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This article is about the fictional/in-universe Dungeons & Dragons; information pertaining to the real-world Dungeons & Dragons should be kept to a minimum.

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game first published in 1974. It was a popular activity with Mike, Lucas, Will, and Dustin, who played the 1983 Expert edition of the game in Mike's basement. They used the game's elements and monsters to describe and explain the otherwise unknown forces that plague Hawkins.



Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Will played Dungeons & Dragons from at least 1979 onward, according to Mike. They played their "Elder Tree" campaign in 1979, for which Mike's sister Nancy dressed up as an elf. The four called their group "the Party".[1]

In another campaign, the Party couldn't agree how to best navigate the "Bloodstone Pass". The player characters split up and took separate paths; this turned out to be a fatal error when a pack of trolls emerged, overpowering and defeating each and every character.[2]


The Party ran a ten-hour campaign on November 6, 1983, using Basic D&D from about 10am to 8pm. Mike, acting as Dungeon Master, summoned an army of troglodytes before continuing to summon the Demogorgon, the Prince of Demons. Will was urged by Lucas to "fireball" and attack it while Dustin advised him to cast a protection spell. Will attempted to fireball it, but he only rolled a seven when he needed a thirteen or higher. This meant Will's character was defeated by the Demogorgon. In an eerie coincidence, Will was abducted by a monster - the actual Demogorgon - in real life shortly after the campaign ended.[1]

The Vale of Shadows

Mike's notes on the Vale of Shadows

Later, Eleven flipped the game board upside-down to explain that Will was trapped in an alternate dimension, which they later dubbed the Upside Down. Dustin compared the Upside Down to the Vale of Shadows from the game: "a dimension that is a dark reflection, or echo, of our world. It is a place of decay and death, a plane out of phase, a place of monsters. It is right next to you and you do not even see it." She used the Demogorgon figurine to explain that the monster was present within the Upside Down like Will was.[3]

After Will's return, the boys ran another campaign on Christmas Eve which seems to have been Advanced D&D. In the story, the characters encountered a "lost knight", a "proud princess" and "weird flowers in a cave". Eventually, Mike summoned the fearsome Thessalhydra, but this time Will triumphed over the enemy, fireballing the beast with success. Lucas's Knight cut off the beast's seven heads, with Dustin's Dwarf storing them in his bag of holding. Mike wrapped up the campaign with a medal ceremony, in which "King Tristan" thanked the heroes for their bravery and service. However, the boys complained that the campaign was "way too short" and that Mike had failed to tie up the story in a satisfying way.[4]


In 1984, Dustin used the concept of the "Mind Flayer" in order to explain the role and traits of a creature that controls the Upside Down and invades Hawkins.[5]


In 1985, with the presence of Max and Eleven, and Dustin having met Suzie, the boys's interest in D&D was diminished much to Will's dismay who remained single. At several times he tried to organize sessions or attract their interest to the game, to no avail.[6][7] Later, when the Byers family moved to Lenora Hills, California, Dustin and Lucas gave Will's D&D set to Lucas's younger sister Erica Sinclair.[8]


The Cult of Vecna[]

The Hellfire Club's Dungeon Master, Eddie Munson, pitted the Hellfire members against Lord Vecna and his acolytes in their March 21, 1986 campaign, "The Cult of Vecna". The group first encountered the acolytes at Makbar, before encountering Vecna, who was apparently "killed by Kas". However, Eddie later revealed the disfigured and "desiccated" Lord was still alive, hidden among his hooded cultists. Despite the group being thrown into panic, Erica got lucky with her die throws, with her player character, Lady Applejack, finally defeating Vecna for good.[9]

Shortly after this, a string of horrific murders were committed around Hawkins by an unknown person. Dustin and his friends, inspired by Eddie's campaign, dubbed the murderer "Vecna".[10]

Jason and the Satanic Panic[]

Jason Carver, another Hawkins High student, had read stories claiming that playing Dungeons & Dragons could "warp" a person's mind and make them commit horrific Satanic deeds. This led Jason to believe Eddie Munson was responsible for the killings, and came to view Hellfire as a Satanic cult.[10] This narrative took hold amongst the townspeople after Jason made a speech at the town hall,[12] and following Eddie's death, news outlets falsely depicted him as a cult leader.[13]

Known groups[]

Player Characters[]


  • Mike – "Tayr", Dungeon Master[14]
  • Will – "Will the Wise", a Magic User[14]
  • Lucas – "Sundar the Bold", a Knight[14]
  • Dustin – "Nog", a Dwarf[14]
    D&D drawing

    Will's drawing of the 1983 D&D party. From left to right: Dustin's dwarf, Will's wizard, Mike as Dungeon Master and Lucas's knight.



