While Netflix series Stranger Things is full of similarities with '80s movies, TV shows and book references, what you might not have realized is that it's actually the series' clever use of role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons that explains the most about many of the main characters and plot.
Dungeons & Dragons appears throughout Stranger Things in scenes involving the younger characters. But while it'd be easy to just chalk this up to the kids playing a popular game of the era and using some of the game's scenarios to make sense of the situation they've become involved in, it actually goes much deeper. Not only does the game explain the role of each of the kids in the series, but also possibly a connection between Eleven and the monster, in addition to laying down the foundations for Season 2. Sound dubious to you? Read on:
What Is Dungeons & Dragons?
First up, a little explanation for those not as deeply involved in a campaign as myself and the kids in Stranger Things. Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D) is a fantasy role-playing game that was first released in 1974. The game assigns each player a character, and those characters then form a party that undertakes quests, while a Dungeon Master acts as the game's storyteller. Aside from dice, little equipment is needed to play D&D, though the boys in Stranger Things did incorporate the use of figurines.
As D&D grew in popularity in the '80s, it became the center of controversy. In 1982 an anti-D&D group was formed by Patricia Pulling who claimed the game was to blame for the suicide of her son, and that same year a film loosely based on the incident — and starring a very young Tom Hanks — called Mazes and Monsters was released. Stranger Things is set in late 1983, when the anti-D&D groups were in full swing.
What Does D&D Have To Do With The Characters?
In D&D there are a bunch of different base character classes and once you take a look into the traits of each of the D&D characters, it seems as though the roles of many of the characters in Stranger Things were modeled on one of these classes. Thanks to Redditors thenewtbaron and pcapdata we have a pretty good rundown of what class the youngest characters embody:
- Mike = Paladin. A paladin is a fighter who acts in the name of good and order (Mike is the Dungeon Master in the show, but in character he's a paladin).
- Will = Rogue. A rogue is very stealthy and good at hiding, skills that enabled Will to survive in the monster's lair while Barb died.
- Dustin = Bard. A bard has a great way with words, and is also very smart, and diplomatic. Dustin used these skills to keep the group united and focused many times.
- Lucas = Ranger. A ranger is an independent and skilled hunter who uses their wilderness skills to hunt down enemies, this was shown when Lucas split from the group and undertook his own efforts to find the gate.
- Eleven = Sorcerer. A sorcerer is innately able to use spells and magic without having studied it, they also have skills in concentration, which is something El frequently displays when using her powers.
What About The Monster?
Well, as you might have guessed from watching the series, the Demogorgon that the boys fail to beat in their D&D campaign is a pretty good symbol for the monster that takes Will. And understanding a bit more about what the Demogorgon is will only help you understand the true terror of the monster in Stranger Things even more.
Redditor ProlapsedPineal explains that Demogorgons actually pre-date D&D, having been around in Christian literature since 400AD. The Demogorgon styles himself as the Prince of Demons, and rules over a realm called the Abyss, which is home to demons and is intent on destroying and spreading chaos. The Demogorgon itself is a bizarre looking creature, tall, with two heads like mandrills', they also have long tentacles instead of hands and are covered in fur.
What's also interesting is that the Demogorgon is two beings fused into one, one head is called Aameul, while the other is Hethrediah. Both are able to control the body, but are constantly at odds with each other. This is where an interesting theory comes into play that the two heads of the Demogorgon represent Eleven and the monster.
Redditor Theons_sausage (great username!) points out that in the climatic scene of Episode 8 that Eleven is able to control the body of the monster (using her powers, sure, but controlling all the same), before the pair then disappear together, as though they are linked. Theons_sausage then goes on to theorize that being tied to El would explain why the monster stayed close to the town of Hawkins and didn't wander to more populated areas — it couldn't leave, because El remained in the town. Not to mention this theory is also backed up in Episode 6 when an emotional Eleven actually tells Mike that she is the monster.
What Else Do The D&D Campaigns Tell Us?
Aside from the opening of the first episode, we don't see the boys all playing a campaign together until the final episode. When we see the game, Dungeon Master Mike springs a Thessalhydra on the party, which Will manages to kill with a fireball, successfully ending the campaign. Upon learning that was the final battle, Dustin asks "that's not it, is it?!" Before Lucas adds "the campaign was way too short." Dungeon Master Mike is outraged at the anger, crying "it was 10 hours!" A clear jibe from the creators, the Duffer brothers, directly to the audience bemoaning the eight-episode length of Season 1. However the boys then list a whole bunch of loose ends from their campaign that Mike failed to tidy up:
- The lost knight
- The proud princess
- The weird flowers in the cave
While it might be easy to just think these three things exist only in the boys' campaign, just like the comment about the game length, these loose ends also apply to the whole series. Firstly we have the lost knight, which clearly applies to Chief Hopper. At the end of Episode 8 Hopper is seen willingly getting into a car with the government agents after he comes out of the hospital — what do they want from him? Are they working together?
Next we have the proud princess who could only apply to the other big loose end: Eleven. Just when it looked as though Eleven was pulverized along with the monster, in one of the final scenes of the season, Hopper takes a container of food, including El's favorite snack of Eggos, to a small lock box in the the forest. So if Eleven is alive, where is she? And why is Hopper allowed to know she's alive, but not her friends? The title of "proud princess" also fits nicely to Eleven if the theory about being one of the heads of the Demogorgon is correct; the Demogorgon calls itself the Prince of Demons, so surely that makes Eleven a princess.
Given the fact that the monster's face opens up like the petals of a flower, the mention of "the weird flowers in the cave" has to refer to the monster and the egg inside its lair. If Eleven is still alive, it stands to reason that the monster could be as well, but even if the monster is dead, there's also the possibility it has offspring inside the lair.
With all the mentions in Season 1, it seems as though the Duffer brothers have a real love for D&D, not to mention that its mythology pairs beautifully with the sci-fi nature of Stranger Things. It seems almost certain that the boys' campaigns will parallel the events of Season 2, but until that wonderful day comes, perhaps us Stranger Things fans will have to start campaigns of our own, and pray our characters don't meet a Demogorgon.