Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game first published in 1974. It is a popular activity with Mike, Lucas, Will, and Dustin, who play the 1983 Expert edition of the game in Mike's basement. They use the game's elements and monsters to describe and explain the otherwise unknown forces that plague Hawkins.
The campaigns of Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Will
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.
They ran a ten-hour campaign on November 6th 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.
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.
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.
In 1984 they 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.
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.
- Mike – Dungeon Master 
- Will – "Will the Wise", a Magic User
- Lucas – Knight, a fighter
- Dustin – Dwarf
- Mike - Paladin
- Will - Cleric
- Lucas - Ranger
- Dustin - Bard
- Eleven - Magic User
- Max - Zoomer
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 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, an evil and sadistic being from the 'Underdark' realm. 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.
Behind the scenes
- 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 One 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". However, the Thessalhydra is said to have eight heads.
- "Will the Wise" is not part of the official D&D character class, but rather it is the name Will gave to his game character.
- In Season 2, Max proposes to be the group's "zoomer", lacking understanding of the game. Mike 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.
The final campaign in "The Upside Down" can be interpreted as a comment on the length and unresolved storylines of the first season; 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?"
There were different interpretations among fans of what each element refers to; the "lost knight" was thought to refer to either Hopper or Eleven while the "proud princess" refers to either Eleven or Nancy.
Season Two revealed a slightly different meaning behind this foreshadowing. The “lost knight” may speak to the death (loss) of Bob, the only death of a main character during Season Two. The Duffer Brothers have stated that The Goonies provided insperation for the feel of Stranger Things. The derivation of Sean Astin‘s iconic character name Mikey is Michael, patron saint of solders. Additionally, he 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, 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 phrase “ weird flowers" alludes to the strange appearance of the "demo-dogs", while the "cave" most likely refers to the tunnels beneath Hawkins. Another interpretation may be the unique appearance of the biological atmospheric generator (spore clusters) that produced the particulate matter (spores) distinctive of the Upside Down. These “weird flowers,” which grew directly out of the Vines were central to Hopper’s capture in “Dig Dug” and provided comic relief at Dustin’s expense in “The Gate.”
The first season's monster is nicknamed after the Demogorgon, which in Dungeons & Dragons mythology has two heads, each with their own mind that strives to kill the other, but they are unable to do so since they are connected to one another. This lends support to a popular theory among fans that Eleven and the Demogorgon are in some way connected.
Many fans also believed the Thessalhydra's appearance in the final campaign was a setup for Season Two. Since the Demogorgon's appearance in the first campaign foreshadowed the monster and the role it would play in Season One, it was thought that the Thessalhydra could similarly hint towards other monsters from the Upside Down. This was accurate speculation, but only to a degree. Although 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.
- ↑ "Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers"
- ↑ "Chapter Eight: The Upside Down"
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Behind The Scenes Of Stranger Things - Lully Of Truth 293"
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Stranger Things Season 2: "Chapter Three:The Pollywog"
- ↑ "Issue 1"
|The Upside Down|
|Locations||The Upside Down • The Gate • Hawkins • Hawkins National Laboratory • Public Library • Portals • Hawkins Middle School • Hawkins Tunnel System|
|Entities||D'Artagnan • The Demogorgon • Demogorgon (species) • The Flayed • Hospital Monster • The Mind Flayer • Russian Demogorgon • The Spider Monster • Hawkins Tunnel System • Vines|
|The Flayed||Billy Hargrove • Heather Holloway • Bruce Lowe • Tom Holloway • Janet Holloway • Doris Driscoll|
|Visitors||Joyce Byers • Will Byers • Eleven • Steve Harrington • Dustin Henderson • Barbara Holland • Jim Hopper • Max Mayfield • Bob Newby • Shepard • Lucas Sinclair • Mike Wheeler • Nancy Wheeler|
|Miscellaneous||Upside Down Egg • Dungeons & Dragons • The Void • The Keys|
|Articles may contain spoilers.|