How 'Dungeons & Dragons' Influenced 'Stranger Things'
'Dungeons & Dragons' influenced 'Stranger Things' more than you think.
It’s no secret that Stranger Things is full of throwback references to 80s horror films and nerd culture, but Dungeons & Dragons seems to have had the biggest influence on the show of all. From the terrifying Demogorgon to the Upside Down to each of the characters and their personalities: All of it conforms to the rules of Dungeons & Dragons. Stranger Things reinforces the characters as being part of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in subtle ways that you might have missed if you aren’t a gamer.
Warning: this article contains spoilers! Read at your own risk.
The Stranger Things Kids Are in a Dungeons & Dragons Game
Stranger Things opens with Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will fighting the last monster of their campaign. Mike, acting as the Dungeon Master who controls all elements of the game, warns everyone that “A monster hungry for blood is coming.” Later, Nancy figures out that the monster from the Upside Down is in fact lured by blood.
When the Demogorgon first appears, Will’s character is in the most immediate danger. He is the first one who has to make an action. Then he has to decide quickly between attacking or defending. Will fumbles the fireball attack roll and admits “the Demogorgon got me.”
In the very next sequence, Will is attacked by the monster from the Upside Down. He prepares to attack by loading up a shotgun, but the monster surprises him and takes Will to the Upside Down.
The Monster in the Upside Down is the Demogorgon in the Shadow Plane
The boys use the Demogorgon to rationalize and describe the monster, but it is more aptly named than you’d think. It is described as having tentacled hands, just like the tentacles seen on Barbara’s body and that Will is throwing up.
In the game the Demogorgon is the strongest monster in the abyss and rules several evil planes, just like it runs the Upside Down in Stranger Things. In Dungeons & Dragons our world is called the Material Plane. It is attached to all of the other planes of existence, including one called the Shadow Plane. It overlaps with the Material Plane and is an “echo” of that world, but bleak, desolate, and full of death and decay. It is always dark in the Shadow Plane.
When Will is talking to his mother through the wall, he says it’s “like home, but dark and empty.” When Nancy goes inside we get a look at the strange, sticky growth that seems to cover all of the trees and buildings. And as Hopper and Joyce search for Will, we get a better look at the dark and bleak, empty world.
The Group is a Dungeons and Dragons Party
Will frequently draws his friends as their in-game counterparts. In the game a group of two to four characters come together to make a party. The party then goes on missions ran by the Dungeon Master to find loot, get stronger, and gain fame and fortune. They are usually made up of a mixture of fighting, magic, and healing classes. In Stranger Things the party is made up of a Fighter, a Rogue, a Wizard, and something like a Paladin.
Lucas calls finding Will a mission and the others nod along in agreement. After Mike and Lucas get in their fight, Dustin warns Mike he’ll be “banished from the party” if he doesn’t initiate the handshake for “drawing first blood,” a frequently-used gaming term. When the boys are arguing about how to go about getting to the portal, which happens in every Dungeons & Dragons game, Dustin tells them not to “split the party.”
Mike is the Paladin
We always see Mike as the Dungeon Master, leading the party through their adventure. Paladins tend to be warriors with leadership qualities. They can heal and mend, but they can also smite evildoers. Mike is quick to organize his friends to search for Will even though they have been told to stay away, because it is the right thing to do. He is quick to turn on Eleven when he thinks she has done them wrong, like when the fake body is discovered.
But he is also very practical and can see the bigger picture. He is upset Eleven changed the compasses to lead them off, but he understands that she is afraid and thinks it's too dangerous.
In Will’s drawings Mike is portrayed in heavy armor with a heavy shield. He is wearing a crown, like a leader might. Rather than a practical weapon, he seems to be holding a gavel, perhaps indicating he is the Dungeon Master with the final say on the rules.
Lucas is the Fighter
Fighters in Dungeons & Dragons are typically black and white thinkers. They don’t use magic, they use strength and combat to get things done. They are stereotypically very easy to trick, as they have a low will stat.
He doesn’t hesitate in Episode 1 when Mike calls for Will to make an action. He argues vehemently to attack with a fireball.
