cold and moist. In D&D, one of the many alternate worlds is a dark reflection of our own called the Shadowfell, though that’s not where the Demogorgon is from.
Landmarks were usually recognizable but altered in some bizarre way: buildings might be constructed in a different style, built with different materials, at a different location, and/or in any condition from dilapidated ruins to its normal appearance, for example, or otherwise strange and distorted.ForgottenRealms.Fandom.com/wiki/Shadowfell
The way you go from one plane of existence to another is a gate that open in space/time, however in Stranger Things these gates seem like wounds, cut open in the skin of space/time, where as D&D has them more like portals, built with that purpose in mind.
Lastly, some other things from Stranger Things that remind me of D&D include Eleven’s powers of telekinesis. While her powers aren’t quite the same, magic is very common in D&D and telekinetic powers are certainly present. Also, having a large group, or “party” to go on your adventures with is good, and the gang has a good balance. The show has really 3 different parties (kids, teens, adults) that will mix and match, but each has characters with specific skills and quirks.
Then, in the second season of the show, we get more cool references to D&D.
First, we’ve got the main monster, which they call a Mind Flayer. This is more accurate of a name than the Demogorgon got, because both the Stranger Things and the D&D Mind Flayers have mind control abilities, and share a hive mind. In Stranger Things, while the Mind Flayer doesn’t talk much, we do learn that it is attempting to corrupt and destroy the world, also it’s hundreds of feet tall. In D&D the Mind Flayer is a hyper intelligent character that is about human sized, with a gross tentacle face like Davey Jones.
Then, in Stranger Things, Dustin finds a small pet that he calls “Dart,” though they later call it a Demodog, as they realize it’s a smaller version of the Demogorgon, or at least a creature that is closely related. In D&D many monsters have a smaller monster that might be related, that tend to hang around, such as the Roper, a stalacmite monster, which has a smaller version called a Piercer. Not nearly as deadly, but can usually be found where the larger monster is.
Then, we get some more magic, where Eight has Major Illusion as her power, and Eleven’s powers expand to include force powers (not The Force from Star Wars, but similar).
Also, whenever you run a successful D&D campaign, other friends end up finding out about it, and more people want to join. This happens in Season 2, where we add some new players, and of course we have to catch them up on everything that’s happened so far.
The coolest D&D thing from the third season is the expansion of the Mind Flayer. In Stranger Things, certain people around town get “Flayed” where they are now under the psychic control of the Mind Flayer, and older cool kid Billy is definitely the character we see going through this as a POV. In D&D, Mind Flayers have small pets called Intellect Devourers, which look like brains with little dog legs, but they have the following ability:
The Intellect Devourer chooses one creature and overpowers their mental defenses. It then magically consumes the creature’s brain, taking full control of the target’s body. If the host body dies, the Intellect Devourer must leave the host, and it can also be magically forced from the host’s body. The Intellect Devourer can also chose to leave the host, and unless the hosts brain is restored, the body dies.
Now, we have the fourth season of Stranger Things premiering on May 27, and the back half of the season on July 1. We don’t know a ton about the plot, but we do know the villains name: Vecna. While I doubt it’s going to be exactly the same, Vecna is a legendary villain in D&D. He is the ultimate Lich, or magic user who has learned the secrets of immortality, and generally leads an army of the undead. I hope then that this Vecna will lead an army of Upside Down monsters on Hawkins. Also, a particularly famous aspect of Vecna is that he loses one hand and one eye during his history, and the Hand and Eye of Vecna can be used by players, though they have extremely dangerous consequences. I’m not sure if that’ll happen, but it would be really fun.