  • Erica - "Lady Applejack", a half-elf Rogue[9]

Character Classes[]

Dungeon Master[]

The Dungeon Master is the organizer of the adventure who supervises all aspects of the game, excluding the actions of the player characters. However, the DM is not considered a character class in the game.

As the DM, Mike often narrated the adventures' scenarios while also resolved the outcomes of every events, for instance, the demise of the Thessalhydra. The DM would also resolve internal conflicts between the party members.[16]

Magic User[]

A magic user can cast both offensive and defensive spells, either to attack foes or defend the party from dangerous situations. A high level magic user is called a wizard.

  • Will the Wise: Being a wizard, Will's character "Will the Wise" had a vast collection of spells at its disposal, for example-"Wizard Eye", "Detect Magic", "Fireball", "Protection", etc.


A fighter battles using skills, strategy and tactics. They are strong in defense.


Dwarves are short humanoids. They are resistant to poison and magic, and able to see well in the dark. In basic D&D, dwarves are a class of strong and skillful fighters.


Paladins are holy knights and divine spell-casters with the most restricted codes of conduct. A paladin is highly devoted to embody honor and sense of duty.


Cleric is a powerful healer who is capable in combat and skilled in the use of divine magic.


Ranger is a hunter and skilled woodman. A ranger has the ability to recruit various woodland animals, mythical creatures and can also dual-wield weapons.


Bards are spellcasters who have already gained experience as fighters and thieves and are effective in inducing magical effects by using their artistic talents.


Despite Max's best wishes, "Zoomer" is not a class in D&D. According to Max, a zoomer would have the ability to make super-powered attacks by attacking at high speed. Max half-jokingly said she would join the Party as a zoomer, as she was a skateboarder, but Mike insisted she'd have to pick one of the pre-existing classes.[15]



The Demogorgon


The Demogorgon was a powerful demonic monster, famous for being one of the toughest foes in the game. Mike used it as an antagonist in one of the campaigns he ran. Will tried to cast "Fireball" against it, but he only rolled a seven, resulting in the Demogorgon defeating his character.

Mike has a miniature of Demogorgon, which shows the demon's form: it is huge, with a reptilian body, two Mandril heads, a forked, whip-like tail, and arms ending in long tentacles.

When Mike, Dustin and Lucas learned from Eleven about the existence of a real-life monster from another dimension, they called it the Demogorgon.

Mind Flayer[]

The Mind Flayer

Mind Flayer

When another mysterious monster from the Upside Down emerged as a threat to Hawkins, Dustin and his friends used another Dungeons & Dragons-based analogy to help explain and describe their situation. Dustin equated the new monster with the Mind Flayer. Dustin gave this description of the Mind Flayer:

It's a monster from an unknown dimension. It's so ancient that it doesn't even know its true home. It enslaves races of other dimensions by taking over their brains using its highly-developed psionic powers.

When asked about the Mind Flayer's motivations, Dustin gave this reply:

It views other races, like us, as inferior to itself. It wants to spread, take over other dimensions.

Lord Vecna[]

Vecna D&D figure

Lord Vecna

Lord Vecna was a classic Dungeons & Dragons villain. The Hellfire Club's Dungeon Master, Eddie Munson, pitted the Hellfire members against Vecna and his acolytes in their March 21, 1986 campaign, "The Cult of Vecna".[9] Later, the name "Vecna" was used to describe a humanoid being from the Upside Down.[10]

Other antagonists[]

  • Thessalhydra
  • Troglodytes
  • Zombies
The Thessalhydra


Behind the scenes[]