Lucas’s idea of preparing to find Will is to bring weapons from ‘Nam. He shows a lot of bravery and courage when he thinks Eleven, Mike, and Dustin aren’t going to help find the portal and goes off on his own to save his friend. In the classroom he reaches for his slingshot to defend them all from the Demogorgon.
Lucas also accepts the quickest, simplest explanations. He believes Will is dead when the fake body is located in the river. He thinks Eleven is a traitor when she leads them away from the gate and cannot accept any other possibility.
Dustin is the Rogue
Will’s first drawing shows a character with a pot belly in patchy clothes that matches how Dustin looks. The second drawing is of a ninja-like hooded figure that matches the typical rogue look.
Rogues tend to be more practical and realistic. In the first episode, Dustin is arguing for Will to cast a protection spell against the fearsome Demogorgon.
Rogues typically rely more on their skills than on strength or magic. They are crafty and intelligent, with quick reflexes and reactions. He is the first to grab a fire extinguisher to put out the fire in the AV room.
Dustin also proves he’s skilled in the rogue skill Use Magic Device. When they’re searching for the gate, he thinks to use the compasses as a device to lead them straight to it. He comes to this conclusion thanks to his skills in Knowledge Science.
Eleven is the Wizard
As soon as the party’s first wizard goes missing, another one shows up to take his place. Eleven is even found in the same place Will was lost. We come to learn she is a much more powerful wizard through her use of spells.
Gate is the highest spell level possible in Dungeons & Dragons, coming in at Level 9. Gate causes an ultra-dimensional connection between this plane of existence and the plane “on which dwells a being of great power.” Eleven casts the most powerful spell possible on accident in the sensory deprivation tank when she is searching for the monster. Other than this instance, the highest level spell we see Eleven cast is Level 6.
We see numerous examples of her using Telekinesis, a Level 6 wizard spell. She crushes the can of Coke at Hawkins lab, stops the fan in Benny’s diner, she levitates the Millennium Falcon, she shuts the door behind her when she steals the Eggos, and she breaks the bully’s arm.
After using the Level 5 spell Hold Monster to force the Demogorgon against the chalkboard, Eleven also uses the Level 6 spell Disintegrate to kill it at the school. Her ability to do this is particularly impressive: The spell that she uses to hold all the agents in the hallway, Hold Person, is only Level 3.
She locates Will for Mike over the radio, at the school in the AV room, and again in the pool at the gym by casting the Level 5 spell Contact Other Plane. Then in the wrap up of the series, Hopper is leaving food and Eggos in a chest for Eleven. The 5th level spell Leomonds Secret Chest allows a user to transport objects placed inside.
We also get to see flashbacks of Eleven using Level 3 wizard spells, Clairaudience and Clairvoyance. These are spells that allow the caster to see and hear within about 6' of their target. She casts these when she listens in on the man in the other room, and when she finds the Russian and projects his conversation over the speaker system.
The weakest spell she uses is Level 2. When Mike is forced to jump off the gorge, Eleven saves him with the spell Levitate.
After using so many spells she also has to “recharge,” just like wizards in Dungeons and Dragons have a limited number of spells per day before they have to rest.
Will is Also the Wizard
Will and Eleven are the most obvious, because characters outright call both of them wizards. In Episodes 4 and 5 Will draws himself as a wizard, along with the rest of the party in their respective roles.
Will is even named after one of the stats in the game. In Dungeons & Dragons, different characters have strengths and weaknesses in three basic defenses: Fortitude for good health to fight against things like sickness, Reflex for quick reactions against things like crumbling cliffs, and Will for mental fortitude against magical enchantments.
Wizards are particularly strong willed, but have a weak fortitude. In the final episode, Will is found with the tentacle inside of his mouth. It seems he failed his fortitude save, because over a month later he is vomiting the same slugs we saw in Barbara’s mouth in his bathroom sink.
When the boys are first discussing how to save Will, Dustin says they need to cast “Shadow Walk” to transport themselves to the Upside Down. It seems that in the finale, Will casts a Plane Shift spell to do exactly that.
There you have it! The characters of Stranger Things are running around in a subtle Dungeons & Dragons campaign of their own. Once you’ve finished binging Stranger Things, call up all your friends if you haven’t already and get together for a gaming session (especially if it will be your first). Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to last 10 straight hours.