  • An official comic crossover between the two properties exists, called Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons.
  • The game is used as a self-referential plot device in the series. The first campaign in "The Vanishing of Will Byers" foreshadows the events of season 1 with the Demogorgon appearing and taking Will as the monster did in the following scenes.
  • In real life, the "Vale of Shadows" is not a official part of D&D canon - however, a chapter from the 2002 D&D-inspired video game, Icewind Dale, shares the name. The "Vale of Shadows" could also be an alternative name for the location known as the Shadowfell.
  • In the Christmas 1983 campaign, Lucas's player character cuts off "the Thessalhydra's seven heads".[4] However, the Thessalhydra is said to have eight heads.
  • In season 2, Mike says he believes Eleven to be a Mage.
  • The Demogorgon figure used in the show – a miniature in the Fantasy Lords series produced by Grenadier Miniatures – wasn't released until mid 1984, almost a year after the first season is set.
  • Wizards Of The Coast has released a D&D Stranger Things starter set, which contains the adventure run by Mike in "The Vanishing of Will Byers" and a Demogorgon miniature.
  • Will's character, Will the Wise, is the only D&D character named within the show. However, the Hawkins Middle School Yearbook reveals the names of the characters: Lucas's character being Sundar the Bold, Dustin's character being Nog, and Mike's character being Tayr.


The first season's monster is nicknamed after the Demogorgon. In Dungeons & Dragons mythology, the Demogorgon has two heads, each with their own mind that strives to kill the other, but unable to do so as they are connected to each another. This supported a popular fan theory which claimed Eleven and the Demogorgon had a similar connection, especially since both apparently perished in the same moment in "The Upside Down".

Many fans also believed the Thessalhydra appearing in the D&D campaign shown in "The Upside Down" was setting up plot points for the second season. Since the Demogorgon's appearance in the first campaign foreshadowed the monster and the role it would play in Season 1, it was thought that the Thessalhydra might be a hint towards another monster from the Upside Down. Though another monster was indeed introduced the following season, the boys referred to it in D&D terms as the Mind Flayer, rather than the Thessalhydra.

Other details from the D&D campaign can be interpreted as meta-commentary about the first season, specifically the season's length and unresolved storylines. The boys complain that the campaign was too short, questioning:

What about the lost knight? And the proud princess? And those weird flowers in the cave?

This provoked varying fan interpretations:

  • The "lost knight" was thought to refer to Hopper or Eleven.
  • The "proud princess" was thought to refer to Eleven or Nancy.
  • The weird flowers in the cave were thought to refer to the Demogorgon, as well as eggs present in the Upside Down.

The second season offered several possibilities for what this foreshadowing meant. The most obvious is probably the phrase "weird flowers", which likely alludes to the appearance of the "Demodogs", while the "cave" likely refers to the tunnels beneath Hawkins. "Weird flowers" may also refer to the spore-spraying ortifices within the tunnels.

The "lost knight" may speak to the death (loss) of Bob, the only death of a main character during the season. Like a knight, Bob demonstrated the chivalric traits of loyalty, generosity, and honor prior to his sacrifice in saving his friends.

The "proud princess" may refer to Max. Maxine is the feminine form of Maximilian or Maximus, an often used name of royalty within The Holy Roman Empire. Max"s eventual overcoming of Billy towards the beginning of "The Gate" and her fulfillment of being the party's "zoomer" could have reasonably provided her with a sense of pride.

The third season contained very few references to Dungeons & Dragons compared to prior seasons.

In the fourth season, Dungeons & Dragons once again provided the Party and their allies with a framework to understand an otherworldly enemy, who they dubbed "Vecna", named after D&D's Lord Vecna.

Following the release of the season finale, "The Piggyback", some fans speculated that DnD lore could foretell Eddie Munson's return in the final season, who would take on the role of ‘Kas’. In said lore, Lord Vecna enlisted Kas, an undead vampire, as his lieutenant; later, Kas betrayed his master and sliced off his hand and eye. Eddie even references Kas's betrayal during his Hellfire campaign, "The Cult of Vecna". The theories drew a connection between Eddie, Kas and Vecna, pointing to Eddie's death in the Upside Down, and his earlier name-drop of Kas.[17][18] The @strangerwriters Twitter account later appeared to poke fun at the theories, saying Chapter Two of Season 5 would be titled "Kas the Bloody-Handed", in a tweet made on April 1, 2023.[19]